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Getting to Kyoto

By shinkansen
  • Direct
  • 2.5 h
  • ¥ around 14,000
  • multiple trains per hour
Covered by: Japan Rail Pass

Tokyo and Kyoto are connected with each other by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. Nozomi trains require about 140 minutes to reach Kyoto from Tokyo, Hikari trains about 160 minutes and Kodama trains about four hours.

The regular one way fare from Tokyo to Kyoto is 13,320 yen for a non-reserved seat or around 14,000 yen for a reserved seat. A 7-day Japan Rail Pass costs about the same as regular round trip tickets. The Japan Rail Pass is valid on Hikari and Kodama trains, but not on Nozomi trains.

Only available to foreign passport holders, the "Shinkansen Round Trip Package" provides a round trip within seven calendar days by non-reserved seat on any train between Tokyo and Kyoto for only 21,500 yen. The ticket can be purchased at JR Tokai Tours travel agencies.

With the "Puratto Kodama Economy Plan", you can travel between Tokyo and Kyoto by reserved seat on a Kodama train for only 10,500 yen, but the plan has to be purchased at least one day in advance from JR Tokai Tours travel agencies.

The Tokyo-Osaka Hokuriku Arch Pass is a rail pass that allows holders to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto via Kanazawa, using the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It is not the fastest way to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto, but it allows pass holders to visit the less-explored Hokuriku Region along the way. At 24,440 yen for seven consecutive days, the pass is cheaper than a 7-day Japan Rail Pass.

By highway bus
  • Direct
  • 7-8 h
  • ¥ 3,500 - 10,000
  • multiple daytime and overnight connections per day

The one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto by highway bus takes about 7-8 hours. There are daytime and overnight buses. Fierce competition on the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka route has produced a wide variety of comfort levels (from discount to super premium buses) and an abundance of low priced offers.

Typical one way fares for discount buses, such as Willer Express, start from around 3500 yen; while premium buses charge up to 10,000 yen. If used effectively, the Japan Bus Pass can reduce the cost for the bus trip to around 3000 yen. Online reservations can be made through Willer and Japan Bus Online.

By air
  • 2-3 transfers
  • 3-4 h
  • ¥ 9,000 - 23,000
  • multiple flights per day

The closest airport to Kyoto is Osaka's Itami Airport, about one hour by bus from central Kyoto (more details). Most flights connect Itami Airport with Tokyo's Haneda Airport, with just a few serving Tokyo's Narita Airport. Flight duration is one hour. The regular one way fare is around 23,000 yen, but discount tickets are usually available for around 9,000 to 16,000 yen.

By car
  • 5-6 h
  • ¥ around 10,000 (expressway tolls)

Driving between Tokyo and Kyoto via the Tomei and Meishin Expressways takes about five to six hours without breaks and traffic jams. The expressway toll is around 10,000 yen one way.

By local trains
  • 4 transfers
  • 9 h
  • ¥ 2,410 - 8,210

By local trains, the one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about nine hours and typically involves about four transfers of trains. The regular fare is a relatively expensive 8360 yen, however, with a Seishun 18 Kippu you could theoretically do the trip for as little as 2410 yen.

Above fees and schedules are subject to change. Be sure to check current yen exchange rates.

Getting around

Kyoto features a rectangular street system. Unlike the streets in other Japanese cities, most of central Kyoto's streets are named. The main streets running from east to west are numbered in ascending order from north to south, and are about 500 meters apart from each other, with several smaller streets in between. For example, Shijo means "4th Avenue" and Nijo means "2nd Avenue".

Kyoto's city center with the highest concentration of dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities, is located around the junction of Shijo-dori (4th Avenue) and Kawaramachi-dori (Kawaramachi Street). JR Kyoto Station is located south of the city center at the height of Hachijo-dori (8th Avenue).

The most prominent north-south street is Karasuma-dori (Karasuma Street), which runs from Kyoto Station via the city center to Kyoto Imperial Palace. Another north-south axis is Kamo River, about one kilometer east of Karasuma-dori.

Kyoto has a rather inadequately developed public transportation system for a city of its size, consisting of two subway lines, a dense bus network and several railway companies, whose lines are not always conveniently connected with each other. Taxis and bicycles can be worthwhile alternatives.

The recommended way to get around Kyoto by public transportation is to use an IC card, such as Icoca, which is accepted on virtually all trains and buses in the city. Alternatively, travelers intending to use buses or subways extensively, should consider one of the 1-day passes available. See the ticket section below for more details.

Below is a simplified map of the railway and subway lines of Kyoto:

Bus

Few of Kyoto's tourist attractions are located close to subway or train stations. Instead, Kyoto has a dense bus network with direct bus lines from Kyoto Station and/or the city center around Shijo-dori (4th Avenue) and Kawaramachi-dori (Kawaramachi Street) to most major sights.

Kyoto is served by multiple bus companies. For central Kyoto, the green Kyoto City Bus buses are most numerous and useful. The red buses by Kyoto Bus are second most prominent and tend to be convenient to access sights in more outlying areas of the city.

The tourist offices provide a useful English network map for the Kyoto City Buses, which makes it quite easy for foreign visitors to access tourist attractions by bus. Despite the good map and English displays and announcements, however, getting off at the correct bus stop can still be stressful, especially in crowded buses.

Since buses are small and operate surprisingly infrequently even on some major routes, buses to major tourist sights can often get crowded, especially on weekends and during holidays. In addition, much time can be lost when buses get stuck or only proceed slowly in the busy street traffic. Consequently, it is recommended to use subways and trains as much as possible, and use buses only for medium and short distances, for example, from the closest subway station to the destination.

Most buses are entered through the back door and left through the front door. The fare has to be paid when leaving the bus. Inside much of central Kyoto, there is a flat rate of 230 yen per ride. Outside the flat fare zone, the fare increases with the distance. Click here for more information on riding buses.

Subway

There are two subway lines in Kyoto, the Karasuma Line which runs from south to north along Karasuma-dori (Karasuma Street) and stops at JR Kyoto Station, and the newer Tozai Line which runs from east to west and crosses the Karasuma Line at the intersection of Karasuma-dori and Oike-dori.

Japan Railways

All JR lines including the Tokaido Shinkansen pass through or commence at JR Kyoto Station. JR trains are a good option for accessing the Arashiyama area (Sagano Line) and some attractions in southern Kyoto along the JR Nara Line, e.g. Fushimi Inari Shrine and Byodoin in Uji.

Other Railways

  • Hankyu Railway connects Kyoto with Osaka. The line initially runs below Shijo Avenue from Kawaramachi westwards in direction of Osaka. It is a good option for accessing the area around Katsura Rikyu, from where a branch line also connects to Arashiyama.
  • Keifuku Railway (also known as Randen) operates two tram like train lines in northwestern Kyoto. For train lovers, a ride on these trains is a small attraction by itself. The lines can be an option for accessing Arashiyama and the area around Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
  • Keihan Railway's main line runs next and parallel to Kamo River, but unfortunately does not connect to Kyoto Station. The line continues to Osaka and is an alternative to the JR Nara Line to access some of the attractions in southern Kyoto.
  • Eizan Railway operates two train lines from where the Keihan Line ends, Demachi Yanagi Station in northern Kyoto. One line leads to Kurama, while the other runs to the base of Hieizan.
  • Kintetsu Railway connects Kyoto Station to Nara. Note that some trains on the Karasuma Subway Line continue to run on the Kintetsu Nara Line, and the other way around.

By sightseeing bus

The Sky Hop Bus is an expensive but convenient way to visit Kyoto's most famous sightseeing spots. Double-decker buses with an open-air second floor run counterclockwise every 30 minutes from Kyoto Station in a large circle around the city, stopping near major tourist sites along the way, including Kiyomizudera, Heian Shrine, the Imperial Palace, Kinkakuji and Nijo Castle. A 24-hour pass costs 3600 yen while a 48-hour pass costs 6100 yen.

Taxis

Kyoto is probably the Japanese city with the highest concentration of taxis. Especially in the city center, taxis are found everywhere. Taxis can not only be a more comfortable, but also an economical alternative to buses on short to medium distances for groups of three or more people.

Most taxis accommodate up to four passengers (not including the driver), while larger vehicles are able to accommodate an additional fifth passenger. The rate starts around 650 yen for the first two kilometers and increases by 80 yen for every additional 300-400 meters traveled.

Bicycles

Kyoto City's simple layout and flat terrain make it easy and convenient to explore by bicycle. Numerous bicycle rental outlets can be found around the city, especially around major stations, such as Kyoto Station, or in popular biking areas like Arashiyama. Typical rental prices are around 1000-1500 yen per day for basic bicycles and around 1700-2000 yen for electric assist bicycles. Some hotels and hostels may also provide their guests with bicycles for a small fee or for free.

Kyoto is generally a bicycle friendly city with relatively easily navigable roads and a handful of cycling routes, most notably along Kamo River. Designated bicycle parking is often freely available around popular sightseeing spots. The situation is a little bit more challenging in the city center due to congested roads, crowded sidewalks and a lack of designated parking areas. Also, distances to some of the more outlying sightseeing spots should not be underestimated. For example, it is about eight kilometers (typically a 45-75 minute ride) from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji or about ten kilometers to Arashiyama.

Passes and Tickets

See also our separate page about the various passes available for the Kansai Region.

The prepaid IC card available in Kyoto is called Icoca. It does not give you any discounts over regular tickets, but it makes the process of taking trains and buses easier, as you do not always need to buy a ticket for each ride. Icoca cards can be purchased through ticket machines at JR stations. Local non-JR railway companies offer their own IC card called Pitapa; however, Pitapa is a postpaid card that works more like a credit card and is targeted at residents rather than tourists.

Icoca and Pitapa can be used on virtually all trains and buses in and around Kyoto (and many other major cities in Japan). Additionally, eight other IC cards from other major cities of Japan can also be used on the trains and buses of Greater Osaka, including Suica, Pasmo, Kitaca, Toica, Manaca, Sugoca, Nimoca and Hayakaken.

The Kansai One Pass is a special version of Icoca exclusively for foreign tourists that additionally qualifies for discounts at various attractions in the Kansai Region. It is available for sale at Kansai Airport and major railway stations in the Kansai Region.

Furthermore, the following one day passes are available for Kyoto:

  • Kyoto Sightseeing Card (1100 yen)
    Unlimited use of Kyoto's two subway lines and most buses (including Kyoto City Buses, Kyoto Buses, JR buses and Keihan buses) in central Kyoto and outskirts, including Ohara and Daigoji on one calendar day. The pass also comes with discount coupons for selected sights in Kyoto. It can be purchased from ticket machines in subway stations, at bus ticket centers and from some hotels. The pass can pay off especially if you visit outlying areas such as Ohara. The downside is that, besides the subway lines, the pass does not cover any other trains which are often a convenient means of getting around.
  • Kyoto One Day Bus Card (700 yen)
    Unlimited use of Kyoto City Buses, Kyoto Buses and JR buses in central Kyoto on one calendar day. Unlike the Kyoto Sightseeing Card (see above), the one-day bus card does not cover outlying areas such as Ohara and the Katsura Imperial Villa, but it does cover Arashiyama and Takao. The card can be purchased at bus and subway ticket counters and from bus drivers; however, there is a risk that bus drivers run out of cards in which case purchase is not possible. The one-day bus card pays off if you use buses four times per day or more. However, be warned that buses are a relatively slow means of getting around Kyoto and are often delayed by traffic.
  • Kyoto Subway One Day Card (800 yen)
    Unlimited use of Kyoto's two subway lines on one calendar day. The card can be purchased from ticket machines at subway stations. It generally pays off if you use subways more than three times per day, however its value is restricted by the subway's limited coverage area.

Hotels around Kyoto

Top rated in Kyoto
Budget:
    • Guesthouse Engawa
      Budget-friendly
      Guesthouse Engawa offers accommodation in Kyoto. Guests can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of Kyoto in their rooms. Each comes with a flat-screen TV, and an electric kettle will be provided upon request. Bathroom facilities are shared with other guests. Free toiletries and hairdryers are also available. There is luggage storage space at the property. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is 600 metres from Guesthouse Engawa, while Heian Shrine is 2.4 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Ryokan Mugen (Adult Only)
      Luxury
      Mugen is a property that was built 160 years ago, situated in Kyoto, 1 km from Nijo Castle. Every room at Mugen features an en suite shower room, toilet, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Free WiFi is available throughout the entire property. You will find a shared lounge on site and a bar at the annex building. The ryokan also offers bike hire. Imperial Palace is 1.1 km from Mugen, while Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is 1.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 39 km from the property.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guesthouse tu casa
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively located in the Higashiyama Ward district of Kyoto, Guesthouse tu casa is situated 1.2 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple, 1.4 km from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and 1.9 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a shared kitchen and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The guest house has family rooms. At the guest house rooms are equipped with a shared bathroom. Samurai Kembu Kyoto is 2.2 km from Guesthouse tu casa, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO
      Budget-friendly
      Open in September 2017, SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO offers accommodation with a rooftop terrace, just a 3-minute walk from JR Tanbaguchi Station. Free WiFi is provided throughout the property. Nijo Castle is 2.1 km away. You will find luggage storage space at the property. An art exhibition and various events are organised at the property. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO, while Katsura Imperial Villa is 3.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 36 km from SHIN TERRACE & HOSTEL KYOTO.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and room service for guests. At the guest house every room comes with a shared bathroom with free toiletries. A continental breakfast is available daily at guesthouseoumi. Nijo Castle is less than 1 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 37 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie
      Luxury
      Ideally situated in the Shimogyo Ward district of Kyoto, Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie is situated 1.3 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, 1.9 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.3 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and a concierge service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel has family rooms. The hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned rooms offering a wardrobe, a kettle, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet. At Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandere the rooms have bed linen and towels. An American breakfast is available each morning at the accommodation. Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie offers a terrace. Shoren-in Temple is 2.7 km from the hotel, while Nijo Castle is 2.8 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandere.
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    • IMAYA Hostel Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      Attractively situated in the centre of Kyoto, IMAYA Hostel Kyoto features air-conditioned rooms, a bar, free WiFi and a shared lounge. The property is around less than 1 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum, a 16-minute walk from Nijo Castle and 2.4 km from Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The accommodation provides a shared kitchen, a concierge service and ticket service for guests. All guest rooms at the hostel are fitted with a flat-screen TV and a kitchenette. The rooms have a shared bathroom, slippers and bed linen. Kyoto Imperial Palace is 2.9 km from IMAYA Hostel Kyoto, while Heian Shrine is 3.1 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 38 km from the accommodation.
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    • Ryokan Tori
      Mid-range
      Ryokan Tori is located in Kyoto, 2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The property is around 2.3 km from Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace. The property is 3.2 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 3.7 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. All guest rooms in the ryokan are fitted with a kettle. Each room has a shared bathroom, while selected rooms are fitted with a balcony and others also offer a garden view. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge. Guests at tori can enjoy an Asian breakfast. Heian Shrine is 5 km from the accommodation. Itami Airport is 50 km from the property.
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