Kyoto Travel Guide

SD › Kyoto Travel Guide
Updated: February 1, 2019

The 85 best hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, clubs, cafes, tours, neighborhoods, and things to do in Kyoto, Japan.

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Kyoto Hotel and Travel Guide.

The area of Gion Shirakawa in Kyoto, Japan.

Kyoto Hotels

1. Hiiragiya • Nakagyo-ku • $$$$

The ultimate ryokan (Japanese inn) experience in the heart downtown Kyoto. Open since 1818, with elaborate kaiseki meals served in your tatami room, the best of which have garden views and cypress baths. • Map • +81 (075) 221-1136

2. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto • Nakagyo-ku • $$$$

From its grand entryway beside a manmade cascading stream to its onsen with indoor/outdoor hot-spring baths (opening in 2019), this luxury property on the banks of the Kamo River is designed around the themes of water and bamboo. Its rooms are the largest in Kyoto, the best of which face the river and Higashiyama. Superb service, fitness center with indoor pool, and spa. • Map • +81 (075) 746-5555

3. Kyoto Okura Hotel • Nakagyo-ku • $$$

Founded in 1888 but now ensconced in the city’s tallest building. Great views from top-floor restaurants and rooms overlooking the Kamo River and Higashiyama. A central location, indoor pool and more than a half-dozen restaurants. • Map • +81 (075) 211-5111

4. The Screen • Nakagyo-ku • $$$

A boutique hotel with only 13 rooms, each designed by a different international designer, plus a spa and seasonal rooftop terrace. Located on Teramachi Dori, known for its craft and antique stores. • Map • +81 (075) 252-1113

5. Hotel Monterey Kyoto • Nakagyo-ku • $$

Occupying a former bank and designed in the Arts and Crafts style of Edinburgh (one of Kyoto’s sister cities). Popular with Japanese female travelers, especially for its top-floor spa complete with indoor/outdoor onsen baths. On Karasuma Dori, one of Kyoto’s main thoroughfares. • Map • +81 (075) 251-7111

6. The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo • Nakagyo-ku • $$

A great central location close to sightseeing, shopping, nightlife and transportation. Rooms range from small standards to larger deluxe, but the only facilities are a restaurant and a bar. What you’re paying for is location, just off Kawaramachi Dori. • Map • +81 (075/241-1111)

7. Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo • Nakagyo-ku • $$

A tourist hotel smackdab downtown, just off the Teramachi covered shopping arcade. Two buildings, one with only double rooms and the other with twins. • Map • +81 (075) 222-1111

8. Nishiyama Ryokan • Nakagyo-ku • $$

A family-owned, third generation Japanese inn. Simple tatami rooms, public baths overlooking a courtyard garden, kaiseki dinners and free cultural events ranging from the tea ceremony to origami and calligraphy. • Map • +81 (075) 222-1166

9. Hotel Kanra Kyoto • Shimogyo-ku • $$$

A contemporary twist on the traditional Japanese inn. Miniature moss gardens and latticed doors mark the entryway to Zen-like rooms with wood or granite floors, raised platform beds, tatami areas and hinoki (cedar) soaking tubs. It’s an eight-minute walk north of Kyoto Station but only a one-minute walk from a subway station. • Map • +81 (075) 344-3815

10. Hotel Granvia Kyoto • Shimogyo-ku • $$$

Located inside Kyoto Station, with buses and subways to all the major sights just outside the door. The hotel prides itself on being inclusive, from amenities geared to Muslims to gay wedding packages. There’s a health club with indoor pool, gym and sauna, plus eight restaurants, with many more dining options in Kyoto Station. • Map • +81 (075) 344-8888

11. Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto • Higashiyama-ku • $$$$

An enviable location at the foot of Higashiyama’s wooded hills, centered on an 800-year-old garden. Offers tranquil views of Kyoto’s changing seasons, unparalleled service, a spa and indoor pool, a tea house and rooms that blend comfort with traditional touches like washi paper lamps, fusuma screens and lacquerware. • Map • +81 (075) 541-8288

12. The Westin Miyako Kyoto • Higashiyama-ku • $$$

One of Kyoto’s most famous hotels, established in 1890. Spread on 16 acres, with a Japanese garden, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center and an annex with Japanese-style tatami rooms. Close to Nanzenji Temple and Heian Shrine. Free shuttle service from Kyoto Station. • Map • +81 (075) 771-7111

13. Seikoro Ryokan • Higashiyama-ku • $$$

A cozy Japanese inn, founded in 1831 and managed by seventh-generation owners. Its 20 rooms are either in the main, 115-year-old building with views of a garden or in an annex built before the 1964 Olympics, all with Japanese-style wooden bathtubs. • Map • +81 (075) 561-0771

14. The Palace Side Hotel • Kamigyo-ku • $$

Budget accommodations since 1968, popular with visiting artists (whose artwork adorn most rooms) and scholars. Offers rooms with just the basics, a communal kitchen, free Japanese lessons once or twice a week and occasional mini-concerts in the lobby. Across from the Imperial Palace and park. • Map • +81 (075) 415-8887

15. Shunko-In Temple and Guesthouse • Ukyo-ku • $

Temple accommodations, with the opportunity to join a 90-minute Zen meditation class with the English-speaking fifth-generation monk owner. Surrounded by the huge Myoshiji Temple complex on the west end of town. Eight simple guest rooms, a communal kitchen and free use of bicycles. • Map • +81 (075) 462-5488

Kyoto Restaurants

16. Tempura Yoshikawa • Nakagyo-ku

High-class tempura restaurant in a traditional ryokan in the heart of old Kyoto. Casual counter seating, where you can watch the chefs preparing your meal, or private tatami rooms for more elaborate tempura kaiseki with table seating overlooking the garden. • Map • +81 (075) 221-5544

17. Kushikura • Nakagyo-ku

Yakitori (charcoal-grilled skewered chicken) restaurant in a century-old machiya (traditional Kyoto house). Also serving grilled vegetables, mainly from the Kyoto area. • Map • +81 (075) 213-2211

18. Top Lounge Orizzonte • Nakagyo-ku

Buffet restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the 17th floor of Kyoto Hotel Okura, with sweeping views over the Kamo River toward the Higashiyama mountain range. Serving Japanese, Chinese and Western fare. From 8:30pm it serves as a cocktail lounge. • Map • +81 (075) 254-2534

19. Savory • Nakagyo-ku

Bright and airy third-floor restaurant, overlooking its own rooftop garden. The reasonably priced menu changes often and borrows from various international cuisines to create original dishes that hint at Spain, California, Japan and other destinations. • Map • +81 (075) 223-2320

20. Ippudo • Nakagyo-ku

Famous Japanese ramen chain, with locations around the world including Paris and New York City. This one is located on Nishiki-koji Dori west of the food market. Open late, til 3am (to 2am Sundays). • Map • +81 (075) 213-8800

21. Second House • Nakagyo-ku

A casual restaurant on the second floor of a former machiya, above a cake shop. Both Asian and Western pasta, along with homemade cakes and pastries. • Map • +81 (075) 231-1717

22. Pontocho Misoguigawa • Pontocho

Serving French cuisine with Japanese ingredients since 1981, in a style best described as French kaiseki. Set meals are served in private dining rooms or on a lovely seasonal veranda extending over the Kamo River, while a casual counter offers an a-la-carte menu. Reservations required. • Map • +81 (075) 221-2270

23. Pizza Salvatore Cuomo & Grill • Kiyamachi

Pizza, pasta, salads, main dishes like chicken and steak, Italian desserts and wine are offered at this casual Italian restaurant, with outdoor seating along the Kiyamachi canal in fine weather. • Map • +81 (075) 212-4965

24. Ichiba Coji • Shimogyo-ku

A variety of Japanese and international dishes, from salads and seafood Pad Thai to sashimi and homemade tofu. On the 10th floor of Isetan department store connected to Kyoto Station, with great views of Kyoto. • Map • +81 (075) 365-3388

25. Katsukura • Shimogyo-ku

A well-known tonkatsu chain, serving breaded pork cutlet along with free refills of rice, cabbage, soup and vegetables. In Kyoto Station, on the 11th floor of The Cube. • Map • +81 (075) 365-8666

26. The Sodoh • Higashiyama-ku

An Italian restaurant ensconced in a 1929 villa surrounded by a garden. Serves reasonably priced set meals for lunch and dinner, but because its bucolic setting is popular for weddings and other special events, call for reservations. • Map • +81 (075) 541-3331

27. Hyotei • Sakyo-ku

With a 400-year-old history, this is one of Kyoto’s most famous and oldest kaiseki restaurants. Founded as a teahouse for pilgrims on their way to Nanzenji Temple, it consists of various huts and dining rooms in an idyllic setting around a pond. For those without deep pockets, there’s also an annex serving seasonal bento boxes. • Map • +81 (075) 771-4116

28. Junsei • Sakyo-ku

A well-known tofu restaurant near Nanzenji. Occupying grounds that once belonged to a 19th-century medical school and with a thatched-roof building and garden still intact, it specializes in yudofu (tofu cooked tableside in a pot). • Map • +81 (075) 761-2311

29. Okutan • Sakyo-ku

Japan’s oldest tofu restaurant, open since 1635. It offers only one thing, a yudofu set meal, served in a thatched-roof tatami dining hall with views of a pond and garden. Near Nanzenji. • Map • +81 (075) 771-8709

30. Saigen-in • Ukyo-ku

Only yudofu and a shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) set meal are offered, served in a simple tatami room with views of a moss garden. On the grounds of Ryoanji Temple. • Map • +81 (075) 462-4742.

Kyoto Shopping

31. Aritsugu • Nakagyo-ku

Since 1560, eighteen generations of the Aritsugu family have been forging cutlery and cookware for Kyoto’s top chefs. Located on Nishiki Food Market Street, it also sells bamboo steamers, pots, pans and other items essential to the preparation of Kyoto cuisine. • Map • +81 (075) 221-1091

32. Ippodo • Nakagyo-ku

Kyoto’s most famous tea shop, in business since 1717. Offers a variety of teas, as well as the Kaboku Tearoom, where customers can learn how to prepare a tea of their choice paired with a seasonal Japanese sweet. On Teramachi Dori, famous for its antique and specialty stores. • Map • +81 (075) 211-4018

33. Miyawaki Baisen-an • Nakagyo-ku

Crafting handmade fans since 1823. Most are hand-painted, and all are original designs, from classical to contemporary. • Map • +81 (075) 221-0181

34. Kyoto Antiques Center • Nakagyo-ku

The largest and most diversified player on Teramachi Dori. Approximately 20 vendors, offering both Western and Japanese antiques and curios. • Map • +81 (075) 222-0793

35. Zohiko • Nakagyo-ku

Producing lacquerware since 1661. Beautifully designed tableware, decorative objects and other crafts, expensive but worth the price for that special gift. On Teramachi Dori. • Map • +81 (075) 229-6625

36. Takashimaya • Nakagyo-ku

Established in Kyoto as a kimono store in 1831 and now one of Japan’s most respected department store chains. Its eight floors contain designer-brand clothing and accessories, housewares, Japan-centric goods like tea ceremony utensils and kimono, a basement food department, an art gallery, restaurants and even a seasonal rooftop beer garden. • Map • +81 (075) 221-8811

37. Toji Temple Market • Minami-ku

Japan’s largest and oldest flea market, held the 21st of each month, with vendors selling antiques, second-hand kimono, pottery, bonsai, crafts and more. A second market, devoted to antiques, held the first Sunday of every month. Toji Temple boasts Japan’s tallest pagoda. • Map • +81 (075) 691-3325

38. Kasagen • Gion

A traditional Japanese umbrella shop, open since 1861. Made from Japanese oiled paper and bamboo, fans made here have long been the quintessential accessory for geisha and maiko (geisha apprentice). • Map • +81 (075) 561-2832

39. Asahido • Higashiyama-ku

Kyoto’s largest selection of Kyoyaki-Kiyomizuyaki (Kyoto-style pottery), in business since 1870. Located on the slope leading to Kiyomizu Temple. • Map • +81 (075) 531-2181

40. Kyoto Handicraft Center • Sakyo-ku

Kyoto’s largest shop for a variety of Japanese souvenirs and crafts, with two buildings offering lacquerware, cloisonné, sake cups, food items, kimono, pottery, wind chimes and much more. Also offers do-it-yourself craft workshops (no reservations necessary), money exchange, buffet restaurant and tourist information counter. • Map • +81 (075) 761-8001

41. Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery • Sakyo-ku

American-owned gallery, located in a gorgeous old house near Ginkakuji Temple. Offers antique and contemporary pottery from around Japan for sale. • Map • +81 (075) 708-5581

Kyoto Bars & Clubs

42. Le Club Jazz • Nakagyo-ku

A small and intimate jazz club, featuring both Japanese and international musicians six nights a week. Located in the heart of downtown on Sanjo Dori, on the second floor of an unlikely-looking building. • Map • +81 (075) 211-5800

43. Ran Kyoto • Nakagyo-ku

A wide range of traditional and contemporary Japanese music performed traditionally-clad musicians singing and playing drums (including a taiko drum), the three-stringed samisen, the 13-string koto and piano. Everything from Okinawan folk songs to rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. • Map • +81 (075) 253-0150

44. Spring Valley Brewery • Nakagyo-ku

Housed in a 100-year-old renovated machiya, serving its own craft beer along with brews from other artisan Japanese breweries. Farm-to-table cuisine, along with pizzas, burgers and other fare. • Map • +81 (075) 231-4960

45. Yoramu • Nakagyo-ku

A tiny venue offering what Israeli owner Yoramu says is the best sake he can find, from unpasteurized to vintage sake, all available by the glass. It’s small, with a counter that seats only nine and a table for two or three, making reservations a must. • Map • +81 (075) 213-1512

46. Hello Dolly • Pontocho

Open since 1939, making this one of Pontocho’s oldest establishments. Japanese jazz musicians perform Fridays and Saturdays, with classic jazz recordings the rest of the week. • Map • +81 (075) 241-1728

47. Bar Atlantis • Pontocho

A small and pleasant cocktail bar with a seasonal outside deck overlooking the Kamo River. There’s a cover charge, worth it if you can sit outside. • Map • +81 (075) 241-1621

48. Live Spot RAG • Kiyamachi

Live jazz, blues, rock, fusion and acoustic nightly, in a small club that attracts a mostly college-age crowd. On Kiyamachi Dori, in the Empire Building. • Map • +81 (075) 241-0446

49. Ace Café • Kiyamachi

In the same building as Live Spot RAG, on the 10th floor with panoramic views over the Kamo River toward the wooded hills of Higashiyama. Reasonably priced cocktails and snacks in a laid-back, mellow atmosphere. • Map • +81 (075) 241-0090

50. Butterfly • Kiyamachi

Downtown Kyoto’s most popular club, with a large dance floor, first-rate DJs and a friendly staff. On a side street between Kiyamachi and Kawaramachi Dori. • Map • +81 (075) 211-5025

51. Pig & Whistle • Higashiyama-ku

A British-style pub popular with Japanese locals, expats and foreign visitors for its beers on tap, single-malt whiskies, free Wi-Fi, foosball table, darts, live sports on the screen, decent bar food and daily happy hour. On Sanjo Dori, east of the Kamo River. • Map • +81 (075) 761-6022

Kyoto Tours

52. Nijo Castle Tours • Nakagyo-ku

You can see the shogun’s castle on your own, but you’ll get more out of the experience by joining a 90-minute tour conducted in English twice a day, at 10am and 12:30pm. • Map • +81 (075) 841-0096

53. Gion Night Tour • Gion

Tourists flock to the Gion geisha district hoping to photograph geiko (as geisha are called in Kyoto) or maiko (a geisha apprentice) on their way to evening appointments. But this insider walking tour provides a human side to the geisha’s story, from what it’s like to be a maiko apprentice, the boarding houses where they live, and the differences in dress and hairstyle between a geiko and maiko. Conducted Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings for only ¥1,000 a person (children under 13 free), and no reservations are necessary. • Meeting Point

54. Kyoto Cycling Tour Project • Shimogyo-ku

See Kyoto by bike on private guided tours that take in Gion, Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Ginkakuji, Ryoanji or even Fushimi Inari Shrine. Tours start from the company’s cycling shop near Kyoto Station, but there are also rental bikes for do-it-yourself sightseeing, after which you can return them to one of several terminals around town. • Meeting Point • +81 (075) 354-3636

55. Walk in Kyoto Talk in English • Shimogyo-ku

This walking tour follows in the footsteps of legendary Johnny Hillwalker, who began his own private walking tours in 1996. Now conducted three days a week, the 5-hour walks take several temples, shrines, a former geisha district and traditional workshops. • Meeting Point

56. Kyoto Daily Tours

Private tours in and around Kyoto for up to six people, letting you custom-design what you want to see, whether it’s a walking tour of Higashiyama or excursions to Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nara. • +81 (909) 889-1640

Kyoto Things to Do

57. Cultural Experiences at WAK Japan • Nakagyo-ku

Cultural traditions unique to Japan are the focus of hands-on classes held at Wakwak-kan, including the Japanese tea ceremony, flower arranging, origami, the making of sushi and how to wear a kimono. There are also courses just for kids, from learning about martial arts to playing traditional children’s games. • Map • +81 (075) 212-9993

58. Tea-making Workshop at Ippodo • Nakagyo-ku

In the business of procuring, blending and selling tea for three centuries, Ippodo also offers in-depth classes that include learning about the different categories and varieties of Japanese tea, tastings of 8 varieties, and instructions for preparing and fully enjoying green tea. • Map • +81 (075) 211-3421

59. Nishiki Food Market • Nakagyo-ku

Nicknamed “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this downtown market has been selling seafood, local produce, pickled vegetables and yuba (tofu skin) for more than 400 years. With increased tourism from around the world, some of the market’s 135 open-fronted shops and stalls also offer take-out prepared foods like grilled skewered chicken, as well as Japanese crafts and souvenirs. • Map • +81 (075) 211-4003

60. Kyoto International Manga Museum • Nakagyo-ku

The world’s largest manga museum, with some 50,000 items featured in changing exhibitions. Housed in a former primary school, the museum explains the history of manga, shows how manga is produced children’s and offers thousands upon thousands of manga for perusal, including a reading room just for kids • Map • +81 (075) 254-7414

61. Nijo Castle • Nakagyo-ku

Built by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603 and now part of Kyoto’s collective Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. Built as a demonstration of the shogun’s power and wealth, its grounds contain the 33-room Ninomaru Palace and a garden, designed by famed gardener Kobori Enshu. • Map • +81 (075) 841-0096

62. Nishijin Textile Center • Kamikyo-ku

A museum, shop and workshop located in a former weavers’ district famous for producing clothing worn by the royal court, monks and Shinto priests. Exhibitions on how silk is produced, loom demonstrations, kimono fashion shows six times daily, workshops for making your own placemat or scarf, and rental kimono for those selfies strolling around Kyoto. • Map • +81 (075) 451-9231

63. Gion Corner • Gion

Located in Kyoto’s most well-known Geisha district, this theater presents a one-hour introduction of Japan’s ancient cultural arts, with performances of flower arranging, the tea ceremony, music, dance (including a Kyoto-style dance performed by maiko) and Japanese puppetry. • Map • +81 (075) 561-1119

64. Kyoto Railway Museum • Shimogyo-ku

A must for train buffs, young and old. In addition to a switch yard, 10-minute steam locomotive ride, and simulators used for training conductors, there are 53 historic train cars (including Shinkansen bullet trains and a 1959 Pullman used by the Imperial family) and a children’s play area. But the highlight is the huge railway diorama, which runs five times a day.• Map • +81 570-080-462

65. Kawai Kanjiro’s House • Higashiyama-ku

The former 1930s home and studio of one of Japan’s most famous 20th-century potters, who co-founded the Japanese folk-art movement, designed the house himself and handcrafted much of its furniture. • Map • +81 (075) 561-3585

66. Kiyomizu Temple • Higashiyama-ku

Kyoto’s most famous temple and a cliff-defying architectural masterpiece (under renovation until 2020, but you can still enter). Also here is Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking, while the slope leading up to the temple is lined with souvenir shops. • Map • +81 (075) 551-1234

67. Kodaiji Temple • Higashiyama-ku

An attractive, diminutive temple with famous strolling and rock gardens, designed by landscape architect Kobori Enshu. Founded in 1606 by the widow of warlord general Toyotomi Hideyoshi; because they are both interred here, the temple draws lots of Japanese wishing to pay their respects. • Map • +81 (075)561-9966

68. Kyoto National Museum • Higashiyama-ku

The place to see treasures that once filled the ancient capital’s many temples, shrines, imperial palaces and villas, including paintings, religious statues, ceramics, textiles, lacquerware and swords, created by artisans over 1,200-plus years. • Map • +81 (075) 525-2473

69. Sanjusangendo Hall • Higashiyama-ku

The world’s longest wooden building, housing an astounding 1,000 life-size statues of Kannon, a rare collection of 28 guardian deities and a large seated Kannon carved in 1254. A must-see. • Map • +81 (075) 525-0033

70. Ginkakuji • Sakyo-ku

The Silver Pavilion was never covered by silver, yet this 1482 shogun retirement villa is beautiful as it is, gracefully elegant and with an exquisite moss garden, streams and a hillside lookout point. • Map • +81 (075) 771-5725

71. Heian Shrine • Sakyo-ku

Built in 1895 as a replica of Kyoto’s first imperial palace, to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding. But most people come to see its strolling garden, typical of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and famous for its weeping cherry trees and as a location for the movie Lost in Translation. • Map • +81 (075) 761-0221

72. Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts • Sakyo-ku

An introduction to Kyoto’s long history of traditional craftsmanship, with more than 70 types of crafts on display and explanations of how they’re produced. Plus, artisans demonstrating their skills, a crafts store and performances by geisha and maiko on selected Sundays. • Map • +81 (075) 762-2670

73. Nanzenji Temple • Sakyo-ku

One of Kyoto’s most famous Zen temples. Its sprawling grounds contain the city’s most imposing temple gate, a main hall that once graced the imperial palace, a rock garden designed by Kobori Enshu, an old aquaduct from the Meiji Period, and a retirement villa first built by an emperor in 1264 and with its own peaceful garden. • Map • +81 (075) 771-0365

74. Shugakuin Imperial Villa • Sakyo-ku

A spacious imperial villa, spread on 133 acres on Mt. Hiei. It’s famous for utilizing “borrowed landscaping,” a technique of incorporating the surrounding countryside into its garden design. The villa dates from the mid-1600s. Open only for guided tours. • Map • +81 (075) 211-1215

75. Kinkakuji • Kita-ku

Kyoto’s most photogenic temple. Built in the 1390s as a shogun’s retirement villa before becoming a Zen temple, the three-story Golden Pavilion is covered in gold leaf and sits beside an islet-studded pond, making for a brilliant contrast against a deep blue sky. • Map • +81 (075) 461-0013

76. Ryoanji Temple • Ukyo-ku

Japan’s most famous rock garden. Laid out in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it consists of 15 rocks, set upon raked white gravel and enclosed by a beautiful earthen wall on three sides and a verandah on the fourth, inviting contemplation. • Map • +81 (075) 463-2216

77. Toei Kyoto Studio Park • Ukyo-ku

A working film studio, where you might see a samurai flick or period turn-of-the-century movie being made in its recreated village. Other diversions, geared mostly to families, include a ninja show, street performances, an anime museum, an indoor playground, maze-like ninja house and a trick museum. • Map • +81 (075) 864-7716

78. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine • Fushimi-ku

A striking shrine, with more than 10,000 red torii set against a climbing, wooded hillside. Founded in 711 and the head shrine of some 30,000 Inari shrines throughout the country. A short train ride from Kyoto Station. • Map • +81 (075) 641-7331

79. Katsura Imperial Villa • Nishikyo-ku

Quite simply, the finest example of traditional architecture and gardening in Japan. Built in the 1620s as a private villa for the imperial family and surrounded by a perfectly manicured stroll garden. Open only for guided tours. • Map • +81 (075) 211-1215

Kyoto Neighborhoods

80. Nakagyo-ku (Central Ward)

Kyoto’s central downtown ward is home to the city’s greatest concentration of hotels, ryokan (Japanese inns), restaurants, specialty shops, covered shopping arcades, and department stores. Yet it also contains residential neighborhoods, some lined with machiya (traditional wooden townhomes).
Best Stuff: Hiiragiya RyokanThe Ritz-Carlton KyotoKyoto Okura HotelThe Screen HotelHotel Monterey KyotoThe Royal Park Hotel Kyoto SanjoHotel Gracery Kyoto SanjoNishiyama RyokanNishiki Food MarketNijo CastleKyoto International Manga MuseumWAK Japan (traditional cultural workshops and experiences) • Museum of Kyoto (1,200 years of Kyoto history, plus volunteer guides, a film theater, shops and restaurants) • Aritsugu (traditional cutlery store) • Ippodo (selling fine Japanese teas) • Miyawaki Baisen-an (handmade Japanese fans) • Kyoto Antiques CenterZohiko (lacquerware shop) • Takashimaya (one of Japan’s oldest department stores) • Tempura Yoshikawa (tempura in a ryokan) • Kushi Kura (charcoal-grilled skewered chicken in a machiya) • Orizzonte (buffet restaurant with views) • Savory (fusion cuisine) • Ippudo (ramen) • Second House (pasta, cakes, pastries) • Aburiya (grilled beef restaurant, with all-you-can-eat options) • Le Club Jazz (Japanese and international musicians) • Ran Kyoto (traditional/contemporary live music performed with Japanese instruments) • Spring Valley Brewery (brewery/restaurant in old machiya) • Yoramu (tiny bar serving one-of-a-kind sake)
Getting There: In the center of Kyoto, three subway stops north of Kyoto Station.

81. Shimogyo-ku (Lower ward around Kyoto Station)

Stretching north from Kyoto Station. The most convenient ward for reaching Kyoto’s many sights, as buses, the subway and trains run from Kyoto Station to other parts of the city and beyond. Many hotels, most of them modestly priced.
Best Stuff: Hotel Kanra KyotoHotel Granvia KyotoKyoto Station (a destination in itself, with restaurants and shops) • Walk in Kyoto Talk in English (walking tour) • Kyoto Tower (free observation deck, Kansai Tourist Information Center, restaurants, public baths) • Nishi-Hongwanji (head temple of the Jodo-Shin sect of Buddhism) • Higashi-Honganji (temple, whose main Goeido Hall is Kyoto’s largest wooden structure • Shosei-en (detached garden of Higashi Honganji) • Costume Museum (changing exhibits of dolls dressed in detailed traditional costumes) • Kyoto Aquarium (inter-active aquarium, with marine life from Kyoto area and beyond) • Kyoto Railway MuseumIchiba Coji (Japanese and international dishes, plus views over Kyoto) • Katsukura (tonkatsu restaurant) • Donguiri (okonomiyaki restaurant) • Musashi (conveyor belt sushi on Kyoto Station’s south side) • Man in the Moon (Irish pub on south side of Kyoto Station)
Getting There: Easily accessible from Kyoto Station.

82. Pontocho/Kiyamachi/Gion (nightlife districts)

Two parallel lanes in Nakagyo-ku between the Kamo River and Kawaramachi Dori, Pontocho and Kiyamachi are lined with bars, restaurants and live music houses. Pontocho, a former geisha enclave, is a narrow pedestrian alley; many establishments on the east side erect verandas over the Kamo River in summer. Kiyamachi runs alongside a canal, with many bars popular with Kyoto’s many university students. On the other side of the Kamo River is Gion, located in Higashiyama-ku, with bars and restaurants to the north of Shijo Dori street and geisha houses to the south, where you might see a geisha on her way to an evening appointment.
Best Stuff: Yasaka Shrine (famous for its Gion Festival) • Gion Night Tour (night tours of Kyoto’s most famous geisha district) • Gion Corner (an introduction of Japan’s cultural arts, from flower arranging to puppetry) • Kasagen (traditional Japanese umbrellas) • Mikaku (Japanese steaks, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki) • Misoguigawa (French kaiseki, with a seasonal veranda over the Kamo River) • Pizza Salvatore Cuomo & Grill (pizza and pasta with outdoor seating alongside the Kiyamachi canal) • Ramen Miyako (chicken ramen) • Hello Dolly (weekend live jazz and weekday classical jazz recordings) • Bar Atlantis (hip cocktail bar in Pontocho with seasonal veranda) • Live Spot RAG (live music nightly) • Ace Café (scenic views and reasonably priced cocktails on Kiyamachi)
Getting There: Pontocho, Kiyamachi and Gion lie between downtown and Higashiyama.

83. Higashiyama-ku (east mountain ward)

Kyoto’s most important temple district, spread along wooded hills and great for exploring on foot. Pedestrian lanes lined with shops, parks, teahouses, and restaurants.
Best Stuff: Four Seasons Hotel KyotoThe Westin Miyako KyotoSeikoro RyokanKiyomizu Temple (Kyoto’s most famous temple) • Kodaiji Temple (famous for its gardens) • Sanjusangendo Hall (stunning collection of life-size statues in the world’s longest wooden building) • Chion-in (under renovation til March 2019 but famous for its main gate and gardens) • Kyoto National Museum (repository for Kyoto’s treasures) • Maruyama Park (Kyoto’s most accessible park) • Kawai Kanjiro’s House (home and studio of famous Japanese potter) • Kyoto Ceramic Center (shop/gallery promoting Kyoto ceramics) • Asahido (Kyoto pottery) • Le Chene (elegant French restaurant in 1909 building in Maruyama Park) • The Sodoh (Italian restaurant in 1929 villa) • Touzan (Japanese cuisine in a contemporary setting) • Pig & Whistle (British-style pub)
Getting There: Accessible from Kyoto Station and downtown by many buses.

84. Sakyo-ku (the “Ward on the Emperor’s left”)

Spreading north of Higashiyama-ku, Sakyo Ward is also marked by many temples spread along wooded hillsides, making it a good place for strolls. Philospher’s Pathway, which links Ginkakuji and Nanzen-ji, is a famous pedestrian lane that runs beside a canal and is especially beautiful when cherry trees are in bloom.
Best Stuff: Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion) • Nanzenji (Zen temple with rock garden) • Heian Shrine (recommended for its garden) • Eikando (famous for its maples in autumn and for its Buddhist statues) • Shugakuin Imperial VillaKyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (the place to learn about Kyoto’s many crafts) • Hosomi Museum (private museum showcasing Japanese art, antiquities and decorative arts) • Kyoto City ZooKyoto Handicraft Center (Kyoto’s best one-stop shopping for souvenirs) • Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery (pottery from around Japan) • Hyotei (kaiseki) • Junsei (yudofu) • Okutan (Japan’s oldest tofu restaurant)
Getting There: Accessible from downtown on the Tozai Line subway line and from downtown and Kyoto Station by bus.

85. Ukyo-ku (the “Ward on the Emperor’s right)

Primarily residential, Ukyo Ward in northeastern Kyoto also contains some of the city’s most famous temples, such as Ryoanji with its famous Zen rock garden. At its northern end is the pretty district of Arashiyama, an ancient tourist town still much beloved for its spring cherry blossoms, autumn maple leaves, famous bamboo grove and many temples.
Best Stuff: Shunko-In Temple and GuesthouseRyoanji Temple (Japan’s most famous rock garden) • Toei Kyoto Studio Park (a working film studio, with family attractions based on the Edo Period) • Tenryu-ji Temple (Arashiyama’s largest temple, renowned for its Cloud Dragon painting and scenic grounds) • Sagano Bamboo GroveSagano Romantic Train (25-minute train ride from Arashiyama to Kameoka along the Hozugawa River) • Hozugawa River Boat Ride (2-hour boat ride on the Hozugawa River from Kameoka to Arashiyama • Saigen-in (Buddhist vegetarian restaurant at Ryoanji Temple) • Shigetsu (Buddhist vegetarian restaurant at Tenryu-ji Temple) • Sushi Naritaya (sushi in Arashiyama) • eX Café Kyoto Arashiyama Honten (café with traditional Japanese atmosphere)
Getting There: Ukyo-ku is served by many buses, with train lines connecting Arashiyama to downtown and Kyoto Station.

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Santorini Dave Author Bio. Santorini Dave was started in 2011 by a guy who loved Greece, travel, and great hotels. We're now a small team of writers, mapmakers, videographers, and researchers on a mission to deliver the most helpful travel content on the internet. We specialize in Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Greece and recommend the best hotels, best neighborhoods, and best family hotels in top destinations around the world. We also make hotel maps and travel videos. I can be contacted at