With its teahouses, geisha, and traditional temples and shrines, Kyoto is a popular destination for travelers in search of Japan's historic beauty and traditional arts. Although not as famous as Tokyo's, the old capital does have a thriving, varied, and eccentric nightlife. Music is stitched into the fabric of Kyoto life, so a visit to one of the city's jazz bars or legendary live music venues is worth your while. Or, if you prefer something more mellow, there are a few late-night cafés and restaurants to sit back and relax in.
Much of Kyoto’s nightlife is tucked in the small streets that run alongside the Kamo River. A perfect starting point is Kiyamachi Street (Kyoto’s answer to Tokyo’s Golden Gai), where you’ll find a stretch of exciting and inviting bars. Here are some great spots to check out:
- Bar Hopseed: Situated on the riverfront in Pontocho, Kyoto’s busiest nightlife district, this laidback upstairs bar specializes in Japanese whiskey and local craft beer. The staff loves to chat, making this a friendly and intimate spot for a drink.
- Bar Ixey: This dusky bar in the heart of Gion is owned by one of the most notable mixologists in the city. Specialty cocktails are blended with local botanical herbs to create unique and creative drinks.
- L’Escamoteur Bar: Owned by a trained magician and mixologist, the décor of this cozy speakeasy-style bar is nothing short of enchanting. Enjoy specialty cocktails like the Kyoto Garden (with matcha, yuzu, egg, and Kinobi gin) or hard-to-find liqueurs.
- Jazz in Rokudenashi: A favorite jazz bar which, in true CBGB fashion, is covered in flyers for live gigs gone by. The owner, former jazz drummer Naohisa Yokota, has infused his passion for jazz music into the bar, making it a dream hang-out for lovers of this music genre.
- Hachimonjiya: Owned by a man who has dedicated his own artistic life to Kyoto street photography, Hachimonjiya is a hub for writers and artists to gather and celebrate the work they love and create. Its aesthetic is suitably battered and broken—a welcome home for the starving artists of Kyoto.
- Bee’s Knees: To find this Prohibition-style speakeasy, look for a yellow door with the misnomer "The Book Store" stamped across it. Their menu consists of 12 classy cocktails, always served with a surprise. Try the Not God Father, made with apple and cinnamon whiskey.
- Cafe La Siesta - 8bit Edition: This themed bar and music space is perfect for retro game fans in search of a relaxed place to drink. They serve original cocktails like Adventure Island—featuring vanilla ice cream and melon soda—as well as classic drinks and a full menu of light meals and snacks. Get ready to play some retro arcade machines and listen to 8-bit music at this popular Kyoto hangout.
Clubs or Dance Clubs
While Kyoto may not appear to be a clubber's paradise, there are still a few spots you can go to party. Clubs generally open at 9 p.m. and stay open until 2 a.m.
- World Kyoto: If you love techno and house music, this is one of the best spots in Kyoto. They also regularly host international DJs and events that feature a range of other music styles.
- Club Metro: One of the coolest (and oldest) clubs in Kyoto, set in a sectioned-off area of a working metro station. There’s a basement vibe with parties, DJs, and live music.
Japan is all about late-night dining, so you’ll never be short of places to quell those evening cravings. Izakayas (Japanese-style gastro bars) are one of the best places to go if you’re looking for a casual pub atmosphere combined with delicious finger food, light meals, and cheap beer and sake. Whether you’re looking for sushi, grilled skewers, or fried chicken, it’s available late at night in Kyoto.
- Izakaya Itsuraku: Open until 1:30 a.m. and particularly Western friendly, with English menus available. They specialize in sashimi platters, grilled skewers, and tofu dishes. Order a Japanese beer and tuck in!
- Kushiage Shusai Momoya: Kushiage, more commonly known as kushikatsu, is a plate full of skewered meats and vegetables. With 20 different options on the menu, the skewers here are made fresh with seasonal ingredients.
- Gion Sato: Closing a little before midnight, this restaurant is not only open late, it is also one of the finest sushi restaurants in the city. Sushi is every bit about its aesthetics as it is its flavor, and Gion Sato certainly champions this belief—each bite is fresh, balanced, and delicious.
If clubs aren’t your thing, but you want some music alongside your drinks, then you won’t be disappointed in Kyoto—particularly if you like jazz. Here are a couple of the best spots for live music.
- Zac Baran: Serving light meals and cheap drinks, this is a perfect spot to hang out for the evening. Sit back and watch the best local jazz bands Kyoto has to offer. There are usually three acts, with performances lasting until 10 p.m. There is also a 1,000 yen cover charge.
- Taku Taku: Formerly a brewery, this blues rock venue is a fantastic place for live music. The walls are lined with posters from old gigs, and the drinks are delightfully priced to ensure a moody, atmospheric night with local and international artists alike.
Late-Night Coffee Shops
Kyoto might be a far more relaxed city than Tokyo, but it’s still one that offers a variety of late-night options, and that includes great coffee shops. If you’re working late or you need a pick-me-up after a full day of sightseeing, there are a few late-night coffee shops in Kyoto that can offer you a chill atmosphere and some excellent coffee even in the deep hours of the night.
- Coffee Shop Maruyama: A popular spot for both locals and recurring visitors to Kyoto, Maruyama offers a selection of sweet cakes, pastries, and waffles, as well as an all-day menu of curries, sandwiches, and more. No matter the time of day, this is a great place to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and the best drip coffee in Kyoto. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day except Sunday (when it closes at 1 a.m.).
- Cafe Bibliotic Hello!: Open until midnight (with last orders at 11 p.m.), this centrally-located café is decked out in bookish décor, making it a cozy spot for bibliophiles. Apart from coffee, you’ll find small meals and satisfying bakery goods.
Tips for Going Out in Kyoto
- Kyoto’s two subway lines close at 11:30 p.m. and open again at 5:30 a.m., while the buses generally run from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Luckily, Kyoto is a very walkable and safe city, so it’s fairly normal to walk home after a night out, within reason.
- Uber and other ride-hailing apps don’t currently operate in Japan, so taxis are the only option available. Unfortunately, they are particularly expensive (600 yen after the first two kilometers, then 80 yen every 415 meters thereafter). However, they can be a good option if you’re traveling as a group.
- Izakayas are usually open between 6 p.m. and midnight, whereas clubs are generally open between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
- Because tipping isn’t customary in Japan and can be seen as offensive in some cases, a simple "thank you" is enough.
- Foreigner-friendly bars don’t usually impose a cover charge, but the standard amount is 500 yen for Japanese bars.
- If you're splitting a bottle with friends, it's bad form to serve your own drink first. Don’t forget to say "kampai," which means "cheers" in English.
- Open-container laws do not exist in Japan, though it is frowned upon in general to eat and drink while walking.
- Being loud or excessively drunk in Japan is discouraged, so expect some stares if you are.