Once the Japanese capital, Kyoto remains a cultural and historic hub today. Its slower pace, stunning temples, and tranquil gardens draw visitors in search of the old Japan. Much like the rest of the country, Kyoto is fairly pricey, with a slew of high-end hotels. However, there are also plenty of reasonably priced options for the more budget-conscious traveler. Whether you want to splurge or save, check out our list below, in which we rounded up five luxury hotels in Kyoto and offered a cheaper, but similar, alternative.
The Spa Pick: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
Although inspired by Japanese inns (ryokans) -- of which there are many in the area -- The Ritz-Carlton is a far cry from the traditional simple lodgings. The luxurious property boasts an excellent Japanese restaurant and a spectacular spa with multiple treatment rooms, a steam room, sauna, and indoor pool. Rooms and suites (some tatami-style with floor mats and sliding doors) are spacious with high-end furnishings. A popular feature is the extensive range of activities on offer here, from tours to tastings to classes -- some of which are free.
The Alternative: Hyatt Regency Kyoto
The Hyatt Regency Kyoto may not be cheap, but it offers many similar amenities to the Ritz-Carlton for around half the price. Rooms and suites are spacious, design is immaculate, and there's a selection of decent (albeit pricey) on-site restaurants. Sadly there is no pool, but a key highlight is the hotel's spa, which offers numerous classes and treatments. Overall, the experience is not as decadent as the Ritz, but there's still plenty in the way of luxury.
The Traditional Japanese Ryokan Pick: Hiiragiya
Established in 1818, this historic ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) has been in the same family for six generations. Taking great pride in its history, the hotel remains true to tradition, but offers an exceptional high-end experience. As such, Hiiragiya has a reputation of being one of the best in Japan -- and it has prices to match. Rooms are minimal and immaculate, with sliding wooden doors, floor mats, low furniture, and bathtubs made of umbrella pine. There are, however, many modern amenities, such as minibars and free Wi-Fi. If you're looking for Western-style amenities, this is not the place for you, but for a slice of history and tradition, this property is a solid choice.
The Alternative: Ohanabo
For a budget ryokan, Ohanabo in central Kyoto offers excellent value. Simple and traditional, the hotel is over a hundred years old and provides an authentic experience -- all rooms have sliding doors, floor mats, and futon mattresses rather than Western-style beds, plus you can expect to spend a lot of time sitting on the floor here. The rooms, however, do have modern comforts, like flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and air-conditioning. Bathrooms are small, but immaculate, and it's worth noting that not all rooms have a private bathroom. Breakfast costs extra and is served in a communal space with floor mats, and Wi-Fi is free throughout.
The Out-of-the-City Pick: L'Hotel de Hiei
Located in the mountains to the northeast of Kyoto, this upscale hotel is surrounded by nature and has beautiful views. That being said, it's only a half-hour drive into downtown Kyoto. The architecture, design, and food present an interesting mix of French and Japanese influences. While the rooms are more minimalist Japanese, the toiletries are distinctly French. There is no spa or even traditional Japanese baths, but it's really all about the location. Guests get easy access to Mount Hiei, and unrivaled views over Kyoto and the surrounding mountains and countryside.
The Alternative: Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo
Located in a peaceful area just outside the city, Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo may not be as luxurious as L'Hotel de Hiei, but it is inexpensive and set in beautiful, traditional Japanese rock gardens, with stunning views to the Higashiyama mountains beyond. This charming, rustic hotel has an on-site restaurant serving regional cuisine, as well as traditional Japanese baths (onsens) with separate areas for men and women. Rooms are simple and fairly traditional, but not all have private bathrooms; those that do have traditional bathtubs with garden views. Guests can also expect air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and free Wi-Fi throughout.
The Geisha District Pick: Yuzuya Ryokan
With a hidden entrance, Yuzuya Ryokan looks unassuming from the outside. However, immaculate, minimalist interiors -- with antique furniture, seasonal floral arrangements, and low lighting -- create an atmosphere that exudes a kind of luxurious authenticity. Rooms all have tatami (woven straw) floor mats, sliding panel doors, and futon beds, while the onsens (public baths) are infused with Japanese citrus (yuzu), which is said to relax you after your journey. The restaurant is excellent, and both the setting and food are beautifully presented (traditional multi-course dinners are served over a period of two hours).
The Alternative: Shiraume
This traditional hotel may not offer five-star luxury, but it is one of the best ryokans in Kyoto, and a firm favorite in the Gion geisha district. A stay here gives guests an authentic experience, as the building was a former ochaya, where training geishas lived while studying the arts. The setting is picture-perfect, and guests access the hotel by crossing a stream on a traditional bridge. Rooms are spacious, with large windows displaying views over the stream or gardens. Bathrooms are particularly lovely, with wooden sinks and tubs. Each room also comes with modern amenities, including Nespresso machines and well-stocked minibars. The property also happens to serve excellent food.
The Residential Neighborhood Pick: Kyoto Brighton Hotel
Many visitors find the residential neighborhood next to Kyoto Imperial Palace a pleasantly tranquil place to stay. Plus, it offers the advantage of accessing the palace easily. The Kyoto Brighton Hotel is swish and spotless (even by Japanese standards) with an impressive six-story lobby atrium featuring glass-enclosed elevators. Accommodations include luxurious, contemporary-style guest rooms, while on-site dining includes four restaurants serving Western, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine. The general vibe is more Western than Japanese, and the hotel attracts a wide range of guests, from families to business travelers.
The Alternative: Kyoto Heian Hotel
Located nearby, this cheaper choice stands out mainly for its Japanese-style garden, which sets a tranquil mood throughout the property. Lower rates are reflected in slightly dated rooms, which come in either a Western or traditional Japanese style. Guests can immerse themselves in the on-site public bath, separated into men's and women's sides, while three karaoke rooms have large-screen TVs and sound systems for those keen on enjoying a more modern Japanese tradition.
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