How to explore Kyoto by JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, and other JR West Rail Passes

Kyoto Imperial Palace ©Akira Okada/©JNTO
Kyoto Imperial Palace ©Akira Okada/©JNTO

Kyoto (京都) is most popular destination in Japan. You may visit Kyoto by Japan Rail Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass, Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass and other JR West Rail Passes. You may be wondering how much you can use your pass to explore Kyoto?

In this post, I tell you the coverage of JR Pass and other rail passes in Kyoto.

*If you are looking for information about not only JR trains in Kyoto but also JR, Non JR and subway, please refer the post, Guide to take trains in Kyoto. How to choose the best route by train to get the major spots?.

Location of JR stations and routes

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 Sagano line. You can use this line to Nijo Castle and Arashiyama. From Kyoto station, you can take JR Nara line to south. There are Tofuku-ji temple, Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine and Uji.

And also one bus line runs between Kyoto station and Syuzan via Shijo-Omiya, Nijo station, Ryoanji temple, Takao. This bus line is operated by Nishinihon JR Bus which is covered by JR pass and JR West deals. This route is very scenic. Especially in autumn season, the scenery of fall foliage is breathtaking.

Basically these above train and bus lines are covered by JR pass and JR West Rail Passes.

Access to other places in Kyoto

JR Kyoto station is a bit away from most of sightseeing spots. There are many hotels and shopping complexes around Kyoto station. It is a good location to stay in Kyoto. Especially if you arrive and depart by Shinkansen, Kyoto station is the gateway. You can drop off your baggages and start to explore in Kyoto. However in Kyoto, east and north part of city have many popular places for the tourists, such as Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavillion) and Ryoan-ji Temple at north, and Gion area, Kiyomizu-dera temple, Heian-jingu Shrine and Ginkaku-ji temple at east. You have to take train, subway and/or bus to get these places if you stay near Kyoto station. And subway, city bus and Non JR railways are not covered by JR pass and JR West Rail Passes.

Sagano Scenic Railway

I highly recommend you to take “Sagano Sightseeing Train” if you are interested in a scenic train ride. 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 Sagano line. Be careful that they do not have any scheduled train from December 30 to the end of February. You can get more information at this Sagano Romantic Train. You can reserve a ticket at Midori-no-madoguchi (=みどりの窓口=Reservation ticket window at major Japan Railway station). JR Pass and JR West Rail passes are not eligible to ride this train. But this is worth paying extra and spending your valuable time in Japan.

284 thoughts on “How to explore Kyoto by JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, and other JR West Rail Passes”

  1. Hi Takeshi san
    I’m Shailesh. Travelling to Japan for the first time.
    I will be staying in Kyoto for 4 days.
    Later Plan to visit Hiroshima 1 day trip and then Mount Fuji 1 day trip.
    Would a JR pass be useful? If so, which one?
    Would the JR pass Be useful for travel inside Kyoto? Is there another local transportation pass I can purchase for Kyoto?
    Regards
    Shailesh

  2. Hello takeshi san,
    Im travelling to kansai from 19th to 26th nov
    I will go kyoto from kansai airport
    Spend 19th to 21st in kyoto
    Stays near shijo omiya
    And go to Universal studio on 22nd and continue my trip in osaka
    Travel to Nara on 23rd
    I hv bought osaka amazing pass for my 2 days tour in osaka 24th and 25th
    My prob now is i hvnt bought any paas for my trip kansai airport-kyoto and travel around kyoto
    Do u hv any suggestion for that? I need ur opinion badly
    Thanks

  3. Hi Takeshi-san,

    I’ll be traveling to Osaka from Tokyo for 5 days and planned to use Kansai Wide Pass to travel around.
    My concern is that I’ll be arriving at Shin-Osaka via shinkansen and my hotel is somewhere around Shin-Imamiya and Doubutsuenmae station.

    Can i use my Kansai Wide pass from Shin Osaka to Shin Imamiya instead of buying a subway ticket?

    Thank you in advance.

  4. Hi,

    i will be travelling with my sister to Japan for the first time from Sept 18-25.

    We will be arriving in Kansai and will go straight to Kyoto. Will be staying in kyoto from Sept 19-22 then go to Okamaya from Sept 22- 24 then Osaka from Sept 24-25.

    May i know what’s the best card to buy?

    Thank you in advance;.

    1. Hi Abi,

      You may use Kansai Wide Area Pass for Kyoto-Okayama-Osaka.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/the-newest-jr-west-rail-pass-for-kansai-and-okayama-kurashiki-kinosakai-and-shingu-area-kansai-wide-area-pass.html

      This ticket is valid for 5 days. As long as it covers trip to Okayama, you can start using it anytime. But do not include Osaka to Kansai airport. As you probably know, all international flights are canceled due to the damage by tropical cyclone. Train bridge to the airport is damaged and all trains to/from Kansai airport are suspended. It will take one month to fix. So you cannot use the pass to get airport.

      Kansai airport is opened partially now. According to the airport authority said, all terminal building will be open a week later. I think you can land Kansai airport on 18th. But only bus is the way to/from airport. You should have an extra time for trip to Kyoto and go back to the airport. Please contact your airline and find how much you should have.

      Please see the links below to find the deal for Kyoto and Osaka sightseeing when you don’t use Kansai wide area pass.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

        1. Hi Abi,

          Kansai area pass does not work because you will not be able to take a train from Kansai airport as I mentioned in the previous reply. Only limousine bus is your choice. And you cannot get the worth of it by sightseeing in Kyoto only. I think city bus pass is okay for sightseeing in Kyoto. When you need to take train or subway, just pay a regular fare or using IC card, such as Kansai one pass.
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/what-is-ic-card-suica-icoca-pasmo-how-to-use-these-cards.html
          https://kansaionepass.com/en/about.html?info=1

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. hi,

            Can i use my JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass for the following:

            *to kansai airport from osaka
            * to kyoto from kansai airport
            *to Okayama from Kyoto

            1. Hi Abi,

              *to kansai airport from osaka
              Yes. You can take Haruka from Tennoji or Shin-Osaka. Or you can use Kansai airport rapid from most of major stations in Osaka.
              https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/kansai-airport-limited-express-haruka.html
              https://jprail.com/travel-informations/how-to-get-kansai-airport-and-wakayama-kansai-airport-rapid-service-and-kishuji-rapid-service.html

              * to kyoto from kansai airport
              Yes. You can take Haruka.

              *to Okayama from Kyoto
              You can take Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto. This pass does not cover Shinkansen from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka. You have to take Haruka or Special rapid service.
              https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/rapid-service/special-rapid-service.html

              Cheers,

              Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello Takeshi san,

    Planning to visit Japan from Sep 20 -30. My itinerary starts arriving in Narita and staying in Kyoto or Osaka. From there I am planning day visits to Kyoto or Osaka (depending where I stay),Nara and Kobe and to Hiroshima. On Sep 25th I will travel to Tokyo for the remaining time of my trip. Should I get the 14 day JR pass?

    1. Hi Arturo san,

      I think 7 days JR pass is okay. You can use it for the first 7 days of your trip. After it expires, you can use subway pass for sightseeing in Tokyo. Even if you need to take JR trains in downtown Tokyo, regular fare is around 200 yen. It’s not worth using JR pass in Tokyo. Please see the link below to find the train system in Tokyo.
      https://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

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hello Takeshi,
    I am very impressed with your rich information and helpfulness and would like to seek your help as well.

    My husband and I will be visiting Japan between 12.-22.04 aiming at catching the cherry blossoms. I have checked the sakura forecast and done some research and drafted this plan. Could you please let me know if you may do it otherwise from a time, cost and cherry blossom perspective?

    13. 04 pm arrive Tokyo, staying in Shinjuku
    14.04 Shinjuku Gyoen, Imperial Palance, Senso-ji, Skytree
    15.04 Shinjuku to Hakone.
    Closewise loop or anitclosewise?
    Should I stay in Yumoto or Gora?
    16.04 Hakone-Ueda-Nagano-Matsumoto-Takada castle-Kanazawa??? Is it too aggressive? Aim is to catch cherry blossom and night viewing. Plan is to reach Kanazawa late at night and visit the city only the next day.
    17.04 Kanazawa and travel to Kyoto in the evening
    18.04 Kyoto
    19.04 Kyoto and Osaka
    20.04 Nara city and Mt. Yoshino (again for cherry blossoms)
    21.04 Himeji
    22.04 Kyoto to Kansai airport very early in the morning.

    I plan to get and activate a 7-day JR pass when I leave Hakone and for taking the Kansai express to the airport (16.-22.4) . What do you think?

    I would appreciate any comments and suggestions, especially where to catch the cherry blossom in late April as they seem to blossom earlier than average this year

    1. Hi Wai,

      JR pass is okay as you think. For the first few days in Tokyo, you can pick the deal in the link below:
      http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/airport_bus/index.html

      You can add single fare for taking Odakyu line to get Odawara and use Hakone Free Pass from Odawara. You don’t need round trip to/from Shinjuku. So you can use Hakone Free Pass Odawara version. You can purchase it at Shinjuku station.
      http://www.odakyu.jp/english/deels/freepass/hakone/

      Hakone-Yumoto is better place to stay because you have to leave early on 16th. If you visit counterclockwise, it’s less crowded. But if you visit clockwise, Mt. Fuji will appear when you are in Hakone Ropeway. It’s more dramatic. Either way has cons and pros.

      On 16th, it’s not impossible. You will spend 2.5 hours to get the first place, Ueda. Nagano is very closed to Ueda. But you will spend one hour for one way to get Matsumoto. You will spend at least 4 hours for Nagano-Matsumoto (2 hours stop)-Nagano. 2 hours is minimum. It allows you to walk to Matsumoto castle and see there and come back to Matsumoto station. Takada is one way to Kanazawa. So it’s possible. Please use hyperdia to find the timetable and build the detailed plan for this day.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/hyperdia-perfect-guide-train-timetable-and-route-search-engine.html

      You may not be able to see cherry blossom at Yoshino. According to the forecast in the link below, 20th is too late to see it in this year.
      https://www.japan-guide.com/sakura/

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. hello takeshi-san,

    i will be staying in osaka only fr 16/2 to 23/2. Plan to make day trip to kyoto but looking at things to do there, i think i might need to make 2-3 daily trips to kyoto. Which pass is suitable for us?

  8. Hello Takeshi-san
    I’m Francis, and I’ll be travelling to Japan for the 1st time with my wife sometime April next year. Please suggest which rail/bus pass should we get. Below are our itinery:

    Day 1-3 (Osaka)
    Reach Kansai, will be staying Namba area for 2 nights.
    Places to visit: Nakanoshima park, Dotonburi, Osaka Castle, House and living Museum, Umeda building and Kaiyukan aquarium.

    Day 3-6 (Kyoto)
    Travel to Kyoto, staying around Yamashina area
    Places we plan to go: Ginkakuji, Nijo Castle, Gion, Kyoto national garden and Arashiyama
    Also a day trip to Nara,

    Day 7-10
    Will leave for Tokyo early day 7
    Places to visit: Tsukiji fish market, Akihabara, Rikugien, National Tokyo Museum, Shinjuku and Shibuya area

    Day 11-12
    Travel to Kawaguchi-ko, stay for 2 nights

    Day 13
    Travel back to Kansai airport for flight back to Malaysia

    We are considering getting a JR pass for 14 days, then maybe local passes in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. What do you think?
    Thanks so much for doing this, really appreciate your help.

    Regards,
    Francis

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