Things to Do in Kyoto at Night – Top 6 Nocturnal Activities
If you're visiting Kyoto, be careful not to neglect the city after sundown. Kyoto is packed with things to do at night, and with our help, you can discover them all.
Why would we focus on things to do in Kyoto at night? Simple. It’s one of the city’s easily overlooked charms. Kyoto, as the former capital of Japan (called “Heian-kyo” 平安京 before being renamed to Kyoto), understandably holds plenty of cultural heritage and history within its city boundaries. The ancient city is also blessed with abundant greenery, beautiful surrounding mountains and the temples and shrines are a wonder.
Visitors to the city tend to focus on these daytime activities, overlooking the many things to do in Kyoto by night. We’re here to restore some balance by taking a look at the best thing to do in Kyoto at night.
For some great daytime options and where to stay, have a read through our articles here:
1. Illuminations (Spring and Autumn)
In spring and autumn you’ll find that Kyoto’s cherry blossom (sakura 桜) trees are in full bloom and the maple leaves (momiji 紅葉) are beginning to take on a mesmerizing iridescent red. At night, the maple forests and cherry blossoms are tastefully illuminated, painting breathtaking slashes of color across hillsides and parks, across temple grounds and along the sides of the city’s roads. You shouldn’t miss this fantastic nocturnal spectacle of light, so head to any one of the many viewing spots around Kyoto, such as Kyomizu-dera (Kyomizu Shrine), and don’t forget to take your camera.
2. Bars/Clubs/Live Music
Where there’s students, there’s nightlife. And Kyoto has a famously large student population. Accordingly, the city provides everything from live houses (which are what the Japanese call bars with live music, usually with paid entry) to clubs and bars all over the city. There’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy; so when you’re done sightseeing and the sun is setting, don’t head back to your hotel just yet – Kyoto’s nightly fun is just beginning!
Check out the following venues for inspiration:
3. Nishiki Market
Looking for some Kyoto specialties or just feel like mingling with the local crowd and exploring? Nishiki Market is the place for you. All manner of foods and trinkets are sold along the main street of the market, which is usually packed with people to create an enjoyably lively atmosphere. You’re sure to enjoy the many nibbles given out as free samples and as Nishiki Market is covered, you won’t even have to worry about the weather. A great option for some nighttime exploring.
Where to find Nishiki Market:
4. Night Views
If you’re on the lookout for some glittering scenery, search no further. Kyoto’s many streets, alleyways and temples are lit up by hundreds of traditional paper and wood lanterns nightly, prettily transforming the city into a festival of lights. The Kyoto Tower is perhaps the best place to gaze from – a metropolitan photographer’s dream. Kyoto’s sometimes sparkling, sometimes subtly shining beauty only becomes clear after sundown, so head on out after dark – you won’t regret it. The region around Gion and Yasaka Shrine is a great place to start. Explore from there and you’re sure to find some great Kyoto night views.
5. Kamogawa River
One of the most famous places in Kyoto city, besides the shrines, has to be the Kamo River. It’s a moderately sized river but its wide banks are perfect for people to walk on, festivals to take place on and groups to picnic on. It’s also, you’ve guessed it, a very romantic spot at night and a great place for a date or some people watching. If you’re lucky you’ll catch locals in traditional garments (especially likely in summer) strolling along “Kamogawa” (鴨川) as the locals call it.
You’ll find strolls along Kamo River great here:
There are quite a few Shrines in Kyoto to explore at night, so you should check up on which ones you definitely want to see and plan a route. Some may be quite a bit away from the city center on foot, so using public transport or a taxi may be necessary in some cases. Kyomizu Temple is one of those, as it is nestled into the hillside overlooking Kyoto. As such, it is definitely worth seeing at night. There are closer ones the central zone, of course, so a quick search on google maps is a great help. If you’re unsure which ones to see, try starting with these (please, take care to check the closing times of the respective shrines, as they may change):
Kyoto is famous for its great sweets and traditional Japanese meals, so food is a definite must when in Kyoto, as I’m sure you know. But why specifically at night? It’s not like you can’t eat during the daytime, right?
Well, we’re aware of that, but choosing the perfect spot for your meal after sundown is vital, especially when only in town for a short trip. We’re here to suggest some cool places for dinner or a midnight snack. Explore Kyoto’s culinary nightlife at one (or more) of these fancy, hipster and traditional restaurants we’ve found for you: