Osaka in Japan is in many ways the perfect cycle destination: it’s flat, well-signposted and chock full of interesting destinations to whizz around at high-speed. It’s also relatively cycle-friendly, something that will doubtless come as a bit of a culture shock to British and American tourists used to navigating roads stuffed with particularly homicidal drivers. With that in mind, here are a few cycle-tour suggestions for those of you who, like me, prefer two wheels to four.
The first step is to get hold of a bicycle. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people turn up, expecting to just magically procure some form of transport. Unlike London or New York, Osaka doesn’t have much of a street cycle-hire culture, so it‚ is important to check ahead if you wish to make cycling your primary transport mode. Luckily, most hotels will hire out bikes to their guests for a small charge; with some, including Swissotel in central Osaka, even offering this service for free.
The potential routes for cycling around Osaka are practically limitless, depending only on your stamina and sense of direction. As a result, the trips below I’ve highlighted below are only a tiny fraction of those open to you. I’d certainly be encourage you to try a little random cycling – you never know where you might end up!
The Yodo River
A perennial favourite cycle trip is to follow the length of the Yodo River as it cuts its majestic way through the centre of Osaka. Impossibly wide, winding and impressively long, the Yodo River cycle is good for anyone who wants an overview of the city; taking in, as it does, working class districts, flashier parts of town and the port itself. Easy going and featuring plenty of stops along the way for refreshments (a freshly-caught lunch in the brusque port districts is worth the ride alone), the Yodo River cycle is perfect for Osaka virgins.
The Castle Sky Building Route
Starting at Osaka’s most iconic building “a seventeenth century castle that looms above the town in breath-taking fashion” this route follows the Kyu-Yodo River (the ancient, original course of the modern Yodo River) up into the beautiful Nakanoshima district; a place of stunning buildings, open spaces and impressive history. From there, follow the signs to Utsubo Park, a former Allied airstrip (of all things) now converted into a tranquil public park. Once you’ve had your fill of peace, a quick hop North will take you back onto the Kyu-Yodo, which continues into the heart of the business district, where your journey ends at the vertiginous Sky Building; a triumph of modern architecture with views of the entire city.
The ‘Heart of the City’ Tour
Follow the River to the Dome, an iconic local landmark where concerts are held all year round. Then, turning your bike in the direction of Dotonbori Canal, head into the heart of bustling Osaka.
Your first stop should be the ‘American Village’, a hip spot of alternative culture that fairly thrums with youthful energy. From there, continue along the canal to the real meat of the tour: the D≈çtonbori/Namba districts. Busy, chaotic and filled with spectacular neon sculptures at night, these beloved central districts are like Paris, Left Bank, Amsterdam‚ Red Light District and Inner Tokyo all rolled into one. Although once an infamous ‘pleasure district’, the area is now strictly PG, but it still retains the energy of a seedy portside town (which is exactly what it once was). Although best seen at night, the area is equally intriguing in the daytime and an excellent spot for refreshments.
Finally, if you can stomach another few miles, I would recommend continuing along the canal to Tsuruhashi station, where some of the best Korean chefs in Japan have set up shop. If you’re not satisfied with their cheap, delicious concoctions, you’re probably doing something wrong!
Vicky Shedden loves to travel and explore new places and cultures; she recommends the best way to do so is by bicycle.