Kyoto Nightlife: Local Bars and Nighttime Strolls to Enjoy!
Kyoto is full of bars and izakaya to enjoy some of Japan’s most delicious drinks and dining. But what Japanese foods go with what drinks? Is there beer at izakaya? Armed with a bit of local knowledge, you’ll be able to enjoy your meals even more.
Where will you go for drinks tonight?
The dish that arrives without being ordered: the “Otoushi”
When you arrive at an izakaya, the first thing that will be served to you is a small appetizer known as the otoushi. What this dish consists of will vary by restaurant, but the otoushi is typically between 300 and 500 yen per person, and is typically served at an izakaya at the beginning of a meal without having been ordered. The otoushi comes from a practice of hospitality, and a desire not to keep the customer waiting until the items they’ve ordered arrive. If you’re not really interested in having this little dish, ask the staff if they can serve you something else, or let them know if you’d rather not have it. You can also contact the restaurant in advance to ask about otoushi before you arrive.
To start with, beer! But in Kyoto, it’s a toast with sake
When Japanese people get together to drink, they often order the same drink for the initial toast, in order to keep others from waiting. It’s common for people to start with beer, which takes the least amount of time to prepare. You’ll probably notice groups of people getting excited for their night with a chorus of, “To start with, beer!” It’s not a bad idea to try this izakaya practice yourself!
In Kyoto, however, locals begin with a glass of Japanese sake. To follow Kyoto manners, try starting with a taste of some sake!
Typical Japanese Menu Items to Pair with Drinks
You’ve come to a bar or an izakaya to enjoy yourself! Start with an appetizer of salad or sashimi—something with a light, fresh flavor. As your drinks come, try ordering some dishes with heavier flavors: stewed, fried, or grilled dishes are great options. Of course, the best drinks and food will vary from restaurant to restaurant, and you’ll probably want to try them all. For that, head to what the Japanese call the Niji-kai, or “Round Two.”
What is the “shime,” or “tie-up” eaten after drinking?
In Japan, people often go to izakaya not to eat their fill, but to enjoy a chat while having drinks. After having a few drinks, you’ll start to want to settle your stomach down by having some kind of carb-based dish. Japanese people call this ending dish the shime (she-may), or “tie-up,” and it’s often composed of rice or noodle-based dishes. Typical shime dishes at izakaya include rice porridge, ochazuke (rice with hot tea poured over it), and grilled rice balls. It’s also not uncommon for people to follow up an evening of restaurant-hopping with some ramen. The way Japanese people go about dining may be a bit different from home, but for one night, why not try dining like the locals do?
Some visitors might find it difficult to enter a very traditional Japanese izakaya, but not to worry. An izakaya is a kind of bar, but it’s also a place to try a variety of dishes at a reasonable price. Many establishments allow smoking, however, so an izakaya may not be the first choice for non-smokers, or for those visiting with children. Be aware, too, that the legal drinking age in Japan is 20!
*Locations listed in this article may have changed their business hours, prices, or menus since publication. For the most up-to-date information, please confirm with each business individually.
*Prices listed are for reference for the average budget (without tax) necessary. When you pay, a tax of 8% will be applied (This tax will change to 10% on October 1, 2019).
Gion Shijo Station & Kawaramachi Station Area
If you walk along the stone-paved street of Hanamikoji, you’ll see the entrances to teahouses… Gion Rumble is built on one of those corners. Enjoy your meal while you look out on the shop’s inner garden. Gion Rumble has all the ambiance of Kyoto, and the cooks prepare wonderful meals with Kyoto vegetables and seasonal ingredients.
Hours: 17:30 - Midnight
Address: 570-125 Gion-cho Minami-gawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Keihan Gion Shijo Station
Average Price: 6,000 yen and up
Closed on Wednesdays / Credit card payment available / Separate smoking areas / Advanced reservations available
Yuki is a store directly managed by Okamura Honke Brewery, which produces Shiga’s famous “Konki” (Golden Turtle) sake, and visitors can enjoy both delicious sake direct from the brewers and authentic Japanese dishes. Yuki is popular amongst both locals and foreign visitors. The shop has a sense of retro Japan, in which customers sit cozily brushing knees at the counter seats, from which they can see back into the kitchen.
Hours: 17:00 - 22:00 (Last order at 21:15) / Saturdays & days before national holidays, 17:00 - Midnight (Last order at 23:15)
Address: 111-1 Tominaga-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Keihan Gion Shijo Station
Average Price: 3,000 yen and up
Closed on Sundays, National holidays / English menu available / Credit card payment available / Some smoking seating available / Reservations available
BEER PUB ICHI-YA
Ichi-ya is a beer pub produced by Kyoto’s Ichijo-ji Brewery. The pub serves barreled craft beer directly from Ichijo-ji Brewery, and also regularly serves barreled craft beer from across Japan. From those with a sweetness like black tea, to beers with a bit of spice, come taste a variety of flavors.
Hours: 11:30 - 23:00
Address: 1st Floor, 384 Funaya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Hankyu Kawaramachi Station
Average Price: 3,000 yen and up
Open all year / English menu available / Children welcome / Credit Card Payment Available / Non-smoking / Reservations available
This izakaya (a kind of Japanese pub) is a place to casually enjoy a bite to eat, not far from Yasaka-jinja Shrine. The owners, a couple who speak English, are known for their customer service, as well as their reasonably-priced and delicious A5-grade (the highest ranking) Japanese wagyu steak and fluffy okonomiyaki.
Hours: 17:00 - 23:00
Address: Hiro Building B1 Floor, 537-2 Gion-machi South Side, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Hankyu Kawaramachi Station / Keihan Gion Shijo Station
Average Price: 2,000 yen and up
Closed on Thursdays / English & Chinese menus available / Children welcome / Credit Card Payment Available / Non-smoking / Advance reservations available
Enjoy meat, seafood, and vegetable tempura, as well as sashimi and grilled dishes prepared in small portions before your eyes. Gatten offers the dining standard, beer, Japanese sake, and Gatten’s own original matcha beer for a Kyoto twist. The restaurant interior is spacious for a comfortable dining experience.
Hours: (Mon - Thur) 11:30 - 15:00 / 17:00 - 23:00 (Last order: food at 22:30, drinks at 22:45)
(Fridays & Day before national holiday) 11:30 - 15:00 / 17:00 - Midnight (Last order: food at 23:30, drinks at 23:45)
(Saturdays) 11:30 - Midnight (Last order: food at 23:30, drinks at 23:45)
(Sundays & national holidays) 11:30 - 23:00 (Last order: food at 22:30, drinks at 22:45)
Address: 170 Kashiwaya-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Keihan Gion Shijo Station, Hankyu Kawaramachi Station
Average Price: 2,000 yen and up
Open all year / English menu available / Credit card payment available / Completely non-smoking / Advance reservations available
Higashinotoin sou is located close to Kyoto’s Shijo subway station, and within, the restaurant interior is stylish and refined in tones of black and gold. Most tables are private booths, so Higashinotoin sou is perfect for dates or private drinking parties. Meals here are made using carefully selected ingredients, each prepared with the utmost care.
Hours: 17:30 - 23:00
Address: 225 Sanmonji-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City
Nearest Station: Hankyu Karasuma Station, Subway Shijo Station
Average Price: 4,000 yen and up
Irregular closing days / English menu available / Children welcome / Credit card payment available / All non-smoking seats / Advance reservations available
Best Places to go for Nighttime Sightseeing in Kyoto
Shops tend to close fairly early at night in Japan, but in Kyoto, many shrines and temples put on special light-up events during the autumn leaf and cherry blossom seasons, and open their doors for special nighttime openings! The latest information on these events is updated on this site’s Event Schedule, so be sure to check it out!
There is always an illumination event being held somewhere in Kyoto, so you’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy Kyoto at night!
January: Hatsu-mode (The First Prayer of the Year)
February: Setsubun Festival
March: Higashiyama Hanatouro (※Ended in 2022)
March-April: Cherry blossom light-ups
May: Noryo Yuka Riverside Dining
June: Summer Purification Rituals
July: Gion Festival
August: Tanabata Star Festival, Fire-Walking Festival, Gozan-no-Okuribi Ritual Fires, Manto-e Lantern Festival, Rokusai Nenbutsu Festivities, etc.
September: Moon watching festivities
October - December: Autumn leaf light-ups, Kurama Fire Festival
December: Arashiyama Hanatouro (※Ended in 2021)
It’s also lovely just to take a walk through some of Kyoto’s backstreets at night!
This temple road is bustling with tourists during the daytime, but at night, the number of visitors suddenly drops. It’s the perfect time to enjoy walking about this beautiful and mysterious stone-paved road. In the distance, you’ll be able to see the Yasaka Pagoda (part of Hokan-ji Temple), which is a popular target for photographers. At night, it’s easier to take your own shot!
During three special nighttime openings in spring, summer, and fall, you’ll be able to experience all the wonders of Kiyomizu-dera Temple at night, too.
Hanamikoji is a street lined with the teahouses where geiko and maiko live and work, and as such, it’s a location with all the charms of Kyoto. At night, the stones of Hanamikoji are lit atmospherically with lantern light, creating a scene that looks very different from its daytime counterpart. It’s also a wonderful location to discover a sense of traditional Kyoto, since the area is home to many geiko and maiko coming and going about their business.
*As you take a walk, please be advised that Hanamikoji and Gion-shirakawa are residential areas. We ask for your cooperation in following local manners and refraining from photographing the local residents.
⋅ Do not touch the maiko.
⋅ Do not lean on the fences.
⋅ Do not smoke while walking.
⋅ Do not eat while walking.
⋅ Do not litter.
⋅ Do not use selfie sticks.
Nishiki Food Market
Nishiki Market is known as Kyoto’s kitchen. It’s also become popular with foreign visitors, and is always bustling with shoppers. At night, long after the shops have closed, you can see paintings by 18th century artist Ito Jakuchu on their shuttered fronts, almost like the market is an Ito Jakuchu museum.
Ito Jakuchu was born in Nishiki Market, and an event to celebrate 300 years since his birth was held here in the market.
Nijo-jo Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a very popular sightseeing location in Kyoto. The castle usually closes to visitors at 5 p.m., but puts on a light-up event during the cherry blossom season. The 200 cherry trees within the castle grounds will be illuminated in a beautiful display that looks very different from the castle gardens as seen during the day. In recent years, the latest technology has been employed to put on events featuring projection mapping. If your timing is right, you may just be able to see such an event, which combines the historical Nijo-jo Castle with the latest video technology.
Kyoto Station Building & Kyoto Tower
The Kyoto Station Building is the gateway to Kyoto, and at night, its grand staircase is specially illuminated from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. If you climb to the top of the stairs, you’ll find a space like a dance floor, from which you’ll be able to see a wonderful view of Kyoto Tower, as well as the city nightscape! Few tourists visit this location, and it’s the perfect place to snap a shot of Kyoto Tower!
If you’re interested in experiencing Kyoto’s izakaya culture for yourself, try visiting some of the izakaya introduced above. If you’re interested in getting to know Kyoto’s izakaya and sake culture on a deeper level, consider taking part in one of the following tours (offered in English only).