Gion is the perfect place to explore the Kyoto of another age. Known as the city's entertainment district, particularly for the refined performers known as geisha (or more properly geiko) who have enthralled patrons for centuries, Gion is full of handsome, understated townhouses and teahouses, restaurants serving traditional Kyoto cuisine, and venerable temples and shrines.
Gion can be accessed easily by bus, taxi or subway from Kyoto Station.
Buses leave regularly from Kyoto Station, and the 20-minute journey will take you straight to Yasaka Jinja. While there is no subway station in Gion, Gion-Shijo Station and Kawaramachi Station are a short but scenic walk away.
The traditional townhouses, known as machiya, line the streets of Gion. Many of these former residences have been transformed into restaurants, shops, and other businesses. Drop in to purchase local specialties such as Kyoto sweets and craft items. You might even glimpse a real geisha in training, known as a maiko.
Gion was once one of the hotbeds of the visually and aurally stunning art of kabuki, particularly from the 17th century onward. Now only one of its six theaters remains, Minami-za. The performances here include other forms of entertainment, but if there's a kabuki play on while you're in Kyoto, be sure to see at least a few acts.
If you're looking for a more intimate experience, drop by Gion Corner at Yasaka Hall. The daily dances by maiko are supplemented by other traditional performances and experiences. Although people dressed as maiko can be spotted throughout Kyoto, Gion Corner is one of the places you can be sure you are meeting an authentic maiko rather than a tourist in costume.