Nara/Lake Biwa/Kyoto – relaxed

This tour is perfect if you are interested in Japan’s traditional culture and enjoy relaxed bicycle rides. We explore Japan’s ancient capitals, Nara, Kyoto, and their surrounding areas, which are considered the best repositories of Japan’s cultural legacy. We ride leisurely, making stops at temples and historical monuments. After two days in Nara, we visit the ceramic town of Shigaraki. We spend the second half of the tour riding around Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. En route, we visit old merchant towns of Omi-Hachiman and Gokasho and the Hikone Castle, one of Japan’s best-preserved castles. Accommodation is varied from moderate western-style hotels to elegant Japanese-style inns (Ryokans). Some Japanese inns only have shared baths and do not have private bath/showers in guest rooms. This itinerary is ideal for guests extending stay in Kyoto before or after the tour.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1 : Nara (36km)

We meet at a hotel in Kyoto in the morning and take a local train to the city’s outskirts where our warm-up ride starts. We ride on a quiet bicycle path along the Kizu River towards Nara. Before arriving at our hotel, we stop by the Todai-ji Temple, which enshrines the Great Buddha statue. We also visit the Todai-ji Museum and enjoy its excellent collection of historical treasures. We stay at a western-style hotel conveniently located at the heart of Nara for two nights. (Dinner included)

Day 2 : Nara (37km)

We continue to explore the ancient capital of Nara on a bicycle. We ride through the preserved historic site of Heijo Palace ruins and stop by the Heijo Palace Site Museum. Then we follow quiet bicycle paths to visit one of the most prominent Buddhist temples in Nara – Horyu-ji Temple. Their buildings have all been well preserved in their original style and details since the 8th century and tell us about that age's culture. We will return to our hotel in the late afternoon. The evening is your free time. Enjoy exploring the streets of Nara-machi featuring white stucco walls and wooden lattice windows, or stroll around the peaceful Sarusawa-no-ike Pond. (Breakfast included)

Day 3 : Shigaraki (40km)

We leave Nara in the morning and head out to the ceramic town of Shigaraki. We ride on a gentle and quiet mountain road past many beautiful tea fields and arrive in Shigaraki in the early afternoon. After a lunch break, we take a stroll in Shigaraki, making stops at pottery studios and a ‘nobori-gama’ (a step-like kiln constructed on a slope). Shigaraki is known for ceramic tanuki (raccoon dog) dolls – they are everywhere in the town. Tonight we stay in a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) and unwind in a nice onsen (natural hot spring bath). (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 4 : Omihachiman (53km)

We cycle on quiet and gently rolling hills into Koka’s village, once home to ninjas around the 15th to 18th centuries. After a brief visit to the ninja yashiki (ninja mansion), we continue pedaling leisurely towards Omihachiman. In Omihachiman, we explore its merchant quarter on quaint streets with lattice windows and visit the folklore museum and some of the former mansions of wealthy merchants. We stay at a western-style hotel in the town and enjoy Omi beef sukiyaki dinner at a local restaurant. (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 5 : Hikone (50km)

We spend the morning seeing Omihachiman by a Japanese-style boat and enjoy views along the water channel like a maze surrounded by reeds. We then ride to Gokasho, another merchant town in the region. After lunch, we cycle to Kongorinji Temple, which is known for its show of autumnal leaves and various flowers throughout the seasons. Our destination today is the castle town of Hikone. We stay at a western-style hotel that offers a magnificent view of the elegant and majestic tower and turrets of the Hikone castle. (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 6 : Makino (57km)

After breakfast, we visit the Hikone Castle, one of five existing feudal castles designated as a national treasure in Japan. We walk up the castle hill and enjoy Lake Biwa's panoramic view from the top of the 400-year-old main castle tower. By mid-morning, we leave Hikone and ride north along the shoreline of Lake Biwa. A majority of the ride is on a bicycle lane. We can ride comfortably and enjoy views of the beautiful lake. As we continue, surroundings become very remote and quiet. We retreat at a peaceful lakeside hotel. (Breakfast and dinner included)

Day 7 : Takashima (38km)

In the morning, our route takes us through sleepy farm fields and onto a 2.4km long avenue lined with colossal metasequoia (dawn redwood) trees. Then we continue to ride on quiet and scenic roads along Lake Biwa, enjoying views of wildfowls and peaceful water. We ride past small villages lined with tile roof houses, shops that are generations old, and sake breweries. We finish our ride in Takashima around noon. After lunch in Takashima, we take a local train to Kyoto and arrive there around 4pm. We stay at a western-style hotel conveniently located in the city center for two nights. (Breakfast included)

Day 8 : Kyoto (no ride)

An ancient capital for 1,100 years, Kyoto is a living museum full of history and culture and a must-see destination in Japan. We spend the morning touring some of the city’s historical sites registered with UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage Sites, including Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, and Kiyomizu-dera temple. The afternoon is your free time – the city has so much to offer, so you will never feel that you have had enough time in this city! (Breakfast included)

Day 9 : Departure

Following breakfast, we say goodbye. Our guide will escort you to the Kyoto train station, where you can catch a limousine bus to the Kansai International Airport or a bullet train for the next destination. If you wish to extend your stay in Kyoto, please ask for room availability when you make a reservation. (Breakfast included)