The Ultimate Guide to Kyoto Transport for Tourists

The Ultimate Guide to Kyoto Transport for Tourists

A common question is how to travel in Kyoto and what is the best Kyoto Pass, so we have put together this quick overview of the options to help give you confidence right from the beginning to the end of your visit to Kyotoand more broadly Japan!

In this article we include options to get from and to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Kobe.  We also include how to get to and from Kansai International Airport as well as detailed information about public transport in Kyoto to help you choose the pass which will suit you best.

Note that this article is sponsored by Klook, however our opinions are our own

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you to be inspired and to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Japan Transport Articles

You may also like to check out our set of Japan transport articles below:

About Kyoto Transport

Japan has the honour of being one of the most complex public transport systems I have ever experienced in the world – and I have travelled a lot!  A great question to understand is why is it so complex?

The thing which makes it different, is that in the majority of locations I have visited in Australia, USA, Europe, Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore, is in each of these places the public transportation system is usually government operated or operated by a single transportation company. 

By contrast, in Kyoto (and more broadly Japan) the public transportation is operated by multiple companies, who each have their own ticketing, stations and train lines.  And to ensure they all get paid the right amount of money from tickets what this means is that you have to pay separately each time you switch from one company to another!

Exploring Gion in Kyoto in the evening
Exploring Gion in Kyoto in the evening

If you stay within the JR system you can stay in the one station, just travel through to your destination and then pay when you exit, but if you need to use the Subway line you will have to exit the JR station and then find and enter the Subway station.

This model is repeated across Kyoto, and if you look at the train map below (click here to see the larger size map), every time you see intersecting train lines it means that you may have to change stations. 

In Kyoto the bus lines usually provide a more direct option to get to tourist attractions than the train lines, so expect to use a combination of both forms of transport when you visit Kyoto.

We got seriously caught out by this issue on our first visit to Japan!  Basically we got lost in Tokyo Station and also had some other issues which you can read about in our article…

About Klook

We have used Klook, an online travel agency, to make many travel bookings over the last few years.  Overall we are very happy to recommend them as a reliable provider of tickets, tours and transport options for Japan and other destinations.

You may like to read our detailed review of Klook at this link 😊.

About Transport in the Kansai Region

You may not realise that when looking at transport options for Kyoto, that Kyoto is actually only part of the greater Kansai Region.  Essentially the combination of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe form a continuous mega-city in its own right, with a total population not much less than Greater Tokyo!  As a result the public transport system will enable you to very easily travel in and between these cities, with multiple train and bus options other than the shinkansen to get around.  Keep this in mind when planning your visit.

Often you can easily choose to stay in any of these cities and have relatively quick access via public transport as long as you stay close to a major transportation hub.  Our recommended places to stay in Kyoto are at the bottom of this article.

Exploring the Fushimi Inari Temple Torii Gates in Kyoto
Exploring the Fushimi Inari Temple Torii Gates in Kyoto

Kyoto Public Transport

Kyoto One Day, Two Day and Three Day Pass Options

There are a variety of different pre-paid transport and sightseeing passes you can purchase to travel around Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Koyasan. 

It can be quite confusing to work out which pass will suit you best, so I am providing a short overview of each major tourist pass below to help you work out which are the best passes to buy for your trip. 

A great option is to plan your visit and purchase a combination of these passes for your visit! If you purchase through Klook you will be able to easily collect them in a single stop in at Kansai International Airport after you arrive. I have also added Klook pricing blocks beneath each section which show the current pricing for each pass option in your local currency.

Kyoto Hop On Hop Off Bus Pass

Kyoto can be a challenging city to get around, as the major attractions are spread out and if you use the normal public transport options you will find that you will often have to use 2-3 forms of public transport to get between each attraction. When we did our own ‘temple day’ in Kyoto we found that we had to allow a reasonable amount of time to get between each location

More recently, Kyoto now has a good Skybus hop on hop off bus option which in my opinion will make it much easier to get around Kyoto. You can easily book your Skybus for either one or two days through Klook.

Click here to check out and order your Skybus Hop On Hop Off Bus Tickets through Klook

Klook.com

Kansai Thru Pass

The Kansai Thru Pass is a great option to have maximum flexibility to get around the Kansai Area, which includes Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Wakayama, Himeji, Koyasan and Kansai Airport.  You can choose either a two or three day pass, which can be used on non-consecutive days.  You can also purchase multiple passes to cover your visit to the Kansai region.

The pass includes unlimited use of the following:

  • Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe Metro Lines
  • The Keihan Railway between Osaka and Kyoto
  • The Kintetsu Railway between Osaka, Kyoto and Nara
  • The Hankyu Railway between Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto
  • The Nankai Railway between Kansai Airport and Osaka
  • Many bus lines and some additional railway lines.  Click here to see all of the inclusions.
  • Click here to see the Kansai Thru Pass Map.

Note that this pass cannot be used on Japan Rail lines or the shinkansen.

Click here to check out and order your Kansai Thru Pass through Klook

Klook.com

Kyoto Combined Bus and Subway Pass

Another option to get around Kyoto is a one or two day combined bus and subway pass on consecutive days. There are also other day passes which are bus or Subway only, however to most easily get around Kyoto we recommend that you purchase a pass which provides access to both train and bus options.

This pass includes unlimited use of the following services, note that that some specific services are excluded:

  • Kyoto City Subway Lines
  • Kyoto City Bus
  • Kyoto Bus
  • Keihan Bus

Note that this pass does not include JR train lines or JR buses. Click here to see the detailed Subway and Bus map for Kyoto.

Raku Tourist Bus Kyoto

Kyoto also has three dedicated tourist bus lines called the Raku Bus, they are bus numbers #100, #101 and #102 which each service a different tourist area of Kyoto. Click on the link above for further information about each bus line, including maps of their routes. Note that to see the details of each route, at the bottom left of the website screen there is an option to toggle between each bus route.

You can access these buses either with an Icoca or other IC card (details below), pay as you go with cash, or they are also included in all of the one and two day passes which include bus access as detailed above. You cannot use your JR Pass to access the Raku Bus

Kinkakuji Temple (or the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto
Kinkakuji Temple (or the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto

Icoca Card Kyoto

If you prefer to remain as flexible as possible and to be able to use almost all transport lines across Japan (not including the shinkansen) with a single card then check out the Icoca Card.

The most common local transport cards in Kyoto and the Kansai Region are the Icoca cards (or IC cards) – note that there are also other IC cards issued across Japan, including the better known Suica and Pasmo card and many more options but they all work the same way.  You can use the one IC card for your whole visit to Japan as they will work in other cities and towns.

There are many other local transport pass options available in Japan.  In our experience the IC cards are the easiest option to use on transport across Japan as they can be used on almost every form of public transport including trains buses, trams and ferries, with the exception of the shinkansen bullet trains.

How to Use Your Icoca IC Card

You get a starting amount of credit with each card, and you can then top up the credit (using cash) at any train station as you travel. You just tap in and out of each train station, and you will see the remaining balance on your card each time you go through the station.  You need a separate card for each person in your group. The cards will work for 10 years. 

Indicative pricing for adults to travel around Kyoto is as follows:

  • Kyoto Station to Nishiki Market on the Karasuma Line to Shijo Station is 220 Yen or approximately $US 2.10.
  • Kyoto Station to Nishiki Market on the Number 4, 5, 17 or 205 bus is 230 Yen or approximately $US 2.20.
  • Kyoto Station to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest on the JR San-in line to Saga-Arashiyama Station is 240 Yen or approximately $US 2.30.
  • Kyoto Station to Osaka Station on the local Tokaido-Sanyo line is 570 Yen or approximately $US 5.40. If you are travelling locally and do not have an active JR pass avoid using the shinkansen option as it is not much faster and is 2-3 times more expensive!
  • Kyoto Station to Nara Station on the Nara Line is 720 Yen or approximately $US 6.80.
Feeding Deer at Nara in Japan
Feeding Deer at Nara in Japan

Icoca Card App

Another way to get around public transport in Japan is to use the Suica app on your phone (all IC cards will work with this app). Here are the Suica app links for iPhones and Android phones.

Once activated you can just tap on and off with your phone instead of using a physical card.  Just make sure you have a no fee international credit card when you use this option as otherwise you may pay substantial additional fees!

Klook.com

Icoca IC Cards for Children

You can also get child IC cards for children between the ages of 6 years old and under the age of 12 years old, where they only pay 50% of the adult fare. You can only purchase child IC cards at relevant train stations, as you must show the child’s passport and have a specific card issued to them. Their name is printed on the card as well as the symbol for child.

Children under the age of 6 years old can travel on public transport for free.

When you use a child IC card at a station the turnstile emits a loud chirping sound to indicate that a child card is being used – I assume that it enables the gate staff to identify if an adult is using the card when they are not supposed to.

I can confirm that once your child turns 12 years old that these cards are no longer usable and you need to purchase adult IC cards.

Exploring the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (before the tourists arrive!)
Exploring the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (before the tourists arrive!)

How to Return Your IC Cards Before Departure

You can also return your IC cards before you depart Japan and get your 500 Yen deposit and any remaining credit back, however you MUST return your card to the company who issued the card.  Or take it home as a souvenir, and to lend to families and friends who plan to visit Japan, or to use when you undoubtedly decide to return to Japan! 😊

If you have remaining credit when you are due to depart, be aware that you can also use your IC cards to pay for things like food and souvenirs at the airport.

New Tourist IC Card Options

New alternative options are the Welcome Suica and Discover Pasmo cards which are aimed at the tourist market. They are only valid for 28 days and you cannot get a refund for your deposit, however otherwise work the same as the normal cards.

How to Purchase an Icoca Card for Kyoto

You can purchase your IC card after you arrive in Japan from most train stations.

Alternatively you can pre-order an Icoca Card through Klook and collect it at Kansai airport on arrival and get a discount on price. Check out the link below to see further details.

Click here to check out and order your Icoca Card through Klook

Klook.com

Japan Rail Pass Options to Travel Around Kyoto

How do I get around Kyoto with JR Pass

Kyoto is easily accessible when using your Japan Rail Pass. There are two main train lines which travel north to south and west to east which enable you to access many popular tourist attractions. Kyoto Station is the central crossroads for the two Japan Rail train lines. For further afield tourist attractions you can also use your JR Pass to access the Kyoto JR Bus, which travels to the North West and enables you to easily access Arashiyama, Kinkajuji and many other sites.Japan Rail Pass

The first decision you need to make is whether you plan to purchase a Japan Rail Pass for your Japan trip, as this will guide your subsequent choices.  You may like to check out our detailed Japan Rail Pass article to learn more about what is a Japan Rail Pass and how to use it for your trip.

If you only plan to visit Kyoto or the Kansai Region then DO NOT purchase a Japan Rail Pass – they are only worthwhile if you plan to do inter city travel on the shinkansen or bullet train!

The Ultimate Guide to Kyoto Transport for Tourists
Hover over image to pin to Pinterest

How to Travel in Kyoto With a Japan Rail Pass

For Japan Rail Pass users, the best option is to ensure you book accommodation which is in close proximity to a station on a JR Line in Kyoto.  Recommended accommodation locations are detailed further below in this article. Check out this map to see an overview of the Kyoto train lines which includes both the JR lines and Subway lines.

A Japan Rail Pass will enable you to travel on most (but not all) JR shinkansen (bullet trains) and local JR trains in Japan. However, there are a lot of other train companies in Kyoto, Kansai and Japan for which you will not be able to use a JR pass. Therefore even if you purchase a JR pass you should also plan to purchase an IC card or pass to use on most other transport services in both Kyoto, Kansai and across Japan.

In Kyoto the main JR lines you will use as a tourist are as follows:

  • There are only two JR train lines in Kyoto which travel west to east and north to south, and cross over at Kyoto Station. In addition there are several JR Bus lines which enable you to access other tourist areas.
  • JR Kyoto Line travels west to east across Kyoto and enables you to access Arashiyama to the north west of Kyoto, you can also use this train line to travel on to Kobe and Himeji.
  • The JR Nara line enables you to travel between Kyoto Station and Nara Station, and the similar line, which includes access to Inari Station where you can hop off to visit the very popular Fushimi Inari Temple. In addition you can easily visit the major tourist sites of Tofukuji Temple and World Heritage sites at Uji.
  • The JR Hokuriku Line is the main local train line between Osaka and Kyoto, which is separate to the Tokaido or San-yo shinkansen line.  Note that there is no need to use the shinkansen to travel between cities, but if you have a JR pass you could travel in an unreserved carriage to quickly travel between the two cities.
  • The Kansai Airport line enables you to transfer between Osaka and Kansai Airport.
  • Click here to see a useful map showing the JR train network around the Kansai Region.

If you are only staying within the Kansai Region then there is no benefit in purchasing a national Japan Rail Pass for 7, 14 or 21 days as they are only worth while when using the shinkansen to travel intercity – check out the other passes above or below. Note that if you want to travel direct from Osaka/Kyoto to Tokyo that the National JR Pass is the only one which includes that route.

Click here to check out how to purchase your Japan Rail Pass through Klook

Japan Rail Pass
Japan Rail Pass

There are a large selection of regional passes which include Kyoto. Klook has a great JR Pass tool where you can easily see all of the passes which include a particular location (such as Kyoto). As you hover your mouse over each option there is a map which shows the areas covered by each pass option. Click here to check out all of the regional passes which include travel in Kyoto through Klook. Note that these are all JR Passes so will not include travel on other train lines in the Kansai region, so ensure you also plan to purchase an IC card.

Klook.com

How to Get From Kansai Airport to Kyoto

There are multiple options to get from Kansai Airport (KIX) to Kyoto and in reverse.  The important thing to understand is that on arrival after a long flight that trying to work out how to travel to Kyoto using public transport Is not a great idea – as we discovered on our first trip to Japan

Kansai Airport is located 50 km to the south west of Osaka Station, and is located 95km from Kyoto Station

On our more recent trip to Japan we booked a private transfer from Narita Airport to our accommodation in Asakusa and in contrast we had a really relaxed arrival and were ready to get started to enjoy our trip! Consider your flight length, jet lag and arrival time before deciding which option will suit you best.

Aerial View of Kansai International Airport near Osaka
Aerial View of Kansai International Airport near Osaka

Here are our recommended options to get from Kansai Airport to Osaka.

Train from Kansai Airport to Kyoto

The Haruka Limited Express train runs direct from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto Station, so is a great option to most easily travel to Kyoto. There are other options which require you to change trains, but after a long flight you definitely do not want to have to work out the Japan train system!

The Haruka Express only stops at the following stations, so is a great fast option to get to your destination:

  • Kansai Airport Station
  • Tennoji Station
  • Shin-Osaka Station
  • Kyoto Station

If you want to purchase single or return tickets on the Haruka Limited Express then Klook offers a great option to purchase these in advance at a discounted price. The Haruka Express is also included in your Japan Rail Pass.

Click here to check out and order your Haruka Express tickets through Klook

Klook.com
Entrance to Kyoto Station
Entrance to Kyoto Station

Airport Limousine Bus Kyoto

The Limousine Bus provides a convenient and affordable option to travel direct to your accommodation on a shared transfer bus.  There are multiple routes which service all of the major Kyoto tourist areas, so either look for accommodation which is a specific Limousine Bus stop or is close to a stopping point.  There are maps to help you find the correct route for your destination.

Klook has a great option for you to purchase discounted Limousine Bus tickets.  Check out the below link to get more information on the specific hotels and areas of Osaka and Kyoto which are serviced by the Limousine Bus service.

Click here to check out how to purchase your Limousine Bus tickets from Kansai Airport to Osaka or Kyoto through Klook

Klook.com

Private Transfer Service from Kansai Airport to Kyoto

Another great option is to book a private transfer between Kansai Airport and your accommodation in Kyoto.  This option is great to just relax and let your driver take you direct to your accommodation. 

As mentioned above we booked the similar Klook service for our recent arrival in Tokyo and were very happy that we chose this option.  As a family of five of us this option was not a lot more expensive than the individual fares would have been, and we had a stress free arrival to our accommodation in Asakusa, unlike our first visit to Japan as mentioned above!

The vehicle was clean and tidy and modern, and the driver was easy to find for pick up – he messaged me via Whatsapp so after we arrived and collected and set up our pocket wifi rental, and told us where to go to meet him.  He promptly found us, loaded the vehicle with our bags and we were ready to go.  We had a smooth journey to our accommodation in Asakusa.  We then quickly checked in and put our bags into our room and were ready to head out and explore and find a good dinner option! (you may like to know that ramen was our meal of choice… 😊 ).

Click here to check out how to book your private transfer to or from Kansai Airport to Osaka, Nara or Kobe through Klook

The below private transfer option includes a few more destination options. Check out both options to see which one will suit you best.

Click here to check out how to book your private transfer to or from Kansai Airport to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Uji, Kobe or Arima Onsen

Klook.com
Klook Private Transfer from Narita Airport to Tokyo
Klook Private Transfer from Narita Airport to Tokyo – a very comfortable and relaxed way to arrive!

Fun Kyoto Activities

Through Klook you can also book many fun activities in Kyoto.  I have summarised the most popular options below.  You may also like to check out our detailed article on How to Sightsee Stress Free in Japan with Klook.

Kyoto Day Tours

There are many day tour options within and close to Kyoto which you can book through Klook, check them out here.

Exploring Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Exploring Nishiki Market in Kyoto

One Day Kimono Rental

If you want to dress in a kimono, then Kyoto is the place to do it!  Klook offers a great kimono hire options in the Gion area for both men and women, including hair styling.

Click here to check out and book your Kyoto Kimono Hire through Klook

Klook.com

Sagano Romantic Train

The Sagano Romantic Train is a very popular Kyoto experience where you can ride the scenic train from Kameoka Station to Saga Station.  Depending on the time of year you can expect to see cherry blossoms in spring, fall foliage in autumn, snow in winter and green foliage in summer.

Click here to check out and book your Sagano Romantic Train Ticket through Klook

Klook.com

Klook Universal Studios Japan

Klook USJ is a great experience!  We have now visited twice and each time we have had a different experience.  On our first visit we did not realise that the option to purchase Express Passes to skip the queue existed – and as a result by the time we found out they had unfortunately sold out.  As a result during our visit we were only able to get on 4 rides during the day which was disappointing.

For our second visit to Universal Studios Japan we got in early and purchase our Express Passes, and on the day loved how many rides we were able to go on, and overall had a much better day out!  Get in early to book your Express Passes as they regularly sell out.

Note that other special event Express Pass options for USJ are also regularly offered through Klook.

Click here to check out and purchase your Universal Studios Japan Entry Pass, VIP WristbandExpress Pass 4 and Express Pass 7 skip the queue passes through Klook.  Use coupon code MDE8G to get a $A5 discount off your first order! 

Klook.com
Universal Studios Japan Entrance
Universal Studios Japan Entrance
Hogwarts School in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter USJ, with the reflection over Black Lake
Hogwarts School in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter USJ, with the reflection over Black Lake

Hiroshima and Miyajima Day Tour from Osaka, Kyoto, or Hiroshima

One of the most popular Hiroshima activities through Klook is a one day tour which you can start and finish from either Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima.  The tour includes a visit to Hiroshima including the Peace Museum, and also a visit to nearby Miyajima Island.

Click here to check out and book your Hiroshima and Miyajima Day Tour through Klook

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome
Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome – one of the few buildings to survive the explosion and subsequent building works
Friendly - Hungry Deer on Miyajima Island
Friendly – Hungry Deer on Miyajima Island
Klook.com

Where to Stay in Kyoto to Get Best Use out of Your Kyoto Day Pass

If you are planning to use a Japan Rail Pass or Kyoto Subway or Bus Pass to travel in Kyoto, you then need to set yourself up to optimise your travel options. 

For Japan Rail Pass users, the best option is to ensure you book accommodation which is in close proximity to a station on the two JR Lines in Kyoto.

Below are our recommended stations for both pass options, you can also stay closer to the smaller stations on each line.  Before booking your Japan accommodation ensure you check your travel times in Google Maps to get to your preferred tourist destinations to understand the likely travel times.

Booking.com

Kyoto Accommodation Options

  • Kyoto Station is centrally located for all train and bus lines in Kyoto, which will make it very easy to get around. Kyoto Station is a major destination in its own right with lots of shopping and food options. Click here to check out accommodation options through either Booking.com or AirBnB.
  • Sanjo Station is centrally located in between the popular Gion area and the Shinkyogoku Shopping area, with a lot of things to see and do in the area. It is also on a cross roads of two train lines and has many bus options to get around Kyoto. Click here to check out accommodation options through either Booking.com or AirBnB.
  • Arashiyama is located to the north west of Kyoto, and has a great range of more traditional ryokans to stay in, plus you will be able to visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before and after the tourists arrive. There is a lot more to see and do in the area. There are three train lines which provide access to this area as well as many bus options. Click here to check out accommodation options through either Booking.com or AirBnB.

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group – it is a great resource to enable you to be inspired and to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

More from Anne Sutherland-Smith

Biggest and Best Civil Aviation Tourism Sites

For civil aviation enthusiasts, there are many opportunities to become an aviation...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.