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

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

  1. Hi Takeshi-san
    I intend to visit Kyoto in November. I have 5 full days in Kyoto,
    I intend to spend 2 days in Kyoto visiting all the attractions etc.
    The other 3 days want to go to Nara 1-day round trip.
    1-day round trip to Koyasan
    1-day round trip to Himeji.
    Please advise what JR pass do I need. Please advise if I do not need JR pass , what other economical passes available.
    Do I need to book in advance for the day trips out of Kyoto or I can get the passes at time of travel?

    1. Hi Andrew,

      You may use Kyoto city deals for sightseeing in Kyoto.

      Kansai thru pass is most economical choice for trip to Himeji, Nara and Koyasan.

      This pass is only choice for Nara and Koyasan. But for the trip to Himeji, Kansai area pass is better choice because JR trains takes you to Himeji directly from Kyoto.

      If you want to save your cost, just use Kansai thru pass 3 days. If you want to make your trip be easier, 2 days Kansai thru pass and 1 day Kansai area pass are your choice.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi-san

    Really need your advice regarding transportation.

    Planning to stay in Tokyo for 4 day (including a day trip to Yokohama), take the train to Kyoto ( 4 days) and proceed using train to Osaka (4 days) before flying out from Osaka.

    Please advice is it is possible to purchase the 7day JP Rail Pass. Thank you.

  3. Hi Takeshi,
    I’m travelling with my wife and planning to buy JR rail pass for 7days since it seems to be a good choice.
    Summary of our plan as follows:
    1) Arrive Osaka Kansai airport. Stay in hotel in Namba (3 nights)
    2) 1 same day trip from Osaka to Hiroshima-Miyajima
    3) Travel to Kyoto and 3 nights stay in Kyoto. Taking bus tours for temple visits.
    4) Kyoto to Tokyo. And 1 day trip from Tokyo to Hakone.
    5) And return to Turkey from Tokyo Narita.
    I think we may be using shinkansen and save some. Could you recommend please for saving routes via JR pass?
    Thanks in advance and kind regards.

  4. Hi, Takeshi

    I want to ask about Kyoto Sightseeing One and Two-day Pass Card. Can use this card in JR Nara Line ?
    We plan to visit Fushimi Inari from Kyoto station.

    Thanks a million ! ^^

      1. Okay Takeshi thanks for your information.

        One question more hehehe
        If we use ICOCA or PASMO card, can we access JR Nara Line ?
        Is that right?


  5. Hi Takeshi,
    I’m travelling with my family (2 kids) and thinking of getting JR rail pass for 7days since it seems to be a good choice with time and convenience.
    So far our itinerary is
    1) arrive Osaka kix, go to Takayama
    2) 2 nights Takayama (shirakawago/gero daytrips maybe)
    3) to Kyoto (2nights) thinking of using walking and taxis in case of bad weather etc.
    4) to shizuoka (daytrip) from Kyoto, then sleep in Osaka
    5) return Osaka airport

    I think most will be using shinkansen so how do you think?
    Thanks for your help!


    1. Hi Ina,

      JR Pass is a good choice and it gives you a big saving.
      JR Pass covers most part of your trip. You may need to add bus fare to Shirakawago, local transportation (taxi, bus and subway) in the cities, like Kyoto and Osaka.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeya,

    I visiting three cities 12-19 August 2016. Start from Tokyo to Kyoto and finish on Osaka. My first plan is i’ll use Tokyo metro pass (2 days pass) + late night willer express ( from Tokyo to Kyoto, but the price quite expensive in high season ) + Kansai Thru Pass. I saw on the JR Line map for osaka kyoto there some areas aren’t covered by the JR pass. I already checked the schedule for peach and Jetstar airline, but it’s not effiecient for our trip. So i make 2 last options are :
    1. Tokyo metro pass + Hikari shinkansen (tokyo – kyoto one way) + Kansai thru pass.
    2. JR Pass 7 days

    according to the options, which one is better for save trip cost?


    1. Hi Fredy,

      JR pass does not work. You need to have round trip between Tokyo and Osaka. Option 1 is better choice.
      Actually you travel in the busiest period in the year. That is reason why the fare is so expensive. I don’t know how much Willer is. But one way base fare + Shinkansen seat fee is around 14,000 yen.


      Takeshi (not Takeya :)) / JPRail.com

  7. Hi Takeshi-San,
    My wife and I have ordered the 21 day pass and I understand that it also covers the JR bus, but there isn’t much information about it, and I sometimes confuse with the local bus.
    Could you please tell me that is JR bus existed ln Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Takayama, Kanzawa and Kurashiki? If so, is it along the major spots? where I can find the route ?
    With the JR pass I try to make the most of it and spend less on xtra transpotaion fee.
    Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Joe san,

      Actually in these days, most of JR bus companies do not accept JR pass. There is only one route in Kyoto. I mentioned the line to Takao in the post above. That’s it in your trip plan. There are some lines in Kanazawa. But JR bus contacted to me that bus in Kanazawa is not covered. There is no bus services available by JR pass in other cities as far as I know.

      That is why you may need to add local deals to take city bus or/and subway in Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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