Home to Kyoto's biggest food market, Nishiki Market, the beautiful traditional Japanese houses and shops of Pontocho, and rows of wonderful shops in the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping arcades, Downtown Kyoto is packed with awesome things to see and do. As there are so many places to see, you might be a little lost as to where to start. That's where our writers Shin and Sakurako are to help. This article features their half-day plan of downtown Kyoto that takes you to both landmark sights and down the back alleys of their most recommended spots.
This course is made up of all the must-see spots in downtown Kyoto and is designed to get your around them in no time, so if you're a first-timer to Kyoto, then it's a must-read!
Before we get into the course, we first want to show you the area we consider to be “downtown.”
On Sharing Kyoto, anything inside the four avenues of Oike-dori in the north, Gojo-dori in the south, Kamo River in the east and Horikawa-dori in the west, is downtown.
Directions to downtown:
When touring downtown Kyoto, one of the places you absolutely cannot miss is Nishiki Market. The Nishiki Market is full of weird and wonderful Japanese food and has been the bustling “Kitchen of Kyoto” for over 1300 years.
And with non-stop shops for 400 meters that serve the constant crowds that make it one of the busiest spots in the city, the market’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Shin’s Choice: Uchida Tsukemono Nishiki-KojiStanding out as one of the busiest stores in the already incredibly busy Nishiki Market is pickle shop, Uchida Tsukemono. Uchida Tsukemono is a long-standing traditional Kyoto pickle shop that’s sat in the center of Nishiki Market for years. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see the rows of pickle-filled barrels lining the storefront.
In addition to the pickles that make up Kyoto's "three great pickles" - "shibazuke," "sugukizuke" and "senmaizuke" - Uchida also sells a range of others made with seasonal Kyoto vegetables. At any one time, you can apparently find around 70 different types of pickles at Uchida. Not only that, but you can try practically all of them!
Try out whichever catch your eye and see if you can't find your favorite!
Also, since pickles are, well, preserved and don't go off quickly, they're also great as souvenirs.
Sakurako’s Choice: Ochanoko-SaisaiOchanoko-Saisai is a spice shop at the western end of Nishiki Market that specializes in the fantastic tasting blend of seven spices known as shichimi.
In addition to regular shichimi, Ochanoko-Saisai also sells a range of other things that use their special shichimi blend. These include, chili oil flavored sprinkles called “Raayu Furikake,” a series of spicy curry rice crackers called “Maiko han hii hii” and sticks of spicy fried rice crackers called “shichimi arare.” The spicy furikake sprinkles are especially popular, even with plenty of Kyoto locals who come all the way here to get their hands on it. As a side note, I, Sakurako, am a huge fan of this furikake and always have some at home.
There are free samples around the store too, so make sure to take full advantage of them!
See the article below for more info on Nishiki Market:
▼ Kitchen of Kyoto! Five great & fun & busy shops at Nishiki Market!
After Nishiki Market, take a walk through the connecting shopping arcades of Teramachi and Shinkyogoku. With Teramachi to the west and Nishikyogoku to the east, these two parallel shopping arcades contain shops and restaurants as far as the eye can see. Visited by both out of towners and locals alike, these shopping arcades are two of the most popular spots in downtown Kyoto.
While the area is home to countless shops, below are two of our top recommendations!
Sakurako’s Choice: mumokutekiSitting on the Sanjo-dori side of Teramachi, mumokuteki goods & wear is a lifestyle goods store selling organic and eco-friendly clothes, food, drinks and things for around the house.
With everything from additive-free jams to cozy wooden kitchen utensils, time slips through your fingers at mumokuteki as you browse all the lovely things on the shelves.
On the second floor, there’s also a vegan-friendly café. Find more details via the link below.
Shin’s Choice: SOUSOUSOU SOU is a Kyoto-based textile brand famous for its poppy designs that include nods to classic Japanese patterns and the country’s various seasons. Sitting not too far off the main downtown intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi, this specific SOU SOU store stocks everything “Footwear.”
Inside, the first things that are sure to catch your eye are the colorful split toed, rubber-soled shoes reminiscent of traditional Japanese tabi. Tabi are sock-like pieces of footwear that were worn with traditional Japanese clothes. Tabi feature a distinct V shape that separates the first and second toes.
The fusion of modern colors and traditional footwear gives these fascinating shoes a look that’s entirely unique to SOU SOU.
Other recommended stores that couldn’t fit here:
▼Aritsugu – 450-year-old Knife & Kitchen Utensil Specialist
▼Suuzando Hashimoto – Traditional Japanese Paper Store
▼ Sohonke Kawamichiya – 300-year-old Soba Cookie Store
▼ Kuradaimiso – Miso Specialist with Miso from around Japan
▼ All Downtown Stores
While chilling at cafés is all well and good, if the weather’s nice enough, then we recommend heading down to the banks of the Kamo River.
Sitting in stark contrast from the bustling streets above, the banks of the Kamo River offer a relaxing scenery that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Leaving an even space between you and the people next to you while relaxing on the banks of the Kamo River and creating entirely unique yet utterly familiar memories is one of the single most popular past times shared among all in Kyoto.
More Things to Do Downtown
Sakurako’s Choice: Kawamichiya Ginka
Soba for dinner anyone? Kawamichiya Ginka is an old school soba restaurant just off the Kamo River in quaint Pontocho that’s been around since 1902.
The soba at Kawamichiya Ginka is known for its characteristic chewiness, however, the tsuyu dipping sauce is also incredible, so we recommend paying close attention to not only the noodles but the sauce as. With English menus and tempura soba sets for overseas customers, Kawamichiya Ginka aso knows a thing or two about hospitality.
Also, as Kawamichiya Ginka is in the heart of downtown, it’s often visited by young maiko. From the giant red lantern outside to the wall decorated with signed fans of Kyoto’s young geisha in training, Kawamichiya Ginka provides you with a definitively Kyoto-esque experience.
Shin’s Choice: Masuya Saketen
If you’re looking to try all kinds of Japanese sake, then I recommend Masuya Saketen. Always sure to be packed on weekend nights, Masuya Saketen is beloved by locals for the simple fact that you can enjoy a casual glass of sake. With all its sake displayed on the wall, another defining aspect of this bar is just how great it looks on camera.
Masuya Saketen stocks over 25 different sake at any given time. The selection offers a range of different flavors and aromas from highly fragrant, aged sake and sake with a bit of a bite to clearer, smooth sake.
Whether you’re a hardcore lover of Japan’s famed rice wine or just looking to get into, then Masuya Saketen is a great place to check out.
Other Recommended Restaurants:
▼Roan Kikunoi Kiyamaci – High-end Kaiseki Dinners
▼ Muromachi Wakuden – Kaiseki Dinners in a Traditional Kyoto Machiya
▼ Tendon Makino – A Popular Tempura Restaurant in Shinkyogoku
▼ Tiger Gyoza – The Definitive Gyoza Restaurant
▼ AWOMB – Beautiful Hand-made Sushi
▼ Inoichi – Popular Light, Dashi-packed Ramen
▼ All Downtown Restaurants
Pontocho at night is a magical area made up of long, narrow streets and lanterns that hang from the eaves of shops.
Pontocho is lined with eateries and small drinking holes like traditional kaiseki restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars. While it’s a wonderful place to grab a bite to eat or drink, simply walking down Pontocho is enough to give you a sense of the ancient capital’s unique by-gone atmosphere.
Pontocho is also known for its colorful array of lanterns that come in all sizes and act as the signs for many of the famed street’s shops. Keep an eye out for these landmarks of Pontocho and see if you can’t find one that you like the best.
If you’re looking for the real draw of Pontocho, however, then you need to turn off the main street and into the dimly lit side alleys. Often just one step away from the main street, these alleyways are packed with restaurants and bars only known to locals. While many of them might seem unwelcoming to an out of towner at first, you won’t regret building up the courage and stepping inside.
After arriving at the end of Pontocho, it should be around 9 p.m. At this point, you can decide to either head back to your accommodation and rest up or continue your adventures around Kyoto. Choose whichever suits you.
If you’re still not ready to go home, then check out our feature on walking and drinking your way through Kyoto nights. The feature is themed around summer, however, it works for anyone who enjoys a good late-night walk. If that sounds like you, then check it out!
▼ Drinking and Walking through Kyoto Summer Nights
More Kyoto nightlife articles:
▼Kyoto Nightclubs? Party Your Heart Out
|Shin[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]|