For a different way of sightseeing, why not look at completing your own one day tour of Kyoto by bicycle?
As part of a 5 day itinerary of Kyoto, on one of the days I was going to buy an all day bus pass to visit some popular locations. However, the accommodation I was staying at had access to a bicycle.
Since we require two bikes, we make our way to the local bike rental near Kyoto train station to hire a second bike. We are given a map and then we were on our way!
Cycling in Japan is very different to anywhere else I’ve ridden. Kyoto seems to be made for cycling. There are even bike parking stations at the major attractions for a few hundred yen. This fee allows you to park at a number of different locations, as long as your parking ticket is validated. Although, not every location is a part of this scheme. Ryozen Kannon wasn’t and so we needed to pay a minimal fee.
Even if you just decided to do a day trip from Osaka, this is a good way to see some of the major sights.
The plan for the day
The first stop is Kiyomizudera. Firstly, we get lost and we push our bikes up a giant hill, only to realise it isn’t going anywhere. So we turn around and retrace our steps and find the correct street to go up. We know we are on the right path now as there are a throng of people making their way to Kiyomizudera also.
The Main Hall is amazing to see. The timber support structure is so impressive. It is almost a high as a 4-story building and the size of each individual beam is astonishing. It is quite crowded here, because of this we move pretty quickly through the grounds.
We head back to where our bikes are parked, stopping at the shops along the way. Since it’s almost lunch time, we think that a 500Y chicken on a stick sounds like a perfect idea right now. Soft serve ice cream is also on the menu. I order a mix of green tea and vanilla as I just wasn’t sure if it is would taste nice. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the green tea we have been served while in Japan, but the ice cream was delicious.
Now, there’s this pagoda in Yasaka that I’m really excited to check out. There are only obscure references to it and Google maps haven’t given it a name either. We only ride for a couple of minutes until we come across it. This part of Kyoto, in the Higashiyama Ward, is simply stunning. It is a preserved historic district and the buildings are amazing. We push our bikes through this area as there are some streets that you can’t ride on, and in addition, the road is more like cobblestones and it’s very bumpy! But it is just so pretty to walk through, we certainly don’t mind taking our time.
The temple isn’t open at this time, so we are unable to go in and have a look at it, but seeing it from the street is enough.
After we walk our bikes through this part of the Higashiyama Ward, we hop on again and make our way to Ryozen Kannon. The Ryozen Kannon is a war memorial and it has an incredible 24 metre high Buddha statue that you can see from afar. We spend a little bit of time here walking around the grounds and looking at the shrines and memorials. There is only one other tourist on the grounds, I can’t understand why it isn’t busier as the Buddha alone is incredible to see. Although after the crowds at Kiyomizudera, I’m not complaining!
While our bikes are parked here, we check out Kodaiji Temple, which is only next door. It is so pretty and peaceful, the Zen garden looks amazing. There’s even a little building that reminds me of a Hobbit house. And there’s a walkway here that’s the steepest one I’ve seen! The grounds here are beautiful and there’s even a bamboo forest to walk through. When you reach the top of the grounds as it’s on a hill, you are so high up that you get to see the back of Buddha’s head at Ryozen Kannon.
The entrance fee to Kodaiji also includes access to Entokuin temple, which is a sub-temple of Kodaiji. It is a short walk from Kodaiji down a set of steps called Nene’s Path. Here we find two more Zen gardens. It is ok here, but if you’re short on time, you could probably skip it and not feel like you’ve missed out.
After we walk back up Nene’s Path to the car park, or in our case bike park, near Ryozen Kannon, we get our bikes and make our way to Chionin. We decide that we simply don’t have enough time to check it out properly, which is disappointing as it looks beautiful from all the photos I’ve seen in my research. We snap a photo of the Sanmon Gate and start off again.
Heian Shrine Torii Gate
We were cycling along, minding our own business, when we happened to see this giant torii gate! We didn’t know at the time that it was part of the Heian Shrine. Again, this shrine was somewhere I wanted to visit, but we just didn’t have the time (I’ll blame getting lost for an hour). It really is extraordinary seeing this torii gate as it’s so big. Very impressive! After a quick drink, we start cycling again and pass some other attractions such as Kyoto Zoo. Sadly, we don’t have enough time today to check it out.
We then make our way to the beginning of the Philosopher’s Path at the Nanzenji end. We find it easily as there’s a signpost pointing the way (with the help of Google maps to get us to the approximate area). There’s a steep cobble stoned section at the beginning that we push our bikes up, we saw people trying to ride down it and it didn’t look pretty!
The Philosopher’s Path at this time of the year looks beautiful with all the autumn foliage. I can only imagine how spectacular it would look in the spring with all the blossoms! We see cats along the way. There’s also a lady painting scenes of the path and on the way back, we stop and buy a print for 1000 Yen.
The path is really easy to cycle along, but I can tell that it could be difficult when the area is in peak tourist time. However, we were able to ride freely the whole way. We reach the end of the path and we are pointed in the right direction for our bike parking. The bikes are parked so we can go in and see Ginkakuji Temple or the Silver Pavilion.
We make our way to the entrance of Ginkakuji Temple. After seeing the Golden Temple (Kinkakuji), we were so excited to see how the silver one would compare. We walk through the prettiest row of hedges that are probably 5 metres high. As we enter the grounds, we are immediately greeted with a Zen garden that is raked to perfection. We check out a few of the small halls and then we follow the path, on the lookout for silver.
The grounds here are my favourite in our whole trip. They are beautifully cared for and they are so pretty. Every season of the year would produce a different, and yet equally amazing, garden. The path goes up a hill and on our way back down I decide it’s time to Google the temple to make sure we haven’t missed it. Spoiler alert, it turns out there is no silver on the temple. It was never finished by the time the owner, Yoshimasa, died. I have to admit, there was a pang of disappointment, but honestly, the grounds were so pretty, it was hard not to just look around and appreciate such a beautiful space.
It’s getting on in the afternoon and since we have a fairly lengthy ride in front of us, we decide it’s time to head back to the bikes.
We start cycling back along the Philosopher’s Path when I see the sign that points in the direction of Honen-in Temple. This temple was in my initial planning, but I thought it was one of those temples that I thought we could skip if we didn’t have enough time. We head up the steepest hill yet, so steep, we have to push our bikes. Eventually find somewhere to park our bikes and we go in search of the gate.
As we have gotten there quite late, as soon as we walk through the main gate, they close it behind us. I look around and my breath is taken away. It is so beautiful. It is only a small area, but this is the type of area I could quite comfortably spend a lot of time in. The temple grounds are so quiet and serene, everything is covered in moss, and it is just so peaceful here.
The grounds are small, so it really doesn’t take us long to walk around. Soon enough we are back on our bikes and heading back to the bike rental near Kyoto Station. Today has been magnificent. When the idea first popped into my head, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I didn’t think it would have such a lasting impact on me, but it did.
Recommended tour ideas in Kyoto
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