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Kyoto Travel Guide: Gion & Downtown

Kyoto downtown

Your passport to Downtown Kyoto. Start your day with a Japanese breakfast, stroll through Maruyama Park’s serene beauty. Enjoy Gion District’s Hanamikoji Street and teahouses. Discover the vibrant Nishiki Market and Pontocho Alley to dive into Kyoto’s foods and nightlife.

Must Knows >>

Where to stay? >>

Transportation >>

Walking >>

Things to do >>

Where to eat? >>

How to Travel from Tokyo to Kyoto

To get to Kyoto from Tokyo you can use your JR rail pass to take a bullet train. Take the Shinkansen Hikari bullet train from Tokyo Station and arrive at Kyoto Station. The trip takes 2 hr and 15 min. I recommend that once you get to Tokyo stop by the station and get a train ticket a day or two in advance!

To get around all the major cities in Japan including Kyoto you can use the subways and buses. You’ll need an IC card, a Japan rechargeable metro card, to move around which can be purchased online.

GET YOUR SUICA IC CARD IN ADVANCE!

Top things to see in Gion and Downtown Kyoto

1. Try a Traditional Japanese Breakfast

Japan Kyoto Breakfast

Starting your day with a Traditional Japanese Breakfast is quite unique since it’s uncommon for westerners to eat rice in the morning. A traditional Japanese breakfast consists of white rice, grilled fish, miso soup, rolled egg omelet and pickled veggies or natto. It’s quite calming and warm to eat soup and rice in the morning, especially on colder days.

 2.Take a Walk at Marayuma Park

Yasaka Shrine Gion Shrine

Marayuma park is to Kyoto what Central Park is to New York City. Marayuma Park West Entrance is a beautiful red shrine called Yasaka Shrine previously known as the Gion Shrine! It’s one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto dating back to the 1300s and hosts the most famous festival of Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri!  Enter through the Red West Tower Gate, called Nishiromon-Gate. Throughout the park you’ll find various shrines, tea houses, Kaiseki restaurants and Japanese gardens. It’s a perfect spot to have a cup of tea and traditional Japanese foods while enjoying nature! At night the shrines are lit up with lanterns!

Tip: Maruyama Park is THE place to see weeping cherry blossoms in Kyoto during cherry blossom season (Hanami). Definitely a must if you are in kyoto during spring.

3. Gion District – Hanamikoji Street

Gion Kyoto

Hanamikoji Street, is the main street of the Gion area and it’s known for the traditional machiya houses with wooden architecture and famous tea houses. Take a walking tour to experience a traditional tea ceremony and learn about geishas.

4. Head to Kyoto food Market – Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market Kyoto

Nishiki Market is the most famous spot in Kyoto to indulge in Japanese foods!  It’s a long alley with tons of shops and fast restaurants serving anything from street food to hand made tofu, local produce, desserts and snacks! Here is a list of things to try in Nishiki Market!

Tip:  It gets really crowded so go during off meal times.

5. Rest Stop Along the Kamo River

Kamo River Kyoto

Right between Shijo-ohashi Bridge & Sanjo Ohashi bridge you can take a relaxing walk by the  Kamogawa Riverside walkway, known as Kamo River Noryo-Yuka . You’ll see lots of family, friends and couples taking a stroll. A beautiful spot for sunset watching.

6. Kyoto Nightlife at Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley Kyoto

Right next to the Kamogawa River is the Pontocho Alley that stretches between Shijo-ohashi Bridge & Sanjo Ohashi bridge. Pontocho Alley is a small alley with traditional restaurants, small  izakayas, Japanese BBQ (yakiniku), Hot Pot restaurants and luxury bars with a beautiful view of the river and Kyoto city. You can get sukiyaki and traditional Japanese meals or matcha desserts!  

Along Pontocho Alley you’ll find Kamo River Noryo-Yuka sideline a line of restaurants with seating on top of the river! Try it at night, the view is serene!

7. Teramachi-dori Shopping District

Teramachi-dori Shopping District Kyoto
Teramachi-dori Shopping District Kyoto2

If you are looking for japanese fashion in Kyoto teramachi-dori is the place to look. Along Teramachi street you’ll find local boutiques, variety stores, clothing stores and home decor shops. You’ll even find temples! This is the shopping district in Kyoto!

Where is the Best Place to Stay in Kyoto?

Downtown Kyoto is the best place to stay in Kyoto. It’s centered to all the major temples, attractions and restaurants, as well as major subway and train stations. To book stays in I prefer to use Agoda.com and booking.com.

Kyoto has amazing RYOKANs, a traditional Japanese inn with tatami-matted rooms and onsen baths where you can wear yukata! CHECK OUT THESE RYOKANS

Hotels & Ryokans !

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Final Thoughts

Kyoto is a big city with lots of temples so you can easily become overwhelmed by temples. I recommend picking a few different types of activities per day and sticking to a district. Pick 3-4 of these and you’ll have a fun day! 

  • Pick a neighborhood to explore (preferably a walking tour)
  • A temple in that area
  • An food area (alleys, market or restaurants)
  • An activity (tea ceremony, culture or arts oriented)

Walking Tours & Activities in Kyoto

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There are too many cuisines to only cook one! I  hope this blog allows you to explore and taste the diversity of cuisines from around the world. Here you’ll find globally-inspired recipes and the travel stories that led to them.  

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