Kyoto is Japan’s seventh largest city, and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Home to many of Japan’s best historical and cultural treasures, such as centuries-old buildings, world heritage temples and shrines, and well-preserved traditional districts, it attracts swarms of visitors all year round.
Before heading to Kyoto, it is recommended that you familiarise yourself with how the city’s transportation system works so you can easily travel from one tourist spot to another. Here is some basic information on getting around Kyoto:
Kyoto has an efficient bus network that reaches more attractions than the subway or train. At Kyoto Station, there are bus stops that serve different lines operated by various companies. If travelling within the central part of the city, the green Kyoto City Bus buses are the best option, while the red Kyoto Bus buses are best for travel to the outskirts .
How to ride the bus
- Once the bus arrives at the bus stop, walk to the rear door of the bus to enter.
- The next stop is displayed on the monitor usually placed at the front of the bus and/or is announced.
- If your stop is coming up next, push the button.
- Before disembarking through the bus’ front door, pay exact fare by dropping your coins into the payment box beside the driver. If you do not have the exact amount, you can exchange your bills and coins using the change machine attached to the payment box.
- If using a one-day bus pass, make sure to insert the pass into the machine beside the driver to get the validity date printed before disembarking. On your next ride, simply show your pass with the printed date to the driver as you exit the bus.
- If you have an IC card, just tap your card onto the card reader when you enter the bus and when you get off.
Train and Subway
In Kyoto there are several JR Lines, private railway lines, and two subway lines.
- The JR Tokaido Shinkansen, JR Sagano, and JR Nara lines all stop at Kyoto Station and give easy access to some popular attractions in the city, such as Arashiyama (via the JR Sagano Line) and Fushimi Inari Taisha (via the JR Nara Line) and other cities.
- The Karasuma Subway Line runs from southern Kyoto to northern Kyoto along Karasuma Street; and the Tozai Subway Line runs from eastern Kyoto to western Kyoto.
- Private railways, such as the Hankyu Railway and Keifuku Railway, go to Arashiyama.
How to ride the train and subway
- All train and subway stations have automatic ticket machines (with English language option and fare guides nearby). Fares for adults ranges from 210 yen to 350 yen, and for kids from 110 yen to 180 yen, depending on your destination.
- Insert your ticket into the ticket gate slot and remember to retrieve it as you will need it once you arrive at your destination. If you have an IC card, simply tap the card onto the card reader on the ticket gate to be able to enter. If you have a sightseeing pass, insert it into the same slot where single tickets go and do not forget to retrieve it as you pass through the gate.
- Walk to the platforms and wait for your train. The stations should have signs and/or monitors to indicate the correct platform for your train.
- Once you reach your destination, exit the train and head towards the automatic ticket gates. If you have a ticket, insert it into the ticket gate slot to pass through. If you have an IC card, touch your card onto the card reader and go through the gate. For a sightseeing pass, insert it into the slot and be sure to retrieve it once you pass through the gate.
Additional information on IC cards
- If you need to top up your IC card, you can do so up to 20,000 yen at a re-charging machine at any station.
- Some major IC cards, such as Suica and Pasmo, can be used in all Kyoto bus, train and subway lines. They cannot be used for Shinkansen travel or many highway and airport buses.
- IC cards can also be used to pay for purchases at certain convenience stores and vending machines, and for use of storage lockers at some stations.
A typical taxi in Kyoto can seat a maximum of four passengers (excluding the driver), and the bigger ones can accommodate up to five. The starting fare costs about 650 yen and includes the first two kilometres travel, then adds 80 yen for every additional 300 to 400 metres. It is the best way to travel if you are travelling with lots of luggage, with small children or the elderly, or with three or more people in a group. It is also recommended for those who prefer comfort and convenience, and want to avoid extended walking or crowded trains and buses.
The city of Kyoto sits on predominantly flat terrain, making cycling easy and fun. All over the city, there are bicycle rental companies that rent out bikes for 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen for a whole day’s use. Some hotels and hostels even offer their guests free bikes to use to be able to better explore the different attractions.
Cycling is more enjoyable outside of downtown Kyoto (particularly around the Kyoto Station area), far from the crowded busy roads and sidewalks. Usually, attractions and spots located in the outskirts have well-maintained cycling lanes that allow a smooth ride. Just be sure to check a map to know how far it is from one site to another, so that you can prepare for it and not end up overly exhausted. For instance, travelling from Kyoto Station to Arashiyama, which is about a 10-kilometre ride, may take about an hour or two, so you might want to bring water and wear the right kind of clothes.
Special Kyoto Bus and Subway Passes
If you expect to use the buses and trains within Kyoto several times within a single day, it might be economical to purchase one of the following bus and subway passes:
- Kyoto One-Day Bus Pass – This pass allows you to enjoy unlimited rides on the Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus for one day. It costs 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children.
- Kyoto City Subway One-Day Pass – This pass gives you unlimited rides on all both Kyoto City Subway lines, Tozai and Karasuma, within a day. It costs 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children.
- Kyoto Sightseeing Pass – This pass is valid on all Kyoto City Subway lines and the majority of Kyoto Bus routes. It is available as a one-day pass, which costs 1,200 yen for adults and 600 yen for children, and as a two-day pass, which costs 2,000 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for children.
These passes can be purchased at Kyoto Station or any bus and train/subway ticket office in the city.