Cycle Kyoto to the Coast
Kyoto is more than just a former capital and the home of the famed Cherry Blossoms. It is the spiritual home of Japanese culture and such an aesthetically perfect one at that. Quiet alleys along canals with perfectly graded falls and willows dipping in from the side, wide boulevards leading to awe inspiring structures. Little eateries who's owners take great pride in their signature dishes and who's customers are as loyal as bees are to blossoms.
We show you Kyoto by bike, but then you venture further afield, riding through another lesser known former capital Nara where the Buddhist clergy almost stole the show, up to Yoshino where natural beauty abounds and onto Mount Koya where you'll stay in a monastic center and have an opportunity pray with monks.
Great riding on some of the best made roads we have found in Asia, great cultural insights and amazing, authentic Japanese cuisine make this an unmissable adventure.
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Self Guided Tour around Kyoto and it's beuatiful, historic, surrounding locations.
Kyoto - Welcome to the Ancient Capital
Japan's cultural epicentre encompasses more than just history, temples and tradition, which it has plenty of with the mighty Imperial Palace and the Golden Pavilion shimmering against the lake on which it sits. The UNESCO world heritage site is also a hub for Japan's dynamic modern art scene. Being an arrival day, nothing is planned until the late afternoon briefing, so you are free to explore this fascinating city. Our briefing is arranged at your convenience, designed to run through the practicalities of the trip and introduce you to your bikes and equipment.
Kyoto - Explore by Bike
Kyoto is such a great city to explore by bike. Wide roads and shared pathways everywhere, considerate and careful drivers and little alleyways along canals, it is really fun urban riding. The city was the capital of Japan for so long (in two episodes), that it is very much the heritage and cultural capital still.
The ride starts out along the river and takes you up to the north of the city where you can visit the bamboo Forest, and at certain times of year the cherry blossom gardens. There is a stop at the Tenryuji Temple which is typical of the ancient architecture that has endured the passage of time.
You then ride onto Ryoanji in the east, famous for its zen style garden. On the way you can stop at Kinkakuji and take in a great view out over the city.
There are lots of traditional sweets available on the route, so you can stop and graze on these before rolling back into town along the Kamo River. This evening is free for you to explore the incredible dining options, but we have some suggestions of course.
Nara - Cycle Between Ancient Capitals
Leaving a city the size of Kyoto by bike may sound daunting, but actually it is not. The roads are well planned and the drivers are courteous. After only a few kilometers on the roads, you will connect to the bike path and then it is smooth sailing as you ride a levy by the river. There are some junctions and some road intersections that you need to negotiate, but for the most part you are on uninterrupted path, past Bamboo forests, corn crops and green tea plantations. A small cafe that is welcoming to cyclists can be found for morning tea and there is a viewing tower with a spotless bathroom about a halfway through the ride.
You will be staying in a conventional hotel this evening, but with creatively designed rooms, themed individually as Japanese, Minimalist and Hawaiian. The hosts are friendly and this is an intimate property of only 13 rooms. You are right around the corner from two Emporial tombs that are set on islands surrounded by moats. The lanes and streets through the communities surrounding them are intriguing and have likely been there a long time. Your dinner will be served this evening at the hotel.
Yoshino - Cycle up to the Kii Mountain Range
You stayed on the northern edge of Nara last night, so this morning you get to ride through the remnants of the ancient city. To be fair, there is not much left, but there is an impressive replica of the palace that you will ride past.
The Nara period was from AD 710-794, during that time the city was modeled on Chang’an the Tang Capital of China. The upper class at the time adopted the Chinese system of writing and also adopted Buddhism as their religion.
As you pass through Nara you will see that it is a city of some size. The ride route takes you on a somewhat complex, but navigable route to avoid riding with any heavy traffic. Once you clear the city, the riding turns to very pleasant little backroads through the countryside. You will start to encounter hills, but most are not significant in length. You will find yourself among more agriculture and smaller villages.
As the day wears on, the hills start to increase until you reach the foot of the climb up to Yoshino. This is only about 6km though and the gradient is not severe. Yoshino is a picturesque location set on a ridge with a collection of temples atop. Tonight you will stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn. This means a room with tatami matting that you can sit on and which you must be careful not wear shoes, there is also a thermal onsen onsite and your diner will be served in traditional style.
Koyasan - Cycle to Mount Koya
After another delicious Japanese breakfast, that must be enjoyed at a slow pace, it's time to saddle up and head down the hill. The second third of the day is on undulating terrain, but with some sharp little uphills at times. Lunch is available at a great location at a red iron bridge or the ubiquitous convenience stores. You can then push on towards the big hill. The climb is in two parts, the first is around 4km long, then there is a 3km descent and some undulations before you get into the main climb of 8km. The road is very narrow, but there are few vehicles if any and the views are spectacular. As you reach the top, there is a section that undulates all the way into your accommodation.
The Shukubo is a style of accommodation, somewhat unique to Koyasan. These were originally accommodation for the novice and traveling monks who were studying nearby at the monastery, but these days they accept paying guests. On arrival, a staff member will take you around to explain the workings of the property, including the Onsen. Your room is a traditional Japanese one with Tatami matting and futons, with a special style of dinner included.
Wakayama - Descend to the Coast
By rising early and getting out on your bikes, you will be able to see Koyosan almost deserted of people.
Koyasan which is actually a modification of the original name of the mountain Kong-Obb Ji, but the town that has developed around this site is called Koya. The mountain top is the worldwide centre of Shingon Buddhism.
The deserted town of the early morning is postcard perfect. Depending on the time of year, you will see moss and lush greenery spilling out from behind rock walls. Small lanes and winding streets are lined by small houses and businesses and you will probably see processions of monks walking to their meditation session. There are a couple of main sites to visit including the 45 meter tall, orange coloured, Konpon Daito Pagoda and the memorial grounds.
Back at the Shukubo, breakfast has been prepared for you in your room. A selection of vegetarian delicacies as eaten by the monks themselves. Perhaps you fancy an Onsen dip before starting your ride, but a ride start of 10am is recommended at the latest.
Descending off the mountain is exhilarating. The road surface is superb the road is a lot wider than the one on which we climbed the day before. You do need to watch the oncoming vehicles of which there will be a few, but the traffic in your direction is insignificant as most people are making the trip up rather than down.
About halfway down the hill, you leave the main route and take to smaller backroads usually almost deserted by cars. A climb of around 3km to get the blood moving, then an undulating ride with a downwards trend, through shady Cedar forests and then along a fast moving river. Around the 30km mark, you leave the hills behind and things start to become more built up. After working your way through a relatively busy little junction town, you'll find the trailhead of the bike path that takes you all the way into Wakayama along the river. This is flat, open riding and because there are no vehicles, you can slip into that meditative state that one gets when pedaling away. Wakayama is a surprisingly interesting port city with a deep history for you to explore this evening.
Return to Kyoto, Osaka or Osaka Airport
Wakayama could actually keep you busy for a morning. There is the castle, an Art Museum and a Train Museum, all within walking distance of the hotel.
Checkout time at the hotel is 10am, but it is possible to request an 11 or 12am checkout, depending on how busy the hotel is. Once you are ready to leave, it is just a short taxi ride to the train station. From here you can easily take a train to Osaka Airport (KIX), Osaka City, or Kyoto.
What's the riding like?
Mostly flat riding
5 days riding
This self-guided bike tour is ridden on smooth sealed roads. You mostly ride rural lanes, backroads and dedicated cycleways. Once or twice for short distances you will cycle A-roads, but these are in the less populated areas and traffic is light (especially on Shikoku island). For the most part the ride is coastal, flat and easy, although there are some hill climbs to challenge you, these are all achievable if you take your time.
Riding dedicated cycleways and smooth backroads on fast hybrid road bikes really make the kilometers tick by effortlessly, but there are multiple options to cut rides short or cut out hill climbs with some interesting public transport solutions.
Coolest time: Nov-Feb
Wettest time: June - Aug
April & Sept.
Southern Honcho & Shikoku island
Japan has 4 quite distinct seasons. Spring (March - May) is the famous blooming season, starting with Plum flowers signifying the end of winter and ending with the famous Cherry blossom that the tourists love to see.
Summer (June - August) brings the rain and humidity, which can make it feel very hot, but this climate suits the coastal areas.
Autumn/Fall (Sept - Nov) can be a little unpredictable sunny and bright one day and occasionally cold and wet the next, but the browning of the deciduous leaves through the forests makes it arguably the most beautiful.
Winters (Dec - Feb)can get very cold in Japan but in southern Honchu and Shikoku the temperature is much milder, very rarely dropping below 0'C. The weather is also a little drier, but can be windier. The colder/ fresher weather can realy make you appreciate the after ride onsens.
Spring, Summer, & Autumn, in Southern Japan have some travel benefits and are ridable. Our cycling recommendation would be the months of May to July, missing the tourist crowds of April but enjoying the warm weather of Summer.
Checkout some of our favorite customer photos from this Grasshopper Self Guided tour.
What our guests tell us...
Just a selection of the great reviews for our Thailand tours!
"Woody was very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. The boys organised the best food wherever we had meals. It was
fantastic and a great variety of different dishes were tried and enjoyed."
Anon - Cruising the Coast to Samui June 2015
"Fantastic - safe fun discovery and riding"
David April 2015
"We chose the right experience with the right company. The food, the views, the hotels, and oh yeah the bike bit was good too."
Anon - Cruising the Coast to Samui June 2015
"It seemed expensive when we initially looked at it, but once we experienced it, we felt the money well worth it"
Jennifer June 2015