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Kyoto, the snobby cousin to high-strung Tokyo and laid-back Osaka, is a temple paradise. The heavy hitters are Fushimi-inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, and Kinkaku-ji, but what can you do in Kyoto at night? After 5 p.m., famous temples and shrines close to make way for Kyoto’s brand of city nightlife. With its traditionally crafted buildings and old culture filling every street, Kyoto is for those who seek a little history–and maybe even a little snazz. Many people say that Kyoto locals are not very friendly to foreign tourists, but don’t let that get you down as Kyoto has a lot to offer after work.
How to Get to Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto can be reached by bus, train, or car from the surrounding prefectures of Osaka, Nara, Hyogo, and Shiga, but the nearest airports are Kansai International for international travelers and Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport) for domestic travelers in Osaka. From Kansai International Airport, you can take the rapid or local trains to Osaka Station and Shin-Osaka Station. From those stations, there are local and rapid trains to Kyoto Station. If you are traveling from other prefectures, using a bullet train (shinkansen) or a bus are the best options.
Tip: Getting around Kyoto can be done in a few ways: bus, taxi, walking, and driving (rental). If you are against the hassle of driving in a foreign country, or taking a taxi that might cost you an arm-and-a-leg, then taking a bus or walking are the best options. Many of Kyoto’s most famous attractions are within walking distance of each other, and if you are taking a bus, then you can buy an all-day tourist pass for ￥600 or about $6 USD. Be advised that buses in Kyoto run from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Where to Eat in Kyoto at Night
Nishiki Market // Located near Pontocho Alley, Nishiki Market is a road market that is renowned for its famous foods and goods. Lined with over 100 food stalls, it is a great place to try as any Japanese foods as possible. From ‘tako tamago’ to fish cakes, Nishiki Market offers you the local food experience and culture.
‘Gekikakara’ Street // Born out of renewal efforts by the locals, Gekikara Street was created in 2009 as Kyoto’s “spicy” street. It is a street that features some of the most spicy food around, and is sure to get you sweating! If you want to try the spiciest of the spiciest, try the “Tantanmen” at Kirinen. For about ￥900 or $9 USD, you can burn your stomach on some of the spiciest ramen in Japan.
Chasen // Chasen is a chain-cafe, but I wouldn’t count it out for that reason. It offers a menu of sweets that features Kyoto’s famous Uji matcha powder and green tea drinks, and other foods as well. The most popular item on Chasen’s menu is its matcha sweets box that releases dry ice smoke when you lift the box’s lid. For only ￥1300 or $13 USD, you can get your first taste of typical traditional Japanese sweets here. One of its locations is even located in Kyoto Station.
Le Bac a Sable // This has to be one of my favorite places because they have some of the best quiches in Japan (the other being a place in Nara)! Roughly two money signs on the 3-sign scale, the price of the food at Le Bac a Sable is average when compared to other restaurants in Kyoto. It has pseudo-French style cuisine and a cozy atmosphere. The restaurant even has a Kyoto-style traditional garden. It is located about a 5-minute walk from Kyoto’s main shopping street near Yasaka Shrine.
Starbucks at Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya // Now, I know what you’re saying, “Starbucks? Are you serious,” but the Starbucks at this location in Kyoto is famously known for its location in a traditional Kyoto-style house. Located in the area near Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji, it is more popular than most Starbucks in Japan–and that’s saying something because Starbucks is really popular in Japan! When you go to this Starbucks, you don’t go for the coffee and pastries, but instead for the atmosphere and traditional architecture of the building. If you want to sit inside the cafe, you must buy something, but I’d recommend trying out the Japan-only sweets during the cafe’s down hours.
Things to Do in Kyoto at Night
Walk around Gion at night // Gion is Kyoto’s famous Geisha district. Although the district with its traditional streets have there own charm in the morning, sunset turns the district into an area for sophisticated and traditional nightlife. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a Geisha.
Go bar-hopping in Pontocho Alley // Pontocho (先斗町) is a narrow alleyway known for its restaurants, traditional tea houses, bars, and Maiko and Geisha-spotting. It runs along the Kamo River and offers traditional Japan the Kyoto way. Most of the menus at restaurants and bars are available in English.
See a traditional performance at Yasaka Hall // Located in Gion Corner, the hall is a performance theater where you can see traditional Maiko and Geisha performances. Though many go to the hall for it’s Kyo-Mai performances, dances performed by Maiko and Geiko (Kyoto’s Geisha), you can also experience tea ceremonies, flower arrangement (ikebana), koto performances, court music, and traditional puppet performances. Performances start at 6 p.m.
Enjoy the Illuminated Temples and Shrines at Night // Although the temples and shrines close by 6PM, you can still enjoy what makes Kyoto so famous. You may be fortunate to find that some Kyoto temples and shrines are open in the evening. At night, these beautiful pieces of historical architecture are illuminated, so they can be enjoyed in both the daytime and after sunset. Visiting the shrines is still a great thing to do in Kyoto at night, especially if you are in the city for a short amount of time.
If you are strolling around the Gion area after hours, you can stop by the Yasaka Shrine, Kodai-ji and Kiyomizu-dera to see them illuminated.
Go to the top of Kyoto Station and enjoy the night view // Not necessarily the most famously known part of Kyoto, but if you heading to Kyoto Station, be sure to check out the viewing area at the top of Kyoto Station. It is a quiet and cozy location where you can see a great night view of the traditional city. Going to the top of the station is free, and if you have time, you can even buy an Eki-ben (train station lunch box) to eat while you look over the city or enjoy the calming Kyoto night air.
Also check out:
- Osaka, Japan After 5:00 pm
- Rishikesh, India After 5:00 pm
- George Town, Penang After 5:00 pm
- Istanbul, Turkey After 5:00 pm
- Chiang Mai, Thailand After 5:00 pm
- Kyoto Shrines and Temples at Night