Kyoto is my absolute favorite city to explore in Japan. There are about 800 shrines and 1,700 temples in Kyoto. It is impossible to explore every single spot, so I picked the best way to fully enjoy Kyoto for you! There are 2 things you have to do if you are planning to go to Kyoto. The first thing is to visit Gion. Gion is one of the most famous and traditional districts in Kyoto. Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden buildings, and there are variety of restaurants, teahouses, and bars. It is not uncommon to see geisha hurrying to their appointments in the evening as well. The easiest way to go to Gion is to take a bus from Kyoto Station. Take Kyoto City Bus service 100 from bus stop D1, or Kyoto City Bus service 206 from bus stop D2. It will take 20 minutes to get there, and the price will be 230yen per person.
The second thing is to rent a Kimono. There are several places you can rent a kimono in Gion which I listed below. You will be dressed by professional stylists, and each shop has plenty of kimono to choose from for both men and women. Full set rental + kimono dressing usually starts from 3,000yen, and the hair styling starts from an additional 500yen.
So now you are ready to go explore Gion, and here are 8 spots you don’t want to miss while you are there.
Kennin-ji is famous for its simple and refined zen garden, and it is one of the oldest temples in Japan. What I like the most about Kennin-ji is that there are usually less people, compared to other sights, so it is always very quiet and peaceful. You can easily transport yourself to a time where you could imagine that life was just simple and beautiful. Kennin-ji is also famous for its artworks. My favorite artwork is the Twin Dragon, painted on the ceiling by Koizume Junsaku.
You can walk to the cafe “Tasuki” which is located about 10 minutes away from Kennin-ji.
Tasuki is a Japanese-style retail, cafe, and sake bar. I stumbled upon its lovely bridge and you can see the gentle Shirakawa river from the window. Their shaved ice is to die for, but we had Japanese sweets with matcha (1,400yen) this time. What makes this cafe unique is their tableware and atmosphere. You can even see cherry blossoms from the window in the spring.
If you are looking for less crowded photo spots, this is the place for you! This shrine is small yet beautiful in its simplicity. It is located near Tasuki, so you can come after enjoying a cup of tea. It is an amazing place to visit in cherry blossom season, but otherwise the willow trees and the street lights still make going for a regular evening walk here pretty magical. The surrounding area is absolutely beautiful as well. Right across Tatsumi Daimyojin, you will encounter a street filled with traditional Japanese wooden houses.
Walking the streets between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-Dera, you will encounter this beautiful pagoda called “Yasaka-no-to”. It is a popular photo spot, so you may want to visit early in the morning if you wish to fully enjoy the view! It is a great photo opportunity to capture beautiful traditional Japanese vibes.
Right next to Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, there is a tiny temple called Yasaka Koshin-do. If you are around the area, it’s worth a stop! The visitors often write their wish on a colorful ball called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. It is one of the most colorful and photogenic temples in Kyoto, and it is a popular spot for young Japanese girls.
About 5 minutes walk from Yasaka Koshin-do, there is a cotton candy shop called Jeremy & Jemimah. Their flavor is very unique and Japanese, such as matcha, cherry blossom, and yuzu (Japanese citron). The cotton candy is huge (I mean… bigger than my face!), but extremely fluffy. Once you bite into it, it just melts away in your mouth leaving a pleasant taste of the flavor. It was something you wouldn’t have in any other place!
Right across the main shopping areas of Gion, Kodai-ji is located. It is not very touristy, yet the temple has such a peaceful garden with a little bamboo grove which is reminiscent of Arashiyama. Also, there is a little museum, which has paintings of Buddha Nirvana (Nehan-zu) at Rishodo hall. Normally, last entry to the temple is 5:00 pm. However, during special periods the temple and its environment are illuminated at nighttime and the temple reopens from sunset to 9:30 pm. In spring the cherry blossoms are illuminated, while in autumn the trees planted around the pond of the temple are illuminated. It is highly recommended to experience the night view!
Ninenzaka is the street which makes you feel like as if you are back in ancient Japan. It is nice to just stroll around and have a feel of the place, but there are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself as you explore. The Starbucks in Ninenzaka is one of them, and I absolutely recommend you to visit if you are around the area. It is world’s first tatami-style Starbucks, and the atmosphere is just beautiful.
I hope you will visit Kyoto soon, and if you do make sure to explore Gion wearing a kimono!! <3