Kyoto may not attract the same tourist numbers as Tokyo, but you’d be missing out if a trip to Japan didn’t include a trip down to see the former capital city.
With an abundance of historic, cultural and modern attractions, Kyoto has so much to offer travellers, including Nijo Castle, Sento Palace, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Fushimi Sake District and the popular Fushimi Inari Shrine.
For a city of its size, Kyoto transport does leave a little to be desired, but on the flip side, it’s a lot less complex than that of Tokyo. This guide will share the best ways to get around Kyoto and see the city’s top sights.
Do you know what you're looking for? Jump ahead for:
Kyoto does not have an airport within its own city, but there are three airports within easy reach.
The main airport for international flights – Kansai International Airport – is around 75 minutes from Kyoto’s city centre in Osaka Bay. The best way to get into Kyoto from this airport is via train, on the JR Haruka Airport Express service from platform 4.
Operated by JR West, it’s the only train service travelling between Kansai International and Kyoto Station, so it is simple enough to find. An unreserved ticket costs around ¥2,850 ($38), but this line is also covered by the Japan Rail (JR) Pass – keep reading for more information about this pass below!
Other transport alternatives include hopping on the Limousine Bus, which may be convenient if your hotel is not close to Kyoto Station. The Limousine Bus takes around 90 minutes and costs ¥2,550 (around $34), so it is slightly cheaper than the train.
Taxis are also available, although they are not recommended because of the expensive cost. Two companies – MK Taxi and Yasaka Taxi - run door-to-door shuttle services between Kyoto and Kansai International Airport. While these take up to two-and-a-half-hours due to various pick-ups and drop-offs, and need to be booked 48 hours in advance, the one-way journey is slightly cheaper at ¥3,500.
Alternatively, you might fly into Osaka International Airport in order to get to Kyoto. This airport is just 50 minutes away from the city via the airport Limousine Bus, costing around ¥1,280.
Central Japan International Airport (also known as Chūbu Centrair Airport) is at least 90 minutes from Kyoto by train, best accessed via the Meitetsu Tokoname Railroad and Shinkansen (bullet) train services. While the Shinkansen train is significantly more expensive, you can use a JR Pass on this line.
Alternative transport options include catching a bus from this airport to Kyoto Station (taking over 2.5 hours), or taking a private car or taxi that takes around 2 hours (if budget is no issue!).
Kyoto’s subway and train networks are significantly less complex than Tokyo’s, so it should be simple to navigate if you’ve already experienced the capital.
With just two subway lines throughout the whole city (the Karasuma Line and the Tozai Line), it’s not necessarily one of the easiest ways to get around Kyoto, especially if you’re looking to see the main sights.
While there are also several train lines, they don’t always connect in the most convenient places. However, if you do find that the lines are handy, a good tip is to get a prepaid IC card – it’s accepted on nearly all trains and buses throughout Kyoto.
Shinkansen (known as bullet trains) are a tourist attraction in their own right, with many visitors wanting to experience the 200mph/320kph journey firsthand. This network of nine lines connect the south of Japan with the north, from Kagoshima on Kyushu to Hokuto on Hokkaido.
Kyoto is located on the JR Central line, which goes to destinations including Osaka, Yokohama and Tokyo. But, be sure to get on the right service as each line operates local and semi-fast trains, as well as the super-fast ones.
JR Passes are accepted on bullet trains, but you can also buy individual tickets. If you’re planning on using Shinkansen trains to travel across Japan, be sure to check your luggage as there are weight and size limitations.
The JR Pass is great if you’re planning on doing a lot of travelling around Japan and need to use numerous bullet trains to get from city to city. You can only buy the JR Pass in 7, 14, or 21-day instalments, so it’s certainly best to plan your trip out in advance to see if it’s worthwhile.
For visitors only planning on staying in Kyoto, it’s unlikely to provide value for money.
However, if you decide it is worthwhile for your Japan trip, be sure to order the JR Pass in advance - as you can only purchase the JR Pass from your home country and need to factor in delivery time, too!
Unlike other Japanese cities, buses are possibly the top transport option in Kyoto, especially for short or medium journeys. Due to the vast bus network and minimal subway system, it is often easier to access the main attractions by bus - costing a flat fare of ¥230.
The only downside is that buses aren’t as frequent as demand requires, meaning they are often crowded (particularly around weekends and during holiday periods). This can make getting off at the right stop stressful, but the Kyoto tourist offices provide excellent maps of the network, while on-board displays are also in English.
Taxis are an expensive method of transport across Japan, and Kyoto is no different. Despite the plethora of taxis around the city, it is still fairly uneconomical unless you’re in a group of three or more – in which case it may be cheaper and more comfortable than a short bus ride.
A taxi ride will typically set you back around ¥650 for the first two kilometres, and then a further ¥80 for every 300-400 metres after that.
Taxi ranks can be found in most major places, such as train stations, bus terminals, big shops and attractions, while it is also easy to hail a taxi on the street.
Wherever you jet off to on holiday, it’s always good to consider travel insurance – just in case. Travel insurance can give you peace of mind when exploring Kyoto and other spectacular places in Japan.