My review of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto hotel

This is my review of The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto hotel.

As with my other Asia reviews this month, it is less comprehensive than usual.  We were not on a review trip, we did not get a hotel tour, we did not see other rooms apart from our room and, as we had small children with us, we didn’t eat in any of the hotel restaurants apart from breakfast.  You should get a good feel for the hotel though.

The official hotel website is here if you want to find out more.

During the peak March / April tourist season, hotels in Kyoto are ludicrously expensive.  The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto was selling for £1,100 per night during our visit and was full.  And we needed two rooms!  This was exactly the right time to get some hotel points into use.

70,000 Marriott Rewards points per room per night – equivalent (as the points came from Starwood) to 23,333 Starwood Preferred Guest points per night – have never been better spent.   If I had transferred these across from Amex, I would have used roughly 45,000 Amex Membership Rewards points for a £1,100 room.

Is this the best The Ritz-Carlton?

If you’re as old as me, you will remember when Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton were on a par as the leading upscale hotel groups.  Back in 1995, however, Marriott acquired The Ritz-Carlton and the brand began its descent.  It became a bit like Conrad or Waldorf Astoria or InterContinental – you got the impression that they would put The Ritz-Carlton brand above the door as long as the owner spent £x on interior design, irrespective of service quality.

The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park in New York is endemic of this, in my view.  The hotel has virtually no public space – there is basically a reception desk and lifts to the rooms when you enter.  (It does have a decent bar overlooking the Hudson.)  Where is the luxury in this?  It felt as if the hotel was only there so that Marriott could sell The Ritz-Carlton-branded apartments in the same complex for a premium price.  The Ritz-Carlton Boston where I have also stayed suffers from similar issues.

My last visit to a R-C was Penha Longha just outside Lisbon.  This was, frankly, poor, particularly the pool.  The hotel was a neglected adjunct to a golf course.

The buzz surrounding The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto since it opened three years ago had been impressive, however.  As we never ate in the restaurants or used the spa we didn’t get the full experience, but what we saw impressed the heck out of us.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

Location

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is on the edge of the city centre in a riverside spot.  It is a 10 minute taxi ride from the bullet train station which is on the other side of town.  I initially thought that the station was in the centre, but it turns out that The Ritz-Carlton is actually in a great position and you are literally 2-3 minutes walk from the very low key centre.

Here is a library shot of the exterior (click to enlarge):

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

Photos alone don’t really do justice to the interior.  It is, effectively, a stage set.  Things happen purely for effect.

You walk into the entrance through black sliding doors which close behind you.  You are in a small atrium with some armchairs and a concierge desk.  For no practical reason, there is a 2nd set of black sliding doors in front of you which open to reveal the amazing lobby.  As a visual effect it works incredibly well.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The footprint is rectangular.  As you enter the lobby, you see that a third of the space is filled with a wide beautifully lit staircase taking you down to the basement where there is a spa and bridal salon (but no standard gift shop).  Most hotels would have stuck in a lift.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

To get to reception you must pass the Pierre Herme Paris patisserie.  Whilst there is a reception desk, formalities are done on sofas nearby.

This is where it went a bit wrong.  Despite a 3pm check-in time, our rooms were not ready at 3.45pm when we arrived.  After some gentle prodding, the hotel agreed to comp us afternoon tea in the impressive lobby lounge:

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

Ironically service was slow and our room was done before our tea and cakes had arrived but they were happy for us to continue.  The hotel also waived the extra bed charge for our children.

More impressively, though, when we left The Ritz-Carlton two days later we ordered a taxi through the hotel to take us to the bullet train.  The receptionist insisted that the hotel pay for this because of the check-in delay we suffered 48 hours earlier.  This was a kind gesture which impressed us far above its monetary value (£10).

Our room

After our relatively cramped Conrad Tokyo room, it was a relief to get a large space at The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto in what was still a standard room.  Our view was nothing to speak of (it faced a neighbouring office building) but with people paying £1,100 a night you can’t argue if the hotel gives them the riverside rooms.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The rollaway bed for our son fitted nicely into the dining area by the window which meant that we didn’t lose any floor space, impressively.  The photo below was taken before they brought his bed up:

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The room was beautiful with every little detail taken care of.  The wetroom / shower / bathroom had a slatted wooden floor which was novel.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The bath was huge.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

Toiletries came in beautiful lacquer boxes.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The pool

Like Conrad Tokyo, The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto has a long narrow – and fairly shallow, as is normal in Asia – pool and sauna complex.  Whilst at basement level, the use of stones outside, which have water running down them, gives it an impressive feel.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

The main restaurant

Breakfast is served in the main restaurant but, again, nothing here is done entirely normally.  The food is split across 5-6 stations using every available surface.   The bar is covered in food, but so is the wine room and a room where pieces of meat hang in cupboards!

Only one aspect jarred.  Various breakfast items, such as the muesli and a mango yoghurt, were marked as being ‘created by Pierre Herme Paris’.  This seemed a little OTT.

The restaurant contains a traditional Japanese house built at the start of the last century and which contains wood from the 19th century.  The house was reconstructed in the restaurant and is used for private dining function.  It sounds crazy, but it works.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto hotel review

We’ve only really touched the surface in this review of what is a fantastic property.  The amount of thought that has gone into every little detail at The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, together with the hugely positive attitude of the staff, gave our entire stay a sense of theatre.  It is hard to think of a better use of Marriott Rewards points.

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto website is here if you want to find out more.

I ran an extra 4th article today with photos from Kyoto.  If you are reading this via email, you will not have been sent it.  Click here to see them.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

I check out new hotels walkable to City Airport and Excel
Kyoto, in pictures
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Comments

  1. Richard says:

    I cannot understand the attraction to westerners of the outrageously priced luxury hotels in japan. When I stayed in Kyoto last November (peak autumn colour season), I paid 80 pounds/night through airbnb for a studio apartment 2 mins walk from kawaramachi station.
    In this type of hotel in Japan the rooms are really small for the price and there are equally fantastic restaurants and onsen in the city itself so it seems pointless to pay so much. Even at 200 pounds/night I would not stay there.
    Perhaps in India you’d want to pay for a luxury hotel to escape the stress of the city but in Japan i’d want to spend as much time out in the vibrant city as possible and little time in the hotel.

    • Waribai says:

      To be honest, pre-kids, I would’ve been similar but now I definitely wouldn’t want to be heading to Kyoto during Hanami without a cast iron guarantee of accommodation. If the air b’nb fell through you could find yourself snookered.
      Also, you are assuming the hotel is full of westerners. The reality is that other Asian countries particularly China is fuelling the surge in popularity of tourism in Japan.

      • Richard says:

        i think the luxury hotels in japan are expensive precisely because they are filled with asian tourists who are prepared to pay the huge prices. For westerners the attraction of japan would the city itself, not the experience of a luxurious hotel (which you could do in India, Malaysia or Thailand for about a third of the price).

      • Not just China but tourists from other parts of Japan too

        On my recent trip I think at least half of the visitors in the places we went to were Japanese (I can’t tell Japanese accents apart so don’t know if they were local or not) but maybe it was because it was heavily focused on going to temples

        • Wealthier Japanese tend to book into hotels for the weekends because they get more space than their apartments.

        • Waribai says:

          I think domestic tourism in Japan has been popular for a while now. Hotel prices however have gone up that extra notch though due to new tourism markets and also for us the weak sterling.

        • Stany V says:

          There are tons of Koreans and Chinese in Kyoto. Basically, any top 10 attraction there, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, etc, all need to be visited early in the morning, before buses start to arrive, otherwise you are swarmed by tourists. I spoke with locals at length about it (I have former students living in Kyoto/Osaka), and basic answer was that yes “They have bad manners, but we need their money”.

    • Stany V says:

      80 pounds/night for a place outside of Kyoto sounds like a ripoff, and you will spend a penny just on traveling back and forth to Kyoto.

      5500 yen/night was what I paid for 8 nights in a 1LK (kitchen, living room, bathroom, shower, all in all about 30 sq meters) 100 meters away from Ichijoji first week of November. Now, I admit that the owner didn’t speak English and didn’t want to rent to non-Japanese, but I convinced him via AirBnB messages that I speak good enough Japanese and understand the rules well enough, that I won’t cause a problem. I also booked around June time, while availability was still high. It worked out really well.

  2. Genghis says:

    How much was the breakfast?

  3. Genghis says:

    I’m going to put it out there. Staying in a high end love hotel is as good as any very good hotel. They vary between the very normal to the utterly bizarre.

  4. Simon says:

    In Asia , similar to flights customers don’t tend to book direct with hotels , the much better offers are through travel agents , I didn’t believe when I first moved to Asia but it tends to be true , book via c Trip for example if looking for flights or hotels in china , and they have similar deals for Japan

  5. Andrew says:

    I much prefer this style of review. It’s a real stay rather than a tour of the hotel’s more impressive rooms in each category.

    It’s refreshing to see a ‘normal’ room, see check in go wrong and the whole review seems very genuine. And the conclusion is I am actually more impressed by the property.