Cycling in Kyoto: A Practical Guide for Tourists

Bypass the crowds on public transport and get around Kyoto the way many of the locals do—by bicycle! With its flat terrain, well-maintained roads, and numerous bike-friendly paths, Kyoto is a city that’s perfect to pedal your way through its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the most of your cycling adventure in Kyoto.

Getting Started

Before you begin your cycling adventure, you’ll need to rent a bicycle. Luckily, Kyoto has plenty of rental shops scattered throughout the city, particularly near major tourist attractions and train stations. You can easily spot these shops by the rows of bicycles parked outside. Rental fees are reasonable, typically ranging from 500 to 1,000 yen per day, depending on the type of bicycle you choose.

Typically, options include city bikes (with the rider seated upright and a basket in front), with higher fees for electric assist bikes or fancier models, like sleek road bikes. You can find a map with rental shops and much more information on Kyoto City’s Cycling in Kyoto site.

Safety Tips

While cycling in Kyoto is generally safe, it’s important to take precautions. The streets are likely to be narrower than what you’re used to, and cars, other bicycles, and bikers can zip through them suddenly and at high speeds downtown. First and foremost, always wear a helmet, especially if you plan to cycle on busy streets. In Japan, legislation was just introduced in 2023 requiring cyclists to wear helmets, and it’s a small price to pay for your safety.

You’ll also want to follow the rules of the road in Japan. In Japan, cyclists must ride on the left side of the road and obey all traffic signals. Since Kyoto has many bicyclists, you can typically just follow what others are doing, but symbols painted on the road should also help identify where cyclists are expected to ride, and in what direction. Just keep an eye out for the opposite – there are just a few places in Kyoto, namely, along Shijo-dori and Kawaramachi-dori streets, where cyclists are not permitted to bicycle. You’ll see markers along the street indicating this, but you’ll find there’s generally too much foot traffic to smoothly bike through regardless. Better to head down a side street!

Stick to designated bike paths, and to quieter streets to build your confidence. Kyoto has a number of bike-friendly paths, like along the routes of the scenic Kamo River.

Exploring Kyoto by Bike

One of the best ways to experience Kyoto is by cycling to its many attractions. From ancient temples to beautiful gardens, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this historic city. Some of the must-visit attractions that are easily accessible by bike include:

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion): A stunning Zen temple covered in gold leaf, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Fushimi Inari Taisha: A famous Shinto shrine known for its thousands of vermillion torii gates.

Nijo Castle: A 15th century castle with exquisitely painted ceilings and walls.

Gion District: Kyoto’s most famous geiko (geisha) district, known for its traditional wooden machiya houses and tea houses.

Parking Rules

To make sure your bike doesn’t get towed (parking inspection vehicles regularly make the rounds in the city, so beware), be sure to park your bike in designated areas. Luckily, Kyoto’s downtown, and even further into residential areas are dotted with compact bicycle parking lots. These usually require a fee of a few hundred yen, but you don’t want the hassle of retrieving an impounded rental bike, for which the fee is much higher. 

For the same reason, avoid parking your bicycle in the parking lot for a residential building (these are usually located on the ground or basement floor of apartment buildings). These are resident-only, and usually require residents to display stickers allowing them to park. If you don’t want to lose your bike, it’s best to park it down the block at the public bike parking lot!

Recommended Cycling Itineraries

For those looking to explore Kyoto by bike, we’ve put together two recommended itineraries to help you make the most of your time in the city:

Half-Day Cycling Itinerary

(Nanzen-ji Temple, Philosopher’s Path, Ginkaku-ji Temple)

Depending on how much cycling you want to do, and where your rental shop of choice is located, you can begin this route either at Kyoto Station, or from near the Gion-Shijo or Sanjo stations on the Keihan train line a bit further north. Bicycle north along the Kamo River, and enjoy the weeping willows and egrets you can see from the river’s banks. 

Turn east at Nijo-dori (at the Nijo-ohashi Bridge) and you’ll pass through Okazaki Park, and a number of the city’s centrally located museums (Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art, the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto), as well as Heian-jingu Shrine, with its enormous red-orange torii gate. Head east for a stop at Nanzen-ji Temple, whose grounds are free to walk. 

From here, head north up the Philosopher’s Path to Ginkaku-ji Temple (the Silver Pavilion)

After your visit, you can ride west until you reach the Kamo River, and enjoy the scenic ride south until you return to your start point.

One-Day Cycling Itinerary (Central Kyoto)

Morning: Eastern Kyoto

Start at Kyoto Station and rent a bicycle. Cycle northwest and across the river to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a majestic temple known for its wooden stage with city views. You’ll want to reach the temple early to enjoy the best of the sights. Another nearby spot to explore before the crowds arrive is Sannenzaka, a hilly street lined with souvenir shops and cafes. Next, head north to the Gion district, famous for its historical geiko (geisha) districts. 

Afternoon: Southern Kyoto

Next you’ll be heading south. Visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine known for its seemingly endless red torii gates. Enjoy a walk up through the gates and have lunch nearby. After lunch, ride to Toji Temple to the west of Kyoto Station. This historic temple is known in particular for its exquisite pagoda. 

These options are just a few of the routes you might take through the city, but depending on your fitness level and how much you’d like to ride, the options are really endless for exploring Kyoto by bike. Be sure to check out the city’s bicycling site for even more information, and we hope you enjoy your cycling adventures!

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