We are now less than 2-weeks out from our trip to Japan in November. Recently I finished my Tokyo series covering, where to stay in Tokyo if it’s your first time, the most Instagram-able coffee shops in Tokyo, where to eat in Tokyo and things to do in Tokyo so now it’s time to do my pre-research series for Kyoto, starting with Where to Stay in Kyoto for the First Time.
During our first trip to Japan, Kyoto was probably our least favourite city. Which was a weird thing to admit because whenever we asked anyone who’s been they say always say it was their favourite city. Looking back now, I know exactly why Kyoto was our least favourite. For one, even though it was our first time in Kyoto we did no research on where to stay and ended up on the outskirts of town where everything seemed to close by 7 pm and for two, we got really sick by the second day and were basically in a tiny Airbnb with no wifi for the remainder of the trip. Needless to say, I am so glad to have a second chance to go and really explore. And this time around I’m preparing and researching like I should have the first time.
Kyoto’s most popular travel periods are from March-May (Cherry Blossoms) & September –November (Autumn Leaves). The weather and temperate are pretty mild year-round but summers tend to be pretty hot, humid and somewhat rainy. Holidays to be aware of when you are travelling include Golden Week (late April–May); Aoi Matsuri (May); the Gion Festival (July), which honours geisha history with a parade; and the massive Daimonji Gozan Okuribi bonfire festival (August). Other facts to about Kyoto include:
- Kyoto was actually once the capital of Japan.
- Tokyo and Kyoto share the same letters
- It’s most famous for its Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, and geisha
What You Need to Know if it’s Your First Time in Kyoto
- Downtown Kyoto or Downtown Kawaramachi is the best area to stay in Kyoto espeically if it’s your first time.
- Be prepared to walk, Kyoto is an older city that gets a lot of tourists, meaning the buses can tend to be pretty packed and subways can be are not as extensive as Tokyo.
- Osaka & Nara are extremely close by if you either want to day-trip out or day-trip in
- The busiest time to visit would be March-May, August & November
- If you need to know what the weather is like currently in Kyoto, check it here
- If you want to know what time it is in Kyoto, check it here
Where to Stay in Kyoto for the First Time: Best Neighborhoods in Kyoto
#1 Downtown Kyoto & Kawaramachi
Overview of Downton Kyoto
All in all the best area to stay in Kyoto for the first time is got to be Downtown Kyoto. Not only are there a ton of restaurants, shops and bars, but both of Kyoto’s subway lines and two train lines also go through there. And on top of all that Downtown Kyoto is also extremely close to the main sightseeing neighbourhoods: Southern Higashiyama and Northern Higashiyama.
Pros & Cons of Staying in Downtown Kyoto
So the pros of staying in Downtown Kyoto include:
- Really convenient location
- Extremely close to Gion and Higashiyama District
- Just a quick 10-minute taxi ride from Kyoto Station
- Plenty of restaurants, shops and convenience stores in the neighbourhood.
- It has a lively nightlife, especially when compared to the rest of Kyoto.
The one con to staying in Downtown Kyoto is that arguably with the influx of tourist it might have lost a might of its old-time charm.
Best Hotels in Downtown Kyoto
- Cross Hotel Kyoto
- This is actually where we are staying for our trip in November
- ENSO ANGO TOMI I
- This is actually where we originally booked but found a better deal at the Cross Hotel through Agoda
- BnA Alter Museum
- You just need to click through and look at the rooms at this place, it seems enchanting and a wild time.
What to do in Downtown Kyoto
- Nishiki market
- Walk around the streets of Teramachi-dori and Shinkyogoku
- Shop @ Takashimaya and Daimaru
- Ponto-cho (for the nightlife)
- Kyoto International Manga Museum
- Shijo Shopping Strip
- Kiyamachi Restaurant Row
- Teramachi Shopping Arcade
- Kamogawa River
#2 Southern Higashiyama & Gion
Overview of Gion & Southern Higashiyama
If you are looking for a picturesque neighbourhood that is steeped in tradition you are looking for Southern Higashiyama especially if you are staying near Gion. It’s a great place to stay because it has some of the more sights and there are plenty of restaurants scattered about. Also if you are here make sure to explore the lanes of Southern Higashiyama because it comes alive at night.
Pros & Cons of Staying in Gion & Southern Higashiyama
So the pros of staying in Downtown Kyoto include a:
- Really convenient location
- Most of the major tourist sites are here along with, famous cherry blossom areas and popular fall foliage sites!
- Traditional & historical Japanese atmosphere
- Variety of ryokans and machiyas
The two cons of staying in Gion / Southern Higashiyama are that it can get pretty crowded on the narrow streets and accommodations tend to be a bit on the pricey side.
Best Hotels in Gion & Southern Higashiyama
- Kyoto Granbell Hotel
- I loved this one and was my top choice for awhile!
- HOTEL THE CELESTINE KYOTO GION
- Luxury Hotel SOWAKA
- This place looks like a really neat concept
What to do in Gion & Southern Higashiyama
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Gion (the most famous Geisha District)
- try to attend a tea ceremony while you are here
- Kyoto National Museum
- Ishibei-koji Lane
- Kennen-ji temple
- Kodai-ji Temple
- Chion-in Temple
- Shoren-in Temple
- Yasaka-jinja Shrine
- Hanamikoji Dori Geisha District
- Maruyama Park
- Kamogawa River
#3 Kyoto Station
Overview of Kyoto Station
If you are only going to be in Kyoto for 1-2 nights, Kyoto Station is a good place to be based. There are a lot of restaurants and shops nearby. Of course, Kyoto Station is also right there so you have great access to buses and subways if you wanted to go anywhere in Kyoto or if you planning to travel to other parts of Japan.
Pros & Cons of Staying near Kyoto Station
The pro to staying near Kyoto station would be that you can drop off your bags and get started with your day nearly right away without having to fuss around with travelling to your hotel. However, the con is there isn’t much sight-seeing to see. Therefore I would only recommend staying near Kyoto Station for the first time if you are going to only by in Kyoto for 1-2 nights and you need to be near the station to either make the most of your time or get out early.
Best Hotels near Kyoto Station
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Station
- I remember the first time coming and walking past this hotel with all our luggage in hand (we were going to take the bus) and thinking wow wouldn’t it be nice to stay here and just drop off all our bags now.
- MIMARU KYOTO STATION
- Daiwa Royal Hotel Grande Kyoto
What to do near Kyoto Station
To be honest, there’s not much, so explore what you can of Kyoto Station if you wanted to or go to Higashi Hongan-ji Temple it’s a nice temple within walking distance! But other than that you are going to have to travel in a bit before the sight-seeing really starts.
Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in Kyoto for the First Time
As a quick recap, the best areas to stay in Kyoto for the first time are Downtown Kyoto, Southern Higashiyama and Kyoto Station. Other areas you can also consider are Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama & Arashiyama but that wouldn’t be a top choice if convenience is a key factor. HOWEVER, can I just say, if money wasn’t an issue, that I would totally disregard all of the above to be able to book the Aman Kyoto? It opens November 1 and as an admirer of fine hotels, I am smitten at first sight.
All in all, that’s the rundown on where to stay in Kyoto for the first time. I will be doing a bunch more Kyoto-specific posts over the next coming weeks as we research and prepare for our trip. But if you aren’t going to Japan any time soon but are looking for other travel guides, I also recently updated the following itineraries: 3 days in Budapest, 5 days in London, 3 Days in Paris or 5 days in Oahu, I hope you stick around and read more.
That’s it for now,