Getting around Kyoto with the Japan Rail Pass

You’ve read about all the engaging attractions Kyoto has to offer – from its famous temples to its transcendent botanical gardens. After all, Kyoto is considered the premiere sightseeing location in Japan. But as an international traveler, you are also concerned with how to get from place to place once you arrive in Kyoto. Does Japan’s maze of rail and bus lines intimidate you? It doesn’t have to.

Kyoto is a well-organized city. While its rail lines are not as extensive as in other large cities, such as Tokyo, Kyoto is unique in its street grid system. This system eases the travel of both pedestrians and commuters by bus and taxi. Once you understand the Kyoto transportation system, getting around can be not only easy but also enjoyable. The following tips are designed to help you do just that.

Numerous trains in and around Kyoto can be accessed using your Japan Rail Pass. Kyoto Station is the central city’s transportation hub for Japan Railways and other private services, as well as shopping centers. From here, you can access the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka, Tokyo, and many other destinations.

Local JR lines in Kyoto include the Sagano Line and the Nara Line.

JR Nara line

The Nara Line travels south to:

  • Tofukuji Station, close to the Tofukuji Buddhist temple, famous for its gardens.
  • Inari Station, near Fushimi Inari, an important Shinto temple famous for its thousands of torii gates.
  • Uji Station, a small city popular for its tea shops and World Heritage temples (Byodoin and Ujigami-Jinja), also famous for its matcha (green tea).
  • JR Nara Station, in downtown Nara. Make sure to take the Miyakoji Rapid Train, since it doesn’t stop at all stations and is the fastest connection (from Kyoto Station to Nara in 45 minutes).

JR Sagano line

The Sagano Line travels to popular tourist destinations such as:

  • Nijo Station (close to Nijo castle)
  • Emmachi Station (bus connection to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion)
  • Uzumasa Station (Toei Kyoto Studio Park)
  • Saga-Arashiyama Station, near Arashiyama bamboo grove, Arashiyama Monkey Park and the Sagano Scenic Railway station).

Note: Please check our full “Things to do in Kyoto” guide for further tourist information.

JR train in Kyoto Station
You can get from Kyoto to Nara in 45 minutes with the JR Nara line

Kyoto Metro system 

The Kyoto subway system operates two lines, the Karasuma Line (north to south) and the Tozai Line (east to west). Both lines are available from Karasuma Oike Station. The best use of the subway system is to reach attractions in the city center.

The metro ticket prices range from ¥210 to ¥350 for adults and ¥110 to ¥180 for children. The trains of the Kyoto metro system are not covered under your Japan Rail Pass.

Other rail lines

Kyoto is also home to several private railway lines, including the Keifuku, Kintetsu, and Eizan Lines. The Hankyu Line can be accessed from the city center and using this line you can reach Osaka from Kyoto. This line also serves Arashiyama. The Keihan Line can be used to reach Fushimi Inari from the east side of Kyoto. The JR Pass, however, is not valid on private rail lines.

Also of interest is the scenic Sagano Scenic Railway train, which departs from Saga-Arashiyama Station. While not covered by the JR Pass, the autumn leaves or spring cherry blossoms as seen from this train are well worth the trip.

Finally, the Haruka Airport Express connects Kyoto Station with the Kansai International Airport, near Osaka. You can take this train for free with your Japan Rail Pass.

Kyoto train and subway map

Kyoto metro and train map
Map of Kyoto train and subway routes, including the Shinkansen and JR lines.

For further information, including a map of the whole Kansai region, please check our maps page.

Riding Kyoto’s buses and taxis 

Kyoto’s extensive bus network operates daily from 6 AM to 10:30 PM. You will enter the local buses, by the back door and exit through the front, and payment on these city buses is made upon entering.

Flat rate bus fares are ¥230 for adults and ¥120 for children. Alternatively, you can purchase a City Bus All-Day Pass for ¥500, or ¥250 for children. When using JR buses, you can ride free of charge when you scan your JR Pass upon entering.

In downtown Kyoto, you will also find taxis waiting at nearly every street corner, at all times of day and night. When hailing a taxi, pay attention to the light located next to the driver. A red light means the taxi is available, while a green or blue light indicates that the taxi is already in the service of another customer. In Japan, taxi doors open and close automatically, so don’t worry about shutting the door when you exit.

When selecting a taxi, keep in mind that the MK or Yasaka companies – designated by a clover icon – are generally cheaper. Whichever service you use, you may expect to pay about ¥640 for the first two kilometers.

Tip: When telling your driver where you would like to go, naming an intersection, restaurant, or attraction is often more efficient than giving him a specific address. 

Walking and biking 

Kyoto’s street grid system makes it simple for both pedestrians and bicyclists to find their way around. In Kyoto, main streets run either north to south or east to west. North-south streets are given names, while east-west streets are given numbers. Keeping this in mind can aid you in orienting yourself and understanding the direction in which you are traveling. The flat terrain makes this city ideal for touring on foot.

As you will likely not have your own bicycle with you, many bike rental stores are available in Kyoto, specially in the Arashiyama area. You may rent a bicycle for a few hours or up to two weeks. Prices range from ¥500 per day to ¥2000 per week. Be advised that in the city center and near train stations, bikes must be parked in designated areas. Bike parking usually costs ¥150 for up to eight hours. Bikes parked illegally will be towed.

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18 thoughts on “Getting around Kyoto with the Japan Rail Pass”

  1. Hi I am Michelle. I am going to Kyoto from kobe. I have the jr Kansai Wide pass with me.
    Am I able to take the special rapid jr line from sannomiya to Kyoto?
    This is my first time going to Kyoto.
    I am also going to arashiyama on 13 April and taking the saga train ride. I am planning to buy the tickets at jr station at kansai airport on 10 April.
    Am I too late to buy the tickets??
    Need your advise.

    1. Hello Michelle,
      Yes, you can take the Special rapid JR line as well as all JR lines, using a JR Pass.
      In your case, this is all JR lines withing the Kansai area.

      Regarding the purchase of the Saga train tickets, we recommend purchasing the tickets in advance, when possible, especially during peak season.
      In the case that all seats have been booked, standing tickets will be made available.

      Happy traveling,
      The JRail Pass team

  2. HI, I am Feli, a travel agent. First time to do a Japan side trip for my 2 passengers. They are taking Princess Cruises. PCL will arrive Osanbashi Yokohama port on Friday, July 21 at 6am. They want to get a Kyoto tour & Mt. Fuji. I need quote for train passage and train schedules & where the stations located. The itinerary will be: 21JUL from Osanbashi port to Kyoto. 23 JUL late afternoon, leave Kyoto for Tokyo or 24JUL leave early morning from Kyoto to Mt. Fuji.(If there is train service from Kyoto to Mt. Fuji). Otherwise, 24JUL leave Tokyo early morning to Mt. Fuji, after tour, return to Tokyo late afternoon.
    What do you suggest best way to go around Japan cities, by bus or train. If by train, would you suggest to get Japan rail pass that will include the bullet train service?
    Appreciate hearing from you soon.

    1. Hi Feli,

      For quotes of individual tickets and train schedules you will need to check Hyperdia – the number 1 Japanese online transportation planning tool. To see if the Japan Rail Pass pays off we recommend you to check there all the itineraries you would like to cover. Also please refer to our Mount Fuji itinerary guide for more insight of this part of your trip.

      We hope it is useful!

  3. I prefer with advance seats reservation. Where can I get the train schedules serving Yokohama to Kyoto to Mt. Fuji to Tokyo. Or Kyoto to Tokyo; Tokyo to Mt Fuji to Tokyo.
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Feli,

      To make a reservation, please go to any Ticket Office (Midori-no-madoguchi), spread through all Japanese train stations. Alternatively, go to a Travel Service Center or a Travel Agency ticket sales office. Once there, go to any of the ticket counters. State your destination and preferred departure time and let the staff member find the best option for your trip.

      For train schedules please refer to Hyperdia, the number 1 Japanese online transportation planning tool.

      Have a nice trip!

  4. Hi! Considering that Nozomi is not covered by the JR Pass, what then is the best route to take from Karasumaoike to Shibuya using the JR Pass? Arigato gazaimasu.

    1. Hello, Ana!
      You can the Shinkansen Hikari train with your Japan Rail Pass instead of Nozomi.

      Happy traveling,
      The JRailPass team

    1. Hi Jen!

      it will always depend on your scheduled trips. Note that the Japan Rail Pass covers airport transfers, transportation within Tokyo and Kyoto and transportation between these 2 cities. It would be specially interesting if your were planning to visit any nearby city. We strongly recommend you to check our blog for more travel ideas.

      Have a nice trip!

    1. The JR Pass is valid on the Kodama, Hikari and Sakura types of Shinkansen, but is not valid on the Nozomi and Mizuho classes. You will not have access to the ‘Nozomi’ and ‘Mizuho’ Shinkansen that are the fastest trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo lines. However, you have access to the ‘Hikari’ or ‘Sakura’ Shinkansen that cover the same routes. The Hikari and Sakura bullet trains reach the same top speed as the Nozomi and Mizuho trains and use the same type of actual train, but have more stops along each route. For example, from Tokyo to Kyoto, the Hikari takes 15mins more than the equivalent Nozomi.

      In case, you rather prefer to take the Nozomi trains, you will need to pay the full fare to board the Nozomi, even with the JR pass.

  5. Hi,

    I am Travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto only. Is it advisable to buy a JR pass? Will be like visiting attraction within Tokyo city area and after which will be taking Shinkansen to Kyoto. Then Kyoto will be visiting those places of interest also. Won’t be doing visiting into different cities.

    1. Hi Jarrel,

      Yes it is worthy to buy the 7 days JR Pass! You can check and compare prices on Hyperdia, but the Japan Rail Pass covers numerous trains in Kyoto and five different Tokyo railway lines, as well as Yamanote line (Tokyo Metro) the Narita Express (airport transfer). Also the Shinkansen to Kyoto, as you were saying. To complete your reading, please check our article to get to know everything about Tokyo: destinations, trains and transportation.

      Hope this helps

      Kind regards

  6. Hi, i have Japan Rail pass 7 days. I want to travel around kyoto, are JR Nara Line and JR San In covered by JR pass? thank you.

    1. Hi Deani!

      Yes, these lines are served by Japan Rail Pass’ included transportation. For example, on the JR Nara line you are entitled to take the Miyakoji Rapid Train, that will take you from Kyoto straight to Nara.

      Have a very nice trip!

  7. Hi
    We are thinking of buying a 7-day JR passes to travel from Tokyo to Osaka, Kyoto and then back to Tokyo in 7 days. Could you inform us which services ie trains/buses/ferries are covered by JR pass.

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Binh!

      Below you will find detailed information on what is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. If you aim to travel between Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto you will be entitled to do so by taking the Hikari Shinkansen in the Tokaido Express line.

      1. The Japan Rail Pass covers all JR Group limited express trains, express trains, rapid and local ones. Shinkansen bullet trains are also covered, except of NOZOMI and MIZUHO. Furthermore, the JR Pass can be used on the Tokyo Monorail, the Yamanote line (Tokyo Metro); the Aoimori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe; the JR Ishikawa Railway between Kanazawa and Tsubata; the Ainokaze Toyama Railway beween Toyama and Takaoka; Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo.

      2. The JR Pass is valid on all local JR bus lines such as: JR Hokkaido Bus; JR Tohoku Bus; JR Kanto Bus; JR Tokai Bus; West Japan JR Bus; JR Chugoku bus; JR Shikoku Bus; JR Kyushu Bus.

      3. You may use your Japan Rail on the JR-West Miyajima ferry services.

      Enjoy your stay!

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