Ryokan, traditional inns unique to Japan, are the original and ultimate form of local lodging. They can be lavish or humble, large or small, but the guiding principles are always the same: incredible cuisine, high-class comfort and omotenashi – hospitality that puts guests’ needs above all else. You can experience the best ryokan in Kyoto, where your stay might include a traditional tea ceremony, a soak in a Japanese onsen bath, or dinner with an apprentice geisha, at one of these top picks.
The creation you never knew you needed, this luxurious ryokan is themed around sweets. Spanning two large, traditional Kyoto townhouses (known as kyomachiya), Nazuna Kyoto Gosho is an elegant piece of Japanese architecture paying homage to the culture of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). Each room has a unique theme, styled to showcase the traditional beauty of the home while retaining a sense of modernity.
Inakatei is surrounded by some of the most iconic landmarks in Kyoto, such as the Yasaka Shrine, which commands attention in its vermillion glory, and the Kodai-ji Temple, a regal Zen retreat surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens. However, as the ryokan itself is overflowing with old-school Kyoto charm, it’ll be hard to pull yourself away. In particular, the traditionally styled and garden-wrapped rooms are the essence of Kyoto elegance.
Sitting atop a hill by Sanzenin Temple, to the north of Kyoto city, Ohara Ryokan Seryo is a secluded, mountain-surrounded retreat with soothing indoor and outdoor hot spring facilities and pared-back interior design. It serves kaiseki cuisine in typical ryokan fashion, with seasonal, locally grown produce for a true taste of northern Kyoto.
A standout for its convenience and versatility, this ryokan is just steps from Higashi-Hoganji Temple, offering both Japanese- and Western-style accommodation. It’s located in the peaceful area around Matsubaya, making it a great option for couples. And whether lounging in one of the comfy guest rooms or strolling through the gardens, you’ll experience true relaxation.
Kinse Inn is a former ageya (an elite Edo-period pleasure house) and ryokan repurposed into a guesthouse. The ground-floor café has vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows, remnants of Japan’s Westernisation period in the early 1900s. The upstairs guest area has a more Japanese feel, with paper lanterns and calligraphy scrolls decorating the rooms. There’s even a small Japanese bath. The entire second floor is available to rent privately, so you can fully immerse yourself in this unique space with more than 250 years of history.
Ryokan Sumiya Kiho-an is perfect for a couples’ retreat, or anyone looking to pamper themselves. Choose from a traditional guest room with a peace-inducing mountain view or a private hot spring bath. The full-service spa offers Ayurvedic and other therapeutic treatments. And you can indulge yourself further with a tour around the Zen garden or a traditional tea ceremony.
Celebrated for its long history as a geisha district, Gion still retains much ancient architecture and charm. While the location is one of the best features of this ryokan, there’s a lot more to love. Guest rooms overlook their own gardens and include private baths. And you can also book a special dining experience in which a maiko (apprentice geisha) joins you for the evening. Yasaka Shrine is just across the street should you wish to venture out.
Kyokoyado Yasaka Yutone is small, making it more intimate and exclusive than most other ryokan. Each of the seven guest rooms is equipped with a Western-style bed, private tub and a basket brimming with amenities fit for a spa. There is also a luxurious restaurant and a library lounge. And when you step into the Higashiyama neighbourhood, you’ll discover twisting, narrow streets flanked by old wooden buildings housing artisanal shops.
Established in 1831, Seikoro Ryokan offers a cosy but contemporary setting also in the Higashiyama neighbourhood. It’s elaborately decorated with artistic touches that combine traditional Japanese aesthetics with modern flair. Choose between sleeping on comfy futons or plush beds. Facilities include a restaurant, café and a lounge. There’s also a lush courtyard and a communal bathing area.
Situated close to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Ryokan Yoshida-Sanso is an exceptional inn that was once the residence of a prince. It now makes guests feel like royalty through impeccable service and facilities. Choose to stay in a traditional room in the main building or in a private cottage where you’ll be served seasonal meals overlooking a gorgeous, secluded garden. This beautiful and historic property also has a bar and lounge when you feel like mingling.
Lucy Dayman contributed additional reporting to this article.
Looking for plush places to stay in Kyoto? Check out our pick of the best luxury hotels in Kyoto, Japan, bookable with Culture Trip.
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