Everything is booked out or too expensive?
April and November are high season in Kyoto, and despite the accompanying increased rates, many of the city's hotels book out weeks in advance with tourists on the hunt for cherry blossoms or autumn colors. As a result, many travelers end up with limited options and often resort to frantically searching booking websites only to find that everything seems to be sold out. If this describes you, then hopefully the following tips can help you find a room during this busy time.
Tip 1 - Make sure to use a good booking website
Not all booking websites are created equal when it comes to Japan, and some have more extensive catalogs to choose from than others. We recommend the following:
International sites with large databases:
Domestic companies with some listings not found on the international sites:
Japanese language sites with additional listings that are not available in English:
Tip 2 - Avoid Saturdays
Saturdays, days before national holidays and to a lesser extent Fridays are the busiest days during the season, and are usually the first to book out. As a result, your best chance to get a booking is to select a time period that does not include a Saturday in it. As a side benefit, avoiding Saturdays will also help you evade the largest crowds.
Tip 3 - Book as part of a package
One reason why hotel vacancies get scarce in Kyoto is that tour companies reserve large blocks of hotel rooms to bundle them with transportation or admission tickets into tour packages. Japanican, for example, offers hotel rooms as part of their Shinkansen Tour packages. While competitively priced, many of these tour packages are tied to train tickets and would not be ideal for Japan Rail Pass holders.
Tip 4 - Stay nearby
There are several cities that are close enough to Kyoto to make convenient bases from which to visit the city, yet do not suffer as drastic a shortage of hotels during the high seasons. Those with a Japan Rail Pass can further extend their range out a little farther to cities that are within a quick shinkansen ride from Kyoto.
15 minutes, 1380 yen from Shin-Osaka by shinkansen
30-45 minutes, 390-540 yen by local trains from Osaka/Umeda Station
(More details on how to travel between Osaka and Kyoto)
Osaka is a convenient base from which to visit Kyoto. The hotels around Osaka may have vacancies when Kyoto is all booked out, although they also tend to sell out during peak Saturdays. The Kita (Umeda) and Shin-Osaka areas in particular are convenient bases for visiting Kyoto thanks to direct train connections.
10 minutes by local JR trains (190 yen one way)
Otsu, the capital of neighboring Shiga Prefecture, is located just ten minutes away on the other side of the mountains from Kyoto. Together with a handful of other stations along the JR Tokaido/Biwako line such as Ishiyama and Kusatsu, Otsu offers a modest selection of (mostly) business hotels and good train connections into Kyoto. However, the hotels around Otsu also tend to book out during peak Saturdays.
45 minutes, 690 yen by rapid trains from JR Nara Station
35 minutes, 1110 yen by limited express or 45 minutes, 610 yen by express Kintetsu trains from Kintetsu Nara Station
(More details on how to travel between Nara and Kyoto)
Nara is a quieter city to stay in with only a small selection of hotels, yet it offers good train connections to Kyoto from its two main railway stations: Kintetsu Nara and JR Nara. Kintetsu Nara Station is more central and convenient for sightseeing around Nara.
30 minutes, 2730 yen from Shin-Kobe by shinkansen
50 minutes, 1050 yen by special rapid trains from Sannomiya Station
(More details on how to travel between Kobe and Kyoto)
Those with a Japan Rail Pass may want to consider staying around Kobe which is only 30 minutes away by shinkansen and less prone to sell out on weekends due to its distance from Kyoto. The area around Shin-Kobe Station is particularly convenient due to the direct shinkansen connection.
Tip 5 - Visit in a day trip
If all else fails, consider visiting Kyoto on a day trip instead. The Japan Rail Pass' all-you-can-ride privilege can even justify "long-distance commuting" into Kyoto on multiple days from most stations along the Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen. Alternatively, low budget travelers could consider visiting Kyoto in a day trip by using overnight buses, although these buses are also prone to book out, especially on Friday and Sunday evenings. Below are some cities from where Kyoto could be visited in a day trip:
- From Tokyo
140-160 minutes by twice hourly, direct Hikari trains.
How to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto
- From Nagoya
40-60 minutes by twice hourly, direct Hikari trains.
How to travel between Nagoya and Kyoto
- From Himeji
55 minutes by hourly, direct Hikari trains. Alternatively, Himeji can be access by direct, special rapid trains in 90 minutes. This route is also covered by the 1-Day JR Kansai Area Pass.
How to travel between Himeji and Kyoto
- From Okayama
80-110 minutes by direct Hikari trains or with a transfer at Shin-Osaka Station.
How to travel between Okayama and Kyoto