Where to Stay in Kyoto, Japan

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Choosing the right hotel, ryokan, or other place to stay in Kyoto is important—not from the perspective of having a comfortable bed and the most high-tech toilet (although having the right temperature of heated seat is important), but primarily due to location.

No matter how long you’re staying in Kyoto, you will not have enough time. This is something we’ve stressed in our posts about Kyoto, and it bears reiterating. There are such a high number of compelling temples, shrines, and other points of interest that it’s impossible to see it all during a single visit.

We’ve visited Kyoto multiple times over the last several years, and have stayed at several hotels, ryokan, and Airbnb rentals. In this post, we’ll make specific recommendations concerning where to stay within Kyoto, offer a few specific and generalized hotel recommendations, and offer the pros and cons of staying at a ryokan or Airbnb rental.

Let’s start with location, as this is going to be important regardless of the style of accommodations you choose. If you’re visiting Kyoto for 2 days or less, I’d recommend extending your visit. But seriously, in that case, you should determine which region of the city appeals to you most, and choose a place that is convenient to those points of interest.

In 2 days or less, you are not going to be able to see it all, so it’s best to not even try. Instead of criss-crossing the city, wasting time in the process, pinpoint an area. See as much as humanly possible in that area, and save everything else for a future trip.

In this case, my recommendation is staying near Inari (more on that below), which provides convenient access to Fushimi Inari, and relatively easy access to Higashiyama. If there are other things in Kyoto that pique your interest more, consider a different location. There aren’t any “wrong” answers here.

If you’re staying 3 days or longer, I think choosing a location near a transportation hub makes more sense, as this enables you easy access to all of the regions of Kyoto. The obvious pick here is Kyoto Station, which is Kyoto’s main artery for transportation. Not only is it easy to get anywhere in the city from here, but it’s easy to get to Osaka and Tokyo from here.

Okay, now let’s break down the various types of places to stay, starting with hotels…

Hotels

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Beyond location, one thing you have to consider with regard to hotels is whether they are Japanese or western style accommodations. While this is true no matter where you go in Japan, the two most popular tourist spots in Japan are Tokyo and Kyoto, and the former has far more western chains that offer familiar accommodations to Americans.

In Kyoto, western chains are far less common. There are a few popular hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, which earns bonus points from us due to its location in Higashiyama. Another option in this same general (desirable) area is the Westin Miyaka Kyoto. There’s also the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto in this same area, if you’re a real high-roller.

Kyoto Century Hotel, or as I call it “Lamp Shrine Inn,” is one specific hotel at which we’ve stayed that really sticks out to me as being good, both in terms of location and quality (the top photo of the giant lamp is its lobby…hence the moniker). It’s about a 5-minute walk from Kyoto Station, which is about as close as you can get. Like many hotels in Japan, the exterior is fairly nondescript, but the inside is nice and the rooms are a cross between Japanese and western styles.

There are a lot of other hotels in Kyoto that offer western style rooms, and my only general advice beyond the above is to not be tempted by ones that are downtown. In Kyoto, downtown is not the best place to stay. Fortunately, most of the nice hotels that pitch themselves as downtown are actually near Kyoto Station or Higashiyama. (I think they probably realize there’s allure to “downtown” for foreign visitors.) If you’re looking for a hotel beyond what we’ve listed, just consult a map and make sure the location is good.

Ryokan

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A ryokan is a traditional style of Japanese accommodation that originated during the Edo period, when such inns served wayward travelers en route from place to place. They exist today as something between a remnant and an homage to the past. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, traditional yukata for guests to wear, and common spaces for guests to interact with other patrons and the owner. They also sometimes (but not always) feature communal baths (the idea of this was extremely awkward to me at first, but I’ve come around). Due to the more spacious nature of the ryokan, it’s typically something you’ll only find outside of Tokyo.

Now, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of you took one look at the above photo and instantly ruled out the ryokan. Perhaps the bedding looks uncomfortable or the idea of sleeping on the floor turns you off. Or, maybe you are like me and don’t like the idea of going full frontal in front of a bunch of strangers.

Well, let me “reassure” you: the bedding is about as comfortable as a normal hotel mattress in Japan and…well, at least you won’t get hurt falling out of bed? Also, the public nudity thing is something you get over quickly once you realize no one cares about what you look like naked. (Or perhaps that’s just me…) In any case, many ryokan have private bathroom options for “shy” tourists.

In all seriousness, before you rule out the ryokan, give it serious thought and look at some of the options. We consider the ryokan to be one of the quintessential Japanese experiences, and it’s definitely worth trying to get over some of your hesitations for this. If the idea of a ryokan is a non-starter, you probably should stick to an American chain in Kyoto. Japanese preferences favor firm mattresses, and we’ve had some that make ryokan pads feel like floating in a floor-level cloud by comparison.

Airbnb Rental

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Pretty much whenever we travel internationally, we check out prices on Airbnb–particularly if we are visiting during a busier season. In Japan, we’ve visited during sakura season (cherry blossoms), fall foliage, and Golden Week, and have thus encountered high hotel prices. Instead of paying those rates, we looked to Airbnb. In case you’re unfamiliar with Airbnb, we have a post on our Disney blog that discusses our Tips for Using Airbnb and provides some general background.

We prefer Airbnb to booking hotels because it gives us the option for a much larger room, usually an entire apartment. Japanese hotel rooms (that are not Western chains) tend to be very small, and using Airbnb is the best way to avoid this issue. A lot of Airbnb flats are “ryokan style” in terms of the guest quarters, which also provides a slice of authentic culture. (If this isn’t for you, just made sure to get an Airbnb with proper beds–a variety of styles are available.)

Obviously, the lower price is the biggest selling point of Airbnb. It’s also nice that many rentals can accommodate larger parties without an extra per person charge (as is common in Japan). Plus, Airbnb hosts often include free MiFi so you can use the internet on the go. We’ve had some fun experiences staying at unique Airbnb locations throughout Japan and really cannot recommend it highly enough. You can use our sign-up link for a $40 credit your first time using Airbnb!

Our best Airbnb experience in Kyoto was last year when we stayed at an Airbnb that was 5 minutes from Inari Station. For a short 2-3 day trip, this location was absolutely perfect. There was nothing particularly special about this one (it wasn’t nearly as cool as the converted bar we stayed at in Osaka!), but the location was second-to-none.

I don’t like visiting Kyoto for fewer than 3 days (and would try to avoid doing that in the future), but if we ever have another short stay in Kyoto, I’d try booking this exact same Airbnb again. (The one we rented is pictured above. If anyone wants more info on this unit, let me know in the comments–I’ll try to dig up our reservation details.)

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Of course, you don’t necessarily need to rent this same unit–the general location should be good enough. I liked the way this Airbnb worked out because Kiyomizu-Gojo and Inari are both on the Keihan Line (separated by 4 stops), making it convenient to accomplish everything along the spine of the Higashiyama mountains, starting with Philosphers’ Path and ending with Kiyomizu-dera Temple. You can then do Fushimi Inari late at night, or early the next morning.

This works because Fushimi Inari is one of the few spots in Kyoto that is open 24/7.) If you have limited time in Kyoto, doing Fushimi Inari early in the morning or late in the night is pretty much a must. Not only does it allow you to extend your day, but the experiences at Fushimi Inari without crowds are second to none. (We have done Fushimi Inari at sunrise and late at night many times.)

I think that about covers the pitfalls and our recommendations for where to stay in Kyoto, and which kind of accommodations might appeal most to you. I’m guessing I made the decision of where to stay in Kyoto slightly more complicated, but hopefully I didn’t overcomplicate the decision for you. I will say that some “complication” is good here, as it’s easy to make a bad choice when it comes to Kyoto (we did on our first visit!) On the plus side, it’s pretty easy to make a good decision once you have a bit more info–and hopefully this post has set you on the right path!

If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, Japan, please check out my other posts about Kyoto for ideas of things to do (or not do) while there. Kyoto has a lot of things to see and do, so I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to help better develop an efficient plan while there. 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Kyoto? If so, where did you stay? Would you recommend it? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Questions about specific hotels, ryokan, or Airbnb rentals? If you have experience staying in Kyoto, please share in the comments–more viewpoints will help other readers! If you don’t have experience, feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments!

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22 replies
  1. Lei
    Lei says:

    Hello Tom,

    Thank you for your post this is very informative. Really impressed with what I have learned.
    My partner and I are visiting Japan in March for 7 days and my task is to look for our accommodation, he did the other parts of the vacation. We would like to stay in Kyoto for 3 days and then to Osaka and maybe include Kobe if we still can.
    We are keen on trying the Ryokan but we would like to have private room,toilet and bath. Is there such options? What do you recommend and which area do you recommend we stay to have the maximum access to the most visited areas of the place.

    Reply
  2. Corene
    Corene says:

    This post was wonderfully helpful! Thanks so much. We have SPG points, and were considering the Westin just for the cost savings. The number of points goes up in sakura season, but the points & cash amount does not, so we booked this hotel for 5 nights at 6000 points & $110USD per night. It seemed like great value given the prices I am seeing for this & other hotels. And now I feel even better about this given your recommendation of the area! I have just recently begun planning our trip for March/April 2019 & am so enjoying your posts & pictures! Thanks again Tom. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Nice! The location of the Westin is especially good during sakura season. The hotel is maybe a 5 minute walk from the Keage Incline, one of the best cherry blossom spots in all of Kyoto (actually, the hotel has a number of sakura trees outside its entrance, too).

      Reply
  3. Candice
    Candice says:

    Hi Tom! We’re looking to stay in Kyoto for 3 nights where we’d like to stay at a ryokan for a night. Any recommendations on which area to go for a hotel and any recommendations for a ryokan for a night? Thanks!
    P.S. I follow you a lot on your Disney site but I’m so glad I found this site!

    Reply
  4. roudaut
    roudaut says:

    hello thanks for your details could you please provide the name of the ryokan and airbnb address/ links please?

    Thanks a lot for your kind help

    Reply
        • Chrissy
          Chrissy says:

          Thanks for the reply Tom! The place looks great, and it’s reassuring to know you’ve been here and enjoyed it. It’ll be our first choice when we visit Kyoto.

        • Dean Lewin
          Dean Lewin says:

          Thanks for the recommendation Tom, I have just booked this property for our trip later this year. Any recommendations in Tokyo? Not near Disneyland as we will book into the Disneyland Hotel mid-week.

        • Wallis
          Wallis says:

          Thanks for these great recommendations! For the airbnb that you stayed in (and gave us the link to) – Is this a rental for just one family? Or are there multiple rooms within the apt with multiple families maybe sharing that one bathroom?

  5. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I’ve been loving your return to posting over here. Any thoughts/plans to post more comprehensive “Japan on a Budget” or “Europe on a Budget” type posts? I know you mentioned something in your Tokyo posts over at DTB about possibly putting something together about the cost of a Tokyo Disney trip, but I wondered if you might consider/be considering doing something similar for your other trips. I’d be curious about a rough per person cost on the trip you all took to Europe last fall, or this last trip to Japan. Just food for thought. 🙂

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, absolutely! Posts like that are something I want to start tackling once I get more comfortable with these places. Even though I’ve taken multiple trips to both, I still don’t have nearly as much experience with Japan or Europe as I do the Disney parks. Once I have that experience (hopefully, later this year), I plan to go after more ‘challenging’ aspects of planning.

      Reply
  6. Brian Crawford
    Brian Crawford says:

    We love staying in ryokans and you’ve nailed the public nudity issue. No one cares, although one time an elderly Japanese told me I needed to lose a little weight! He was joking….anyways, my boys and I have always felt comfortable and my wife and daughter have always enjoyed their baths on the female side. In fact, bathing is one of the highlights of any ryokan stay. My wife and her family often bath three times during the day. Once in the morning, then again before dinner and once again after dinner! We usually stay at a ryokan that offers a traditional multi course Japanese meal as well. It’s a unique Japanese experience to try all the different foods (and you know presentation is half the experience) and to enjoy them in your yukata. Love your posts on Japan…they are great! I’m learning a lot despite having been to Kyoto several times! Good stuff.

    Reply
    • Comfort
      Comfort says:

      Now when you say “bath” are you refering to bathing like one would do at home with soap and shampoo? Or is it more like some kind of communal spa like scenario? I guess what I am also asking is, what is so great about these baths that your family would want to bath three times a day? I am really interested in these Ryoken as it seems like a real Japanese experience that isn’t common or possible anywhere else.

      Reply
  7. Hesham
    Hesham says:

    Been to Kyoto before, stayed next to the station, makes a great place to grab some grub late at night after a full day of walking.

    I never heard anything about down town Kyoto, could you shed some light on why it’s not advisable to stay there, don’t think I ever felt unsafe in Japan at any time.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Sorry! I did not mean to imply it’s unsafe, as that’s not even remotely the case. Rather, it’s not the main draw of Kyoto. In our experience, the highlights of Kyoto are elsewhere.

      I mentioned our recommendation of staying outside of downtown because I think people normally associate downtowns with being the hub of activity, and the best spot to stay for convenience. Kyoto is an exception to this, in my opinion. (I’ve also never felt remotely unsafe anywhere in Japan.)

      Reply
  8. Comfort
    Comfort says:

    Thanks again for the helpful post. It is nice to get a succinct breakdown of the different types of places to stay. I love the idea of staying at a Ryoken, but I have two kids so the communal bath kind of sounds terrible, if it were just me it would be awkward but fine. I think I will take your advice and look for somewhere close to the transportation hub.
    One question I do have is on average (I know it can vary) but how many shrines/temples do you try to get to in one day at Kyoto?

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      You might try searching hotels.com or a comparable site for ryokan with private bathrooms–or Airbnb in the ryokan style. It’s a fun experience.

      You can hit a lot of shrines/temples in one day if you want, and this in large part because there are hundreds (if not thousands) in Kyoto. Literally, every block. In terms of *major* ones…I’d say aim for about 5-7 points of interest in a single day. Any more than that and you are either going too fast, or are going to have temple-overload. (Fushimi Inari is an exception to this–you could spend 3-4 hours there if you do the entire mountain loop.)

      Reply

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