Deciding where to stay in Kyoto is more difficult than you might imagine—and not just because the city is much larger than you've probably been led to expect. Each of Kyoto's top neighborhoods exudes its own unique energy, and the majority of them have so much more to offer than temples, Geishas, and bamboo forests. Here's how to choose the best place to stay in Kyoto.
When you think of Kyoto, you probably picture ornate temples hidden in tiny streets and Geishas wandering down winding alleyways dotted with vermillion lanterns. While Kyoto is much more than any of these clichés—collectively or individually—the hilly Higashiyama ward in the eastern part of the city is where to stay if that's your priority. Stretching from the Gion Geisha district in the north to the grounds of iconic Kiyomizu-dera temple in the south, Higashiyama is also home to Kyoto's greatest concentration of traditional ryokan guest houses. In spring, make sure to visit Maruyama Park, whose shiderazakura "weeping" cherry tree is one of the most photographed sakura in all of Japan.
Sitting in the northwestern part of Kyoto, Arashiyama is another top contender for the best area to stay in Kyoto. This is largely due to the Sagano Bamboo Grove, one of the top attractions in Kyoto as a whole, but there are many other reasons to stay here. From attractions like Iwatayama Monkey Park and Tenryu-ji temple, to the huge array of spots to enjoy cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn colors in the fall, Arashiyama deserves a look as you decide where to stay in Kyoto (even if you can't afford a room at opulent Hoshinoya).
Located just north of Kyoto Station on either side of the broad Karusama-dori Boulevard, Shimogyo doesn't evoke the scenery you traditionally associate with Kyoto—rather than ancient temples or lush gardens, think sprawling shopping arcades and rows of mid-rise buildings. However, the convenience of Shimogyo to the train station—coupled with a huge number of high-quality city hotels—makes this a practical choice for where to stay in Kyoto, not to mention an increasingly popular one. There are, to be sure, some major attractions in Shimogyo as well, from the sprawling grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Nijo-jo, one of the few surviving examples of the unique "flatland" style of Japanese castles.
Kita and Kamigyo Wards
The northern districts of Kyoto (the most prominent examples of which are Kita and Kamigyo) don't get a lot of love from tourists in general. Apart from Kinkaku-ji, the so-called "Golden Pavilion," there simple aren't a lot of attractions in this part of Kyoto; it's also not easy to access via Kyoto's subway system or JR train lines. However, if you can take the time to figure out local Kyoto buses and don't mind a bit of a commute to other parts of the city, staying in Kyoto's north side can be worthwhile. Hotels here tend to be cheaper, whether you stay in a ryokan or traditional city property. In addition, northern Kyoto is very quiet, to the extent that it arguably feels more like what you expect Highashiyama to evoke than Higashiyama itself.
There's more to Fushimi than the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its iconic orange gates. For starters, the district was ever-so-briefly the capital of Japan, as evidenced by the placards at Fushimi Momoyama, a reconstructed but nonetheless impressive feudal castle. Secondly, Fushimi is one of the top sake-producing districts in all of Japan, serving as home to the well-known Gekkeikan brand and a number of smaller brewers of Nihon-shu. Sitting just south of Kyoto Station, the Fushimi is accessible via the JR Nara Line and Keihan Main Line.