Getting Around Kyoto: Buses and Rental Bicycles

Buses and rental bicycles are a recommended way to tour Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto and see the sights. Take advantage of convenient one-day and two-day passes that can be used on both buses and subway lines. And if you don’t want to plot your own routes, regular sightseeing buses offer packaged tours around the historical city.

Getting Around the Old Capital

Transportation is a critical part of touring Kyoto. There is plenty to see in the city no matter how long you’re there—but choosing the right kind of transportation puts many more of its attractions within reach.

At the same time, it may be difficult to figure out what kind of transport is the best for you. Many tourists from overseas come with a JR Japan Rail Pass, but if you limit yourself to JR train lines, you can miss a significant part of this great city. Here we offer some insights on the best—and often the most economical—ways to get around town.

There is a large bus terminal on the north side of Kyoto Station.

City Buses Are the Way to Cover Central Kyoto

Kyoto has an extensive network of bus routes; the buses come frequently and will take you just about any place in the city. If you want to focus on attractions in central Kyoto, buses are the way to go.

We especially recommend the ¥600 (¥300 for children) one-day bus pass that can be used on both the Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Bus Company lines. Regular bus fare is ¥230 (¥120 for children), so if you use the one-day pass for three or more rides, you’ll be getting a discount. Do note, however, that there are some destinations that will cost you a bit extra. See the lists below.

The one-day bus pass can be used on both Kyoto City and Kyoto Bus Company buses.

Places to see on a one-day bus pass

Kiyomizudera, Arashiyama, Kinkakuji, Nijō Castle, Ginkakuji, Nanzenji, Yasaka Shrine, Kōdaiji, Ninnaji, Ryōanji, Heian Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, Tōji

Destinations accessible with additional fares

Ōhara area (Sanzen’in, Hōsen’in, Jakkōin), Shūgakuin area (Shugakuin Rikyū, Manshuin, Shisendō), Takao area (Kōsanji, Jingoji), Kibune and Kurama area (Kifune Shrine, Kuramadera), Katsura and Rakusei area (Katsura Rikyū, Suzumushidera)

Heian Shrine is easy to get to by bus.

One-Day Bus Pass (Kyoto City and Kyoto Bus Company)
  • Fee: ¥600 for adults, ¥300 for children
  • Sold at: City Bus and subway information centers, City Bus offices, subway ticket counters, commuter ticket counters, and inside City Buses (may be sold out)
  • Multilingual information:

New Bus and Subway Combo Passes

The Kyoto buses, convenient as they are, do have one drawback. They are vulnerable to traffic jams and it may take longer than expected to get to your destination. And sometimes buses can be so packed you can’t get on. This has been a major inconvenience for those on tight schedules, but as of March 17, 2018, you can now buy one- and two-day passes that can be used on both buses and subways. Already this appears to have dramatically reduced the crowding on buses.

The new passes can be used on all Kyoto City and Kyoto Bus Company buses, most Keihan buses, and all Kyoto Municipal Subway lines. The most efficient way to use these passes is to make the bus your primary mode of transport, but switch to the subway when traffic is especially bad or the buses are too crowded. And for those who stay more than one day in Kyoto—and many do—the ¥1,700 two-day pass may be even more attractive than the ¥900 one-day version.

These passes cost a bit more than the bus-only versions, but give visitors more options.

One and two-day subway and bus passes
  • Fees: One-day pass: ¥900; ¥450 for children. Two-day pass: ¥1,700; ¥850 for children
  • Sold at: City bus and subway information centers, City Bus offices, subway ticket counters, commuter ticket counters
  • Multilingual information:

The Lure of the Sightseeing Bus

For those who worry about changing buses or who simply don’t want to plan their own sightseeing route, another option is to take one of the sightseeing buses operated by the Keihan Bus Company. The tours range from simple jaunts taking about one hour to a grand tour including a traditional Japanese dinner that costs more than ¥10,000. 

We recommend the “Kyoto Highlights” tour out of Kyoto Station. The tour runs every day, departing from the Karasumaguchi side of the station at 10:00 am and continuing for 6 hours as it takes you to Arashiyama, where you will see places like Tenryūji and the famous bamboo groves, Fushimiinari Shrine and its endless red torii gates; the golden pavilion of Kinkakuji; and many more celebrated spots. Multilingual audio guidance in English, Chinese, and Korean is provided on the bus, and an English-speaking guide will be waiting for you at Fushimiinari Shrine.

The “Kyoto Highlights” tour is especially popular.

On some of the sightseeing tours you can ride the roofless, double-decker Sky Bus Kyoto.

“Kyoto Highlights” sightseeing bus tour
  • Fees: ¥6,500 (¥3,560 for children); reservations required (reserve seats through the tour website)
  • Tour duration: 6 hours
  • Boarding location: Kyoto Station Karasumaguchi side
  • Multilingual information: 
    • (English; also available in Korean, simplified and traditional Chinese)
    • Tour information on bus displayed in English, Korean, simplified and traditional Chinese

The Senbon-dorii gates at Fushimiinari Shrine.

Avoid Traffic Jams with a Bicycle

Kyoto has more than just shrines, temples, and historical sites. It also abounds in elegant traditional restaurants, modern cafes, and shops selling traditional crafts. If you want to take your time exploring the city’s wonderful offerings, we recommend renting a bicycle.

Trains, buses, and subways are especially crowded during the most popular seasons of spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and autumn, when the fall foliage paints the city in a palette of colors. That won’t be a problem for you if you use a bicycle to get around. There are a number of places to rent two-wheelers. Some, like Kyoto Eco Trip, which is conveniently located near Kyoto Station, have multilingual websites.

Kyoto Eco Trip is just a 2-minute walk from the West Hachijōguchi of Kyoto Station.

Kyoto Eco Trip
  • Address: 58 Muromachi, Higashi Kujō, Minami-ku, Kyoto
  • Tel.: 075-691-0794
  • Fees: Per day: city cruisers from ¥800; electric-assisted bicycles from ¥1,800; bikes with child seats from ¥1,300; kids’ cycles from ¥1,000
  • Multilingual information:

The relatively flat route from Kyoto Station to Kyoto Gyoen is an easy bicycle ride. Along the way you can view world heritage sites like Nishi Honganji and Nijō Castle and stop for refreshment at cafes along the Kamo River.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner Photo: Kyoto’s famous Arashiyama bamboo grove. Text by Fujii Kazuyuki; photos by Kuroiwa Masakazu, 96Box.)

Kyoto transportation World Heritage temple Kansai