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.

*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.

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

  1. 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:

      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.

      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.

      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.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. 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?

  3. 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.


    1. Hi Francis san,

      Actually 7 days pass is okay. You can use 7 days pass from day 7 to the end.

      For day 1 to 6, you can use local deal in Osaka and Kyoto. And you may use single fare from Osaka to Kyoto. Please see the links below to find more info:

      KIX to Osaka



      JR pass does not cover all from day 7 to day 13. You may add single fare or other deal in Tokyo and Lake Kawaguchi area. Please see the links below:


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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