As evening dawns in Kyoto and the temples close their doors, the city takes on a whole different character. While you might spend the daylight hours finding your Zen, the nights should be spent finding your new favorite drinking den!
There’s no shortage of places to choose from, but if you want an authentic local experience, you have to head for an izakaya. These Japanese-style gastropubs are some of the best places to eat in Kyoto, with sake flowing and the nighttime atmosphere of Kyoto in the air.
The dishes range from the standard (potato salad and fried chicken) to the… not-so-standard (horse sashimi, anyone?), so you’re guaranteed to find something to both satisfy and challenge your palate.
But be warned: although Kyoto has a vibrant nightlife scene, you might find yourself missing out if you don’t go in with a plan! Rather than panicking and diving into the nearest Irish pub, take a look through our list of the best izakaya in Kyoto to make sure you get a full hit of genuine local culture.
Here are ten of the best izakaya in Kyoto, from casual tachinomiya (standing bars) to historic establishments.
Situated in the north of Kyoto, Shinme is an izakaya is a longstanding local institution, and has been since as far back as 1936! In that year, Shinme began as a sake shop, and the traditional brewery-like exterior hints at its 8 decades of heritage in the business of serving tasty alcoholic drinks.
It’s now in the hands of a third generation owner, who runs the place alongside his grandmother (who was there at the very beginning). Together they serve up menu of izakaya classics like sashimi, roast beef, and fried scallops with lemon juice.
Don’t worry about having to mess around with sketchy Google translations when navigating your options, because they have an English menu for those who need it. But be sure to book ahead — Shinme is incredibly popular among locals, and there’s no shortage of visitors clamoring for a spot.
This is a great Kyoto izakaya to go to for an authentic, early-evening Japanese gastropub meal, with a great range of drinks to satisfy everyone in your group — from adventurous drinkers to the play-it-safe crowd.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/qUC2iFWoGzvjDCFX6
Average Spend: ¥8,000 - 9,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 5-9:30pm
The historic Fushimi sake district in south Kyoto is a must-visit for anyone even remotely interested in Japanese alcohol. Over 40 breweries operate there to this day, owing to the fantastically soft spring water which is perfect for brewing.
This izakaya perfectly embodies the spirit of the area, by stocking bottles from no less than 18 of its brewery neighbors. With around 120 distinct varieties on offer at any one time, Fushimi Sakagura Koji is pretty much an unbeatable place for getting to grips with the local alcohol scene.
For a little over 2,000 yen you can get a box with small sampling glasses from all 18 breweries! It’s like a set course meal, with each glass laid out in the order you should drink them (according to the house experts).
You won’t have to dive in on an empty stomach. Here you have the choice of all sorts of different food stations around the complex. There a charcoal grilling counter, a sushi counter, a pizza area, and many more.
The trip down here from central Kyoto is about 20 minutes by train. Fushimi Sakagura Koji is open all day until until 11pm, giving plenty of time to catch a return train after kicking-out time.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/aptLUbjSKiYLCD3F6
Average Spend: ¥5,000 - 5,999
Opening Hours: Wed-Mon 11:30am-11pm
Want to learn about sake in depth? Book the Kyoto Sake Brewery Tour in Fushimi Sake District!
Largely off the tourist radar, Akagakiya is an izakaya for those who want the real local experience. They’ve been around since 1934, and have resisted the temptation to go overly commercial or polished, despite Kyoto’s status as a world tourist destination. That being said, they do offer an English menu for those tourists who do happen to stumble upon their restaurant.
If you’re on the lookout for it, Akagakiya is hard to miss, on account of the neon kanji sign. Step inside and you’ll be steeped in a genuine local atmosphere — a place without pretension, clearly meant as a place for regulars to come and unwind after a long day.
As for the food, you’ll find good, honest izakaya fare in abundance. Dishes like sashimi, oden, and fried chicken are some of the main staples. Their signatures include a vinegared fresh mackerel dish called akagakiya, and kumiage yuba — a Kyoto specialty made with soy milk skin. Find out more about authentic Kyoto dishes to try in our article, What to Eat in Kyoto.
Admittedly, this is not the place for you if you feel intimidated being the only foreigner. If you’re looking for the real deal experience, however, it’s hard to find a more genuine independent local izakaya in Kyoto than Akagakiya.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/AHVpeE7sPJR65cs6A
Average Spend: ¥6,000 - 7,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 5-11pm
Being at the center of some of the best farmland in Japan, Kyoto has long been famous for high-quality vegetables. Onikai is an izakaya which specializes in celebrating this delicious local produce through seasonal dishes.
It’s a modern, wood-decorated space with vegetables stacked high all along the long counter in a rustic rainbow of color! These are transformed into delicious dishes like salads and tempura. The buttery corn tempura is a must-try!
As you might imagine, the veggie fixation means that this Kyoto bar is very vegetarian-friendly, however not everything on the menu is vegetarian. Similarly, vegan diners will be fine with a good few of the dishes, but should exercise some caution when ordering.
Onikai may close at 10pm, but it’s perfectly situated right by Pontocho Alley — Kyoto’s famous lane filled with a myriad of small bars and eateries — so if you don’t feel like calling it a night, you only have a short stroll (or stumble) to your next stop.
Google Maps: https://g.page/onikai?share
Average Spend: ¥3,000 - 3,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 5-10pm
Explore the nearby Pontocho Alley with a local guide! Join the Evening in Pontocho Food Tour for a whirlwind food adventure including 4 food stops.
Some of the dishes at this izakaya — like the tempura and grilled octopus — would give the top traditional chefs of the city a run for their money in terms of taste and presentation. Kirakutei is a favorite among locals for this reason, and for the fact that they maintain a relaxed and laidback atmosphere.
It’s easily accessible, right by the southwest corner of the Imperial Palace Park, and well situated for everyone from off-the-clock salarymen to students from the local university. Expect classic izakaya fare like fried chicken, oden, and yakitori.
You’ll find every kind of Japanese drink you could hope for on offer too: local sake, Japanese beers, a big selection of highballs (a salaryman favorite), and umeshu plum wine of several varieties including honey and green tea. Make sure to read up about the must-try beverages in Japan in our blog post about popular Japanese drinks.
If you’re looking for a spot to sample the classic izakaya atmosphere at a decent price (while also avoiding the touristy chains), Kirakutei is a solid bet. The traditional Japanese drinking culture is on show here, in top form.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/cukHrrjB3m26xdVYA
Average Spend: ¥4,000 - 4,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30am-2pm then 5pm-2am
The atmospheric Gion district is the perfect place to soak up some authentic Kyoto nightlife. This has been the refined center of entertainment in the city for centuries, and retains much of its old townhouse buildings.
Inside one such building is Gion Yuki — an izakaya owned by the Okamura Honke Brewery. As you would expect, that means that the best premium bottles of sake from their stores make their way to the tables here, and at fantastic prices since you’re getting it direct from the producer.
The ordering system might seem little intimidating at first, with handwritten paper menu slips hanging above the open kitchen counter (all in Japanese, of course). But there’s plenty of English support available here from both the table menu and the staff. For that reason, you will see tourists here, but also plenty of locals!
Grab a couple of glasses of sake, tuck into some delicious dishes — like delicious octopus and prawn tempura — and soak in the atmosphere at one of the most authentic-yet-accessible izakaya in Kyoto.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/mAmrHwWnBWzyemkg8
Average Spend: ¥5,000 - 5,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 5-10pm, Sat 5pm-midnight
When you hear the words "deep fried Japanese food" you probably think of tempura, but don’t overlook its delicious cousin kushiage! These deep fried skewers are coated in breadcrumbs rather than batter, and are one of the most popular Japanese street foods.
This izakaya is the perfect place to try kushiage. Kushihachi has several locations around Kyoto, but this one is the most centrally located — right by Nishiki Market in Kyoto’s downtown area. They have an amazing menu packed with about 60 different skewer varieties for only 60 yen each, and a further 30 options at 90 yen!
Kushihachi's sushi and small plate menus are equally impressive, but it’s hard to imagine a better pairing for a nice cold glass of beer than a plate of meat and vegetable skewers. Although they open until 10:00 pm, last orders for drinks is around an hour before then, so be sure to arrive in early-to-mid evening so you can make the most of your time here.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/ScPTTEnx33v6ybPQ8
Average Spend: ¥4,000 - 4,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 4-10pm
Manzara is a local izakaya brand which specializes in renovating old homes into some of the best bars in Kyoto. You’ll find around half a dozen around the city, but this one stands out for its lovely river views and patio balcony space in spring and summer.
If you walk down the Kamo River in the hotter months, you’ll see stilted balcony areas like these running down the length of it, many of them belonging to high-end restaurants. Manzara Donguribashi doesn’t demand quite as high a price tag as those places, making it the perfect spot to enjoy some drinks with a view.
In keeping with the Manzara spirit of renovating old homes, the menu features many obanzai dishes: the home-cooking cuisine of Kyoto. The grilled sweetfish is one to look out for in summer. Alongside the best of Kyoto home-cooking, you can also find a range of classic izakaya favorites too.
Enjoy them along with some sake, basking in the late evening heat of summer, and looking out over the river below. If that doesn’t sound like bliss, then what does?
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/oxJeDhoX7rpkrdWK7
Average Spend: ¥4,000 - 4,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 5-11:30pm
Located near Karasuma Oike Station, Apollo PLUS is a great meeting spot, and the best izakaya in Kyoto to visit to enjoy fun conversation in a lively but dignified atmosphere. Expect a slightly more mature crowd and slightly higher prices to match.
They have all kinds of seating for any size of group — table seats, cosy little box booths, counter seats, and private rooms.
Much like the atmosphere, the food is classic izakaya nosh with an extra sprinkling of sophistication. This means seasonal delicacies that you’d usually expect to find in kaiseki restaurants, like fugu pufferfish and matsutake mushroom rice.
You can also expect more standard izakaya fare like charcoal-grilled beef steak, excellent gyoza dumplings, and some Western fusion dishes like pasta with pollock roe. They get their fresh ingredients delivered every day, and source the vegetables direct from farmers in Kamigamo.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/mw7jYgyTYKjSfMtL8
Average Spend: ¥5,000 - 5,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 5pm-midnight
If you’re fishing for a chance to mingle with locals, then maybe you want to avoid the standard table izakaya. Sure, the counter seats offer a chance to chat with the staff or your neighbors, but for an even more social atmosphere, try a tachinomi.
These are the standing bars of Japan, where instead of being shown to a seat, you’ll eat on your feet while standing at a counter or table. These bars are usually cheaper than their seated counterparts.
This is definitely true at Suiba Shijo Karawamachiten, where they also don’t skimp on quality. The classic izakaya food is all on offer here, like fried chicken and sashimi. If you want something a little more unique, go for the smoked and lightly-fried stingray fin, or the rolled omelet with mentaiko sauce and fish roe.
The bar is conveniently located down small lane in downtown Kyoto, so it’s easy to access. If you’re pushed for time, consider making a reservation to avoid waiting when you arrive. Although, even if you do have to wait for a spot to open up, it’ll likely do so quite quickly, as standing bars tend to have a shorter turnover time.
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/CjHRtVXAfezLohCV6
Average Spend: ¥1,000 - 1,999
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat/Sun 3pm-midnight
Whether you want to sit all night and sample all the sake brands under the sun, or just spend an hour grabbing a beer with some Kyoto cuisine, this list of the best Kyoto izakaya has a place for you. An evening spent at one of these places is a memorable experience in itself, giving you the chance to discover some new favorite dishes and drinks, wrapped up in the nighttime atmosphere of Japan’s city of culture.
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