Where to stay in Kyoto (and how to make the most of your trip)

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We often get asked where to stay in Kyoto by readers who are going to visit Japan. It’s not a surprising question since Kyoto is a large city with many different districts. In this guide, we want to show you which areas to stay in Kyoto and add a few tips on what to see in each of the Kyoto neighbourhoods as well.

Kyoto was by far one of our favourite areas in Japan. In fact, no trip to Japan is complete without a visit to Kyoto. The trouble is that it is so easy to get overwhelmed by all that Kyoto has to offer.

The hardest part of recommending what areas to stay in Kyoto is that it really depends on what you’re looking for. There is no ‘best area to stay in Kyoto’ as it all depends on what’s important for your trip. To help with this we’ve made a list of the best places in Kyoto based on what you might be looking for. We hope this helps you find the best area to stay in Kyoto during your trip as well as the best Kyoto accommodation for your stay.

Some of the places to stay we recommend are ryokans and if this is your first visit to Kyoto these may need some explanation. A ryokan is very different from a western style hotel. The biggest difference is that traditional Japanese ryokans won’t have a bed in your room, instead, a tatami mat is rolled out on the floor in the evening. Some offer Kimonos and encourage you to wear them while you are in the Ryokan and all ryokans will expect you to take your shoes off when you enter. There is also often a public bath called an onsen in lieu of a private bath or shower, although many of the Ryokans we recommend do have private bathrooms. Don’t let this discourage you from staying in a ryokan however as it is truly an authentic way to experience local culture.

Best Area To Stay In Kyoto

On that note, if you are a female solo traveller and are heading to Japan for the first time check out this girl’s guide to travelling solo in Japan.

And if you are heading to Tokyo check out this wonderful 5 day Tokyo itinerary.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the best areas to stay in Kyoto.

The top 3 places to stay in Kyoto

There are three Kyoto districts we would recommend you stay: Downtown Kyoto, Southern Higashiyama and Kyoto Station Area, all for different reasons.

The best place to stay in Kyoto for food and shopping? Downtown Kyoto

Downtown Kyoto is literally in the centre of the city and one of the best places to stay in Kyoto if you love your food and shopping. The name can create some confusion as people assume this isn’t in central Kyoto when in actual fact it is the most central part.

This is where we chose to base ourselves and we found we were close to the best restaurants, cafes and shops in Kyoto. So if your idea of an amazing holiday in Japan is to eat great food, drink in wonderful bars and stay in some of the best hotels in Kyoto, this is your area.

Things to do in Downtown Kyoto

Downtown Kyoto is also home to the world-famous Nishiki Market which was literally heaven for a food lover like me. This market is packed with stalls and tiny shops generally specialising in one type of food. Here you can buy anything from raw seasonal ingredients to different ‘tabearuki’ eat while you walk snacks.

Our favourite place in Downtown Kyoto was Ponotcho Geisha District. This is a narrow road lined with restaurants and bars that do their utmost not to catch your eye. Each entrance is discreet, hardly showing that a restaurant lies behind the doors. We soon learnt that the more discreet the entrance, the more exclusive the restaurants were. Of course, they had prices to match.

We were so lucky when we got to Pontocho Geisha District. We happened to be there when the Pontojo Kaburenjo theatre was showing one of its bi-annual performances by Geisha apprentices. It was such a spectacle to behold.

Where to stay in Downtown Kyoto: Downtown Kyoto Hotels

Here are some of our recommended Downtown Kyoto Hotels.

The Ritz Carlton – One of the Best Kyoto Luxury Hotels

This is a truly extraordinary hotel with extremely beautiful rooms and excellent facilities. The location of the hotel couldn’t be more perfect. It is set along the banks of the Kamogawa River and offers panoramic views of the Higashiyama Mountain. If you’re looking for very special accommodation in Kyoto then this is the place to go for.

Iori Machiya Stay – Traditional Kyoto Townhouse, an authentic Kyoto experience

If you’d like to experience authentic Kyoto accommodation then a stay In a Kyoto Machiya (Traditional townhouse) is a must. Iori Machiya has various townhouses in the same area. All have been renovated to exceptional standards and are a real experience.

Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto – Great value accommodation in downtown Kyoto

The Royal Park hotel offers great value for a 3-star hotel in its location. Indeed the location of this hotel is perfect, with some of the best restaurants as well as Nishiki market right on your doorstep. The rooms are clean and functional and the staff are lovely and really helpful.

Hirashin Ryokan – Cheap Ryokan in Kyoto

If you’d like to experience a Ryokan in downtown Kyoto without blowing the budget this is a good choice. This ryokan offers air-conditioned rooms and private bathrooms. There is also an onsen on site. Beds are Japanese futon style.

The best place to stay in Kyoto for sightseeing? Southern Higashiyama

Southern Higashiyama is close to Kyoto’s most impressive sites and is a destination in itself due to its well-preserved historical buildings. We spent a great day wandering around the traditional streets of Sannenzaka and Ninnenzaka which are lined with traditional wooden buildings, twisting our heads in awe at the beauty that surrounded us. Another beautiful street that is a must visit is Ishibei-Koji Lane which will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time and entered a beautiful street full of traditional inns and elite bars. This is a tiny street at 200 metres long and the best way of finding it is to ask for directions.

Southern Higashiyama is also home to the main Geisha district Gion. The best street to see geisha is in Hanami-koji in the evening. Although if you do please keep in mind that Geishas don’t appreciate being stopped for photographs.

The streets of Southern Higashiyama are dotted with countless temples and shrines full of photo opportunities. Our favourite shrine was the 1350-year-old Yasaka Jinja shrine which is the most famous shrine in Gion. Another favourite was the Kyoto Ebisu Shrine which is one of the country’s most popular shrines to Ebisu, one of the seven gods of fortunes.

Where to stay in Southern Higashiyama: Southern Higashiyama Accommodation

Four Seasons Kyoto – Kyoto Luxury Hotel

This beautiful hotel is an oasis of calm in a bustling city. Not only are the rooms stunning, but they also have beautiful views of a historical garden. The service here exceeds all expectations and staff will help with all aspects of making your trip to Kyoto a magical. They will gladly assist with getting reservations at hard to get into restaurants and recommend some truly memorable experiences. The facilities here are also excellent.

We hope this has helped you get a better idea of the best place to stay in Kyoto for your needs. Feel free to ask us any questions in the comment below. You can also read our post on the top things to do in Kyoto for further ideas.

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