Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Ultimate Guide of How to Get Around in Kyoto

Although Kyoto is one of the top destinations in Japan, the transportation system in the city, however, can be quite confusing to firstcomers. As in any city worldwide, you can choose from buses, trains, or subways to get to the popular attractions in Kyoto. But with so many transportation companies operating in this ancient city, which company’s service should you go with?

Whether it is buses or trains/subways, the transportation companies can be largely divided into two groups, private or publicly owned. If you find it daunting when you see the map of train and bus routes, let us help you so that when you get to Kyoto, you can travel between the attractions just like a local!

Bus companies Operating in Kyoto

The two main bus companies operating in Kyoto are “Kyoto City Bus” and “Kyoto Bus”.

Kyoto City Bus is operated by the city, mainly running in the city center. On the other hand, Kyoto Bus is a private company serving remote areas in Kyoto Prefecture.

Most buses in Japan have two doors. Please board the bus from the back door and alight from the front door.

Kyoto City Bus (市バス)

The majority of famous attractions in Kyoto can be reached by Kyoto City Bus. It is easily recognizable by its characteristic green color. Most of the Kyoto City Buses depart from Kyoto Station.

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The bus stops of Kyoto City Bus are clearly labeled with ‘City Bus’ (市バス).

If you are heading to popular destinations in Kyoto City, such as Kinkaku-ji Temple or Kiyomizu-dera, taking Kyoto City Bus is a better choice, as long as you avoid traveling during the peak hours in the morning and evening.

For a lookup table of which bus to take, please refer to HERE.

Two Different Types of Kyoto City Bus

The buses operating by Kyoto City Bus are further subdivided into two different kinds of buses. Those running in the flat-rate zone and those operating in the non-flat-rate zone.

  • Flat-Rate Zone Buses:
    • No matter how far you travel, the bus fare is fixed at 230 yen.
    • If the bus you are boarding doesn’t have a ticket dispensing machine at the back door, it is a flat-rate zone bus.
    • The flat-rate zone bus differs from the 100 Yen Loop Bus.
  • Non-Flat-Rate Zone Buses:
    • Similar to other buses running across the country, the bus fare is calculated based on how far you travel.

Refer to HERE for Kyoto City Bus and Subway Map.

How to Pay on Kyoto City Bus

  • Flat-Rate Zone Buses:
    • You can pay the exact amount in cash or by tapping your prepaid IC cards, such as ICOCA or SUICA, at the front door.
    • If you have a Kansai Thru Pass, insert the card into the ticket machine.
    • If you have bought the One-Day Pass, insert the bus pass when you first use it. From the second time onwards, just show the date printed on the card to the bus driver.
  • Non-Flat Rate Zone Buses:
    • If you plan to pay by cash, please take a ticket from the ticket dispensing machine at the back door when you get on the bus. The digital display board on the bus will tell you how much you need to pay for your trip.
      • To read the board, find your number on the board. The bus fare is displayed below the number.
      • When you get off the bus, you just need to put the exact bus fare and the ticket you drew into the money box.
    • For those paying by prepaid IC card, tap your card once when you get on the bus and another time at the front gate before you get off.
    • If you are holding one of the bus passes, there is no need to get a number when you get on the bus. Instead, please insert your card into the machine when you get on and get off the bus.

Raku Bus (洛バス)

Raku Bus is the Kyoto City Bus’s sightseeing bus. It stops at the major attractions in the city center.

As a bus created for tourists, the announcements introducing the next attraction that the bus will make a stop at are made in different languages, including English.

There are currently 3 different routes.

  • Raku Bus No. 100 connects Kyoto Station with Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Gion (祇園), Heian Jingū Shine (平安神宮), and Ginkaku-ji Temple (銀閣寺) also known as the Silver Pavilion.
  • Raku Bus No. 101 connects Kyoto station with Kinkaku-ji Temple (金閣寺), also known as the Golden Pavilion, Nijō Castle (二条城), and Kitano Tanmangū Shine (北野天満宮).
  • Raku Bus No. 102 is the only one that doesn’t depart from Kyoto Station. Instead, it runs between Ginkaku-ji Temple (銀閣寺) Kitano Tanmangū Shine (北野天満宮) and then to Kinkaku-ji Temple (金閣寺)

Between the bus’s operation hours, Raku Bus departs from the terminal stop at 10 to 20-minute intervals.

The bus fare for Raku Bus is 220 yen for adults and 110 yen for children.

For more information on Raku Bus Ruites’ main stops, please refer to the official website HERE and translate the webpage to English with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

100 Yen Loop Bus

The 100 Yen Loop Bus is also operated by Kyoto City Bus. You can easily recognize it by the distinctive “100 yen” sign on the side of the bus. As its name suggests, the loop bus only charges its customers 100 yen.

For more information on 100 Yen Loop Bus, please refer to the official website HERE and translate the webpage to English with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Kyoto Bus (京都バス)

In Kyoto, if the bus in front of you is colored red/dark purple, it is one of Kyoto Bus Company’s buses.

These buses will bring you away from the city center to more rural areas such as Mt. Hiei, Mt. Kurama, and Kibune. Many of them go outside of the flat-rate zone.

One thing to be aware of is that not all buses operated by Kyoto Bus depart from Kyoto Station.

Discount Bus Tickets

As you will most likely visit several attractions in Kyoto City Center in one day, getting one of the bus passes can dramatically reduce your transportation costs! Apart from the prepaid IC card such as ICOCA, consider getting one of the below passes when you come to Kyoto.

These discounted tickets can be purchased at the “Kyoto Bus Information Center”, outside the north exit of Kyoto Station.

Kansai Thru Pass

This is a special ticket that overseas tourists can purchase.

The ticket gives you unlimited bus rides to all Kyoto City Bus and most Kyoto Bus and most private train lines in the Kansai region on a given day. It also comes with special benefits and discounts.

For more information, please refer to the official website HERE. You can purchase Kansai Thru Pass via Klook in advance.

Important: This ticket does not give you access to JR Railways.

Kyoto One-Day Bus Pass

The ticket gives you unlimited bus rides to all Kyoto City Bus and most of Kyoto Bus in a given day. It also comes with special benefits and discounts.

The ticket cost is currently 700 yen for adults and 350 yen for children.

Whilst the ticket can be bought on the bus, it is better to purchase it in advance in case the bus driver runs out of bus passes. You don’t need to use it on the same day of purchase. The ticket’s activation date will appear on the back of the ticket the first time you put it through the ticket machine.

For more information about the bus pass, please refer to the official website HERE. You can also refer to HERE for the bus stops that are covered by this bus pass (they are marked by a circle).

Important: Kyoto One-Day Bus Pass is only on sale until the end of September 2023. The already purchased ticket can be used until March 2024.

Kyoto Subway and Bus One-Day Pass

To broaden your transportation options, you can get the Subway + Bus One-Day Pass. The current cost is 1,100 yen for adults and 550 yen for children.

Taking the subway is especially recommended when you travel during peak hours if you don’t want to be stuck in traffic jams. For more information, please refer to the official website HERE.

Please note: Up until September 2021, there was a Two-Day Pass for Kyoto Subway and Bus. This deal has since been terminated.

The Bus Pass and Bus + Subway Pass can be purchased from the City Bus and Subway Information Center at Kyoto Subway Station. The Bus Pass can also be purchased from the vending machines near the bus stops in front of Kyoto Station. Similarly, the subway pass can be purchased from the ticket machines at all Kyoto Subway stations.

Attractions Better Accessed by Bus in Kyoto

Whilst taking a train or subway can avoid traffic jams, many of the attractions in Kyoto are better accessed by a bus. After all, building another train station close to all the temples and shrines closely packed in the city center is impossible.

North West Kyoto – Kinkakuji/Kitano Area

The main attractions in the area are mostly within a 15-minute walk from the Kinkakuji-michi (金閣寺道) bus stop.

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After you visit the famous Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺), you can take a short stroll to Ryōanji Temple (龍安寺) for its gorgeous garden and Kitano Tanmangū Shrine (北野天満宮) for the splendid worship halls. If you visit Kyoto in autumn, the autumn foliage there is just stunning.

North East Kyoto – Ginkakuji/Okazaki Area

Most people know about Kinakuji Temple. Contrasting the Golden Pavilion, there is a Silver Pavilion on the other side of the city.

From Ginkakuji Temple (銀閣寺), the Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku no Michi, 哲学の道) is a small 2 km road along a cherry-tree-lined canal that continues all the way to Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺). At this end of the Philosopher’s walk, it is just a 5-minute walk away from the famous autumn foliage destination Eikan-dō (永観堂).

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To get to Gingakuji Temple, you can take bus route no. 32 or no. 100 and get off at Ginkakuji-mae (銀閣寺前).

To expand the number of bus routes you can take, you can also take no. 5, no. 17, no. 102, no. 203, and no. 204 and get off at Ginakakuji-michi (銀閣寺道). It will just be less than a 10-minute walk from this bus stop to the Silver Pavilion.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple/Gion Area

South of the Ginkkakuji/Okazaki Area is the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple (清水寺) and Gion (祇園).

There are more bus routes that stop at Gion (祇園), which is around a 20-minute walk to Kiyomizu-dera. However, just be aware it will be an uphill hike to the temple.

So if you want to take it easy, it is probably better to take a short bus trip to Kiyomizu-michi (清水道). You will still need to climb up the hill, but there will be less walking.

Bus routes that stop by both Gion and Kiyomizu-michi are no. 58, no. 86, no. 100, no. 106, no. 202, no. 206, and no. 207. Bus routes no. 12, no. 46, no. 201, and no. 203 only stop at Gion.

Ōhara (大原)

If you have extra time, it is worth visiting the picturesque rural village of Ōhara, north of the Ginkakuji Area. To get there, take bus routes no. 16, no. 17, or no. 19 operating by Kyoto Bus from Kyoto Station and get off at Ōhara (大原).

The bus trip will take about an hour. If you would like to reduce the time, you can also board the bus from Keihan Trian’s Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅). From there, it will be around a 40-minute bus ride.

In the quiet village that is situated at the mountainside, you can stroll around the boutique shops for some local specialists and craftworks.

What amazes most people are the historic temples, such as the Sanzenin Temple (三千院), renowned for its magnificent gardens.

Subway and Train Lines in Kyoto

Similar to buses running in Kyoto, subways, and trains are operated by more than one company. Besides the JR trains, there is also the Kyoto Municipal Subway and trains run by other private train companies.

HERE is a train route map with most of the train lines in Kyoto mapped out.

Kyoto Municipal Subway (京都市地下鉄)

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Just like Kyoto City Bus, the Kyoto Municipal Subway is owned by Kyoto City.

Compared to the complex bus routes, there are only two subway lines in the city center.

  •  The Subway Karasuma Line (地下鉄烏丸線) connects you between Kyoto Station to Shijō (四条) and Karasuma Oike (烏丸御池), which is located in the busiest commercial district in Kyoto for shopping and dining.
  • The Subway Tōzai Line (地下鉄東西線) has many historical attractions along the train line
    • The Nijo Castle is just next to the Nijojo-mae Station (二条城前駅)
    • From Higashiyama Station (東山駅), the famous Heian Jingū Shrine (平安神宮) is within walking distance

Please refer to the Kyoto Municipal Subway map HERE.

Tip: If most of the attractions you want to visit are on the subway line, get the Subway One-Day Pass to save! For more information, please refer to the official website HERE.

JR Trains

To be honest, most of the attractions in Kyoto are better accessed by buses, subways, and/or other trains operating by private companies. Most of the time, the only reason that you would want to hop onto a JR train is to:

  • Get to other cities in Kyoto Prefecture, such as Uji.
  • Come from or go to other prefectures such as Osaka, Nara, and Kobe.

One of the few attractions in Kyoto that can be easily accessed by a JR train is Arashiyama (嵐山). Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稻荷大社) is another place in Kyoto that you might want to visit by taking a JR train (Keihan trains also have a train station close to it, but JR’s station is closer).

HERE is the train map with JR lines marked in blue.

  • To get to Arashiyama, get off at Saga-Arashiyama Station (嵯峨嵐山駅)
  • To get to Fushimi Inari Taisha for the endless torii gates, get off at Inari Station (稲荷駅)
  • To get to Tōfukuji Temple, get off at Tōfukiji (東福寺駅)
    • Note: Keihan’s Tobakaido Station (鳥羽街道駅) is slightly closer to the temple
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Tip: Below is a JR Pass list covering Kyoto. Most of the below passes allow you to take the Kansai Airport Express Haruka from Kansai International Airport, and you will be in Kyoto in 75 minutes. Purchase your pass in advance to save on tax!
JR West Kansai Pass (1, 2, 3 or 4 Days)
JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass (5 Days)
7-Day Setouchi Area Pass
5-Day JR Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass
7-Day JR Sanyo-San’in Area Pass
7-Day JR-WEST All-Area Pass
7-Day JR Sanyo-San in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass
JR Whole Japan Rail Pass (Consecutive 7, 14, or 21 Days)

Hankyū Railway (阪急電鐵)

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Hankyū Railway operates mainly in Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto.

Its Kyoto Line departs from Umeda in Osaka and arrives at Kyoto’s Karasuma area. If you are heading to Arashiyama, you can also change to its Arashiyama Line at Katsura Station (桂駅).

Refer to HERE for Hankyu’s route map.

With the company based in Osaka, Hankyū also provides easy access from Kyoto through Osaka to Kobe‘s Mt. Rokkō for a magnificent view of Osaka Bay and all the interesting attractions up in the mountain.

Tip: If you don’t plan to spend a whole day in Kyoto but would like to visit the main attractions in Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in one or two days, consider getting the Hankyu Tourist Pass to save.

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For more information about Hankyu Tourist Pass, refer to Hankyu’s website HERE.

Keihan Railway (京阪電鐵)

Just like its name, Keihan Railway serves both Kyoto and Osaka Prefecture. One thing to be aware of is it doesn’t have a station in Umeda. Instead, you can transfer to a Keihan train from JR train lines or Osaka Metro at Kyobashi Station (京橋駅).

There are three main lines of this railway, the Keihan Main Line (京阪本線) from Yodoyabashi to Sanjō, the Ōtō Line (鴨東線) from Sanjō to Demachiyanagi, and the Uji Line from Chūshojima Station (中書島駅) to Uji.

Apart from that, Keihan trains are a great choice to get to many popular attractions, including:

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社)
  • Shimogamo Shrine: Getting off at Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅)
  • Uji for Byōdō-in Temple (平等院) and Ujigami Shrine (宇治上神社)

It also connects with Eizan Railway to Kurama/Kibune area and stretches as far as Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.

Tip: Depending on your itinerary, getting one of Keihan’s train passes can help you save on transportation costs. For example, Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass 1 or 2-Day is a handy pass to get. For other Keihan’s passes, please refer to their website HERE.

There are several famous tourist attractions along the mainline, such as Tōfuku-Ji Temple, famous for its fall leaves, and Fushimi Inari Shrine. Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine is located on the Ōtō Line, while the Byodo-in Temple and Ujigami-jinja Temple are found on the Uji Line.

Keifuku Railway (京福電鐵)/Randen (嵐電)

The Keifuku Randen Tram Line, often known as the Randen, transports passengers from Shijō in Kyoto to Arashiyama and other northern tourism destinations.

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The one-carriage tram that has been operating for more than 100 years is the only tram left in Kyoto.

Randen travels away from Shijō in the city center at a leisurely pace for you to enjoy the scenery along the way. Some of the best attractions that the tram will stop by are:

  • Kōryuji Temple (広隆寺): the oldest temple in Kyoto
  • Toei Kyoto Studio Park: a samurai themed park
  • Arashiyama

Randen has a flat rate system. So no matter the distance you travel, it will only cost you 250 yen for adults and 120 yen for children (aged between 6 and 12 years old).

HERE is the route map for Randen that also maps out the attractions along its train lines. As it is only in Japanese, you can match the station number with the ROUTE MAP.

Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野観光鉄道)

For sightseeing and romantic getaways, the Sagano Scenic Railway won’t disappoint!

From Arashiyama’s Saga Torokko Station, the scenic train will head towards Kameoka. The 25-minute journey along the Hozukyō Valley has some of the most amazing views in Kyoto.

The railway is particularly well-known for its cherry blossoms and autumn foliage sceneries, but the lush green in summer and the white snow in winter are just as astonishing.

For more information about this train line, please refer to our article on Sagano Scenic Railway!

Sagano-Scenic-Railway-Kyoto-Japan
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Eiden Railway (叡山電鐵)

Eiden Railway Line provides access to Kibune and Mt. Kurama in northern Kyoto City.

Mt.-Kurama-Daitengu-Kyoto-Japan

It has two lines. The first departs from Demachiyanagi Station near the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the other from Shimogamo Shrine. They both go north, but upon reaching Takaragaike Station, the two lines split into two directions. The eastbound line heads to Yase-Hieizanguchi Station, and the westbound line takes you to Kurama and Kibuneguchi Stations.

The westbound train leads you to Mt. Kurama, and the Kibune area, which houses several shrines and temples that date back thousands of years, including the Kurama-dera Temple and Kifune Shrine, which are great destinations to visit all year round.

As you trek between the temples and shrines, you can also enjoy the green leaves in spring, the waterside dining experience in summer, stunning foliage in autumn, and the snowy landscapes in winter.

If you take the eastbound train, you will be at the foot of the picturesque Mt. Hiei when you get off at Yase-Hieizanguchi Station.

For more information about the railway, please refer to the official website HERE.

Kintetsu Railway (近鐵)

The Kintetsu Railway Line is another railway line connecting Kyoto with other prefectures nearby. Different from Keihan, it goes as far as Nagoya.

It operates between the Kyoto Station and Yamato-Saidaiji, then Kintetsu Nara Station, which is close to Tōdaiji Temple and Nara Park. It is worth mentioning that its Tōji Station is adjacent to the famous Tōji Temple’s Five Storied Pagoda.

Also, from Momoyama Goryo-mae Station, you can walk along the canals and sake breweries of southern Fushimi. In the vicinity, there are tombs in which two emperors lie. There is also a building that resembles the Fushimi Momoyama Castle.

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Nara, one of the previous capitals of Japan, is known for numerous shrines and temples, some dating back to the eighth century. The prefecture is filled with astounding scenery and has quite a few sites, such as Mt. Yoshino, designated as World Heritage.

HERE is Kintetsu Railway’s route map.

Tip: Consider purchasing a Kintetsu Rail Pass to explore the beautiful Nara Prefecture!

For more information about Kintetsu Rail Pass, please refer to the official website HERE.

Other Transporation Passes to Consider

Apart from the transportation deals in Kyoto that we have mentioned, here are a few that covers the wider Kansai area.

  • Kansai One Pass: It is similar to other prepaid IC cards, such as ICOCA. But by showing the Kansai One Pass, you can get discounts at certain facilities in the Kansai region.
    • For more information, please refer to the official website HERE.
  • Kansai WIDE Area Pass: The JR train pass also covers Wakayama Electric Railway and Kyoto Tango Railway, which are handy if you want to explore rural Kyoto Prefecture and Wakayama Prefecture.
    • The Kyoto Tango Railway is the train line you will want to take if you are heading to Amanohashidate, one of the Three Views of Japan.
  • Other JR Train Pass: As you might be aware, there is more than one JR Train Pass. If you don’t plan to travel around the country in a one, two, or three-week period, getting the regional JR train pass may be a better choice
    • For more information about the train pass that covers Kyoto, please refer to JR West’s website HERE.

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