The Best things to do in Gion, Kyoto
Gion is one of the most iconic spots in Kyoto. It’s not only about just enjoying the strolling around town, but there are many great shops and restaurants, due to Gion’s popularity.
Gion has a different face at night compared to the daytime – as if you have been transported back in time to an ancient period. In the daytime, you can experience some Japanese things like Sado, Wagashi, and so on. However, in the night, you can enjoy the great dinner and sake in Izakaya, Japanese pub. It is quite breathtaking, so without the experience, you can’t know Gion.
This article reveals all of Gion – day and nighttime – what you should experience, where you can eat and more. This itinerary will support all of you during your special journey to Gion, Kyoto.
- The feature of Gion
- The 6 Things you can not miss to do in Gion in the daytime
- The best 3 things to do in Gion at night
The feature of Gion
Firstly, let’s start to understand Gion so you have time to prepare for your journey.
Summary of Gion
Everyone who wants to go to Kyoto knows the name of Gion.
Why? Gion has the most beautiful and exclusive culture that you just can not get anywhere else in the world. Gion is a district of Kyoto with a long history, and it has been wonderful that Gion has been managing its culture, history and its traditional architecture, retaining the atmosphere of the ancient Japanese capital. Many people made their journey and stayed in Kyoto, so entertainment was expected. Therefore, Gion developed the most exclusive entertainment available – hence it was natural that the area became known for its Geisha. It is not only the Geisha culture in Gion though, but there are also so many inns and restaurants that keep attracting people from all over the world. There are many fantastic events throughout the year, and the beautiful food culture of Gion is nicely intertwined with Kyoto’s traditional culture and its modern culture.
The rule of Gion
Please be aware that there are some important rules. You will see many wooden signs in Gion that use pictures to communicate the rules:
-No eating during walking
-Don’t throw away any rubbish
-Do not take ‘selfies’ (self-portrait) using a selfie stick
And one more important rule – do not be a “paparazzi” towards the Geisha and Maiko, and you shouldn’t block their way by standing in front of them. It is important to respect and treat them as professional entertainers, not as idols. So, while you can take pictures and video from distance, please leave their thoroughfare open.
Where is Gion?
Gion is a district which is located around the “Shijo Avenue” between Yasaka shrine in the east and the Kamo river in the west. It is a street full of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, great places for dining out and Ocha-ya (tea house) where Geisha entertain their customers. The closest station to Gion is “Gion-Shijo station”. Let’s have a look at a few other ways to get to Gion.
– from JR Kyoto station to Gion
Take JR Nara line bound for Joyo (platform 9) and get off at Tofukuji station. Then change to Keihan Main line bound for Demachiyanagi station to Gion-Shijo station.
Time required: 18 mins
Price: 270 yen.
Take a bus (No 100 or 206) from JR Kyoto station to Gion bus stop.
Time required: about 20 mins
Price: 230 yen.
– from Shijo Kawaramachi station to Gion.
Take a bus No 207 bond for Gion or Tofukuji and get off at Gion bus stop.
Time required: just 5 mins
Price: 230 yen.
The 6 Things you can not miss to do in Gion in the daytime
We are now so excited to introduce the 5 must-to-do things in Gion, and we are 100% sure that these activities can make your Gion time a memorable experience.
Tea ceremony experience at En
One of your dreams might be to experience the Tea ceremony in the ancient district of Gion.
You will need to have an explanation in English during the ceremony so that you can understand the ritual properly, so we suggest the one place in Gion that offers English speak staff – “En tea ceremony experience”
Children, adults – foreign tourists – are all welcome at “En”, where you can learn and experience the world of the Japanese traditional culture of tea, enjoying some quiet time and Matcha in an authentic tea room with an instructor, dressed in Kimono. You will truly have a magical time in quite a unique space.
En tea ceremony experience:
2,500 yen/pp (1 hour)
272 matsubara-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, just 3 mins walk from Gion bus stop
Taste yummy Wagashi – Japanese sweets
If you are fond of Japanese sweets, Gion will be heavenly! Many shops are specializing in the art of Japanese sweets, but you can also eat them in a fantastic Japanese style tatami room with an iconic view of a Japanese garden that will remind you that you are in Gion – so tasty, and so photogenic. Someone called Wagashi Art Work, and it is very beautiful and tasty. I recommend some wagashi restaurants!
Mitarashi-dango is a type of dango skewered onto sticks in groups of 3-5 and covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze. The best shop of MItarashidango in Gion is Miyoshiya. This dango is grilled by charcoal and roasting. This shop opens only at night and I recommend buying that on your returning way to your hotel and eating this dango with Kinako(soy flour). The detail of Miyoshiya is in the below.
Price: 110 yen~
Opening times: 20:00~22:00 (sometimes open at 19:00)
How to pay: cash only
Address:〒605-0802, 1 Yamatocho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0077
Matcha parfait is a parfait which has very green matcha ice cream and other Japanese sweets. I recommend eating that in Gion Tsujiri. Tsujiri is one of the most famous Japanese green matcha company and this company runs this restaurant. The smell of matcha and the harmony of matcha ice cream and Anko (the paste of Japanese red beans) are very good! Of course, you can enjoy the strait matcha. Don’t miss it!
Opening Time:10:00～21:00(L.O. 20:00)/ in holydays, 10:00～21:00(L.O. 19:30)
How to pay: cash and credit cards
Warabi mochi is a jelly-like confection and it is made from starch and covered or dipped in Kinako, sweet soy powder. This sweet is cold and if you come here in summer, you should eat this! Especially, Gion Tokuya is the best restaurant in Gion at the point of Warabi mochi. When you eat this, Warabi mochi melt away in your mouth! I recommend eating this with Kuromitsu(brown sugar syrup).
For your reference, trip advisor places for dessert in Gion page:
To be a film star at Tatsumi-bashi bridge
“巽橋” Tatsumi-bashi bridge (a wooden pillar bridge) in Gion-shirakawa is one of the best-known places in Gion, Kyoto.Before flowing into the Kamo river, the small Shirakawa canal crosses Gion, and Tatsumi-bashi bridge is one of several bridges built over the canal with cobbled paths, cherry trees covering the bridge and a view of Machiya buildings. It is not a big attraction, rather it’s a tiny spot that has oozes Japanese beauty, so many dramas and films have been filmed there – one of the famous films taken at the bridge was “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005. Tatsumi-bashi is over the Shirakawa river at the intersection of Shinbashi dori and Shirakawa minami dori, east of Gion Shirakawa. If you rent a kimono for a day, stand and pause on the bridge, you could also be a film star for a moment!
Feeling the history at Kennin-ji temple
Did you know that the Kennin-ji temple is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto?
The temple was founded in 1202 by Yousai, who was just fourteen years of age when he entered the major monastic center on Mt. Hiei to study under the Tendai tradition.
The temple has a large amount of land and so lots to see. Including the Chouontei Garden – such a simple and refined Zen garden with a set of 3 stones that represent Buddha and two Zen monks. It could take your breath away?
There also are many masterpieces, national treasures and listed important cultural properties at the temple, and the one you must look at is the “The Wind and Thunder Gods” (replica). When it is lit up at night, the masterpiece becomes more dynamic and beautiful.
In the Hatto of this Kennin-ji temple, there is a very big and cool picture on the wall. It is called “Soryu-zu” and there two dragons with their body intertwined. It is said that you can meet the gaze the eyes of this dragon. Kennin-ji temple is located at the southern end of the Hanamikoji street in Gion, the nearest station is Gion-Shijo station.
Relaxing in the Cafe
When you get tired with strolling in Gion, I recommend you visit the cafe. There are many cafes in Gion, they are very sophisticated and you can take many photos to post on your Instagram! In this article, I introduce the top 2 cafes which I recommend.
ZEN CAFÉ is hidden in a quiet alley just a bit away from Hanamikoji, and it is a very minimalistic and simple interior. You can enjoy the calm atmosphere and their Japanese sweets, such as kuzumochi, mochi cakes made of kuzuko, along with hot or cold green tea, it’s lovely!
Gion Café is located at the heart of Gion and run by a French chef, so the taste is guaranteed. The café’s popular items on the menu are Japanese pancakes and pizza. It’s not only their food, but the café is a 120-year-old machiya style building with the view of a wonderful Japanese garden.
Going to Gion Festival
Gion Festival (Matsuri) is perhaps the most famous festival in all of Japan. Taking place annually for the whole month of July, this grand festival has a long history that dates back to 839 AD (during the Heian period). Perhaps its most worth attraction is the giant floats known as “Yamaboko”. These huge floats are decorated in an array of items from lanterns to flags. These impressively tall floats, some of which are 25 meters tall and 12 tons heavy, are pulled towards Yasaka Shrine by groups of men wearing traditional clothing. It is truly a sight to behold and makes for some great photo opportunities. In fact, it is said that the floats of the festival are like “a walking art gallery”.
As the festival takes place over such a large area around Gion, you can easily witness the spectacle up-close. I suggest you get into a yukata yourself the truly feel the atmosphere. In the evening, the lanterns on the floats light up, giving a new ambiance to the cool, summer night. I also advise you to take along some drinks and a hand fan with you, as walking around during the Kyoto summer can be very hot.
The schedule for the Gion Festival can differ depending on when you view it, so please check beforehand.
If you would like to know more detail atmosphere of Gion festival, please check this movie.
The best 3 things to do in Gion at night
Gion at night presents a completely different face compared to its daytime one. The area comes alive as it is the time to start enjoying the entertainment on offer. It is still a calm time, but the atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation, with many Japanese red lanterns on both sides of the street, with their warm-colored glows reflecting on the traditional wooden houses when seen against the dark sky. It is also the time for Geisha and Maiko to come out and start work. Therefore, you might spot a Geisha in Gion, especially on Hanamikoji dori and Shijo dori if you are lucky.
Visit the great restaurants in Gion
It’s always great to try local foods and drinks when you are in a different country, so let us introduce the best 3 places in Gion.
Japanese gyoza has become more and more popular around the world, so you shouldn’t miss gyoza in Gion. Gyoza HOHEI is in the Michelin guide of 2019 and tells of their hard work resulting in the most delicious gyoza you can have in Gion. HOHEI just focuses on gyoza – very simple and very crispy on the outside and very juicy on the inside. Worth a try!
Teppan izakaya Gion TENAMONYA
Have you ever had teppanyaki? Teppanyaki is made using an iron griddle to cook meat, fish, and vegetables in front of you – that is why teppanyaki is a form of entertainment. TENAMONYA is very popular amongst foreign visitors who enjoy grabbing a beer and like to eat the best grade A5 wagyu beef steak, along with Japanese traditional foods like Okonomiyaki.
A vegetarian menu and English speaking staff are also available.
When you are in Kyoto, you must have a Japanese cuisine that tastes great and is a pleasure to look at. Yasakadori ENRAKU is the best place in Gion to experience this, as you can expect a traditional Japanese cuisine. But there is a secret! You can sit down with a Maiko, chat, play games and take pictures or video with her. Due to the traditional obstacle that always blocks the way to geisha and make – called “Ichigensan okotowari” (meaning that you need an invitation from a regular customer of the ochaya) – if you have the dream of meeting a Geisha in Gion, it is extremely very difficult for anyone to meet a geisha or make in private. So, having a beautiful dinner in the company of a real Maiko, at a reasonable price, would just be such an unforgettable memory!
Visiting Gion Night Spots
The Gion district is a great place to visit at any time of the day, but I really recommend you visit at night time. One of my favorite places to visit at night is Gion Shirakawa. This beautiful stone-cobbled street has such a beautiful charm that it almost feels as though you had travelled back in time. It is one of the best night photo locations in all of Kyoto as, during the cherry blossom season, the sakura is lit up with illuminations. With the traditional Japanese buildings acting as a magnificent background, you will come away from this place with many jaw-dropping memories. I really recommend you get visit the Shirakawa Shinbashi Bridge and enjoy yourself at one of the many bars nearby.
Yasaka Shrine is a personal favorite of mine. Located in the heart of Gion, this shrine has such a mesmerizing atmosphere as both the main gate and inner areas are fully open and lit up at night, allowing you to walk around freely, 24/7! I recommend you visit the shrine late to avoid the crowds and enjoy a slow, peaceful walk along the tranquil garden path to see the lanterns.
The mood here is very much of ancient Japan. The stunningly beautiful Japanese restaurants that line this wonderful stone street all hang and light up traditional lanterns at night. I personally recommend you visit here on a rainy night, as the water reflects the light of the lanterns on the street! What’s more, you may get the once-in-a-lifetime chance of encountering a stunning maiko or geisha! I myself even managed to meet one by chance, and it was unforgettable!
So, as you can see, Gion has so much to do and see that you might need more than one day. But the best choices we have suggested for you in this article will help you to have quite an exclusive, and experiential day in Gion.
If you are interested in the restaurants in Kyoto, please check here: