Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways

Tiffany


Tokyo and Kyoto, along with Osaka, are usually at the top of tourists’ itineraries when they visit Japan. Tokyo is commonly regarded as a city of modernity, whereas Kyoto is seen as a city of tradition. These places aren’t exactly next to each other, so how do you get from Tokyo to Kyoto? 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, get a shinkansen + hotel package, or a one-day bullet train package if time is tight. But read on for the full low-down.

Shinkansen (Bullet train)

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
The Shinkansen is the easiest way of getting from Tokyo to Kyoto. | Photo by Thilo Hilberer used under CC

Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen, costs ¥14,110 one-way in peak season, and can get you from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Hikari, which is slightly cheaper at ¥13,800 one-way, takes a little longer at 2 hours and 40 minutes. The slowest Shinkansen, Kodama, reaches Kyoto in about 3 hours and 50 minutes, and for the same price as 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 isn’t your best bet. However, it’s the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, and there are ways to make your Shinkansen journey cheaper. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (though longer options are also available), the Hikari is covered by the pass.

There’s also the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, which allows you to travel on the Kodama from Tokyo to Kyoto for ¥10,300¥11,600 one-way, depending on the season. This plan can only be purchased at least a day in advance, and tickets are limited, so call or visit JR Tokai Tours for booking.

Lastly, if you’re not getting the JR Rail Pass, you can still purchase a special discount ticket (for tourists/visitors only), and if you’re going for a few days, you can save money with a shinkansen + hotel package. Unlike the Puratto ticket, these packages include the faster bullet trains. Top options include this economical 4-day train + hotel package, which starts at ¥37,700, and this 3-day train + 4-star hotel deal, starting at ¥46,700. There is also a 1-night hotel + train package for Osaka from ¥33,000, if you’d prefer to be based there.

Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes – 3 hours and 50 minutes
Pricing: ¥10,300¥14,110 (one-way)

Low-cost airlines

tokyo to kyoto
Budget airlines are an alternative, but the airport transfer fees can add up. | Photo by lkarasawa used under CC

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 1 and a half hours. Prices start around ¥4,590¥5,190. Peach has promo fares every so often, so be on the lookout. Promo fares can go as low as ¥2,490 one-way.

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Tokyo => Kansai Vanilla Air ¥4,608 (US$43) Details
Tokyo => Kansai Peach ¥4,724 (US$43) Details
Tokyo => Kansai Jetstar Japan ¥5,125 (US$47) Details
Tokyo => Kansai Japan Airlines ¥10,789 (US$99) Details
Tokyo => Kansai ANA (All Nippon Airways) ¥10,888 (US$100) 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. You’ll also have 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 ¥3,570 one-way in high season. For short-term visitors, we recommend getting a Haruka-and-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. The time and cost of airport transfers can still add up.

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

Local trains

tokyo to kyoto
The Seishun 18 ticket is dirt cheap, but limits you to local and rapid trains. | Photo by Yuya Tamai used under CC

The Seishun 18 pass is a seasonal package consisting of five tickets (for five consecutive or non-consecutive days of unlimited 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, each day of travel costs just ¥2,370. The catch? The pass can only be used on local and rapid JR trains, which makes for very long journeys!

The routes can be quite complicated, so plan the journey in advance on Hyperdia (deselect everything but Japan Railways and local) and budget your time accordingly, as missing one train might have a domino effect on your ride to Kyoto. If you have time to spare and are keen on saving money, this is the option for you, but it definitely isn’t for those who want an uncomplicated, quick ride to Kyoto.

Time: About 9 hours
Pricing: ¥2,370 one-way

Highway bus

tokyo to kyoto - japan rail pass
Overnight buses are also an option for cheapo travelers. | Photo by na0905 used under CC

There are numerous bus companies plying the route from Tokyo to Kyoto, including Kosoku Bus, Midnight Express, Tokyu and Willer. A ride from Tokyo to Kyoto costs from about ¥4,800 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. Have a look at Japan Bus Online to compare rates.

Time: 6-9 hours
Pricing: At least ¥4,800 one-way

The verdict on travel from Tokyo to Kyoto

There’s no dispute that the Shinkansen is still 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 no-brainer.

Otherwise, the Seishun 18 ticket is the cheapest way, but will take a 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 still be expensive and time-consuming due to airport transfers, but if you snag a good deal during promo season, go for it!

This post is updated regularly. Last update: August 15, 2017.


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16 Responses to “Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways”

  1. cockweed

    Thanks for the info!

  2. I’m taking the Willer bus to Kyoto. Since I’m combining accomodations and travel, I splashed out a bit on their “Cocoon” bus (http://willerexpress.com/x/bus/dynamic/3/en/html/bus-details/cocoon.html). I booked early and got a good discount. I’m excited to try business class bus travel, and I hope to be asleep for most of it, even though I can be a light sleeper. Worse comes to worst, I suppose I can camp out at a manga kissa when I get there for some zzzs.

    • Tiffany

      Hey Amber! 🙂 Being a cheapo, I haven’t tried Willer’s more expensive bus seats, but as a light sleeper myself, I’d have to say that I was still able to get enough sleep riding a Willer bus. It’s been months since I last took a Willer bus, but, IIRC, for night buses, they turn out the lights at some point. I’d wake up when the bus stopped for toilet breaks, but I didn’t feel like I didn’t get enough sleep. The business-class seats should have even more room and privacy, so I think you’ll have a good night’s sleep!

  3. I’m travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo with Peach next week, managed to get a flight for 2790y, seemed so much cheaper than the train!

  4. Hi cheapos, i’m planning a trip to Japan next february, and thinking of getting the JR pass, according to this article it includes the Hikari shinkansen, however does it include trains or shinkansen to cities like Osaka or Nagoya? And do you guys think it is more convenient to stay in Kyoto at least 1 night or to do a 1 day trip meaning to leave Tokyo at early morning and coming back at evening. I hope you guys answer my questions.

    • CheapoGreg

      That’s advance planning. Not sure if any advice I offer will still be valid in February 2016!
      I don’t think we mention the Hikari anywhere in this article. However, you can take the Hikari with the JR Pass, but you can’t take the Nozomi. The Hikari runs on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines – so you can take it to Nagoya and Osaka (Shin-osaka Station). There is so much stuff to see in Kyoto – I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone doing a day trip there before.

  5. I made the round trip last year via Willer bus and it was pretty comfortable and convenient. I’d do it again, when traveling on the cheap, but I’d for sure jump on the Shinkansen for the convenience and experience.

  6. sonicshaker

    HI THERE CHEAPO!

    Thank you for this awesome tip. Would you know if the JR ticket office of Kansai Airport Station is open 24/7 for me to purchase the Icoca & Haruka package?

  7. Panty Sniffer

    want

  8. Guys, any info about the new JR East Pass split, now there is JR East Pass Tohoku Area and Nagano Niigata Area… Which one is better to move from Tokyo to Kyoto?

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi there,
      The answer is neither. Kyoto is in west Japan so you can’t get there using a JR East Pass.
      Greg

      • Hi thanks for the reply, I got confused with the names, after some research I understood the thing properly.
        Jusrt to confirm though, what card can you use to move around in Kyoto? Can you use the same Suica card you would use in Tokyo or is it a different one?
        Thanks in advance!

  9. what would be best bet for a week holiday, starting in tokyo and flying out from osaka, and we want do 2 or 3 nights in tokio, move around tokyo subway then do train route to osaka with stops like in Fuji and Nagoya night each

  10. PadfootsLove

    I am trying to figure out the best way to get to Kyoto (I plan to visit both Kyoto and Tokyo and will fly home from Tokyo). I am researching, but am having a hard time figuring which is best…Do I fly into Kansai, take the express train to Kyoto and then a Shinkansen to Tokyo after staying in Kyoto for a few nights? Or fly into Tokyo, and purchase round trip tickets on the Shinkansen? What do you think is more cost effective? Thank you so much in advance.


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