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, Kansai one pass, Suica, Pasmo or other IC cards

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.

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

  1. Hi. I’m planning to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara this August for 7 days. Is JR Pass accessible to the places I want to visit? And may I ask what is the nearest stations to the places I wanted to visit. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Takeshi,

      I first want to thank you for this very useful website. I am planning to travel to Japan next year and will visit Tokyo/Hakone/Kyoto/Osaka, which is the same as your sample itinerary. What I have gathered is that I would not need to purchase a JR Pass since I am not making any round trips. I would appreciate any additional tips on transportation that you may have for any city.

  2. i’m travel with 2 young kids for 5days:
    kansai airport – osaka (4nights stay)
    then travel to kyoto
    osaka – kyoto (2nights)

    what kind of pass should i get?
    with the pass in osaka, manage to do day trip to nearby places?

      1. dear takeshi,

        thanks for the link.
        could you please summarise it?
        i read all your post yet still confusing about the train and which ticket should i purchase.

        my plan to go around osaka & kyoto as well.
        KIX-sakuragawa station (accommodation 4nights)
        Osaka to Kyoto station
        (accommodation 2 nights)
        Kyoto – KIX

        thanks a lot!

        1. Hi Kai,

          You can use Nankai + subway deal for KIX to Sakuragawa.
          http://www.howto-osaka.com/en/ticket/ticket/chikatoku.html

          And Haruka discount ticket at 1600 yen for the last day.
          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

          That’s all I can say at this point. As I give you the links about the deal in Osaka and Kyoto, there are lots of deals. But you have to decide the detailed itinerary. Are you going to stay in Osaka and Kyoto. Or do you have any trips to outside cities, like Kobe or Osaka? Do you have sightseeing plan in Osaka or/and Kyoto when you move to Kyoto from Osaka? I recommend you to make sure these things before choosing the deals. And then please see the links which I gave you in the previous reply. I believe you can find the best one.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hii takeshi,
    I am travelling to japan from 18th to 26th of may. My travel itinerary is
    1st day travel from tokyo to osaka
    2nd day travel from osaka to kyoto and sight seeing at kyoto
    3rd day sightseeing at kyoto and travel to osaka
    4th day travel from osaka to tokyo
    remaining days i plan to stay at tokyo and do local sightseeing and also plan to go to takasaki from tokyo for a day trip.
    What kind of pass should i go for?
    Kindly help

  4. Hi Takeshi,
    My name is amy…I have read through your article but I’m still a bit confused. I’m planning to travel to Osaka in early of July. I’m planning to get the JAPAN RAIL PASS for 7 day. During my stay at Osaka i would like to visit Kyoto for 1 -2 days, Nara for 1 day, Kobe for 1 day and the rest i will stay at Osaka.

    I bought package hotel and flight ticket so i need to stay at the same hotel even i travel to other cities in japan for 7 day. This the reason why i need to do a day trip to each city.

    The nearest train station at my hotel will be Shonai Station

    My questions are:
    1) Can i use JR PASS at Shonai Station?
    2) How can i recognize JR or local train that can’t used the JR pass?
    3) If i travel from Shonai Station to KOBE/NARA & KYOTO , can i use my JR 7 days Pass? or i need to bought another train pass for each city?
    4) Do i need to buy all the train pass before i arrived at kansai airport?

    i hope you can help me with give some advise for my trip to japan because this is my first holiday at Japan

    1. Hi Amy,

      First of all, JR pass is not required. Actually it’s too expensive for your trip. You should use Kansai thru pass for Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. And use city deal in Osaka.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html

      Shonai station is on Hankyu railway which is not JR. Please see the link below to find JR, Non JR and subway. Basically you will take Non JR trains and subways.
      http://jprail.com/destinations/how-to-transfer-among-kyoto-osaka-and-kobe-compare-japan-railway-and-private-lines.html

      For Kansai airport to Shonai, the easiest way is taking JR Kansai airport rapid to Osaka and take Hankyu railway to Shonai from Umeda. JR Osaka and Umeda are same location.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/how-to-get-kansai-airport-and-wakayama-kansai-airport-rapid-service-and-kishuji-rapid-service.html
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kansai-area/osaka-station-guide-how-to-change-jr-trains-subway-trains-and-other-private-railways.html

      But there is no deals for this route. You can use single fare ticket or use Kansai one pass instead.
      http://kansaionepass.com/en/about.html?info=1

      When you use Kansai thru pass, you can start using the pass at Shonai. But when you use city deal in Osaka, such as subway pass, you have to pay single fare from Shonai to Umeda by Hankyu railway. You can use Kansai one pass for this trip.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi Takeshi,
    I have read through the article but I’m still a bit confused. I’m planning to travel to Osaka with a day tour to Kyoto in the middle of May. I’m planning to get the ICOCA/Kansai One Pass + Haruka deal. My questions are:
    – will I be able to use my Kansai One Pass going to Kyoto from Osaka Station?
    – will I be able to use the Kansai One Pass going around Kyoto? or should I buy a One Day Bus Pass & a Kyoto sightseeing One day pass ?
    I plan on going to Fushimi Inari, Kinkakuji, Nijo castle, Kiyomizudera & Gion in one day before going back to Osaka.

    Thankyou in advance.

    1. Hi Ali,

      You can get Kyoto from Osaka by Kansai one pass. You can take any trains, like JR, Hankyu or Keihan railways to get Kyoto. It also covers subway and city bus in Osaka and Kyoto. But I recommend you to add all day bus pass at 500 yen in Kyoto.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

      I don’t think you need Kyoto sightseeing card. You may use Kansai one pass when you take trains.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi, I will be going over to Japan (Tokyo,kyoto,Osaka,Tokyo) from 15th may to 23rd may.

    Do you suggest we get the unlimited Jr pass for this itinerary?

    15th may :
    – nissin musuem @yokohama
    – Tokyo tower
    17th may :
    – Tsukji fish market
    – travel to kyoto (Kinkakuji temple)
    – Nishiki market
    18th may :
    – Fushimi inari shrine
    – Arashiyama bamboo grove
    – tenryuji temple
    19th may : (travel to Osaka)
    – kumoron ichiba market
    – dotonbori
    20th may :
    – tempozan ferries wheel
    – Osaka ramen musuem

    Please help. Im in the midst of planning my itinerary now.

    Thank you in advance

        1. Hi Cassandra,

          Basically you will use local deals in each cities. And you need to use single fare ticket from Tokyo to Osaka.

          As I mentioned in the link which I gave you, there are some deals from airport to Tokyo. Please see the link again and see the chapter of “day 1”. You can find the subway pass and airport access deal at the link below too:
          http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/airport_bus/index.html

          Yokohama is not in the coverage area of subway pass. You need to add single fare.

          You can use bus pass in Kyoto.
          http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

          You will find the deals in Osaka at the links 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
          http://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/kansai-kix/how-to-choose-the-deals-for-access-tofrom-kansai-airport.html

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hi Takeshi,

            If I wanna go to kinkakuji temple via bus no 205, nishiki market via train stopping at shijokaramachi station I can get the Kyoto sightseeing one or two day passes right? For fushimi inari, bamboo groves ion can just get the individual Jr line passes?

            By the way how do I get from Tokyo (shinjuku station) to Kyoto. Which kind of train pass should I get?

          2. Hi Cassandra,

            Yes, you can. You may find the bus route map in the link below:
            http://www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/koho/eng/access/img/pdf/ENG160319(map).pdf

            Train is better way to get Arashiyama (bamboo groove) and Fushimi Inari. But you can take bus to get there. You may find the route in the route map.

            I think I mentioned you about Tokyo-Kyoto. You need to use single ticket.
            http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/for-non-jr-pass-travellers-guide-to-use-jr-single-ticket-basic-rules-validity-and-stopover.html

            If you are okay to spend more hours, Platt Kodama is considerable.
            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

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

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