Are you wondering where to stay in Kyoto? Check out our district comparison and key pro and cons to help you find the best place for your needs. I remember when I visited Kyoto the very first time, I wanted to stay right in the heart of the city but later realised my location was not ideal given the nature of outdoor activities which interest me. In this guide, I'm going to tell you which areas are best and why. Whether you like to party, want to spot Geishas or fancy several hiking trails, at the end of this article you will find where to stay in Kyoto.
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Where to stay in Kyoto for first-time travellers?
Kyoto is divided into several districts and each of them is appealing to a different type of traveller. Japan's old capital city is a popular tourist destination which means it has accommodation ranging from budget hostels, through traditional ryokans, to luxurious hotels. To taste what is like to be in Kyoto, I strongly recommend trying a ryokan with an onsen. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn some dating back for hundreds of years. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, where you can relax after a long day of sightseeing. Here is a list of the different type of accommodation you can get in Japan:
Ryokans are found throughout the city, especially in the vicinity of an onsen. Ryokans are not just places to sleep, but an opportunity to experience a traditional Japanese lifestyle. Many Japanese people go to ryokans to escape the daily stress. There is a great element of hospitality when you decide to stay in a ryokan. You can sleep in a traditional room with tatami floors and futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cuisine. We recommend staying in a ryokan which offers breakfast and dinner. Dinner is usually huge, incorporates several types of food and it's guaranteed to be delicious. Ryokans tend to be expensive and most tourists stay for one or two nights just to experience this exquisite Japanese accommodation. Because of their emphasis on traditional style and atmosphere, ryokan may seem a little rigid. On the contrary, ryokans are incredibly relaxing and rather addictive.
When searching for a place to stay in Kyoto, most people tend to settle for hotels. Hotels in Japan are clean but small. Breakfast can be included depending on the type of hotel you are after. Most rooms come with air conditioning, a tv and free wifi included in the price. Beds are usually comfortable even though they are quite small. The bathrooms are always clean and they come with the great Japanese toilets which the whole world loves so much. Japan has the best customer service in the world and hotels are no different. Rooms can be smoking or non-smoking in Japanese hotels. You can select your preference before check-in. I strongly advise emailing the hotel as well, just to make sure your preference is registered.
Business hotels can be capsule hotels or just normal hotels with smaller rooms than usual. These hotels have very basic rooms. They cost less but space can be a bit challenging. Business hotels are usually quiet, well looked after and have the same amenities as any other hotel. If you travel solo, business hotels are great. As a couple or family, space can be limited and you can find yourself in a situation where you can't open your suitcase as there is not enough space on the floor. We recommend checking the room sizes before you book your accommodation.
Guesthouses in Japan are also called "gaijin houses" or "foreigner house". This is an inexpensive type of accommodation for those who need to stay in Japan for longer periods and want to avoid the hassle of renting and furnishing a normal house. There are several guesthouses who actually offer weekly contracts.
Bed and breakfasts are usually family run accommodations which offer traditional rooms and include breakfast, dinner or both. B&Bs in Japan are a bit cheaper than ryokans but they also have fewer facilities. Often, these might have shared bathrooms.
Vacation Rentals are similar to AirBnB in a sense. You can get an apartment and have access to various facilities such as a kitchen which can come in handy when you visit an expensive place like Japan. There are also vacation rentals which can offer you the chance to stay with a host so you can further experience Japan with the aid of a local.
A machiya is a traditional wooden townhouse found throughout Japan and they are especially typical in Kyoto. Machiya are quickly disappearing. Many argue that their destruction has a serious adverse effect on the historical, and traditional atmosphere of Kyoto. The reason for their disappearance is because Machiya are difficult and expensive to maintain, are subject to greater risk of damage or destruction from fire or earthquakes. There are groups, however, which are taking action to protect and restore Machiya in Kyoto.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Downtown
Downtown Kyoto is the place to be for first-time visitors. This is where you will find the most amount of shops, restaurants and bars. Downtown Kyoto is a relatively small area which means it can be explored on foot. There are several things to do, but it’s not the main sightseeing destination. You can visit the Nishiki Market which is amazing for foodie travellers looking to have a fresh bite. There are other food markets around such as Daimaru and Takashimaya. Pontocho Alley is incredibly atmospheric and a great place for evening photography. You have easy access to the nearby Teremachi and Shinkyogohu shopping arcades.
Downtown Kyoto is a roughly square area bounded on the east by the Kamo-gawa River, on the west by Karasuma-dori, on the north by Oike-dori, and on the south by Shijo-dori.
Pros for Downtown Kyoto
Downtown Kyoto is great if you wish to position yourself right in the middle of the city. It's fantastic because of proximity to various hotels and restaurants as well as several subway stations.
Cons for Downtown Kyoto
Because of its key location, Downtown Kyoto can be a little expensive. It is not as close to various attractions, interesting places and districts, hence it doesn't feel as authentic.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Station Area
There are lots of restaurants and shops around the Kyoto station area. In fact, there is a food shop in the basement of the station, which has amazing discounts for food just before closing time. A great place to grab a bargain. The subway and train hubs are both right in the station and more often than not, you will find yourself having to take the subway to get to the Kyoto Station anyway, before carrying on to another district. At least this is what happened to us. So the Kyoto station is not really epic for sightseeing, but it's a great location if you wish to visit various areas around Kyoto.
There are several things to do around. You have the Kyoto Station building, of course, the Higashi-Hongan-ji, Nishi-Hongan-ji and To-ji Temples. There is also the Kyoto Tower nearby, which offers fantastic views of the city. Who doesn't like seeing Japan from above? If you like history, you can check out the Kyoto Railway Museum, which is one of the best in the world. If you are a family with kids, this is a must!
Pros for Kyoto Station Area
The proximity to so many shops and restaurants available right in the train station is great. You can get bargains for dinner and you have plenty of epic food to enjoy, available in restaurants located right in the station. You can get on a train or subway and visit the district which interests you.
Cons for Kyoto Station Area
The area is not very pretty. It's a bit built up with concrete and nothing traditional Japanese. If you wish to enjoy a more traditional atmosphere in Kyoto, then perhaps this is not the best place for it. Practical, yes, pretty, no.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Southern Higashiyama
Southern Higashiyama has to be the most important sightseeing district in Kyoto. It literally has it all, from impressive temples to preserved narrow alleyways. It is also the city's main geisha district. In all honesty, this is probably the best place to be based in Kyoto if you wish to experience everything the city has to offer. I especially love it because of its atmospheric streets which look absolutely fantastic during night time. Really great if you like photography. The Southern Higashiyama runs from Shichijo-dori in the south to Sanjo-dori in the north. The mountains form its eastern boundary and the Kamo-gawa forms its western boundary. It is here that you will find Gion, the famed Geisha quarters.
A large majority of things to do in Kyoto can be found here, in Southern Higashiyama. Apart from Gion, you can also visit several dazzling temples, including Kiyomizu-dera Temple. For the evening, grab your camera and photograph those beautifully preserved lanes. Don't forget to check out the Kyoto National Museum. Why not try a tea ceremony here, to learn more about the Japanese way of life.
Pros for Kyoto Southern Higashiyama
It's obvious that for first-time tourists and travellers the Southern Higashiyama is the best place to stay in Kyoto. As it is in such great location, your accommodation will very likely be quite expensive. However, for a few days at least, I would try a hotel here so you can experience Kyoto in all its greatness.
Cons for Kyoto Southern Higashiyama
If budget travelling is your thing, Southern Higashiyama might not be the best choice. Prices will be quite high and certain restaurants as authentic as they look might be more tailored towards tourists. This can only mean one thing: tourist traps. An option could be to position yourself right in between Southern Higashiyama, Central and Downtown Kyoto.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Central Area
This is a huge area right in the middle of Kyoto. There are lots of good hotels around and you aren't too far away from downtown and subway lines. You will have to travel in order to see the main tourist attractions. There are several things to do around, including the beautiful Kyoto Imperial Palace. The botanical gardens are also nearby, alongside various shrines, gardens and ponds and the Nijo-jo Castle.
Pros for Kyoto Central Area
This is literally the middle of the city and there are great hotels around. There are several nearby subway stations for your ease.
Cons for Kyoto Central Area
The area is not as popular because there aren't many specific tourist attractions around. It has many office buildings around. Apart from the Imperial Palace and the Nijo-jo Castle, you do have to travel a little to get to important tourist attractions.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Northern Higashiyama
Northern Higashiyama is a great place to stay especially if you like a greener area. You probably need to rent a bike to get around, especially for going shopping or eating in various restaurants. Worry not, there are always restaurants around. Don't expect to find many hotels in the areas but you will find some authentic ryokans and guesthouses. This area is home to a multitude of temples, so it's a fantastic place to spend a day visiting those beautiful Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples with perfectly trimmed gardens.
Pros for Kyoto Northern Higashiyama
The obvious choice is because you like nature. This area is greener than the rest. It's also fantastic for peace and quiet.
Cons for Kyoto Northern Higashiyama
You will need to travel a little to enjoy Kyoto's more authentic spirit. There are not many accommodations around, which makes the place less touristy but also less desirable.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Arashiyama
Arashiyama is not the most popular place to stay in Kyoto because it's positioned on the outskirts. You can find some seriously fine accommodation around here, but if you want shopping, nightlife and many restaurants, this may not be the first choice. There are several things to do in Arashiyama, including indulging in some local street food, photographing the Arashiyama bamboo forest and exploring its nearby temples. In my opinion, Arashiyama is fantastic if you plan to visit Kyoto for its nature and mountains as opposed to city attractions. Perhaps not the best choice for first-time travellers, but definitely a zen place to be in.
Pros for Kyoto Arashiyama
Arashiyama looks fantastic. There are so many walking opportunities and the nearby mountains are perfect for hiking lovers. I can't wait to return and enjoy a relaxing night in a superb ryokan.
Cons for Kyoto Arashiyama
If you wonder where to stay in Kyoto because it's your first visit to the city, then Arashiyama is a little far from all great tourist attractions. You will have to commute every morning and evening back to your hotel, which can easily become a bit tedious and pricey too.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Kurama and Kibune
Want to visit Kyoto as part of your honeymoon? Or maybe you really like secluded spots? Kurama and Kibune are a pair of tranquil rural villages located 30 minutes train ride away from the North of Kyoto on the Eizan Line. They are surrounded by forested mountains and you can find the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple, the Yuki-jinja Shrine and the Kurama Onsen here. Kibune is also home to the Kibune-jina shrine.
Pros for Kyoto Kurama Kibune
The silence, beautiful forested mountains and the luxurious ryokans make a perfect romantic getaway for those who want to enjoy a wonderful night or two.
Cons for Kyoto Kurama Kibune
The area doesn't have much accommodation options. Being far from Kyoto centre, you can miss out on the nightlife in the city, as well as shopping and eating opportunities. This is a place for short-term relaxation and not an alternative to Kyoto for tourists or first-time travellers.
Where to stay in Kyoto: Fushimi Area
The Southern part of Kyoto is not the most popular. There aren't many things to do, apart from visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You will have to commute to other parts of the city which can be quite expensive and rather tedious to do for several days. There is quiet nightlife and the streets are more residential. However, it could be a great place for a night or two if Fushimi Inari is the main attraction on your visit.
Pros for Kyoto Fushimi Area
Stay in the Fushimi Inari area if you plan an early morning or late night visit to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. These are perfect times to take pictures because there are fewer tourists around.
Cons for Kyoto Fushimi Area
It is too far away from Downtown Kyoto which means you need to commute to visit any tourist attractions or enjoy the traditional Kyoto atmosphere.
When to visit Kyoto
Finding where to stay in Kyoto might be difficult if you decide to visit during peak time. Accommodation in Kyoto gets booked pretty quickly and sometimes even months in advance. I do recommend getting something as soon as possible. The cherry blossom festival in Spring and the Koyo festival in the Autumn are extremely popular.
The best time to visit Japan is towards the end of Autumn and the beginning of December. That's usually when you will find cheaper accommodation and the tourist attractions will be less crowded.
I hope you found this article about where to stay in Kyoto useful and you are ready to enjoy Japan. If you have any questions or wish to add something to the guide, please leave a comment in the comments section below. Planning more trips around Japan? Don't forget to check where to stay in Tokyo and where to stay in Osaka.