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.

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

*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.

Find your hotels in 218 cities throughout Japan!!!

Karasuma Hotel Kyoto Traditional tatami room
Nine Hours Teramachi Kyoto Perfect location and price

252 thoughts on “Japan Rail Pass is the best way to explore Kyoto? How to use Japan Rail Pass in Kyoto”

  1. Hi Takeshi,
    Thank you for this article. I need some advice please. My family of 3 will be flying into Osaka next month. From there we will be heading straight to Kyoto for 5 days. All of our time will be spent in Kyoto, with the exception of a day trip back to Osaka for a concert, we will also be flying home from Osaka(which will require another trip back).
    My question is do we need to purchase rail passes? From my understanding the rail pass is not valid in Kyoto. Will day bus passes be good enought for travel within Kyoto?

    Thanks for any advice,
    Cristal

    1. Hi Cristal,

      I recommend you to use Haruka discount ticket at 3,200 yen for KIX-Kyoto round trip:
      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

      And also you may add Kansai one pass. It does not give you unlimited ride but you can take JR trains, Non JR trains, subway and city bus services. It also offers discount at many attractions:
      http://kansaionepass.com/en/about.html?info=1

      Basically you can use Kansai one pass for round trip to Osaka. In Kyoto, as you think, you can use all day bus pass at 500 yen for one day.
      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 can use Kansai one pass when you take trains or subways in Kyoto. Most of places can be accessed by city bus.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hello Takeshi!
    My family will visit japan from may 29- june 2
    Arriving at narita airport on may 29,2017…. Transfer to osaka by shinkansen
    May 30….visit USJ
    May 31… Kyoto
    June 01…Nara/Kobe
    We are staying in osaka for the whole trip
    June 02…transfer to tokyo…visit Meiji Shrine n Shibuya
    June 03…tsukiji market,tokyo tower,asakusa shrine,akihabara,odaiba
    June 04…Disneyland
    June 05…deparure for manila
    Can you help us what places to visit,anu suggestions?
    Is JR the pass we should purchase?
    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Del,

      JR pass 7 days is your choice. Please see the link below. Especially I recommend you to read the chapter “How to use JR pass in major cities and tourist spots” in this link.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/japan-rail-pass-user-guide-how-to-use-jr-pass-to-its-maximum.html

      You need to add single fare or may be deal to take train or bus to get Narita on the last day.
      http://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi!

    I need your help. My trip to kyoto-osaka for 6 days. We just wanted a laid back itinerary. What type of bus/train pass should i get?

    Day 1 – from kansai airport to shijo-karasuma,kyoto/shops@kyoto station
    Day 2- North/ South higashimaya area
    Day 3- Arashiyama/ kyoto tower
    Day 4- from kyoto to namba,osaka (dotondori…)
    Day 5- ramen museum, around umeda sky bldg….
    Day 6- Do you have any recommendation where to sightseeing and shop?
    Day 7- namba to kansai airport.

    1. Hi Marika,

      You may use Haruka discount ticket to Kyoto (1,600 yen) and Kansai one pass on day 1.
      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://kansaionepass.com/en/about.html?info=1
      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

      Haruka discount ticket covers trip to Kyoto station. After that you need to take subway to get Shijo-Karasuma by Kansai one pass. Kansai one pass covers all trains and city bus but it gives you same value as cash payment. It gives you convenience. You don’t need to purchase a ticket one by one.

      On day 2, Kyoto bus pass at 500 yen is recommended.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

      When you need to take train or subway, you can use Kansai one pass. You can use Kansai one pass for bus ride but bus pass is only 500 yen and very affordable. 3 rides gives you the worth of this pass.

      On day 3 and 4, you will use Kansai one pass. You don’t need bus pass on day 3. You can take Hankyu railway and subway to get Namba.
      http://jprail.com/destinations/how-to-transfer-among-kyoto-osaka-and-kobe-compare-japan-railway-and-private-lines.html

      For day 5 and 6, there are many deals but you should decide your plan on day 6 before choosing the deal. There are many many places to see in Osaka, such as Osaka castle, USJ, Kaiyukan aquarium. Please see the links below to find more info:
      http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2157.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

      Please see the link below to find the info to KIX.
      http://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/kansai-kix/how-to-choose-the-deals-for-access-tofrom-kansai-airport.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi Takeshi,

    I have made my transport plan for Japan and want to get your thought whether it make sense.

    I will be traveling to Tokyo-Hakone-Kyoto-Osaka (with side trip to Nara and Universal Studio).

    Day 1-Day 5: Tokyo
    Day 6: Hakone
    Day 7-9: Kyoto
    Day 10-14: Osaka (Day 12 to Nara and Day 13 to Universal Studio)

    I plan to purchase 7 days JR pass and will activate it in Day 7 when traveling from Hakone to Kyoto. This way, I will be able to utilize the JR pass when traveling from Kyoto to Osaka as well as day trip from Osaka to Nara and Universal studio separately. I will then buy separate ticket in Day 14 to go to Kansai airport. I find that I will hardly use the JR pass when I am within Kyoto itself but I guess I can’t help it. Does this make sense to you or is there a better option?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Gary,

      Actually JR pass does not work. You cannot get the worth of even 7 days pass. Please see the link below:
      http://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/7days/sample-itinerary-of-tokyo-hakone-kyoto-and-osaka-classic-route-in-7-days.html

      For your trip, I think you can use single ticket for only Odawara (Hakone) to Kyoto only. You don’t need to make a stopover. You may add Kansai thru pass for one of two days in Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka and trip to Nara.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

      You may follow my sample itinerary for other part of your trip.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello Takeshi,
    We will be in Japan this June for 7 days. We are planning to purchase a JR pass. Our base will be in Osaka. Is it possible to travel one day Osaka – Kyoto – Osaka and one day Osaka-Nara-Osaka using JR pass. Please advice. Thank you and regards.

    Marivic

  6. Hi,
    Thank you for all the information. I am still not very sure about all the various rail and bus systems in Japan. Please help.
    My family of 3 from Singapore will be visiting Japan on 22 April to 5 May. My itinerary is as follows:
    Tokyo to Asakusa (3 days in Asakusa)
    How to get from Narita Airport to Asakusa plus visits to Tokyo tourist spots? Is the Keisei Skyliner & Tokyo Subway Ticket the best option?
    Tokyo to Osaka 4 days with day trips to Kyoto and Nara
    What is the best way to travel from Tokyo to Osaka and within Osaka and Kyoto please? We want to visit the tourist spots in these 2 cities. Do we need the JR pass please or the kansai pass? Or Kyoto and Osaka day pass?
    Your help is much appreciated as I have a headache from reading up too much about the different transport systems in Japan! I need the most economical way of enjoying Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto with its tourist attractions.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Julia,

      For the trip to Asakusa, Skyliner goes to Ueno but some regular express train go to Asakusa directly. Please see the link below:
      http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/nrt_access/index.php

      You may take this airport express train by single fare at 1,100 yen and use Tokyo subway ticket for sightseeing in Tokyo.
      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/index.html

      If you leave from Osaka, JR pass is not your choice. You need one round trip between Tokyo and Osaka by Shinkansen. One way trip is not enough to use JR Pass. Single ticket (around 15000 yen for base fare and seat fee) or using Platt Kodama if you are okay with spending some extra time.
      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

      Kansai thru pass is the best option for Nara and Kyoto, and use local deals 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

      Please see the link below if you leave from Kansai.
      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. Hello.
        Thank you very much for your reply and help.
        Can you please tell me the airport access train and skyliner – they are different right? skyliner goes to ueno while airport access train goes directly to Asakusa? I need to go Asakusa. Where do I buy the airport access train of 1100 Yen please? I’m confused by the websites. Where do I buy the Kansai thru pass for 2 days, the Osaka Amazing pass and the Kyoto special pass please?
        Thank you!

        1. Hi Julia,

          Access Express is different train from Skyliner. Access Express is a sort of commute train. Many of airport access trains do not go to Ueno but Asakusa and other station on subway line. It goes subway Asakusa line as well. You can purchase a ticket at the vending machine on the spot.

          Please see the links below about purchase other passes.
          http://www.surutto.com/tickets/kansai_thru_english.html
          http://www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/koho/eng/access/transport.html#cvcrd
          http://www.osaka-info.jp/osp/en/

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hello!
            Thank you so much for your kind help. We really appreciate your help. We’ll be lost without your kindness.
            I’ve followed your advice for the various transportation and passes. I noticed that the Access Express ticket and Tokyo metro subway pass can be purchased at the Narita Airport itself and the Osaka Amazing Pass and the Kyoto sightseeing pass can all be purchased in Japan train stations. Am I right?
            Also, can you please advise how do I purchase the Nozomi train ticket oniine? Or do I buy it in Japan? Will there be enough seats on 24th April as I’ll be travelling from Tokyo to Osaka then?
            Thank you again.
            Regards,

  7. Hi Takeshi san,

    We are visiting Japan for the first time. Below is our itinerary. Hope you can recommend the best train/bus pass. we are a group of 6 people.

    April 7 – Kansai Airport – Kyoto
    April 8 – Kyoto
    April 9 – Kyoto-Nara
    April 10 – Osaka-Kobe
    April 11 – Osaka
    April 12 – Osaka

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