Kyoto Nightlife: The Best Outdoor Bars in Kyoto

Kyoto city is known for its historical temples, shrines, and lush bamboo forests, but what about its nightlife? While the city isn’t filled with skyscrapers and neon lights like Tokyo city or Osaka city, the nightlife in Kyoto is just as vibrant. If you want to know where the locals go to relax or celebrate with drinks, keep reading as the local staff at MACHIYA INNS & HOTELS will share with you the best bars & nightlife recommendations in Kyoto.

Photo ©︎ Felis Amafeles / Unsplash

If you’re visiting Kyoto this summer, you’re in luck, as you’ll be able to experience some interesting summer nightlife, bars, drinking traditions, and more. (While some areas are available only during the summer season, you can, of course, visit these amazing bars & establishments throughout the year, too!)  Kanpai (Cheers)!

Which area is best for nightlife in Kyoto?

If you’re wondering where the locals go to drink in Kyoto to enjoy the nightlife, the 3 main areas we recommend you visit are:

  • Gion Neighborhood
  • Pontocho Neighborhood & Kiyamachi-Dori (along the Takasegawa River, just south of Sanjo Dori Street) 
  • Shijo-Kawaramachi Neighborhood (downtown Kyoto)

Where do locals go to drink (in the summer)?

If you enjoy having a drink or two, there are 2 main summer traditions in Japan that you won’t want to miss out on. Beer gardens (usually rooftop with a view that you can only enjoy in Kyoto), and Kawadoko bars! Kawadoko is a distinctly Kyoto tradition, held in the summer between May to late September. Restaurants and other establishments build tatami rooms that hang over rivers so that customers can enjoy their drinks & meals while cooling off near the crisp, clear river. It is said to have started in the Edo period (1603-1867), and is a popular summer tradition in Kyoto.

While you can enjoy beer gardens in places around the world, have you ever enjoyed a beer garden alongside a geisha (geiko) or maiko? How about with a view of a centuries old temple or in a historical neighborhood surrounded by traditional wooden Japanese architecture? Keep reading to find out the best things to do in Kyoto to enjoy the nightlife in Kyoto.

1. Have a Drink with Geisha (Geiko) & Maiko

Photo ©︎上七軒歌舞会
Photo ©︎上七軒歌舞会

When you think of Kyoto, do you think of geisha and maiko? Usually, the only place where you’ll meet these traditional entertainers are in hanamachi districts (historical tea houses districts), but even then it can be very difficult to catch a glimpse of them. One famouse hanamachi districts in Kyoto is Kamishichiken, and this is where you’ll find our first recommendation. Rather than going to a typical bar in Kyoto, head on over to Kamishichiken Kaburenjo!

Kamishichiken Kaburenjo is a theater where geisha women & maiko girls entertain patrons through their song and dance, but for a limited time during the summer, it is transformed into a beer garden. (Typically between early July ~ early September)

Photo ©︎上七軒歌舞会
Photo ©︎上七軒歌舞会

Once you enter the theater, you’ll be free to choose your own seat, whether that is by the lush Japanese garden or in a cool air-conditioned room. While traditional restaurants & establishments in Kyoto many times do not allow for first-timers to enter on their own, this is not the case at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo. You’ll be able to easily join in on the fun, as the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Even as locals living in Kyoto, it’s not very often that we are able to interact with a geisha (geiko) or maiko. But you’ll be able to do so freely at the Kamishichiken Beer Garden! The geiko women & maiko girls will walk around the beer garden conversing with customers as you enjoy a refreshing pint of beer. If you’re wondering how to enjoy Kyoto’s nightlife and are looking for something other than a stereotypical bar in Kyoto, we recommend starting here!

 Kamishichiken Beer Garden
Address742 Shinseicho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto 〒602-8381
Access3 min. walk from the “Kitano Tenmangu Mae” Kyoto City Bus Stop
3 min. walk from the “Kamishichiken” Kyoto City Bus Stop
HoursThe beer garden is typically closed on Sundays and Monday. Please confirm their official website for the latest information.
Things to Note

Payment is accepted in cash only. Customers must be 18 years of age or older to enter.

Reservations are required. If you are a guest of MACHIYA INNS & HOTELS, please feel free to ask our staff for reservation assistance.

Rent an entire Japanese Holiday House in Kyoto: MACHIYA RESIDENCE INN KYOTO

2. A Kawadoko Bar in the Historical Pontocho Alley

Photo ©︎ BAR Atlantis

If you’ll be having dinner in Pontocho Alley, we recommend stopping by this Kyoto bar for after dinner drinks. BAR Atlantis is a shot bar located in Pontocho Alley, a district filled with Kyoto-style restaurants in traditional wooden architecture and lined stone-paved streets. Once you step inside through the atmospheric door, you will be greeted cheerfully by the bar staff. This Kyoto bar is popular not only with locals, but with tourists from Japan and abroad, too.

BAR Atlantis is the only bar in the Pontocho Alley area with an outside bar counter, which may be one of the reasons why it is so popular. The outside patio area is especially perfect during the summer, as this is where the kawadoko patio will be set up. During the kawadoko period, BAR Atlantis has a special bar time between 16:00 to 18:00 for kawadoko seating only. We recommend you try arriving earlier rather than later.

From your usual alcoholic drinks & non-alcoholic drinks to original cocktails, you’ll be sure to find your favorite drink – the most popular menu items are the original “Kamogawa Lemon” and “Ponto-cho Cooler. We recommend this Kyoto bar for anyone who wants to enjoy the relaxing side of Kyoto’s nightlife.

Photo ©︎ BAR Atlantis
 BAR Atlantis
Address161 Matsumotocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto 604-8013
Access4 min. walk from the Keihan Line “Gion Shijo” Train Station
HoursFor regular hours, take a look at their official website or Instagram page.
Things to NoteThe outdoor kawadoko patio is available until late September.

3. An Outdoor River ‘Kawadoko’ Experience


If you are looking for one of the best riverside bars in Kyoto, look no further than SENT JAMES CLUB. Founded in 1983, this Kyoto bar is located just a few steps from the Gion Neighborhood and Pontocho Alley. Inside, you will find yourself in a calm space that resembles a renovated, early-American brick warehouse. There’ll be jazz music playing in the background, candles dotting the tables, a view of the Kamogawa River, and a menu offering more than 200 types of Japanese sake. If you’re looking for a more laid back atmosphere to enjoy nightlife in Kyoto, SENT JAMES CLUB is where you should go to relax.


As this Kyoto bar is located along the Kamogawa River, every summer (for a limited time), a “kawadoko” (riverbed) is held here. You can enjoy cocktails and drinks made by the bar master according to your tastes, while sitting outside on a wooden deck that hangs over the river. Enjoy a cool evening at this Kyoto bar while experiencing a traditional Kyoto summer pastime. 

During the kawadoko period, weekdays from 18:00 to 20:00 are charge-free happy hours, so we recommend stopping by these hours.

Address140-19 Saitocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto 600-8012
Access3 min. walk from the Keihan Line “Gion Shijo” Train Station
HoursThe outdoor kawadoko patio is available until late September.
Things to Note

Beer Garden Hours: 18:00 ~ 22:30

Looking for a Kyoto Hotel near Gion? Stay at THE MACHIYA EBISUYA Hotel

4. Drinks & A View of A Bamboo Grove


If you’re looking for a little more sophisticated side of Kyoto’s nightlife, we recommend FORTUNE GARDEN KYOTO. Housed in a renovated building designed by the well-known architect, Goichiro Takeda, the retro-style building has a history dating back to 1927. Instead of a Kyoto bar, here, you’ll find a casual French bistro that is popular not only for its delicious cuisine but also for its lush green bamboo garden. We recommend sitting in their outside patio area at night as the bamboo garden will be gently lit up, and you’ll be able to enjoy a Kyoto-like elegant and relaxed atmosphere.

The restaurant offers a variety of dishes a la carte using fresh ingredients from various areas around Kyoto Prefecture. For example, appetizers using vegetables from the Kyotango area, grilled Tamba red chicken, and desserts using Kyoto-grown fruits. FORTUNE GARDEN KYOTO also offers natural wines and Fortune Garden’s original craft beer. Enjoy it alongside an a la carte menu of more than 20 dishes, or a main course of  steaks grilled over charcoal!

Address386-2 Ichinofunairichō Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-092
Access2 min. walk from the Kyoto City Subway “Kyoto Shiyakusho Mae” Train Station
HoursFor regular hours, take a look at their official website or Instagram page.

5. A Rooftop Beer Garden in Gion

From downtown Kyoto, cross the Kamogawa River and make your way towards the Gion neighborhood. As you cross the bridge, you’ll notice the large kabuki dance theater, Minami-za, one of the oldest theaters in Japan with a history of over 400 years. If you’re lucky enough to be in Kyoto when there is a kabuki dance performance, we recommend making it a part of your Kyoto itinerary! But today, as we’re recommending local places to drink and enjoy the nightlife in Kyoto, we’d like to recommend the restaurant across the street from the Minami-za Theater.

Photo ©︎ レストラン菊水

Restaurant Kikusui is a Western-style restaurant housed in a retro-style building that is designated as a National Registered Cultural Property. Every year, Restaurant Kikusui holds a rooftop beer garden in the summer, which showcases amazing views of the Kamogawa River and the Minamiza Theater. Instead of an average bar in Kyoto, here, you’ll be able to enjoy a 2-hour all-you-can-drink menu alongside yakiniku (grilled meats), teppan-yaki (grilled on a hot plate), and more!

As there is a special set menu for junior high school students and younger, Restaurant Kikusui is a great option for families traveling with children, too.

 Restaurant Kikusui
Address Shijo Ohashicho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 〒605-0076 (Located on the corner)
Access1 min. walk from the Keihan Line “Gion Shijo” Train Station
2 min. walk from the Hankyu Line “Shijo Kawaramachi” Train Station
HoursThe rooftop beer garden is typically available between early May ~ early October. Please confirm their official website for the latest information.
Things to Note

Beer Garden Hours: 16:30 ~ 22:30

If you are a guest of MACHIYA INNS & HOTELS, please feel free to ask our staff for reservation assistance.

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