Knowing how to get around in Kyoto is the key to making sure your trip to the ancient capital is as smooth as possible. The world famous attractions are spread across the city, and you don’t want to waste time trekking back and forth. So to save you the trouble, here’s everything you need to know about transport in Kyoto.

The basics of getting around in Kyoto

Kyoto City map. | Photo by Japan Cheapo

There are quite a few different transport options in Kyoto and a whole lot of things to do spread across the city.

Public transport options like trains, buses, and subways all accept IC transport cards. The local transport card is called the ICOCA but Tokyo’s SUICA and PASMO transport cards are also accepted. JR train lines stop at Kyoto Station, and so does the Shinkansen. If you’re traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen, this is where you’ll get off. Some subway lines and bus routes also stop at Kyoto Station, but a number of other subway and private train lines do not.

Navigating Kyoto is easy as the city is laid-out in a grid with streets running north to south, and east to west. It’s also fairly flat so walking and cycling is certainly possible.

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Take the train

There are so many train lines in Kyoto that it can get a bit overwhelming. However, the key thing to understand is that there are JR train lines and private train company lines. Each train company has different fee systems, and might not accept certain passes. For example, you usually can’t use a JR Pass on a private train line. An IC card can be used on both private and JR lines. There are some trains and stations that don’t accept IC cards, but they are fairly out-of-the-way for most tourists. Also keep in mind that not all train lines pass through Kyoto Station.

Fushimi Inari Shrine can be reached by train. | Photo by Getty Images.

In general, you will only take the train in Kyoto if you’re traveling further afield. For example, you could take a train for a day trip to Nara. Most major attractions in Kyoto don’t have train stations nearby, except for Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama.

Ride the subway

Kyoto has two subway lines which are part of the Kyoto Municipal Subway. The Karasuma Line runs north-south from Kokusaikaikan Station through Kyoto Station and on to Takeda Station. It can get you to places like Gosho Imperial Palace and Kyoto Botancial Gardens.

nijo castle
Ride the subway to Nijō Castle. | Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

The other subway line is the Tōzai Line which runs east-west from Uzumasa Tenjingawa Station to Rokujizo Station. Attractions along the Tōzai Line include Nijō Castle and the Higashiyama district.

The two subway lines intersect at Karasuma Oike Station. There are also a few stations where you can transfer between the subway and trains, including Kyoto Station, Nijō Station, and Misasagi Station.

Catch a bus

Buses are a very convenient way to get around in Kyoto. In fact, there is at least one bus stop near most major attractions. However, keep in mind that recently overcrowding on buses has been causing problems for locals. If you’re traveling with large suitcases, we’d encourage you to use alternative methods of transport.

For all buses in Kyoto you enter from the back doors of the bus, and pay at the front as you exit. Bus fares within central Kyoto have a flat fare of ¥230. You can pay either in cash (exact fare) or using an IC transport card. If you travel outside of central Kyoto, the bus may have a ticket system. Take a ticket from the machine by the door when you enter. At the front of the bus there will be a price board, that shows your ticket number and the fare owed. Pay your fare in cash as you exit the bus. Most, but not necessarily all, of these buses will also accept IC cards, but if they do make sure to tap them as you enter and exit the bus.

Cycle around

Kyoto is a relatively flat city, so it’s great for cycling. You can either join a bike tour, or rent a bike, the choice is yours. Just make sure you follow the local laws and road safety rules to avoid any trouble. You should ride on the left-hand side of the road and if a sidewalk has a bike lane, you can ride there too. We also recommend against parking anywhere that has a 駐輪禁止 sign — it means “no bicycle parking”. Of course, you’ll probably see plenty of local cyclists breaking these rules, but it’s best to play it safe.

Go for a walk

Walking is the ultimate Cheapo mode of transport and Kyoto is a very walkable city. The city is fairly flat and the roads use a grid system, so it’s comfortable for strolling and you don’t need to worry about getting lost. Major roads have clearly marked footpaths, but if you walk along residential streets you’ll be sharing the path with cars and cyclists. Don’t let that discourage you though, it’s quite safe as long as you keep an eye out for oncoming traffic.

The Philosopher’s Path in the spring. | Photo by Getty Images

Keep in mind that Kyoto’s attractions are quite spread out. We recommend picking a neighborhood to wander around, rather than trying to trek between attractions at different ends of the city. The Philosopher’s Path is ideal for a quiet stroll, or head to Gion for geisha spotting. Those who prefer walking with purpose to meandering, should consider joining a walking tour.

Travel passes and discounts for Kyoto

There is a huge variety of Kyoto travel passes available. We like the Skyhop: Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus because it has a multi-lingual audio guide and you can buy passes online. If you’re just planning a day trip from Osaka, the Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass or the Hankyu Tourist Pass are good options.

Frequently asked questions

Can you take a taxi in Kyoto?

Yes, you definitely can. However, it’s usually an expensive option, unless you’re traveling in a group. There are taxi stands outside most stations, otherwise you can hail one in the street.

What’s the best way of getting around in Kyoto?

There’s no single answer to this because it really depends on where you’d like to go. You can take the train, subway, bus, or even walk or cycle to lots of attractions in Kyoto.

Can you catch an Uber in Kyoto?

You can catch an Uber or other ride-share service in Kyoto, but they’re not exactly the same as in other countries. Ride-shares in Japan are basically just taxi booking services. And they’re not necessarily cheaper than hailing a regular taxi.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

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