Kiyomizu-dera Temple 0

For most first-time visitors to Japan, Kyoto is at the top of their to-do list. While the ancient city and former capital of Japan has plenty of temples, shrines and other tourist sites to offer, it’s possible to experience the highlights of Kyoto in a day.

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If you’re traveling from Osaka, the Keihan Line runs a super express train from Yodoyabashi Station straight to Gion Shijo, right in the heart of Kyoto, in under an hour. For only 500 yen more, you can travel with class. The Keihan Line offers premium cars, which include assigned seating, plush chairs, free Wi-Fi and a personal attendant in each car. The 500 yen might be worth the difference, especially if you’re preparing for a day of walking or traveling with luggage—and the prospect of standing with your duffle bag for an hour. At Gion Shijo Station, there is a KEIHAN Tourist Information Center GIONSHIJO where you can pick-up a city map, ask questions, and use free Wi-Fi.

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple 

When you arrive in Gion Shijo there are plenty of nearby attractions to enjoy, but for most the priority will be Kiyomizu-dera. The 1200-year-old Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most famous temples in all of Japan. Cut into a hillside on the edge of Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera looks out onto the city in the distance and gorgeous woods below. Its observation deck, supported by wooden stilts, is a popular site for cherry blossom and fall foliage viewing. 

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Kiyomizu-dera is within walking distance from Gion Shijo Station. The route will take you through Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, two historic shopping streets that lead to the temple entrance. Lined with Japanese sweets, crafts and souvenir shops and restaurants housed in restored buildings, these pedestrian-only streets are certainly on-the-beaten-path. Despite the other tourists the beauty of the scene will still manage to transport you to Old Kyoto. 

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Gion District 

The area surrounding Gion Shijo Station, known as the Gion District, is often noted as the historic home of Kyoto’s geisha. However, there are plenty of other sites to see in the area. Shirakawa-dori, for example, is a beautiful street that is home to kaiseki (multi-course dinner) restaurants and traditional inns. The street runs alongside the Shirakawa Canal and a string of willow trees, making for gorgeous views day and night. A couple blocks over is Shinmonzen-dori, another Old Kyoto style street. Famous for its antiques stores, a walk down Shinmonzen is a chance to find the best work of traditional Japanese craftsmen and artisans. 

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When you’ve exhausted your feet and wallet with walking and shopping, a great way to end the day is in Kyoto Pontocho. Across the Shijo Bridge from Gion Shijo Station, Pontocho is a tight alleyway packed with an incredible number of small restaurants and bars. The area gets crowded in the evenings, but offers an authentic local Kyoto experience, and hopefully a tasty one.

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For cheaper fare try an izakaya (Japanese gastropub) serving yakitori(grilled skewered chicken) or okonomiyaki (cabbage packages known as Kansai’s “soul food”). If you’re looking for a more gourmet experience, try one of the area’s many kaiseki restaurants. If you dine on the east side of the street you may even eat with a view of the Kamogawa River, which is lit up by the restaurants’ lanterns. 



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ANDREW DECK 
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.