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

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

  1. Hello Takeshi,

    We are planning our Japan trip for December and we are considering Kyoto as our first stop upon arrival in Itami Airport. What would you recommend be the best way to travel from the airport to Kyoto? Our concern would be our heavy luggages since we would be coming in from Tokyo. Are limousine bus a good choice or should we take the Hankyu train instead?

    Best Regards,
    Gina

    1. Hi Gina,

      Limousine bus is the best choice. Hankyu railway is a commute train route. You need to change the trains on the way to Kyoto and it does not have any luggage space. Limousine is much better choice.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,

        Thank you for your reply. On the way back from Kyoto to Osaka, what type of bus can we take if we will be staying at the Umeda area?

        Best Regards,
        Gina

  2. Hi there,

    I will be traveling to Japan for 10 nights beginning arriving on 4/29.

    4/29 Arrive at Haneda 6AM- travel to Shinjuku
    4/29-5/3 Stay in Shinjuku/Tokyo
    5/3 Travel to Osaka 3 nights with day trips to Kyoto
    5/6 Travel back to Tokyo (either from Osaka or Kyoto)
    5/9 Fly out of Haneda at 9PM

    Do you think it’ll be best for us to purchase the 7 day JR pass? If so, what is the most optimal to start using the pass?

    Thank you so much for your help!
    Tenny

  3. Hello,

    We are a family of 4 (2 adults 2 children 11yrs & 6yrs). Below is our itinerary:-

    4th April we arrive Haneda airport and catch the monorail (owned by JR East) to Hamamatsucho monorail station. We are staying in this area for 2 nights and will walk and use trains to look around Tokyo.

    6th April we take the Limited Expresss Kusatsu from Ueno station to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station and connect to the Jr Bus Kanto shuttle bus to Kusatsu Onsen.

    7th April we return from Kusatsu Onsen to Tokyo staying at Tokyo Bay area.

    8th April we travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima (either by bullet train or plane?). We are staying at the Grand Prince Hotel. I believe we can use the Hiroshim tourist loop bus with a JR Pass.

    11th April we travel from Hiroshima to Kyoto by bullet train. While in Kyoto we will visit Arashiyama area and staying in Higashiyama Ward. We may take a day trip to Nara.

    14th April we travel from Kyoto to Tokyo.

    14th-18th stay at Tokyo bay in Tokyo and using the rail system to see the sights of Tokyo.

    If we go by train to Hiroshima would you recommend the 7 or 14 day JR Rail pass?

    If we decide to fly to Hiroshima would you recommend the 7 or 14day Rail pass?

    Do you think the JR Rail pass is the best for our itinerary?

    Many thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Liz,

      If you take a flight to Hiroshima from Tokyo, even 7 days JR pass does not work. Single ticket is cheaper.
      If you take a train to Hiroshima, you can use 14 days pass. You can use it for the first or the last 14 days of your trip. But JR office at Haneda is open from 7:45 to 18:30. You may not be able to start using it when you arrive in Haneda.

      I think use 14 days pass and taking train to Hiroshima is the best choice.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you for your advice.

        We are going to purchase an14 day ordinary pass. Would you recommend paying extra to reserve seats on the train during spring time?

  4. Hi, I am to purchase a Japan Rail Pass and will travel from TOkyo to Kyoto and Osaka. Only staying for a day in each of these cities.
    In Kyoto, We stay near Nijo Castle and I plan to walk to go to Nishiki, Gion, Kiyumizu dera,and lastly Fushimi Inari. Google says it will take around 2 hours for the travel. Then, I will take train from Inari station to Kyoto for the shinkansen back to Tokyo.
    With this plan, do you recommend another pass for Kyoto? or I can use the JR pass from Inari to Kyoto station? or just 1 ticket?Thanks

  5. Hello Takeshi-san!

    I am having real trouble deciding whether or not to get a 14-day JR pass for my trip to Japan coming up May 22nd-June 5th. Here is the itinerary:

    5/22-5/31– Arrive in Narita airport, stay in Tokyo (with day trips to Hakone and possibly Nikko). Travel by Metro, Toei, and JR lines depending on the destination

    5/31-6/4– Kyoto (possible day trip to Osaka). JR pass is not very useful here, will need another pass.

    6/4- Return to Tokyo to depart from Narita airport

    I am thinking either we get a JR 14-day pass + Suica card + Kansai thru pass, or we just buy separate train tickets for trips from Narita-Tokyo, Tokyo-Kyoto + Tokyo-Hakone via Odakyu line + Suica Card +Kansai thru pass.

    Getting the JR pass may be more convenient, but I wonder if it will be much more expensive in the long run. What do you think about this? I have been stuck on the decision for a while. Thank you, I would really appreciate your advice!

    -Alanna

    1. Hi Alanna san,

      I recommend you to use 7 days JR pass. Actually 7 days pass is almost equal to round trip fare by Shinkansen between Kyoto and Tokyo. So I recommend you to use 7 days pass for the last 7 days of your trip. If you go to Nikko in this 7 days period, your saving is getting bigger. And also if you include trip to Hakone in this 7 days period, you can take Shinkansen to get Odawara on the way to Hakone.

      You may use subway pass or other deals before you use JR pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeshi-san,

    Good day to you. I will be in Tokyo from April 1 to 5 and the following days I am planning to visit Kyoto until on my return flight on April 12 from Narita, Tokyo. Would you recommend to get a JR pass?

    Your recommendation is highly appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Dee

      1. Thank you Takeshi-san for your quick response. Just wondering if 7-day JR pass is sufficient for my entire stay. I’m arriving in Narita Airport on April 1 so I will use the pass the same day. My return flight will be on April 12. A 7-day pass will expire before my return flight. Thought I should get the 14- day pass. Your kind recommedation would be a great help.

        Thanks,
        Dee

        1. Hi Dee san,

          Don’t start using JR pass when you arrive in Narita. I gave you the links in the previous reply. You can find Narita access and subway pass deal in these links. You may use it before you leave Tokyo.

          You may start using JR pass on April 6 when you leave Tokyo for Kyoto and it covers until you get Narita. 14 days pass is too expensive for your trip.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hi Takeshi,
    Good day.

    We will be arriving Osaka on early April. We are staying at Osaka and travel to both Kyoto and Nara.

    Our itinerary are :
    3 days to Kyoto.
    1 day to Nara.
    1 day trip to Shirakawago.

    Would you please advise if Kansai Thru Pass or JR Pass are more suitable for above, travelling from Osaka.

    Appreciate your feedback. Thank you.

    Best regards,
    Gaik

    1. Hi Gaik,

      You need Takayama Hokuriku area pass for the trip to Shirakawago anyway.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/takayama-hokuriku-area-pass-perfect-deal-to-get-takayama-kanazawa-toyama-shirakawago-from-nagoya-or-osaka.html

      This pass is valid for 5 days but it’s not very useful for other trips. You can get Kyoto from Osaka by this pass. But you have to add other fares or deals after arriving Kyoto. This pass does not cover any local transportation in Kyoto. Please see the link below to find the deal 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

      Trip to Nara is not covered by this pass at all. You may add Kintetsu rail pass one day.
      http://www.kintetsu.co.jp/foreign/english/ticket/krp_1day2day.html

      But if you want to see the places around Nara station, such as Deer park, Big Buddha, single fare from Namba to Nara is less than 600 yen. Single fare is cheaper than pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Hi Takeshi-San,
    I have booked my trip to Japan for the first time and I will be in the following places below:
    1. Osaka 13-16 th April , hotel in Chua ward.
    2. Depart from Osaka to Kyoto on 16th April. Stay in Kyoto in one of the hotel in
    Nakagyo Ward for 5 days.
    3. Depart form Kyoto to Tokyo via the JR pass bullet train on 21st April . Stay in Tokyo 3 nights in Ueno area.

    Do you think it’s worth getting a 14 days JR pass for the 12 days duration inOsaka-Kyoto-Tokyo?
    If not what are your recommendation?

    Thanks for your advice .

  9. Hi Takeshi-San,

    My wife and I are debating if getting the 7-day JR Pass will be worth it.

    Day 1: Narita Airport –> Shinjuku Station
    – Will use JR via Narita Express

    Day 2-4 Tokyo
    – Will use JR Yamanote Line and Chuo Line to get around Tokyo
    – Will use Suica Card for other subway fares

    Day 5 Tokyo to Kyoto
    – Will use JR (Hikari)
    – Suica card for other subway, rails

    Day 6 Kyoto to Shin-Kobe, Shin-Kobe to Osaka, Osaka to Kyoto
    – Will use JR to get to these places

    From my calculation, it will cost us around 25,000 -26000 yen. If you were us (first time in Japan), would you pay the 3000-4000 difference to save on time/convenience?

    1. Hi Will san,

      I recommend you to use JR pass because it’s much easier to handle.

      As you think, single ticket and adding other local deals is cheaper. But it’s complicated. And also JR pass gives you flexibility. If you change your mind to visit other place, you can change your plan easily by JR pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  10. Hi Takeshi-San,

    My husband and I will be travelling throughout Japan, from March 20 – March 31st. Our planned trip is as follows:

    March 20 – Arrive (Kansai) Osaka
    March 21 – Osaka / Kyoto
    March 22 – Kyoto
    March 23 – Kyoto (side trip to Himeji and Hiroshima)
    March 24 – Kyoto
    March 25 – Kyoto / Lake Biwa
    March 26 – Lake Biwa / Tokyo
    March 27 – Tokyo
    March 28- Tokyo
    March 29- Tokyo
    March 30- Tokyo

    We are either considering the 5 day Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass (begin on 3/21) and paying separately for the bullet train from Lake Biwa -> Tokyo, or alternatively purchasing the 7 day JR Rail Pass (begin on 3/23). Are the Rail Passes much use in cities like Kyoto or Tokyo? Also, I believe that the 5 day Kansai-Hiroshima area pass does not allow you to reserve seats – do you believe that this could be a problem based on the time we are travelling?

    Your help thoughts are much appreciated!

    Thank you,
    Rachel

    1. Hi Rachel san,

      Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass + single ticket are slightly cheaper than 7 days JR pass. But the difference is quite small, so I recommend you to use JR Pass. As you think, Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass does not cover reserved seat. You will travel in spring break in Japan. Reserved seat is more comfortable.

      You can start using JR pass when you arrive in Osaka on Mar 20. You can get Osaka by JR trains, such as Haruka.
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/kansai-airport-limited-express-haruka.html

      In Osaka and Kyoto, JR pass covers JR local trains, limited express trains and Shinkansen.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/tips-for-japan-rail-pass/how-to-transfer-among-kyoto-osaka-and-kobe-compare-japan-railway-and-private-lines.html

      Of course you can get Hiroshima by Shinkansen by JR pass. You also can use Hiroshima loop bus by JR pass. Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass does not cover this bus.
      https://www.chugoku-jrbus.co.jp/teikan/meipurupu/en/

      JR pass will be expired when you are in Tokyo. You can use subway pass in Tokyo.
      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

      I don’t know which airport you will leave, Haneda or Narita. But single fare is only choice to get the airport anyway.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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