Mapping Kyoto: The Districts of the Eternal City

Kyoto is quite the interesting place in Japan. Exhibiting the innovative features of a megacity while maintaining the value of rich culture, it has been attracting people from all walks of life. Understanding its layout is one thing to familiarize oneself with the place to fully appreciate it.

Table of Contents

  1. Kyoto City: The Heart of Japan
  2. The Portrait of Kyoto City
  3. Some Notable Sites related to Geisha to Visit
  4. Summary

Kyoto City: The Heart of Japan

Japan has lots of precious gems seen in broad daylight, and one of the historical treasures of the country is its third-largest city, Kyoto. The place managed to outlive thousand years of adaptation and change, giving birth to its countless heritage sites, making it a homeland of cultural enthusiasts. The old city is mapped on the region of Kansai, specifically in the center of Honshu Island. Dating back to the past centuries, Kyoto was called Heian-kyo and was set to be the cradle of cultivation. The ancient city is within reach by various transportations due to its topographical disposition - stationed in a valley 1000 meters above sea level, creating a strong defense system from bloodshed. The city gradually increased in population rate, representing about 2.6 million people.

※Kyoto Prefecture, “City and Municipal Populations (according to the national census)

As the city envelopes heritage sites at large, tourists and neighboring travelers typically can’t explore the city map in just a day. Not mentioning how vast the realm is and how preoccupied the district streets are.

The Portrait of Kyoto City

Kyoto is a capacious place, and beyond doubt, sightseers are unraveled throughout the place. The first thing that comes in your mind upon arrival is to visit wonderful places that would ease your mind and calm your raging storms. Most of Kyoto City is admirable, and compressing it in just a day is not enough. Below are Kyoto's significant districts where you can decide to plan your tour on day one and just get lost in its undeniable classic beauty.

Downtown Kyoto

Downtown Kyoto is the perfect spot to fill your fashion sense, taste, and take-home souvenirs.  Aside from the retrospect exploration of its heritage sanctuaries, it is packed with various shopping centers lined with products, services, and goods. This district in Kyoto is the best catch to destress and bring your family together. Below is a shortlist of attractions to satisfy your tour and maximize your travel enjoyment:

  1. GEAR Theater

  2. AEON Mall Kyoto

  3. Nishiki Market

  4. Nishiki Tenmangu

  5. Kyoto Marui


Higashiyama District in Kyoto is packed with things so we’ll break it down into Southern and Northern Higashiyama.

Northern Higashiyama

Extending from the south of Nanzen-ji to the north of Ginkaku-ji is where the area of Northern Higashiyama lies. Aside from the attractions in Southern Higashiyama, this district in Kyoto is also loaded with world-class tourist spots and Buddhist temples namely:

  1. Eikan-do

  2. Ginkaku-ji

  3. Nanzen-ji

  4. Tetsugaku-no-Michi a.k.a Path of Philosophy

  5. Heian-jingu

  6. Shugaku-in Rikyu Imperial Villa

  7. Enko-ji

  8. Honen-in

Southern Higashiyama

The district where some of the most preserved temples, shrines, and other medieval architecture lies. This place is one of the best packages to plan your first tour in Kyoto, as just wandering on the different streets of Higashiyama is already a breakthrough on your post-historic walk in Japan. Here is a list of sites where you can walk through and explore:

 1. Kiyomizu-dera

 2. Maruyama Park

 3. Nene no Michi

 4. Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka Streets

 5. Shirakawa Street

 6. Kōdai-ji

 7. Kyoto Ebisu Shrine

 8. Sanjūsangen-dō

 9. Yasaka Jinja

 10. Yasaka no Tō


Further west of Kyoto, this district is a perfect attraction for visitors who love nature. People usually arrive at this place to have a peek of its famous bamboo groves. Several temples and parks are also located in this place including:

 1. Arashiyama Monkey Park

 2. Oigawa River and Nakanoshima Park

 3. Saga-Toriimoto Street

 4. Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple

 5. Gio-ji Temple

 6. Jojakko-ji Temple

 7. Tenryu-ji Temple

Northwest Kyoto

Unlike the previous districts mentioned, this area needs some trekking, but the stroll is worthwhile since it houses three significant temples and other amazing sites. You can explore this area by riding a bus, a taxi, and best if you have a bicycle.

  1. Kinkaku-ji Temple

  2. Ryoan-ji Temple 

  3. Myoshin-ji Temple

Among these, Kinkaku-ji Temple is the most famous, known as the Golden Pavilion often seen on and in guide books. It was built in 1397 CE and it’s one of the most visited locations in Kyoto by domestic and foreign tourists. This is another one of the places that almost everyone who visits Kyoto makes sure to stop by as it is that iconic.


You can find Nishijin District on the edge of northwestern Kyoto and it's famous for its old houses (called machiya), one of them a Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan, and narrow traditional-style streets. The ambiance of the streets of Nishijin can give you a sense of an olden era. Along with small temples and old townhouses, Nishijin is also recognized as the textile district so that’s something to look for in the area. Make sure to check out the traditional sweets here too.

Other districts perfect for your travel plan include the Kyoto Station Area, Southeast Kyoto, Kibune, Ohara, and mountains to the north like Takao.

Some Notable Sites related to Geisha to Visit

Below are geisha districts not mentioned above that you might want to check out too:


Even though this eastern Kyoto is a small-scale area, the tourism rating is hiking up annually. Gion Odori or ‘’Dances of Gion’’ is open to the public every November when people gather to witness this dance. There are several places you should not miss to be visiting in this district. You can wander on the pavements of Shirakawa, get lost in Hanami Lane, and explore the depths of Shijo Dori.

Miyagawa Cho

Located in the south of Gion district is a place famous for its kabuki influence performed in small theaters. You can find teahouses abundant in this area. This area is perfect when you want to meditate or simply relax.


Found by the Kamo River is a unique high-end area called Pontocho. Kamogawa Odori, which means “Dance of the Kamo River” is also performed in this place annually.


Every month of March, Kitana Odori or ‘’Dances of the Kitano Shrine’’ is performed in the northwestern part of Kyoto City.  This is also a small-scale district, but nevertheless, several spots are also a must-see in this area. As the oldest geisha district, Kamishichiken is not as close to downtown as the other four geisha districts; however, you can still have your souvenir shopping spree here if you wish to.


Truly, the city of Kyoto is abundant in architectural heritages and beautiful sceneries. Traveling to Japan is a journey you will always want to rekindle because of its worthwhile treasures hovering in the different districts of Kyoto. Its complex geography makes your itinerary more exciting and there will always be something new to see or rediscover every time you return to Kyoto.

Read our many other articles about the amazing Kyoto here


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