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Best Things to Do in Gion: How to Enjoy Kyoto's Geisha District

Best Things to Do in Gion: How to Enjoy Kyoto's Geisha District

Date published: 13 July 2023

If you're planning a trip to Kyoto, Gion is a must-see historic district for anyone interested in exploring Japanese culture.

Known for its quaint streets, ancient buildings, and unique ambiance, Gion has a charm to it that can only be found in this part of the country. Even the power cables have been put underground (a rarity in Japan) to retain its authentic, traditional feel.

Gion is famous for its skilled female entertainers known as geisha, but it's important to respect their privacy and not cause them stress by approaching them in the streets. Instead, to witness their artistry, it's recommended to book a private or group event.

But there are plenty of other things to do in Gion as well! You could visit a traditional teahouse, explore the historic streets and buildings, or even dress up in a beautiful kimono - so let's see how to do just that!

Main image: PIXTA

Table of Contents
  1. Getting to and from Gion
  2. The best things to do in Gion
  3. Enjoy a show at Gion Corner

Getting to and from Gion

The Shirakawa Street in Gion, Kyoto, is beautiful with cherry blossoms in full bloom. (Photo: PIXTA)
The Shirakawa Street in Gion, Kyoto, is beautiful with cherry blossoms in full bloom. (Photo: PIXTA)

Getting to and from Gion is easy, as it's located close to the center of Kyoto. The nearest train station is Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line, which can be accessed by taking the Nara Line from Kyoto Station to Tofukuji Station and then changing to the Keihan Main Line (approximately 25 minutes one-way and 290 yen).

Additionally, Kyoto is well-connected to major cities such as Osaka and Tokyo via the Shinkansen (bullet train) network.

Upon arrival at Gion-Shijo Station, you can easily access Hanamikoji Street, which is part of the larger of the two geisha districts in Gion. It's just a three-minute walk from the station, making it a convenient starting point for exploring the area.

Shirakawa area
If you want to take the scenic route to Gion, consider using exit 9 at Gion-Shijo Station. This will lead you to the picturesque Shirakawa Canal, where it meets the Kamogawa River. Here, you'll find charming dining spots and teahouses that offer views of the canal. The area is characterized by its old traditional houses and the willow trees that line the canal, providing a serene atmosphere that's perfect for a relaxing stroll.

Recommended rail/sightseeing passes

The best things to do in Gion

The streets of Gion in Kyoto are lined with traditional townhouses called "kyomachiya." (Photo: PIXTA)
The streets of Gion in Kyoto are lined with traditional townhouses called "kyomachiya." (Photo: PIXTA)

Rent a Kimono and Experience the Traditional Culture of Gion

"When in Rome do as the Romans do." In Kyoto, that means trying out a kimono! There is no better way to immerse yourself in Kyoto culture than to put on a beautiful kimono or yukata and explore the city.

Kimono and Yukata Rental at Wakana or Kimono Miyabi Kyoto (see links below) will not only get you fitted in a beautiful kimono or yukata, but will also do your hair and makeup!

Explore Shijo Dori: A Shopper's Paradise in Gion

The cityscape of Shijo-Ohashi and Shijo-Kawaramachi in Kyoto. (Photo: PIXTA)
The cityscape of Shijo-Ohashi and Shijo-Kawaramachi in Kyoto. (Photo: PIXTA)

If you come out exits 3, 4, or 6 of Gion-Shijo Station, you will find yourself on Shijo Dori; then, if you cross the Shijo Ohashi Bridge (or even go directly to Kawaramachi Station), you'll arrive on a street chock-block of modern stores.

But if you head in the opposite direction toward Yasaka Shrine, the stores you find will feel like they're from a time capsule. Walking from Gion to Shijo Dori is like walking through time from old Japan to modern Japan – with plenty of shopping opportunities along the way!

Indulge in the Delights of the Gion Teahouses

Located just a short stroll away from Yasaka Shrine, at the intersection of Shijo-Dori and Hanamikoji-Dori streets, Ichiriki Ochaya is a renowned teahouse in the Gion district.

Stepping through its doors instantly transports you to a place of historical significance. With a history spanning three centuries, Ichiriki Ochaya offers the perfect setting to indulge in a cup of matcha tea accompanied by a traditional Japanese sweet. As you savor this delightful combination, take a moment to reflect on all the beautiful sights you've seen in Japan.

It's worth noting that during the 19th century, Ichiriki Ochaya served as the residence for the 47 Ronin, Japan's revolutionary samurai warriors. This teahouse was their gathering place, where they strategized their revenge and made a profound impact on the course of Japanese history.

Visit Yasaka Shrine: A Spiritual Destination in the Heart of Gion

One end of Shijo Dori is marked by the entrance to Yasaka Shrine, which itself was founded over 1,300 years ago.

After you pass through the massive gates of the shrine, you will quickly find yourself at the shrine itself. Offer your respects by bowing as you walk through the gate, then you can find a few photo opportunities and have a stroll through Maruyama Park surrounding the shrine. If you happen to be here in spring you'll find that it's also one of the best cherry blossom spots in Kyoto!

The Yasaka Shrine also plays a large role in the Gion Matsuri Festival, which we'll cover later on.

Admire the Cherry Blossoms in Maruyama Park

Maruyama Park is a beautiful public park located in the heart of Kyoto, known for its stunning natural beauty and historical significance. The park is particularly famous for its cherry blossom trees, which attract visitors from all over Japan during the spring months.

You can take a relaxing stroll through the park, climb to the top of Maruyama Hill for panoramic views of the city, or enjoy a picnic with a view. The park also features a tea house, where visitors can experience traditional Japanese culture by sipping tea and enjoying sweets while surrounded by a serene garden. In addition to the natural beauty, Maruyama Park is also home to the historic Yasaka Pagoda.

Take a Scenic Rickshaw Tour through the Charming Streets of Gion

There is a lot to see in Kyoto, and even exploring every corner of Gion requires a lot of legwork... So why not let someone else do it for you?

Rickshaw tours allow you to sit back, relax, and take in all the sights without having to move a muscle! There are different options ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and they are perfect for enjoying the atmosphere of this historical district while learning fun and interesting facts from your guide.

The Kyoto Higashiyama Rickshaw Tour is a great option, and offers multilingual guides who know the area inside and out! Click on the link below for more information.

Savor Japanese Cuisine at Gion at One of These Must-Try Dining Spots

Gion is not only known for its historic ambiance and geisha culture but also for its exquisite Japanese cuisine. The district offers a range of dining options, from traditional kaiseki restaurants to casual eateries, each with its own unique characteristics and flavor.

Many restaurants in Gion specialize in kaiseki, a traditional multi-course meal that emphasizes the seasonality of ingredients and the harmony of their flavors.

Some popular must-try dining spots in Gion include Gion Kawakami, Ichiriki Chaya, and Gion Sasaki. Trying out Japanese cuisine in Gion is a foodie experience not to be missed!

Cross the Iconic Tatsumi Bridge and Soak in the Scenery of Gion

Springtime in Kyoto, just before dawn, in front of Tatsumi Bridge with cherry blossoms in full bloom. (Photo: PIXTA)
Springtime in Kyoto, just before dawn, in front of Tatsumi Bridge with cherry blossoms in full bloom. (Photo: PIXTA)

As mentioned above, one of Gion's most beautiful spots is along Shirakawa Canal, with its scenic bridges like Tatsumi Bridge. This little bridge, which is very close to where the canal meets the Kamogawa River, offers a gorgeous view of the tree-lined canal and is a perfect photo spot. The bridge achieved international fame for its appearance in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, and just like in the movie, there is a special atmosphere about it that you need to experience for yourself to understand.

Experience the Beauty of Spring Cherry Blossoms at Gion Shimbashi

Also in central Gion is Gion Shimbashi, a charming neighborhood famous for its historic atmosphere and traditional architecture complete with wooden buildings, lantern-lit streets, and well-preserved machiya (traditional townhouses).

In the spring, the canal that runs through Gion Shimbashi is lined with delicate cherry blossoms, making it a popular spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and a must-visit destination during the season. You can take a stroll along the narrow alleys and take in the charming sights while trying out local food and drinks at the various restaurants and teahouses in the area. It's a great spot to experience the authentic culture and history of Kyoto.

Join the Festivities: Experience the Gion Matsuri Festival in Kyoto

The Gion Matsuri Festival is Japan’s largest and most famous festival. And given that is lasts for an entire month, it's hard to miss!

The first festival took place in the year 869, and it has been held regularly ever since, with parades taking place on many days throughout July. In the evenings there is a festive atmosphere with night stalls selling all kinds of Japanese food, while in the day you can enjoy various parades. The main processions of floats take place on July 17 and July 24.

  • Gion Festival
    • Address Yasaka Shrine and others, Kyoto Prefecture Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, 605-0000
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Kyoto Station (JR Tokaido Line / JR Biwako Line / JR Tokaido Shinkansen / JR Kyoto Line / JR Sagano Line / JR San-in Line / JR Nara Line / Karasuma Line / Kintetsu-kyoto Line)
      20 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 075-561-6155

Transform into a Maiko at a Studio in Gion and Take Stunning Photos

Taking a rickshaw tour or walking the streets of Gion, you're quite likely to spot a geisha at some point. But here you can take matters into your own hands and go a step further by getting dressed up like a real maiko (apprentice geisha) for yourself!

Step into the enchanting world of traditional Japanese culture with the Maiko Experience in a serene Japanese garden. Transform into a graceful maiko for a day, donning elegant traditional attire, and strike imaginative poses during a captivating photoshoot.

Discover Gion with a Tour and Get Insider Tips

Because there's so much to see in Gion, it can be easy to get overwhelmed or to miss certain spots, so we highly recommend considering one of the tours below to make your trip easier.

Stroll Down Hanamikoji Street: A Must-Visit in Gion

This major street which intersects with the southern portion of Gion features a road lined with traditional wooden buildings home to restaurants and teahouses. These spots will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time!

The historic architecture draws in many visitors, but a lot of people come here to try to spot a geisha. This means that in recent years strict rules have been imposed to stop geishas from being harassed on this street. If you do see a geisha, please just appreciate their beauty from afar and do not stop them to take a photo with you.

Enjoy a show at Gion Corner

(Image is for illustrative purposes only.) (Photo: PIXTA)
(Image is for illustrative purposes only.) (Photo: PIXTA)

If you haven't yet experienced Japanese cultural shows like dances or theater, Gion Corner is the perfect place for you. Located in the heart of Gion, this cultural center offers a captivating overview of seven different Japanese traditions all in one place.

At Gion Corner, you can immerse yourself in various aspects of Japanese culture, such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, traditional music, and dance performances. The center is designed to showcase the diverse range of performing arts that have evolved in Japan over the centuries. Visitors can watch mesmerizing geisha dances, explore the history and culture of Kyoto, and even participate in a traditional tea ceremony. With daily performances, Gion Corner provides an excellent opportunity to learn about and appreciate Japan's rich cultural heritage.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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