Kyoto is one of Japan’s most unique cities, with its thousand-year history as Imperial Japan’s capital. There’s no better way to experience the city’s culture than by staying in the many traditional ryokans and hotels. Here is our handpicked guide to the very best hotels in Kyoto.
Hiiragiya first started business in 1818, and has been passed down the family for six generations. One of the most famous luxury ryokans in Kyoto, its guests over the years include ancient samurai, Japanese royalty, and, more recently, celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor. The Japanese style rooms have wooden-beamed ceilings, paper screens, and tatami flooring; combined with the view of the Oriental garden from some of the rooms, and Kyoto’s historical streets from others, it’s easy to forget the hustle and bustle of modern cities and immerse yourself in ancient Kyoto.
Kyoto is the best city in Japan for living in ryokans, as you are truly removed from the modern urban environment. Matsui Honkan Ryokan is a great choice if it’s your first time in one of these traditional guesthouses, as it gives you the full traditional Japanese experience, from sleeping on roll-up beds to wearing yukatas and eating kaiseki breakfasts. But you can enjoy this in the comfort of modern conveniences, as well as your own bathroom and toilet, instead of a public one like the traditional ryokans.
Located centrally, The Screen offers the comfort of a luxury hotel and the individuality of a boutique hotel. Each of its 13 guest rooms was designed by a different designer, making each one unique. Some are classy and sophisticated, some are modern and quirky, and yet others combine tradition and innovation. With its location near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, The Screen is a great base from which to explore Kyoto.
With a convenient location on the verge of downtown Kyoto, this family-run ryokan has been operated for 130 years. It is currently owned and managed by an old husband and wife team. Extremely sweet hosts, they will make you feel at home immediately with their grandmotherly and grandfatherly attitude. The ryokan has five rooms, one of which has a private bathroom while the other four share a communal bathroom, which is a traditional rock bath. The machiya that houses the ryokan is a gorgeous, traditional one, with red Oriental bridges that form a walkway around a beautiful Japanese garden. One of the most old-fashioned ryokans in Kyoto, Kikokuso is a place you must visit for the old-school, un-commercialized ryokan experience.
Situated on the bank of the Katsura River, in the idyllic countryside of Arashiyama to the west of Kyoto city, Togetsutei Ryokan is the perfect place for a tranquil getaway from the city and to reconnect with nature. Guest rooms at the ryokan have views of the river and the Togetsu Bridge that spans it. The trees along the riverbank are adorned with pink sakura blossoms in the spring and fiery foliage in the autumn. The ryokan also has a natural onsen hot bath, which you can enjoy in any season.
Want to keep your accommodation price low, but still experience something unique and unforgettable? First Cabin is a great choice. The hotel “rooms” are cabins of up to 4.4m2 in size, consisting only of basics – bed, drawers, TV and some amenities. The only hotel of its kind in Japan, First Cabin was designed for travellers who do not require the services provided by conventional hotels, but still require the privacy of their own room. Two different cabin sizes are offered, business class and first class. Interestingly, the rooms have no doors and instead only have magnetized screens, as Japanese culture heavily values honour, while locked drawers are available in each cabin for valuables.
This elegant design hotel integrates Japan’s traditional nature concept of ka-cho-fu-getsu – ‘bird, butterfly, wind, moon’ – into the design of its rooms. Each of its seven rooms is modelled around a nature theme; the Wind Room is airy and lets in the natural light, while the Flower Room has a gorgeous view of the Shirakawa River and the Higashiyama Mountain. Hotel Mume is located centrally in Gion, the picturesque part of Kyoto that is preserved in an historic style.
Housed in a beautiful wooden townhouse, Gion Hatanaka is a lovely old-fashioned ryokan where you can have a fantastic Japanese experience. Like traditional ryokans, most of the rooms in Hatanaka share a public bathing facility, separated by gender, where you can experience the relaxation of Japan’s bathhouse culture. Limited rooms with private bathrooms are also available. With its close vicinity to Gion, the geisha-training district, Hatanaka often has Maiko shows, where you can watch Maikos perform their traditional dances and songs.
Though smaller than some of the grand ryokans on this list, Shimizu is clean, well-maintained, and the owners are super friendly and warm, making you feel right at home. Rather than having a shared bath, all rooms in Shimizu have a private bathroom, making it a great choice if you’re uncomfortable bathing with strangers. Located within ten minutes of Kyoto Station, this cosy ryokan is a great base from which to explore Japan. They also offer a bike rental service.
This chic, modern designer hotel is a great place to relax and still be close to the city centre. Each of their uniquely designed guest rooms perfectly combine Japanese and Western culture. The most basic rooms have a Western bed and tatami mat area, and some rooms have private gardens, outdoor baths, or even an additional floor, in the style of a loft or basement, adding to the sense of space and privacy. Although it is located just outside of the city centre, Hotel Kanra is close to a metro station, and the hotel has a bike rental service that allows you to experience this wonderful city on bike.