Best Things To Do At Night In Kyoto

By Till Schweppe, who switched the sights of his homeland Germany for peaceful temples and the natural magic of Kyoto.

Edited by Holly Stark

Home to around 1.5 million people, a chilled atmosphere and a great food scene, Kyoto is a quirky city that flourishes when the sun goes down. What I love most about Kyoto’s nightlife is how peaceful it is; there are always no worries, no crazy situations and no aggression. It’s not a big clubbing hotspot like Tokyo, Sapporo and Osaka, but it is fairly sophisticated with a good atmosphere and a chilled vibe. It has plenty of late night bars open until 5 or 6 am any night of the week and a large student population. It can be busy and energetic, but on the whole, it’s has a laid-back, safe feel. From dynamic restaurants, to izakayas, late night cafes to classy bars, Kyoto’s locals and visitors are often out late - eating, drinking, shopping and exploring Kyoto’s nightlife and undiscovered gems - there are plenty of them to dive into. From the vibrant Gion Kyoto at night, to Nishiki market at night, to Kyoto temples night visits, you won’t struggle for things to do in Kyoto at night. From Japan's largest geisha district, Gion, to the Miyagawa-chō entertainment district on the banks of the Kamo river, discover the areas where there is a seamless balance between the urban and the natural and immerse yourself in the best things to do in Kyoto at night.

Explore Gion

Gion is one of the best entertainment districts to explore when adventuring in Kyoto. Wooden machiya merchant houses line the narrow streets, alongside shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain. The diversity of bars and clubs in Gion makes the district perfect for every taste and vibe. As Kyoto's most famous geisha district, Gion is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. In spring, the iconic April Miyako Odori performance takes place in Gion. Kyoto’s geisha communities put on an annual public show where the geisha perform their arts; a highly stylized, tightly choreographed graceful dance in their lavish kimonos and intricate costumes, with an orchestra playing traditional Japanese music. ‘Miyako’ means capital city, and ‘Odori’ means dance, so ‘Miyako Odori’ translates to ‘Capital City Dances.’ The dance began in 1872, just four years after Tokyo took over Kyoto as the capital city of Japan. Dances are held at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre, and are popular with both Kyoto locals and visitors to the city.

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Wander Miyagawa-chō and the Kamo River

Miyagawa-chō is a large entertainment district on the banks of the Kamo river, which is almost as big as Gion. Home to some of the best cafes, restaurants and clubs, Miyagawa-chō is a great place to spend a night in Kyoto. The Miyagawacho Beer Garden has smooth local beers and wonderful people. Looking for organic and unrefined things to do in Kyoto at night? Head to the Kamogawa River. I often go to the river, especially in summer and enjoy seeing people hanging out and live musicians practicing. I get a beer and take some snacks, head to the river and I’m good to go for the night. With a light breeze in the air and away from the Kyoto crowd, the spot provides the perfect opportunity for people watching, soaking up the night time sounds and if it’s spring; admiring the city’s natural springtime phenomenon of sakura trees. A great place to experience the Kyoto cherry blossom, known locally as sakura, is where the majestic pink timbers meet with the Kamogawa river. Kamogawa, meaning “wild duck river” runs from the Kyoto Basin down south to the Yodo River. The pink pathway sees the motion of locals moving through their daily lives; drinking beers, having picnics, strolling around, fishin

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Experience Izakaya

A big part of Kyoto’s nightlife culture and tradition is izakaya. For me, an izakaya is an intense and cool place; not to be missed when in Kyoto at night. An izakaya is essentially a Japanese tavern – drinking houses which offer a menu of small dishes and a selection of foods for snacking while drinking. Exceedingly popular in all of Japan, izakaya, literally meaning “to stay in a sake shop” is a hybrid form somewhere between a restaurant and a bar. Typically, you meet outside and spend a few hours there. Locals usually visit an izakaya with their work colleagues or friends to drink (sometimes a lot) and enjoy some good food alongside it. Sit and drink on the premises; where there is a relaxed vibe and you can hang out with good friends, good food, and good drinks. Check out Ichiba Koji - an izakaya with an open kitchen that allows visitors to enjoy witnessing their dishes being made. It is recommended to sit on the 8 seats at the counter, but there are also tables, horigotatsu (sunken kotatsu tables), and private rooms. The restaurant offers a wide selection of dishes, including Japanese Black Beef grilled on an iron grill and finished in a stone oven, and ichibayaki: grilled pancakes made out of eggs, cabbage, flour, and Japanese yam. 

Check Out the Music Scene

Considered one of the most unique things to do in Kyoto, Metro was voted one of weirdest places you can go clubbing. Metro is a club in a Kyoto metro station; very alternative with international djs and bands. It’s open weekends, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I highly recommend Metro for the cool underground vibes, interesting people, and drinks that don’t break the bank. Locals, students, visitors and internationals hang out here; it’s intimate, small and fairly grungy. Check this place out if you’re looking for things to do in Kyoto at night which are on the more surprising side.

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