Kyoto is 283 miles (445 km) from Tokyo, but you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in just over two hours if you travel on a high-speed shinkansen (bullet train). By air, the journey will take about three hours, including ground transportation.
Driving and taking the bus are slower options; traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto by bus takes anywhere from 7.5 to 9.5 hours, and driving takes about 5.5 hours, depending on traffic. Parking in Japanese cities is very expensive and the traffic situation in Kyoto is notoriously dismal, so hiring a private driver is probably preferable to driving yourself, particularly if you have never driven on the left side of the road.
Although the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes you through some industrialized areas, there are still plenty of delightful places to visit along the way, perhaps as part of a 10-day Golden Route journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. Consider stopping at Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which encompasses not only Mount Fuji but also the popular destinations of Hakone, the Izu Peninsula and the Izu Islands. Here you can hike, relax in an onsen (hot spring), visit shrines and Odawara Castle, or take a boat trip on Lake Ashi or to one of the Izu Islands. Closer to Kyoto, Hikone Castle, which dates to the Edo Period, is well worth a detour.
Duration: 2.25 hours
High-speed shinkansen trains connect Tokyo and Kyoto, with frequent departures each day. Nozomi and Hikari trains make the trip in less than 2.25 hours. Kodama trains make more stops, taking almost four hours to reach Kyoto from Tokyo.
Duration: 3 hours, including ground transportation to/from airports
Kyoto does not have its own airport, but you can fly from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Osaka's Itami Airport or to Kansai International Airport. Both are a reasonable train or taxi ride from Kyoto. Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways fly to Itami Airport, and Japan's low-cost airlines fly to Kansai.
By Car or Private Driver
Duration: 5.5 hours or more, depending on traffic
The fastest way to drive from Tokyo to Kyoto is via the Tomei, Shin-Tomei, Ise Wangan, Shinmeijin, and Meishin Expressways. Expect to pay tolls – high ones – on some of these roads.
Duration: 7.5-9.5 hours
JR Bus Kanto connects Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station. There are several departures daily, with the last bus leaving in the early afternoon. Be sure you know which side of the train station your bus stop is on.