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.

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

  1. Arriving by cruise ship in Kobe for one day only – Port Liner to Sannimoya – want to spend the day in Kyoto exploring and walking as much as possible, especially the tori in Inari , Nijo, Gion and the Phllosophers Path .

    We expect to return Kobe around 20:30 on that same day. We will pay full fare for the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Shin-Kobe. Any tips? Does the one day Kansei Pass cover the Kobe Port liner?

    We expect to take the JR Special Rapid Service from Sannimoya Kobe to Kyoto, but do not want to change trains in Osaka – how do we make sure we do not need to change trains – I see on Hyperdia there are some trains that come in to Osaka on Track 8 and leave on Track 8 to Kyoto – should I assume this means no change of train?

    Same way for our full fare Shinkansen from Kyoto to Kobe – it looks like some Shinkansen trains from Kyoto do not require changing trains in Osaka – is this correct?

    This will be the first week in August – will the trains be very crowded – should we expect to stand up?

    1. Hi J. Livingston,

      You don’t need any passes. Because Kansai area pass does not cover Portliner and Shinkansen. You cannot get the worth of it. Just use a regular fare to take the trains.

      In Hyperdia, it shows you that you have to change trains. But actually you don’t need to. Most Special Rapid Service take you to Kyoto directly. Just stay on the train and proceed your trip. This train is always busy because this is a primary commute train between Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. You may not be able to have a seat when you get on Sannomiya. But many passengers get off at Osaka and other many passengers get on at Osaka. So if you stay in the train at Osaka, you can get the seat there.

      Some Shinkansen trains go through to Shin-Kobe from Kyoto. But Shin-Kobe is one station away from Sannomiya by subway.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/station-information/shin-kobe-station-guide-how-to-change-shinkansen-and-kobe-city-subway.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/station-information/kobe-sannomiya-stations-guide-check-the-location-and-connections-between-many-sannomiya-stations.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi-san,

    We are going to Japan for 11 days and we’re planning to visit, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto.

    Whats the best kind of JR pass should we get that would be usable in those four regions/city?

    Arigato gozaimasu!

      1. We’re arriving at Narita Airport. Then initially, we’re planning to spend 2 days in Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.

        Thanks!

        1. Hi Roy san,

          If you go back to Narita, you may use 7-day JR pass. You will spend 6 days other than Tokyo. So you may use 7-day pass for Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka-Tokyo. As long as you will use 7-day JR pass for this 6 days, you can start using 7-day pass anytime. If you include one way from Narita to Tokyo (or versa), that is perfect. Otherwise you can use other deal. Please see the link below:
          https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JRPail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi-san,

    My family of 4 (2A & 2C) will be travelling to Osaka in mid Oct 2019 for 10D9N. I have shortlisted 2 accommodations – 1 near Tennoji station, another near Imamiya station. R u able to advise which location is more ideal? We plan to stay in Osaka for 9N and make day trips to Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. Most of the days will be spent in Osaka and places we will visit include USJ, The Aquarium, Osaka Castle, Umeda, Dotonburi and the Namba shopping districts. Should we buy a 4D JR West Kansai Pass and use it for our transfer from KIX, and start our holiday itinerary with day trips Kyoto, Kobe and Nara first? Then for the remaining days in Osaka, we just buy single passes? Or instead of JR West Kansai Pass, ICOCA Pass is sufficient? Trying to manage my budget and appreciate some suggestions from you. Thanks!

    Regards
    Michi

    1. Hi Michi san,

      Tennoji is more convenient. Tennoji is one of the hub stations in Osaka. You can take JR and two lines of subway. And also Tennoji can be accessed by JR limited express Haruka directly. You don’t need to change trains. If you stay in Imamiya, you have to change trains at Tennoji.

      Kansai area pass is a good choice. But Kansai thru pass may be better choice.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

      Kansai area pass
      pros
      You can get Kyoto directly by limited express Haruka from Tennoji. It’s fast, convenient and comfortable.
      You can get Nara directly by rapid train from Tennoji.
      cons
      It covers only JR trains. You can get Arashiyama, Nijo and Fushimi only by this pass. You have to pay extra to take subway, city bus and other railways.
      Nara station is about 1 km more far away from Kintetsu Nara station.
      You must use it in the consecutive days.

      Kansai thru pass
      Pros
      It covers city bus, subway and any non JR trains are covered. It is much more convenient in Kyoto.
      You can take Kintetsu railway to get Nara. Kintetsu Nara station is much better location than JR Nara station.
      You can pick any 3 days in your trip to use this pass. You don’t need to use it in the consecutive days.
      Cons
      You cannot get Kyoto directly. You have to take Hankyu railway from Umeda or Keihan railway from Yodoyabashi. You can get these two stations by subway from Tennoji.
      You have to take subway to get Namba and then take Kintetsu railway to get Nara

      For the trip to Kobe, it doesn’t matter. You can use either pass.

      So if you go for Kansai area pass, you can use 4-day pass and start using it from KIX. If you go for Kansai thru pass, you can use ICOCA and Haruka on arrival day and use Kansai thru pass later when you start the trip to Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. You don’t need to use Kansai

      In Osaka, you may find the deal in the link below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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