Where to stay in Kyoto first time: 7 Best areas

My partner and I visited Japan a few years ago, spending 10 wonderful days exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. I understand that finding the right place to stay in Kyoto as a first-time visitor can be a bit challenging. 

That’s why, in today’s article, I will share with you what I believe are the best areas to stay in Kyoto for first-time travelers, along with a helpful map. I’ll also share where we stayed in Kyoto and recommend some of the best hotels for various budgets.

Before get into the detail of the main topic, let’s look at some facts about Kyoto:

Kyoto is a historic city and popular tourist destination located in the Kansai region of Japan. It is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, stunning temples, beautiful gardens, and traditional wooden machiya houses. 

Kyoto is easily accessible from Tokyo and Osaka by train. You can also fly into Kansai International Airport or Osaka Itami Airport, then take a train to Kyoto (about 30-45 minutes).

Kyoto served as the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 to 1868, during the periods known as the Heian and Imperial periods. This long history has left a profound cultural and historical imprint on the city.

The city is famous for its numerous temples and shrines, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of the most well-known include Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Taisha (known for its thousands of red torii gates), and Kiyomizu-dera (with its iconic wooden stage).

Kyoto is a hub for traditional Japanese culture, including tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), and calligraphy. You can also enjoy traditional performing arts such as Noh theater, kabuki, and geisha entertainment in the Gion district.

Kyoto boasts beautiful Japanese gardens, which are meticulously designed and offers peaceful spaces to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Kyoto is a prime destination for cherry blossom viewing (sakura) during the spring. People gather in parks and along riverbanks to view the blooming cherry trees.

The city is known for its unique cuisine, including kaiseki ryori, a traditional multi-course meal that emphasizes seasonal ingredients and presentation. It is also famous for matcha (green tea) and yudofu (tofu hot pot).

Kyoto hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. The Gion Matsuri in July is one of the most famous, featuring massive floats and processions.

Choosing where to stay in Kyoto for your first visit depends on your preferences and the kind of experience you want to have. Kyoto offers a variety of neighborhoods and accommodation options to suit different tastes and budgets. 

Where to stay in Kyoto for the first time?

The best areas to stay in Kyoto for first-time tourists are Downtown Kyoto, Gion and Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station, Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Kibune. Many tourists split their stay between different areas to experience the city’s diverse offerings.

Downtown Kyoto is the best area for first-timers who want a central base with access to modern amenities and the ability to explore various parts of the city easily. It offers a convenient location with easy access to public transportation, shopping, dining, and nightlife.   

Gion is the best base for first-time visitors who are interested in traditional Japanese culture and ambiance. It gives you a chance to experience the traditional atmosphere of Kyoto, with beautiful streets, historic tea houses, and geisha sightings.

Kyoto Station is recommended for travelers who want the convenience of easy transportation and a modern, bustling atmosphere. It has excellent transport connections, making it easy to take day trips to nearby cities like Nara and Osaka. Lots of hotel options.

If I have to choose between Downtown Kyoto and Gion, I would prefer to stay in the Downtown area because it is more affordable, and you can still easily access the historical Gion district.

During my first trip to Kyoto, my partner and I stayed in the Kawaramachi Downtown area at the mid-range Hotel Grand Bach Kyoto Select. The hotel has a super central location, fabulous breakfast, and laundry services. Easy access to the main strip and the Nishiki Market.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Kyoto for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best areas to stay in Kyoto
Map of the best areas to stay in Kyoto

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Kyoto have been carefully selected by me, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

7 Best areas to stay in Kyoto for first-time tourists:

1. Downtown Kyoto (Kawaramachi)

Downtown Kyoto, without a doubt, is the most popular place to stay in Kyoto for first-time visitors. It is the heart of the city and a small area that is bounded by the Kamo River to the east, Karasuma-dori to the west, Oike-dori to the north, and Shijo-dori to the south.

Staying in the Downtown area have easy access to shopping, dining, and entertainment options. This area is well-connected by public transportation and is a convenient base for exploring the city.

Downtown is home to major attractions such as the Ponto-Cho Geisha neighborhood, Nishiki Market (Kyoto’s Kitchen), and numerous department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya.

Pontocho is a narrow, atmospheric alley running parallel to the Kamo River. It’s known for its traditional teahouses, restaurants, and bars. It’s a great place to experience Kyoto’s traditional nightlife and enjoy a meal or a drink along the river.

Shijo Street is one of the main thoroughfares in Kawaramachi and is famous for its shopping opportunities. You’ll find a wide range of stores, from traditional Japanese shops to modern boutiques, department stores, and international brands. It’s a great place for shopping enthusiasts.

In addition to Shijo Street, there are shopping arcades in the area like Teramachi, Shinkyogoku, and Nishiki Market, where you can find local food products, crafts, and souvenirs.

Japanese comic fans can visit The Kyoto International Manga Museum, a unique institution dedicated to manga art, housing over 300,000 manga volumes. It offers exhibitions, events, and a vast reading space for enthusiasts.

There are plenty of accommodations in Downtown areas for all budgets. I suggest booking a hotel close to major train stations such as the Kawaramachi Station on Hankyu Line, Gion Shijo Station and Sanjo Station both on Keihan Line. 

Best places to stay in Downtown Kyoto in for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie, 5-star hotel, centrally located in the heart of Kyoto Downtown area, within walking distance from the subway station and most major bus routes. Easy access to the main shopping streets with lots of shops and restaurants.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hotel Grand Bach Kyoto Select, popular 4-star hotel, located within walking distance from Kawaramachi Train Station and Shijo Station, short train ride from Nijo Castle and Kyoto Station .
  • Budget ($): Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto-Shijokarasuma, great 3-star hotel, centrally located only 3 mins walk from Karasuma Station, 5 mins train ride from Kyoto Station via Karasuma Line. 
  • Hostel ($): The Pocket Hotel Kyoto Shijo Karasuma , great cheap budget-friendly accommodation offering single private rooms or twin rooms with shared bathrooms. If you are on budget, this is a great choice.

2. Gion and Southern Higashiyama

Gion is Kyoto’s famous geisha district, and a great choice if you want to experience traditional Japan. It is a part of Southern Higashiyama district, located on the eastern bank of the Kamo River.

The district is filled with historic teahouses, wooden machiya houses, and cobbled streets, giving it a timeless atmosphere. Some of these teahouses are open to the public for tea ceremonies.

Gion is renowned for its preservation of traditional Japanese arts and culture, particularly the geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha). Visitors often have a chance to see these beautifully dressed women in the streets as they make their way to appointments.

This area is home to many iconic temples and shrines, including Kiyomizu-dera, Yasaka Shrine, and Chion-in. Southern Higashiyama features charming streets like Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, ideal for strolling and shopping for traditional Japanese crafts and souvenirs.

Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is a popular Shinto shrine located in the Gion district. It’s famous for its lantern-lit paths during festivals and is a great place to experience traditional Japanese spirituality.

The area offers picturesque views of cherry blossoms in spring and colorful foliage in autumn. The views from Kiyomizu-dera, overlooking the city, are particularly famous.

Accommodations in this area range from traditional ryokan to modern boutique hotels. It’s essential to book your accommodations well in advance, especially during peak seasons, as this area is a popular choice among visitors to Kyoto.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Gion for first-time visitors:

  • Luxury ($$$): Hotel Alza Kyoto, 5-star hotel, located  in Gion District, close to the Kamo River, a short walk from Sanjo Station and Kawaramachi Station.
  • Mid-range ($$): Kyoto Granbell Hotel, 4-star hotel, conveniently located within walking distance from Gion-Shijo Subway Station, Yasaka Shrine, as well as a short bus ride to Heian Jingu Shrine and Kyoto Aquarium. 
  • Ryokan ($$): Ryokan Motonago, great Japanese inns, located only a few mins walk from Yasaka Shrine, 15 mins walk from Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
  • Budget ($): Laon Inn Gion Nawate,  3-star accommodation located a 3-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station, and is surrounded by numerous restaurants, cafes and convenience stores.

3. Kyoto Station

If you plan on using Kyoto Station as a transportation hub, there are many hotels in the vicinity. This area is convenient for day trips to nearby cities like Osaka and Nara. It also has a wide range of dining and shopping options.

Kyoto Station itself is home to a massive underground shopping mall called “Porta” and an extensive shopping complex called “The Cube.” You’ll also find Isetan Department Store nearby, which offers a variety of high-end goods and dining options.

The iconic Kyoto Tower is adjacent to the station, offering panoramic views of the city from its observation deck.

The area around Kyoto Station is bustling with modern amenities, including a wide range of hotels, restaurants, shops, and department stores. You’ll find everything from luxury accommodations to budget-friendly options.

Best places to stay in Kyoto Station area for first-time tourists:

  • Luxury ($$$): Hotel Granvia Kyoto, 5-star hotel, ideally located within Kyoto Station,  easy walk from Kyoto Tower, 15 mins train ride to Arashiyama area and Fushimi Inari Shrine with hundreds of red gates, as well as 20 mins bus ride to the Iconic Kiyomizu Temple.
  • Mid-range ($$): Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Station, 4-star hotel, located in the Shimogyo Ward district, an easy walk from Kyoto Station.
  • Budget ($): Kyoto Hot Spring Hatoya Zuihokaku Hotel, great hotel, book far in advance for best deal, only a few mins walk from Kyoto Train Station’s Karasuma Gate and Kyoto Tower. Few minutes’ train/bus ride to Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kiyomizu Temple.

4. Central Kyoto

Central Kyoto is a popular base in Kyoto, where you can find the famous Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) and Nijo Castle. The area is easily explored on foot and well-connected to the subway.

Nijo Castle (Nijō-jō) is a historic castle and a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful gardens, historic architecture, and cultural significance.  

The Ninomaru Palace is the most famous part of Nijo Castle. It consists of multiple buildings with stunningly painted sliding doors (fusuma) and beautiful gardens. The paintings on the fusuma are known as “Nijo Castle’s Nightingale Floors” and depict various scenes, including nature, animals, and historical events.

The castle has two main garden areas: the Ninomaru Garden and the Honmaru Garden. These gardens feature meticulously designed landscapes, including ponds, bridges, and 

Central Kyoto also offers easy access to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which was once the residence of the Imperial family. While the palace itself is not always open to the public, the beautiful Imperial Palace Park is open for visitors to explore.

Best places to stay in Central Kyoto for first-time travelers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Tomoya Residence Hotel Kyoto , 5-star hotel, a short walk from Kyoto International Manga Museum, as well as close to many other major attractions and the subway station.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Place Kyoto, 4-star hotel, centrally located close to Kyoto International Manga Museum, Kyoto Imperial Palace, and Nijo Castle. 
  • Budget ($): Guesthouse Kyoto Abiya, one star budget-friendly guest house in  Kyoto City Centre district, within walking distance from the iconic Imperial Palace, Kawaramachi Marutamachi Bus Stop, and  Jingu Marutamachi Subway Station.

5. Northern Higashiyama

Northern Higashiyama is a quieter area with beautiful temples like Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) and the Philosopher’s Path. It is the best area for travelers looking for a serene and historic atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle.

Northern Higashiyama is home to one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks, Kiyomizu-dera, a historic Buddhist temple with a wooden stage that provides stunning views of the city. The temple is particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom season.

You can visit the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) is a Zen temple famous for its contemplative Japanese garden and the silver-colored pavilion. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers serene surroundings for visitors.

The area is also home to the Philosopher’s Path, a picturesque walking trail runs alongside a canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees. It is named after the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who is said to have walked this path daily for meditation.

Nanzen-ji Temple is a Zen Buddhist temple with beautiful temple buildings and a large gate. The complex also includes a picturesque aqueduct and expansive gardens.

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji temple is known for its beautiful autumn foliage and is a peaceful place for meditation and reflection.

Northern Higashiyama is dotted with traditional teahouses and restaurants where you can enjoy Japanese cuisine and matcha tea in a historic setting.

Strolling through the narrow streets of Higashiyama is an experience in itself. You’ll find numerous shops selling traditional handicrafts, sweets, and souvenirs.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Northern Higashiyama for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Ryokan Genhouin, 5-star hotel within walking distance from Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple. It has  bicycle rental service and paid private parking if you drive.
  • Mid-range ($$): Ryokan KANADE, 4-star traditional Japanese style inn, located within walking distance from Heian Shrine, Kyoto City Zoo, Okazaki Park, and Nanzen-ji Temple. Easy access to Keage Station and Okazaki Hoshojicho Bus Stop.
  • Budget ($): Kyoto style small inn Iru, one-star Japanese-style accommodation located 15mins from Jingu-Marutamachi Station. You can rent a bike from the guest house to explore Kamo River.

6. Arashiyama

If you want a quieter, more nature-focused experience, consider staying in the Arashiyama district. It’s famous for its bamboo groves, Arashiyama Monkey Park, and the beautiful Togetsukyo Bridge. While it’s not as centrally located, it offers a peaceful retreat from the city.

One of the most iconic attractions in Arashiyama is the Bamboo Grove. It consists of tall bamboo trees that create a serene and otherworldly atmosphere. Visitors can take a stroll through the bamboo forest along a well-maintained path.

Togetsukyo Bridge spans the Hozu River and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the Arashiyama area. “Togetsukyo” means “moon-crossing bridge,” and it’s a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in spring and autumn foliage in the fall.

Located on the slopes of Mount Arashiyama, Monkey Park Iwatayama is home to a troop of Japanese macaque monkeys. Visitors can observe and interact with the monkeys in a designated area while enjoying panoramic views of Kyoto.

Tenryu-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Kyoto’s most important Zen temples. Its beautiful garden, known as Sogenchi Teien, is a prime example of traditional Japanese garden design.

The district is surrounded by natural beauty, and there are many hiking trails and scenic spots in the area. It’s a great place for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Arashiyama Kimono Forest features hundreds of kimono-shaped pillars illuminated at night, creating a magical atmosphere near the Randen Arashiyama Station.

Sagano Romantic Train takes passengers through the picturesque landscapes of the Arashiyama and Sagano areas. It’s particularly popular during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.

You can take a traditional wooden boat ride down the Hozu River, enjoying the scenic beauty and occasional rapids. The boatmen use long poles to navigate the river, providing an authentic and relaxing experience.

The main street in Arashiyama is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, making it a great place to explore and try local cuisine and souvenirs.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in in Arashiyama for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): MUNI KYOTO by Onko Chishin, great 5-star hotel, super central location right next to the famous bridge.
  • Mid-range ($$): The GrandWest Arashiyama, 4-star hotel, located within walking distance from Hankyu Arashiyama Station, Togetsu-kyo Bridge, Tenryu-ji Temple, and Matsuo-taisha shrine.
  • Budget ($): Hotel Arashiyama, 2-star accommodation offers free private parking for guests who drive. Also free use of bike during your stay.
  • Hostel ($): Mulan Hostel, 2-star hostel, located within walking distance from Arashiyama Station, Togetsukyo Bridge, Tenryu-ji, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, and Fufunoyu Onsen.

7. Kibune, Ohara, and Kurama

Kibune is a scenic spot in the northern mountains of Kyoto, known for its riverside dining and beautiful forested surroundings. It is a great base for travelers seeking a tranquil and unique dining experience in a rural setting.

Kibune is about an hour’s drive from central Kyoto, or you can take a train to Kurama and then hike or take a short taxi ride to Kibune.

Kibune is famous for the Kibune Shrine (Kibune-jinja), which is situated in a lush forested area. The shrine is dedicated to the deity Tamayorihime-no-Mikoto, who is believed to protect against floods and water-related disasters. 

You can participate in rituals, including the unique “nagashi somen” experience, where thin noodles are sent flowing down bamboo channels, and you try to catch them with your chopsticks.

In the summer months, many traditional restaurants in Kibune build “kawadoko” platforms over the flowing river. Visitors can enjoy a unique dining experience while listening to the soothing sound of the river. Kaiseki, a traditional multi-course Japanese meal, is a popular choice here.

Kibune is a gateway to the Kurama-Kibune area, which offers hiking trails and natural beauty. You can hike between Kibune and the nearby village of Kurama and visit Kurama Temple along the way.

There are some small hot spring resorts in Kibune and the surrounding area where you can relax in natural hot spring baths, known as “onsen.”

Kibune is famous for its tengu masks, which are believed to ward off evil spirits. You can find shops selling these masks and other local crafts.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Kibune area for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Japanese Ryokan Seryo, great accommodation offers free shuttle from/to JR Ohara Bus Station. Within walking distance from Ohara Sanzan-in Temple, Hosei-in Temple, and Jakko-in Temple. Short drive from Yase Hieizanguchi Station.
  • Mid-range ($$): Kyo no Minshuku Ohara no Sato, 3-star minshuku, Japanese-style private home. 1 hour drive from Kyoto Station, 1.5 hour train ride from Kifune Shrine on Eizan Dentetsu-Kurama Line. You can walk to Jakko-in Temple, Ohara no Sato Onsen, and Sanzen-in.
  • Budget ($): Ryoso Chatani, 2-star ryokan in a beautiful location.

In conclusion, Downtown, Gion/Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station, Northern Higashiyama, and Arashiyama are the best places to stay in Kyoto for first-timers. Kyoto is well-connected by public transportation, so you can easily explore different areas regardless of where you choose to stay.

See more:

There you have it, my recommendations for the popular areas and neighborhoods that you can stay during your first trip to Kyoto. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

Leave a Comment