Most foreign visitors arrive in Kyoto via Kansai International Airport (KIX; Kyoto’s main international entry point). Kyoto is also within reach of two other airports and it’s sometimes cheaper to fly into Tokyo than into KIX.
Built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, Kansai International Airport (KIX) is about 75 minutes away from Kyoto by direct express trains.
At KIX, there is a tourist information counter operated by the Osaka prefectural government. It’s located roughly in the centre of the international arrivals hall, and can supply maps and answer questions.
If you’d prefer not to lug your bags into Kyoto, there are several luggage delivery services located in the arrivals hall.
When it comes time to depart, those travelling on Japanese airlines (JAL and ANA) can make use of an advance check-in counter inside the JR ticket office in Kyoto Station. This service allows you to check in with your luggage at the station, which is a real bonus for those with heavy bags.
The fastest and most convenient way to move between KIX and Kyoto is the special JR Haruka airport express (reserved/unreserved ¥3370/2850, 1¼ hours). It's actually cheaper to buy a JR West Kansai Area Pass as this is valid for unreserved seats on the JR Haruka express to KIX and costs ¥2300. Buy tickets at the JR ticket office inside the north entrance of Kyoto Station, to the left of the platform ticket gates (you'll need to show your passport).
First and last departures on the JR Haruka express from KIX to Kyoto are at 6.30am and 10.16pm Monday to Friday (6.40am on weekends); first and last departures from Kyoto to KIX are at 5.45am and 8.30pm.
If you have time to spare, you can save money by taking the kankū kaisoku (Kansai airport express) between the airport and Osaka Station, and then taking a regular shinkaisoku (special rapid train) to Kyoto. The total journey by this route takes about 95 minutes with good connections and costs around ¥1750.
Kansai International Airport Limousine Bus runs frequent buses between Kyoto and KIX (about 1½ hours). Buses from Kyoto Station to the airport depart from the Hachijo-guchi exit (in front of the Avanti department store and Keihan Hotel) every 20 to 40 minutes. There are also pick-up points at Shijō Karasuma and Sanjō Keihan departing roughly every 60 minutes. Purchase tickets from the ticket window near the boarding point.
MK Taxi Sky Gate Shuttle limousine van service is a door-to-door service that will drop you off at most places in Kyoto – simply go to the staff counter at the south end of the KIX arrivals hall and they will do the rest. From Kyoto to the airport it is necessary to make reservations two days in advance to arrange pickup from your hotel in Kyoto.
A similar service is offered by Yasaka Taxi. Keep in mind that these are shared taxis (actually vans), so you may be delayed by the driver picking up or dropping off other passengers.
Osaka International Airport, commonly known as Itami (ITM), is closer to Kyoto than KIX, but it handles only domestic traffic. Still, you might find that your international carrier will tack on a domestic leg from Tokyo to Itami.
You’ll find an information counter with English-speaking staff in the main arrivals hall. There are several luggage delivery services in the arrivals hall if you don’t want to carry your bags to Kyoto.
Osaka Airport Transport runs frequent airport limousine buses between Itami and Kyoto Station (55 minutes). There are less-frequent pickups and drop offs at some of Kyoto’s main hotels. The Itami stop is outside the arrivals hall – buy your ticket from the machine near the bus stop and ask one of the attendants which stand is for Kyoto. The Kyoto Station stop is in front of Avanti department store, which is opposite the Hachijo-guchi exit of the station.
MK Taxi Sky Gate Shuttle limousine van service travels to/from the airport. Call at least two days in advance to reserve.
Nagoya's Central Japan International Airport (NGO), commonly known as Chubu Centrair (www.centrair.jp), may seem like a long way from Kyoto, but if you're travelling with a Japan Rail Pass, you'll find that it can be a good option, especially if you get a good deal on your flight.
The Meitetsu Tokoname Railroad line connects Centrair with Nagoya Station (¥870, 30 minutes), which connects to the Tōkaidō shinkansen (bullet train) line. It is therefore possible to use Centrair as your gateway to Kyoto.
The shinkansen (¥5590, 35 minutes) goes to/from Nagoya Station to Kyoto Station. You can save around half the cost by taking regular express trains, but you will need to change trains at least once and can expect the trip to take about three hours.
It's perfectly possible to fly to/from Tokyo via either Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda International Airport (HND) when visiting Kyoto. You can catch domestic flights from either airport on to Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Osaka International Airport (ITM).
You can go by train from Narita or Haneda to Kyoto. From Narita, take the Narita Airport Express (N'Ex) to Tokyo Station and then switch to a shinkansen to Kyoto. The total journey will take about four hours and cost ¥16,000. From Haneda, take airport transport (there are several options) between the airport and either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station and switch to a shinkansen. The total journey will take about three hours and cost ¥14,000.