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

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

  1. 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.

    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.

      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.


      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!

        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:


          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. 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:


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. 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!

  • Your comment will not be shown until I approve.
  • 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.
  • 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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