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

  1. 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.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. 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,

    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.

      In Osaka and Kyoto, JR pass covers JR local trains, limited express trains and Shinkansen.

      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.

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

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


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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