A Taste of Tranquility: Exploring Kyoto’s Charming Cafés and Coffee Shops

Renowned for its temples, gardens, and historic sites, Kyoto also boasts a thriving café culture. But it’s not all traditional tea ceremony here: the city is home to a variety of specialty coffee shops, quirky café nooks, and shops with modern takes on Japanese sweets.

Type of Cafés You’ll Find in Kyoto

If you open up Google Maps in Kyoto and search for “cafés” or “coffee shops” you’ll quickly find there are a huge number, especially in Kyoto’s bustling downtown Shijo and Sanjo areas. But it might be helpful to know a few distinctions between types of café you’ll find in Kyoto to help you narrow down your search.


Kissaten are actually a distinct type of business with an accompanying “kissa” business permit, which is different to the one used by cafés, which allows them to serve alcohol.  These businesses developed during the early 20th century as a quiet place to drink coffee and have a small meal, and you’ll know them when you see them, as they have a distinctly retro feel.

As Japan’s take on an old-style European coffee shop, Kissaten often feature dark, wooden interiors and may feature European-style china and antique-style decor. Many allow smoking, although rules about smoking indoors have been evolving rapidly in major cities like Kyoto. As you might imagine, Kissaten are not terribly popular with younger patrons, and tend to be favored by the older generations. As a very Japanese phenomenon, though, you might just want to stop by for a cup of joe, an egg sandwich, and of course, the ambiance!

Modern Cafés & Coffee Shops

These come in all shapes and sizes, and include coffee specialty shops and more food and sweets-oriented cafés in unusual locations, like old machiya homes or bookshops.

Chain Coffee Shops

It goes without saying that you can certainly find Starbucks and other big coffee brands like Tully’s or Japan’s own Doutor. These are great for a sense of familiarity and also make for great rest stops in a day of sightseeing. Some Starbucks locations have even made a remarkable effort to blend into the Kyoto background, like their Ninenzaka location, which is built into a traditional Kyoto machiya home!

The Kyoto Karasuma Rokkaku location even features a beautiful view of Rokkaku-do Temple.

Now, on to the cafés!

For Japanese Tea and Traditional Sweets and Snacks

In Kyoto, traditional tea houses are not just places to enjoy matcha and wagashi (Japanese sweets); many also offer coffee and light snacks, making them a perfect blend of old and new Kyoto culture. One such tea house is Saryo Tsujiri, located near the iconic Kiyomizu-dera Temple (they also have a location in Kyoto Station). Here, you can savor a cup of matcha or try their signature matcha latte, accompanied by traditional sweets made with high-quality matcha.

Modern Cafés with Historic Charm

Kyoto’s historic machiya townhouses and buildings provide the perfect setting for modern cafés with historic charm. café Bibliotic Hello! is a prime example, located in a renovated machiya in the Kawaramachi area. This café boasts a relaxing atmosphere, with shelves of books and a tranquil garden where you can enjoy your coffee. Another charming machiya-based café is cafe marble Bukkoji, which offers not only coffee and tea, but homemade cakes and quiches for their delicious lunch plates.

Specialty Coffee Shops for Connoisseurs

For those seeking a truly exceptional coffee experience, Kyoto’s specialty coffee shops are a must-visit. Weekenders Coffee (in Gojo and Shijo areas) is a popular choice, known for its dedication to quality and unique brewing methods. The café’s knowledgeable baristas will guide you through their selection of beans and brewing techniques, ensuring a memorable coffee experience. Another standout is % Arabica, which has locations in Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Fujii Daimaru department store. This sleek coffee shop offers stunning views of the historic streets and serves expertly brewed coffee using a variety of brewing methods.

Of course, one other specialty that Kyoto offers is its beautiful scenic outdoors. If you’re in Arashiyama or downtown Kyoto, grabbing a cup of coffee to go and taking a stroll or having a seat by the riverside are a favorite pastime for locals.

Kyoto’s café scene offers a delightful blend of tradition and innovation, catering to a wide range of tastes and preferences. Whether you’re sipping matcha in a traditional tea house or enjoying a meticulously brewed cup of coffee in a modern café, Kyoto’s café culture is sure to leave you with a lasting impression. Next time you find yourself in Kyoto, take a moment to explore its charming cafés and coffee shops—you never know what delightful experience awaits you around the corner.

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