If you were to ask me which city I consider to be Japan's cultural hub, I would definitely say Kyoto!

Kyoto, a city known for its traditional Japanese culture and rich food scene, was once Japan's capital. Despite its stunning temples, shrines, and historic sites attracting the majority of visitors, there are many other things to explore in Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera temple

With many different districts, including a bustling downtown or a very traditional and cultural Old Town, there are many different areas to choose from for your trip to Japan.

So, where to stay in Kyoto? I have put together a guide with my favorite neighborhoods, activities, and hotels.

The best areas to stay in Kyoto

West of the Kamo River

Of course, there are also plenty of districts to choose from west of the Kamo River, whether you want to sightsee or go shopping. My personal favorites are Downtown, the Kyoto Station area, Central Kyoto, and Arashiyama, with its famous bamboo forest.

East of the Kamo River

The east side of the river is perfect for you if you want to stay away from the crowds and dip into some traditional culture. Here, you will find the most important sights of Kyoto in Northern Higashiyama and the famous Geisha district Gion.

I personally like staying on the east side of the river if you're visiting Kyoto for the first time, as there is a lot going on here.

1. Where to stay in Kyoto for the first time, nightlife & shopping: Downtown Kyoto

First time in Kyoto? Then, I recommend staying in Downtown Kyoto for the full Japanese experience. You can easily explore on foot and discover new things around every corner, with access to plenty of shops, malls, restaurants, bars, food markets, nightlife and the Kyoto Tower.

Plus, you'll be within walking distance of many of the historical attractions in Kyoto!

Best area for:

  • Shopping

  • Nightlife

  • First timers

  • Backpackers

Things to see & do in Downtown Kyoto

One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is through their food, and what would be a better place for that than checking out one of the most popular markets in Downtown Kyoto? Nishiki Market is the place to be if you want to try all kinds of exotic or even strange dishes and snacks!

Right next to Nishiki Market, you'll find the Shijo Shopping Strip. Here, you can find plenty of different Japanese crafts, traditional clothing such as kimonos, and great cafés and restaurants. I totally recommend starting at the market to grab some lunch and explore some Japanese delicacies and then head over and look for some souvenirs on the Shijo Shopping Strip.

Best hotels to stay in Downtown Kyoto

($$$) Tokyu Stay Kyoto Sakaiza Shijo Kawaramachi

The four-star hotel is a great luxury hotel when staying somewhere in central Kyoto. It has very spacious and modern rooms, and it is within walking distance of the train station and many of the attractions nearby.

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Tokyu Stay Kyoto

($$) Good Nature Hotel Kyoto

Good Nature Hotel Kyoto is one of the mid-range hotels in downtown Kyoto. It offers clean and comfortable rooms for great value and is conveniently located near some of the popular attractions in town, such as Nishiki Market.

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($) Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo

This traditional Japanese inn has a modern twist and is also super affordable. It has great access to some of the most popular attractions in Kyoto, such as the Gion area and Kiyomizu-Dera Temple.

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2. Where to stay in Kyoto’s famous Geisha district: Gion/Southern Higashiyama

The district of Gion, located in the Southern Higashiyama historical district, is well-known for being a hub for spotting geishas.

A geisha is a traditional Japanese female entertainer skilled in various arts, such as classical music, dance, and conversation, known for her elegance and grace. You will see them wearing a formal and rather elaborate kimono outfit.

Gion, Kyoto

The area is full of ancient wooden shops, bars, restaurants, and traditional teahouses.

Gion is particularly charming during the early evening when apprentice geishas (maiko) are getting ready to begin their workday and Japanese lanterns are lit up, creating a lovely atmosphere.

Best area for:

  • Culture trips

  • Close to temples

  • Spotting geishas

Things to see & do in Gion

Hanami-koji Street is the most popular street in the historic district of Gion. It exudes timeless charm with its traditional wooden machiya houses, where one can catch glimpses of geisha and maiko gracefully gliding to entertain in the elegant teahouses.

Southern Higashiyama is the ideal area for you if you're planning on exploring some of Kyoto's most popular temples and shrines. The most famous of them all is Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, a temple offering stunning views from its main balcony. Another great temple I suggest visiting is the Kennin Ji Temple. It's the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, and its gardens are truly spectacular.

FYI: I also recommend visiting the Kyoto National Museum in the area!

Best hotels to stay in Gion

($$$) Hyatt Regency Kyoto

The four-star Hyatt Regency Kyoto is a fantastic luxury hotel in the Gion area. It offers spacious and modern rooms with stunning views of the surrounding cityscape, and it's also within walking distance of many attractions, such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

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($$) Hotel Kyotology

Kyotoology is one of my favorite mid-range hotels in Gion. The hotel has a cozy and very modern vibe, and it is a short ride from the Gion district.

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Hotel Kyotology

($) Gion Yoshiima

Gion Yoshiima is a family-run ryokan located a short walk from the famous Hanami-koji Street, offering Japanese-style guest rooms, a public bath and serves Japanese breakfast every morning.

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($) Kamoya Ryokan

If you're looking for something more affordable, Kamoya Ryokan is the perfect option. This traditional Japanese inn has a rustic atmosphere and will make you feel like a local.

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3. Where to stay in Kyoto for easy access & short trips: Kyoto Station Area

If you're okay with a bit of travel to see the sights and want simple access to public transportation to explore various areas of Japan, then staying near the Kyoto Station would be perfect for you.

The Kyoto Train Station serves as the central transportation hub and provides access to Haruka Airport Express Train and Shinkansen bullet train, making it a convenient base for day trips to Osaka, Himeji Castle, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Nara.

On top of that, the Kyoto Station building itself is quite a sight with its modern architecture, many shops, and cafes!

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Best area for:

  • Central location

  • Day trips

  • Access to public transportation

Things to see & do in Kyoto Station Area

Kyoto station area doesn't have many popular sights of its own, but it offers access to a great train network that can take you to many other wonderful destinations outside of Kyoto. For example, you can take the bullet train and be in Osaka within just 30 minutes. Osaka is another must-see city in Japan!

If you want to know more about Osaka, check out my guide on where to stay in Osaka.

Best hotels to stay in Kyoto Station Area

($$$) Hotel New Hankyu Kyoto

The four-star Hotel New Hankyu Kyoto is located in the middle of the Kyoto Station area, right next to the train station, making it one of the best luxury Kyoto hotels for easy access. It offers modern and sophisticated rooms with all the amenities you need!

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Hotel New Hanku Kyoto

($$) Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto

The Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto is a great mid-range hotel in the area, offering clean and comfortable rooms, as well as a traditional Japanese restaurant and cafe.

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($) Matsumoto Ryokan

If you don't want to break the bank, then Matsumoto Ryokan is the perfect option. This traditional Japanese ryokan offers cozy and clean rooms at great value, and it's conveniently located near Kyoto Station.

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4. Where to stay in Kyoto near the world-famous Bamboo Grove: Arashiyama

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city center of Kyoto, consider taking a break by visiting Arashiyama instead.

Located at the foot of the Arashiyama Mountains, just 30 minutes away from downtown Kyoto, this scenic suburb offers a refreshing change of pace.

Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama

Although it's not a top destination for first-time tourists, those looking to enjoy nature may want to consider staying there for a night or two.

Best area for:

  • Relaxation

  • Nature

Things to see & do in Arashiyama

The bamboo forest of Arashiyama is a must-see in Kyoto. The sea of tall bamboo stalks, which towers over you as you walk between them, is one of the most impressive sights in Japan.

Once you've wandered through the famous bamboo forest, you should make a stop at the Tenryu-ji Temple, which is one of the most beautiful Zen temples in the area!

Best hotels to stay in Arashiyama

($$$) Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel

For anyone wanting to pamper themselves, Suiran is the perfect choice and one of the best luxury hotels. This five-star hotel offers elegant accommodation and all the luxurious amenities you could ask for! It is also within walking distance of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

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Suiran, a Luxury Colletion Hotel

($$) Hotel Binario Saga Arashiyama

If you're looking for something more affordable, Hotel Binario Saga Arashiyama is a great option. On top of that, the hotel's restaurant offers some of the best Japanese-Western fusion dishes in the area.

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($) Hotel Arashiyama

For budget travelers, Hotel Arashiyama is a great choice. The hotel offers comfortable rooms at reasonable prices, and it is also just a short walk away over the bridge from the famous bamboo grove.

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5. Where to stay in Kyoto if you're on a budget: Central Kyoto

If you are looking for a more affordable area to stay in Kyoto, then Central Kyoto would be the perfect choice. This area is right between the popular Downtown and Gion districts, so you still get convenient access to all the sights while saving a few yen on your accommodation!

Nijo Castle

However, Central Kyoto has its own sights as well. Here, you will find the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Nijo Castle, which are both absolute must-sees in Central Kyoto.

Best area for:

  • Budget accommodation

  • Backpackers

Things to see & do in Central Kyoto

Nijo Castle, built by the Shogun warlords during the Edo period, is an impressive castle with huge surrounding walls. The gardens surrounding the castle are beautiful and are also lit up at night. To avoid the crowds, I recommend coming early in the morning!

I also recommend visiting the Imperial Palace for its beautiful park rather than the palace itself. Take a walk, bring some food, and enjoy a picnic; it's especially stunning during cherry blossom season in late March.

Best hotels to stay in Central Kyoto

($$$) Kyoto Kamanza Hotel

Nestled within the city's heart, this small hotel offers a collection of cozy and modern rooms designed to cater to your every need, providing a welcoming haven after a day of exploration. With its blend of contemporary aesthetics and a touch of traditional Japanese ambiance, the Kyoto Kamanza Hotel presents a perfect retreat to immerse yourself in the cultural richness and captivating atmosphere of this historic city.

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($$) Ina House Kyoto

If you want to have your own apartment without spending too much money, the 3-star Ina House Kyoto aparthotel is a great choice. You'll have a fully-equipped kitchen with a microwave, a seating area, a flat-screen TV, and a washing machine in every unit.

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Ina House Kyoto

($) Kasuian

Kasuian is a great traditional two-star holiday home just minutes away from the Gion and downtown areas. The house comes with a patio and garden views, has two bedrooms, a living room, a flat-screen TV, and an equipped kitchen.

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6. Where to stay in Kyoto away from the crowds: Northern Higashiyama

Northern Higashiyama is one of the major cultural hubs of the city. You will find most temples, shrines, and gardens that are off the beaten path.

This area is located away from the main touristy parts of Central Kyoto, so you get to enjoy a more quiet and tranquil atmosphere.

Yasaka Pagoda

However, the evenings here are much quieter than in the downtown area, so if you're looking for a more lively area, this might not be for you!

Best area for:

  • Relaxation

  • Sightseeing

Things to see & do in Northern Higashiyama

The Silver Pavilion, or Ginkaku-ji Temple, is a top tourist spot in the area. Here, you can stroll around the temple complex, which includes six buildings, a moss garden, and a distinctively dry sand garden.

Don't miss out on visiting other fascinating temples and shrines nearby, such as Nanzen-ji Temple and the lesser-known Honen-in Temple.

Best hotels to stay in Northern Higashiyama

($$$) Ryokan Genhouin

The four-star Ryokan Genhouin is one of the best Kyoto hotels in the northern Higashiyama area. It offers spacious, traditional rooms with all the comforts and amenities you could need, plus amazing views of the surrounding hills and gardens.

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($$) Ryokan Sawaya Honten

Built in the 1920s, this traditional Japanese inn is a great option if you want to stay within walking distance of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The rooms come with tatami-mat flooring, paper sliding doors, and traditional futon bedding.

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Ryokan Sawaya Honten

($) Guest House Kobako

I recommend Guest House Kobako if you're looking for an affordable option. The accommodation offers private Japanese-style rooms and is conveniently located just a minute's walk from the Kyoto Art Museum.

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Where to stay in Kyoto – Frequently Asked Questions

⭐ Is staying in Kyoto worth it?

Yes, absolutely! Kyoto is a great city to explore, and there are so many things to see and do. From the bustling downtown area to calming temples tucked away in the forests, it's a must-see destination on any trip to Japan.

📅 How many days should I stay in Kyoto?

If you only have a few days to explore Japan, I recommend spending at least two nights in Kyoto so that you can get the most out of your trip. That way, you'll have enough time to explore all the sights and enjoy the local food.

✔️ Should I stay in a Ryokan in Kyoto?

Yes, staying in a traditional Japanese Ryokan is a great way to truly experience the culture and hospitality of Kyoto and Japan.

🚶 How do I get around Kyoto? Can I walk?

Yes, many of the sights in Kyoto are within walking distance from each other, so it's very easy to get around on foot. Plus, there are also plenty of public transportation options, such as buses and trains, if you're short on time or want to explore further out.

🏨 Should I stay in Gion or near Kyoto Station?

It depends on what you are looking for. Gion is a great area to stay if you want to be close to many of the sights and attractions, as it's in the center of all the action. However, if you're looking for something more affordable and maybe want to take some day trips to different cities, then staying near Kyoto Station might be a better and more accessible option.

❓ Is Kyoto or Osaka better?

Kyoto is known more for its ancient heritage, temples, shrines, and traditional culture. So it really depends on what you're after. Osaka is a great city if you want to experience the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis; it also has some amazing food and nightlife scenes.

Where to stay in Kyoto – Final Words

If you want to get a great taste of Japan's culture and traditions, Kyoto is the perfect destination!

Kyoto is definitely one of my favorite cities in all of Japan, and whether you stay in the quiet Higashiyama or the busy Downtown area, I promise you'll have a great experience. I hope my guide has made it easier for you to decide where to stay in Kyoto so that you can prepare for your next adventure.

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