beautiful Kyoto city of Japan Gion area innenzaka sannenzaka streets Kiyomizu-dera temple area

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Around Kyoto, Japan the Easy and Stress-Free Way

Planning on exploring the historic streets and vibrant culture of Kyoto, Japan? Here are some practical insights that will make your trip smoother, and elevate your Kyoto experience from ordinary to awesome.

Learn how to navigate the city sufficiently and conveniently, how to use and pay for public transportation stress-free, the best tips on getting around Kyoto using different transport modes, and the best way to immerse yourself in rich cultural traditions, while having the best time in this wonderful city.

Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned globetrotter, these invaluable insights will ensure your trip is not only memorable but also stress-free.

Getting Around Kyoto, Japan by Public Transportation Modes and More

Kyoto is only of those unique cities where the past seamlessly intertwines with the present, offering travelers a unique blend of tradition and modernity.

As you prepare to explore this enchanting city, mastering the art of navigation is key to maximizing your time and experiencing all that Kyoto has to offer.

The old scenic Gion area geisha area of Kyoto city in Japan and stone-paved pedestrian streets at night with shops and restaurants lining both sides of streets and tourists walking about exploring the area

Start your planning by familiarizing yourself with Kyoto’s public transportation system, which serves as the backbone of travel within the city, and offer convenience, affordability, and accessibility all around.

Different transport modes include the buses, subways, trains, shinkansen (bullet trains), Uber, taxis, and even bicycles and scooters for rent.

1 . Kyoto City Buses

The Kyoto City Bus network is a convenient and affordable option for getting around, with numerous routes connecting major landmarks, temples, shrines, shopping districts, and residential areas throughout the city.

Whether you’re visiting iconic sites like Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) or venturing off the beaten path to discover hidden gems, chances are there’s a bus route that will take you there.

With buses running efficiently, frequently (every few minutes), and serving virtually every corner of Kyoto, hopping aboard is a breeze and an easy decision, wherever you decide to explore for the day.

During peak hours, buses may become crowded, especially on popular tourist routes. However, with frequent services and a high level of reliability, travelers can expect minimal wait times and efficient transportation throughout the day.

However, as this beautiful Japanese city gets more and more notice and interest (thus more crowded) in recent years, it’s essential to be mindful of traffic congestion, especially during rush hours and peak tourist seasons. Planning your travel itinerary accordingly, and allowing extra time for potential delays can help ensure a smooth and stress-free journey in Kyoto.

2 . Subways

In addition to the comprehensive bus network, Kyoto also has a good subway system, with two main lines providing access to key areas of the city : the Karasuma Line and the Tozai Line.

The Karasuma Line runs north to south, connecting major areas such as Kyoto Station, Shijo Karasuma, and Kokusaikaikan. Meanwhile, the Tozai Line runs east to west, linking key locations like Rokujizo, Keage, and Uzumasa Tenjingawa.

For travelers staying or exploring areas along these subway lines, utilizing the subway can be a quick and efficient way to travel between destinations within Kyoto.

The subway is clean, punctual, and especially useful during peak hours, when traffic congestion may impact bus travel times, offering a rapid transit option for commuters and tourists alike.

Additionally, they offer easy access to certain Kyoto attractions and landmarks, such as the Kyoto International Manga Museum, Nijo Castle, and Kyoto Imperial Palace. By strategically planning your itinerary around subway stations, you can minimize travel time and maximize sightseeing opportunities.

However, please also note that the subway network in Kyoto may not cover all local attractions, particularly those in the outskirts or more rural parts of the city.

If you find the subway does not reach specficic places you want to explore , you may need to look to other modes of transportation, such as buses or taxis, to reach your desired destinations.

Overall, while Kyoto’s subway system may not be as extensive as those in other cities, it still offers a convenient and efficient way to get around, particularly for traveling between different regions within the city center.

3 . Local Trains and Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)

In addition to the bus and subway systems, Kyoto also offers several train lines that provide convenient options for travelers looking to explore the city and its surrounding areas.

There are many private train lines in Kyoto. A prominent one is the Keihan (Main) Line, which runs parallel to the Kamo River, offering scenic views of the city and providing access to popular destinations such as Gion-Shijo, Fushimi Inari, and Uji.

The Keihan (Main) Line is very useful to access key attractions like the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates, or to take a day trip to the historic city of Uji, known for its tea production and Byodo-in Temple.

train tracks Kyoto local trains and shinkansen (bullet trains) to other regions public transportation mode in kyoto japan

Another private train line worth mentioning is the Hankyu Kyoto Line, which connects Kyoto with Osaka and Kobe. It provides quick and convenient transportation between Kyoto and Osaka’s bustling Umeda district, as well as access to attractions such as Arashiyama and the Togetsukyo Bridge.

You can use the Hankyu Kyoto Line to explore Arashiyama’s bamboo groves, visit the monkey park, or take a scenic boat ride along the Hozugawa River.

If looking to cover more ground or venture beyond Kyoto’s city limits, JR (Japan Railway) Kyoto Line and JR Sagano Line offer fast and efficient train services to many areas of Kyoto as well as neighboring cities, such as Osaka, Nara, Sonobe, and Otsu. Or you can choose to ride the shinkansen (bullet trains) to other regions as well.

Whether you’re interested in visiting historic temples and shrines, enjoying scenic views of the city and countryside, or embarking on outdoor adventures, Kyoto train lines offer easy access to a wide range of attractions and destinations.

4 . Uber and Taxi

While Kyoto’s public transportation system is extensive and efficient, there are occasions when travelers prefer the convenience and comfort of private transportation options such as Uber and taxis.

Uber is available in Kyoto, offering travelers a convenient and reliable option for getting around the city.

With the Uber app, you can quickly request a ride and track the arrival of their driver in real-time. Uber provides an additional layer of convenience for travelers, especially those who may be unfamiliar with navigating public transportation, or who prefer the privacy of a private vehicle, or the easy payment-inside-app using their credit card.

Taxis are also readily available throughout Kyoto, providing door-to-door service across the city. Taxis can be hailed directly from the street, or found at designated taxi stands located near major transportation hubs, hotels, and tourist attractions.

Tokyo Kyoto rideshare car service like Uber easily ordered from Uber app or taxi hailed in popular tourist areas or at major stations

For travelers with limited mobility or those traveling with luggage or small children, both Uber and taxi offer a comfortable and stress-free option for getting around Kyoto.

When choosing between Uber and taxi for your transport, it’s important to consider factors such as cost, availability, and travel time (peak or off-peak).

Additionally, please keep in mind that English proficiency among taxi drivers in Kyoto may vary, so it’s helpful to have the name and address of your destination written down in Japanese or saved in your smartphone to ensure clear communication.

Uber offers the advantage of providing trip details and communication with drivers through the app, making it much easier for travelers to navigate language barriers.

Overall, both Uber and taxis offer convenient options for getting around Kyoto, providing travelers with flexibility, comfort, and peace of mind while exploring the city.

5 . Bicycles/Scooters for Rent

With the city’s flat terrain, well-maintained bike paths, and pedestrian-friendly streets, Kyoto is a paradise for cyclists of all skill levels.

Bicycle or scooters rental shops are plentiful throughout Kyoto, offering a variety of options to suit every preference and budget : from traditional city bikes to sleek electric bicycles and scooters, flexible rental terms, and more.

Many hotels and guesthouses also offer bicycle rental services (or free for staying guests), allowing guests to easily explore Kyoto at their own pace.

One of the best advantages of exploring Kyoto by bicycle/scooters is the freedom it provides to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and hidden gems that may be inaccessible by public transportation.

japan in hanami spring season white and pink cherry blossoms background with man on bicycle

From quaint neighborhoods and local markets to scenic riverside paths, cycling allows travelers to discover the city’s lesser-known treasures with ease.

Travelers can pedal along the banks of the Kamo River, or venture into the scenic Arashiyama district for a ride through bamboo groves and riverside trails.

Many rental shops also offer guided bike tours led by knowledgeable local guides, providing insights into Kyoto’s history, culture, and culinary scene along the way.

6 . Walking

As you venture out into Kyoto’s bustling streets, you will notice that many attractions are within walking distance of each other, making walking a doable option for exploring certain areas.

Walking is not only practical choice but also one of the most rewarding ways to explore Kyoto. With the city’s compact size, pedestrian-friendly streets, and rich tapestry of sights, Kyoto is a city best experienced on foot.

Think about the opportunity to immerse yourself fully in the city’s atmosphere, rich cultural heritage, and natural beauty. Whether you’re exploring temples and shrines or meandering through tranquil parks and gardens, walking allows you to savor the beauty of Kyoto at your own pace.

From the historic streets of Gion to the serene pathways of Philosopher’s Path, every step offers a chance to discover hidden gems, encounter local artisans, and soak in the sights, sounds, and smells of this ancient city.

Wander through the lush gardens of Kyoto Imperial Palace, stroll along the banks of the Kamo River, or hike up the wooded slopes of Mount Daimonji for panoramic views of the city below.

Many of Kyoto’s most iconic attractions, such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Gion, and Nijo Castle are clustered within walking distance of each other, making it easy to combine them into a walking-and-exploring trip in a single day.

The old scenic Gion area and stone-paved pedestrian streets Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in Kyoto city in Japan leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple in day light with tourists walking about exploring the area
The well loved and ancient stone-paved streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Buddhist temple) in Kyoto, Japan, with many shops and restaurants lining both sides of the streets

Walking also provides a deeper connection to the local community and allows for chance encounters with friendly residents and fellow travelers.

From striking up a conversation with a street vendor to receiving recommendations from a helpful local, walking opens doors to unique experiences and authentic interactions that may not be possible when traveling by other means.

The Number 1 Tip on How to Easily and Smoothly Navigate Kyoto On Your Own

The first step to navigate Kyoto’s public transport the easiest way (like a pro) is by downloading a navigation app such as Google Maps, Hyperdia, Japan Travel by NaviTime, etc.

These provide real-time information on public transportation schedules, routes, and fares, and can be invaluable tools for travelers looking to navigate Kyoto independently and efficiently.

Make sure you have data (through an international phone plan, a Japanese SIM card, or a pocket WiFi) to see the most updated routes for that specific time in the app.

Want to figure out how to handle Japanese public transport easily and smoothly before arriving in Japan (where to go, buying tickets, catching trains, etc.) ? Read my step-by-step guide on how to do that here (applied for traveling everywhere across Japan). Then breathe more easily after, and stop dreading about this intimidating part of your trip. You’re very welcome!

How to Ride the City Bus to Get Around Kyoto

  • Open your Japanese navigation websites or smartphone apps like Google Maps, Hyperdia, Japan Travel by NaviTime, etc. to get bus route info
  • Enter your departure and destination, and the apps will tell you which bus to take, which nearby station to catch your bus at, the time the bus arrives, the number of stops and transfers (if any), and total ticket fare for the trip. Yes, all that, and more.
  • Bus stops are easy to identify on the street. Each bus stop is clearly marked with route numbers, destinations, and estimated arrival times.
Kyoto Station Kyoto local bus stop people queue up waiting for city bus to arrive to go  to Kyoto various attractions temples parks
Tourists and local Japaneses queueing up at one of the bus stops at Kyoto Station, waiting for city bus to arrive. Overhead signs showing all Kyoto local attractions the bus go to in both English and Japanese languages for easy navigation
  • You queue up respectfully in the correct order with other people, and get on the bus using the door in the middle or toward the end of the bus.
  • Once you are inside the bus, there are electronic displays and announcements in multiple languages, making it easier for international visitors to tell what the next stops are, so that you can prepare to get off the bus.
  • When your destination is announced as the next bus stop, you can press the red button nearby to request for the bus to stop at that stop for you.
  • Get ready to make your way to the exit , which is at the front of the bus, across from the bus driver. Here is where and when you pay the driver your bus fare and exit the bus.

How to Pay for Your Bus Ride in Kyoto, Japan

In Kyoto, you can board any any city bus you want to get on without buying a ticket ahead of time. Yes, you read that right!

You get on any bus you want, ride the bus to your destination, then pay for bus fares when you exit the bus.

A bus ride anywhere inside Kyoto city limits cost a flat rate of 230 yen (120 yen for children). This means when you board the bus, you can ride as many stops on that bus route as you want, and whenever you choose to get off that bus, you pay 230 yen total for that bus ride.

  • Payment can either be in cash or by using an IC card.
  • If you plan to pay by cash, be prepared for having exact change for bus fare. Insert your money into the fare machine next to the bus driver (no change given), and exit.
  • OR BETTER YET, use an IC card (like Suica, Pasmo, or ICOCA) for seamless no-ticket-needed boarding and one-tap fare payment. Want to know more about these awesome and easy-to-use IC cards? Read my blog post on them here.

Convenient Payment Type for Short-term Visitors : Kyoto One-Day Pass

One of the most appealing aspects of Kyoto’s bus system is its affordability and simplicity. Travelers can purchase a Kyoto City Bus One-Day Pass for unlimited rides on all city buses, allowing for seamless exploration without the hassle of purchasing individual tickets. This pass is not only cost-effective but also incredibly convenient, providing flexibility to hop on and off buses at various stops throughout the day.

In years past, Kyoto offered a convenient travel pass, called “Kyoto City Bus One-Day Pass” (¥700 for adults, ¥350 for children) for unlimited rides.

This have allowed tourists and visitors to explore to their heart’s content without worrying about buying individual fares, which was a great idea. Just present your pass at the ticket gate, and you are good to go.

However, with quickly increased level of tourism after COVID, Kyoto became way overcrowded, with extra long queues at bus stops and congestions on the streets, causing commuting issues for locals and more.

City officials have tried to find ways to alleviate the congestions. Therefore, it has been recently announced that the “Kyoto City Bus One-Day Pass” (¥700 for adults, ¥350 for children) will no longer be accepted after March 2024.

Instead, starting from April 2024 and going forward, tourists and visitor can now purchase a “Kyoto Subway & City Bus One-Day Pass”.

This pass is ¥1,100 for adults (¥550 for children), for unlimited rides in Kyoto for an entire day, allowing you to hop on and off any buses, or take as many subway rides as you want, at your leisure, without the hassle of purchasing individual tickets.

Kyoto city officials hope that by using this pass, more visitors will use the subway system, thus lessen the crowdedness at bus stops and street traffic.

How to Ride the Subway/Train in Kyoto, Japan

Want to figure out how to use Kyoto subways or trains to get around the city? It is the same way you would use subways and trains anywhere else in Japan, like in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities.

Japan Railway (JR) train and shinkansen bullet train ticket office counter to buy tickets for innercity travel and tickets to other regions in Japan

To learn how to use and ride subways and trains easily and smoothly before arriving in Japan, such as how to go from point A to point B, which station to go to to catch your subway/train, how to buy tickets, how to identify and catch the correct subway/train, etc., read my step-by-step guide on how to do that here.

Then breathe more easily after, and stop dreading about this intimidating part of your trip. You’ve got this!

For Bicycle Riders : Riding Tips When in Kyoto, Japan

  • Please exercise caution and follow local traffic laws and regulations while riding in Kyoto
  • Be mindful of pedestrians, obey traffic signals, and use designated bike lanes whenever possible to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for yourself and others.
  • Keep in mind that even though bicycle or scooters is a great way to explore the more quaint and off-the-beaten-path, it is not a good way to get around inside busy city centers.
  • Bike parking spots are difficult to find in city centers, and high volume of pedestrians make it difficult to navigate crowded streets.

For Walkers : Walking Tips When in Kyoto, Japan

  • Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and socks, especially if you plan to explore on foot most of the day
  • Carry a map or smartphone with GPS capabilities and WiFi to help you navigate Kyoto’s maze-like streets with ease
  • Don’t forget to bring water to stay hydrated, especially during the warmer months. Or pop into one of the many Japanese convenience stores (located at every street corner) to grab a cool drink, a snack, and a quick break
  • Be mindful of pedestrian etiquette, such as staying to the right on crowded sidewalks, and respecting traffic signals at crosswalks
  • Pack your sense of adventure!

If you have any questions or just want to share your own travel stories, I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to reach out to me at, and let’s chat. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post, and happy travel!

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