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Kyoto Gay Travel

Discover Kyoto gay travel with the best nightlife spots, top hotels, restaurants & awesome things to do.

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The Gay Travel Experience: Kyoto, Japan

With some of the most photographed sites in Japan, Kyoto has limitless options for travelers seeking tranquility. But, even in peaceful Kyoto, there still happens to be some LGBT action! The town surely has some rainbow flair.

kyoto gay travel
kyoto gay travel
kyoto travel

Most importantly, Kyoto is certainly not an off-the-beaten-path destination. While you won’t find too many Americans or even Europeans in Kyoto, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of tourists. Visitors from all over Asia crowd the popular sites, primarily from China.

kyoto travel

I always felt safe and comfortable traveling through Japan as a gay guy. While exploring Tokyo, I was with my boyfriend Michael. We did not have any negative interactions concerning being gay.

kyoto gay experience
sign in kyoto train
sign in kyoto train

Although it is not common for anyone to show public affection in Japan, the casual kiss on the cheek or short hand hold didn’t turn any heads.

kyoto gay experience

In this Kyoto gay travel guide, I’ll let you know which sites are most crowded, which temples to visit, where to find the gay bars and which places you should visit despite the crowds.

Gay Kyoto: Where to Stay

Where is best place to stay in Kyoto? Anywhere that gives you great access to public transport! Unless you plan on taking a cab to every site you visit, quick access to several Metro stops is ideal.

where to stay in Kyoto
22 pieces hotel
where to stay in Kyoto

The most convenient place to stay in Kyoto is within a 5 to 10-minute walk to the Kyoto main train station. As is the case in Europe, we normally associate areas around train stations to be the more run-down areas of town. Here in Kyoto, this is not the case. Staying near the main Kyoto train station is ideal.

22 pieces hotel

I stayed at 22 Pieces Hotel with my boyfriend Michael. 22 Pieces is modern, clean and gets all the basics just right. This hotel was a perfect and cozy landing pad for us to rest our heads when we weren’t out exploring Kyoto.

Kyoto gay hotel

Dozens of beautiful hotels around Kyoto Main Station are quite fairly priced. Most tourists seek accommodations in this area too, since you can walk to your hotel upon arriving to the train station.

Kyoto gay hotel

Kyoto Experiences for the Gay Traveler

Japanese grocery stores have tons of interesting products. My first night in Kyoto, I grabbed some groceries with Michael. This normally mundane task quickly became a fun shopping spree when we saw all the things we wanted to try.
bar in Kyoto
Geisha area
Kyoto gay hotel

Have some fun scanning grocery store labels using the Google Live Translate App to see what some of the strange looking products actually are! The things I saw in the Japanese grocery store were very different from what you’d find in Southeast Asia or Europe.

gin & tonic bar Japan

Michael and I stopped at The Roots of All Evil for some gin-based cocktails. The cocktails here were amazing. I was however just a bit disappointed that the bar is in a food court-type area.

kyoto distillery liquor product

While we were there, I noticed that a few of the gin bottles in front of us said they were produced at Kyoto distillery.

bar in Kyoto
gin & tonic bar Japan

Since it was too late for us to book a tour, I didn’t visit. But I’d definitely check out the Kyoto Distillery Website to arrange a tour.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is physically stunning. The enormous shoots of bamboo are incredible. However, I must say that the forest trail is so overrun with tourists that it’s difficult to enjoy. 

In my opinion, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of many world attractions that suffers over-tourism, fueled by Instagram and the presence of social media. 

famous Bamboo forest
arashiyama bamboo forest

Everyone wants to show that they’ve visited a cool place. I’m no exception. I simply wish that these places could at least be enjoyed with more respect. But, all was not lost!

famous Bamboo forest
The positive side of this is that the trails just beyond the bamboo forest are magnificent, and even better, quiet. Walking down to the Katsura River with Michael and sitting in the rain is without a doubt my favorite memory of Kyoto.
arashiyama bamboo forest
kyoto foliage

To see the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest without the crowds, prepare to wake up very early! Between 5:00 am and 7:00 am is generally the quietest time at the forest.

kyoto foliage

If you arrive as the sun rises, you may just get that perfect shot of the trails with no tourists in the background.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Fushimi Inari-Taisha is huge! Before visiting, I had no idea that it takes about two hours to reach the actual peak. I did not climb to anywhere near the top, but I certainly enjoyed the sea of iconic, orange gate-like structures along the pathways.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha night
Fushimi Inari-Taisha night
orange Japanese temple structure

Michael and I visited Fushimi Inari-Taisha at night. Since this shrine is so popular with all tourists, we figured we could have a more authentic and relaxing experience by going a couple of hours after dinner. I’m glad we chose this time because we only saw a couple of people. I recommend you do the same!

orange Japanese temple structure
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is free to enter. It is open 24 hours a day, so you can visit as early as you like. Meander the paths as the sun rises or explore under the cloak of darkness.

Kyoto's Geisha District

You can’t leave Kyoto without at least a quick walk through Gion, which is the Geisha District.

Geisha area

This area of town is very tranquil. The pathways are beautiful and you will pass plenty of traditionally dressed men and women walking about. There tends to be many Geishas walking around in the late afternoon.

Kyoto Best Temples & Castles

I visited the To-ji temple on my first night in Kyoto. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and a designated Japan National Treasure. I went after sundown per the recommendation of my hotel concierge. The landscape was incredibly lit, with upward facing lamps bringing out the vivid fall foliage color.

Golden Pavillion
The To-ji temple complex has several buildings with incredible ancient sculptures to view. These are also open after sunset, when you can see the sculpture’s gold foil glisten in the dim lighting. To-ji wasn’t too crowded at this time in the evening, either.
Golden Pavillion
Kyoto gay traveler

Nijo Castle was another famous Kyoto attraction I visited. The highlight of the Nijo Castle was definitely the flowers and gardens surrounding the actual buildings. I visited in November, but the gardens will certainly be more colorful in the spring.

Kyoto gay traveler

You are able to walk through the many rooms of the palace. We did this, but it was not so thrilling. The interior of the palace was not nearly as intricate as the exterior. The castle fortifications though, are quite impressive. Spend a few moments taking in the beauty of these massive walls.

flower garden

The Kinkaku-ji, known as the Golden Pavillion, is one of the most popular and famous temples to see in Kyoto. Stunning in its own way, it’s hard to decide if The Kinkaku-ji Temple is more beautiful than other temples!

The landscape surrounding this wonderful structure is breathtaking. I’m so glad I visited on a clear, sunny day. Catching the gleaming temple roof under a blue sky was awesome.

Japanese Palace
Japanese Palace
flower garden

Given the Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the most famous, expect quite a raucous tourist crowd. Photos of the temple all appear peaceful, but the experience is less so. There will definitely be herds of selfie-stick-wielding tourists!

Kyoto Restaurants

My most memorable meal in Kyoto was at Guilo Guilo Hitoshina, which my partner Michael found. The restaurant is small and offers a traditional Japanese set-dinner menu. 

I had been stuffing myself full at every meal, so it was wonderful to have various smaller portions spaced out.

Aside from being portioned well, the flavors were delicious and their hot sake was just what we needed after walking outside in the cool air all evening.

kyoto restaurant
kyoto restaurant
Japanese restaurant

I often ate at typical ramen restaurants in between visits to temples or on my way to the hotel to rest. These places are great. They are authentic, delicious and do the job. 

My favorite part is getting the meal ticket after selecting my food from a machine that has photos of all the meals. You grab this ticket and bring it the counter. Simple!

Japanese restaurant

Make sure not to miss the Japanese dinner time window if you’re a late-eater. After 9:00 PM, many restaurants will quickly close up shop as soon as their customers have finished.

If you end up looking for dinner after 10 PM or so, you may end up at a convenience store! This is of course a general rule. Some places could be open later.

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Walk Through Kamiyacho & Nabeyacho

These two small districts are definitely the most quaint and authentic slices of Kyoto. Michael and I walked down a street called Kiyamachi-dori in the Nabeyacho area, perusing some bars and restaurants.

Japanese lanterns outside

We noticed some cozy-looking establishments on the second floors of the low rise building across the street. Their windows faced the shallow Kamo River that passes through this area. We wanted to get up into one of those cute hangouts!

Once you cross the pedestrian bridge over the river, you enter the Kamiyacho area. Through this stretch of a few blocks is a fun alleyway where you will surely see some locals enjoying their evening.
Japanese lanterns outside
Milk Hall Kyoto

Michael and I found an amazing Japanese bar in this alley called Milk Hall. It’s not a place you will find on google. We noticed Milk Hall’s elegant interior through their window from across the street.

Milk Hall Kyoto

Milk Hall is a small bar run by a man with his wife. It was the most authentic Japanese experience of my entire trip to Japan. As we walked in, a group of Japanese men who were eating some soup welcomed us and cleared their things off a nearby couch. 

The owner made conversation with us and made us feel completely at home. We eventually got to it in that cozy set of chairs we saw from the street below.

Kyoto Gay Bars

There are various gay bars in Kyoto, most of which are small, intimate establishments. Kyoto gay bars have a more personal vibe than any gay bar I had ever seen before. The experience is akin to spending time in someone else’s living room with a few acquaintances.

kyoto gay travel
kyoto gay travel
Kyoto gay bar

If there are not enough people are inside, a solo traveler may feel a bit intimidated. Try not to worry about this. Everyone in these small Kyoto bars is friendly.

Kyoto gay bar

You simply must enter with the expectation that you are not going to find go-go dancers hanging upside down from poles while circuit music blasts. It’s not that kind of vibe!

Apple is one of the official Kyoto gay bars. The establishment is not what you would imagine a typical gay bar to be like. I would describe the Apple Kyoto gay bar as more of a private lounge. It’s not a place where large groups congregate.

visiting kyoto gay bar
visiting kyoto gay bar
kyoto gay nightlife

Instead, Apple is a bar or you can have a drink by yourself, listen to some music and chat with the friendliest bartender you will ever meet.

Apple is on the third floor of a building near the Kamiyacho district. It felt a bit awkward approaching the entrance since there was no one walking through the hallway. 

kyoto gay nightlife

Michael and I popped our heads in and were met with stares of three friendly men who were enjoying their evening. 

We stared at one another and said “well, why not?” Although Apple was not the experience I expected, I’m very glad I went.

LGBT nightclub

Kyoto Gay Clubs

Michael and I warmed up with a drink at Pop Kyoto while exploring the nearby area. While sitting at a table in this bar, we saw too extravagantly dressed Japanese drag queens run toward us from the sidewalk outside, through the bar and into a back door.

kyoto gay club
LGBT nightclub
kyoto gay club

We looked at each other with surprise and then discovered that the club downstairs has a big gay clientele, although it’s not officially a Kyoto gay club. This underground Kyoto party spot is called World Kyoto.

The scene is mixed and I imagine the relative percentage of gay guys there fluctuates.

cocktail bar

Kyoto Gay Travel Tips

Traveling to Kyoto from Tokyo? Prepare for an expensive ride! The Shinkansen super-fast train is not cheap, so account for these tickets in your travel budget.
Roots Cocktail lounge
Roots Cocktail lounge
cocktail bar

I suggest comparing airlines with Skyscanner while browsing flights to Japan. They have an awesome interface and make it super easy to optimize your route. Plus, they offer flexible ticket options in light of the pandemic.

Kyoto Tourist Crowds

I’ll tell you about the tourist crowds only to temper your expectation of Kyoto. The sites in this serene Japanese town are indeed beautiful. 

Many, however, are not as peaceful in person as advertisements or Instagram make them seem. Some attractions are overloaded with screaming tourists taking selfies.

gardens
gardens
kyoto overtourism at bamboo forest
I personally think such over-tourism is unfortunate. However, there is only so much one can do about it. To avoid the crowds in Kyoto, you must either visit early in the morning, or after sunset.
kyoto overtourism at bamboo forest
You must plan an early visit to places like the Bamboo Forest that close in the late afternoon. You can visit other sites that are open around the clock, like the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, during the night.

Using Kyoto Public Buses

Reaching tourist attractions in Kyoto is often much easier by bus. Google Maps is not so exact regarding where transit actually stops, so remembering a few tips about Kyoto buses will save you some time and stress.

Kyoto Main station

In my experience, Google Maps often directed me to the center of an intersection in order to catch a bus. The buses however do not stop within the area of intersection. They stop a few hundred feet before/after the intersection at a bus shelter.

Kyoto Main station
Kyoto Tower
Kyoto Tower
A letter is assigned to each bus shelter in a specific intersection . If there is only one bus route that stops there, you may only find bus shelters A and B. When more lines stop, you may find shelters A through F.
gay Japan
To find where to go, check any bus shelter map for the bus destination matching what Google Maps displays. The bus line direction will be under a specific bus shelter letter. Go toward this bus shelter.
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Next, check out wolfyy’s Tokyo Gay Travel Guide. You can’t miss the gay nightlife in the Japanese capital.

Need more ideas for gay vacations? Explore wolfyy’s full list of gay travel destinations.

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