While Kyoto is beloved for its cultural heritage, the city is hardly stuck in the past. There’s a new generation of creative artisans at work – and a surge in recent hotel openings. Once mostly boutique and traditional, the local scene has been transformed by the arrival of design-forward properties and big luxury brands. From the Ace to the Aman, we highlight hotels in Kyoto that will inspire your next visit.
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and California’s Commune Design bring an east-meets-west approach to the Ace Hotel Kyoto . Opened in June 2020, it’s bolder and bigger than most hotels in Kyoto, stretching across a new-build and the 1926-era Kyoto Central Telephone Office. The 213 rooms have retro turntables, bright upholstery, washi paper ceilings and stencil-dyed textiles by nonagenarian Samiro Yunoki – a pioneer of Japan’s craft movement. Suites forgo western-style beds for futons with tatami mats.
As ever with Ace, the hotel is as much a place to hang out as a place to stay. Clusters of seating give the lobby a lounge vibe; Piopiko offers up LA-style tacos and a private karaoke room; Mr. Maurice’s Italian does pizza and roof terrace drinks; and coffee cult favourite Stumptown’s first Japan outlet is also here.
245-2 Kurumayacho, Nakagyo-ku; +81 75 229 9001
A corporate dynasty with deep Kyoto roots, the Mitsui family built this flagship hotel on the grounds of the family’s former residence opposite Nijo Castle. It’s transporting to enter beneath Kajiimiya Gate – restored to its 1703 glory – and follow a path through bamboo trees to the lobby. At the hotel’s heart is a courtyard with a weeping cherry tree, rock formations and lanterns. Another standout feature is the spa, which has the only natural hot spring onsen of any downtown luxury property.
Hong Kong designer Andre Fu has filled the 161 rooms and suites with custom furnishings, moss-green accents and kimono designer Jotaro Saito ’s woven textile panels. Kyotophiles will pick up on subtle local tributes, such as a long corridor of wood beams suggestive of the Fushimi Inari shrine and a contemporary sculpture resting on raked sand like that of temple gardens.
284 Nijoaburanokoji-cho, Aburano-koji St. Nijo-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku; +81 75 468 3100
The eastern mountainous district of Higashiyama is the frozen-in-time Kyoto of your imagination; its sloping lanes are full of machiya townhouses, temples and teahouses. In late 2019, the 70-room Park Hyatt Kyoto made an elegant entrance. It’s well placed for cultural excursions to Kodaiji and Kiyomizu temples and the Gion geisha quarter.
The hotel itself has an inner courtyard and refined materials: light tamo ash wood, marble, lacquer and shoji screens. Many rooms have sweeping city views, with the five-tiered Yasaka Pagoda towering in the foreground. Even the spa has a sense of place, using locally harvested green tea oil in its treatments. Don’t check out without dining at Kyoyamato, a renovated, family-run ryotei restaurant that has made seasonal kaiseki cuisine for seven generations.
360 Kodaiji Masuyacho, Higashiyama-ku; +81 75 531 1234
At the south end of Higashiyama, close to Kyoto Station, the Four Seasons centres around a 12th-century pond garden with stone bridges, koi fish and cherry and maple trees. Its 123 rooms start at a generous 527 square feet, featuring hand-painted floral panels and purple or chartreuse accents. Most come with sitting areas and sizeable desks; for dining tables and balconies, book a suite.
Families will appreciate the babysitting services and complimentary activities. Foodies will want to book in advance for one-Michelin-star restaurant Sushi Wakon , a destination in its own right. Other perks include meeting rooms, a gym, an indoor pool and a spa devoted to Japanese-style wellness.
445-3, Myohoin Maekawacho, Higashiyama-ku; +81 75 541 8288
It’s 50 shades of green at the serene Aman Kyoto , set in the midst of thick forest, with mossy stone pathways, wildflowers and bubbling springs. Spread across standalone pavilions, the 26 rooms take inspiration from ryokan simplicity: tatami floors, scroll paintings, wood soaking tubs and floor-to-ceiling windows that keep nature front and centre.
The main Living Pavilion restaurant champions local ingredients, while Taka-an offers a refined omakase experience. Guests can immerse themselves in traditional culture, from meditation with monks to the art of ikebana (flower arranging), and soak in communal onsen. If it all gets a little too zen, explore the 17 Unesco sites in the area– including Kinkaku-ji Temple in walking distance – or take a 30-minute car ride to Kyoto train station.
1 Okitayama Washimine-cho, Kita-ku; +81 75 496 1333
The 134-room Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has a choice location on the banks of the Kamogawa River, with the hills of Higashiyama rising to its east. Guests can rent electric bicycles to tool around the scenic riverfront and visit the Nanzenji temple complex and the Imperial Palace. First, however, comes check-in over traditional Japanese tea.
Gaze in any direction and the design wows – a cascading waterfall feature, Meiji-era style architecture, washi lantern-inspired lighting, suites with private zen gardens and 409 local artworks. It was enough to earn the Ritz-Carlton the winning votes for Asia’s most stylish hotel in the 2018 Marco Polo Club Members’ Choice Awards. A spa, a subterranean pool and restaurants – including Mizuki for your choice of tempura, teppanyaki, sushi and kaiseki – round out the appeal.
Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Nakagyo-Ku; +81 75 746 5555
For a face-off of five-star hotels in Kyoto, stroll five minutes from the Park Hyatt to the Hotel Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu , opened in April 2020 in a schoolhouse complex. The original 1933-era structural features remain: a wide staircase with wood sidings, arched windows with stone borders and a Spanish-tiled roof. Classrooms have been remade as spacious rooms in neutrals tones; many overlook Yasaka Pagoda and one has a fabulous private terrace.
Outdoor public spaces offer up more expansive views – including gardens and a rooftop bar from noted local bartender Minoru Nishida. The restaurant doubles as an inviting library with colour-coded bookshelves and a western buffet. Factor in three private spa-like baths, and going back to school has never been so enticing.
2-204-2, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku; +81 75 532 1111
Fauchon has been a purveyor of exquisite macarons, chocolate confections and jams since 1886. After opening its first hotel in Paris, in spring 2021 Fauchon has turned to Kyoto for its second act. Indulging is, naturally, core to the L’Hotel experience.
Each of the 70 rooms comes equipped with a Gourmet Bar of complimentary treats, including a macaron flavour of the day. The look is black-and-white chic, with sleek marble, lacquer and pops of Fauchon’s signature pink throughout. The spa uses natural Kos Paris products while the rooftop Grand Café restaurant puts a Japanese twist on French cuisine, paired with views of the Kamogawa River.
406 Namba-cho, Matsubara sagaru Kawaramachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku; +81 75 751 7711