Kyoto train route guide. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?

kyoto stationKansai Area
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail
Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

Train system in Kyoto may be complicated for you. There are three types of railway, JR, Kyoto City Subway and Private company’s railways. Actually it’s a key to travel in Kyoto smoothly and avoid wasting your valuable time. Of course city of Kyoto has city wide bus service. But during peak season, bus service runs behind the schedule sometimes due to traffic congestion.

And also, there are many types of deals, such as ICOCA, Kansai Thru Pass, JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kyoto city pass. Each pass has different conditions. You have to understand which train system is covered by your pass.

In this post, I tell you about using these deals and explain all train systems in Kyoto.

Which train services that are covered by ICOCA, Kansai Thru Pass and other JR deals

Many deals are available in Kansai area. But each pass have different coverage. I tell you about major passes and deals.

For the travellers who use ICOCA, Kansai one pass, Suica, Pasmo or other IC cards

You can take all trains on the map above except Shinkansen and Sagano Scenic Railway. When you travel in Kansai area, don’t try to take Shinkansen for such a short transfer. Please see the post below to find more information:

Regarding Sagano Scenic Railway, it is not a public transportation but an attraction. This is the reason why it is not covered by any rail pass.

By the way, ICOCA does not cover Kyoto city bus service either. In sometimes 2014, Kyoto city bus will accept ICOCA.

For the travellers who use Kansai Thru Pass

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

You can go anywhere in city of Kyoto. Most of places can be accessed by train. And this pass covers Kyoto City Bus too. Bus services cover all part of city of Kyoto. If you access from Osaka (Umeda) to Kyoto station, you cannot get a direct transfer by this pass. This is only things that you may care.

JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kansai WIDE Area Pass, Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass, Hokuriku Arch Pass

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

I wrote another post which focus on JR Pass and JR regional deals in the link below. You may find how much you can use JR Pass and JR regional deals in Kyoto. You can learn how to maximize using these passes:

Kyoto Sightseeing One and Two-day Pass Card and Kyoto subway pass

Please see the map below:

Click to enlarge. (C) JP Rail

These deals cover Kyoto city subway lines. Kyoto city bus and Kyoto Bus (private bus company) are also covered by Kyoto Sightseeing one day and two day cards. If you will take bus, you can go almost anywhere in city of Kyoto. Only place where is not covered by this pass is Uji.

How to access to major spots in Kyoto by train

As I mentioned above, sometimes bus services are affected by heavy traffic. And there are too many lines of bus in city of Kyoto. You may be confused by too many choices. Therefore I recommend you to use train service as much as you can.

If you need more info about bus, you may be able to find it at Japan-Guide.com

Gion

If you see Maiko in Gion, you are very lucky. © Y.Shimizu/© JNTO

You can get there by both Hankyu Railway and Keihan Railway. Hankyu’s Kawaramachi station is located 5 minutes away from Keihan’s Gion-Shijo staiton. There is Kamo river between these two stations. One of most popular market, Nishiki market is located bear Kawaramachi station. This area is one of the busiest area in Kyoto.

If you access from Osaka, take Hankyu if you stay in Umeda (JR Osaka station) and take Keihan if you stay in Namba or Shinsaibashi area. Yodoyabashi is connected by Osaka subway Midousuji line.

Kiyomizudera

It is Must-See spot in Kyoto. ©Sue Ann Simon/©JNTO

Actually it’s a bit away from the station. But you can get there from Keihan’s Kiyomizu-Gojo station. The distance is 1.7 km and takes about 20 minutes.

Arashiyama

Togetsukyo is the icon of Arashiyama. ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO

There are three stations, Hankyu, Randen and JR. Randen’s Arashiyama station is located in the heart of Arashiyama. But you will be okay with other two stations. JR’s Saga-Arashiyama station is about 15 minutes away from Randen’s Arashiyama station. Hankyu’s Arashiyama station is located at other side of Katsura river. Togetsu bridge connects these two stations.

If you get Arashiyama from Umeda, obviously Hankyu Railway is the best choice. But there is no direct train service from Umeda to Arashiyama. You have to transfer at Katsura.

If you get Arashiyama from Kyoto station or using JR deals, JR Sagano line is the best choice.

If you get Arashiyama from Gion and Kawaramachi area, I recommend you to take Hankyu to Omiya and transfer to Randen. Randen is not very well known. This rail service is like street car and it runs on the street at some part of this line. This 20 minutes ride will be nice experience in your Kyoto visit. Hankyu’s Omiya station is located underground and Randen’s Shijo-Omiya station is on the ground. But it’s just cross the road and only 3 minutes away.

If you stay in Sanjo area and get Arashiyama, take subway to Uzumasa-Tenjingawa station and transfer to Randen. Randen-Tenjingawa station is located on the ground and subway’s station is underground. But it’s same place.

Kinkakji (Golden Pavilion)

I recommend you to drop by Ryoanji temple before visit Kinkakuji. ©JNTO

It can be accessed from randen’s Kitano-Hakubaicho station on foot. It takes about 20 nminutes. Of course you can catch the bus at Kitano-Hakubaicho station. It is three bus stops away from Kinkakuji and takes about 5 minutes.

If you access there from Arashiyama, Randen is a good choice. But if you get there from Gion, Kyoto station and other places, Randen is considerable. You have to change the train at Katabiranotsuji. It takes about 30 minutes from both Shijo-Omiya and Arashiyama. But Kinakakuji can be accessed by direct bus from many places in Kyoto. Even though I consider traffic, bus service may be faster than Randen. And also Kinkakuji can be accessed from subway’s Kitaoji staion by bus. If you get there from Kyoto station and Gion, this route is the fastest.

Nijo castle

Nijo castle is located in the heart of Kyoto. It is very easy to access there. ©JNTO

The nearest station is subway’s Nijojo staton. But you can access there from JR Nijo station too. So you can choose the trains by you pass/deal.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine is very famous as thousands of torii gates. ©Kyoto Convention Bureau /©JNTO

It can be accessed by both JR and Keihan. JR’s Inari station is the nearest station. But Keihan’s station is only 5 minutes away from the shrine. You can choose it by your pass/deals.

If you combine this place with Nara, JR’s Inari station is on the way to Nara.

Uji

Byodoin Hououdou is the highlight in Uji. © JNTO

It is not located in city of Kyoto. So you cannot get there by city bus.

Both JR and Keihan can take you there. The biggest spot, Byodoin is located between JR Uji and Keihan’s Uji stations. It take about 10 minutes from both stations.

If you get there from Osaka, Keihan Railway is the best choice. But there is no direct train to Uji from Yodoyambashi. You have to change the trains at Chushojima.

Kyoto subway line goes to Rokujizo station. This is located at same place as JR’s Rokujizo station. You can change the trains very easily there. But Keihan’s Rokujizo station is a bit away from subway/JR stations. So if you access there from the heart of Kyoto, subway and JR combination is a good choice too.

Comments

  1. Eric Hui says:

    Hi Takeshi

    Your website is awesome. You are even more awesome to help foreigners!
    Our trip covers this area: Osaka – Hiroshima – Kyoto – Kobe
    Roughly 12 nights
    Should we buy JR 5-day pass or something else?
    Thank you so much!

    Eric (Singapore)

  2. Hello Takeshi San,

    I will have my first visit (Total 10 days) to Japan end of May and I am confused with so many types of travel pass available in Japan.

    I will arriving in Kansai Airport and I wish to travel to a few places which including Takayama, Shirakawago, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe.

    My initial planning as below:
    Day 1: Arriving Kansai Airport – Takayama
    Day 2: Day trip to Shirakawago
    Day 3: Sight seeing and walk around Takayama
    Day 1 – 3: (Overnight in Takayama)

    Day 4: Leaving Takayama and return to Osaka
    Day 5: Day trip to Kyoto
    Day 6: Day trip to Kyoto & Nara
    Day 7: Day trip to Kobe
    Day 8: Osaka USJ
    Day 9 & 10: Sight seeing and walk around Osaka

    Day 4 – 10: (Overnight in Osaka)

    Please advise the following:
    1. Would it better for me to stay 2 night in Kyoto on Day 4 & 5 instead of having day trip to Kyoto from Osaka?
    2. What kind of travel pass that I need to cover my trip for these places? (JR Pass & ICOCA only is it sufficient? Any better alternative option you could suggest?)
    3. Which area of Osaka is more convenient for me to stay for my trip as mentioned above?

    Thank you in advance.

  3. boxallj
    Jayne Boxall says:

    Hello Takeshi,
    I am visiting Tokyo for one week in April with 2 friends to see my teenage son who is there for six months so doesn’t qualify for a JapanRail Pass. We wish to visit Kyoto for a day. Is it feasible for all four of us to do this on the Seishun 18 Spring rail pass or is there a better option to choose? Or would I be better just to book us on an organised tour? We would prefer to do it ourselves if possible.
    Thanks in advance for your advice.

  4. graceyfulicious
    Grace says:

    Hi. We are planning to visit Tokyo and Osaka this April. We will arrive in Narita airport and we will travel right away to osaka. Our hotel is near osaka uehonmachi station. We are to stay in Japan for 1 week so we opt to buy the 7-day JR pass. Can this pass be used in osaka uehonmachi? Thank you

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of JPRail.com
      Takeshi / JPRail.com says:

      Hi Grace,

      If you leave from Narita, you can use JR pass. If you leave from Osaka, you cannot. JR Pass 7 days price is almost equal to round trip between Osaka and Tokyo. One way trip is not enough to use JR Pass.

      Uehonmachi is not JR station and JR pass does not cover. You have to take Kintetsu railway or subway to get Tsuruhashi or Namba. These stations are JR station and close to Uehonmachi. You can find the map of JR Pass coverage area in Osaka in the post above. Please read the post above again to make sure.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Pau says:

    Hi Takeshi,
    I would like to ask for an advise. Our hotel for Kyoto is near the Kyoto Station while for Osaka it is near the Universal Studios Japan. What would be the best pass to avail if my itinerary is as follows:
    Day 1: KIX to Kyoto Station

    Day 2: Kyoto Station to Nara Park

    Day 3: Kyoto Station to Universal Studios Japan

    Day 4: USJ to Osaka/Dotonburi

    Day 5: USJ to KIX

    I am still thinking if I should get the JR Rail Pass but i don’t think I can use it that much. What would be the best and cheaper alternative for this?

    Thank you very much.

  6. Kesshmita says:

    Hi there, I’m Kesshmita frm Malaysia.
    My family and I (all adults) are staying in Nara during our entire stay. We would like to go to Kobe & Himeji (day trip) then come back to Nara same day, next day to Namba and then back to Nara, and lasty to Kyoto for another day trip. Basically everyday we come back to Nara as we will stay here. Can you pls advise on the cheapest mode o travel? Arigatao gozaimasu 🙂

  7. JinYee says:

    Hi Takeshi-san

    I am traveling to Kansai region soon and is thinking of getting either the JR Kansai West WIDE Area Pass or the JR Kansai West Area Pass.

    These are the place I am going to:

    1)Kyoto(plan to stay here for about 5 days, visiting and traveling out to side trips to the below region.)

    2)Shiga Region for Biwako
    3)Azuchi Region for Azuchi Castle
    4)Nara

    5)Osaka(stay for the next 4 days, then travel to Kansai Internation Airport to fly home from there.

    Are any of the JR Kansai Passes covering all these area?

  8. Hi Takeshi,

    I will be travelling to Japan in Feb/March 2018 for business and leisure with my mum. Below is my itinerary and will appreciate it if you could advise.

    Day 1 (24/2/2018) Narita Airport – Tokyo Downtown (One Way Tokyo Skyliner); Shinjuku/Harajuku/Shibuya area (Tokyo Subway 48 hours)
    Day 2 (25/2/2018) Tokyo Disneyland (Tokyo Subway 48 hours)
    Day 3 (26/2/2018) Business
    Day 4 (27/2/2018) Business
    Day 5 (28/2/2018) 1/2 day business; Ginza area (Tokyo Subway 48 hours)
    Day 6 (1/3/2018) Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa area (Tokyo Subway 48 hours)
    Day 7 (2/3/2018) Tokyo – Mount Fuji (Fuji Hakone Pass)
    Day 8 (3/3/2018) Hakone (Fuji Hakone Pass)
    Day 9 (4/3/2018) Tokyo – Takayama – Shirakawago – Takayama (7 Days JR Pass-Hokuriku Shinkansen Kagayaki + JR Limited Wide View Hilda 8 + 2 Ways Nohi Bus)
    Day 10 (5/3/2018) Takayama – Kanazawa (7 Days JR Pass-Hokuriku Shinkansen Kagayaki + JR Limited Wide View Hilda 8)
    Day 11 (6/3/2018) Kanazawa – Kyoto (7 Days JR Pass-Limited Express Thunderbird); Kyoto (Kyoto City Sightseeing Card or All Day Bus Pass)
    Day 12 (7/3/2018) Kyoto – Osaka (7 Days JR Pass-Tokaido Shinkansen Hikari); Osaka sightseeing (Osaka 2Days Amazing Pass)
    Day 13 (8/3/2018) Osaka – Nara (7 Days JR Pass-Osaka Loop Line + Yamatoji Line); Osaka sightseeing (Osaka 2Days Amazing Pass)
    Day 14 (9/3/2018) Osaka-Universal Studio Japan (7 Days JR Pass-Osaka Loop Line)
    Day 15 (10/3/2018) Kansai Airport (One way Kansai Skyliner)

    Couple of questions:
    1) Is it still worthwhile that we activate our 7 days JR pass on 4/3/2018?
    2) Can I use JR pass for sightseeing in Kyoto or do I need to purchase Kyoto City Sightseeing Card? Can I purchase the Kyoto City Sightseeing Card online?
    3) Is this itinerary workable?
    4) Can I purchase the Fuji Hakone Pass online?
    5) Can I purchase the Nohi Bus tickets online?

    Regards,
    Cornelia Lim

  9. Quill says:

    Hi Takeshi San,

    I am using the Takayama Hokuriku Pass, which was reissued about a year ago. I once heard that the pass could be used from Kyoto station to JR Arashiyama, as it is in a line to Osaka. Could you please clarify this for me?

    Thank you so mich in advance and Happy belated New Year ! 🙂

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of JPRail.com
      Takeshi / JPRail.com says:

      Hi Quill san,

      Unfortunately Takayama Hokuriku area pass does not cover Kyoto to Arashiyama. You can get Kyoto from Osaka but Arashiyama is not in the coverage area.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  10. Amelia says:

    Hi Takeshi San,

    I am using the JR 7 day pass from tokyo to osaka, passing through kanazawa and kyoto on the way. We will have a day trip to Kyoto and going to these places below. Can you please advise if the JR Pass will cover each of these places? Thank you in advance
    Kiyumizudera Temple
    Nishiki Market
    Arashiyama
    Gion for Geisha
    Fushimi inari-taisha
    Kinkaku ji

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