Self-guided cycle tour of Kyoto to the coast
Bike tour the heritage rich areas of Kyoto, Nara, Yoshino and Mount Koya on this iconic cycle tour of Japan, that balances the independence of self guided bicycle touring and the seamless planning of a Grasshopper experience. Comfortable, achievable distances, great food, hotels with comfort and style, all topped off with quality bikes.
This Self-guided bike tour runs Kyoto to Wakayama.
Interested in how Grasshopper Self-guided bike tours work? See our introduction below.
Grasshopper's first self-guided cycle tour of Japan! Kyoto is the historic home of Japanese culture and one of our favourite cities in which to tour by bicycle. Explore by bike the ancient capital, then ride through another heritage city Nara, a beautiful hilltop village Yoshino and the spiritual Mount Koya, before descending to the coast at Wakayama.
Enjoy the freedom of setting your own pace, but with the seamless logistical support that Grasshopper is famous for. Luggage transfers, hotels booked in advance, navigational aids, audio commentary and lots of information on food to help you make the most of Japanese cuisine on your ride. Great bikes, maintained to a Japanese level of precision are the icing on the self-guided Japan tour cake.
7 days duration
256 km distance
Difficulty: Somewhat challenging
Solo rider option: $2150
Premium Bike Upgrade: $250
Trip Features & Tour Inclusions
What makes Grasshopper so special?
Find out how your next cycle tour goes the extra mile.
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Grasshopper Self-guided tours are run with our reliable fleet of all-purpose hybrids and mountain bikes, but depending on availability, and for additional fee, our Premium Self-guided offering in Japan includes Cannondale Synapse Ultegra SE bikes.
Synapse Ultegra SE is a durable carbon-frame proposition from Cannondale. This most reliable all-rounder will make every road feel like tarmac. For those who are accustomed to riding on drop bars, these bikes will be a lasting memory of the touring experience.
Upgrade availability is limited, after making your online booking our support team will follow-up requesting your bicycle preference (Cannondale Synapse Ultegra or regular).
We make use of the traditional Ryokan Inns on four nights of this tour, some with attached onsen (thermal hot spring) baths. These are atmospheric, family run guesthouses with, tatami matted floors, paper walls, futon beds, Yukata gowns and a traditional Japanese feast that awaits you at each one. We have selected these properties for their character, location and comfort. Note, double beds are not available in the Ryokan's as they are single futon mattresses on the floor.
Exclusively to self-guided tours our bikes come fitted with top of the range GPS navigation units. These biking computers have remarkable customisation capabilities and can easily be ported with all major biking software, such as Strava, RidewithGPS or Kamoot, for all fans of cycling data. Never fear if you are not technically minded, as we've made them accessible to all riders. The device will be customised for you and we will upload the most accurate maps and routes. Furthermore, you will be well briefed on putting it to good use. You can download a free companion app and play around with its setup, download results of a day’s ride, or set yourself daily workout goals.
Our dedicated Grasshopper Self-guided Adventures app combines navigating technology with visual and audio descriptions of points of interest along your routes, and can be hosted on all Android and iOS devices. The app contains your detailed tour route, podcasts with background information on the regions you will pass through, plus an audio commentary describing points of interest along the way. It also provides dining suggestions along your routes as well in destination locations, with translated menu recommendations. Furthermore, it will provide a and voiced glossaries of common phrases and words, which you can use to find rapport with locals.
On request we can provide iPads if you don’t wish to use your own mobile device.
Before you ride out on your Self-guided adventure, you will be given a set of essential tools to handle all of possible minor repairs, or you can turn to local mechanics for help. However, in an unlikely event of a breakdown you just need to reach out to our representative who will either talk you through basic repairs or organize support in your location, or will help you handle transfer to your destination.
On request, and for additional fee, we provide a premium transfer service, to pick you up anywhere on the road, if you feel you can’t make it to your ride’s destination.
We provide the technology, travel planning and attention to detail so that you can just focus on enjoying the ride. You'll have your pick of great places to eat plus endless opportunities for local interaction as you cycle through regional communities. This is true independent touring without the hassle. It will take you to places you'd never reach any other way and allow you to explore new locations at your own pace.
We provide secure luggage transfers between each of your hotels. This way you can enjoy the ride knowing that when you arrive, your bags will already be waiting in your room. We will also call ahead to ensure that everything is ready for your arrival.
for Cycle Kyoto to the Coast - Self-guided
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 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 now be staying in a cross between a hotel and a Ryokan. It features beds rather than futons, but from reception throughout the property, features Tatami matting. You will be staying right in Nara, just next to the main train station. The Nara Park and the key temple sites of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji are just a short ride away (3km), but there is also a shuttle bus that runs a circular route through the area.
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?
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 traffic is light. There are some hill climbs to challenge you along the way, but these are all achievable if you take your time. We recommend some pre-tour preparation to make sure you’re comfortable with the distances and climbs. There are multiple options to cut rides short or cut out hill climbs with some interesting public transport solutions to adapt your ride.
Coolest time: Nov-Feb
Wettest time: Jun-Aug
Our favourite: Apr-Sep
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.
Solo Rider & Single Room Options...
When do these apply?
Solo rider? Self-guided bike tours cater perfectly to the solo cyclist who wants to explore at their own pace. If you wish to tour like this please include the Solo Rider Option when completing your booking.
Like a little privacy? If you like the privacy of your own room or are traveling as a group with an odd number of adults (prices are based on twin share rooms) please select the the Single Room Option for each private room required.
Single room charges do not apply to those selecting the Solo Rider option.
Why the extra cost? Our carefully calculated pricing is based on twin share rooms and a minimum of two people. Fixed operating costs and hotel pricing require these surcharges.
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