Kyoto is a sprawling city, which can make deciding where to stay challenging if you aren’t familiar there already. So to help you get started, I show and describe Kyoto’s best neighborhoods, and some of the best ryokan in each area based on value for money, location, and overall quality.
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The Best Locations to Stay In
Ideally, your accommodation would be somewhere easily explored on foot, or located close to public transport, and close to the city’s attractions.
With that in mind, I’ve shortlisted some of the best neighborhoods to stay in Kyoto, to help you focus your search on finding a strategically located place that fits your needs.
Downtown Kyoto is packed with hotels, restaurants, shops and nightlife venues of all styles and prices, making it a very convenient base for travelers. It’s also within walking distance of several subway and train lines, as well as the main sightseeing areas of Southern Higashiyama and Northern Higashiyama.
If a traditional Japanese experience is what you’re looking for, head to Southern Higashiyama. The most important sightseeing district in Kyoto, it’s home to impressive temples, well-preserved alleyways, the Gion geisha district, and some of Kyoto’s best ryokan.
Kyoto Station Area
With plenty of restaurants, shops and hotels, this area is a good choice for travelers to be based too. The station serves the shinkansen bullet train, the airport express, and several other train lines and buses around Kyoto. Very convenient for trips to other parts of Japan.
Tip: for info on how to get to these locations, see how to transfer to Kyoto from the 3 nearby airports.
The Best Luxury Ryokan
These 4 ryokan are great options to consider when you’re looking for a luxury experience. Starting rates for their rooms fall in between ~29,073 JPY (~$274) and ~45,000 JPY (~$423).
Located in the downtown area, Hiiragiya is a beautifully preserved ryokan. The peaceful atmosphere, spacious rooms, and attentive hospitality have attracted many famous personalities including celebrities and members of royalty through the years.
You have the choice of staying in one of two wings. The old traditional wing takes you back to the Edo-Showa period from 200 years ago. And the new wing, opened in 2006 has rooms with sleeker, minimalist designs.
Shiraume is a beautiful place to call home for a few days. It’s located right in the middle of Gion, next to a small canal.
The rooms all have views of either private gardens or the canal, some even offering cherry blossom sightings in spring. Other than the views, the superb kaiseki dinners are also worth looking forward to, with the choice of dining in your own room or in the shared dining area.
Tucked away next to the Yasaka-jinja shrine in southern Higashiyama, Yuzuya is a small, intimate ryokan with only 8 rooms.
Yuzuya stands out from others with its yuzu-theme. The Japanese yuzu fruit can be found in many places in the hotel – around the lobby, floating in hot tubs, and even the kaiseki dinner has dishes flavored with yuzu.
Picture by Marie Mon
A peaceful oasis in the lively downtown area, Tawaraya is a traditional ryokan run by the same family for 3 generations. It has a tranquil environment with elegant furnishings, and their kaiseki meals are of the highest quality.
Another highlight of Tawaraya, is their top-notch service. The attentive staff anticipate your needs, learn your food preferences, and go the extra mile to make you comfortable, even bringing you snacks if you casually mention being hungry.
The Best Mid-Range Ryokan
These 4 accommodations have an excellent balance between value for money and modern comforts. Starting rates for their rooms fall in between ~19,517 JPY (~$184) and ~25,412 JPY (~$239).
Located in a quiet street in the downtown area, Nishiyama is a good mid-range choice just a short walk away from the Kyoto Shiyakusho-Mae subway station.
The most unique of Nishiyama’s offerings are the daily in-house activities, which all guests can participate in. They range from traditional tea ceremonies in the morning, to sake testing or origami classes in the afternoon.
Give their activities a go for a glimpse of Japanese life!
Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo
Just behind the Nanzen-ji temple in Southern Higashiyama is Kyoto Garden Yachiyo. It offers traditional Japanese accommodation, but with modern comforts. You’ll for example find smart TVs in your room, so you can Netflix and chill if you were so inclined 🙂
Another one of its highlights are its gorgeous landscaped gardens. Book ahead to get a room with views out into a garden, or better yet, one that gives you garden views even while soaking in a bath.
Uemura is located on a charming street in the geisha district of Gion, in southern Higashiyama. It’s run by a welcoming host, Ms. Uemura, who goes to every length to make your stay a comfortable one.
Rooms are not large but comfortable, and overlook the gardens or the streets of Gion. You’ll often see people walking by and taking photos of the picture-perfect street, or if you’re lucky enough – geisha making their way to some appointments.
One of the reasons for Watazen’s popularity is its location in the downtown area, a stone’s throw away from the famous Nishiki market. It also offers bike hires at an affordable price, so you can easily cycle to locations like Gion, the Philosopher’s Walk, Kinkaku-ji, and more.
Watazen also offers delightful kaiseki dinners, though you need to book directly from their website for that option. Many of the friendly staff also speak basic English, and will be able to help with any queries you have.
The Best Budget Ryokan
These 4 places are easy on your wallet, while still providing good comfort and cleanliness. Starting rates for their rooms fall in between ~4860 JPY (~$46) and ~16,517 JPY (~$155).
Yoshimizu is a charming place located at the top of a hill in Maruyama Park, in Southern Higashiyama. There, you’re surrounded by singing birds, and maple and bamboo trees – perfect if you want somewhere quiet to get away from the city.
It’s a great starter ryokan experience – rooms are equipped with tatami mats and futons that you prepare yourself. There are also shared bathrooms with onsen, but for individual use, so you can slowly dip your toes in the onsen experience 🙂
Ryokufuso is an easy 15-minute walk away from Kyoto Station. It’s located close to minimarts and plenty of restaurants, so you won’t be short on dining choices, but you can book packages that include a delicious dinner and breakfast with your room as well.
The place also has its own public onsen on the sixth floor. If you’ve always wanted to take the plunge and experience a public bath, this is a convenient option!
Yuhara is located on a quiet street beside a canal, a 15-minute walk away from Kyoto Station.
Since it’s a budget option, they don’t include additions like kaiseki dinners or breakfast, but the place shines with the hospitality of the owner, Mr. Yuhara and his family.
Last refurbished in 2009, the place is spotlessly clean throughout, even in the shared bathrooms.
Another strategically located budget option is Nishikiro, just a 5-minute walk away from Kyoto Station. Apart from its convenient location next to transport links, there are also many bars and restaurants in the area.
Its location is not its only plus point – the rooms are spacious, comfortable, and it has a lovely koi pond with a waterfall in its center. Running from 10am to 10pm, the pond is a relaxing feature to come back to after a long day of sightseeing!
Conclusion & Summary
As you can see, ryokan may be priced higher than the average hotel, but they give you a truly traditional Japanese accommodation experience. Even if you’re on a budget though, there are some excellent budget options as well.
Here’s a quick summary of the best neighborhoods to stay in:
- The downtown area, if you’re looking for a lively location close to restaurants and bars.
- Southern Higashiyama, if you prefer a scenic location close to major attractions.
- The Station area, if you’re planning to travel to other parts of Japan.
From the ryokan listed above, the best luxury accommodation is Hiiragiya, for its long history and outstanding service. A good mid-range option is Nishiyama, where you’ll get a good glimpse into Japanese traditions thanks to its daily activities. And if you’re on a budget, check out Yoshimizu for a stay in a scenic and central location.
Hope this helps you find the perfect place to stay in Kyoto. Have a good trip! 🙂