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Bike Around Kyoto: 3 Eco-Friendly Ways to Experience Authentic Kyoto

From ancient shrines to enchanting teahouses to tranquil gardens, and more, there’s a lot for travelers to see and do in Kyoto. Go eco-friendly and do as the locals do - explore Kyoto on a bike.
Gion

Biking around Kyoto is one of the best ways to explore this city with its ancient shrines and traditional teahouses. It’s easy to rent a bike in Kyoto, and several of their roads are biker-friendly as that is one of the ways the locals get around. If you’re thinking of experiencing Kyoto this way, here’s a quick guide to three bike trails you can take as well as the stops you can make along the way.

INDEX

Kyoto bicycle courses to explore

Course 1: Kyoto City - easy and flat; half-day

  • Traditional machiya and ochaya
  • A tour of temples
  • Shopping and dining

Course 2: The city of nature spring water

  • Shrines and temples
  • A study of sake

Course 3: Starts at Take-no-michi (The Bamboo Path) in Muko City

  • Oharano Shrine and Yoshiminedera Temple
  • Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine and Kinsuitei
  • Hoshakuji Temple

About cycling in Kyoto

Experience Kyoto

Kyoto bicycle courses to explore

Course 1 is an easy biking course as the roads are mostly flat. It will take about half a day to go through the following spots unless you plan to stop for a bit to see each one closer:

• Gion
• Kiyamachi Dori Street
• Yasaka-no-to Pagoda (Hokanji Temple)
• Sannenzaka, Kiyomizudera Temple
• Kenninji, Kunjyukan (Shoyeido Incense Gallery)
• Nishiki Market.

Course 2 is where you will learn more about the underground waters in Fushimi and all about brewing sake. It covers the following stops:

• Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
• Toji Temple, Jonangu Shrine
• Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
• Kitagawa Honke Sake Brewery Shop
• Yamamoto Honke Sake Brewery.

Course 3 takes you through bamboo forests, as well as temples and shrines with picturesque views. If you want to see the flowers in full bloom and experience fresh bamboo shoot cuisine, make sure to visit in the spring. Course 3 covers the following stops:

• Take-no-michi (The Bamboo Path) in Muko city
• Oharano Shrine, Yoshiminedera Temple
• Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine, Kinsuitei
• Hoshakuji Temple.

Course 1: Kyoto City - easy and flat; half-day

The first course is an easy one - perfect for those who aren’t used to biking in hilly areas, as most of the roads are flat. It starts in Gion, Kyoto, where there are plenty of tourists and where you might be able to spot a geisha or two walking about. From there, the path takes you to Kiyamachi Dori, a picturesque street that runs parallel to a river. Here, you can have the best nightlife experience where ramen shops and nightclubs abound.

Traditional machiya and ochaya

Hanamikoji Street

From Kiyamachi Dori Street, make a turn to Hanamikoji Street, known for its traditional wooden merchant houses (machiya) and quaint teahouses (ochaya). If you visit in the spring, you’ll get to catch the sakura (cherry blossoms) blooming on the trees that line the sidewalk. This place is also one of the geisha districts, so you might see a few strolling down the street in the evening.

Many machiya have been converted into restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine.

This area is also well known as where you can encounter maiko. But please refrain from taking pictures without their permission and bothering them like grabbing their kimono sleeves. Please keep in mind that they are on the way to their work.

A tour of temples

Hokanji Temple

Your next stop is Yasaka-no-to (Hokanji Temple), known for its graceful, sloping tiered roof. It lies in the middle of an old Kyoto neighborhood. Visitors can enter to marvel at the architecture, statues, and faded paintings. From there, you can bike along the Sannenzaka, a hundred-meter stone-paved slope with cafes, well-preserved historical buildings, and beautiful gardens on either side.

The Kiyomizudera Temple, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan, is a popular spot nearby. It is located halfway up Mount Otowa. The guided tours will show you the wooden stage it is famous for, as well as a glimpse of other historical sites and buildings. In the fall, you can expect to see beautiful panoramic views of the trees bathed in gold. In the spring, you can see over a thousand cherry trees blossoming.

Kenninji Temple

After a scenic view from heady heights, you can head to Kenninji, the oldest zen temple in Kyoto. Its huge halls and gates, tranquil gardens, and tinier surrounding buildings attract hundreds of tourists who flock to the temple every year. After your tour ends, head to Kunjyukan, also known as the Shoyeido Incense Gallery, where you can experience Japanese incense culture.

Kunjyukan

Shopping and dining

Nishiki Market

Your last stop is Nishiki Market, a twelve-block long shopping street lined with 130 shops and restaurants. This place is also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” and you can find various types of culinary delights as well, including seasonal foods, sweets, dried seafood, and fresh seafood.

Please refrain from eating what you purchased in Nishiki Market while walking. If you have rubbish, make sure to throw it in the rubbish bins, and refrain from throwing it on the street.

Course 2: The city of nature spring water

Another bike tour you might want to explore takes you through various temples and sites while exploring the history and culture behind Japan’s sake and hidden spring water used to brew it.

Shrines and temples

Fushimi inari Shrine

It starts in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, famous for its torii gates which stand over a network of trails that lead to Mt. Inariyama behind the main building. It’s recommended to hike up to Mt. Inariyama, which requires preparation (water, shoes, and a hiking pole) as the hike takes approximately two to three hours. There are a few restaurants along the way where you can taste several local dishes, including a Kyoto-style tea house. Please note, however, that bikes aren't allowed to go up to where the torii gates stand.

Toji Temple

After Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, you can make your way to Toji Temple, one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Kyoto. Toji’s pagoda, which is five stories tall, is the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan and can be seen from many places across the city. From there, you can check out Jonangu Shrine, known for its beautiful gardens. Take a stroll and admire the flowers that are in season. Jonangu is also famous for its weeping plum blossoms that you can see in late winter and early spring.

Jonangu

A study of sake

Gekkeikan Ōkura Sake Museum

Catch a glimpse of Japan’s sake culture at your next stop—the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, a corporate museum by Gekkeikan Sake Co., Ltd. It was established in 1637 and has been around for more than 380 years. It is the oldest sake brewery in Fushimi. Visitors can learn all about the history of sake while enjoying a few sips of the different types of sake brewed with Fushimi's underground water.

Kitagawa Honke Sake Brewery

If you can’t get enough, check out the Sake Shop managed directly by Kitagawa Honke Sake Brewery next. It’s a sake brewery that has been around for more than 360 years since the Edo period. You can buy some of their products to take home with you.

Yamamoto Honke Sake Brewery

The last stop is yet another brewery, the Yamamoto Honke Sake Brewery that was established in 1677. You can see how they honor and preserve the traditional methods of brewing sake using the soft, rich underground spring water of Fushimi, called shiragikusui. Taste some samples and buy some bottles from the gift shop to give to friends and family.

Course 3: Starts at Take-no-michi (The Bamboo Path) in Muko City

Bamboo forest in Muko City

The last bike course takes you to see bamboo, one of Otokuni area's specialty products. It starts at Take-no-michi, also known as the Bamboo Path, located in the Muko Hills, northwest of Muko City. It is a lesser-known bamboo forest visited by locals compared to Arashiyama bamboo forest.

Oharano Shrine and Yoshiminedera Temple

Oharano Shrine
Yoshiminedera Temple

Over ten minutes away from Take-no-michi is Oharano Shrine, famous for its cherry trees and spectacular autumn foliage.

Running towards Mount Pompon, there is Yoshiminedera Temple, with its spacious grounds by the mountainside. You can check out the temple structures or take in the city views beyond. Yoshiminedera is also known for its changing colors during the fall.

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine and Kinsuitei

Nagaoka-Tenmangū Shrine

Your next stop is Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine, with the quaint forest and surrounding calm waters. If you visit in the beginning of April, you can see the cherry blossoms. If you visit there in late April, on the other hand, will let you walk underneath a red tunnel made of 170-year old Kirishima azalea trees. 

Kinsuitei restaurant

Next to the shrine is the Kinsuitei restaurant founded in 1881 and try the Bamboo Shoot (Takenoko) Kaiseki Course Cuisine. Takenoko Kaiseki is only available from late March to the end of May when bamboo shoots are in season.

Hoshakuji Temple

Hoshakuji Temple

Your last stop is the Hoshakuji Temple, located on the south side of Mt. Tenno. It is also known for blooming cherry blossoms in spring and beautifully-colored leaves in the fall. Hoshakuji is also known for its other treasures, such as the three-storied pagoda and some statues, including the Kannon Bodhisattva and the Enma Daio.

About cycling in Kyoto

Before you embark on your two-wheeled journey across the magical city of Kyoto, here are a few things to remember:

1. Cycling is how most of the locals get around.
2. You can rent bicycles everywhere - including train stations.
3. Wear a helmet.
4. When crossing an intersection, always keep a lookout for the cars turning.
5. Biking on sidewalks is not allowed (unless there is a sign that says so).
6. Bike on the left side of the street (Japan is a country that drives on the left side of the road).

Experience Kyoto

With its quaint wooden houses, enchanting forests, and majestic pagodas, there’s no experience like Kyoto.

While Kyoto doesn’t have an airport of its own, it is easily accessible from Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Itami Airport (ITM) in Osaka. With the JAL Japan Explorer Pass, you can fly from Tokyo to Itami or Kansai in over an hour.

Getting There