Top choice area in Southern Higashiyama

Image by Michael Hitoshi Getty Images

Gion is the famous entertainment and geisha quarter on the eastern bank of the Kamo-gawa. While Gion’s true origins were in teahouses catering to weary visitors to the nearby shrine Yasaka-jinja, by the mid-18th century the area was Kyoto’s largest pleasure district. The best way to experience Gion today is with an evening stroll around the atmospheric streets lined with 17th-century traditional restaurants and teahouses lit up with lanterns. Start off on the main street Hanami-kōji, which runs north–south and bisects Shijō-dōri.

At the southern section of Hanami-kōji, many of the restaurants and teahouses are exclusive establishments for geisha entertainment. At the south end you reach Gion Corner and Gion Kōbu Kaburen-jō Theatre (祇園甲部歌舞練場).

If you walk from Shijō-dōri along the northern section of Hanami-kōji and take your third left, you will find yourself on Shimbashi (sometimes called Shirakawa Minami-dōri), which is one of Kyoto’s most beautiful streets, especially in the evening and during cherry-blossom season. A bit further north lie Shinmonzen-dōri and Furumonzen-dōri, running east–west. Wander in either direction along these streets, which are packed with old houses, art galleries and shops specialising in antiques – but don’t expect flea-market prices.