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Getting there & away

Getting there

From Kansai airport 

If you arrive in Japan at Kansai International Airport (KIX) outside Osaka, the JR Haruka Super Express train has direct service every 30 minutes to Kyoto Station. The trip takes approximately 75 minutes and costs ¥3,490 for a reserved seat (recommended during busy departure times or peak season) and ¥2,980 for a nonreserved seat, or you can ride free with your JR Rail Pass. A cheaper, though slower and less convenient, alternative is the JR Kanku Kaisoku, which departs every 30 minutes or so from Kansai Airport and arrives in Kyoto 1 hour and 40 minutes later, with a change at Osaka Station. It costs ¥1,830.

If you have lots of luggage, consider taking the Kansai Airport Limousine Bus (tel. 075/682-4400; www.kate.co.jp) from Kansai Airport; buses depart every hour or less for the 1 3/4-hour trip to Kyoto Station and cost ¥2,300. More convenient but costlier is Yasaka Kansai Airport Shuttle (tel. 075/803-4800; www.yasaka.jp/taxi/shuttle-e/service-e.html), which provides transportation from the Kansai airport to any hotel or home in Kyoto for ¥3,500, including one suitcase (a second suitcase costs ¥1,000); reservations for this are required 2 days in advance.

From Itami airport 

If you're arriving on a domestic flight at Itami Airport, the Airport Bus takes 1 hour to Kyoto Station and costs ¥1,280.

By train from elsewhere in Japan 

Kyoto is a major stop on the Shinkansen bullet train; trip time from Tokyo is 2 1/2 hours, with the fare for a nonreserved seat ¥12,710 one-way if you don't have a rail pass. Kyoto is only 20 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka, but you may find it more convenient to take one of the local commuter lines that connect Kyoto directly with Osaka Station. From Kobe, you can reach Kyoto from Sannomiya and Motomachi stations on local JR trains. The strikingly modern Kyoto Station, which is like a city in itself with tourist offices, restaurants, a hotel, a department store, a shopping arcade, a theater, and stage events, is connected to the rest of the city by subway and bus.

By bus from Tokyo

Lots of buses travel between Tokyo and Kyoto; reservations are necessary. JR Highway buses (tel. 03/3516-1950; www.jrbuskanto.co.jp) depart from Tokyo Station's Yaesu South Exit four times daily (with a stop at Shinjuku Station), arriving at Kyoto Station approximately 8 hours later and costing ¥6,000. There are also three JR Dream Highway night buses (including one only for women) that depart Tokyo Station between 10 and 11:10pm, arriving in Kyoto early the next morning. The fare for these is ¥8,180. Cheaper still are JR's Seishun Dream buses that depart Tokyo Station at 10pm and Shinjuku Station at 11:10pm, arriving at Kyoto at 5:41am and 7:21am respectively and costing ¥5,000. Tickets can be purchased at any major JR station or a travel agency like JTB. In addition, Willer Express (tel. 050/5805-0383; www.willerexpress.com) buses depart Tokyo and Shinjuku stations several times nightly, arriving at Kyoto Station the next morning. The cost of these ranges from ¥4,200 to ¥8,600, depending on the date and type of seat selected (reclining seats cost more); only online reservations are accepted.

Get out

  • Uji - the best tea in Japan and the Byodo-in temple.
  • Kurama - less than an hour's journey by a local train from Kyoto Demachi-Yanagi station, the small village of Kurama has real onsen (Japanese natural hot springs). A nice mountain walk can be made to Kibune, where you can take the train back to Kyoto. The trail is broad and not dangerous, but it consists of many steps. The trip would take 90 minutes (if you don't look too long to all temples and shrines along the route). A map can be obtained from tourist information in Kyoto station.
  • Lake Biwa - if the summer humidity has drained your will to sightsee, take a day swimming at the underrated beaches of western Lake Biwa. Popular choices include Omi Maiko and Shiga Beach, each about 40 minutes from Kyoto on the JR Kosei Line.
  • Mount Hiei - an ancient hilltop temple complex that traditionally guarded (and occasionally raided) Kyoto.
  • Otsu - home to some great historical temples, Mount Hiei, and one of Lake Biwa's ports.
  • Koka - home of ninjas, and there is the Miho Museum.
  • Nara - less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, Nara is an even older capital than Kyoto and has a stunning collection of temples in a giant landscaped park.
  • Osaka - about half an hour from Kyoto by JR rapid train, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.
  • Amanohashidate - literally "the bridge to heaven", it is considered one of Japan's top three scenic views (along with Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture). It forms a thin strip of land straddling the Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, hence the name. Visitors are asked to turn their backs toward the view, bend over, and look at it between their legs.
  • Himeji - about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.