Kyoto is regularly voted one of the best bicycle cities in Asia, and for good reason: The city is largely flat, roads are well maintained, drivers are sane and there are plenty of places to purchase or rent a bicycle.
Cycling around Kyoto © Gavin Anderson
Kyoto is one of the world’s great bike cities. I should know: I’ve been cycling around the city ever since I arrived way back in 1992. Indeed, I’ve never felt the need to buy a car because it’s usually faster to get places just by jumping on my bicycle. If you enjoy cycling I strongly recommend that you consider renting a bicycle for your time in Kyoto. It saves you from having to figure out public transport and it allows you to see a lot of attractions in a limited time.
If you want a tour of Japan that is wholly based on cycling, see Intrepid Travel’s 14 Day Cycle Japan Tour.
Renting a Bicycle in Kyoto
There a many places to rent bicycles in Kyoto. You’ll find rental shops in all the main sightseeing districts like Arashiyama etc. However, most shops only have old clunkers with small frame sizes. For a variety of bikes and sizes with foreigner-friendly service, I strongly recommend renting a bicycle from Kyoto Cycling Tour Project, which also offers cycling maps, guided cycle tours and many other useful services.
Tips for Cycling in Kyoto
Of course, cycling in Kyoto is a little different from cycling back home. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Many Kyoto cyclists ride on sidewalks where they exist. If you choose to do the same, consider renting a bicycle with a bell to clear the way (and please ride slowly and carefully on the sidewalk). Note that it is legal to do so
- Traffic drives on the left in Japan and bicyclists should too.
- It is illegal to cycle at night without using a bicycle light (most rental cycles have lights).
Bicycle Parking in Kyoto
Note that many of Kyoto’s attractions like temples and museums have small bicycle parking lots. If you’re downtown or near Kyoto Station, however, it’s best to park you bicycle in one of the large bicycle parking lots. Here are two big ones:
Kyoto Eki-Mae Churin-jo (Kyoto Station Bicycle Parking Lot): To find this, exit the north side of Kyoto Station (Karasuma Central Gate), turn left and cross the street to the Kyoto Central Post Office. Turn left again, then a quick right and walk about 100 meters and you’ll see the entrance on your right. It costs Y150 per day here.
WINGS Bike Lot (Downtown Bike Lot): This is just south of the WINGS Community Center, which is at the Higashinotoin/Takoyakushi intersection. The entrance is in the park just south of WINGS. It costs Y150 per day here.
Bicycle and Scooter Removal Zone © David McKelvey
Be Careful Where You Park Your Bike
It is illegal to park in areas that are not specifically marked as bicycle parking zones or in the bicycle parking lots downtown or at train/bus stations. The city regularly removes illegally parked bicycles to huge bicycle lots in the far south of the city.
So, if you emerge from a store or restaurant and find your bicycle missing, chances are it’s been removed by the city and not stolen. Look for a paper with a map on it near where your bike was parked. This will indicate which bike pound they took your bicycle to.
Kyoto © lordcolus
Best Bicycle Routes in Kyoto
Here are two of my favorite bicycle routes in Kyoto. Please note that these are only scratching the surface; there are many other great routes and you can easily create your own – just grab a map and go!
Kyoto Station to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens via the Kamo-gawa River
Duration: About two hours
Distance: About 8.5kms (each way)
This is a great way to enjoy a nice leisurely cycle up the Kamo-gawa River – which is the main highway for cyclists going north/south in Kyoto. Start at Kyoto Station.
- Cycle north on Karasuma-dori, passing Kyoto Tower, until you get to Shichijo-dori, where you turn right (east). Cycle east to the Kamo-gawa and cross it on the bridge. Immediately after crossing the river, pick up your bicycle and walk down the steps to the excellent foot/bicycle path that runs along the river.
- Cycle north all the way to Imadegawa-dori. Here, you’ll have to come up to surface roads. Take a left on Imadegawa and cross the bridge over the river heading west.
- Immediately after crossing the river, descend again to the bike path that runs along the west bank of the Kamo-gawa. Take a right and ride north until you get to the bridge over Kitaoji-dori.
- Come up to street level, cross the river via the bridge and turn left. Kyoto Botanical Gardens will be on your right as you cycle north. To get home, simply retrace your route.
Kyoto Station to Ginkaku-ji Temple via the Path of Philosophy
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Duration: About two hours
Distance: About 8kms (each way)
This route takes you along the Kamo-gawa River and then along the famed Path of Philosophy, among the most scenic pathways in the city.
- Start at Kyoto Station. Cycle north on Karasuma-dori, passing Kyoto Tower, until you get to Shichijo-dori, where you turn right (east). Cycle east to the Kamo-gawa and cross it on the bridge. Immediately after crossing the river, pick up your bicycle and walk down the steps to the foot/bicycle path that runs along the river.
- Cycle north all the way to Sanjo-dori, where you must pick up your bike and climb to street level. Cycle east on Sanjo for about 1.6km, heading uphill toward the mountains.
- When you reach Shirakawa-dori at an angled T-junction, cross the road and ride on the sidewalk on the opposite side, heading uphill. After less than 100m, you will see a tunnel on your left. Go through it and follow that road until you hit the main road to Nanzen-ji Temple.
- Enter Nanzen-ji (there’s a small bike parking area near the main gate). Then exit the north side of the temple precincts and work your way around on that road, at first heading toward the mountains and then heading north, past a high school. After passing the entrance to Eikan-do Temple, you’ll soon see a small sign written in English and Japanese pointing up the hill to the Path of Philosophy. Ride 150m toward the mountains and at the top of a short rise, you’ll find the start of the Path of Philosophy. It’s the path that runs along the canal.
- Ride all the way north on the Path of Philosophy until you reach the shop-lined approach road to Ginkaku-ji Temple. Park your bike in front and explore the temple.
- You can return to Kyoto Station by retracing your route, but for a quicker way, just ride down the temple approach road until you reach Shirakawa-dori, which you cross. Then follow Imadegawa-dori west (downhill) until you reach the Kamo-gawa River. Go left (south) here and ride all the way until Shiokoji-dori, where you turn right to reach Kyoto Station.
For more information on cycling in Kyoto, visit the excellent Cycle Kyoto web site.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings on CheapOAir.com
- If you're visiting more than one city, get your Japan Rail Pass
- Get travel insurance for your Japan trip - book online with World Nomads