Where to Stay in Kyoto – Everything You Need to Know
The definitive guide to where to stay in Kyoto. Downtown? Higashiyama? Kyoto Station? Gion? Let us ease the pain of choosing.
Kyoto is pretty much everyone’s favourite Japanese city, whether local or foreign. It’s true. Ask anyone. Reason being, visiting Kyoto is like mainlining on Japanese culture, history and general ‘vibe’. Although Tokyo is the epitome of contemporary Japan, all bright lights and robots, Kyoto is the Japan of old, as seen in the movies of Ozu and Kurosawa. What this means is that you’re going to want to visit. And if you’re going to visit you need somewhere to stay.
We’ve already given you the best guide going on where to stay in Tokyo, now it’s time we introduce you to your options in Kyoto. With only a basic knowledge of a city prior to arrival, choosing where to locate your Trip HQ is no easy task. The potential pitfalls of an ill-informed decision are the stuff of traveler nightmares and to be avoided at all costs. No one wants to find themselves out in the boondocks or on the side of a highway. Though this can probably be arranged.
Read on for a guide to Kyoto’s best areas to stay in as a tourist, complete with a run-down of the types of accommodation the city has on offer.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to types of accommodation in Kyoto. The city is home to some of the finest traditional ryokans in the country (Japanese hotels) plus plentiful faceless business hotels, hip boutique hotels, ramshackle guesthouses and functional dorms, all fit for groups and budgets of any size. We’ll take a quick look at the main options before moving onto the central issue: where.
The Ryokan – A must for any Japanophile; these places ooze tradition and charm, often come with multi-course, lovingly-prepared meals as standard and plunge you head-first into the heart of Japanese life (of old, perhaps). There are downsides however: they can be very ‘full-on’ for those new to Japanese customs, staff rarely speak much English and they are generally expensive. Perhaps a good idea for 1 or 2 nights of your stay.
For a full guide to Kyoto ryokans:
The Regular Hotel – not much to say here except there’s plenty of them. Kyoto has long been a top holiday destination and has the bedroom capacity to match. Service is always good and prices inevitably vary. Take a look at the 12 best:
The Guesthouse – For reasons unknown to humankind (this human, anyway), guesthouses have been emerging from the ether and onto the streets of Kyoto like wildfire in recent years. These joints can be cheap and may get you out of a last-minute tight-spot, but don’t expect too many frills.
The Airbnb – Kyoto, like everywhere it seems, is no stranger to the shareconomy. Apartments, rooms and even whole houses are available through the site at varying prices per night. Airbnb is very much the wildcard option though – you may wind up with lodgings fit for a king (or emperor) or a bed barely keeping the fleas satisfied – ensure you read the rules and regulations for each individual rental carefully and don’t get pushed around.
For the lowdown on some of the best, check here:
And onto the meat of the matter – what area of Kyoto’s many is right for you. Each has its pros and cons, its charms and its conveniences. The choice is yours.
The city’s downtown, roughly the area around Shijo and Karasuma-Oike Stations, is where the action is in Kyoto. Though few of the big tourist attractions are located here, the areas unbeatable transport links (access to the two subway lines, and two train lines) make it a breeze to get to them without breaking a sweat. It’s easy to get out of the area, but there is also plenty to keep you there. The downtown is the premier eating, drinking, shopping and entertainment district, making evenings in the area particularly popular for tourists and locals alike.
The area is also charmingly pedestrian friendly, dotted with typically Japanese indoor shopping arcades and is the location of Pontocho Alley, the famous narrow lane that doubles as a time machine. Luckily for you, there is also plenty of places to stay downtown. Here are two options, from both ends of the price range, to pique your interest:
Regularly cited as Japan’s finest ryokan and boasting a client base of celebrities and politicians, the Tawaraya Ryokan is, without hyperbole, the best of the best.
The aesthetic is one of refined and contemplative simplicity in each of the hotel’s rooms, which each come with private gardens and all the trappings of a traditional Japanese bedroom. The staff are world-beating in their devotion to the enjoyment of the customer and will happily provide any service or item that is desired. However, and i’m sure you’ll have seen this coming, the only downside is the price. This may be one of those occasions where the proverb: “if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it” rings quite true. If you’ve got the money or plan on winning the lottery however, this is where you want to stay in downtown Kyoto.
Price: High. Exact room rates are difficult to come by without contacting the hotel directly but somewhere in the region of 100,000 yen per night for a standard room.
Access: A 3 minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station on the Tozai and Karasuma subway lines.
Address: Aneko-ji Agaru, Fuya-cho Kyoto-shi , Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto.
Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse:
The location of this guesthouse is perfect for a short stay in the city – within walking distance of the popular Higashiyama area (more on that later) as well as two subway stations and an array of shops and restaurants.
The guesthouse itself is simple but pleasant, with small rooms but handy amenities in the shared areas. The price is low and location excellent – a winning pair.
Price: Dorm-room prices begin at around 2000 yen but private rooms are also available.
Access: A 1 minute walk from Kawaramachi Station Exit 10 on the Hankyu line.
Address: 600-8032 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward.
Higashiyama, within walking distance of the downtown but nestled at the foot of the eastern mountains, is the spot to stay should you find yourself sick of the current century. It is a district of narrow alleys, traditional restaurants and beautiful shrines – a step into the past with all the conveniences of the present.
The area is a hive of tourism yet manages to retain an atmosphere of tranquility and authenticity – no mean feat. Staying in this area would suit those intent on soaking in the old-world charm of the city as much as humanely possible. Those concerned about evening entertainment might want to avoid it however, for the area tends to shutdown early and has few options nightlife-wise.
Check-out our two picks:
Hyatt Regency Kyoto:
A chain hotel granted but fear not, the Hyatt Regency is well incorporated into its surroundings, offers 5-star luxury and all the conveniences of home. A good choice for those with deep pockets but who don’t fancy the unique delights of a traditional ryokan.
Price: Standard rooms start at around 25,000 yen per night.
Access: 300 meters from Keihan Shichijo Train Station.
Address: 644-2 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto.
Uniquely Japanese homeliness is the raison d’être of our budget pick. This place gives you the cultural immersion of a ryokan without the prices; complete with tatami mats and futon beds. Its location is also ideal for exploring everything Higashiyama has to offer on foot and is only a short walk from the nearest subway station should you want to explore further afield.
Price: prices start at 9,000 yen for 2 people sharing.
Access: 15 minute walk from Shichijo Station on the Keihan Line.
Address: 30-22 Minamihiyoshi-cho, Imakumano Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto.
As the destination point of the bullet trains and the airport express, chances are this is one of the first areas you’re going to see when you get to Kyoto. So why not stay? Well, many do say this is the best place to lay your head, given the convenience it affords travelers straight off the train/plane and the quality of its surrounding shopping and entertainment complexes. This is true enough and it will suit many travelers, though the area is somewhat lacking in the beauty department and buses are the only real option for reaching the relatively distant sightseeing spots. The choice, as always, is yours. We’ve got two picks below, or check out the full guide:
Hotel Granvia Kyoto:
Occupying the upper floors of the station itself, finding your hotel is not going to be an issue here. The Hotel Granvia is a 5-star western style hotel with all the accouterments this entails. Your thirst for authentic Japanese character might just melt away as you enter your decadently spacious room, who knows?
Price: A standard twin-room begins at around 25,000 yen.
Access: Inside Kyoto Station.
Address: 600-8216 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto.
Capsule Ryokan Kyoto:
A bold fusion of hyper-modernity and old-world charm is how this budget option is best described. ‘Tatami capsules’ are where guests spend the night here – uncommonly spacious cubic pods, complete with, as the name suggests, tatami mats and futons. The Capsule Ryokan is an interesting choice, close to the station and offers a range of useful amenities.
Price: Capsule prices begin at 3,500 yen per night and more traditional rooms are available.
Access: A 10 minute walk from Kyoto Station.
Address: 600-8226 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto.
This may be cheating slightly as Gion is technically within southern Higashiyama, but its reputation marks it out as a destination in itself. A district of high-class restaurants, countless drinking holes and atmospheric streets, it is an expensive place to be, but your experiences here are probably worth it. The area comes alive in the early evening, helped along by the districts famous geisha rushing around the backstreets on the way to their various appointments. Daylight hours are also a pleasure in Gion, with plenty of history and culture around every corner. Check out the full guide (below) or our pick of the best:
In a quiet Gion sidestreet stands Hotel Mume. Considered Kyoto’s first ’boutique’ hotel, the inconspicuous facade hides an excellent small-scale establishment which prides itself on its attention to detail and the happiness of its guests. Sure to add a touch of class to your city break.
Price: Prices start at around 21,000 yen per night.
Access: A 1 minute walk from Chion-in-mae Bus Stop for Kyoto City Bus 206 from Kyoto Station.
Address: 261, Shinmonzen St, Umemoto-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto.
Gion Ryokan Q-beh:
Ryokans aren’t known for their value for money, but this one bucks the trend. A professional and convenient ryokan in the heart of Gion that particularly caters to families and foreigners (with English speaking staff). The outstanding reviews for this place never cease, so why not add your name to the list?
Price: Dorm room prices begin at 3000 yen per night.
Access: A 10-minute walk from Gion-shijo Station Exit 6.
Address: 505-3 Washio-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi.
Where to Stay in Kyoto on a Budget
Kyoto is a relatively small city (7th largest in Japan) but is immensely popular with visitors. A perfect storm for limited and expensive accommodation. But don’t let this put you off – we’re here to help with our top recommendations of where to stay in Kyoto on a budget.
We’ve compiled a list of Kyoto’s cheapest hostels, hotels, capusle hotels and ryokans – all combining affordability and quality.
Prices quoted here will be subject to change, especially in the autumn and spring busy periods. To avoid disappointment, ensure you book as early as possible.
All of the above options are available to book online, as are the vast majority of other hotels in Kyoto.
Japan as a whole is extremely foreigner-friendly and Kyoto especially so. Public transportation, for example, is multi-lingual and very easy to get the hang of. However, it is still not uncommon for accommodation to have no English speaking staff. If you encounter this, don’t worry, it is a marvel how much can be communicated through sign and body language alone. Moreover, staff will be used to the situation and will still be able to take good care of you.