The 5 Best Hotels in Kyoto Put a Modern Twist on Old Traditions
Once Japan’s flourishing capital, the ancient city of Kyoto is still rich with tradition—just look to its countless preserved temples, spiritual gardens, surviving teahouses, and geisha culture. The best way to dive in? Stay somewhere with just as much tradition and charm. These are the five best places to stay in Kyoto now.
Accessible only by boat, the secluded Hoshinoya Kyoto—once a century-old ryokan—is the spot for those who want a true escape into nature. Guest pavilions, which feature stunning views of the surrounding hills and the Oi River, are framed by wooden railings and doors preserved through arai—a traditional Kyoto woodworking technique. If the lulls of the outdoors don’t put you in full relaxation mode, just head to the spa for an hour-long shiatsu massage or, better yet, sign up for their comprehensive two-day waterside spa program, which includes massages, tea, herbal baths, Zen meditation, Japanese meals, and more. You’ll return to your room refreshed and restored to fully appreciate the property's centuries-old history.
The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
Authenticity is the mantra of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, where check-in takes place over tea and guests are guided to their rooms by women dressed in kimonos. Inspired by 11th-century novel The Tale of Genji, the hotel is decked out with over 400 pieces of modern Japanese art, while guest rooms are awash with Japanese motifs and views of the serene Zen Garden or the breathtaking Kamogawa River. When it’s time to eat, it doesn't get much better than the Michelin-starred Mizuki, where guests can immerse themselves in local culinary customs by observing the chefs prepare teppan and tempura in the open kitchens. Even the spa evokes ancient Japan traditions: the signature Ryokucha Serenity Ritual massage incorporates green tea leaves from the city’s Uji region, while the Kyoto Bamboo Ritual uses heated bamboo stalks and warm oil in its full body treatment.
Villa Sanjo Muromachi Kyoto
Villa Sanjo Muromachi Kyoto acts as a kind of town guide for its guests: its concierge services are equipped with a unique arsenal of “travel solutions” that cater to individual interests—be it which sushi restaurants to book in advance or how to navigate specific neighborhoods. Signs of the boutique's love of (and dedication to) its home city are everywhere: public spaces feature rice paper made from a 400-year-old Kyoto atelier and blankets supplied by one of the city's most established textile makers, tableware is hewn by Kyoto craftspeople, and tea is sourced from a historic fine tea store that was established in 1717. The guest rooms themselves are just as charming, with their private gardens, spiral staircases, and window views of the city center.
Located in Gion, Kyoto’s famous Geisha District, the quiet ryokan known as Hotel Mume is well known for its peaceful views of the Shirakawa River and some of the best hospitality in the city. With only seven rooms, the intimate stay has the capacity to focus on every detail, from the impeccable service (the staff go above and beyond in assisting with restaurant reservations, navigation tips, sightseeing recs, and more) to the décor (every guest room, for example, is filled with antiques collected by the owner). And then there’s the breakfast: delicious homemade bread and pastries with jam, soups, eggs, yogurts, and more are included in the rate and freshly prepared according to guests’ own requests.
Hotel Kanra Kyoto
The mission of Hotel Kanra (whose name roughly translates to “Experience Kyoto”) is clear from the get-go. Upon arrival, guests are offered a small staff-guided tour of the city—a sort of 101 on the neighborhoods and surrounding sights. Back at the hotel, rooms are a modern take on Kyoto’s machiya (traditional wooden townhouses), featuring natural materials like wood and stone (we especially love the bathtubs made from Japanese cypress) as well as locally made pottery and copper artwork—some of which is available for purchase in the hotel’s shop and studio. There, you can even watch artisans practice kintsugi, the art of renewing broken pottery. A visit to the Kanra Spa is a must, which specializes in Japanese aromatherapy and features themed treatment rooms based on different elements (cloth, soil, wood, and paper)—as is a meal at the restaurant, Hanaroku, which serves sake from small Kyoto breweries alongside seasonal dishes.
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