You made it to Kyoto! Woo-hoo! Now you have to get around. Luckily for you Kyoto is extraordinarily easy to navigate.
You can walk a good portion of the city, ride a bike, or take the bus, subway, or train. There are all sorts of deals for any combination of transportation, but I chose the bus.
Here is a good link to let you determine your best method: https://www2.city.kyoto.lg.jp/koho/eng/access/transport.html
I’ve enjoyed taking the bus as far back as I can remember. (Flashback to kindergarten when my mom surprised me by picking me up at school and I didn’t get to ride the bus that afternoon. I was super disappointed I missed out on this bus experience. Felt much differently about the school bus in my high school days. But anyway.)
An all-day bus pass only costs ¥500. The flat fare for these city buses is ¥220 so I feel that is a pretty good deal. You can get anywhere in the city on these buses and it lets you see more of the city than the subway or trains would.
Besides the great price and convenience of taking the bus, it allowed me to see some of the sights that I was on the fence about visiting. I passed the castle and some central temples numerous times on the bus and decided that I didn’t need to add them to my already burgeoning itinerary. It also gave me a better lay of the land.
They are extremely tourist friendly so you shouldn’t be nervous tackling the bus system. It’s ready for you.
Buy your ticket at the Kyoto train station or at the main subway station. I’m sure there are other places selling it, but those are the easiest to find and they’ll even give you a glorious map all in English. Super handy. Don’t worry looking like a tourist with it out all the time. Everyone is a tourist with that same map in the language of their choosing. You’ll fit right in (especially if you also brought your selfie-stick.)
This pass is good for all the buses within the city limits. Or almost all the buses. The few that you cannot use the pass on have a big sign on the outside telling you so. They also have the bus number on a white background. I never once accidentally boarded one of these buses. It’s not something you really need to worry about.
Board the bus from the middle. Exit from the front. The first time you use your pass feed it through the ticket taker by the driver on your way out. He’ll say thank you and you’ll go on your way. All the other times you just need to flash the date on your ticket and he’ll let you go. Or feed it through. Whatever you want.
I mentioned that the buses are foreigner friendly. They are. The ones on the really touristy paths say the stops in numerous languages, telling you what attractions are nearby. It makes it really hard to mess up your stop.
Because you have the pass, you don’t have to worry about fumbling for correct change (because these buses will not give you change if you pay with cash.) You also don’t have to worry about boarding the wrong bus and paying for its fare because you paid for the pass. You can afford to make some mistakes.
Word to the wise: these buses can get super crowded in the heart of tourist land (mostly central-east.) If your sights are close by in these areas just hoof them. You see more that way anyway.
One last thing. I was concerned about reaching the bamboo forest in the Arashiyama area using these buses since they are good for Kyoto city only. But not to worry! They’ll drop you right off at their doorstep. Arashiyama has its own bus pass deal, but I didn’t feel the need to use a bus at all while there. It was small enough that walking was completely sufficient.
I hope this guide helps you on your Kyoto journey!
In closing, here is a link to the city bus map with all the attractions clearly labeled. It’s the same map as the one you will receive with your bus pass. http://youinjapan.net/maps/kyoto/kyoto_bus_map_jap.jpg