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

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

  1. We are a group of 4 travelling fm Tokyo to Kyoto and hv purchased a 7 days JR pass. We will take the Shinkansen fm Tokyo to Kyoto and spend a few days in Kyoto before travelling to Osaka to catch a flight to Sapporo and do a day trip to Otaru by train. Can I use the JR pass at all these locations. Also I was told that taxis in Kyoto are quite reasonable and since we are 4 pax would it be better for us to take a taxi to visit the sights in Kyoto instead of bus & train ?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Veronica,

      All trains among cities are covered by JR pass. Subway and bus in all city, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo are not covered by JR pass.

      Taxi is a good idea. Bus is always busy and behind the schedule. Subway is okay but Taxi is much better idea than bus.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hey, Takeshi!

    So, I will be going to Japan in about a month, and looking at the JR pass price…. WOAH!

    So, I’m hoping that you can help me with this. Is it cheaper to just pay each fare individually or get a JR pass.

    Here is my itinerary:
    I will get to Narita airport on May 2, and I will be staying at Asakusa/Ueno neighborhood in Tokyo. We will be staying in Tokyo from the 2nd to the 10th with maybe 2 day trips to Yokohama, then we will be going to this ryokan: http://www.takaragawa.com/english.html. Staying only for the night of the 10th. On the 11th we’re going to Osaka, and staying in Hirano-ku neighborhood. We’re staying in Osaka until the 16th, but with day trips to Nara and Kobe (1 day each). So like, we’re staying in Osaka, but we’re going to Nara then go back to Osaka. Then on another day we’re going to Kobe, then going back to Osaka. On the 16th, we’re going to Kyoto, where we’ll be staying for a month, so we won’t be getting the JR pass for this time. So the plan is to get a JR pass for 2 weeks from May 2-16.

    Also, if you recommend the JR pass, then if I activate the pass on May 2nd, will I still be able to use it on the 16th, or is the 15th the last day I can use it.
    Price wise, the JR pass that I plan to buy is $527 Canadian (about 44576 yen, the conversion according to google) for 14 days.

    Again, which is cheaper: individual prices, or JR pass?
    I hope that you can help me!

    1. Hi Vivian,

      JR pass does not work for your trip.

      You can use subway deal or/and subway+airport access deal. Please see the link below:
      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

      About trip to Yokohama, please see the following link:
      http://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/yokohama-and-kamakura-access-guide-find-the-right-deal-and-route-from-your-place-to-stay.html

      Tokyo Wide Pass covers trip to Minakami.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/tokyo-wide-pass-is-newer-version-of-kanto-area-pass-nikko-fuji-gala-yuzawa-and-odaiba-are-covered-by-this-pass.html
      You also may use this pass for the trip to Yokohama.

      Single ticket is only choice for the trip to Osaka from Tokyo.

      You may use Kansai thru pass for trip to Kobe and 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

      Single ticket is also your choice to get Kyoto.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hi Takeshi!

            Thank you so much for your help!

            But I have another question, and it’s about train transfers. To get to the onsen that I’m going to go to, I have to get on at Ueno station and take the JR Takasaki-Line. Get off at Takasaki Station, and take the Joetsu-Line to Minakami Station.

            My question is: each time I get off at a station to transfer, do I have to exit the train gates and buy a new ticket? Or at Ueno Station, can I buy a ticket all the way to Minakami Station?

            Thanks for all your help so far!

          2. Hi Vivian,

            I think you can get Minamkami from Jomo-Kogen station by bus. Of course you can take Takasaki line and Joetsu line. But it takes much longer than Shinkansen to Jomo-Kogen.

            You don’t need to exit a station when you change the trains. You can purchase your ticket to Minakami (or Jomo-Kogen) at Ueno. If you use the pass, you don’t need to purchase it.

            If you are overwhelmed and make your trip be easier, you can go for 7 days JR pass. It does not give you a big discount but it makes your trip be much easier.

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

          3. Thank you very much for your help!

            I might use other passes instead of JR pass.

            I have a question about the Tokyo Wide Pass. I am confused about how the expiration works. If I first use the pass on May 2 at 5 pm. When does it expire?

            Thanks for all your help, Takeshi!

          4. Hi Vivian,

            It’s expired at 23:59 on May 4.
            It’s valid for midnight to midnight. Even if you start using it at 17:00, you will spend one full day for 7 hours.

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hello Takeshi!

    I am planning to visit japan in October for 4 days and 3 nights. Is 1 full day each for tokyo and kyoto enough time to atleast see the main attractions? If so, would you recommend that I get JR rail pass to get around both places? Does JR rail pass includes ride to the bullet train from tokyo to kyoto and vice versa?

  4. Hi, Takeshi
    I forgot to ask in the previous comment. Does it worth for 4 of us to buy a 7 days pass for my intinerary .
    Arrive in KIX airport, then purchase discount ticket for huruka express train to Kyoto( not activate the pass until two days later)
    Day 1 local sight seeing
    Day 2 local sight seeing
    Day3 day trip to Hiroshima
    Day 4 to Nara
    Day 5 day trip to Osaka
    Day6 to Tokyo
    Day 7 shinjuku
    Day 8 local sight seeing
    Day 9 local sight seeing
    Day10 leaving to airport
    Should I buy the 7 day pass since I am going to use it for Hiroshima and Tokyo or just buy a single train tickets? Please give me advice. With much appreciation !!

    1. Hi Maggie,

      You are right. 7 days JR pass will work for your trip. You can start using it on day 3. But if you depart from Narita, switch Nara and Hiroshima. You may go to Hiroshima and start using JR Pass on day 4. You have to pay single fare for trip to Nara but you can use JR pass on the last day to Narita. You can take Narita Express from Tokyo to Narita. Trip to Narita by Narita Express is much bigger value than trip to Nara by local train.

      If you leave from Haneda, forget about this. Single ticket is okay to get Haneda because it’s much closer to Tokyo than Narita.

      You can use ICOCA and Haruka anyway. This is the best deal to get Kyoto from KIX.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,
        Thank you so much for your info. Yes, I am leaving from shin juku (Hilton) to Haneda airport on the day 11. I will take the limousine bus from the Hilton hotel to the airport.
        Does the Icoca card cover Kyoto bus, Kyoto city bus ( not before), Keihan railway?
        Does JR pass cover ONLY Jr railway No Keihan or other Railway . Right ? You are so helpful. Your help will make my trip more smooth and enjoyable. Thank you so much!
        Maggie,

        1. Hi Maggie,

          JR pass does not cover Kyoto city bus, Kyoto bus and Kaihan. You can use ICOCA to get these transportation. But all day bus pass for Kyoto city bus can be purchased at 500 yen. If you take Kyoto city bus 4 times or more, it’s paid off. Of course you can use ICOCA but ICOCA does not give you any discount. You may think about using Kyoto city all day bus pass.
          http://www.insidekyoto.com/special-kyoto-bus-train-subway-passes

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi Takeshi
    My family of 4 planning a trip to Japan for 10 days on July 21th to 30th. I am planning to buy a 7 days Jr ordinary pass. I will stay at Kyoto for 4 full days, 1 day in Hiroshima, and four days in Tokyo. I wil arrive at KIX airport and take the Haruka express train to Kyoto station.
    A, should I activate my JR pass after I land at Kaisan airport and use the JR pass for the first 7 days?
    B, Or should I just purchase the Huruka express train discount ticket with Icoca card to use for the first two days in Kyoto, and activate the JR pass the last three days in Kyoto and 4 days in Tokyo.?
    I am planning to go with the plan B. Can you give me some advice? Thank you so much For your help

  6. Mr Takeshi
    My family of 4 will be going to Japan in Feb 2016 for 10 days.
    Below is our itenary, pls advise if these are OK?
    15 Feb 2016 – touch down at Narita Airport at 6am. Take bullet train to Osaka. Spend time at Shinsaibashi n Dotonbori.
    16 Feb – go to Kuroshio-ichiba market at Wakayama in the morning. Go to Nissin Ramen Museum n Osaka Castle in the afternoon n spend another night in Osaka.
    17 / 18 Feb – Kyoto, which will cover most of the temples n Arashiyama. Sagano Sightseeing Tram not available in Winter?
    19 Feb – Kanazawa / Shirakawa- go
    20 Feb – Tokyo
    21 Feb – One day trip to Mt Fuji
    22/23 Feb – Tokyo
    24 Feb – Morning flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

    I will purchase 7 days JR pass as I noted most of the place are covered by JR pass. Just wondering should I spend 2 nights at Kanazawa?
    If I do so, i hv to pay extra when travel to Mt Fuji. Is there a transport to go Mt Fuji directly from Kanazawa? Is it advisable to visit Mt Fuji in winter around Lake Kawaguchiko?

    Will the sky turn dark early during Winter?
    Your kind advice please the best option to fully utilised the JR pass and hopefully the plan is not too rush. Thks.
    Regards
    Khim

    1. Hi Khim,

      Your itinerary is good. It’s busy trip but it’s feasible. You are ready to go. 🙂

      I think one night stay in Kanazawa is okay. Actually Kanazawa and Shirakawago can be done as day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.
      http://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/1-day/sample-itinerary-of-day-trip-to-kanazawa-and-shirakawago-from-osaka-or-kyoto.html

      Of course you don’t need to do it in one day. Staying in Kanazawa is much better but this above sample itinerary can show you that it’s easy to visit these two places for one night stay trip.

      There is no direct train service from Kanazawa to Lake Kawaguchi. You need to go to Tokyo anyway. It looks a big detour but it’s the easiest and the fastest way. Lake Kawaguchi is always nice spot in all season.

      You can enjoy sightseeing until 17:00. It’s getting dark after 17:00.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thanks Mr Takeshi for your prompt reply.
        In your opinion, will it better to travel to Kanazawa from Osaka/Kyoto or Tokyo for a day trip? Actually, I was considering a day too as we have big luggage, so it will b quite inconvenient to move around with it and we noted from your other posts that it’s not easy to get a big locker in the train station. So a one day trip to Kanazawa/shirakawago is in my consideration.
        I would also like to check with you, when we are back in Tokyo after we finished the 7 days JR pass, do we hv to buy another pass for travelling in Tokyo or just pay the single trip ticket when moving around the “tourist places” in Tokyo.
        Thanks again!
        Khim

        1. Hi Khim,

          It’s up to you. If you want to have day trip to Kanazawa and Shirakawago, you can do it. I understand many tourists do not want to move with a big luggage. That is reason why I wrote the posts about day trip to Kanazawa or Shirakawago.
          You need to have subway pass in Tokyo. But there is no deals to Narita. Please see the following posts:
          http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/compare-many-discount-tickets-and-passes-for-sightseeing-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-right-tickets.html
          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

  7. Hi Takeshi san
    Please help me
    I will be coming on 21 day trip to japan in December 2015
    I am going to arrive in Tokyo & spend 5 days in Tokyo, then 5 days in Kyoto,5 days in Osaka ,5 days in Hiroshima and then i will be coming back to Tokyo from Hiroshima for my flight back home . Do u think 21 day jr pass is worth the money (60000 yen) or should i get individual train ticket/overnight bus to my destinations. I will travel to most tourist locations inside the above cities as well

    Thanks for you help

    1. Hi Indian Traveller,

      21 days pass is way more expensive than single ticket. Especially if you think about overnight bus, JR pass is not your choice anyway. But I’m not familiar with overnight bus so I cannot compare bus and train.

      Anyway you can use local deals in the cities, like the following:
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/compare-many-discount-tickets-and-passes-for-sightseeing-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-right-tickets.html
      http://www.insidekyoto.com/special-kyoto-bus-train-subway-passes
      http://www.kotsu.city.osaka.lg.jp/foreign/english/Card.html
      http://www.osaka-info.jp/osp/en/index.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Hello!

    I will be visiting Kyoto by end-November. I just wanted to confirm, is the JR line covered by the Kyoto Sightseeing Pass (bus & subway)? Also, aside from the Kyoto Station, is there anywhere else I can get the Kyoto Sightseeing Pass?

    Thank you!

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  • Please do not ask me to make your itinerary. Because I am not your personal travel agent. I am very happy to check your itinerary. But please try to make the plan by yourself. In this website, there are lots of resources to make your plan.
  • Please do not ask me about the access to your hotel. You can google your hotel and find it at hotel website or google map easily.
  • If you want to ask me which pass suits your plan, please tell me your detailed itinerary and location to stay. I cannot choose any deals without the detailed itinerary because I have to compare the total single fare and deals

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