Tokyo and Kyoto, along with neighboring Osaka, are usually at the top of the itinerary when you visit Japan. Tokyo is commonly regarded as a city of modernity, whereas Kyoto is seen as a city of tradition. The distance between the two is roughly 450km, so how do you get from Tokyo to Kyoto?
tl;dr: There are plenty of ways, and what to choose depends on whether you consider time or cost to be more important. Probably your best bet is getting the amazing-value JR Rail Pass, especially if you have more than just Tokyo and Kyoto on your itinerary. If it’s just a Tokyo to Kyoto trip, consider getting a Shinkansen + hotel package, or a discounted round-trip bullet train package + 1-day Kyoto transport pass for convenience’s sake. But read on for the full low-down.
Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto
Time and cost
The Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen, costs about ¥14,110 one-way during peak season, and can get you from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Hikari, which is slightly cheaper at around ¥13,800 one way, takes a little longer at 2 hours and 40 minutes. The slowest Shinkansen, the Kodama, reaches Kyoto in about 3 hours and 50 minutes, and for the same price as the Hikari. 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.
If you want to keep things super cheap, then the Shinkansen probably isn’t your best bet. However, it is the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and there are a few ways to make your Shinkansen journey more affordable.
How to save money on bullet train tickets
Japan Rail Pass
If you’re not getting the JR Pass, you can still purchase a special discount ticket (for tourists/visitors only), which is ¥21,000 for a round-trip and includes a subway and bus pass. While good for overnight or longer stays, this discount package can also be used for day trips from Tokyo to Kyoto.
There’s also the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, which allows travel on the slow Kodama from Tokyo to Kyoto for around ¥10,300 – ¥11,600 one way, depending on the season. This plan must be purchased at least a day in advance, and tickets are limited. Look up JR Tokai Tours for more info.
Hotel and bullet train combo packages
If you’re planning to be in Kyoto for a few days, you can save money with a Shinkansen + hotel combo package. A popular choice is this 4-day train + hotel package, which starts at ¥37,700. There is also a 1-night hotel + train package for Osaka from ¥25,100.
Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes – 3 hours and 50 minutes
Pricing: ¥10,300– ¥14,110 one-way (discount packages may be cheaper)
Flights from Tokyo to Kyoto: Low-cost airlines
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 one and a half hours. Prices start around ¥4,590 – ¥5,190. There are tourist and other promo fares every so often, so be on the lookout. One-way fares can go as low as ¥2,490.
|Tokyo => Kansai||Jetstar||¥4,466 (US$41)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||Peach||¥5,319 (US$48)||Details|
|Tokyo => Kansai||ANA||¥8,802 (US$80)||Details|
Although promo fares may be cheap, you’ll still have to consider the cost of getting to Narita, the cheapest of which is ¥900 (one-way) for a bus that departs from Tokyo Station, or the cost of getting to Haneda. You’ll also need to consider that, once you arrive at Osaka, you’ll have to board a train or bus to Kyoto.
The Haruka Limited Express, which connects Kansai Airport to Kyoto, is a 75-minute ride that costs ¥3,370 one-way in high season. For short-term visitors, we recommend getting a Haruka + ICOCA package, which is a better deal at ¥3,600 one-way and ¥5,200 round-trip—you get an IC card called ICOCA that comes with an initial balance of ¥1,500. You can use the card for other rail travel in Japan.
Time: About 4.5 hours (including airport transfers)
Pricing: At least ¥6,700 (one-way, including airport fees and transfer costs)
There are numerous bus companies plying the route from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka. A ride starts from as little as ¥1,600 depending on comfort and season, taking about 6-9 hours. Buses that depart from Tokyo during the day usually take longer due to traffic, but night buses can get you to Kyoto Station as early as 5:15am. Check Kosoku Bus to see what your cheapest option is.
Note: Many buses end their routes in Osaka, which is not far from Kyoto. The two cities are 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.
Time: 6-9 hours
Pricing: From ¥1,600 one-way
The Seishun 18 pass is a seasonal rail package consisting of five tickets (for five consecutive or non-consecutive days of travel) for ¥11,850. Anytime during the validity period, solo travelers can use up all five days, or group travelers can split them among themselves. In effect, one day of travel costs just ¥2,370 for one person. The catch? The pass can only be used on local and rapid JR trains, which makes for rather long journeys.
Routes can be quite complicated, with lots of transfers, so it’s best to plan your journey in advance on sites like Jorudan or Hyperdia (deselect everything but Japan Railways and local), and budget your time accordingly. Missing even one train might have a pretty lengthy domino effect!
If you have time to spare and are keen on saving money, this pass is a possible option for you, but it definitely isn’t for those who want an uncomplicated, quick ride from Tokyo to Kyoto.
Time: About 9 hours (in theory)
Pricing: ¥2,370 one-way
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 JR Rail Pass, then it’s a real no-brainer.
Otherwise, the Seishun 18 ticket is the absolute cheapest way, but will take a hefty toll on your time. If you want to go for the middle ground—not wasting too much time but not paying too much—you’re better off taking an overnight bus to Kyoto. Taking a plane can be a little expensive and time-consuming due to airport transfers, but if you snag a good deal, go for it!
While we do our best to ensure it is correct, pricing and other information is subject to change. This post is updated regularly. Last update: November 13, 2018.
Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!