Japan is undoubtedly one of the places I wouldn’t mind visiting again and again, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. If you’ve already explored the vibrant streets of Tokyo and experienced a food trip in Osaka, then you should start planning a cultural adventure to Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan until the 19th century, Kyoto has preserved its rich heritage and has since become the best place to immerse yourself in Japanese tradition and history. The cobblestone streets and old town feel of Higashimaya are home to a plethora of temples and shrines. For a taste of new Kyoto, go downtown to Kawaramachi and enjoy some shopping and drinking. You can also take the Shinkansen bullet train and take a day trip to nearby Nara. The options are endless and quite overwhelming! If you need help planning your trip, check out our list of the best places to stay in Kyoto and the best Kyoto hotels to stay in.
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Where to Stay in Kyoto
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Best Places to Stay in Kyoto
Eastern Kyoto / Old Kyoto
1. Gion & Southern Higashimaya, for history and culture
First on our list is a perfect representation of Kyoto’s rich heritage – the historical Higashimaya ward. The southern part of Higashimaya, in particular, is an ideal place for first-time tourists because of its proximity to many popular attractions, such as the Kiyomizudera Temple (the most famous temple in Kyoto) and the Maruyama Park (one of the best areas to see the cherry blossoms) among many others. The area is best explored by foot as you are sure to enjoy the cobble-stoned roads lined with well-preserved Japanese houses, century-old temples and beautiful shrines.
At the heart of Southern Higashimaya is Gion, also known as the “Geisha District”. Geishas hurriedly sauntering through the streets are a common sighting, especially between the hours of 6pm to 8pm. Other elements of old Japan is seen through the many ryokans and machiyas (Japanese-styled inns) in the area. Although dining options are limited after 6pm and there are no fun night life activities, it is just a few minutes away from the more vibrant Downtown Kyoto.
Things to do in Gion & Southern Higashimaya:
- Visit the beautiful Kiyomizudera Temple, the most famous temple in Kyoto and the Kennin-ji Temple. Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple
- Surround yourself with beautiful cherry blossoms at the Maruyama Park
- Explore the cobble-stoned streets of Gion, come across real-life geishas and admire the serene Yasaka Shrine – all aboard a bicycle!
- Stroll around some of Kyoto’s most scenic streets – Nene-no-Michi, the Shirakawa Canal (famous for its willow trees and cherry blossoms) and Ishebei-koji Lane (lined with wooden houses and shops)
Where to stay in Gion & Southern Higashimaya: Yuzuya Ryokan
Your Kyoto vacation would not be complete without staying at a Japanese ryokan. The Yuzuya Ryokan is a hidden haven nestled beside the Yasaka-jinja Shrine, unassuming from the outside until you step into its Zen-styled interiors that truly set the mood for an authentic Japanese experience. From the floor beds to the wooden bathtubs to the nature views, the rooms are stylishly simple, yet still equipped with all the modern amenities of a luxury hotel.
Getting around is also convenient, as it is just a leisurely stroll to the area’s historical sites and a 10-minute walk to both Downtown Kyoto and Gion Shijo Exit 5, the nearest station.
2. Northern Higashimaya, for exploring old Kyoto without the crowds
Northern Higashimaya is just as rich in heritage and charm as its southern counterpart, but without the big crowds. For those who wish to experience old Kyoto at a more private and comfortable pace, you may want to consider staying in this area. Some of its must-see destinations are the famous 2-kilometer long Path of Philosophy, the iconic fall foliage of the Eikando Temple, and the Heian Shrine, one of the most beautiful Shinto shrines in the whole of Japan.
Things to do in Northern Higashimaya:
- Spend an afternoon exploring one of Kyoto’s most popular Shinto shrines – the Heian Shrine and its notable 25-meter Tori gate
- Experience the colorful fall foliage of the Eikando Temple
- Walk down the famous Path of Philosophy or Tetsugaku-no-michi, one of the most iconic stone pathways in Kyoto
- Explore Kyoto’s museum district, Okazaki-koen, home to the two art museums, a concert hall and spacious green fields to lounge around
- Enjoy an authentic yudofu dish in Junsei, a famous restaurant with relaxing views of the Nanzenji Temple
Where to stay in Northern Higashimaya: Kyoto Nanzenji Ryokan Yachiyo
Kyoto Nanzenji Ryokan Yachiyo is century-old ryokan that remains as beautiful as it is ancient. Originally built in 1890, it has since been renovated to include 6 suite rooms and 12 guest rooms, designed by my acclaimed landscape design, Ogawa Jihei. Apart from the traditional tatami flooring and futon bedding, the rooms come with unique amenities like an Apple TV and jaw-dropping views of the area’s gardens and mountains. Guests can also relax at the public bath and dine at the in-house lounge and restaurant.
Part of its personal service is free rental of bicycles for guests to happily explore the Nanzenji neighborhood, characterized by beautiful villages and gardens. If you wish to walk instead of bike, it will take you just 5 minutes to get to the Heian Shrine, Eikando Temple and Nanzenji Temple.
Central Kyoto / New Kyoto
3. Downtown Kawaramachi, for shopping and night life
One of my personal favorites is Downtown Kawaramachi (or Downtown Kyoto), often called “new Kyoto” because of its modern city vibe in comparison to Kyoto’s otherwise traditional atmosphere. What I like most about it is its central location, an ideal base for first-time visitors or those travelling to multiple cities in a limited amount of time. It is conveniently situated among a variety of retail shops and restaurants, while also just being a walk away from the historical sites of old Kyoto. In between the temple hopping, you can take a shopping break at the Shijo shopping strip, try local delicacies at the 400-year old Nishiki Market (also called Kyoto’s kitchen) or simple enjoy the downtown night life.
Nearby train stations are the Sanjo Station (Keihan line), Gion Shijo Station (Keihan line) and Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu line), all of which can easily lead you to other districts in Kyoto.
Things to do in Downtown Kawaramachi:
- Go shopping at the Shijo Shopping District and Teramachi Shopping Arcade
- Discover delicious food at the popular Nishiki Market, purchase some local ingredients and learn to make your own Donburi
- Geek out over 300,000 manga comic books at the Kyoto International Manga Museum
- Indulge in authentic Japanese wagyu beef at Premium Pound
- Experience Kyoto’s fun night life at Ponto-cho, one of the five traditional Geisha areas
Where to stay in Downtown Kawaramachi: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
Still staying true to the cultural essence of Kyoto, the Ritz-Carlton tastefully combines Japanese customs with its signature luxury branding throughout its hotel. As soon as guests enter, they are greeted by hotel staff dressed in Kimonos ready to serve them complimentary Japanese tea upon check-in. Rooms are inspired by Japan’s sleek lines and minimalist style, while the en-suite bathrooms come complete with Yukata robes, Imabari towels and handmade bath essentials.5-star facilities include 24-hour fitness center and indoor pool, a luxury spa and 4 dining options serving Japanese and Western cuisines. Set along the Kamo River with views of its blue waters, the hotel is just a 6-minute walk from Kyoto station and walking distance from Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nishiki Food Market.
4. Kyoto Station, for travelling in and out of Kyoto
Also located in Central Kyoto, Kyoto Station is the city’s major transportation hub, making it an ideal base to plan your vacation around. Although it is not walking distance to any major tourist spot, its extensive train system will easily take you to places you wish to explore. It is the only station in Kyoto that has access to the Shinkansen bullet train, so staying here can mean day trips to nearby destinations like the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine and the scenic Nara prefecture.
Apart from that, you’ll also find that the actual Kyoto Station Building is worth exploring. Inside its modern architecture is an entertainment complex filled with shopping department stores, restaurants and even a cinema. You can also climb up the 15th floor to get panoramic views of the city lights surrounding Kyoto’s tallest building, the Kyoto Tower.
Things to do in Kyoto Station:
- Go to the top of Kyoto’s tallest building, the Kyoto Tower, and enjoy magnificent views of Kyoto
- Appreciate Japan’s efficient train and railway system by learning about how it all started
- Visit popular attractions nearby like the Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Dance with the dolphins and feed cute penguins at the nearby Kyoto Aquarium
- Explore outside Kyoto by taking the Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo or Nagoya
Where to stay in Kyoto Station: Hotel Granvia
If you decide to stay in the Kyoto Station area because of its multi-city travel options, then we recommend you stay in Hotel Granvia. It is conveniently located inside the main station building, making it even faster to get around. On top of the top-class amenities and effortlessly classy aesthetics, a relatively new feature of the hotel is its Tower View Rooms, designed with floor-to-ceiling windows for up-close views of the Kyoto Tower alongside the silhouette of Kyoto’s five mountains. It is also one of the hotels with the most dining options, 3 intercontinental cuisines, 5 Japanese, 1 Chinese and 2 bars. There’s no better place in the area for convenience and comfort.
5. Arashiyama, for a scenic nature trip
Ending our list is Arashiyama, the most popular tourist spot after old Kyoto. About 30 minutes away from the city center, this charming district shows off a different side of Kyoto more akin to nature trails and scenic landscapes. It is home to the famous Bamboo Forrest, the Tenryu-ji Temple (a UNESCO world heritage site) and the Iwatayama Monkey Park with over 200 Japanese monkeys. Although it is constantly swarming with tourists especially during cherry blossom season, it is commonly visited as a day trip and not where tourists choose to sleepover. Nevertheless, hotel accommodations and dining options are surprisingly varied.
Things to do in Arashiyama:
- See a variety of cherry blossom types at the Tenryuji Temple and Garden, one of Kyoto’s UNESCO world heritage sites
- Bask under rows of bamboo stalks at the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and appreciate the area’s natural trails – all while sitting comfortably on a Japanese rickshaw
- Take photos with monkeys roaming free at the Iwatayama Monkey Park
- Easily take a day trip to nearby tourist spots like Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nara Park
- Experience a traditional Kaiseki dinner at Kyoto Kitcho, a three-starred Michelin restaurant
Where to stay in Arashiyama: Suiran Kyoto
The Suiran Kyoto is a breathtaking nature resort in the middle of Arashiyama’s best attractions. It perfectly complements the area’s authentic charm as it follows the architecture of an old Japanese temple, complete with wooden furnishings, lush green trees and river views. Its spacious rooms also come with a private outdoor bath and a balcony overlooking the gardens. Kyo Suiran is the hotel’s restaurant with their fusion specialty of Japanese kaiseki and Fresh cuisine. Other services offered are 24-hour front desk assistance, spa treatments and upon reservation, access to the open-air baths and rickshaw rides around the area. It is the ultimate place to stay in for a relaxing and romantic vacation.
The Bamboo Grove is a 1-minute walk away, while getting to the Tenryuji Temple will take 3 short minutes.
We hope that our guide on where to stay in Kyoto & the best Kyoto hotels has helped you! Please share it with your friends and family. Do also check out our other Kyoto reads below!
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