14 World Heritage Sites, Imperial Palace and Park, Daimonji
Kyoto is most well known for being Japan’s former capital, and the ‘city of a thousand shrines’. It is one of the only places in Japan where Japanese traditional architecture remains in abundance. Other than old buildings, Kyoto has a geisha district, possesses 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and contains a great deal of ‘Zen’ (as well as tourists, do note).
Getting to Kyoto
Kyoto is easily accessible on the Shinkansen (high-speed bullet train), with a ride from Tokyo taking just over two hours on the Nozomi (the fastest option). See our Tokyo to Kyoto transport guide for more options, if you’re planning on traveling that route.
Kyoto does not have its own airport, but can be easily accessed from Osaka’s two airports.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar||¥4,418 (US$33)||
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥4,831 (US$36)||
|Tokyo => Kansai||Japan Airlines||¥8,538 (US$63)||
|Tokyo => Kansai||Skymark Airlines||¥12,726 (US$93)||
Between Kyoto and Osaka, there are excellent road and railway connections. From Kansai International Airport (KIX), the price to reach Kyoto through the airport’s ‘limousine bus’ is approximately ¥2,550. The bus leaves every 30 to 60 minutes, and depending on traffic conditions, it takes around 1 hour and 25 minutes to reach JR Kyoto Station. From Osaka (Itami) Airport, limousine bus services are also available. The fare is ¥1,310 and the bus takes around 55 minutes to reach JR Kyoto Station. Departures are every 20 minutes.
For going by train from KIX to Kyoto, you should purchase a one-day JR West Kansai Area Pass. It will give you access to the Haruka Express train, which is the only option that takes you directly to Kyoto from Kansai Airport Station. The pass also provides unlimited access to other JR trains between Kansai Airport, Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji for one full day. For foreign tourists, the cost of the pass is ¥2,200 if purchased in advance. The journey by train takes around 75 minutes to reach Kyoto. When activating the pass, you will need to show your passport. For those who already have a Japan Rail Pass, the Haruka Express is free.
Read our guide to getting from Kansai Airport to Kyoto for more info.
As one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations, there are also numerous buses to Kyoto from Tokyo and other major cities. Check Kosoku Bus for route information and fares.
Getting around Kyoto
Kyoto has two subway lines: the Tozai Line (running east to west), and the Karasuma Line (north to south). Karasuma-Oike Station is where you transfer between lines. The Tozai Line connects to the Keihan Line, which runs north-south and can be used to reach Gion, southern Kyoto, and several attractions on the eastern side of the city. Kyoto’s subways are easy to navigate and provide convenient transportation, but the lines are limited to the city center. Fares vary from ¥210 to ¥340 depending on distance, and a one-day subway pass will set you back ¥600. Trains run on the subway from about 5:30 am until 11:30 pm—slightly earlier than you may be used to if you’re coming from Tokyo.
The bus network in Kyoto is a great way to reach many attractions, especially those in the north of Kyoto. Geared towards tourists, the bus system has Japanese as well as English announcements and signage. There are two different bus companies in Kyoto: the green-and-white Kyoto City Buses, and the red-and-white Kyoto Buses. The green-and-white line is great for exploring the city, while the red-and-white line connects the suburbs. Note that the buses often have overlapping bus numbers. For city buses, the price is fixed at ¥230, but we suggest you purchase a one-day pass for unlimited bus rides in one day. The cost is ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children under 12. Or you can buy the unlimited subway and bus 1-day pass for ¥900, or 2-day pass for ¥1,700.
Cycling around Kyoto is not an uncommon way of getting around. It’s economical, environmentally friendly, and easily supported by the city’s flat and well maintained roads. Bike rental shops in Kyoto are very accessible. Many sightseeing districts offer this service, as it is a great way for tourists to see the sights without the side effect of traffic congestion. There are many different types of packages and prices provided by bike rental shops, depending on location. Some shops such as in Demachiyanagi, and Kitaoji (near Kitaoji subway and bus station), may rent bikes for a base fee of around ¥500 per day, and an extra ¥250 to keep it till 10 a.m in the next morning.
Where to go and what to do in Kyoto
Strolling around the Imperial Palace and Sentō Imperial Palace in central Kyoto, Katsura Imperial Villa in western Kyoto, or Shugakuin Imperial Villa in northern Kyoto, is cheap, convenient, and a visual treat.
In Kyoto, you can almost run into a shrine or temple around every corner. Among the surplus of holy sites, the two that we highly recommend are Kinkaku-ji (Rokuon-ji) and Kiyomizu-dera—just two of 14 World Heritage sites in Kyoto.