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Where To Stay In Kyoto: Best Neighborhoods & Hotels

Discover which Kyoto neighborhood is best suited to your preferences and budget.

By Journy Team

17 January 2020

A time capsule of Shogun Japan, the former imperial capital of Kyoto was spared any large-scale bombings during WWII and has retained much of its pre-war wooden architecture as a result. Even after the capital was moved to Tokyo, the city remained a prominent intellectual center with a sense of serenity prevailing throughout. Kyoto is also famous as the home of kaiseki dining: a sequence of artistically-arranged traditional dishes which can be had at a traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inn, often with hot springs—aka onsens) or ryotei (small, luxurious restaurants)—making it a must-visit city for anyone traveling to Japan.

And as our resident Japan trip designer reminds travelers, it’s not just a day trip

“People sometimes think they should spend far more time in Tokyo than Kyoto, but it’s hard to do Kyoto in just two nights since a lot of the sites are spread out,” explains Sarah. “Unless you’re okay just getting a taste of it, you need to spend more time before heading off to Osaka, Hakone, or elsewhere throughout Japan.”

When considering where to stay in Kyoto, it’s important to consider which neighborhoods are best suited to your preferences and budget. Below is an outline of the city's three most popular areas with incredible sightseeing in addition to some of the best hotels: Gion, Downtown Kyoto, and Higashiyama.

Gion

Traditional geisha in Gion

Gion is Kyoto's historic geisha district, so staying here puts you amid the beautiful wooden buildings that many envision when they think of Kyoto. As Kyoto’s most famous neighborhood, Gion can get crowded during the day, so staying here gives you the opportunity to wander the atmospheric streets early in the mornings as well as later in the evenings, when many tourists are gone. It's a perfect spot for first-time visitors.

Located

In the southern Higashiyama ward around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River.

Primarily known for

  • Ochaya (traditional teahouses)—with these being our two favorites
  • Large population of geishas (geiko) and apprentices (maiko)
  • Traditional wooden machiya townhouses

Nearby attractions

  • Yasaka Shrine
    Yasaka Shrine, host to the Gion Matsuri, is located at the eastern end of Shijo-dori next to Maruyama Park. While not one of Kyoto's most impressive temples, it's worth stopping by to see the shrine's hanging lanterns, which are lit every night after dark. Also, you'll find a number of food stalls outside the temple which feature local snacks from Kyoto.
  • Shirakawa Canal
    This tranquil canal, which runs parallel to Shijo Avenue, is lined with restaurants, ochaya, and picturesque willow trees.
  • Maruyama Park
    Maruyama Park is one of Kyoto’s most popular green spaces—especially in the spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom, and autumn when the vivid-colored leaves change color. It neighbors the Yasaka Shrine, and has many beautiful waterfalls along the river that cuts directly through.

Main transportation lines

By bus:

  • Kyoto Station → Gion Bus Stop
  • Line 100 or 206

By train:

  • GionShijo Train Station (Keihan subway line)
  • Kawaramachi Train Station (Hankyu subway line)

Benefits of staying here

  • Frequent sightings of kimono-clad geishas on the Tatsumi Bridge
  • Various restaurants and boutiques along Hanamikoji Street (from Shijo Avenue to Kennin-ji Temple)

Trade-off of staying here

  • Can get very crowded with tourists

Hotel options

  1. Hotel The Celestine Gion
    Between its amazing service and proximity to Kyoto's highlights, including the historic Gion District, Hotel The Celestine is a solid choice for a midrange stay in Kyoto.
    $180 - $300/night
  2. Hotel Alza
    With rooms overlooking the river and nearby Pontocho Alley, Hotel Alza is a great upscale choice for relatively large rooms and a premium location.
    $180 - $300/night
  3. Sowaka
    Traditional accommodations are combined with a newly renovated machiya at this upscale ryokan in the heart of Kyoto's best temples.
    $300+/night
  4. Gion Hatanaka
    Gion Hatanaka offers a classic upmarket ryokan experience in the heart of Kyoto's geisha district. Also of note, this ryokan hosts a maiko (geisha-in-training) show regularly, which is one of the best opportunities to experience one of these traditional performances.
    $300+/night

Downtown Kyoto

Pontocho Alley | @tetsu6o6

Stay in downtown Kyoto to experience the more modern side of the city; in addition to being near Nishiki Market, it's home to many top restaurants and nightlife. It's very central, and major points of interest like Gion District are within walking distance—making it one of the best areas to stay.

Located

West of the Kamo River

Primarily known for

  • High concentration of hotels, shops, and restaurants
  • Vibrant nightlife scene

Nearby attractions

  • Nishiki Market
    With more than 100 stalls over five city blocks, the Nishiki food market is known by locals as “Kyoto’s Pantry.” From delicious street food to eat on the go to obscure spices and fresh seafood, it’s a haven for locals and tourists alike. Dried pickles, street food, unique, hand-crafted ceramics—you name it, it’s probably there. The covered market runs all the way from Teramachi to Shinmachi, and is the city’s best and largest traditional food market. Go with an empty stomach, because you’ll want to sample everything from skewered octopus to sticky sweets.
  • Nijo-jo Castle
    One of Kyoto’s most popular places to visit, Nijo-jo Castle invites you to explore the history of the Shoguns and the power they once wielded throughout Japan. With massive stone walls and deep moats, Nijo-jo is a low-slung but still impressive structure, and it’s surrounded by beautiful gardens, including the Seiryu-en Garden. Get there just after opening (8:45AM) to avoid the crowds.
  • Pontocho Alley
    Take a step back into old world Japan in this narrow alleyway filled with small bars and restaurants. The tiny storefronts range from inexpensive yakitori to traditional and modern Kyoto cuisine, from casual hole-in-the-walls to exclusive, invite-only establishments. In spring, many of the restaurants put up temporary patios overhanging the Kamogawa river, so you can dine in the temperate open air. To get to Pontocho, take the Hankyu line to Kawaramachi Station. It's the narrow alley running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamogawa river.

Main transportation lines

By train:

  • Shijo Train Station (Karasuma subway line)

Benefits of staying here

  • Centrally located, with various restaurant and bar options within walking distance
  • Convenient transportation options to the east and west side of the river

Trade-off of staying here

  • As a more modern neighborhood, Downtown Kyoto isn’t as charming or historic as Gion

Hotel options

  • Cross Hotel Kyoto
    This is one of our most-booked hotels in Kyoto. It's very well-located: directly between Gion District, Nishiki Market, Pontocho Alley—and right along the river, which is a nice spot to walk. All in all, it's an excellent spot from which to explore Kyoto.
    $100 - $180/night
  • Enso Ango Hotel
    While there are five locations in Kyoto, the Enso Ango Tomi 1 and 2 are probably our most popular. They are incredibly well priced and typically offer a king bed, which is very rare at this price point. There are great shared facilities (i.e. terrace, tea room, etc) and the properties also feature the work of local artists in the classically minimalist Japan aesthetic.  
    $100 - $180/night
  • Village Kiramachi
    Rooms here often have beautiful private baths in an atmospheric space, just steps from Nishiki Market and the modern offers of downtown Kyoto.
    $300+/night

Higashiyama

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Higashiyama

Higashiyama is where you’ll find Kyoto's quieter side. The area is more residential than both downtown Kyoto and Gion District, but it’s still in a great location and just a few minutes walk from from the city's most famous temples and shrines.

Located

Between the Kamo River and the Higashiyama mountain range, between Sanjo Street in the north and Jujo Street in the south

Primarily known for

  • Traditional architecture that invokes a feeling of the historic capital city
  • Cafes, restaurants, and small, hole-in-the-wall shops lining the narrow alleyways

Nearby attractions

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
    Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan's most popular temples. It stands in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto and offers visitors a nice view over the city from its famous wooden terrace. The busy approach to the temple is lined by dozens of shops and restaurants that have been catering to pilgrims and tourists for centuries. Don’t forget to enter the subterranean Tainai-Meguri, which symbolically represents the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu, a female Bodhisattva who has the power to grant any human wish. Inside, you're plunged into darkness with nothing guiding you save for some glowing stones.
  • Kodai-ji Temple
    A neighbor of Kiyomizudera known for its breathtaking Zen gardens, Kodai-ji is a perfect pitstop for contemplation in a stroll through Higashiyama. Part of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, it was established in the 17th century by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s widow in his honor.

Main transportation lines

By train:

  • Higashiyama Train Station (Tozai subway line)

Benefits of staying here

  • One of the city’s best preserved historic districts
  • Filled with endless shops and restaurants

Trade-offs of staying here

  • Like Gion (which is a part of Southern Higashiyama), it can get very crowded with tourists

Hotel options

  • Kyoto Granbell Hotel
    This is easily one of our most booked hotels in Japan. From its amazing location right in historic Gion District to the public bath overlooking a traditional garden, Kyoto Granbell is a fabulous stay for travelers looking for a modern property with traditional touches.
    $100 - $180/night
  • Four Seasons Kyoto
    This decadent, luxury hotel located on a sprawling, 800-year-old garden in the peaceful, largely residential South Higashiyama district and features an incredible spa.
    $500+/night
  • Hyatt Regency Kyoto
    This upscale Kyoto hotel south of the city's major sights (such as the Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace), features everything you could want from a modern luxury property: high-quality restaurants serving both Japanese and Western-style food, skilled bartenders, a well-appointed spa and gym, plus local design touches.
    $300 - $500/night

For a complete list of things to do in Kyoto's city center and beyond, look to our ultimate guide. And if you're staying in a ryokan, discover what to expect (tatami mats included) and how to prepare.

Overwhelmed about where to even start when it comes to planning your trip to Japan? Our step-by-step guide contains everything you need to know.