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DISCOVER: Higashiyama

Peppered with spectacular temples and home to Japan’s most famous geisha district, Higashiyama is Kyoto’s historic heart. At the foot of the city’s eastern mountains, tightly packed streets lined with traditional wooden machiya promise hours of happy wandering. Dive in and discover the essence of old Kyoto, whilst taking a pit-stop at some of the city’s best restaurants and coffee shops.

Read on for our Higashiyama tour-on-two-wheels, and click here to view each spot pinned on an easy-to-follow map.

Image: Marion Vicenta Payr

1. STAY: In a Traditional Machiya House

No stay in Kyoto’s historic centre is complete without checking into a traditional machiya townhouse. Wood-built and complete with tatami flooring and sliding shoji doors, most machiya have over 100 years of local history written into the walls.

For total immersion in Japanese tradition without compromising on comfort, we recommend Old Kyoto’s lovingly restored suite of Higashiyama guest houses.

Image: Marion Vicenta Payr

2. DO: Hire a bike

The best way to see Kyoto is on two wheels, and the city is well serviced with cheap-and-easy bicycle rental. For Higashiyama, pick up your ride at Rent-a-Cycle HACHI – perfectly positioned to explore Gion to the north and temples to the south.

Rent-a-Cycle HACHI: 249 Kitagomoncho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0815

Image: Marion Vicenta Payr

3. SEE: Kawai Kanjiro’s House

Fans of Japanese folk-art mustn’t miss the open-house of late potter Kawai Kanjiro – one of the founders of the Mingei movement. As beautiful as it is hard-to-find, this under-the-radar memorial museum is a fascinating example of traditional Japanese architecture, interiors and hand-crafts.

Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum: 569 Kanei-cho, Gojozaka Higashioji Nishiiru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0875

Image: Via Japan Visitor 

4. DRINK: Coffee that borders on art

Kyoto is awash with coffee so good you’ll swear each cup tastes better than the last. Riding coffee culture’s fouth wave, cafés such as Higashiyama’s Dongree mean you’re never far from a perfectly prepped cup. Using beans from five local roasters, Dongree’s owner Yusuke Shibazaki prepares a tasting set that allows you to sample the local scene all in one go.

Dongree: 214-4 Ikedonocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0848

Image: Via Unsplash

5. DO: Browse Kyoto’s best-loved design store

A contemporary landmark in the heart of historic Gion, Sfera is a detour worth making for design fans everywhere. Unmissable on a street packed with antique stores and traditional teahouses, Sfera’s perforated titanium façade fronts a four-storey ‘culture centre’ complete with gallery, homewares store, bar and café.

Sfera Building: 2F, 17 Benzaiten-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Image: Via Markus Mostrom Design

6. EAT: DIY Sushi

With three locations across Kyoto, AWOMB’s unique DIY concept invites you to not only taste, but make your own maki rolls. With a plate of ingredients to play with, including nori seaweed, sushi rice, and a selection of raw fillings and toppings, guests can get to grips with exactly what goes into preparing their favourite sushi.

AWOMB Gion Yasaka: 63-8 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0825


Images via Maekan

7. SEE: The oldest zen temple in Kyoto

Kennin-ji may not top most ‘must-see’ lists when it comes to Kyoto temples, but it’s breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless. Founded in 1202 Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen temple in the city and home to some of Kyoto’s most ornate hand-painted interiors. And whilst you browse the grounds, being off the tourist trail allows you to explore the temples and gardens in peace.

Kennin-Ji: 584 Komatsucho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0811

Image: Marion Vicenta Payr

8. DISCOVER: Gion’s healing hall

After a long day getting to know Higashiyama, a pit-stop at Gion district’s famous ‘healing hall’, Hiyoshido East, is the perfect way to unwind. Nestled amongst the backstreets, Hiyoshido have been offering authentic Japanese shiatsu massages for almost a hundred years. Housed in a traditional wooden machiya house and popular amongst work-weary chefs and geisha, there’s no better way to relax than an hour spent stretched out on Hiyoshido’s heated tatami floor.

Hiyoshido East: 347 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0073

Image: Alex Rebbeck for ANA

9. EAT: Kyoto-style home cooking

Serving local-fare known as Obanzai, family-run restaurant Tokiyo specialises in comfort food, traditionally prepared and unique to Kyoto. Owner Kiwako Inoue and her son serve 20 home-cooked favourites at a time, preparing large dishes for guests to choose from at their cosy Higashiyama restaurant.

Tokiyo: 42 Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0087

Image: Via Unsplash

10. DRINK: Whisky cocktails in a historic townhouse

With full stomachs and weary legs, where better to end your day than propped up at a bar sampling one of Japan’s famous whiskies? Make your way to The Common One Bar, where a converted wooden machiya houses a fine selection of local blends and some of Kyoto’s best cocktails.

The Common One Bar: 46 Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0087

Image: Via Tabelog

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