Kyoto's most popular streets appeared in ancient times, when the city of Kyoto was built as a grid running north, south, east, and west, following the model of the then-capital of China, Chang'an. There are even nursery rhymes to help people remember Kyoto's street names. While things aren't quite as they were in the past, it's still easy to get your bearings from the street names in what is a fascinating city to walk around.

    When you visit a famous temple or shrine, make sure you take a walk around the area, paying attention to the street names map in hand. The streets leading to shrines tend to be full of interesting shops and restaurants.

    1

    Shirakawa-dori

    Visit unique shops in an area renowned for its art schools

    Shirakawa-dori is an alley running from Kyoto University of the Arts in the direction of Honenin Temple. The area is home to unique antique shops, coffee shops, stylish restaurants, and izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), which all attract many regular customers.

    This part of town often appears as the setting for the “K-ON!” anime, so fans are also among the visitors. Check out the area around Ichijoji Station for many great ramen restaurants and its famous rows of zelkova and ginkgo trees.

    Location: Kitashirakawa Tsutacho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8262, Japan

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    2

    Sannenzaka

    A beautiful ancient cityscape with high cultural value

    Sannenzaka lies in Kyoto’s Higashiyama area and is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, its stone staircase and cobblestone streets leading to Kiyomizudera Temple as the former approach to the temple. Get your phone or camera ready to take shots of the elegant traditional Kyoto townhouses and many other sights typical of Kyoto.

    You’ll also find charming shops, restaurants, and museums, and it’s a great area simply to go for a stroll. You’ll lose track of time as you’re busy eating delicious snacks or looking for souvenirs.

    Location: 2-Chome, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan

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    3

    Ninenzaka

    Explore an area where Kyoto people still live in traditional houses

    Ninenzaka is a narrow passage continuing to the end of Sannenzaka. This is the site of the temporary residence where the painter Yumeji Takehisa spent a few months in the early Taisho period. As it’s one of the most famous tourist attractions in Kyoto, surrounded by World Heritage temples and shrines, it’s always crowded with students on school trips and international visitors. The scenery of typical Kyoto buildings lined up on both sides of cobblestone pavements is atmospheric during the daytime and simply beautiful at night.

    There are a variety of shops, with popular souvenirs including Kyoto goods, Japanese traditional items, Japanese confectioneries, dried foods, and pickled vegetables. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes. Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya, located in a traditional Japanese house, is one of the hottest new attractions.

    Location: 2-Chome, Kiyomizu, Masuyacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan

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    4

    Shijo-dori

    The beating heart of Kyoto both in the past and present

    Shijo-dori is one of the busiest areas of downtown Kyoto, bringing together many train, subway, and bus routes. All kinds of shops and commercial buildings, including major department stores, fashion malls, and hotels are located around the Kawaramachi intersection from Karasuma to Kamo River, and it’s also connected to various shopping arcade streets.

    The history of Kyoto’s merchants is continued from Shijo-oji Street in Heiankyo, ancient Kyoto. The area survived many wars and has always been introducing Kyoto’s culture to the world. It’s also known as a cherry blossom viewing site, with the streets dyed pink in springtime.

    Location: Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

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    5

    Pontocho

    Explore the back alleys of this fascinating night town

    Pontocho district is a night spot dotted with red lanterns, spreading along the back alleys of Shijo-dori. It’s one of Kyoto’s geisha districts along with Gion, with the stages for the Kamogawa Odori dance by maiko and geiko carrying on the tradition even today. Once you pass through the cobblestone pavement along Kamo River, you’re into a whole different world. Traditional Kyoto townhouses give the area a distinctive atmosphere.

    While you’ll find plenty of izakaya and bars here, the area also has its fair share of cafés and Japanese sweet shops welcoming a younger crowd. In summer, restaurants along Kamo River set up outdoor seating called noryodoko, giving Pontocho a real buzz. Pontocho Park, with its cherry trees, is a cool spot for a short break or picnic.

    Location: Pontocho-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8013, Japan

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    6

    Teramachi-dori

    A shopping arcade at the heart of Kyoto living

    Teramachi-dori was once known as Higashi Kyogoku-oji Street in Heiankyo. However, it was during the reign of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who moved many temples to this area, that it started to become more important. Honnoji Temple, which was reconstructed by Hideyoshi, is found here, as is the memorial tower for Nobunaga Oda.

    In the Edo period, the number of merchants and craftsmen increased, leading to its development as a shopping district today. The street between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori is called Teramachi Kyogoku Shopping Street, where you’ll find all kinds of shops. The giant lantern with “Tanimachi Kyogoku” written in big letters is a famous sight.

    Location: Eirakucho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8071, Japan

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    photo by Mx. Granger (CC0 1.0) modified

    7

    Ishibei-koji

    Find a view of the ancient city hidden behind Gion

    Ishibei-koji is a small street near Yasaka Shrine, accessed from Shimogawara-dori. Kyoto townhouses line both sides of the cobblestone pavement, creating a full-on Kyoto atmosphere. Ishibei-koji is close to Gion, and the town where many geisha lived became a teahouse district in the Meiji and Taisho periods.

    Though more restaurants have opened, and tourists visit the area, you can still see maiko (apprentice geisha) and geiko (female Japanese performing artists, also known as geisha) heading to traditional Japanese restaurants and hotels even today. At night, the area is dotted with outside lights that enhance the ambience.

    Location: Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0825, Japan

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    8

    Shimbashi-dori

    Explore the retro chic Gion geisha district

    Shimbashi-dori is a small, atmospheric passage with cobblestone pavements and Kyomachi townhouses. The wave of commercialisation has come to Kyoto, an ancient capital of Japan, with fewer and fewer streets retaining the atmosphere of the old days. However, there are more than 50 traditional houses remaining on Shinbashi-dori, and it’s been chosen as an important preservation district for its historic buildings.

    Signs and noren (the curtains hung outside entrances) of teahouses and traditional Japanese restaurants are kept discreet to blend in with the view. Tatsumibashi Bridge near Tatsumi Daimyojin Shrine is famous as a location for TV series and movies filmed in Kyoto.

    Location: Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0087, Japan

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    9

    Yasaka-dori

    A five-storied pagoda that is the face of Kyoto

    Yasaka-dori is an approach to the temple with a view of Yasaka Pagoda, the famous five-storied pagoda a symbol of Kyoto. The traditional atmosphere comes through in cobblestone pavements and Kyoto townhouses. Similar to nearby Ninenzaka Slope and Sannenzaka Street, you can enjoy shopping at many places selling souvenirs and general goods,

    Yasaka Pagoda is open to the public, so don’t miss it. The current building was reconstructed in the Muromachi period, was a battle site during the Onin War, and became surrounded by a red light district in the Edo period. Today it’s a landmark of Higashiyama, quietly watching over the crowded street of Yasaka-dori.

    Location: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0036, Japan

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    10

    Ebisugawa-dori

    An area specialising in furniture since the early Meiji era

    The area in front of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, from Karasuma to Teramachi on Ebisugawa-dori, is a specialist shopping district where you’ll find housing-related companies and shops. Its history dates back to the early Meiji period, and it developed to another level after the war. Community-based events and workshops are popular among the locals.

    In addition to furniture, antiques, and home goods shops, fancy sweets shops and restaurants have opened up here recently, bringing this area some much-deserved attention. This is definitely a new tourist spot to keep an eye on.

    Location: Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 604-0000, Japan

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