The Higashiyama (東山) District is Kyoto’s (京都) eastern city ward alongside the Higashiyama Mountains. It is famous for its traditional vibe as many of Higashiyama’s streets are still filled with lots of old-town buildings back from when Kyoto was the capital (before 1868)
Although some shops and restaurants have been renovated since then, the residents of this area try hard to maintain the historical look.
To go along with tradition, the shops and restaurants focus on local specialties that have been around for centuries. You can also find an abundance of souvenir shops, especially around Kiyomizudera. Consequently, this is the perfect place to shop for presents to bring home!
Most shops and restaurants are opened from around 9:00 – 18:00 (some restaurants longer). In March, the annual event Hanatoro (花灯路) is held which features beautiful illuminations across all of Higashiyama. Visiting during that time is definitely recommended, I have sadly not yet managed to do so myself.
With tons of lanterns brightening up the streets, shops and restaurants are opened way into the evening to accustom the visitors of the event.
Let me give you a quick overview of the main sites in and around Higashiyama:
Lit. “Water temple”, this is one of the most famous temples in all of Japan (日本). It offers an amazing panorama view of Kyoto city and lots of smaller temple buildings to enjoy. Easily among the top 5 sites in all of Kyoto.
Hours: 6:00 – 18:00
Entrance Fee: 400 Yen (3,08€/$3.54; exchange rate as of December 2018)
Located in the west of Maruyama Park, this popular shrine is where Japan’s most important festival, the Gion matsuri, is hosted every year. It’s most famous for its hanging lanterns that are illuminated every night.
Hours: opened 24/7
Entrance Fee: 0 Yen!
Kyoto’s best area to view Cherry blossoms in late March/early April. It’s a very spacious park that holds many shrine and temple buildings within its reach.
Hours: opened 24/7
Entrance Fee: 0 Yen!
This roughly two kilometers long pathway is known to have been used for meditation by famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro. It follows a small canal which has dozens of cherry trees aligned on each side. Definitely another great area to visit during the season.
Ginkakuji is the silver counterpart to the even more famous Kinkakuji (金閣寺) towards the west of the city. Although not covered in silver, it is still a beautiful temple with a nice garden area next to it.
You arrive at Ginkakuji if you follow the Philosopher’s path all the way up (starting at the southern end).
Hours: 8:30 – 17:00; 9:00 – 16:30 from December through February
Entrance Fee: 500 Yen (3,85€/$4.42)
The Gion district is most famous for the many geisha (芸者) or meiko walking along the streets (many as in most frequent in all of Kyoto). If it’s within your budget, you can have dinner or lunch together with a geisha or meiko as well. Alternatively, you can watch the public performances which are way cheaper. To pair with this, Gion is home to many restaurants and tea houses, some of which catered towards high-end dining.
How to get to Higashiyama
The district is located to the east of Gion.
From Kyoto Station:
Take bus number 100 or 206 heading towards Kiyomizudera. You can get off at any bus stop between Gion and the temple and you’re pretty much there. The bus ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 230 Yen (1,77€/$2.03).
Alternatively, you can take the Karasuma Line to Karasuma Oike Station, transfer to the Tozai Line to arrive at Higashiyama Station. From here, it is about 15 minutes of walking until you reach Maruyama Park. The train ride takes 13 minutes and costs 260 Yen (2€/$2.30)
If you would like to check out Gion first, follow the access information provided in this article.
Higashiyama is a very pleasant district where you should spend at least one, maybe even two days of your trip. Kiyomizudera, Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine alone will keep you busy for a while.
On top of that, it is located at the foot of the Higashiyama mountain range, allowing for some nice hikes if you’re into that. Combining a trip to Higashiyama with other nearby sites is absolutely possible as well.
I find that this area represents what many people first think of when asked about Kyoto. Loads of temples, history and tradition. It’s all here. I’m sure that’s why many of you would want to come to Kyoto, to experience the vast contrast it portrays in comparison to the likes of Tokyo (東京).
And also: If you’re usually one to take a taxi or other forms of transportation, consider making Higashiyama your exception. It’s one of the best areas to explore on foot in my opinion.
That’s it for this article, thank you very much for reading!
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Next up we are going to have a look at the popular DisneySea in Tokyo!
See you there!