City Guide: Kyoto, Japan

With the mountains in the distance and urban areas both old and new, Kyoto can feel like a picturesque, old-timey town in some parts, and like one of the world's most beloved, bustling cities in others. There are few cities in the world that offer such endless visual bounties. Tranquil walks along temple trails, shopping at lively food markets and geisha-spotting in Gion is all part of a typical, sightseeing-packed day here.

With over 1,000 temples and shrines, Kyoto is something of a cultural theme park, making it a top destination for travellers. Yet there are ways and means of avoiding the flocks of photo-hungry visitors. Low-season months of September, October and May combine (usually) idyllic weather with cheaper prices and fewer crowds hankering after cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. Early morning or late-night visits to the most famous of shrines and temples also provides a peaceful and altogether more atmospheric experience of the ancient capital.

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Ryokan Yachiyo

Kyoto, Japan

This traditional inn is perfect for travellers looking to experience local Japanese culture. On entering the Ryokan you remove your shoes and be given slippers. Inside the relatively small lodgings, rooms are fitted with a Hinoki wooden tub and finished with tatami flooring (made from rice straw). Don’t hurry off to a day of activities the minute you’ve finished breakfast; spend time in this Japanese home.

Address

34 Nanzenji Fukuchicho Sakyo Ward

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Nine Hours

Kyoto, Japan

Nine Hours is all that you would expect of a capsule hotel; minimalistic, compact and sterile. Guests can check in 24 hours a day and use the facilities for as little as one hour paying to stay, nap or shower as they require. Each guest is given a locker, sleep pod, shampoo, towels, toothbrushes and Nine Hours clothing. The facilities are separate for men and women.

Address

588 Teianmaeno-cho Shijyo Teramachi-dori Shimogyo-ku

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Hoshinoya Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto may be less busy than Tokyo but it’s still a bustling megacity, so if you’re keen to have some downtime, Hoshinoya Kyoto is the place to do it. Guests are transported on a 15-minute boat ride from a location in Arashiyama, sailing down the Oi to this secluded riverside resort. The property is a fully restored century-old inn and has only 25 rooms, each with panoramic views, heated floors and shoji paper sliding doors.

Address

11-2 Arashiyama Genrokuzancho Nishikyo Ward Kyoto Prefecture

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Traditional Machiya Stays

Kyoto, Japan

Machiya are traditional Japanese townhouses – the beautiful, wooden-fronted buildings tucked away down Kyoto’s side streets. For group visits or long stays, rent a machiya for additional space in which to relax after pounding the streets. While some machiya have been fully modernised (and do look out for those with a modern kitchen and bathrooms), many retain traditional Japanese features such as tatami mat rooms and deep-seated, Japanese-style baths. Some machiya even come with their own mini Zen garden or outdoor baths. There are several companies which offer machiya rentals, although UK-based outfits such as Japan Experience offer a particularly good range and includes the helpful service of its “travel angels” who offer advice and tips throughout each stay.

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Hotel Celestine The Kyoto Gion

Kyoto, Japan

Celestine The Kyoto Gion is located in one of Kyoto’s most notable districts, famed for the enticing possibility of spotting geisha (or “geiko” as they are known in Kyoto) who still walk its streets. It’s also ideally located for strolling to plenty of Kyoto’s main attractions, including the Kiyomizu-dera temple and Yasaka Shrine. This hotel itself provides a modern, stylish rest stop without a five-star price tag, and has plenty of Japanese touches to remind weary and jet-lagged travellers where they are each morning, including beautiful in-room ceramics, yukata robes and a hot spring, open until 2am each day.

Address

572 Komatsu-cho Higashioji-nishiiru Yasaka-dori Higashiyama-ku Kyoto 605-0933

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The Celestine Kyoto Gion

Kyoto, Japan

A delicate balance of time-honoured and contemporary Japanese design features occupies the interior of The Celestine Kyoto Gion. Peppered with conscientious details such as gift-wrapped cloths and yukata robes, the hotel exudes unassuming luxury. Guests are even presented with (incredibly) Handy mobile phones, so the complications of data roaming will not prevail.

Address

572 Komatsu-cho Higashioji-nishiiru Yasaka-dori Higashiyama-ku Kyoto 605-0933

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Ace Hotel Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

In bypassing Tokyo, Ace Hotel have shown that the dynamic heart of Kyoto is Japan’s upcoming place to be. As Tokyo’s creatives gradually relocate to the former Imperial capital, Ace Hotel Kyoto provides a hub for innovative locals and eager tourists. Famed architect Kengo Kuma is converting an old telephone exchange building which is set to open in spring 2020.

Address

586-2 Karasuma-Dori Ane-Koji Sagaru Banocho 604-8172 Kyoto