I cannot recommend anyone going to Kyoto during the peak cherry blossom season. I can see that beneath the throngs of obnoxious tourists that it is a beautiful city, but it becomes completely overrun by tourists during these weeks and takes on an almost amusement park quality. If you can visit Kyoto during any other time, however, I would highly recommend it. These are a few of my favorite paces in Kyoto.
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine – Probably one of the most famous Shinto temples that’s home to the famous vermillion torii that seem to go to infinity. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of them–they make stunning photos with no photography skills required at all–but nothing beats seeing them in person. The whole hillside is covered with torii gates and it’s worth it to hike a ways up where the crowds begin to thin out. The temple’s website has some interesting factoids that can help make your visit more meaningful.
2. Arashiyama – The famous bamboo grove is a must-see, although there is probably nothing tranquil about it during peak tourist season. Tenryuji Temple is nearby and its immaculate gardens are worth a visit. The surrounding hills by the river is full of little paths that you can follow to get away from the crowds. There are patches of beautiful cherry trees all along the river as well.
3. Iwatayama Monkey Park – This was a fun spot and definitely worth a visit if you enjoy monkeys running amok and taking pieces of fruit from your hand.
4. Kyoto Imperial Palace – We went there to see the palace, but were pleasantly surprised by the large grounds and gardens. There were many incredibly beautiful weeping cherry trees and rarer varieties that I have never seen anywhere else.