the best tea in Japan and the Byodo-in temple.
less than an hour's journey by a local train from Kyoto Demachi-Yanagi station, the small village of Kurama has real onsen (Japanese natural hot springs).
if the summer humidity has drained your will to sightsee, take a day swimming at the underrated beaches of western Lake Biwa. Popular choices include Omi Maiko and Shiga Beach, each about 40 minutes from Kyoto on the JR Kosei Line.
an ancient hilltop temple complex that traditionally guarded (and occasionally raided) Kyoto.
home to some great historical temples, Mount Hiei, and one of Lake Biwa's ports.
home of ninjas, and there is the Miho Museum.
less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, Nara is an even older capital than Kyoto and has a stunning collection of temples in a giant landscaped park.
about half an hour from Kyoto by JR rapid train, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.
literally "the bridge to heaven", it is considered one of Japan's top three scenic views (along with Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture). It forms a thin strip of land straddling the Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, hence the name. Visitors are asked to turn their backs toward the view, bend over, and look at it between their legs.
about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.
city in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
city in Japan
building in Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
building in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is an active film studio which continues to be used for the filming of period dramas. Visitors may visit the outdoor sets used in many samurai movies, and if they are lucky, could potentially observe the filming of a period drama.
human settlement in Japan
Kyōto (京都) was the capital of Japan for over a millennium, and carries a reputation as its most beautiful city. However, visitors may be surprised by how much work they will have to do to see Kyoto's beautiful side. Most first impressions of the city will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station, which is itself an example of a city steeped in tradition colliding with the modern world.
You can fly into Kansai International Airport and then get a train to Kyoto. Kansai Airport Station is opposite the arrival lobby where the Haruka limited express train, operated by West Japan Railway (JR West), can be caught. The Haruka runs to Kyoto in 75-80 minutes and the one-way cost normally starts from around ¥2,850 for an open (non-reserved) seat.
There are a few ways that foreign tourists can use the Haruka at a discount. One way is to buy a one-day Kansai Area Pass. At a cost of only ¥2,300 (¥2,200 if you book online), this pass costs ¥550 less than a regular ticket. You will need to show a passport issued by a foreign country with Japanese temporary visitor visa on it when purchasing a ticket. Note that you are limited to purchasing one pass per trip, so if you return to Kansai Airport on the Haruka you will have to pay the regular fare.
Another option that JR West offers is the ICOCA and HARUKA discount ticket which includes travel in unreserved seating on the Haruka to Kyoto and any JR station within a designated "Free Zone", and a rechargeable ICOCA transit card containing ¥2000 (includes ¥500 deposit) that can be used on JR, private railways, buses and stores in the Kansai region. A one-way discount ticket costs ¥3030 and a round-trip costs ¥4060. For Kyoto, the mentioned "Free Zone" includes the Sagano Line on the part from Kyoto Station to Saga-Arashiyama. Make sure not to exit through the turnstiles at Kyoto Station if you plan to transfer.
Both of the above tickets can be purchased online or at the Kansai Airport train station. Some other, more expensive JR West passes that include trips on the Haruka and are valid to Kyoto include the Kansai Wide Area Pass and the Sanyo Area Pass.
The other train company operating out of Kansai Airport is the Nankai Railway. They offer a discounted ticket if you are interested in traveling to Central Kyoto, called the Kyoto Access Ticket. For ¥1230 this ticket includes a journey on the Nankai Railway Airport service to Tengachaya station in Osaka, followed by a trip on the Osaka Sakaisuji Subway Line. With a second transfer at Awaji station you can travel to Kyoto on the Hankyu Main Line. Under this plan you can reach Central Kyoto in approximately 1 hr 45 min. You have the option to upgrade to the fastest Nankai train service, the Rapi:t, for an additional ¥300.
Comfortable limousine buses run from the airport to Kyoto Station, twice an hour, stopping at some of the major hotels along the way. The ticket costs ¥2,550 (children ¥1,280) one-way or ¥4,180 for round-trip. Bus tickets can be purchased outside of the airport's arrival lobby on the first floor. (just go straight when you leave customs through the "North gate"). The buses leave the airport from bus stop #8, which is located directly opposite the ticket vending machine. Buses discharge at the south end of Kyoto Station; return tickets are sold from a vending machine on the first floor of the Hotel Keihan Kyoto. The ride takes 88 minutes but can take longer when there is traffic (90 – 135 minutes).
Located near Osaka, Itami Airport is Kansai's largest domestic airport. Travelers flying into Kyoto from other areas in Japan will most likely arrive here. The easiest way to get to Kyoto from Itami Airport is by limousine bus No. 15. The trip takes about an hour and costs ¥1,310. The buses run three times an hour. Or, you can take a combination of monorail and train, which requires at least two changes (monorail to Hotarugaike, Hankyu Takarazuka Line to Juso, Hankyu Kyoto Line to Kyoto) but costs just ¥670 and can be completed in an hour. Whereas the Limousine Bus will leave you at Kyoto Station in the southern part of Kyoto, the Hankyu Railway runs to Shijō Street in central Kyoto.
Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto Station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Nozomi trains take approximately 2 hr 15 min to Kyoto and cost ¥13520 one-way. Travel agencies in Tokyo and Kyoto sell nozomi tickets with ¥700-1,000 discount. If you buy a ticket in an agency, it is "open date" - you can board any train as long as it is not full. All you have to do is show up at the train station, register your agency ticket and then you will be reserved a seat.
Hikari trains, which run less frequently and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2 hr 45 min, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge.
Discounted tickets can be purchased in advance through Japan Railways' official SmartEX App, available in English and other languages - look for Hayatoku fares.
Travelers can also take advantage of the Puratto (Platt) Kodama Ticket, which offers a discount for Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a coupon for a free drink (including beer) which can be redeemed at a "Kiosk" convenience counter inside the station. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥10,100 and takes 3 hr 45 min. There is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket. Travel from Nagoya with this ticket costs ¥4200.
During travel periods when the Seishun 18 Ticket is valid, you can go from Tokyo to Kyoto during the day in about 8½ hours using all-local trains. Traveling in a group is the best way to get discounts. The usual fare is ¥8000, however a party of three costs ¥3800 per person, and a group of five traveling together drops the price down to ¥2300 per person.
For travel in the Kansai region, a cheaper and almost as fast alternative is the JR shinkaisoku (新快速) rapid service, which connects to Osaka, Kobe and Himeji at the price of a local train. For a slightly cheaper price you can use the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka and Kobe, or the Kintetsu line to Nara. The Kansai Thru Pass includes travel on the private lines through to Kyoto, and this may prove cheaper that a JR Pass if you are staying a few days in the area.
Those travelling from the Hokuriku region can use Thunderbird (サンダーバード) limited express trains from Kanazawa (2 hours, ¥6900). Kanazawa is the present terminal of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, connecting to Toyama, Nagano and Tokyo. Eventually the Hokuriku Shinkansen will extend west towards Osaka, though it is not yet known if the route will go through Kyoto.
The Hokuriku Arch Pass allows unlimited travel between Tokyo and the Kansai area via the Hokuriku region, using the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kanazawa and the Thunderbird from Kanazawa to Kyoto and Osaka. At a cost of ¥24000 for seven consecutive days of travel (¥25000 if purchased inside Japan), the Arch Pass is ¥5000 cheaper than the national Japan Rail Pass. On the other hand, a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is twice as long via Kanazawa compared to the more popular Tokaido Shinkansen.
Direct overnight train service between Tokyo and Kyoto were plentiful in the past decades, but as time went on services were pretty much eliminated. As a result, taking the bus is now the easiest way to travel between these two cities at night.
Overnight travel between Tokyo and Kyoto is still possible with a stopover in another city along the way, which is easy to do with a Japan Rail Pass or a basic long-distance ticket that is valid over a period of several days.
During the peak travel seasons, JR runs an overnight service called the Moonlight Nagara between Tokyo and Ōgaki in Gifu Prefecture, from which you must continue on to Kyoto by regular trains. The Nagara can be used by holders of the Seishun 18 Ticket, and as a result, is in very high demand when it runs; seat reservations are compulsory.
Kyoto is easily reached by car via the Meishin Expressway between Nagoya and Osaka, but you'll definitely want to park your car on the outskirts of the city and use public transport to get around. Most attractions are in places built well before the existence of automobiles, and the availability of parking varies between extremely limited and non-existent. Furthermore, what little parking is available might be outrageously expensive.
As Kyoto is a major city, there are many day and overnight buses which run between Kyoto and other locations throughout Japan, which can be a cheaper alternative than shinkansen fares. As the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto's bus connections are almost as numerous as Tokyo's. There are bus operators with night buses from Yamagata, Sendai, Koriyama, Fukushima, Tochigi, Utsunomiya, Saitama (Omiya), Yokohama, Niigata, Karuizawa, Toyama, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Numazu, Mishima, Matsue, Izumo, Tokuyama, Yamaguchi, Imabari, Matsuyama, Kochi, Fukuoka (Hakata), Takeo, Sasebo (Huis Ten Bosch). Same-day highway buses depart from Tsu, Yokkaichi, Nagoya, Toyokawa, Toyohashi, Takayama, Okayama, Kurashiki, Tsuyama, Fukuyama, Onomichi, and Hiroshima.
Most highway buses will pick up and drop off passengers at Kyoto Station. JR Buses congregate at the Karasuma Exit (烏丸口) at the north side of the station. Other companies will use the Hachijo Exit (八条口) on the south side, either at the station or at one of the nearby hotels.
Another bus stop is called Kyoto Fukakusa (京都深草). This stop is nowhere close to Kyoto station, but rather is 4.5 km to the south on the Meishin Expressway. Some JR Buses heading to and from Osaka will use this stop instead of calling at Kyoto Station. The closest train stations are Fujinomori on the Keihan Line (5-10 min walk) and Takeda on the Kintetsu Line and Kyoto Subway (10-15 min walk); all can be used to reach central Kyoto. Local city buses also runs to Kyoto station from the nearby Youth Science Center a few times per hour.
The run between Tokyo and the Kansai region is the busiest in Japan. Buses use the Tomei or Chuo Expressway from Tokyo to Nagoya, then the Meishin Expressway to Kyoto. Trips take between 7 and 9 hours depending on the route and stops.
Fierce competition between operators in recent years has led to buses offering better amenities and lower prices. Part of this strategy is the adoption of dynamic pricing on many bus routes. This generally means that daytime trips, weekday trips, tickets bought in advance and buses carrying more passengers are cheaper, while night trips, weekend/holiday trips, walk-up fares and buses with fewer (and more comfortable) seats will be more expensive.
As a rule of thumb, fares for a weekday trip between Tokyo and Kyoto go for ¥4000-6000 per person during the daytime, and ¥5000-8000 per person for overnight trips. Children usually pay half the adult fare.
Two of the major bus operators between Tokyo and Kyoto are Willer Express and JR Bus. Tickets for all carriers can generally be purchased at major departure points, and can also be purchased (with some Japanese language help) at kiosks inside convenience stores.
Willer Express runs daytime and overnight trips with a variety of seating options ranging from standard seats to luxurious shell seats. Bus journeys can be booked online in English, and Willer's Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions. Willer's buses in Tokyo leave from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (Busta Shinjuku), above the JR tracks at Shinjuku Station, which is served by many of Japan's highway bus operators. Willer also sells tickets for other bus operators on their website, but these trips are not valid with Willer's Japan Bus Pass.
JR Bus reservations can be made in English through their Kousoku Bus Net web site. You can also make reservations in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and from Busta Shinjuku.
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