One of my favorite transportation method in a foreign city is either walk as much as I can or rent a bicycle. We’ve rented bicycles in Valencia, explored the city and it was much more relaxing than taking public transportation. I wouldn’t usually recommend hiring a bicycle in a city in Asia, however, when it comes to Kyoto, things are different. Exploring Kyoto by bike is great for a one-day outdoor activity!
Kyoto is much smaller than Tokyo, with just about 1.47 million residents (my hometown Hamburg has 1.73!) and its traditional structure makes it much easier to move around. Kyoto is also a lot more relaxed, people are not as rushed as in Tokyo and riding a bike on the street is not nearly as suicidal. And since it is also much smaller than Tokyo, it is easier to visit many of the major sightseeing spots in just one day by bicycle.
Where to get that bike?
When looking for a good place to rent bikes, my boyfriend found this place on Google. It had quite good recommendations, so on our way to dinner we walked past the shop to check if they had enough bikes available for the next day. The employee was very nice and both spoke quite good English (I speak Japanese, though, so there was no need for that).
A standard bike is just ¥ 800 for one day (or rather from 10 am to 6.30 pm, as long as the shop is open) and they also have a 3 h special for just ¥ 500. The shop is quite central as well, it’s very easy to get there. Once you rent your bike, you will also receive a small cycling map which shows the main roads and main sightseeing spots. It also offers recommended routes for exploring Kyoto by bike.
Most bicycle shops that we checked had the same prices, so it doesn’t really matter where you rent your bike. I can only recommend this place because I’ve been there and liked the service.
If you are staying in a hotel or hostel, check they also rent bikes! This would save you the trouble of looking for a bike rental shop.
One thing I didn’t know beforehand, though: You can’t just leave your bicycle everywhere. There are designated spots for bicycles, where you can park your bike, but it is not allowed to leave them anywhere just because it is convenient for you.
Most major sightseeing spots will offer parking lots for bicycles, some are free and for some, you have to pay a small price. J-Cycle also offers you the one-day bicycle parking pass for just ¥ 200, so we bought it just to be on the safe side. It’s only valid for certain places, though, like the Nijo Castle.
When we tried to find the designated parking lots, I did see many bicycles that were just put somewhere off the sidewalk. Apparently it is tolerated and not immediately fined but I didn’t want to take any chances and stubbornly went on to the parking lots (that were usually in a more crowded and touristy area, of course). At least, I had a clear conscience and wasn’t worried about my bike being towed or fined or anything.
No-Cycling Zone in Kyoto
There are also a few streets where you are not allowed to ride a bike. I guess because the traffic is quite heavy here. These areas should be shown in the map handed out by your bicycle shop, if not, ask the employee there to mark the area for you.
Last tips for exploring Kyoto by bike
Ride on the street, not the sidewalk!
And, although this should be a matter of course, ride on the left side of the street! That took some time for me to get used to!
Get off the main streets and explore some side streets with the bike. You’ll get wonderful sights and views, I promise! There is a really nice bicycle path along the river and it’s a very nice way to end a day full of sightseeing in Kyoto by bike.
Planning a trip to Kyoto?
There are a lot of good hotels or hostels around. The first time I came to Kyoto I stayed in a hostel, which was quite central as well. This time, however, we decided to rent an airbnb apartment. In my experience, it has often proven to be much more affordable and comfortable as well. If you haven’t signed up for airbnb yet, you can use this link and get 18 € (or 20 $) off of your first booking!
If you are planning a longer trip through Japan, consider getting the Japan Rail Pass! Read here to find out more about the pass!
To help me plan all my trips and itineraries in Japan, I mostly used the Lonely Planet Japan (Travel Guide)*. I’ve used it a lot when I was living in Japan and found it a great help this time as well!
Apologies for the lack of pictures on the street or a selfie of me on the bike! I was focusing on riding the bike and enjoying the views!