Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways to Travel

Tiffany

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?

tokyo to kyoto bullet train
On clear days, Mount Fuji is visible from the bullet train. | Photo by hans-johnson used under CC

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.

Day trip hack: If you’re looking to do a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, this 1-day package is recommended. It includes Nozomi bullet train tickets and a tour to Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji and other famous sights.

Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto

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

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

First off, if you have a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail (JR) trains for a week (longer options are also available), the Hikari is 100% covered by the pass.

Discount tickets

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.

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.

Summary

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

tokyo to kyoto
Budget airlines are an alternative, but transfers 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 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.

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Tokyo => Kansai Jetstar ¥4,520 (US$40) Details
Tokyo => Kansai Peach ¥4,651 (US$41) 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. 

Summary

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

Highway buses

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

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.

Summary

Time: 6-9 hours
Pricing: From ¥1,600 one-way

Local trains

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

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.

Summary

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!

Pro tip: Check out our guide to Kyoto for ideas on what to do when you get there. And if you’re looking for the reverse route, our guide to getting from Kyoto to Tokyo has you covered.

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.

Written by:
Filed under: Getting around, Transport
Tags: Bullet Train, Culture, Day Trip, Flying, Highway Bus, History, Holiday, JR Pass, JR Rail Pass, Kyoto, Low-cost Carriers, Rail Passes, Seishun 18, Shinkansen, Tokyo, Tourist, Train, Transportation, Weekend-getaway
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16 Responses to “Tokyo to Kyoto: The Fastest and Cheapest Ways to Travel”

  1. cockweed February 4, 2015

    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 March 15, 2015

      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 November 13, 2015

    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 February 28, 2016

    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 March 16, 2016

      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 June 13, 2016

    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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