Visitors to Kyoto are likely to have visions of geishas and machiya houses, but there is another side of Kyoto that is just as iconic. In the downtown district, filled with department stores and office buildings, lies Karasuma Street, the main boulevard heading north from Kyoto Station, and Sanjo Street, the main shopping street. It is a place that has both contemporary and nostalgic elements.
Karasuma Kyoto Hotel is the grand old lady of Karasuma Street, and together with Hotel Okura, form part of the Kyoto Hotels Group. Don't let the retrospective looking lobby and elevators put you off, as it is part of the charm. One of the benefits of an older hotel is that the rooms are reasonably spacious, and good value considering its main street location.
The check in process is orderly and most staff can speak English, as they have served guests from overseas for a hundred and twenty years. On my visit there was an art tour group from Sweden. The staff was also helpful with directions and well as requests, and I was able to pay for an upgrade on the spot. There is free Wi-Fi at the lobby and the staff will provide the password and account details at the counter on request, however, as the rooms themselves don’t have Wi-Fi, you would find guests sitting in the lobby on their smartphones.
The rooms are spacious for a hotel in Kyoto, with a living area having enough space for a two person sofa, writing desk, two beside tables, and enough floor space for two yoga mats. Even the un-renovated rooms have a homely charm with its floral decor. On the other hand the functional bathroom with a combined bath and shower is compact and similar to those in a business hotel like Toyoko Inn. The more expensive renovated rooms have a contemporary feel with sophisticated earthy tones, but are exactly the same size. The higher floors have good views, though there is some sound from the rooms facing Karasuma Street during the day.
The hotel is located for easy access to both Osaka and Itami Airport via the Hankyu Railway at Karasuma Station, as well as JR Kyoto Station and Nara via the subway and Kintetsu line at Sanjo Subway Station. From Exit 6 you are just one minute away from the hotel. The Hankyu line also provide convenient access westwards to Arishiyama and Higashi Muko, gateway to Jurinji Temple, and eastwards to Gion, gateway to Kiyomizu dera, as well as Pontocho, a charming laneway filled with hole in the wall type eateries.
The hotel also has a number of restaurants and cafes, from the Lec Court take away pastry and bento shop next to the Lobby, to the Toh- Lee Chinese and Irifune Japanese Restaurants. Bar Anchor is an intimate space, with a rosewood bar counter for eight serving whisky, wine and beer until midnight. There is also a Starbucks and Fukujuen café at the entrance. Alternatively, Kyoto station has a number of good restaurants, including what is known as Ramen Alley, an eat street above the station. Aoi Soba offers traditional dishes at a cheap and cheerful price, while Pontoiru gives you the experience of trying fusion pasta with chopsticks. The Man in the Moon Pub comes alive in the evenings with a wide selection of beer and spirits while you watch the latest sports events from around the world.