Travel Information: overview

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Travel Information: overview

Getting to Kyoto by air

Three airports serve Kyoto. The largest is Kansai International Airport, 75 minutes away by train, or about an hour and a half by car. Osaka International Airport is a domestic hub, and is a 55-minute bus ride from Kyoto. From Centrair Airport, it is a 28-minute local train ride to Nagoya, then 35 minutes by shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Centrair connects mainly to airports in East Asia. If you are flying via Tokyo, a connection to Osaka Airport will be most convenient.

Kansai International Airport (KIX)
Flight information 072 455 2500 /
The Biwako line connects KIX with Kyoto station. The fastest train is an Airport Express Haruka (which usually runs twice an hour between 6.29am and 10.18pm). It takes 75 minutes and costs ¥2,980. There is also a limousine bus service that takes 95 minutes (072 461 1374, The buses leave once or twice an hour from bus stop 8 and call at Sanjo Keihan station (for Downtown destinations) and Kyoto Station. Tickets, available via vending machines, cost ¥2,500.
Centrair Airport (NGO)
Flight information 056 938 1195 /

The Meitetsu Railroad connects the airport to Nagoya station (¥850, 28 minutes). Trains depart every five to ten minutes between 5.23am and 11.15pm. From Nagoya station, a shinkansen to Kyoto takes 35 minutes and costs ¥5,640.

Osaka InternationalAirport (ITM)
Flight information

Better known as Itami Airport, this two-terminal airport serves most domestic destinations, including Okinawa. It’s possible, but time consuming, to reach Kyoto from here by monorail and then train. The quickest way to travel into the city is to take the limousine bus (074 222 5110, eng), which runs every 20 minutes between 8am and 9.10pm. The 55-minute journey costs ¥1,280.

Getting to Kyoto by rail

Japan Railways’ shinkansen offer fast, reliable and expensive access to the rest of the country. It is cheaper to buy jiyuu seki tickets (non-reserved seats). If travelling off-peak, this is usually a safe bet. For peak hours, reservations are essential. Not all shinkansen are equal: Nozomi trains are fastest. The trip takes 2 hours 23 minutes from Tokyo by Nozomi (¥13,220 reserved seat, ¥12,710 unreserved), 36 minutes from Nagoya (¥5,640/ ¥4,930), and 1 hour 47 minutes from Hiroshima (¥10,890/¥10,280). There are also green-sha (first-class seats), but the basic seats are comfortable enough.

Getting to Kyoto by bus

Japan Railways also operates an array of bus routes, which are all significantly cheaper than the train. The journey takes eight hours from Tokyo and costs ¥4,500-¥8,180. The cheapest option is a seishun bus. These no-frills coaches leave from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station (New South exit) or Tokyo station (Yaesu exit) and arrive at Kyoto station’s Hachijo exit. If reserved at least five days in advance, tickets cost ¥4,500; otherwise they cost ¥5,000. Standard buses offer more leg room for ¥8,180. Night buses, both standard and seishun, are called ‘Dream Kyoto’ and depart from Tokyo station’s Yaesu exit (10pm and 11.10pm) or Shinjuku station’s New South exit (11.50pm daily, also 10.30pm Fri-Sun). There are ‘Ladies Dream’ routes for women only, which leave Tokyo station at 10.30pm daily. Tickets for all routes are available at the green midori no madoguchi ticket windows inside major train stations.

JR Kousoku bus company
033 844 1950 /

Getting to Kyoto by international ferries

Two companies operate ferry routes between Osaka and Shanghai. The trip takes 46-48 hours. Both charge ¥21,500-¥101,500, depending on the room’s quality, with the cheapest option being a floor in a shared room with only a blanket and pillow for comfort. At the top end, rooms resemble those of a mid-range hotel.

Shanghai Ferry Company
066 243 6345 /
Private rooms start at ¥39,500.
Tickets are available online or via JTB travel agents (
Shanghai Ferry Boat Xin Jian Zhen
06 6536 6541 /
Private rooms start at ¥41,500.Tickets are available online or via JTB travel agents (

Public transport

Japan’s rail efficiency extends to Kyoto’s overground and subway network, with regular trains arriving exactly when they say they will. The stations all have English signage telling you which exit you need. Now the bad news: the rails are run by several different companies, and the lines rarely intersect. They also neglect areas with major sights. The solution: bite the bullet and learn to use the buses.


Kyoto’s bus system serves every part of the city, filling in the gaps in the rail network. In many cases, this is the most efficient way to cross the city. Unfortunately, most information at stops and on buses is only in Japanese. English maps are available from the information bureaus in front of Kyoto station, in Karasuma Oike subway station and at Kitaoji bus terminal. You can download one at

You board most buses via the back door and exit via the front. There is a flat fare of ¥220, payable upon exiting the bus (drop the exact fare in the slot next to the driver). Some buses on further afield routes have staggered fares. If you see a ticket machine by the entrance, take a ticket and check the number. A signboard at the front shows your fare underneath the number.

The main bus terminals are located at Kyoto station, Sanjo station and Kitaoji station.


There are eleven train lines in Kyoto, including two subways and one line that heads underground when it enters the city. The official Kyoto Municipal Subway network consists of the Tozai line, which bisects the city from east to west, and the Karasuma line, which runs north to south. Single fares cost from ¥210 to ¥340. The Keihan line links Kyoto with Osaka, and travels underground when it reaches Kyoto. It runs north to south, following the Kamogawa river. Another useful route for visitors is the JR Sagano line, which runs from Kyoto station to Hanazono station and Arashiyama.

To purchase tickets for any of the train lines, insert your money into the ticket machine and press the button showing the fare to your destination. If you aren’t sure of the fare, you can buy the cheapest ticket and pay the difference at a ‘fare adjustment’ machine at your destination. These are usually bright yellow and can be found near the exit barriers of all stations.

Travel passes

JR Passes

The Japan Rail Pass (www. allows virtually unlimited travel on the entire national JR network, including shinkansen. It cannot, however, be used for the Nozomi super-express shinkansen. It costs ¥28,300 for a standard seven-day pass, ¥45,100 for 14 days and ¥57,700 for 21 days. If you plan to make more than two trips per week, the tickets are excellent value.

The pass is available only to visitors from abroad travelling under the entry status of ‘temporary visitor’, and must be bought before coming to Japan. Buy an Exchange Order abroad, which can then be traded in for a pass at an exchange office in Japan. Orders can be purchased at overseas offices of the Japan Travel Bureau International, Nippon Travel Agency, Kinki Nippon Tourist, Tokyu Tourist Corporation and other associated local travel agents, or at an overseas Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways office if you are booked on to one of their flights. Check the Japan Rail Pass website for overseas locations.

JR West Kansai Pass jrp/index.html. Similar to the Japan Rail Pass, but limited to the Kansai area, this pass is good value for foreign visitors wishing to explore Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Kyoto. The passes cost ¥2,000, ¥4,000, ¥5,000 or ¥6,000 for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days respectively, and can be purchased at the same locations as the Japan Rail Pass. As with the Japan Rail Pass, the JR West Kansai Pass must be purchased before arriving in Japan.

ICOCA cards

The ICOCA cards are Western Japan’s IC smart cards. Swipe them over the panels at the ticket barriers of JR stations and the minimum fare will be automatically deducted. The remainder is deducted when you swipe again at the exit station. The cards cost ¥2,000, of which ¥500 is a deposit (refundable if you hand the card in to a JR ticket office). The ICOCA cards are good for any JR rail travel. They work on Tokyo’s JR network, just as Tokyo’s Pasmo and Suica IC cards will work on JR lines in Kyoto.

Bus passes

All-day bus passes entitle you to unlimited travel around most of Kyoto (Arashiyama and Shugaku-in are both outside the pass zone). They cost ¥500 and are sold at bus information bureaus as well as at many hotels. A pass that also allows transport on the city’s train lines costs ¥1,200 for one day, or ¥2,000 for two days.

Kansai Thru Pass 3dayeng/index.html. A ¥3,800 two-day pass or a ¥5,000 three-day pass gives you unlimited travel on all subways, private railways and buses in the Kansai area, covering Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Wakayama. The pass entitles bearers to discount entry to various attractions, such as the Kyoto Tower (p48), Toei Uzumasa Eigamura (p124), the National Museum (p101), Kodai-ji and Kennin-ji (p84). Passes are sold at the Kyoto station bus information centre (open 7.30am- 8pm) or the KAA travel desk on the first floor of Kansai International Airport (open 7am-10pm).


Kyoto is compact, flat and a great city for cycling. Many hotels and hostels have bicycles to lend guests, usually free of charge. The Kyoto Cycling Tour Project ( rents a variety of bikes, including mountain bikes, and has four locations across the city for pick-up or drop-off, with English-speaking staff. Fees vary by type of bicycle, from ¥1,000-¥2,000 per day. For an extra ¥500, they will deliver the bike to your hotel, hostel or ryokan.

The law states that cyclists must stick to the street (though this law is routinely ignored) and that it’s the car driver’s responsibility to ensure the cyclist’s safety, so you’re unlikely to encounter aggressive vehicles.

The only problem with cycling is finding a place to park. Though it’s common to see bicycles chained up, regulations demand that cyclists use bicycle parks, of which there are few. The locals park bikes wherever convenient, and periodically the council impounds the bikes, leaving a notice with directions to the place where people can pay ¥2,300 to reclaim their wheels.


Unless you enjoy crawling along for short distances in heavy traffic, driving a car is the worst way in which to travel around Kyoto. But if you do decide to hire a car, you’ll need to have an international driving licence and at least six months’ driving experience. A better idea is to rent a scooter, so that you can zip around the sights. For vehicle rental, visit the following: Japan Automobile Federation 418 Horimatsu-cho, Karasuma Dori, Marutamachi-agaru, Kamigyo-ku (075 212 1100/ This local branch publishes a Rules of the Road guide in English (¥1,000). Kyoto Rental Scooters 3-4 Miyanomoto-cho, Sagano, Ukyo-ku (075 864 1635/www.kyotorentalscooter. com/english.html). English-speaking staff rent out Honda scooters, starting at ¥4,000 for the first day and ¥2,000 per day onwards. Reserve a scooter online in English, then take your passport and international driving licence to their office near Arashiyama. Nippon Rent-a-Car Company 64 Higashi-kujo Muromachi, Minami-ku (075 681 0311/ This rental car company has a branch close to the Hachijo Dori exit of Kyoto station and is open 24 hours a day. Rates start at ¥6,500 per day for a small car.


Kyoto is so small that travelling by taxi isn’t as budget-busting as in many cities. There are far more cabs than the city could possibly need, so it’s always easy to hail one regardless of the time of day. The cabs are operated by more than a dozen different private companies and the competition has driven prices down. The cheapest options have either a heart or a price on their roofs. It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers in the city.

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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