Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Toji temple is just 10 minutes away from Kyoto station. © Q.Sawami/© JNTO
Toji temple is just 10 minutes away from Kyoto station. © Q.Sawami/© JNTO

Train system in Kyoto may be complicated for you. There are three types of railway, JR, Kyoto City Subway and Private company’s railways. Actually it’s a key to travel in Kyoto smoothly and avoid wasting your valuable time. Of course city of Kyoto has city wide bus service. But during peak season, bus service runs behind the schedule sometimes due to traffic congestion.

And also, there are many types of deals, such as ICOCA, Kansai Thru Pass, JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kyoto city pass. Each pass has different conditions. You have to understand which train system is covered by your pass.

In this post, I tell you about using these deals and explain all train systems in Kyoto.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

Which train services that are covered by ICOCA, Kansai Thru Pass and other JR deals

Many deals are available in Kansai area. But each pass have different coverage. I tell you about major passes and deals.

For the travellers who use ICOCA

You can take all trains on the map above except Shinkansen and Sagano Scenic Railway. When you travel in Kansai area, don’t try to take Shinkansen for such a short transfer. Please see the post, How to transfer among Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Compare Japan Railway and private lines.

Regarding Sagano Scenic Railway, it is not a public transportation but an attraction. This is the reason why it is not covered by any rail pass.

By the way, ICOCA does not cover Kyoto city bus service either. In sometimes 2014, Kyoto city bus will accept ICOCA.

For the travellers who use Kansai Thru Pass

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

You can go anywhere in city of Kyoto. Most of places can be accessed by train. And this pass covers Kyoto City Bus too. Bus services cover all part of city of Kyoto. If you access from Osaka (Umeda) to Kyoto station, you cannot get a direct transfer by this pass. This is only things that you may care.

JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kansai WIDE Area Pass, Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

You can get direct access from Osaka (Umeda) to Kyoto station. Uji, Fushimi-Inari, Nijo castle and Arashiyama can be accessed by JR trains. But it is very inconvenient to access to Higashiyama area, such as Kiyomizudera, Gion, Sanjo and Kifune.

If you intend to take Sagano Scenic Railway and take JR train to come back to Arashiyama or Kyoto, Kansai Area Pass and Sanyo Area Pass cover only to Hozukyo station. The nearest station of Torokko Kameoka station is JR Umahoti station. But this station is out of coverage area of Kansai Area Pass and Sanyo Area Pass. If you use JR Pass or Kansai WIDE Area Pass, it is covered.

If you use JR Pass, JR Bus service can be used by only JR Pass. Please see the post, Japan Rail Pass is the best way to explore Kyoto? How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto.

Other JR passes, such as Kansai Area Pass and other JR West deals do not cover any bus services.

If you use Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass, you can get Kyoto but you cannot get any places in Kyoto city, like Fushimi, Arashiyama. Kyoto is located on the way to Kanazawa. You can stopover at Kyoto, but that is it you can do by Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass.

Kyoto Sightseeing One and Two-day Pass Card

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

This deal covers Kyoto city subway lines, Kyoto city bus and Kyoto Bus (private bus company). If you will take bus, you can go almost anywhere in city of Kyoto. Only place where is not covered by this pass is Uji.

How to access to major spots in Kyoto by train

As I mentioned above, sometimes bus services are affected by heavy traffic. And there are too many lines of bus in city of Kyoto. You may be confused by too many choices. Therefore I recommend you to use train service as much as you can.

If you need more info about bus, you may be able to find it at Japan-Guide.com

Gion

If you see Maiko in Gion, you are very lucky.  © Y.Shimizu/© JNTO
If you see Maiko in Gion, you are very lucky. © Y.Shimizu/© JNTO

You can get there by both Hankyu Railway and Keihan Railway. Hankyu’s Kawaramachi station is located 5 minutes away from Keihan’s Gion-Shijo staiton. There is Kamo river between these two stations. One of most popular market, Nishiki market is located bear Kawaramachi station. This area is one of the busiest area in Kyoto.

If you access from Osaka, take Hankyu if you stay in Umeda (JR Osaka station) and take Keihan if you stay in Namba or Shinsaibashi area. Yodoyabashi is connected by Osaka subway Midousuji line.

Kiyomizudera

It is Must-See spot in Kyoto. ©Sue Ann Simon/©JNTO
It is Must-See spot in Kyoto. ©Sue Ann Simon/©JNTO

Actually it’s a bit away from the station. But you can get there from Keihan’s Kiyomizu-Gojo station. The distance is 1.7 km and takes about 20 minutes.

Arashiyama

Togetsukyo is the icon of Arashiyama. ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO
Togetsukyo is the icon of Arashiyama. ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

There are three stations, Hankyu, Randen and JR. Randen’s Arashiyama station is located in the heart of Arashiyama. But you will be okay with other two stations. JR’s Saga-Arashiyama station is about 15 minutes away from Randen’s Arashiyama station. Hankyu’s Arashiyama station is located at other side of Katsura river. Togetsu bridge connects these two stations.

If you get Arashiyama from Umeda, obviously Hankyu Railway is the best choice. But there is no direct train service from Umeda to Arashiyama. You have to transfer at Katsura.

If you get Arashiyama from Kyoto station or using JR deals, JR Sagano line is the best choice.

If you get Arashiyama from Gion and Kawaramachi area, I recommend you to take Hankyu to Omiya and transfer to Randen. Randen is not very well known. This rail service is like street car and it runs on the street at some part of this line. This 20 minutes ride will be nice experience in your Kyoto visit. Hankyu’s Omiya station is located underground and Randen’s Shijo-Omiya station is on the ground. But it’s just cross the road and only 3 minutes away.

If you stay in Sanjo area and get Arashiyama, take subway to Uzumasa-Tenjingawa station and transfer to Randen. Randen-Tenjingawa station is located on the ground and subway’s station is underground. But it’s same place.

Kinkakji (Golden Pavilion)

I recommend you to drop by Ryoanji temple before visit Kinkakuji.  	©JNTO
I recommend you to drop by Ryoanji temple before visit Kinkakuji. ©JNTO

It can be accessed from randen’s Kitano-Hakubaicho station on foot. It takes about 20 nminutes. Of course you can catch the bus at Kitano-Hakubaicho station. It is three bus stops away from Kinkakuji and takes about 5 minutes.

If you access there from Arashiyama, Randen is a good choice. But if you get there from Gion, Kyoto station and other places, Randen is considerable. You have to change the train at Katabiranotsuji. It takes about 30 minutes from both Shijo-Omiya and Arashiyama. But Kinakakuji can be accessed by direct bus from many places in Kyoto. Even though I consider traffic, bus service may be faster than Randen. And also Kinkakuji can be accessed from subway’s Kitaoji staion by bus. If you get there from Kyoto station and Gion, this route is the fastest.

Nijo castle

Nijo castle is located in the heart of Kyoto. It is very easy to access there.  ©JNTO
Nijo castle is located in the heart of Kyoto. It is very easy to access there. ©JNTO

The nearest station is subway’s Nijojo staton. But you can access there from JR Nijo station too. So you can choose the trains by you pass/deal.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine is very famous as thousands of torii gates. ©Kyoto Convention Bureau /©JNTO
Fushimi Inari Shrine is very famous as thousands of torii gates. ©Kyoto Convention Bureau /©JNTO

It can be accessed by both JR and Keihan. JR’s Inari station is the nearest station. But Keihan’s station is only 5 minutes away from the shrine. You can choose it by your pass/deals.

If you combine this place with Nara, JR’s Inari station is on the way to Nara.

Uji

Byodoin Hououdou is the highlight in Uji. © JNTO
Byodoin Hououdou is the highlight in Uji. © JNTO

It is not located in city of Kyoto. So you cannot get there by city bus.

Both JR and Keihan can take you there. The biggest spot, Byodoin is located between JR Uji and Keihan’s Uji stations. It take about 10 minutes from both stations.

If you get there from Osaka, Keihan Railway is the best choice. But there is no direct train to Uji from Yodoyambashi. You have to change the trains at Chushojima.

Kyoto subway line goes to Rokujizo station. This is located at same place as JR’s Rokujizo station. You can change the trains very easily there. But Keihan’s Rokujizo station is a bit away from subway/JR stations. So if you access there from the heart of Kyoto, subway and JR combination is a good choice too.

244 thoughts on “Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?”

  1. Hi Takeshi,

    Great article and you are very responsive and helpful to all the inquiries! I have the following itinerary and really appreciate if you could help me on what transport pass to use since this is our first trip to Japan.

    Day 1: Arrival at Kansai International Airport then heading to Namba
    Day 2: Will have a day trip at Kyoto
    Places to visit: (Arashima, Golden Temple and Fushimi Inari)
    Day 3: Osaka
    Day 4: Osaka
    Day 5: Depart from Osaka and Arrive at Tokyo
    Day 6: Tokyo
    Day 7: Tokyo

    I am thinking of getting a 3-day Kansai Thru Pass:

    1. Is the Kansai Thru Pass will get us to Kyoto from Namba?
    2. During our day trip at Kyoto, what pass/passes should I get to visit (Arashima, Golden Temple and Fushimi Inari)?
    3. Going to Tokyo from Osaka, is the JR single ticket (Shinkansen) is the best to use?
    4. What is the best pass should I get during our 3day trip at Tokyo?

    Apologies for the long list of questions and appreciated much your help!

    Best regards,
    Happy

    1. Hi Happy,

      1,2. Kansai thru pass covers the trip to Kyoto and trip in the Kyoto. You can find some sample itineraries of Kansai thru pass in the link below:
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/kansai-thru-pass-sample-itineraries.html

      But this pass is too expensive to go around in Osaka. If you want to use this pass, you have to add one more trip outside Osaka, like Nara or Kyoto and use 2 days pass. If you explore Osaka on day 1 after arrival in Namba, 2 days pass may work. But single fare by Nankai railway from KIX to Namba is only 920 yen. Kansai thru pass 2 days is sold at 4,000 yen. You have to take more trains on arrival day.

      If you visit Nara or Kobe, it can be done in half day. If you want to keep your time in Osaka as much as you can, you can spend half day in one of Kobe or Nara, and spend 1.5 days in Osaka. In this case, you can use Kansai thru pass 2 days for day 2 and day 3.

      For sightseeing in Osaka, you can add other deals. Please see the link below:
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html

      3. Trip to Tokyo from Osaka by Shinkansen is around 15,000 yen. If you want to save your cost, try to use Platt Kodama.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/platt-kodama-one-way-deal-among-tokyo-nagoya-kyoto-and-shin-osaka-by-shinkansen.html

      4. Tokyo Subway Ticket is the best choice.
      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/index.html
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,

        Thank you for your prompt feedback! Appreciated much! However, just a clarification regarding on the following:

        1,2. Since we will not be able to add one more trip outside Osaka other than Kyoto, and will just stay at Osaka, is the 2-Day Kansai Thru Pass is still worth to buy? Planning to use it just for our Osaka Tour on Day 1 since we will be arriving at 8am at Namba then on Day 2 for our Kyoto trip. But I am also thinking of getting Osaka Amazing Pass based on your given link since it will also covers the entrance of some of the Attraction sites.

        For nos 3 and 4, will use Platt Kodama and Tokyo Subway Tickets. Great savings indeed! Your links are very helpful and informative!

        Thanks a lot, Takeshi!

        Best regards,
        Happy

        1. Hi Happy,

          You can use Kansai thru pass on day 1 and 2. Because you can use it for sightseeing in Osaka on day 1. But you will use Osaka amazing pass later on your trip. So on day 1, try to visit other than attractions, like shopping complex, temples, market. You can visit most of attractions in Osaka by Osaka amazing pass later.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi san

    i would like go to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
    for that day i am travel from Kyoto station with JR rail pass.
    Question is, can i drop off at Torokko Arashiyama Station instead of Saga Arashiyama Station.

    thanks.

      1. Hi Takeshi san
        Thanks for your answer
        i just done some research for that station ” Torokko Arashiyama station” it for Sagano Scenic Railway if i not mistaken.
        if i buy ticket for Sagano Scenic Railway and i drop at Torokko Arashiyama station and go for Arashiyama Bamboo Forest then i go back to Torokko Saga then i jump in again for Sagano Scenic Railway.
        1-can i use same ticket for repeated trip Sagano Scenic Railway or i need to buy another ticket.

        1. Hi Kamal san,

          Sagano scenic railway’s fare is 620 yen. It’s flat rate. So if you take train from Saga to Arashiyama and then take train from Arahiyama again, you have to pay 1240 yen. You cannot stopover at Arashiyama by one ticket. This train is very popular and if you do this, you have to book for two trains and it’s not realistic. Just walk from Saga station to Bamboo forest and catch train from Arashiyama.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hi Takeshi san
            Thank you very much, you just answered my confusions.
            if i buy ticket first then go to Bamboo forest and catch train from Arashiyama. its possible that seat will be full, or it have limit how many person can board on that train as per train schedule.

            thanks

          2. Hi Kamal san,

            No. If you buy a ticket, that means your seat is reserved. Nobody can take this train without reservation. When you buy a ticket, you have to choose the departure time.

            It’s sometimes very crowded to purchase a ticket on the day of board. You can book and purchase a ticket at JR station’s reservation window in Kansai area that is called “Midori no Madoguchi” in advance.
            http://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-reserve-seat.html

            Advanced reservation is highly recommended. This train is very very popular.

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi-san,
    First of all, apologies for the long list of questions, as this is our first trip to Japan and despite a lot of web browsing there area still a lot of questions which we would appreciate your feedback.
    We are planning a 24-day holiday to Japan, out itinerary is as follow:
    Day 1 – arrive at Kansai Airport and take JR to Kyoto
    Day 1 to 5 stay and tour around in Kyoto seeing the east Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi-Inari, Arashiyama, Kyoto Imperial palace & Nijō Castle, 元離宮二条城. Heian Shrine, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Honen-in Temple, the Path of Philosophy, Nanzen-ji and of course the Gion district.
    Day 6 – Kyoto To Osaka using JR
    Day 6 to 10 – Stay at Osaka with side trips to Nara for the Nara deer park, Taito-Ji & Otaimatsu. We will be spending time within Osaka area for shopping and sightseeing.
    Day 11 – Osaka to Tokyo using JR
    Day 11 to 15 stay at Tokyo and wandering around at Tokyo, it is not planned to do any side trip, except might be a trip to Yokohama.
    Day 16 – Tokyo to Hakodate using JR
    Day 16 & 17 – Hakodate and surround
    Day 18 – Hakodate to Noboribetsu using JR and staying at the onsen ryokan at Noboribetsu
    Day 19 – Noboribetsu to Sapporo using JR
    Day 19 to 24 – stay around Sapporo with day trips to Otaru, Niseku, Asahigawa.

    We are thinking of getting a 4-day Kansai Pass for/ the first 4 days the a 21-day national JR pass.
    1) Could you please advise if this is an economical option.
    2) Would a 4 day Kansai Wide pass be better.
    3) Could the JR pass be usable within Tokyo or within Osaka or will additional rail / bus / tram / subway passes be required.
    4) Is there a direct bullet train from Tokyo to Hakodate? could this bullet train be taken using the 21-day JR pass?
    5) Could the 21-day JR pass be used on the trams and buses at Hakodate.
    6) Could the JR pass be used on the Otaru – Kuchan – Niseku line.
    7) if the 21-day JR pass is not able to be used widely in Osaka / Tokyo, will this still be beneficial.

    much appreciate your feedback

    To Ly

    1. Hi To Ly san,

      1. 21 days JR pass is okay but you don’t need to have Kansai area pass. You can use Haruka discount ticket from KIX to Kyoto and add subway/bus pass in Kyoto as you need.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/icoca-and-haruka-ticket-very-flexible-and-good-deal-for-tourist-who-stay-in-kansai.html
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

      2. No. It’s too expensive.

      3. You can take local JR lines and can visit many places. But JR Pass does not cover subway, tram and city bus. Please see the link below to find the coverage:
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kansai-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-kyoto-how-to-choose-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kansai-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-osaka-how-to-choose-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html

      4. Yes. Please see the link below:
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-hokkaido/hakodate-shin-hakodate-hokuto/direct-access-to-hokkaido-from-tokyo-hokkaido-shinkansen-bullet-train.html
      http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/ttable/index.html

      5. No

      6. Yes

      7. JR Pass 21 days is required anyway.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi Takeshi,

    Could you kindly confirm that the Kyoto Sightseeing (One/Two Day) Pass also includes the Arashiyama area? I’ve been reading conflicting information all around the internet – some says that the pass only cover the two subway lines (Karasuma and Tozai) and city buses. However to get to Arashiyama station from Higashiyama station, I understand that I will need to change from subway (Tozai line) to tram (Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama Line) right? Or at least that’s what Google Maps is telling me…

    So will the Kyoto sightseeing pass cover Keifuku Randen Line?

    I’ve read that there are tourist discounts for certain museums etc that comes together with the purchase of the Kyoto Sightseeing Pass, however I couldn’t find a list of what discounts are included. Do you have any idea where I can find that information?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Susan,

      Keifuku railway is not covered by Kyoto sightseeing pass because it’s not under Kyoto city municipality transportation. But you can get Arashiyama. Please see the link below to find the all bus route in Kyoto.
      http://www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/koho/eng/access/img/pdf/ENG160319(map).pdf

      You may take subway to Uzumasa-Tenjingawa and then take Kyoto city bus. These trips are covered by this pass.

      Sorry but I have no idea about discount by this pass. I have never heard it before and official website does not mention anything.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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