The Osaka Harbor ride is a great cycling route that takes you to some of the most iconic sights in Osaka (and also has two mini-ferry rides.)
Table of Contents
- Introduction >
- Route >
- Oo River Start >
- The Tsutenkaku and a Ferry >
- Bridges and Islands >
- Yodo river, Nakanoshima and Finish >
- Alternative Start >
- Final thoughts >
Looking for a cycling route in Osaka city that takes in Osaka sights, authentic neighborhoods and harbor views while hopping from island to island on bridges? The Osaka Harbor Cycling route is for you. At 40km it’s long enough to get a workout while also being short enough to make it back for afternoon coffee or drinks.
The route has two options for the first leg depending on your preference. See Alternative Start - Osaka Castle, Shitennoji at the end of the blog for more information on the different start to the route.
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Oo River (Oogawa) Start
The ride starts on the lovely Oo River right outside Road Bike Rental Japan. You cross the bridge just south of RBRJ so you are on the north side (west side at this point) of the river. Take the ramp down to the cycle path and head south first and follow the path around to the west.
Ramp down to the Oo River
The Oo River is lovely. Riding along it is always a pleasure so enjoy the greenery, river and general river-front atmosphere going past Temmabashi towards Nakanoshima.
Oo River cycling
The ride will continue for 1 km and then you will come to the Tenjin bridge that you want to cross to start your journey south towards Tennoji. The bridge crosses Nakanoshima which is a beautiful little pocket of Osaka. There are green spaces, cafes, a rose garden and a general feeling of space and leisure. The route cycles through Nakanoshima on the final stretch so you'll get a chance to explore the island more on the return leg.
Tenjin bridge crossing Nakanoshima
Tsutenkaku and a Ferry
Cross the bridge and then head south for a straight shot all the way until a large intersection and the edge of Tennoji zoo and park. The road to Tennoji is quite busy so keep focused on the road and be mindful of parked cars and the dreaded opening of car doors.
Japan is used to cyclists and most drivers are also a cyclist in their daily lives so people do give you a bit of space which makes city cycling pretty stress-free compared to some parts of the world. Recently there are more and more marked cycling lanes in the left lane but on busy days there are usually a lot of cars parked so be sure to give yourself enough space if a door swings open.
As mentioned, for a quieter ride and a chance to see Osaka Castle and Shitennoji temple you can use the Alternative Start which takes you down the Uemachi-suji instead of the Matsuyamachi-suji. The details of this route are described in more detail at the end of the blog.
It’s about a 4km ride to a main intersection with the right hand turn. The turn is rather obvious and it will take you west for a couple of minutes before you head left and into Shinsekai area where the Tsutenkaku is. The Tsutenkaku tower is an iconic Osaka landmark straddled between Tennoji Zoo, Dobutsuen-mae and Ebisucho. The tower offers a glimpse of the post-war economic boom and is surrounded by Shinsekai (new world) which harks back to an older, local and very authentic Osaka.
The Tsutenkaku Tower
Continue on your route weaving through the Osaka urban environments heading west towards the harbors and the first ferry crossing.
The Kizu river (Kizugawa) is one of the main waterways going through the southwest of Osaka city. The river starts as an offshoot of the Oo river (Oogawa) and ends in the harbor in Osaka bay past Taisho in Suminoe ward.
The two main bridges crossing the river in the area are for cars only and due to a lot of Japanese people commuting and getting around by bike, there is a ferry service operated by Osaka city, transporting boat loads of people from one side of the river to the other. The ferry is free and only people and bikes can board. The ferries leave quite often so you don’t need to worry about checking the timetable in advance. Just head down the ramp and gangway, have a seat, a drink of water and wait for the ferry to arrive and take you to the other side.
Bike on the ferry
Bridges and Islands
As you disembark from the ferry, continue along the route until you get to your first large bridge on the journey. The bridge is called the Chitose bridge (Chitosebashi) and there is a special ramp and stairs for pedestrians and bikes taking you up to the bridge. The ramp in the middle of the stairs is quite steep but you can cycle up it. Just watch out for pedestrians walking up and pushing their bikes up the ramp. If you come to a halt it wouldn’t be a very nice place to get your feet stuck in the pedals and tumble over.
Chitose bridge and ramp
The ride up the ramp will have you in your low gears and will no doubt increase the heart rate and get you working. As you get to the top enjoy the view and lovely cycle over the bridge.
Once you are down the other side of the bridge there will be a similar ramp system to the one you climbed to mount the bridge but less steep. The ride continues through the island called Tsurumachi and comes very close to Ikea Tsuruhama. If you feel like a drink and a hotdog Ikea is an option to take a quick break, have a coffee and jump on the Ikea store wifi.
The route will now take you up and over the spectacular Namihayao bridge (Namihayaobashi). Just after you head up the ramps to get up to the bridge there is a solid climb up to the highest point of the bridge along an amazing pedestrian and cycling path. With 360 degree views of Osaka, a great climb and then an arching curve up, over and back down the other side, this bridge in particular is one of the highlights of the ride.
View from the Namihayao bridge
Descent from bridge
The ride down the bridge offers a chance to pick up some speed and crank into the high gears. You’ll continue through a small industrial island called the Kaigandori, where you’ll cross two small bridges and pass Osakako station and then over to Osaka Aquarium.
The ride past the aquarium takes you on the harbor’s edge as you cruise past families heading to the aquarium, people getting on harbor cruise boats and also people riding the Tempozan giant ferris wheel.
It’s here you’ll go past Tempozan park and to the Tempozan ferry terminal for your second river-crossing by ferry of the route. Like the first ferry, the ride is free and it dedicated for people and bicycles. The boat is a little larger than the first one and will give you some beautiful views of the Tempozan bridge over the Aji river (Ajigawa).
The ride continues past Universal studios Japan on Sakurajima before another excellent bridge crossing over to Maishima. There is another ramp system to get you up onto the bridge which is quite easy to get up on the bike.
As you reach the top of the ramps you get an option to turn left or right. Going right will take you around to be on the left side of the bridge which is the correct side to cycle along however taking the left turn puts you on the right side of the bridge which probably offers a better view north to the mountains and east back into the city.
Bridge photo from right side
The ride will take you onto Maishima and past the Maishima Plant which is actually a state-of-the-art waste disposal facility. The building looks like a theme park or an attraction with its eye-catching design by the famed Vienna-borne artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Yodo river (Yodogawa), Nakanoshima and Finish
The ride will take you over one last bridge and down alongside the Yodogawa river. Historically, Osaka's waterways were the backbone of trade and transportation in the city. The Yodo river (Yodogawa) runs through the heart of Kansai continues north-east to Kyoto before it splits off into 3 smaller rivers. It’s the largest river in Osaka and the ride next to the water is a great stretch with mountains to the north and the looming Osaka CBD in the distance.
Yodo river cycling
The ride continues along the river before making a right turn and heading south east down to the Aji river and then back onto the Oo river that we started on. The ride through Nakanoshima, Higobashi and Yodoyabashi is full of great urban cycling with views of freeways careening over rivers, beautiful old buildings inspired by European architecture and then the leisurely cycle along the east-side of Nakanoshima. The ride along Nakanoshima takes in Osaka city hall, the rose garden and an opportunity for a coffee or refreshment on the river.
Higobashi and Yodoyabashi area
The ride will have you come back to the Tenjin bridge that you crossed at the very start of the ride as you head up a spiral ramp to get you up and over to the north-side of the Oo River (Oogawa).
The ride comes back past Temmabashi and then over a pedestrian only bridge to the south (east) side of the river for the final ride home along the Oo river. The final stretch takes you past lovely tress, a beach area with volleyball nets and then through the river-side parks into Sakuranomiya.
Final stretch along the Oo River
Alternative Start - Osaka Castle, Shitennoji
As mentioned, the ride down the Machamachi-suji (route 102) to the Tsutenkaku is pretty busy with a fair bit of traffic. There is an alternative start to avoid this road which also takes in some of Osaka Castle and Shitennoji temple in Tennoji.
The route mainly uses the Uemachi-suji which is a road that runs parallel to the Machamachi-suji to the east. The road has less traffic and less parked cars in general making for a more relaxed start to the route. The route also gives you a chance to explore some of Osaka Castle and the spiritually important, Shitennoji temple.
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Osaka Castle, Uemachi-suji, Shitennoji Temple
The route leaves Road Bike Rental Japan and instead of turning right over the Genpachi bridge (Genpachibashi) you continue south straight down the road, cycling next to the park and river.
You can jump down onto the cycle and pedestrian path next to Oo river but you will finish your route cycling down this path so it's not really necessary to cycle it just after leaving.
The route crosses over the Sakuranomiya bridge (Sakuranomiyabashi) and continues south before making a few rights and lefts which will leave you at the intersection of the Tosabori-dori (route 168). You cross the intersection heading south towards the castle which takes you over the Neya river (Neyagawa) and past the west side of Osaka Castle. You can continue along the route taking in the views of the west wall and moat or you can head further into the castle and explore the castle ground more if you like.
Passing Osaka Castle
You are now on the Uemachi-suji which continues all the way south until you get to an intersection that wraps around Shitennoji temple. It's still a main road but with less traffic than the Machamachi-suji it's probably a more comfortable ride to start your journey with.
You will get to an intersection that seems like a T but the Uemachi-suji actually continues to the left and then there's an immediate turn to the right. You'll continue down this road which takes you past Shitennoji temple on your right. You can enter the temple and have a better look or take in the views of the gates and walls and continue on your journey.
Passing Shitennoji temple
The route will cross a large road and then turn right onto route 25 which joins the other route just before turning left towards the Tsutenkaku.
The Osaka Harbor route offers a lot of variety of cycling and is well-worth a ride. The low point of the route is the ride straight down the main road towards the Tsutenkaku as it's a very busy road but this can be avoided by using the alternative start.
There are ample great moments on the bike and the route will introduce you the extensive river system and harbor area in Osaka. Osaka really is a city on the water and this route offers a lovely chance to get out and discover the water-side cycling spots while also taking in some great urban areas and iconic landmarks.
Happy and safe cycling!