It is nearly 44km from Osaka Itami Domestic Airport (ITM) to Kyoto, which is a marathon run for those who are keen. Given there is no direct train to Kyoto, the dilemma is, should I chance it with traffic on the bus, or see if the monorail/ train combination will get there faster?
The easiest way is the Airport Limousine Bus. It takes you directly to JR Kyoto and you are bound to get a seat, even in peak hours. At 55 minutes it is marginally quicker than any train combination (59 minutes) and the bus stop is closest to your luggage carousel in the Arrival lounge. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket vending machines. There is some peak hour traffic on the tollway, however as the route doesn’t go near Osaka city itself, it is usually bearable.
Buses leave Itami Airport at 10, 30 and 50 minutes past the hour. (North Terminal Bus stop No 5.) They leave 5 minutes earlier from South terminal No15. The first bus is 8.05am and the last bus is 2115. After 9pm the bus leaves at 915, 935, 955pm. Also from 820pm to 955pm the buses continues to central Kyoto after JR Kyoto so if your accommodation is near Nijo or Shijo Kawaramachi, the bus is even more convenient.
You do pay for this convenience as the fare is 1,280 yen, higher than the monorail/train combination.
From Kyoto buses leave 15, 35 and 55 minutes past the hour. The first bus is 550 and the last bus is 1855.
If you just missed the bus, don’t have much luggage, want a cheaper option or travel direct to areas north of Kyoto Station, then the monorail/ Hankyu train is a good second option.
It is a slightly longer walk to the Itami Airport Monorail station, where the all stops service take you to Minami-Ibaraki. Change there for the Hankyu local train going to Kyoto or Takatsukishi, and then change at Takatsuki-shi for the express (rapid) train towards your stop in Central Kyoto. All for just 730 yen.
A quicker but longer way is to catch the monorail just one stop to Hotarugaike, then a Hankyu train to Juso (towards Osaka) and a change at Juso for the Kyoto Limited Express. All up for 650 yen, nearly half the price of the Airport Bus, and taking just under one hour to Kawaramachi Terminal in Kyoto, close to Gion and Takashimaya Department Store. Note this route may be crowded in the morning and evening peak periods.
While the Surutto Kansai Ticket pass gives unlimited access on the Hankyu, Monorail, and Kyoto subways and city bus networks, it is actually false economy to purchase this pass if you are just traveling within Kyoto. For example, a one way Airport Bus plus 2 day Kyoto Bus/Subway pass is 3280 yen, while Surutto Kansai is 3800. A one way Airport bus plus 3 day Kyoto Bus/Subway pass is 4280, while Surutto Kansai is 5000. Of course, if you need a return airport transfer plus 2 or 3 days travel in Kyoto, or traveling onwards to Kobe or Wakayama within the period of the pass, then the Surutto Kansai is a good option.
Japan Rail Pass holders can hop on limousine bus to Shin Osaka and then get an express/ limited express or Shinkaisen (bullet train) to Kyoto.
Train timetables are located in: www.hyperdia.com/en/ Please key in "Osaka Airport" and not "Itami Airport" when you are doing your search there.
If you need to change trains or buses, try http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/
If you are travelling with lots of luggage (e.g. Golf bags, skis, snowboards) AND wanting door to door transport to Kyoto accommodation away from Kyoto Station, there is the MK Shuttle Bus. It costs a little more at 2300 yen, plus one check in size luggage for free. You will need to book it by 5 pm 2 days before you use it. If you have a bicycle sized item, you have to go on the train.
Have a great trip!