When we are talking about going on a trip to Japan, Kyoto is without a doubt on the must-visit list. This old capital of Japan has a very unique atmosphere that blends traditions and big city’s lifestyle in a seamless manner.
Kyoto is also a great place for culture and history buffs, with many shrines and historical landmarks that dot the city and its surrounding areas. The foodie scene is also one that should not be missed, as you are pampered with some of the finest cuisines the country has to offer. Kyoto’s charm has been capturing the hearts of visitors since time immemorial; as a glorious capital in the past, and as an unforgettable city today.
Southern Higashiyama, including Gion, is the best place to stay in Kyoto with its staggering number of things to do and places to visit in the area. From parks, temple, and attractions, there is no shortage of excitement to be had in this part of the city. Southern Higashiyama is framed with mountainous range in the east and a breathtaking Kamogawa river in the west, setting the perfect stage for your big adventure in one of Japan’s most-renowned cities.
BEST LOCATED HOTELS IN KYOTO
Laon Inn Gion Nawate
53€ - 58$
Sakura Cross Hotel Kyoto Kiyomizu
100€ - 109$
Yasaka Yutone Kyokoyado
332€ - 362$
Hotel Chion-in Wajun Kaikan
RECOMMENDED / BEST VALUE
Southern Higashiyama / Gion, the best areas to stay in Kyoto
First Time / Tourist / Ryokan
Stretching between Shichijo-dori in the south and Sanjo-dori in the north, Southern Higashiyama is filled to the brim with what would make for an unforgettable stay in Kyoto. Families and solo travelers alike will appreciate the old-school Japanese vibe of stone walkways, traditional buildings, and a rich variety of sightseeing spots. Visitors are also pampered for lodging choices that range from hostels for budget-conscious traveler to family-friendly, extravagant hotels.
In the northwestern part of Southern Higashiyama, Gion also makes for a great area to stay in. Known as one of the most important entertainment districts in Japan with the rare opportunities to see real-life Geisha and Geiko, there’s no shortage of foods to try, bars to check out, and lodging options to pick. From boutique hotels to serviced apartments and Japanese inns with hundreds of year worth of history, you will be sure to have a relaxed evening after a day of sightseeing.
Highly recommended for first-time travelers to the cultural capital of Japan and for visitors that want to experience Kyoto’s more modern side. Many adventures in the old capital of Japan often started at the Shimogyo Ward that houses Kyoto Station. But this ward is not merely a gateway to Kyoto, far from it. The high-traffic area also houses many accommodation choices for all ages. If you want a mix of modern amenities and traditional Japanese touches, Hotel Imagine Kyoto brings both to the table. Hotel Rakurakuan’s beautiful rooms also boast a private garden right outside the rooms for a private, chill evening. Whatever your pick is, you’ll be recharging in bliss for another day of exploration.
Visitors are greeted by the Kyoto Tower right outside of the station’s north exit, while fans of pop culture, especially Pokemon, can pay a visit to the nearby Pokemon Center Kyoto. For a break from the highly urban scene of Shimogyo Ward, the nearby Shosei-en Park offers a leisurely stroll with breathtaking greeneries around the Ingetsu-chi Pond.
Central Kyoto has plenty to offer for families, history buffs and foodies. Central Kyoto houses Kyoto Imperial Palace, the place of residence of the past Japanese Emperors in the heart of the area. Today, however, Central Kyoto is a popular place to stay for those who like a leisurely jog or meditative stroll surrounded with trees at the massive park around the palace. The area has many accommodation choices ranging from business hotels to traditional ryokans, but Rinn Fujinoki Central’s great breakfast and dinner packages will leave you feeling right at home.
Within this historically important area, there are many interesting things to do. Kyoto Aquarium makes for a great dating spot or a place to bring the whole family. Gourmands also have a chance to get a taste of a unique Shojin Ryori, or Buddhist cuisine, at Daitokuji Ikkyu that has been in business for more than 500 years. For those on the hunt for some of Japan’s finest tea, Saryo Housen that’s located in the suburbs of Central Kyoto makes for a worthy trek.
Befitting its name, Downtown Kyoto is where the city’s busiest area and is best suited for yound adults and couples who prefer a livelier atmosphere. The hustle and bustle also mean a ton of opportunities for you who like to shop around while enjoying the area’s unique energy. You can find boutique hotels and even international hotels here, but Iori Machiya Stay offers a unique opportunity to stay in a traditional Kyoto townhouse with its own concierge service that is hard to beat.
The main attraction in Downtown Kyoto would be Nishiki Market, a stretch of street with rows upon rows of shops showcasing Kyoto’s some of the city’s finest produces. Located just a short walk away from Kamogawa River, you can take your time to peruse the souvenirs, pick an eatery for a tasty lunch, and keep the good time rolling. The area is also very much alive at night, with Japanese pubs and bars serving up sake and cold pints with a side of bar fares among other evening entertainment choices.
Northern Higashiyama is the best area to stay during the cherry blossom season from late March to April. This area is perfect for families, couples and solo travelers who prefer to stay in less touristy places and experience living like a local. The area is also surrounded with nature and shrines, giving you ample times to go on a peaceful walk at night before retiring to a classic yet highly friendly ryokan or guesthouse.
If you visit Northern Higashiyama in the Spring, you’re in for a treat. With the cherry blossoms in full bloom, taking a leisurely stroll along the scenic Philosopher’s Path will be something to recall fondly. Other must-see spots in the area are the Honen-ji Temple and Reikan-ji temple. Foodies take note, you can find seriously tasty bowls of soba and udon in the area, grab some onigiris to enjoy near the riverbank, or stop by for a quick caffeine fix while chatting with the café owner.
Feel the need to get away from the city centre? Head over to the Arashiyama district, the second most important sightseeing area in Kyoto. Arashiyama’s quaint atmosphere makes it the ideal area to stay for couples and families who prefer a quieter and more relaxed surroundings. The suburb also boasts many traditional Japanese inns to make you truly feel at Japan while being detached from the touristy noises. One particularly good place is Rangetsu that features modern comfort in Japanese-style rooms, complete with a private Hinoki cypress wood bath to relax after all the sightseeing.
You may have seen pictures of the magical Arashiyama Bamboo Grove online, but taking a walk along the bamboo grove is something that you must do at least once. When the sun goes down in December, the area is illuminated, adding another layer of otherworldly beauty. Families with young children can also enjoy meeting and feeding the adorable Japanese macaque monkeys at the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama or see the floating lanterns at Oigawa River during Obon in mid-August.
A seasoned content writer with over five years at Windows to Japan, a Kyoto-based travel agency, Amy combines her love for travel and professional writing. She has lived all over Japan for the past 5 years before she settled in Kyoto.