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Japan Rail Pass is the best way to explore Kyoto? How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace ©Akira Okada/©JNTO

Kyoto Imperial Palace ©Akira Okada/©JNTO

Kyoto (京都) is most famous sightseeing destination in Japan. Most of you visit Kyoto by Japan Rail Pass. Hikari and Kodama on Tokaido Shinkansen can take you to Kyoto. You might stay in Kyoto for multiple days and use Japan Rail Pass before arrival at Kyoto and after departure from Kyoto. Some of you are wondering if we can use Japan Rail Pass to explore Kyoto?

In this post, I tell you how much you can use Japan Rail Pass to explore in Kyoto.


*If you are looking for information about all trains in Kyoto, please refer the post, Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?.

First of all, please see the map below. I put some placemarks on the map. These marks show you some of the popular spot and Japan Railway stations.

View How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto in a larger map

You can find the line from the center to upper left. That is Sanin line (=山陰本線 a.k.a. Sagano line=嵯峨野線). You can use this line to Nijo Castle (二条城) and Arashiyama (嵐山). Actually Japan Railway Kyoto station is a bit away from most of sightseeing spot. There are some hotels around Kyoto station. But that is not perfect location to stay in Kyoto. East and North side are very popular for the tourists. Because there are Kinkaku-ji temple and Ryoan-ji Temple at North side. There are Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Heian-jingu Shrine and Ginkaku-ji Temple at East side. Especially Kawaramachi and Sanjo area are the core of Kyoto city. It is very close to East side. So I recommend to stay there. But if you want to explore East side and North side of Kyoto, you cannot use Japan Railway. You need to use some private company’s line (such as Hankyu or Keihan). If you stay at the hotel in Kyoto, I recommend to use Kyoto city bus lines and subway lines. They sell Kyoto Sightseeing One and Two-day Pass Card. you can buy one day at adult/1,200 yen and child/600 yen, or two day at adult/2,000yen and child/1,000yen. Both cards are available for both bus and subway. You can go almost anywhere in Kyoto. If you need more informations, please refer Kyoto city public transportation website.

Added information
I added one bus line between Kyoto station and Syuzan via Shijo-Omiya, Nijo station, Ryoanji temple, Takao. This route is very scenic. There are lots of temples. Especially in Autumn season, the color leaves are gorgeous! This bus line is operated by Nishinihon JR Bus. According to Japan Rail Pass rule, all JR bus local lines are covered by the pass. I haven’t confirmed it yet. But in my understanding, it is covered by the pass.

Are you interested in Cruising train in Arashiyama, Kyoto? I strongly recommend to take “Sagano Sightseeing Tram”. Especially the scenery is breathtaking in the cherry blossom season (late March to beginning of April) and fall color leaves season (November). I show you two of their movies. The first movie is shot in the spring. The second one is shot in the autumn.

You can take this train at Saga-Arashiyama station on Sanin Line. Be careful that they do not have any scheduled train from December 30 to the end of February. You can get more informations at this PDF file. You can reserve a ticket at Midori-no-madoguchi (=みどりの窓口=Reservation ticket window at major Japan Railway station). Japan Rail Pass is not eligible for taking this train. But this is worth spending your money and your valuable time.

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80 Comments to “Japan Rail Pass is the best way to explore Kyoto? How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto”

  1. Dinie says:

    Hi Takeshi. Thank you so much for your effort in maintaining this website; I have used it a lot in planning my Japan trip!

    The following is my planned itinerary during the cherry blossom season this year:

    3/4 – 5/4 Narita & Tokyo
    5/4 – 7/4 Osaka (hotel in Esaka)
    7/4 – 9/4 Day trips to Kyoto from Osaka (hotel in Tennoji, because I couldn’t find a place to stay in Kyoto)
    9/4 – 10/4 Hakone area
    10/4 – 11/4 Mt. Fuji (Kawaguchiko area)
    11/4 – 12/4 Return to Tokyo
    12/4 – 13/4 Narita (early morning flight on the 13th)

    If you could help me with a few questions, I would be so grateful!

    My questions:

    1) Is my planned itinerary feasible? I plan to purchase a 7-day JR Pass. I am thinking of starting using the pass from 5th onwards.

    2) I understand that if I start using the pass on the 5th in the morning, it will expire on the 11th 11.59pm. Is this correct? I could still use the pass to explore Tokyo on the 11th without having to spend anymore on JR tickets? And I could just purchase the discounted N’EX return trip ticket for Narita-Tokyo-Narita. Is this okay?

    3) Are day trips to Kyoto from Osaka advisable? I mean, going out to Kyoto in the morning and returning to Osaka later in the day. I couldn’t find any place to stay in Kyoto for 7/4-9/4. Trains from Kyoto-Osaka run until the evening, don’t they?

    4) If day trips are feasible, just using JR Pass is enough right for the going and coming back from Osaka-Kyoto-Osaka?

    5) Is the train trip from Osaka to Hakone going to be difficult? My research tells me that I have several ways to reach Hakone, but with luggage in tow, switching between shinkansen and bus at Mishima/Atami/Yugawara station is going to be quite difficult. My hotel is nearby Hakone-Yumoto, thus Odawara is the best transit stop for me. Is this correct?

    6) Do you have any ideas on ways to make my itinerary better i.e. less rushed, maximize use of JR Pass etc (apart from extending my stay hehe)? I would very much appreciate your input.

    Thank you in advance for your help, Takeshi.

    Best regards from Malaysia,

  2. Macon says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    Thank you for this helpful site. I’d like to check if we are making the right choice of what to buy for the subway.
    Here is our IT
    We will be staying in Osaka
    Day 1 :Kyoto + Nara (if time permits)
    Day 2: Osaka
    Day 3: Osaka
    Day 4: Nara if in we can’t go there during Day 1, in case we get that covered on Day 1 then we might go to Kobe

    would the JR West Kansai Area Pass be enough? or JR West Kansai Area Pass +Kansai thru pass?



  3. tom says:

    Hi Takeshi,
    First of all, thank you so much for taking time to maintain your website with such usefull informations. I would appreciate to have your advise regarding the card or pass to purchase about my trip as following :
    Arrival in Tokyo 28.03 – staying 5 nights in Tokyo
    Dep. to Kyoto 02.04 – staying 6 nights in Otsu
    03.04 KYOTO
    04.04 KYOTO
    05.04 KYOTO
    06.04 Himeji / Nara
    07.04 KOBE / OSAKA
    08.04 travelling back to Tokyo
    09.04 Last day in Tokyo , Visit Yokohama & Kamakura
    10.04 fly back to home

    So what would be the best for our 5 nights stay in Tokyo if we want to move around?
    And then travel to Kyoto , what would you recommend ?
    Many thanks for your feedback.
    Kind regards

  4. Jaymee says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    I was wondering which card should we get for our 10 day itinerary on Apr. 2 – 11, 2015:

    Apr 2 (Thursday) – 8pm: Travel from Kansai Airport to Hotel in Kyoto
    Apr 3 (Friday): Kyoto: Day 1
    Philosopher’s Path.
    Keage Incline
    Heian Shrine
    Yasaka Shrine
    Higashiyama Street
    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Apr 4 (Saturday): Kyoto: Day 2
    Monkey Park
    Togetsukyo Bridge
    Bamboo Groves
    Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street
    Otagi Nenbutsuji
    Ninnaji Temple
    Pontocho Alley

    Apr 5 (Sunday): Himeji + Nara: Day 3
    Himeji Castle
    Walk to Kofukuji (5-storey pagoda)
    Great Buddha
    Kasuga Shrine
    Board train going to Tokyo

    Apr 6 (Monday): Tokyo: Day 4
    Meiji Shrine
    Takeshita Dori
    NHK Studio Park
    Yoyogi Park
    Omoide Yokocho
    Golden Gai

    Apr 7 (Tuesday): Tokyo: Day 5
    Nakamise Dori
    Sensoji Temple
    old-fashioned neighborhoods around Asakusa
    Sumida River Boat Ride
    Hama Rikyu
    Aquacity and Decks
    Palette Town
    Diver City
    Oedo Onsen
    Optional additions:
    Tokyo Skytree
    Walk across Rainbow Bridge

    Apr 8 (Wednesday): Yokohama: Day 6
    Kirin Beer Village
    Tulips in Yokohama park
    Then go back to Tokyo

    Apr 9 (Thursday): Tokyo: Day 7
    Training session at a sumo stable
    Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
    Imperial East Garden
    Outer Park
    Board train going to Nagoya

    Apr 10 (Friday): Nagoya: Day 8
    Morning: Cherry blossoms at Osu Kannon
    Afternoon: Tokugawa Garden
    After dark: City views from Nagoya Station

    Apr 11 (Saturday): Nagoya: Day 9
    Morning: Nagoya Castle
    Afternoon: Last minute shopping
    Go to Nagoya airport

    Thank you in advance.

  5. Li says:

    Hi Takeshi,
    Planning a day trip to Awaji Island on 4 Nov 14. I’m not able to find English transport information at the island. Only transport i found, Kotsu website is in Japanese. Hope you able to provide more detail and suggestion. We have 5 adults, not driving and staying at Osaka Namba area.

  6. Gigi says:

    hi, as i mentioned earlier, i’m planning a day trip to Kyoto.
    Could you advise me my route in term of cost effective ways?

    1. Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
    2. Fushimi-Inari Shrine
    3. Kiyomizu-dera –

    Thank you.

  7. Mike says:


    Thank you very much for this website and your efforts.

    Any suggestions for my upcoming itinerary:

    25-Sept Arrival at Kansai Airport at 16:30, then going directly to Kyoto
    26-Sept Kyoto
    27-Sept Kyoto
    28-Sept Kyoto
    29-Sept Kyoto
    30-Sept Leaving Kyoto to Nara, then going to stay in Osaka overnight
    01-Oct Flying out of Kansai Airport at 12:30

  8. Silke says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    I am visiting Japan from 18 Oct – 26 Okt 2014 with my husband and my 17 months old son. We will arrive at Kyoto on 23 Oct around 12am and go back to KL from Osaka Kansai Airport on 26 Oct 2014 at 04:50 pm. I just wonder what public transport card would be best for Kyoto city exploring – one day in Nara – and the way to Kansai Airport.
    Do you have any advice for us?

    Thank you so much and greeting from Penang / Malaysia!

  9. june says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    I am visiing Japan from 14 Nov – 29 Nov 2014, arriving Kansai a/port arround 8.25 am and heading to Kyoto , stay 5 nights there , 2 nights Takayama,1 N Kyoto (may be change to Oaka), 2 N Hiroshima, 5 N Osaka,

    1. KIX to Kyoto – ICOCA/Haruka pass
    2. explore Kyoto 15/11 – 19/11/2014
    3. JR pass – activate 19/11 – 25/11/2014
    4. Kansai Thru pass 4 days pass 26/11 – 29/11/2014

    Please advise thank you

  10. Maggie Szasz says:

    Dear Takeshi,

    I will be visiting Kyoto this coming October and as a side trip I am going to Kinosaki Onsen for a couple of nights,then returning to Kyoto.
    Either on the way to Kinosaki from Kyoto or on the way back to Kyoto I would like to take a train ride along the coast of the Sea of Japan.
    For scenery from the train, would you recommend taking the JR Sanin line towards Takeno and then west, or should I consider a ride on the Kitakinki Tango line from Toyooka?
    I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading all the wonderful articles you have posted and very much look forward to my visit to Japan. Thanks for your time.
    Maggie S.

    • Hi Maggie,

      Both lines are good. But if you have a time, I recommend you to take a train to Hamasaki. The train passes on Amarube bridge. This is one of the best in Japan.

      This bridge is located between Yoroi and Amarube.

      Of course, you will be able to see Sea of Japan on the way to Amarube bridge.

      Actually Kitakinki Tango Railway is a good choice too. It’s very hard to choose one of these. If you have extra time, take both.


      Takeshi / JP Rail

      • Maggie Szasz says:

        Hi Takeshi,
        Thanks so much for your reply and the fantastic pic of Amarube bridge. Since I plan on getting the JR Kansai 4 day pass, I will take your great advice and take both trains. I am also very much looking forward to riding on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.
        You have an awesome and incredibly informative website. Thanks again.
        Warm regards from Toronto

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  • I am not a travel agent. Please do not ask me to make an itinerary. I can check your itinerary and give you suggestion. I think making an itinerary is a part of your travel. Please try to make it by yourself. Enjoy! :)
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