Some of the best parts of Kyoto can only be enjoyed at night.

Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

Although there are plenty of things to do in Kyoto during the day time, you can’t fully experience Japan’s former capital without seeing it after sundown. 

No matter how many days you have here, make sure you add some evening activities to your Kyoto itinerary. 

The post-sunset scene in Kyoto is very different to the nightlife in Tokyo.

So, even if you’ve experienced all of the things Tokyo has to offer, Kyoto promises an entirely unique travel experience

Here are the best things to do in Kyoto at night to see both sides of this charming city.

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Unique experiences to enjoy in Kyoto at night

Like all of Japan, Kyoto is full of unique experiences that will please all of the senses.

Many of these are best enjoyed at night, which is why I recommend visiting Kyoto overnight, rather than on a day trip from Osaka.

Here are some of the best things that you won’t find anywhere else in Japan (or the entire world).

See Toji Temple lit up

No trip to Japan would be complete without seeing at least a few temples, and Kyoto has some of the most impressive.

Toji Temple is one of the most famous pagodas in Kyoto. It’s a beautiful sight in the day but it becomes even more special at night. 

Toji Temple is illuminated every night and its five storeys look incredibly impressive against the dark sky.

The illumination only takes place for four weeks every year, at the end of March and beginning of April.

It means you’ll need to visit Japan in the springtime if you want to see Toji Temple lit up but it will be well worth it. After all, there’s a good chance the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom too!

TIP: If you can’t visit in springtime, there are still lots of things to do in Japan in winter.

If you want to get good photos of Toji Temple at night, you’ll want to get there early.

People tend to start queuing at 5:00pm, when the park closes, and the queue can be long by the time the park re-opens at 6:30pm. 

Buy your tickets in advance to save time!

Kyoto day trip from Tokyo


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See the lanterns at Yasaka Shrine 

Recommended by Alyse from The Invisible Tourist

For many visitors to Kyoto, the famous Yasaka Shrine is high up on their list of places to discover. It’s easy to understand why because it’s one of the most famous shrines in the entire city!

I personally think it’s one of the best places to visit in Kyoto just before sundown. Here’s why you should visit during nightfall, too.

Due to its location between the popular traditional districts of Higashiyama and Gion, Yasaka Shrine is easily accessible from Maruyama Park.

While these neighbourhoods are packed with tourists during the day, the crowds passing through here in the evening slow down to a trickle. Fewer people during this time means the experience is more intimate and enjoyable.

At dusk, the hundreds of lanterns adorning the temples become softly illuminated, creating a beautiful atmosphere where you almost feel as though you’ve been teleported centuries back into the past.

There’s something very special about visiting Yasaka Shrine towards the end of the day. It’s almost unfathomable to think how many sunsets it has witnessed in over 1,350 years!

The icing on the cake is being able to admire grand entrance gate on Shijo-dori basking in a golden glow, so be sure to add Yasaka Shrine to your Kyoto itinerary!

A bright red shrine with people standing outside

Relax and people watch at the Kamogawa River

Recommended by Lena from Nagoya Foodie

If you are wondering what to do in Kyoto after dark I highly recommend you simply take a stroll or sit down along the banks of the Kamogawa River.

It is the main river flowing through Kyoto from north to south and especially in summer a popular spot to hang out at night. The area around Gion, Kawaramachi, and Sanjo are especially scenic and popular for this.

The younger generation will buy snacks at the nearby convenience store (and maybe some alcohol if they are old enough) and sit along the river bank with some music.

Entertainers seek out the most popular spots to make some money.

It is an atmosphere like no other in Kyoto, and you can be part of it without spending any money. I do however recommend to buy some drinks and snacks to fully immerse yourself in the activity.

A wide river with Japanese buildings lit up behind it in Kyoto

Late night food and drink in Kyoto

Japan is a foodie’s paradise, but did you know that many of the best experiences are reserved for after dark? 

Here’s what to do in Kyoto at night if you’re a foodie (or just enjoy trying new foods when you travel!).

RELATED READ: For the best ramen, visit Hokkaido in winter.

Enjoy a kaiseki meal in a ryokan

Recommended by James from Travel Collecting

One of the best things to do in Kyoto at night is to stay in a ryokan and enjoy a kaiseki meal.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn and it is very different from a western-style hotel.

One of the highlights of a stay in a ryokan is the kaiseki meal. This is a multi-course haute cuisine meal, with ingredients that are typically local and seasonal.

Each course takes you through a culinary journey and each dish is beautifully plated and impeccably presented.

There are ryokans all over Japan, but in Kyoto they are a special treat. Kyoto was once the Imperial capital and it remains the historic heart of the country.

The main entertainment area is famous for geisha and maiko dressed in elaborate traditional makeup, hairstyles and kimonos can often be seen walking the street. They are hostesses and it is common to see them on their way to an appointment.

A unique and rare experience, though, is being entertained by a geisha while enjoying a gourmet meal in a traditional setting in the most historic city in Japan. There are several ryokans in Kyoto that offer this option, so look for it when choosing where to stay.

If you want to experience an onsen, too, check out these Kyoto ryokans.

A kaiseki meal laid out on a small table in a Japanese ryokan

Take a nighttime food tour

Recommended by Ali from Ali’s Adventures

The best way to explore any city is with a food tour, so we booked the Kyoto Nighttime Foodie tour with Magical Trip.

The tour meets at the bridge in the Gion area and explores the area through several stops, ending up with a sake bar down a tiny alley in Potocho.

Between stops we wandered through the neighborhood and heard more about Kyoto including the Geisha aspect of Gion.

This food tour goes to a traditional izakaya, a modern tempura eatery, and a sake bar. Each place has several food options and a story from the guide of how the food fits in the overall picture of Kyoto.

The tour was a little cheaper than an average food tour, but with slightly less food and the option to purchase more. We still felt like it was plenty of food to be our dinner for the night.

Exploring the food culture on a trip to Japan is a big deal. This food tour also made it easier for us as visitors to find good food that isn’t aimed solely at tourists.

Japan can be a bit overwhelming if you are a picky eater, so a food tour is a must.

Shrimp tempura next to a bowl of dip on a food tour of kyoto

Drink at an Izakaya

Recommended by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan

Often referred to as gastropubs, Japanese izakaya are traditional bars that serve drinks as well as food.

The food usually comes in fairly small portions, and the idea is to order several dishes and share them with friends. In this sense, it’s similar to the concept of tapas in Spain.

One of the best izakaya in Kyoto, where you can really experience the traditional Japanese atmosphere, is Renkon-Ya.

Located in central Kyoto near the Sanjo train station and just across the river from Gion, Renkon-Ya is a small, intimate izakaya with just a couple of Western-style tables, some seating at the bar, and a few more low tables in a tatami mat area in the back.

While the two friendly ladies who run the place don’t speak much English, they do have an English-language menu.

The menu changes with the seasons but always includes a few plant-based options that are clearly marked, so vegetarians and vegans in Kyoto can also enjoy an authentic izakaya experience here.

Several people sat at a bar eating and drinking while a chef cooks foods

Things to do in Gion at night

Gion is Kyoto’s geisha district. The most famous part of the city, it’s the area that most travellers can’t wait to see. 

What many people don’t know is that this area is best explored at night.

Here’s how to enjoy Gion and get a true taste of what Kyoto is all about.

READ NEXT: The Japanese snow monkeys are another unique Japan experience.

Watch the culture show at Gion Corner

Recommended by Patrick from German Backpacker

One of the most popular things to do in the evenings in Kyoto is visiting the culture show at Gion Corner.

During the 50-minute long performance, you can learn more about traditional parts of the Japanese culture. Watch the Kyo-mai dance performed by Geishas, enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and experience a puppet theatre.

Although the show feels very touristic and is certainly made for visitors, it’s a nice opportunity to get more insights into the Japanese culture.

If you ever wanted to see a real geisha performing, the Gion Corner show is probably your best bet!

Since the theatre is located directly in the historic Gion district, this gives you the perfect opportunity to wander around the streets of Gion at night after the show.

You can find more information on Gion Corner on their official website.

A geisha wearing a purple kimono in Kyoto

Go geisha spotting in Gion

Recommended by Katie from Untold Morsels

When dusk falls in Kyoto, head to the Gion neighbourhood to witness a centuries’ old ritual.

At this time, the geiko (geisha) and maiko (apprentice geisha) emerge from their houses and make their way to their appointments for the evening.

Immaculately dressed and groomed, wearing colourful kimonos and distinctive make up, the women seem to glide through the streets of Gion.

Traditional entertainers, they perform each evening at the many tea houses that Gion is known for. These performances are very exclusive and expensive so most people will only see the geisha in these fleeting moments on the street.

If you want to watch these beautiful women of Gion, please respect their privacy and keep your distance. While the entertainers understand their importance to Kyoto as cultural icons, they are simply making their way to their place of work.

A tiny glimpse of kimono swishing around a corner will be thrill enough to talk about as you enjoy your dinner at one of the many izakaya close by.

Two women dressed in Japanese kimonos walking down a street in Gion Kyoto

Have dinner with an authentic maiko 

If you want to have the full geisha experience, Kyoto is the place to do so. 

A group dinner with a maiko doesn’t come cheap (what does in Japan?) but it will be an evening you won’t forget. 

Inside a remodelled tea house in Gion, you’ll spend an entire evening with an authentic maiko. And, with a maximum of 10 people per group, it’s sure to be a very intimate experience.

During the evening, you’ll see the maiko dance and play traditional oazshiki games. You’ll also be able to take photos and ask as many questions as you like – and you’re sure to have plenty!

Click here to check availability for your dates.

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what to do at night in kyoto