Getting Around Kyoto
The best way to get around Kyoto is by bus and on foot. The abundance of English-language signs and announcements make Kyoto's bus systems easy for visitors to navigate. But all those bus fares can add up, so put on some comfortable shoes and get ready to do some strolling as well. The city's subway can also come in handy, but its two lines don't have the breadth and scope of the bus system. Taxis are also a viable transportation option, especially at night.
Most travelers fly into Osaka's Kansai International Airport (KIX), which is just 60 miles southwest of Kyoto. The fastest and most direct way to get from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto is to take the JR West Airport Express HARUKA train. The trip takes about 75 minutes and costs 3,600 yen (about $32). Alternatively, you can take MK Taxi's Skygate Shuttle from the airport to Kyoto for 4,200 yen (about $37) per person (just remember to book your shuttle at least two days in advance), however because it is a shared service, it can be more time-consuming than if you were to take the train.
Buses are your best bet for getting to and from Kyoto's top attractions. They feature electronic signs and announcements in English, and many leave directly from Kyoto Station's Karasuma stop. The green and white Kyoto City Buses hit most of the city's major sites, but even better are the Raku Buses (routes 100, 101 and 102), operated by the Kyoto City Bus. Raku Buses, which leave from platform D2 at Kyoto Station, will shuttle you quickly between tourist areas, skipping most non-tourist stops. Kyoto City Buses and Raku Buses cost 230 yen (about $2.35) per trip, but you can purchase a one-day bus pass for 600 yen (about $5.50) if you plan on riding a lot (kids younger than 12-ride for half-price). You may purchase bus passes from the bus driver or from the information center outside Kyoto Station. Just remember to enter the bus from the back door, and pay at the front door as you exit the vehicle. If you don't have a pass, make sure you have the correct change.
With only two lines, Kyoto's subway system isn't nearly as extensive as its bus routes. There's the north-south Karasuma Line and the east-west Tozai Line. With the subway, you can bypass some of the street traffic associated with buses and taxis, but you likely won't be able to rely on subways alone. You can reach several top attractions, including Nijo Castle, Gion, the Nanzen-ji Temple as well as downtown Kyoto and the Southern Higashiyama district, home to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Sanjusangendo, among other must-sees.
Like the buses, the subway features English-language signage and announcements. Subway fares are calculated by distance traveled and range from 210 yen (about $1.85) to 350 yen (about $3.10), with discounts for children. You can buy tickets from the automatic ticket machines located in the subway stations. The subway runs between 5:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. daily.
Since public transportation fares can add up quickly, you should plan on doing a fair amount of exploration on foot. And you'll be happy to know that Kyoto boasts plenty of areas that are great for walking. A particularly famous route is the Philosopher's Walk, which will take you along a tree-lined canal pathway and past a number of shrines.
You can hail a taxi in Kyoto from any curb, or you can find one at a hotel or marked taxi stand. Taxis are metered and most drivers know English, though it is always a good idea to keep your hotel's address handy to show the driver. Taxis are available in several different sizes; small taxis can transport up to four passengers while large ones carry five. Though it can vary, most taxis cost 640 yen (less than $6) for the first 2 kilometers (about 1¼ miles). Two trusted taxi companies are MK (topped with a heart logo) and Yasaka (topped with a clover logo). Both MK and Yasaka usually accept credit cards, but you should verify with the driver before hopping in the back seat.
Kyoto is a great place to explore on two wheels when the weather is nice (read: spring and fall). The grid layout of the streets, the bounty of English-language signage and relatively flat terrain make the city extremely easy to navigate on a bike. You can rent a bike starting at 1,000 yen (about $9) a day from the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project, which is a short walk from the north exit of Kyoto Station. During the spring and the fall, biking might even be faster than taking the bus, and let's face it – it's great exercise and a nice way to enjoy Kyoto's outdoor scenery. The Kyoto Cycling Tour Project and J-Cycle are two well-reviewed companies.
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