Learning the ins and outs of the transportation system of a new country can be as exciting as visiting a temple or checking out the local cuisine. Today I want to focus on Kyoto: a cyclist and public transportation lover’s paradise.
Kyoto boasts of 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites within its city limits and countless temples and shrines to visit. Explore the Higashiyama district and catch a glimpse of the famed Geisha or find a traditional restaurant to dine at on the narrow but charming Kiyamachi street. This blog post is a guide to the best way to get around this magical city so you can experience all the city has to offer.
While I was in Kyoto I got a great deal from my hostel: ¥1,200 for a 10-day use of one of their family bikes. Exploring the city this way was one of my favorite things about visiting Kyoto. The area is very bike friendly and there are a ton of places to park them.
One of the things that I was most pleasantly surprised by when I traveled to Japan was how trusting people were with their possessions. People would just leave their bicycles unlocked and unattended as they went inside a restaurant for a meal or inside a 7/11 for a soda. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and I was told that I didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing my things while I was there.
Before 2008, Kyoto residents used to just leave their bikes wherever they wanted until the city couldn’t manage the overcrowding of bikes on the streets. After 2008, authorities started towing bikes that weren’t parked in the correct locations. Kyoto is one of the most accommodating cities when it comes to bike parking that I’ve ever seen. Here is a list of types of parking one can find in the city:
Eco Stations: There are over 30 “Eco Stations” in Kyoto. They are marked with red pins on this map. Generally, the first 2-3 hours are free and you get charged a fee after that.
Bike Lots: Bike Lots are located at/near train stations, shopping centers, and other popular locations.
Automated Subterranean Parking: At these locations, you can insert your bike into a portal and it’s mechanically taken to an underground lot. This type of bike parking costs ¥150 a day.
(Click here for more information on bike parking)
The bus is the cheapest and most reliable way to get to any location you want to visit in the city. Kyoto boasts of a vast network of bus routes but only has two subway lines that run through the city. While the subway may be the fastest way to reach your destination, the buses cover more of the city. Generally, passengers board the bus and then drop yen coins into a receptor depending on what stop they got off at.
For flat rate routes, the numbers printed with either a blue or orange background, passengers pay ¥230 every time. Non-flat rate routes are printed on a white background. For these buses, passengers get a ticket as they board and submit it to a machine as they deboard to determine the price of the ride. NOTE: Buses will accept coins only.
If you’re planning on making use of the Kyoto buses all day, I recommend purchasing a one-day pass. It costs ¥500 but if you ride the bus more than 2 times, you save a lot of money. You can purchase the pass from the bus driver as you get off the first bus of the day.
(To read more about the Kyoto bus system, click here)
Kyoto has only two subway lines that run in the city: The Karasuma line and the Tozai line. The two lines intersect at one location: Karasuma Oike.The subway in Kyoto will get you to some popular locations but the best way to see the city is with a subway/bus combo.
The price to ride the subway ranges from ¥210 to ¥340 per ride. If you’re going to be using the subways and the buses all day I recommend purchasing a Kyoto Sightseeing Pass Card. For ¥1,200, you can use this pass to use both modes of transportation an unlimited amount of times in one day. The price for 2 days is ¥2,000 which is very worth it.
If the Japanese language baffles you and you can’t seem to be able to retain the names of stations, the subway stations are also numbered. The Karasuma line stations start at K1 in the north and end at K15 in the south. The Tozai line stations start at T1 in the east and end at T17 in the west.
(To read more about the Kyoto subway system, click here)
If you’re considering a trip to Japan for more than a week, a Japan Rail Pass is a helpful tool to allow you to freely use the trains run by the Japan Railways Group, a company made up of six different railways companies. Depending on the length of your stay, you can purchase a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day pass.
The pass allows you to hop on any train run by the group, which include the Shinkansen, the high-speed bullet trains. For greater distance trips, reserving your seat ahead of time is recommended. You can also purchase the pass by area if you plan on staying around a certain location. Tokyo has JR lines that run through the city as well which makes travel within the city more affordable.
Unlike Tokyo, you can’t really use the JR Pass to explore Kyoto since it doesn’t run through the city. The Shinkansen stops at the Kyoto station making it a very good entry location to the city. From that main station, there are two JR lines that will take you to amazing spots near Kyoto. The Sagano line can be taken to Arashiyama, the famous bamboo forest in the Northwest of Kyoto. The Nara line takes you to, you’ve guessed it, Nara. One of the must-see sites to visit is on the Nara JR line: The Fushimi Inari Shrine.
(Click here for more information on the JR Pass)