So you have successfully made it to Kyoto, now what? Thankfully, Kyoto is a very visitor friendly city and easy to navigate. There are many ways of getting around in Kyoto, especially using public transport.
Like everywhere in Japan, Kyoto has an excellent public transport network. It may get crowded during rush hours or in the weekend, but it is still the most convenient way to get around. Most of the events in our event calendar include the nearest busstop or subway/train stations.
In general, small children under 6 years of age travel for free on Kyoto's public transport, and kids from 6 - 12 only pay half price.
The best way to get around in Kyoto is by taking a bus. The bus network is extensive, and we'd guess that in the central part of Kyoto, you needn't walk more than 10 minutes to the nearest bus stop. If you already know where you want to go and which bus to take, check out the online Arukumachi Kyoto Route Planner.
Taking a bus in Japan is a bit peculiar: You always enter at the back and get off through the front door, where you pay at the driver. If you want to get off somewhere, just push one of the orange buttons in the bus and the driver will stop for you at the next busstop.
Kyoto's bus fare system is simple: Throughout most of Kyoto where most of the famous attractions are located, you pay a fixed fare, no matter how far you go. Currently, you pay 230 yen for each ride (children 120 yen). Just drop the exact amount into the fare box next to the driver as you get off the bus.
If you have to go further out of the city center, you may have to pay a higher fare. In those buses, you find a little machine at the back entrance where you draw a little ticket with the number of the current bus stop. In the front of the bus there will be an electronic display indicating the fares by stop number. When you get off the bus, you pay the amount shown for the number on your little ticket at this time.
Pro Tip: If you are planning 4 or more bus trips on a single day, especially in inner city, get a day ticket, in Japanese ichi nichi ken. It only costs 700 yen for adults and is great value! You can buy it in any Kyoto bus. And you can also get a map with all Kyoto City Bus lines from the driver as well. There is also a combined tickets for the bus and subway routes for 1100 yen (adults).
Since 2016, you can also use an IC card on Kyoto's buses - simply touch the IC panel next to the driver with your card when you leave. If your bus goes beyond the flat fare zone, you must touch the IC panel next to the back door when you enter as well.
When you are using an IC card to get around in Kyoto, you will get an automatic discount when you change buses or when you change to or from the subway. There is nothing you need to do, the second ticket will be automatically cheaper - a nice move from Kyoto public transport, isn't it?
Kyoto is a rather small town with only two subway lines that run essentially North - South (the Karasuma line) and East - West (the Tozai line). However, if you count the local train lines as well, which may also partially run underground, you get quite a decent network to use for trips over longer distances.
The easiest way to use subways and trains all over Japan is to buy one of the many IC cards (PiTaPa, ICOCA, PASMO, Suica, manaca,...) No matter which card you buy or where, they are valid throughout Japan. Once you load the card with an amount of your choice at one of the ticket machines, you are ready to go! Riding a local train or subway is then as simple as touching the panel at the ticket gate with your IC card when entering and leaving the station. You can even change trains within a station without paying in between.
It is also possible to buy single tickets at the vending machines near the station entrance. If you know where you want to go, look up your station on the schematic map above the vending machines. Each station will have a price indicated. You must buy a ticket for the exact amount - there is no reimbursement if you paid too much!
Insert your ticket at the little slot when you enter, and don't forget to collect it afterwards. It is needed again at the destination, where it will be finally eaten up by the machine.
Pro Tip: If you are going wide and far on the subway in Kyoto, you should buy a Kyoto City Subway 1-Day Pass. For only 800 yen, you have unlimited access to both Kyoto subway lines, and you can present the pass at a number of attractions (for example Nijo Castle, the Manga Museum, Toei Kyoto Studio Park...) for a discount of their entrance fees. Or buy the combined tickets for the bus and subway routes of Kyoto for 1100 yen (adults).
There is also a combined Pass for one day that lets you ride on the Kyoto subways and buses as far and as long as you like.
Daytrips from Kyoto: If you are planning to take longer trips in the whole Kansai area, you might be interested in a Kansai Area Pass. It gives you unlimited rides on JR trains all over Kansai for up to four days. Since October 2019, it also includes rides on the Kyoto subway and the Keihan lines to Uji and the cable car to Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine. Check out the page of JR West for more information and a price list.
Check the online schedule for all the trains lines mentioned below on the Arukumachi Kyoto Route Planner.
Subway Karasuma line (North - South): Kyoto Int. Conference Center - Imperial Palace - Kyoto Station - Takeda
Subway Tozai line (East - West): Rokujizo - Daigo Temple - Yamashina - City Hall - Nijo Castle - Uzumasa Tenjingawa Station
Keihan Railway: Demachiyanagi - Gion - Fushimi Inari - further to Osaka or Uji
Eizan Railway: Demachiyanagi - Kifune - Kurama or Yase and the Hieizan Cable Car
Hankyu Railway: Kawaramachi Shijo - Katsura Villa - further to Arashiyama or Osaka
Randen Railway: Shijo Omiya - Arashiyama or Ryoanji - Kitano Hakubaicho
If you're not really into public transport, you can always personalise you trip by hailing a taxi or renting a bicycle. This way, you may also see parts of the city where the usual tourist group doesn't venture.
Whether taxis count as public or private transport is open to debate. However, we include them here since they are more convenient for the tired tourist than a bus. Taxis in Japan are not cheap, but they are clean, safe, and reliable. There are taxi stands around the city, but you can also just flag one down on the streets - if the red sign in the front window is on, it means the taxi is free.
Renting a car while you are in Kyoto is the only mode of transport we do not recommend. There is no curbside parking anywhere, and finding a spot in one of the small, often paid parking lots nearby the most famous sights may be very difficult. Large department stores and shopping centres do have large parking lots - but you may often use them only for a limited time and they free only if you shop there. A car may come handy if you plan a day trip to a smaller city outside of Kyoto though.
Kyoto is a great place to explore by bicycle since it is mostly flat. Especially in the inner city, Kyoto is easy to navigate because of its grid street layout. There are many bicycle rentals in Kyoto where you can rent your own bicycle for a reasonable fee. Some hotels or private accommodations also have bicycles available for their guests - just ask. Note that in Japan, you must ride on the left side of the road, if you don't, you may be fined up to 50,000 yen!
Kyoto City provides a list of approved bicycle rental outlets on this page for foreign tourists (in 4 languages). See also the hints on riding and parking your bike on the same page.
Pro Tip: We recommend to skip the busy main streets wherever possible, but rather use the smaller roads that go parallel. The upside is that there are fewer traffic lights, and many a hidden gem can be found there!
Be careful where you park your bicycle! Most famous sights, museums, etc. will have their own bicycle parking, and it is often okay to park your bike outside a shop or restaurant where you are customer- ask if you are unsure! However, don't just leave your bicycle anywhere random - it will be removed and impounded faster than you think! To get it back, you will have to visit the impound lot and pay 2,700 yen.
It is best to park in one of the paid parking lots especially for bicycles. To use one of them, simply put your bike into on the of the numbered slots. When you return, enter the number of your parking lot into the parking metre, push the yellow button, and pay the amount that is shown. Depending on the parking lot, there may be a short free interval, usually 30 minutes to an hour.
In our experience, the best way to explore a city is on foot - and to get lost on the way! No other mode of transport lets you experience Kyoto as intimately and deeply as taking a stroll through the tiny back alleys, where you can meet the locals, find quiet shrines and temples, or drop into one-of-a-kind stores or cafes.
Have fun exploring the fantastic city of Kyoto!
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