Recently, finding a place to stay the night in Kyoto has become a real challenge for travelers seeking to discover the best accommodations to meet their needs. We write about it quite often, and unfortunately, this remains true: Kyoto’s options are quickly booked, especially during the peak tourist seasons of spring and fall, but also during the weekends by locals searching for a pleasant getaway in the imperial city. The latest trend of the increasing number of tourists definitely does not help.
Therefore, knowing this, and for those who like to plan in advance, we recommend booking as soon as the reservation calendars open, usually about 6 to 8 months in advance. Therefore, it is all about planning visits in order to find a district that allows and facilitates discoveries and transportation, and that has the desired atmosphere.
This main hub of public transportation in Kyoto is naturally the JR station in the southern part of the city center"downtown." The vast majority of buses and subways come and go through this station. You can also find several rent-a-bike stores for travelers willing to cycle around.
Therefore, it is the most convenient area for travelers seeking to discover the city, but additionally, Kyoto is thought of as a traveling hub, allowing visitors to travel around with the Japan Rail Pass: to Nara, Osaka, Kobe, Biwa Lake, Himeji, Uji, and down to Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Places to stay are rather classic and modern, such as hotels and apartments, located in an urban district with all practical commodities around. It is not so charming, but the neighborhood is far from the "bad" surroundings of train stations present in Western countries.
The north main entrance of the station, called Karasuma, opens up to the city center and is livelier than the south exit, Hachijo, directly linked to the Shinkansen tracks.
Gion, the Northern Higashiyama
Streets around Gion-Shijo metro, Sanjo and Higashiyama, offer traditional accommodations while being in one of the touristy hearts of Kyoto, next to Kiyomisu-dera and Yakasa-jinja, as well as Maruyama Park and Shoren-in.
It is one of the most appreciated districts by tourists willing to wander around exotic and charming old streets. Numerous Japanese traditional inns, ryokan, line the streets, offering affordable prices and luxury services.
Although close to public transportation, in the evenings, the atmosphere is very quiet: Temples and souvenir stores close down early. It is wise to choose accommodation with half-board included or to go to northern Shijo Avenue. A lot of small bars and other shops line the canal’s banks. Attention families with small children: There are hostess bars as well.
Pontocho and the West Bank of Kamo-Gawa River
Another hub of the former imperial capital and next to Gion by the Kamo-gawa River, the tiny district of Pontocho largely wins the favor of travelers due to its intimate architecture and central location in Kyoto. To sum up, it possesses three important aspects: traditional, convenient, and lively in the evenings.
If you keep going toward Kawaramachi Station to the east, along Shijo Avenue until Karasuma Station, and then go up to Oike and finally to Nijo Castle, these are the borders of the globally super-active center of Kyoto. Including Nishiki Market, the arcade streets of Teramachi and Shinkyogoku, and the big store of Daimaru, shopping and restaurants open at night are within walking distance.
In parallel and not far from Kamo-Gawa, Kiyamachi Avenue should be explored in the evening due to its popular atmosphere full of students. You will find everything to enjoy a great evening or even to spend the night: Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are numerous. Furthermore, it is somewhat different from Pontocho, which is geared toward wealthy clients, with an intimate and cozy ambiance.
For travelers renting an apartment, we advise addresses close to avenues and supermarkets offering fresh produce, such as Fresco’s.
Set a little way from the city center, quieter, and yet still in the touristy area to enjoy discoveries within walking distance, this location is a good option as well. You can walk down the Philosopher’s path passing from the Ginkaku-ji to the Eikan-do, at the foot of Mount Daimon-ji. Not far away, you can visit the vast shrine of Heian-jinju and the city’s modern art museum.
While hosting numerous travelers during the day, the northeast part of Kyoto becomes residential and sleepy as soon as night falls. Few restaurants remain open for dinner, and do not expect bars or shops open in the evenings. Here, travelers can choose high-end hotels offering all the required comfort without having to go out at night.
Arashiyama in Sagano
For lovers of a secular Kyoto, the magnificent and traditional west area is a great alternative for a place to stay. It reveals a mystical trait, calm as soon as daily visitors leave. The Arashiyama district harbors historical treasures and excursions that guarantee guests will enjoy their visit to the fullest. While it may be not practical to go to downtown Kyoto, the zone is served by the JR Sagano line, included in the JR Pass, running directly to Kyoto Station in 15 minutes.
Where to stay for expatriates
There is no English area in Kyoto, yet some residential areas are more likely to welcome expatriates. Kyoto International School is located in the heart of the city, a little to the west of Nijo Castle. As for consulates, the American one is located in Osaka.
Demachi-yanagi and the Northern Surroundings
The northern part of the city center, with Demachiyanagi at its heart, is a pleasant compromise for long-term expatriates, offering residential tranquility, easily accessible by train or bike, close to Kamo-gawa and the main universities.
Urban, modern, and middle-class districts are settled around Kitayama Station. More to the east, you can find Ichijoji, one of the student areas, known for its multiple ramen and yakiniku restaurants, and appreciated for its appealing bars.
South of Higashiyama
This very touristy ward in the north appeals to year-long residents, especially its southern counties such as Shichijo due to its proximity to temples and shrines such as Senjusangen-do and Tofuku-ji, which can be visited while avoiding the crowded heart of Kyoto.
This area continues to the south, beyond Shinkansen line until Fushimi’s ward.
A lovely city, Uji is pleasant for those looking for a peaceful daily life, anchored in traditional Japanese culture. It makes for an enjoyable visit with hot spots such as Byodo-in, its tea houses, and other small temples.
On the Way to Osaka
About 60 kilometers to the southwest lies Kansai’s capital city: Osaka. Travel between these two main cities is largely facilitated by railways, which are very crowded every day. With this option, expatriates do not have to choose between these two main cultural cities and can opt for a residential life close to Katsura and Nagaoka-tenjin on the Hankyu line, or Mukomachi, Nagaokakyo, or Takatsuki on the JR lines.