If you’re travelling to Kyoto as a tourist, you’ll want to quickly familiarize yourself with the Kyoto tourist bus which is known locally as the Raku bus. Despite the fact that Kyoto’s public transportation network is quite good, it pales in comparison to Tokyo and your SUICA / PASMO card will be of limited use in the city. Trust me, Kyoto should be on your must see list even if you’re in Japan for just one week

The Raku bus is aimed at tourists and has three lines that go in a loop (Rakus bus 100, 101, 102). The buses are easy to spot since they’re all coloured pink. Some people refer to the Raku bus as the Kyoto sightseeing bus since you’ll pass by all the major tourist destinations on one of the lines, but it shouldn’t be confused with the “hop on hop off” buses you see in other countries. Below is a quick guide on how to ride the Raku bus in Kyoto

Raku Bus Kyoto

Kyoto travel guide: Raku bus cost

A single ride on the Kyoto city bus will cost you 230 yen for adults, and 120 yen for children under the age of 12. You board in the back with payments being made when you get off the bus at the front. Exact fare is always preferred, but there is a change machine available so you don’t need to worry too much.

Your rechargeable IC card (SUICA, ICOCA, PASMO, etc) will work on the bus, but if you’re taking more than 3 rides in a single day, you’re better off buying a one day Kyoto city bus pass for just 500 yen (250 yen children under the age of 12). The easiest place to buy your passes is at the “Kyoto Tourism Information Center” located inside Kyoto station, or the “bus ticket center” located outside Kyoto station (north side) where the buses depart. You can also purchase them from vending machines at major bus stops or directly from drivers on the bus, but they’re known to run out by the afternoon.

The Kyoto city bus pass is good for all buses (Kyoto tourist bus, and normal buses), but there’s an extra charge if you’re going outside the flat-fare zone. The pass does not include taking the subway. Check out the Kyoto city website for a detailed description and pictures on how to ride the bus in Kyoto.

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Kyoto tourist busImage courtesy: Victor Lee, Flickr

Kyoto Travel Guide: Raku bus routes

When you purchase your Kyoto city bus pass, be sure to pay attention to the map that they hand you. You’ll notice that all the major tourist attractions are shown, so it’s pretty easy to figure out which Raku bus you need to take. All the attractions are announced, but there’s also English text displayed so you should know when you arrive at your destination. Remember, every bus loops. Generally speaking, you can just get on the bus on the opposite side of the street if you want to go back. See below to find out what attractions you’ll come across on each Raku bus route.

Raku bus 100: Sanjusangendo Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Heian-jingu Shrine, Eikan-do Temple, Nanzenji Temple, Honen-in Temple, Ginkakuji Temple.

Raku bus 101: Nijo Castle, Seimei-Jinja Shrine, Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine, Hirano Shrine, Kinkakuji Temple

Raku bus 102: Ginkakuji Temple, Shokokuji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, Daitokuji Temple.

If you look at the map below, you’ll see that the Raku bus 102 line connects with the 100 and 101 lines. Despite the fact that the map looks relatively small, it’s not realistic to do all 3 of them in a day. I would separate the Kyoto tourist bus route 100 and 101 to two separate days.

You’ll also notice that none of the buses go to the bamboo forest of Arashiyama. The easiest way to get there is to take the JR Sagano Line (also known as JR Sanin Line) to Saga-Arashiyama Station and then walk. Your JR pass will work on this line since it’s a JR line.

raku bus mapImage courtesy: welcome-to-kyoto.com

Kyoto Travel Guide: Kyoto transit passes

Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass – This is the pass that I’ve been mentioning above that gives you unlimited rides in the flat-fare zone. All the major tourist attractions fall within the flat-fare zone, but if you do venture further out, an additional charge will apply.

Cost: 500 yen for adults, 250 yen children under the age of 12

Kyoto Sightseeing Pass – The Kyoto sightseeing pass gives you unlimited bus rides in the flat-fare zone as well as access to all Kyoto City Subway trains. You’ll also get discounts at select stores and temples.

Cost: One-day pass – 1,200 yen (Children 600 yen), Two-day pass – 2,000 yen (Children 1,000 yen)

Kyoto City Subway One-day Pass – If you plan on riding the Karasuma & Tozai lines a lot in one day, then you’ll want to get this pass. Note that it doesn’t include the Sagano and Nara lines which are operated by JR.

Cost: 600 yen for adults, 300 yen children under the age of 12

JR Pass in Kyoto – Unfortunately, your JR Pass will give you limited access to public transportation in Kyoto. You’ll only be able to take the Sagano and Nara lines which are good if you’re heading to the bamboo forest of Arashiyama, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Nara. To find out if a JR Pass is worth it, read my blog post now.