Odds are Kyoto — Japan’s cultural capital — is at the top of your itinerary. And since most travellers enter the country via Tokyo, you’ll need to work out the cheapest, easiest and/or fastest way to get there — depending on your priorities. Except, of course, we’ve already done that for you. Here’s everything you need to know about the trains, planes, and buses that connect Japan’s two most famous cities.

tokyo to kyoto bullet train
On clear days, Mt Fuji is visible from the bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto | Photo by iStock.com/vichie81

tl;dr: In general, the Shinkansen is the fastest and most convenient option. Probably your best bet is to get the amazing-value Japan Rail PassJapan Rail Pass. The cheapest 7-day pass just about coveres round-trip travel on the Shinakansen between Tokyo and Kyoto — so if you make just one additional excursion, the pass will save you money. If you’re just traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto (or don’t qualify for a rail pass), discounted Shinkansen tickets can help make this option cheaper. But read on for the full low-down.

Quick Comparison of Tokyo to Kyoto Transport Options

Transport Comfort Price Time Emissions Booking Links
Bullet train ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ¥10,600¥14,370, possibly cheaper with deals 2 hrs 15 min to 3 hrs 40 min 4.1kg CO2 Order via Klook or Japan Experience or JRail Pass
Flights ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ from ¥4,000 + plus transfers 4–5 hrs (incl. transfers) 59.2kg CO2 Search flights
Buses ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ¥3,500¥9,300 6–9 hrs 13.4kg CO2 Search Buses
Regular trains ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ¥8,360 9 hrs (possibly much longer) 8.5kg CO2

Jump to:

Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto

Time: 2 hrs 15 min to 3 hrs 40 min
Cost: ¥10,600¥14,370

The Tokaidō Shinkansen connnects Tokyo and Kyoto (and terminates one stop further, at Shin-Osaka Station). There are three services on this line and the time and cost varies per service.

tokyo shinkansen to kyoto
Not only is the Shinkansen the most convenient way to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, it also has a cute platypus nose | Photo by Gregory Lane

Time and cost

Nozomi is the fastest service on the Tokaidō Shinkansen, reaching Kyoto in about 2 hrs and 15 minutes and costing ¥14,370 during peak season. The next fastest service, Hikari, takes a little longer at 2 hrs and 40 mins, and costs ¥14,050 during peak season. The slowest Kodama service reaches Kyoto in about 3 hrs and 40 mins, and costs the same as the Hikari service (unless you get the Puratto Economy Plan — see below).

Knock a few hundred yen off the prices if you’re traveling off-peak — that’s anytime outside spring and summer holidays, Golden Week, and the New Year period.

Departure and arrival stations

The modern interior of Kyoto Station
Kyoto Station is super contemporary, which is maybe not what you’d expect for a city famous for its historic attractions | Photo by iStock.com/coward_lion

You can board the Shinkansen at Tokyo, Shinagawa, or Shin-Yokohama Station. Ticket prices are the same whether you depart from Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station; from Shin-Yokohama the fare is cheaper by ¥670.

All services stop at all of the stations above. Nozomi services make one additional stop in Nagoya before Kyoto; Hikari and Kodama services make more stops along the way.

Unlike some destinations, where the Shinkansen station is outside the center city, Kyoto Station is right in central Kyoto. You can transfer here to local trains and buses and the subway, or catch a taxi.

Timetables and seat reservations

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is one of the most popular bullet train routes in the country, with trains departing from Tokyo for Kyoto approximately every 10 minutes. You can see timetables on fare- and route-finding sites like Jorudan.

The frequency of trains doesn’t mean you should board without a seat reservation. Opting for the unreserved (jiyūseki) will save you a few hundred yen, but could see you standing awkwardly the whole way to Kyoto. The standard advice is, if possible, to use those extra coins to get a reserved seats (shiteiseki) — which you can arrange easily at JR ticket offices. You can do that at the same time as activating your JR Pass, if you have one (and reservations are free with the pass).

If you’re committed to unreserved seats, as is the case with some discount tickets, just get to the station early, and try to be close to the front of the line outside one of the unreserved carriages, to increase your chances of getting a seat. In this case, it’s also better to get on the train at Tokyo Station where the route begins — rather than get on one stop later at Shinagawa Station.

Taking bags on the bullet train

If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. Shinkansen luggage rules dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (included in your JR Pass). Bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all.

How to save money on bullet train tickets

The Shinkansen is definitely the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and there are a few ways to make it a little bit more affordable.

Japan Rail Pass

If you have a Japan Rail PassJapan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (longer options are also available), the Hikari and Kodama (but not Nozomi) services are 100% covered by the pass.

Note: The JR Pass is only available to short-term visitors to Japan.

Discount tickets

The Puratto Kodama Economy Plan allows travel on the slow Kodama service from Tokyo to Kyoto for ¥10,600¥12,000 one way, depending on the season. You have to buy Puratto tickets at least 1 day in advance, and numbers are limited. Purchase them from JR Tokai Tours or from any JTB Travel counter in Tokyo.

The Hokuriku Arch Pass

If slow travel is your jam, you might want to check out the Hokuriku Arch Pass too. It’s a nice little regional rail pass that takes you between Tokyo and Kyoto, along an arching route that includes Nagano and Kanazawa.

Flights from Tokyo to Kyoto: Low-cost airlines

Time: About 4.5 hours (including airport transfers)
Pricing: Approximately ¥6,700 (one-way, including airport fees and transfer costs)

Peach Airlines
Low-cost carriers like Peach travel between major Japanese cities | Photo by Gregory Lane

Kyoto may not have an airport, but nearby Osaka has Kansai International Airport as the gateway to the region. Fly from Narita or Haneda Airport with a budget airline like Peach or Jetstar, and you’ll be in Osaka in just 90 minutes. Prices start around ¥4,000¥6,000 one-way, but can go for twice as much. There are tourist and other promo fares every so often, so be on the lookout.

Route Airline One-way Fare Date Booking
Tokyo Narita => Osaka Kansai International Jetstar ¥4,311 (US$32) 2023-02-02 Details
Tokyo Haneda => Osaka Kansai International Japan Airlines ¥8,593 (US$65) 2024-01-15 Details
Tokyo Haneda => Osaka Kansai International ANA ¥55,503 (US$424) 2024-01-08 Details

Although fares for flights between Tokyo and Osaka may be cheap, you’ll still have to consider the cost of getting to Narita Airport — the cheapest way is about ¥1,000 (one-way) for a bus that departs from Tokyo Station — or the cost of getting to Haneda Airport. You’ll also need to consider that, once you land at Kansai Airport, you’ll have to board a train or bus to Kyoto.

The JR Haruka Limited Express, which connects Kansai Airport to Kyoto, is a 75-minute ride that costs in the region of ¥3,630 one-way in high season. However, seriously discounted tickets can be purchased online (foreign passport holders only) for as little as ¥1,800.

For short-term visitors, we also recommend getting a ICOCA & Haruka package at the station ticket office. This is a good deal at ¥3,800 one-way (and ¥5,600 for a round-trip): in addition to transport from the airport, you get an IC card called ICOCA that comes with an initial balance of ¥1,500. You can then use this ICOCA card for convenient rail travel in Kyoto and around Japan.

Note 1: Residents of Japan cannot buy this package.
Note 2: The route from Kansai Airport to Kyoto is also covered by the JR Pass.

What about Osaka’s Itami Airport?

Low-cost carriers generally don’t fly into Osaka Itami Airport. You can book flights from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka Itami Airport on legacy carriers like JAL and ANA, which do offer discounted fares to foreign tourists. However, you are still looking at a 1 hour bus ride into Kyoto (or multiple train transfers).

From Tokyo to Kyoto by bus

Time: 6–9 hours
Pricing: From ¥3,500 one-way (low season)

highway bus japan
Overnight buses are a great option for budget travelers | Photo by iStock.com/Tony Studio

There are numerous companies plying the highway bus route from Tokyo to Kyoto (and nearby Osaka). A ride starts from as little as ¥3,500 and can go up to around ¥9,300, depending on comfort and season. The journey takes about 6 to 9 hours. Buses that depart from Tokyo during the day usually take longer due to traffic. Late-night buses, which are the preferred option, depart Tokyo between 9pm and midnight and can get you to Kyoto Station as early as 5:15am, giving you a full day to explore.

Play around on Willer Express and Kosoku Bus to see what your cheapest option is for either a night bus or day bus.

Note: Many buses from Tokyo end their routes in Osaka, which is not far from Kyoto. The two cities are just a 30-minute train ride apart. So, if you find a good price on a bus ticket that goes to Osaka but not Kyoto, it’s still a viable option. Read up on other ways to get from Tokyo to Osaka.

Regular trains

Time: About 9 hours (in theory)
Pricing: approximately ¥8,360 one-way

JR Tokyo train ticket
Not quite this cheap | Photo by Greg Lane

The approximate cost of a one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on regular, rather than bullet, trains, is approximately ¥8,360 — not a huge savings from the cheapest Shikansen ticket.

The Seishun 18 Pass

There is, however, a hack that allows significant savings. The Seishun 18 pass is a seasonal rail package consisting of 5 tickets (for 5 consecutive or non-consecutive days of travel) for ¥12,050. Anytime during the validity period, solo travelers can use up all 5 days, or group travelers can split them among themselves. In effect, 1 day of travel costs just ¥2,410 per person.

The catch? The pass can only be used on local and rapid JR trains, which makes for long journeys. Plus, it’s only valid for a few weeks, 3 times a year.

Read more about the Seishun 18 pass and how you can take advantage of it.

The verdict on travel from Tokyo to Kyoto

There’s no dispute that the Shinkansen is the fastest and smoothest way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, and if you’re going to get the Japan Rail PassJapan Rail Pass then it’s a real no-brainer.

Pro tip: Check out our guide to Kyoto for ideas on what to do when you get there. Our Kyoto accommodation guide might come in handy too.

Video guide to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto

The reverse route: Traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo

If you are looking for the best ways to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, rather than the other way round, your transport options are almost exactly the same — with a few different special offers for tourists. We have a dedicated guide to the reverse route — read it here.

Day trips between Tokyo and Kyoto

Traditional rock garden at a temple in Kyoto
You can do Kyoto as a day trip but most people spend 3 or 4 days exploring the many (many!) historic temples, shrines, and gardens | Photo by iStock.com/Yue_

Many cheapos wonder about the feasibility of a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto (or the reverse). Is a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto possible? The answer is yes: as long as you plan things carefully, a day trip will give you enough time to get a good taste of Kyoto (or Tokyo). A guided tour, like this one, can help you fit in a lot of the best places without having to worry about logistics.

The bullet train is the best option for a day trip, as they start running around 6 a.m. and stop around 9 p.m. So you can get a full day of sightseeing in if you’re prepared to be up with the larks and go to bed late. You can also get a full day in Kyoto by using a night bus there and a night bus back, but this can be tiring.

Tokyo to Kyoto travel FAQs

How far is it from Tokyo to Kyoto?

Kyoto is about 225 miles (360km) west of Tokyo as the crow flies. By rail or road, the journey is more like 285 miles (460km).

How do you get from Tokyo to Kyoto?

The fastest and easiest way is taking the bullet train (Shinkansen). Alternative ways of getting between the two cities include highway buses and airplanes.

How long does it take to get from Tokyo to Kyoto?

It depends whether you take the bullet train, bus or plane (or local trains). If you choose to travel by plane, you are looking at about 90 minutes in the air, and a couple of hours of transfer time either side (you need to get to Narita or Haneda Airport in Tokyo and then from Kansai International Airport in Osaka to Kyoto).

How long does it take to get from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train?

The fastest bullet train servicce, the Nozomi, will get you there in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The second-fastest option, the Hikari, takes about 20 minutes longer. And the slowest option, the Kodama, takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo to Kyoto.

How much is the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto?

Without discounts, a one-way ticket with reserved seating costs about ¥14,000 on the Nozomi Shinkansen. If you choose unreserved seating, the ticket is closer to ¥13,000. The Hikari is a few hundred yen cheaper. And the slowpoke Kodama is ¥10,600 in the off season, with the Puratto Economy Plan.

Prices can fluctuate by a few hundred yen depending on whether you are traveling in peak or off-peak seasons.

When is the best time to book travel between Tokyo and Kyoto?

Kyoto neighborhood with a cherry tree in full bloom
Kyoto is an extremely popular destination during cherry blossom season | Photo by iStock.com/Sean Pavone

The usual peak travel season cautions apply. Travel in Japan is always more hectic, crowded, and expensive during peak periods, which include: year-end/New Year’s, cherry blossom season (late March to early April), Golden Week, and summer break (late July through August). This is especially true in Kyoto, which is a very, very popular domestic destination.

Shinkansen tickets fluctuate only slightly — a few hundred yen — but flights and buses, with dynamic pricing, can cost as much as twice the price of an off-peak ticket.

While we do our best to ensure it is correct, pricing and other information is subject to change. This post, which was originally written by Tiffany, is updated regularly. Last updated in October 2022 by Maria Danuco.

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