Tokyo and Kyoto are must-visit cities for anyone traveling to Japan. Tokyo offers a colorful and exhilarating Japanese city life, while Kyoto is the best place to experience the Japanese countryside. Interestingly, Kyoto was the capital of Imperial Japan, before it was moved to Tokyo. This is why, at present, there are still landmarks from the Imperial Era, such as the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle.
When it comes to traveling between the two cities, there are plenty of options. For this article, we’ll be tackling these travel options, from the fastest to the slowest, as well as the cheapest method.
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
The Shinkansen are the Japanese bullet trains and some of the fastest bullet trains in the world. The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is 450 kilometers, which can be traveled via the Shinkansen within 2.5 to 3 hours.
Here are your options:
- Nozomi – 2 hours and 20 minutes
- Hikari – 2 hours and 40 minutes
- Kodama – 3 hours and 50 minutes
The average rate for the Shinkansen is JPY 14.370. If you are planning to travel around Japan for the duration of your trip, you might want to look into buying a Japan Rail Pass. It will allow you unlimited use of the Shinkansen for one whole week.
The Japan Rail Pass can only be bought if you are a temporary visa holder, and you are not yet in Japan, so please take that into consideration before flying for your trip.
Book your Japan Rail Pass Now
If you are not planning to use the Shinkansen more than once, you have the option of buying discount tickets or plans to save money for this trip. The Shinkansen is not the cheapest option, however, it is guaranteed to take you to Kyoto the fastest.
Special discount ticket options:
Special Discount Ticket
- The estimated price of JPY 21, 000
- Round-trip ticket
- With subway and bus pass
Puratto Kodama Economy Plan
- Economy plan with the Kodama Shinkansen
- The estimated price of JPY 10,500 to JPY 11,900
- The one-way trip that should be booked a day in advance
- Offered by JR Tokai Tours
There are bullet trains that leave Kyoto for Tokyo every 6 to 10 minutes, so you have no problem getting back if you ever book a one-way ticket only. Keep in mind that the new luggage guidelines for the Shinkansen that were released in May 2020 only allow luggage under 250 cm. Please do in-depth research about the new luggage guidelines if you are traveling heavy.
There are lots of local airlines in Japan that are low-cost. These low-cost carriers, such as Peach and Jetstar often hold promo sales where you can buy tickets for an even more discounted price. Keep a lookout for these promos during your flight if you want to save a lot.
There is no airport in Kyoto, but the neighboring city, Osaka has one. These flights are from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport) to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. While the flight themselves only take around 90 minutes, the whole trip by air will take up to 4 hours and 30 minutes, including the airport transfers.
Here are some of your options:
Jetstar flights from Tokyo to Kansai
ANA flights from Tokyo to Kansai
- JPY 12,440
- SAM Columbia
- JPY 5,391
These are all one-way fares. Also, take into consideration the money that you will be needing for the transfer fees.
The overnight highway busses are some of the cheapest options, however, they aren’t exactly fastest. Traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto usually lasts anywhere around 6 to 9 hours. This is also a preferred route if you are also planning to visit Osaka, as you can take a bus from Tokyo to Kyoto, and another from Kyoto to Osaka.
Here are the rates for the highway busses:
- Anywhere from JPY 2,800 to JPY 15,800
- Tickets can be booked 3 months in advance
- You can also get to Osaka and Kobe with this bus company
- Anywhere from JYP 6,100 to JYP 9,600
- Tickets can be booked 2 months in advance
- You can get on these busses in Shinjuku or Akihabara
Chiba Chuo Bus
- Anywhere from JPY 5,500 to JYP 7,500
- Tickets can be booked 1 month in advance
- This bus company go from Ueno or Tokyo Disney Resort to Kyoto
These rates are for both one-way tickets to round-trip ones. We suggest to check out Willer Express and Kosoku Bus prior to your Japan trip, and you can chance on some extremely cheap rates. They usually depart anywhere from 9 PM to 12 MN and will get you to Kyoto before sunrise.
There are busses that do not stop over in Kyoto but go to Osaka directly. If you find a really cheap bus ticket from Tokyo to Osaka, you might want to consider it as getting to Osaka to Kyoto is not a hassle at all, since the two cities are only a 30-minute bus ride apart.
For one, regular train tickets are priced around the same rates as the Shinkansen tickets, which is anywhere from JPY 10,000 to JPY 14,000. However, while bullet trains are your fastest option, regular trains will take significantly much longer. The time to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on a regular will take you a whole day.
This long-time needed to travel is mostly due to the complicated travel routes, with lots of transfer and stopovers. It’s not really recommended if you want to get to Kyoto quickly, in order to spend more of the duration of your trip sightseeing, instead of being tuck in train transfers.
On that note, though, we’ll mention the existence of the Seishun 18 pass, which may be viable for some. It is a set of 5 tickets that can be used for five travel days (whether consecutive or non-consecutive) by an individual or split up in a group. The main disadvantage, however, is that it is only available on seasons (3 times a year) for only a few weeks.
In conclusion, the fastest way that you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto is to take the Shinkansen, which can take you there within 2 hours and 20 minutes at the fastest. The prices for the Shinkansen aren’t cheap, however, as the average rate for a one-way ticket is JPY 14,370.
If you are looking for the cheapest way to travel, that would be through the overnight highway buses. The cheapest ticket you can get for these highway busses is JPY 1,000. The travel time is anywhere from 6 to 9 hours. These busses usually leave at night (9PM-12PM), and will arrive at Kyoto Station at 5AM, at the earliest.
Searching for the best Tokyo hotels and affordable flights? Check out our complete list of affordable hotels and resorts via Agoda or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.
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