Best Areas To Stay In Kyoto – Recommended By A Local

 

By Saki Iwata, a Kyoto local and university student who returned to Japan after living abroad for a few years to re-immerse in her own culture.

Edited by Elodi Troskie

Finding the right accommodation is a big part of planning a trip. Deciding where to stay in Kyoto is really dependant on what you’re hoping to get out of your time in the city. Whether you’re here for the nightlife and street food, temples and sightseeing, or you’re just looking for a quiet place where you can kick back and relax, this neighbourhood guide will tell you all you need to know about the best areas to stay in Kyoto!

 

Downtown Kyoto

If you’re visiting Kyoto for the first time, Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay. As you’ll be in the centre of the city, you’ll have easy access to public transport, shopping centres and a variety of restaurants, bars and street food markets. The best food market in this area is the Nishiki Market, where you can find amazing Japanese street food dishes at really affordable prices. For shopping, head to the shopping streets of Teremachi or Shinkyogohu. The best surrounding area to go for nightlife is Ponto-cho, where you’ll find a ton of restaurants and bars, and you might even spot the famous traditional geishas. Another point of interest is the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where more than 300 000 Manga comic books are exhibited. Although there are many things to do in Downtown Kyoto, it’s a relatively modern and higher end neighbourhood, which means that it has lost some of its cultural charm. Nonetheless, a very convenient area to be based in.

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Gion

Gion, the city’s most famous geisha district, is the best area to stay in Kyoto if you want to experience traditional Japanese customs. Here you’ll be in the heart of historic Kyoto, with ancient Buddhist temples and shrines, impressive Japanese architecture, traditional teahouses and picturesque old wooden shops. Visit Yasaka Shrine, Ebisu Shrine and Kennin-ji Temple, or explore the nearby shopping area of Shijo. Another must-visit is Minamiza Theatre, the most prominent kabuki theatre in all of Kyoto, dating back as far as the early 1600s. If you’re visiting during July, you’ll be able to experience Gion Matsuri, the biggest annual festival in Kyoto. The festival is a huge celebration of Kyoto’s local culture and events take place throughout July. The two main events are the processions of traditional parade floats. The city lights up during this time and the incredible cultural energy in Gion is something you have to experience at least once. 

 

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Kurama

Kurama is one of my favourite areas in Kyoto. This old neighbourhood is located in Kyoto’s northern mountains, about an hour’s drive from the city – the perfect escape from the busy city life. Kurama is famous for its temples, hot springs, hiking trails and incredible views. The Buddhist temple, Kurama-dera, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in this area. The temple is located on the upper mountainside and can be reached by a half an hour walk or taking a cable car up the mountain. If you’re in Kurama, you have to visit Kurama Onsen, a traditional ryokan where you can relax in the natural hot springs baths. You can also stay over at Kurama Onsen. This is the best area surrounding Kyoto to get a breath of fresh air and experience a more rural way of living. 

 

 

Kyoto Station Area

Kyoto Station is the biggest railway station in Kyoto and the second largest station building in Japan. The complex has a shopping mall, movie theatre and hotel – the one stop place for everything you might possibly need. If you’re staying in the area surrounding Kyoto Station, you’ll be right in the middle of all the action with easy access to all the coolest things to do in Kyoto. To name a few, you can visit the Kyoto Railway Museum, the Kyocera Museum of Art, Umekoji Park, Kyoto Aquarium and the famous Kyoto Tower, the tallest building in Kyoto from which you’ll have a magnificent panoramic view of the city. If you’re interested in Buddhist temples and shrines, you can visit the To-ji, Nishi-Hongan-ji and Higashi-Hongan-ji temples. A hidden gem in this neighbourhood is Ramen Koji, located on the 10th floor of the station building, where you’ll find a cluster of shops and restaurants selling all the regional varieties of the ramen noodles Japan is so famous for.

Higashiyama

The Higashiyama district is a beautiful part of the city with preserved historic sites and ancient architecture making you feel as though you’ve travelled back in time. The city has really done the most to create a traditional atmosphere in this neighbourhood by keeping the narrow, paved streets and Japanese wooden shops  in-tact. You’ll find countless small shops and cafes in this area, many of which cater specifically for tourists who want to buy souvenirs and locally crafted products to take back home. Higashiyama is close to the Gion district, so you won’t be far from the ancient temples and shrines in this historic neighbourhood. Higashiyama is a great area to stay if you want to avoid the tourist crowds but still be close enough to all the main sightseeing spots.

 

Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a district located on the outskirts of Kyoto, popular for its scenic surroundings and slower pace of living. This is a great area to stay if you’re traveling with kids! The most famous landmark in this area is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove with its beautiful walking paths. The many temples and shrines in the Arashiyama area make it one of the most culturally important districts of Kyoto – perfect for those fascinated by the culture and history of Kyoto. The further you move north towards the Arashiyama mountains, the less touristy it gets, with many small temples most people don’t know about. Like the rest of the city, Arashiyama is at its busiest in spring, when the Japanese cherry blossoms are in bloom, attracting visitors from all over the world. This area is just as beautiful during autumn months!

 

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