Some of the best areas to stay in Kyoto are Gion, Higashiyama, Central Kyoto, Kamigyo, Shimogyo, or Nakagyo, plus other neighborhoods we will tell you more about in this article.
The city of Kyoto , located in the big island of Honshu and more or less in the center of Japan , currently has just over a million and a half inhabitants and is one of the most important cities in the country culturally, economically and, above all, religiously, given the large number of temples that are scattered throughout the city.
Unlike other cities like Osaka or Tokyo, Kyoto is a very traditional city that preserves the millenary Japanese traditions that define the country itself.
One of those traditions are the shows performed by the famous geishas and their assistants the maikos in the tea houses of the Gion district, in the Higashiyama district.
These entertainers, who have been working in this part of Kyoto since the 16th century, are known for their colorful kimonos, neat white makeup, and hairstyles worthy of an artist.
In addition to its traditional character, Kyoto is also a very monumental city, having been an imperial residence since the late 8th century.
Over the centuries, it continued to gain in importance until the 11th century when it became the de facto administrative capital of the country, as well as a religious and political center.
That capital city lasted until 1615, when after a period of civil wars, the country was again unified, this time with Tokyo as its capital.
From a tourist point of view, Kyoto is visited for its temples – for many, the most spectacular in the country -, shrines and traditional neighborhoods. Some of these places are World Heritage Sites, especially those built during Kyoto golden age: during the military government or Ashikaga shogunate , in the 14th century.
In addition, in relation to communications and how to get to Kyoto, it is well known that transport in Japan is of great quality, especially its railway system and, in particular, its famous Ball Train, which can connect Kyoto to the capital (500 kilometers) in just over two hours.
In addition, as in other much visited countries, Japan has adapted very well to tourism and offers transport passes such as the Japan Rail Pass, which allows you to travel freely on the entire rail network and part of the subway network for one week, two or three for a very economical fixed price.
The best areas to stay in Kyoto
We tell you how are Gion, Higashiyama, Central Kyoto, Kamigyo, Shimogyo, Nakagyo and other neighborhoods that we consider good options for to sleep in Kyoto .
The Kamo River runs through the city of Kyoto and divides the most tourist areas of the city into two large areas.
East of the river is the Gion district, the northern part of the Higashiyama district, divided into the Gion Higashi and Gion Kobu districts, and famous for its old streets, restaurants and traditional hotels that make the traveler feel like in Japan 600 years ago.
All these attractions make the Gion district the most expensive to stay in Kyoto, with average prices of 100 euros per night.However, it is essential to at least tour the district – especially the Kobu area, with more than 80 tea houses (ochaya), which can be recognized by the paper lanterns hanging from their doors.
This is where you can find the famous geishas, who, with the help of the apprentices or maikos, work at the service of the owner of the tea house serving the customers, staging small traditional shows of Japanese culture or giving conversation to the users.
If you do not want to enter the tea houses, you can always see the geishas walking through the streets of this district.
As for shopping, here you can buy make-up and cosmetics at Yoshiya shop on Shijo street, handmade and typical sweets at Kanshindo shop, lanterns and paper lamps at Miura Shomei shop, or antiques and clothes – including the famous Japanese kimonos – at shops like Konjaku Nishimura in an area known as Ohto, near Sanjo train station.
In addition to tea houses, the Gion district is full of restaurants, and not just Japanese ones.For a 100% Japanese experience, there are restaurants like Ryokan Shinmonso, which not only serves tea, but is also a small recreation room, offers dinner plus traditional entertainment, and allows you to have your photo taken with maikos and geisha.
Although this area of Kyoto is not ideal for a night out, you can take advantage of the district\’s traditional theaters, including the Kyoto Minami-za, which has an impressive façade.
On the cultural front, we also recommend visiting the memorial around the Shirakawa River in honor of the Japanese poet and expert on haikus and tankas (typical Japanese poetic forms), to whom geisha themselves pay homage every November 8.
Another place of interest, near Yamato Bridge on the Shirakawa River almost at the mouth of the Kamo, is the Tetsuo Ishihara Museum, which is also one of the few remaining hairdressing salons for geisha and maikos in Tokyo, with a display open to the public of natural hair wigs and up to 80 types of hairstyles and 200 accessories for them.
In this centre, it is also possible to hire a geisha transformation session with kimono, hairstyle and everything.Finally, as in the rest of Kyoto, the area is full of temples.
Among them, we must highlight the one in Maruyama Park, whose name is Yasaka Sanctuary, with more than 1350 years old and also frequented by geishas and maikos.Higashiyama
Just south of Maruyama Park is the southern area of Higashiyama district.Its name translates as Mountain of the East, and the area has some slopes, as well as more garden and wooded areas.
The presence of more nature than in neighboring Gion gives the district a more residential character.
This, in some areas, means that lodgings do not exist or are very expensive, so we recommend as an option to stay in Kyoto the western area, near the river Kamo.
As for the places of greatest interest, undoubtedly the Kiyomuzi-Dera Temple is the biggest attraction, already on the outskirts of the district, built in the seventh century and World Heritage Site.As a curiosity, it was proposed as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, being among the 21 finalists.
The temple is composed of several buildings, waterfall and waterways, but we must highlight the Hon-do building, built in wood and with a terrace at 15 meters high, which, added to the elevation of the hill, offers impressive views of Kyoto and the park itself where it is located.
This is visited by local couples, and during the almond and cherry blossom season, it becomes a real spectacle.
In addition to the temple, for lunch, tea, and some shopping, it is recommended that you take a walk along two of the district’s most touristy streets, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, which allow you to walk up and down the hilltop overlooking the district.
Near Ninenzaka, it is also advisable to visit the memorial to all the victims of the Second World War: Ryozen Kannon, with a statue of the goddess of mercy Kannon and a museum nearby.
– Lodging in Higashiyama
On the other side of the Kamo river, the city changes.Although it is true that there are still tea houses, temples and shrines, it is like leaving the Japan of the legendary Shogun television series to wander through a city full of shops, malls and hotels in large buildings typical of the twenty-first century.
One of the most representative of the area of Central Kyoto and more affordable to the pocket to stay in Kyoto is Central Kyoto Inn, three stars and a very good quality facilities.
This area is also ideal for shopping in malls such as Kawaramachi Opa, dining in restaurants such as Daitoryo on the Kamo River, strolling along Grand Kawaramachi Avenue, or having a cocktail party at World Kyoto just a few meters from Shijoo Bridge.Nakagyo
Nakagyo has a wide range of accommodations and is a little cheaper than Gion district so it is also a good choice for staying in Kyoto.
One of Nakagyo’s tourist attractions is the Nijó Castle, built in 1603, and just a few meters away, a treasure trove for many: the Kyoto International Sleeve Museum, where visitors can have their portrait drawn by one of the center’s drawing professionals, in addition to an impressive display of Japanese art.
For shopping, in addition to the variety of shops on the streets, we highly recommend visiting the Nishiki Market, a traditional market where you can buy local products and learn about the daily life of the city.
– Nakagyo Accommodation
North of Nakagyo is the most monumental district of Kyoto: Kamigyo. In fact, it is home to the former Japanese imperial headquarters, a complex surrounded by gardens where you can also find the Palace Imperial Sento.
In terms of accommodation, the offer is very wide and you can get cheaper rooms than in the central area with prices of about 40 euros a night for hostels and about 60 euros in hotels.
Although, of course, there are temples in the area, this district is better known for its many universities and a more youthful atmosphere with many cafes where you can eat something or go out at night to places like White House or Club Grind, facing the river Kamo.
– Accommodation in Kamigyo
We left the north of the city to go south of the center and talk about another district of interest to stay in Kyoto as is Shimogyo, east of the river Kamo. This district, being farther from the center, is cheaper in terms of accommodation than those discussed so far, but also more quiet and residential.
In any case, there are numerous things to do, such as visiting the Aquarium, the nearby Locomotive Museum, the Nishi Honganji temple or the large Shosei-en Garden mansion.Also, in the northeastern part of the district there is a special shopping center, the Pokemon Center, an idyllic place for video game lovers: Where to stay in Tokyo, where to stay in Osaka, where to stay in Hiroshima
7.Kyoto Central Station
For shopping, restaurants and entertainment, the best option is to go to the south of the district, to the Kyoto Central Station, built in 1997 and from where the famous Bullet Train departs, with which you can tour Japan in a few hours.
Around the Central Station there are a variety of shops like The Cube Shopping Center north of the station, Kyoto Avanti in the south, and many restaurants of all kinds around Tokyo Tower.
– Accommodation at Kyoto Central Station
In the south of this area, it is also interesting to visit Minami (south in Japanese), a district to be considered for sleeping in Kyoto for those looking for tranquility.
The number of accommodations is not very large which, paradoxically, increases the price. In the area, it is necessary to emphasize the temple of To-ji as a major tourist attraction and typically Japanese restaurants, which can be an opportunity to taste the local gastronomy without the sweetening of tourism.
– Accommodation in Minami
Another area of interest to mention in Kyoto – in this case in the westernmost area – is Arashiyama, an area that includes mountains, a valley with numerous attractions, and a metropolitan area that deserves a day trip.
Of these attractions, the best known is the famous Kameyama Bamboo Forest, where you can photograph some of the world’s tallest bamboo plants and relax by walking along its paths.
Not far from here is the Nonomiya Shrine; the former residence of a famous Japanese actor Okochi Denjiro, which you can enter by paying an entrance fee, and the former residence of haiku master Mukai Kyorai, who composed his short poems in the 16th century.
Of course, don’t forget to visit the small nature reserve of Arashiyama Iwatayama, where you can meet the native Japanese monkeys.
As for shopping and dining, the urban area of this nature reserve is south of the reserve, where there are hotel services, but not so much accommodation, but there is a railway line that connects to downtown Kyoto.
– Accommodation in Arashiyama
The last place we recommend as an alternative to stay in Kyoto in the area is the small Kibune population, north of Kyoto and west of the large Lake Biwa.
It is located in a wooded valley and is famous for its temple, which, according to legend, was built by a god of the Japanese Buddhist pantheon who climbed a river to its end.
– Accommodation in Kibune
Accommodation in Kyoto
One of the reasons why sleeping in Kyoto is a little more expensive than in other Japanese cities is because of the offer of traditional accommodations, which raise the overall average price.
The small traditional hotels, many of which are made entirely of wood, have the typical items of Japanese culture and decoration such as tatami, futons, low tables, thin walls of paper and wood, and Japanese style breakfast and lunch service.
In addition, these hotels are usually in the most attractive areas of the city, which is another reason for the price to be even higher.
The second reason why prices to stay in Kyoto rise is the seasonality; specifically in autumn, when in Japan it is high season, and especially at the end of winter and beginning of spring when the shakura or cherry blossom occurs, which the Japanese call hanami.
This event, especially in Kyoto and thanks to its beautiful green spaces surrounding temples and other historical sites, causes a veritable flood of tourists to arrive in the city, not only Japanese but from other parts of the world, something that logically raises the prices of accommodation.
In any case, Japan is a country open to the world and to tourism, and for years Kyoto has also been offering more conventional accommodation. That is: hotels and hostels from one to five stars equipped in a Western style; apartment-hotels of all categories and sizes; hostels for groups and even room and apartment rentals on platforms like Airbnb.