Where To Stay In Kyoto

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Kyoto on the Japanese Island of Honshu was once the national capital. Its population is 1.46 million with a further 2.4 million in the greater metropolitan area. It was the home to the Imperial court at the end of the 8th century and that remained the case until 1869. The beauty of a visit to Kyoto is that the city largely avoided major damage during World War II so its cultural heritage has been retained. In many people’s eyes, it is the cultural capital of Japan. You will be able to visit many temples and shrines, lovely gardens and palaces. UNESCO has recognised the value of these places, giving a collective designation as a World Heritage Site. There is accommodation suitable for every budget. If you want a treat, there are several 3-star Michelin restaurants but book well in advance for a table.

There are districts with different personalities and if you do your research, you will get more information. Whatever your main interests, Kyoto will have something for you, and suitable places to stay. You may want to stay close to the main landmarks you want to see, or perhaps in a district renowned for its bars and nightlife? The motive behind the detail that you will get as you continue to read is to help you with your research. These six districts certainly are contrasting. You will not find luxury accommodation in all of them while there is a limit on budget accommodation in others. Traditional Japanese Inns, ryokans, are an option in some neighbourhoods. They are a real experience with guests sleeping on mats on the floor and dinner sitting cross-legged on the floor in true Japanese style with several courses. Japan’s transport infrastructure is excellent, especially in the cities so you can make your base in a neighbourhood and be confident of being able to reach others fairly easily.

Tip: Book your Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan as it will save you a lot of money. These passes are well-priced for foreign visitors but are quite expensive to purchase in Japan.

Where To Stay In Kyoto

1- Downtown Kyoto

People Walk On The Downtown Street, Kyoto
Downtown Kyoto is a top choice when deciding where to stay in Kyoto for first timers.

Downtown Kyoto covers a district on the west bank of the Kamo River and where you will find the Ponto-Cho Geisha District, one of most historic parts of Kyoto.

Close by there is Shijo, a modern shopping area.

Many visitors to Kyoto, especially ones visiting the city for the first time, look at Downtown as the first option.


The reasons for that include the number of very nice hotels within the neighbourhood.

In addition, you will find plenty of shops and malls, bars and restaurants as well as food markets.

Downtown is also famous for its nightlife.

Southern Higashiyama is just a walk away, a neighbourhood for the best sightseeing while the main subway lines allow for access to the rest of Kyoto.

Perhaps it has lost a little of its old charm with neon signs replacing the original hand-painted signage but there is still plenty to do.

The Nishiki Market is an experience, a huge food market with a covered roof, great for a rainy day.

You will see a vast array of food products; some you may never have seen before.

Manga comics are a Japanese passion and the local manga museum is truly fascinating.

As already mentioned, the shopping here will rival Tokyo with malls like Takashimaya and Daimaru.

The covered streets of Teramachi-dori and Shinkyogoku are pedestrianised and provide other shopping alternatives.

By night, the five traditional Geisha/Geiko areas, especially in Ponto-Cho need a visit; traditional wooden houses and Japanese lanterns are features.

Hotels In Downtown Kyoto

Kyoto Landmark
Kyoto Tower.
The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is both elegant and sophisticated but not cheap, so if price is not an issue, go for it.

The hotel overlooks the river with large rooms stylishly designed.

Dining options are wide and varied while the swimming pool is a great place for some exercise.

Kyoto Hotel Okura

Kyoto Hotel Okura is old, yet affordable and classy.

Comfortable rooms are elegant and sound-proofed and as a result quiet.

Kyotoshiyakusho-mae Subway Station is next door so it is easy to use this as a base yet explore elsewhere.

Ponto-Cho and Shijo shops are a short walk away.

There are several restaurants while breakfast on the 17th floor is a chance to enjoy some great views of the city.

Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo

Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo is part of a business chain and provides everything a traveller might need.

It is near Maruyama Park and to a subway station.

The hotel is quiet with good Wi-Fi, a laundry room and free coffee.

In the immediate area, you will find restaurants and a supermarket.

2- Gion And Southern Higashiyama

Gion, Kyoto Downtown Urban Walkway
Gion where best to stay in Kyoto.

Gion is the most famous Geisha district in Japan and where you will still be able to walk down an alley full of traditional Machiya houses lit with lanterns after dark.

Little has changed in centuries with geishas in their kimonos pouring tea for their guests.

It is remarkable that the history of many centuries still has a home in the heart of a modern city.

At some point in your time in Kyoto, you should check on how and where you can go to a traditional tea ceremony.

You can still see geishas, and their understudies, maikos, walking to work each day.

Few other places in Japan can offer such a fine example of this age-old tradition.

Nearby, on the way to the mountains you will reach the temples of Southern Higashiyama.

The main two to look out for are Kiyomizu – dera and Kennen – ji.

The whole area is full of shrines, colourful temples, parks, and gardens.

This is a beautiful neighbourhood in which to make your base.

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka streets have traditional tea houses, shops as well as restaurants.

Kyoto’s National Museum is also in this neighbourhood.

Not surprisingly, this is a crowded neighbourhood both with international and Japanese tourists.

The price of accommodation often reflects the district’s popularity with minimal options for budget places.

Hotels In Gion And Southern Higashiyama

Japanese Girl In Yukata With Red Umbrella
Gion is where to stay in Kyoto for first timers.
Four Seasons Kyoto

Four Seasons Kyoto definitely maintains the reputation of this international hotel chain.

The Japanese pond garden, tea house and Onsen (Japanese hot spring bath) are a delight.

Other features include a swimming pool, a fitness centre and spa.

In addition, the dining choices are extensive.

Hana-Touro Hotel Gion

Hana-Touro Hotel Gion is a new boutique hotel, mixing modern with traditional.

Comfortable rooms have TV and Wi-Fi with bathrooms with traditional wooden bathtubs.

Nespresso machines are an additional feature while the restaurant has an excellent reputation.

Laon Inn Gion Shinmonzen

Laon Inn Gion Shinmonzen is excellent value, more an apartment rental than a hotel.

Each is spacious with a sitting area, free Wi-Fi, air-con and flat-screen TV.

The kitchenette has a fridge, microwave oven and washing machine.

3- Kyoto Station / Shimogyo

Japan Rail Train , Japanese Railway
When deciding where is best to stay in Kyoto, look for somewhere near a railway station.

Kyoto Station is a railway station worth exploring even if you are not travelling.

It is modern Japanese architecture at its best with a rooftop terrace on the 15th floor.

This neighbourhood has plenty of accommodation choice while its transport links are an added advantage, both subway and buses.

Numerous restaurants and shopping opportunities exist here and there is even a cinema complex within the station itself.

When it comes to landmarks, the station may top the list but take a walk to the impressive Higashi Hongan-ji Temple.

Today’s Railway Museum has several interesting exhibits for those interesting in the railway.

It includes steam, diesel and electric locomotives.

The museum was expanded in 2016 from the original Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum that opened half a century ago.

West Japan Railway Corporation own the museum, not the authorities and Transportation Culture Promotion Foundation is responsible for its running.

There are 4 sections to it; the Promenade, the Main Hall, Twilight Plaza, and the 20-track Roundhouse that dates back to 1914.

There are three rivers running through Shimogyo which was an area developed in the late 19th century.

There are always nice walks along river banks.

Hotels In Kyoto Station / Shimogyo

Hotel Kanra Kyoto

Hotel Kanra Kyoto blends Japan with the best of the West.

Rooms are decidedly Japan and include Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV and fridge.

Its location is quiet and Kyoto Station is a 15-minute walk.

Use a complimentary bike whenever you like.

Century Hotel Kyoto

Century Hotel Kyoto large, modern rooms and its location a minute from Kyoto Station is as convenient as it gets.

Reviews suggest this hotel with its fast Wi-Fi and excellent service is well worth considering if you intend to find a base in Kyoto.

Shizuyu Guest House

Shizuyu is a guest house a short distance from both Shichijo Station and JR Kyoto Station.

There is a garden, a shared lounge, air-con, free Wi-Fi and a restaurant.

Guests share a bathroom and there is an ironing service.

A convenience store is nearby.

For more about Japan, read:

4- Central Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden
If being close to the Imperial Palace Garden is important when deciding where to stay in Kyoto Japan, head for central.

Central Kyoto is a neighbourhood covering both old and new.

Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden is one of the beautiful attractions here while you must visit Nijo Castle.

The castle was built by Shogun warlords during the Edo Period and it stands in lovely gardens.

It is especially impressive under lights after dark.

You can expect crowds so if you are staying locally, head there early.

The Imperial Palace Park surrounds the palace itself and it’s the grounds rather than the palace that has more appeal.

It is a lovely place for a picnic though all the locals will have the same idea, especially on weekends.

The spring brings cherry blossom when the setting is spectacular.

Daitoku-ji is another attraction, with 24 temples all sitting in beautiful small gardens.

This area is not as popular as the others already mentioned yet its transport links provide good access to other parts of the city.

What you will find is plenty of places to eat, perhaps as a result of the number of office workers?

Central Kyoto is fairly flat and easy to explore on foot or a bike.

Hotels In Central Kyoto

Kyoto Brighton Hotel

Kyoto Brighton Hotel is built around a huge atrium and is a few blocks from the Imperial Palace Park.

Rooms are large and on-site restaurant options good.

As the only 5-star hotel in the immediate neighbourhood, it is usually very busy despite Kyoto’s main attractions being elsewhere.

Noku Kyoto

Noku Kyoto is in the southwest corner of the Imperial Park, just a minute away from the Marutamachi Subway Station.

Rooms is spacious in Japanese terms, clean and comfortable.

Each has free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, air-con and fridge, Both the Imperial Palace and the Nijo castle are within 10 minutes on foot.

ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Kyoto

ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Kyoto is opposite Nijo Castle.

It is elegant and offers excellent service.

Rooms are large and comfortable, if a little dated.

A free shuttle to Kyoto Station runs every 15 minutes while the Nijojo-Mae Metro Station is just a short walk away.

Unlike the majority of hotels in Kyoto it has an indoor swimming pool!

5- Northern Higashiyama

Ginkaku-Ji, Officially Known As A Jisho-Ji
Ginkaku-Ji in northern Higashiyama.

The Northern Higashiyama and Southern Higashiyama are very similar in that both neighbourhoods have several interesting landmarks, primarily temples and shrines.

Surprisingly, this does not yet appear to be known by most people because you will not encounter any of the tourist crowds found elsewhere in the city.

The main sightseeing district goes from the Ginkaku-ji temple (Silver Pavillio0 to the north all the way to the Nanzen-ji temple in the south.

The Path of Philosophy is the established walking route along the side of a canal between the two.

The 20th century philosopher Nishida Kitarogives the route its name because he was regularly seen walking it.

It should take you about half an hour.

While there is not a huge range of accommodation alternatives here you will find some nice Ryokans (traditional Japanese Inns).

Restaurant and entertainment choices are also limited yet Downtown is not far away with transport links good.

Other attractions are worth a visit, Helan Shrine with its garden and pond and museums such as the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern Art.

Hotels In Northern Higashiyama

Nanzenji Sando Kikusui

Nanzenji Sando Kikusui is a ryokan built in 1895 and recently renovated by a famous architect.

It has retained its traditional charm yet has 5 modern rooms, a stylish feel, lovely gardens as well as champagne in the minibar.

Luxury and tranquillity!

Hotel Legasta Kyoto Higashiyama Sanjo

Hotel Legasta Kyoto Higashiyama Sanjo provides excellent value for money.

Rooms are stylish and comfortable with the location very good if you enjoy temples; Nanzen-ji and Shoren-ji are a short distance away.

Higashiyama Subway Station is nearby as is the museum district.

Machiya Temple Stay

Machiya Temple Stay provides a unique experience.

You can relax in a hot tub, admire the views and the garden as well as enjoying free Wi-Fi.

Within the villa there is 2 bedrooms, TV, kitchen with fridge and microwave.

6- Arashiyama

Beautiful Nature View Of Arashiyama
Arashiyama where to stay in Kyoto for the family.

Arashiyama sits below Kyoto’s western mountains.

It is a very popular tourist region without it being that high in accommodation demand because it is a significant distance from the heart of the city.

It is a beautiful region with green hills and impressive mountains behind.

Cherry blossom season sees huge numbers coming to enjoy the setting on day trips.

The Bamboo Forest is of major appeal and is a natural bamboo forest covering 16 square kilometres (6.2 square miles).

Entry is now free and there are a number of walks and trails for visitors to follow or take a rickshaw tour through the forest.

Tenryu-ji Temple is nearby.

This is where you will find the Nonomiya Shrine and the Rinzai School.

In years gone by, Imperial princesses used to spend time at the shrine to purify themselves and prepare themselves for royal life.

You can enjoy a boat trip on the Hozugawa River which starts in Kameoka heading through Hozu-kyo Ravine to Arashiyama.

Other attractions locally are the Okochi Villa, home to a famous samurai actor and the Monkey Park, home to more than 200 monkeys.

Hotels In Arashiyama


Muni is less than a kilometre (0.625 miles) from Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, a lovely natural area for visitors to enjoy.

This quality accommodation includes a fitness centre, free Wi-Fi, garden and a terrace.

There is a restaurant, with each room having private bathrooms, TV, safety deposit box, minibar and desk.

Book in advance and ask for a mountain view.

If you have a mountain view, you will wake up to a lovely setting.


Yado is a mid-range hotel with free Wi-Fi and restaurant on site.

It is 3-star and offers a nice garden, air-con, safety deposit box and non-smoking rooms.

Bamboo Forest is easy to reach, and is the highlight of this beautiful region.

Guesthouse Arashiyama

Guesthouse Arashiyama has family rooms, and is disabled-friendly.

The kitchen is well-equipped and three is a dining area.

The guesthouse is air-conditioned, with express check in and out as well as good Wi-Fi.

Some of the bathrooms have baths but all have free toiletries and hair dryers.

You can also enjoy flat-screen TV.

The guest house is located in a geo-thermal area, you might like the hot springs as well as the garden in which it is located.

Experiencing Kyoto Like A Local

Multi Function Room Ideas, Japanese Room
Japanese room where to stay in Kyoto.

If you ever fantasised about experiencing Japanese life like a local, there is an alternative to staying in a hotel. Renting a flat or a house for as short a period as four days, or for as long as you like, is another option. Here’s a first-hand account by Maria Visconti.

I always dreamt of spending time in Japan not as a passing tourist but as a local. This time, from my rented flat in Kyoto, overlooking the iconic pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera, I lived like a local. I had a taste of shopping for local food, interacting with neighbours, getting to know my local attractions and getting to places the way locals do.

My flat in the middle of Gion, Kyoto, is equipped with everything I could dream of, from state-of-the-art washing/dryer machine to detergent; electric kettle to free wifi; fridge to linen and cutlery. Even the kitchen essentials are there: salt, sugar, tea, coffee and coffee maker. Besides, I have a convenience shop right next door. Of course, I didn’t cook at all!

The best place to stay in Kyoto for the food is Gion. There are many little eateries around to be bothered with cooking. And the food in Kyoto is delicious. Breakfast is amply covered by going down to the convenience shop which, this being Japan, offers quality fruit, bakery products and instant meals such as bento boxes and anything in between.

I have a local guide for a day and that proves to be a dream. We spend a whole day going around the intricate maze of old, winding streets leading to the temples of Kiyomizu-dera populated by quaint establishments. There’s a pepper shop with an extraordinary variety of mixes that have been there for centuries and the oldest (and most famous) incense shop in Japan now with branches in the USA.

I am lucky the weather is perfect. Cold, crisp and blue skies after some snowfalls that clad everything in brilliant white. On the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera, we cleanse our misdeeds by splashing a bit of water from sacred springs. We pour water over a Bodhisattva who seems to smile as we do so and take photographs of the triple spring where at times, devotees re-enact the deeds of a saint and stand under the freezing waters.

Water, water, all around: Kiyomizu means clear water or pure water.

The ample platform built in front of the main temple in the Edo period to accommodate pilgrims is related to the equivalent of the English expression: ‘to take the plunge’ as it was said then that those who threw themselves into the abyss would have their wishes granted.

Many did and a surprisingly 84% survived but this practice is prohibited now.

A memorable sushi lunch at Iyomata (Kawaramachi / SushiNishiki-koji-dori Fuyamachi-nishi-iru, Higashi-Uoyacho 197 -3rd block from the eastern end of Nishiki Market street, on the south side in the heart of Kyoto’s Nishiki Markets and in the same family hands for 20 generations, is followed by a visit to the Thousand Tori Gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha seemingly guarded by as many stone foxes holding keys to success.

Since the movie Memoirs of a Geisha screening, two prime sites were imprinted in my mind and recorded in my ‘to do’ list while in Kyoto: The Vermilion Gates of Fushimi and the Bamboo Forest. So we are off to tick the first destination. Fushimi Inari does not disappoint, especially when a few soft snowflakes gently falling like cherry blossoms started to sift through the tori gates (Yes, winter in Japan is a lovely time of year).

Some new, some old and discoloured, the gates form a tunnel under which you walk. A photographer’s dream, indeed.

My last night in Kyoto was marked by the best degustation dinner at a place I would have never found on my own (Japanese establishments tend to be discreet to the point of obscurity). Giro Giro (420-7 Nambacho Nishikiyamachidori Matsubara Sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8027) is a unique restaurant, which due to its reputation in Kyoto has now opened branches in Paris, Hawaii and Tokyo. This is what could be called a Punk version of a traditional kaiseki dinner, served with flair by chefs that prepare the 10-course degustation menu downstairs.


While in Japan I visited several other places, including the ski slopes of Hakuba, World Heritage Shirakawago, Takayama and Tokyo. I loved them all but I can’t wait to return and spend more time as a local in Kyoto…

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Stephen Smith
Steve Smith is a widely travelled writer who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. Argentina, India and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.