๐Ÿšฒ Cycling the Shimanami Kaido: Firsthand Review & Tips

A woman posing in front of a modern bridge and blue sky.
๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Overall Rating7.5
๐Ÿฆ„ UniquenessHigh
๐Ÿ˜Š EnjoymentVery High
๐Ÿ’ฐ ValueAffordable
๐ŸŽ’ PreparationExtensive
Overall Rating is based on a weighted average of factors (learn more).

The Shimanami Kaido is a scenic cycling route that passes through six rural Japanese islands. Here, I review my experience with a coherent rating system before sharing firsthand tips.

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๐Ÿ€ Lukiih’s Overall Rating

7.5
I highly recommend cycling the Shimanami Kaido โ€“ try to prioritize it.

My overall rating is based on a weighted average of four factors travelers consider important when assessing an experience. I break down the factors in my review below.

Verdict

The Shimanami Kaido was one of the highlights of my Japan trip. It’s an off-the-beaten-path, active experience with beautiful scenery, uncrowded attractions, and the best soft-serve ice creams I’ve ever eaten.

The experience is affordable, even after accounting for bike rentals, accommodations, food, and entrance fees.

However, extensive preparation is required, as you need to have some endurance, reserve a bike, book accommodation, pack accordingly, and figure out what to do with your luggage.

That said, it’s an accessible biking route that beginners and avid cyclists can enjoy. You can choose from three routes, go at your own pace, and stop as often as you want.

A woman on a bike crossing a long bridge.
Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

Planning a trip? Here’s what to know about Japan.

๐Ÿ† Where Does It Rank?

Biking the Shimanami Kaido ranks as my #4 thing to do in Japan. Here’s how it compares to other experiences on my trip:

#ExperienceLocationOverall Rating
1๐Ÿ‘˜ RyokanKyoto8.3
2๐ŸŒ‹ Mt. Fuji Sunrise HikeYamanashi7.6
3โ›ฉ๏ธ Fushimi Inari TaishaKyoto7.5
4๐Ÿšฒ Shimanami Kaido CyclingHiroshima7.5
5๐Ÿฃ Nishiki MarketKyoto7.4
6๐ŸŽ‹ Arashiyama ParkKyoto7.3
7๐Ÿ•น๏ธ AkihabaraTokyo6.8
8๐ŸŒฑ Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenTokyo6.7
9๐Ÿฃ Kuromon Ichiba MarketOsaka6.6
10๐Ÿ  Osaka Aquarium KaiyukanOsaka6.5
11๐Ÿฎ AsakusaTokyo6.2
12๐Ÿš‚ Sagano Romantic TrainKyoto6.1
13๐Ÿ›๏ธ Ginza ShoppingTokyo6.0
14๐Ÿšถ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ Philosopher’s PathKyoto5.9
15๐Ÿšฆ Shibuya ScrambleTokyo5.8
Overall Rating is calculated using Lukiih’s rating system.

See my Japan itinerary featuring the experiences above.

โœˆ๏ธ About My Trip

For context on my review, here’s what to know about my trip:

  • ๐Ÿ€ย Self-fundedย โ€“ I finance my trips and don’t receive sponsorship, so this review reflects my honest opinions.
  • ๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 2023 โ€“ This post has updated 2024 information, but I biked the Shimanami Kaido in 2023.
  • โ˜€๏ธ Low season โ€“ My Japan trip was in September when it was less crowded and expensive.

๐Ÿฆ„ Uniqueness: High

The Uniqueness Score is based on how rare and memorable an experience is.

Rarity: Uncommon

The Shimanami Kaido is an uncommon experience, as only about 20 comparable bike routes exist worldwide.

๐Ÿ’Ž What Makes It Rare?

  • The route is scenic, and the safety infrastructure is notable. A blue line is painted along its entire route, so it’s hard to get lost. The path is often protected, marked, or separated from the roads.
A woman holding a bike next to a blue line.
Shimanami Kaido’s blue line
  • The entire bike path extends across six rural Japanese islands connected by bridges. Every other island-hopping bike route I know requires ferry transportation.

๐ŸŒ What Makes It Less Rare?

  • It’s not the only bike route boasting coastal views, excellent cycling infrastructure, and cultural attractions. Comparable bike routes include Taiwan’s Cycling Route 1, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, and Noto Peninsula Coastal Road.
Tranquil ocean with mountains in the background.
Coastal scenery on the Shimanami Kaido

Memorability: High

The Shimanami Kaido is one of my most memorable experiences in Japan.

๐Ÿ“ธ What Makes It Memorable?

  • Its combination of diverse attractions, serene environment, and excellent infrastructure makes it unforgettable.

See my favorite attractions and stops below.

๐Ÿ’ค What Makes It Forgettable?

  • Although they’re great collectively, most of the attractions and town areas along the route do not stand out on their own.

๐Ÿ˜Š Enjoyment: High

The Enjoyment Score is based on how much happiness and reward an experience provides.

Happiness: High

I found biking on the Shimanami Kaido very enjoyable.

๐Ÿ˜ƒ What Makes It Enjoyable?

  • It’s a choose-your-own-adventure experience where you bike at your own pace and spend as much or as little time as you like at the various attractions.
  • Visiting a more rural side of Japan is a nice break from the tourist cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

๐Ÿ˜ฅ What Makes It Less Enjoyable?

  • It’s a strenuous activity, so if you’re not used to biking more than 20 miles in one day, the last few miles can be exhausting.
  • While the attractions are pleasant, I wouldn’t describe them as epic, breathtaking, or thrilling.
A view of an empty temple surrounded by trees.
Kousanji Temple on the Shimanami Kaido

Reward: High

The Shimanami Kaido is a rewarding experience where beginner and avid cyclists can feel accomplished upon completion.

๐ŸŒŸ What Makes It Rewarding?

  • The recommended route is not particularly difficult, but the average person will need to bike for at least eight hours to complete it.
  • You’ll also need to climb a few hills and bike up six bridges with a medium incline.

Scroll down for more details on the difficulty of the route.

๐Ÿคท๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ What Makes It Less Rewarding?

  • It’s not a “community” experience where you’ll learn a lot. It’s a tranquil bike ride in a country known for its cultural differences. Most locals keep to themselves, and everyone bikes at their own pace, so don’t expect engagement unless you come with a group.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Value: Affordable

The Value Score is determined by the price divided by the duration of an experience. All prices mentioned here are in USD.

Cost Estimate: $165 PP

Cycling Shimanami Kaido over two days costs about $165. Here’s how the costs break down:

Expense CategoryApproximate Cost
๐Ÿ  Accommodation$30-$60/night, depending on whether you’re staying in a budget or mid-range hotel.
๐Ÿฑ Food$25/day, assuming you’re eating at quick stops and nicer sit-down places like I did.
๐Ÿšฒ Bike rental$20/day, assuming you’re renting a standard bike like I did.
๐Ÿงณ Luggage shipping$5-$15 total, depending on whether you store or ship your luggage.
๐ŸŽŸ๏ธ Attractions$10 total, assuming you’ll mostly visit free attractions and one with an entrance fee.

I last checked prices in April 2024. At $80 per person per day for everything included, I consider this experience affordable.

Lukiih Spent: $223

I spent $223 over two days on the Shimanami Kaido, and below is my breakdown. My total cost is higher because I splurged on accommodation and food.

Expense CategoryTotal Cost
๐Ÿ  Accommodation$96*
๐Ÿฑ Food$61
๐Ÿšฒ Bike rental$41
๐Ÿงณ Luggage shipping$15
๐ŸŽŸ๏ธ Kousanji Temple$10

*I was able to split accommodation costs with one other person.

See my Japan trip expenses.

A hotel entrance with two bikes.
Accommodation on the Shimanami Kaido

๐ŸŽ’ Preparation: Extensive

The Preparation Score is based on the required skills & fitness, transportation, and bookings & packing. The higher the score, the less preparation is needed.

Skills & Fitness: Basic

You need some basic skills and fitness to complete the Shimanami Kaido.

  • ๐Ÿšฒ Skill โ€“ The only skill you need is knowing how to ride a standard bike.
  • ๐Ÿ’ช Fitness โ€“ You need some endurance to bike for several hours, but you can go at any pace and make as many stops as you like. To make it significantly easier, you can rent an electric bike.

I’m not an avid cyclist, but I often use my bike to get around where I live. Two weeks before biking the Shimanami Kaido, I did a 30-mile bike ride, which was sufficient preparation for me.

Learn more about the difficulty of the route below.

Transportation: Significant

The endpoints of the Shimanami Kaido require significant effort to reach. For most travelers, these cities are relatively far from popular tourist areas.

  • ๐Ÿš† Method โ€“ It’s a straightforward journey with Japan’s excellent train infrastructure. However, depending on your route, you may have to take a bus between the endpoints.
  • โฐ Duration โ€“ The endpoints are roughly two to four hours from Kyoto or Osaka.

Booking & Packing: Some Effort

To cycle the Shimanami Kaido, you’ll need to book and pack accordingly:

  • ๐ŸŽŸ๏ธ Tickets โ€“ You donโ€™t need advanced ticket reservations.
  • ๐Ÿšฒ Rental bike โ€“ Reserving your rental bike is recommended, although not required by all companies. I overheard a visitor not being able to get a bike in the correct size because she didn’t reserve ahead.
  • ๐Ÿ  Accommodation โ€“ Book accommodation in advance, as the route has limited options.
  • ๐ŸŽ’ Packing โ€“ Donโ€™t underestimate island weather; pack accordingly.
  • ๐Ÿงณ Luggage โ€“ Have a plan to store or ship your luggage.

How To Guide & Tips

Interested in cycling the Shimanami Kaido after reading my review? Below is a practical how-to guide and firsthand tips.

How Difficult Is It

When determining the difficulty of the cycling route, consider its duration, route options, and elevation gain.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ Duration

The Shimanami Kaido can be biked in one or two days. Minimizing stops and primarily focusing on biking will take roughly eight to nine hours to complete.

With an electric bike, it can be even shorter and take about five to six hours.

I wanted to enjoy the stunning scenery and make a few stops, so I took two days.

  • First day โ€“ I spent about 3.5 hours on the route from 10:30 am to 2 pm. I made four stops along the way and spent the rest of the day exploring the Setoda area on Ikuchi Island.
  • Second day โ€“ I spent about six hours on the route from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. I made three significant stops, one of which was an hour-long lunch.

๐Ÿ’ช Route Options

I would characterize the Shimanami Kaido as a medium-difficult cycling route. A fit person with some cycling experience will find it doable, but a less active person will find it somewhat challenging.

It has three routes that vary in difficulty:

RouteRoute Characteristics
Recommendedโ€“ Main route
โ€“ Mostly flat
โ€“ Easiest route (the one I did as a fit person whoโ€™s not a cyclist)
Intermediateโ€“ Longer route
โ€“ More hilly
โ€“ Would be challenging for a fit person
Advancedโ€“ Longest route
โ€“ Steep hills
โ€“ Would be very challenging even for a fit person

The official length of the recommended route is 37 miles, but the total length of the ride is closer to 45 miles since youโ€™ll need to drop off your bike at the rental terminals.

๐Ÿ“ˆ Elevation Gain

The cycling route is mostly flat except for two areas on Oshima Island (the fourth island) with steep ascents and descents.

You’ll also have to bike up all six bridges to reach the next island, and these are their elevation gains:

  • Innoshima Bridge โ€“ 165 feet
  • Ikuchi Bridge, Tatara Bridge, Omishima Bridge, and Hakata-Oshima Bridge โ€“ all have slightly shorter elevation gains than Innoshima.
  • The Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge โ€“ 230 feet
A modern bridge extending against a blue sky.
Innoshima Bridge

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How To Get to the Start

The Shimanami Kaido starts in Onomichi City and crosses the six islands to reach the final destination, Imabari City.

You can also bike the route in the other direction, starting from Imabari City.

๐Ÿ“ Starting in Onomichi

To start the Shiminami Kaido from Onomichi City:

  • Step 1 โ€“ Take a train to the JR Onomichi Station.
  • Step 2 โ€“ Walk five minutes to the nearby rental station to pick up your rental bike.
  • Step 3 โ€“ Take the four-minute ferry at the Onomichi Port to the start of the bike route. The ferry costs 110 yen (cash), which is a little under a dollar. It departs every five to ten minutes.
A woman staanding with a bike on a boat.
Onomichi ferry

๐Ÿ“ Starting in Imabari

To start the Shiminami Kaido from Imabari City:

  • Step 1 โ€“ Take a train to JR Imabari Station.
  • Step 2a โ€“ From the train station, rent a bike from the nearby rental station and then bike through parts of Imabari City to the Shimanami Kaido.
  • Step 2b โ€“ Alternatively, from the train station, you can take a 30-minute bus to Sunrise Itoyama to rent a bike and start biking from there.

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Where To Rent a Bike

Although there are a few rental companies, only Shimanami Japan and Giant allow you to drop off the bike in a different location than where you picked it up.

๐Ÿšฒ Option 1: Shimanami Japan

Shimanami Japan has a cheaper and more flexible rental system. It has ten rental stations along the route and offers four types of bikes for a flat daily fee.

You can see the prices and make reservations online, but itโ€™s not mandatory. The rental includes helmets, lights, and bike locks.

I rented a hybrid crossbike from Shimanami Japan, and found the bike mediocre. The gears were decent, but the chain was noisy, the tire traction was fading, and the bike was heavy, which made going uphill much more difficult.

But I was able to finish with it and thought the prices were fair for what I received. If youโ€™re going on the advanced route with steep hills, you definitely need a nicer bike.

A set of bicycles for rent.
Shimanami Japan rental station

๐Ÿšฒ Option 2: Giant

The Giant rental system is the more expensive and high-end option. It only has two rental stations at both ends of the Shiminami Kaido.

The Giant bikes are much nicer (e.g., carbon road bikes), more expensive (i.e., more than double the regular bikes), and require reservations.

Top of guide โ†‘

Where To Stay

When planning for the Shimanami Kaido, youโ€™ll have to book accommodations at the ends of the route or somewhere in between.

Even if you plan to bike it in a day, the route is long enough that youโ€™ll likely still need a place to stay at the end.

Accommodations Near the Halfway Point

If youโ€™re biking the Shimanami Kaido over two days, a great place to stay overnight is on Ikuchijima Island, particularly the Setoda area.

Book accommodations along the cycling route at least one month in advance. There are not many options along the route, and some are booked out about four weeks in advance.

๐Ÿ  Where I Stayed: I splurged a bit on accommodations and stayed at Yubune for $96 a night per person (I split it with another person). It was my most expensive accommodation in Japan, excluding the ryokan I booked.

Yubune is a great hotel because its rooms are well-designed and accommodate bikes. Itโ€™s also located on the Shiomachi Shopping Street, so many attractions and restaurants are within walking distance.

A traditional room in a Japanese hotel with a space for bike.
Yubune hotel room

๐Ÿ’ฐ Budget Option: For a more budget accommodation option, ๅณถๅฎฟNest is located near Yubune and receives great reviews from its guests.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Luxury Option: For a more high-end accommodation option, Azumi Setoda is a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn that features a Japanese garden, sauna, and hot tubs.

Accommodations in Imabari City

Imabari City is a proper city, so youโ€™ll have a few accommodations to choose from.

Consider staying near the Imabari Station for convenience. The train station is near a rental station, so you can easily pick up or drop off your bike rental upon arrival or departure.

๐Ÿ  Where I Stayed: I stayed at Imabari Urban Hotel, a budget hotel near the train station. For $30 a night, it provided everything I needed at the end of my bike trip.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Budget Option: For an affordable dorm-room style guest house, Cyclo No Ie near the train station receives great reviews from cyclists.

Accommodations in Onomichi City

There are plenty of accommodations to choose from in Onomichi City near the train station.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Budget Options: Apartment rooms for rent are available near the Onomichi train station, such as this one or this one.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Mid-range Budget Option: Hotel Cycle is next to the ocean, right by the rental station, and has great reviews.

If you plan to ship your luggage to your Shimanami Kaido hotel, youโ€™ll have to make sure itโ€™s an accommodation thatโ€™s eligible for this service.

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What To Pack

Below is a comprehensive Shimanami Kaido packing list for a two-day bike ride. Everything should be able to fit into a day pack.

  • Reusable water bottle โ€“ I brought my insulated 24 oz water bottle, which was sufficient because there were water fountains, convenience stores, and vending machines along the route.
A woman with a bike standing next to a vending machine by the side of the road.
Vending machine on the Shimanami Kaido
  • Padded bike shorts โ€“ I purchased these affordable bike shorts for this trip. The rental bike seat didn’t have sufficient padding, so Iโ€™m glad I wore them.
  • Athletic top
  • Wind jacket
  • Rain gear or poncho โ€“ Youโ€™ll want this if youโ€™re biking during the rainy season.
  • Cash โ€“ Several stops along the route are cash-only.
  • Sunscreen โ€“ Most of the path is not covered, so wear sunscreen to protect yourself. I discovered my favorite sunscreen while in Asia. It spreads easily with a lotion-like texture and stays on, even through sweat.
  • Sunglasses โ€“ Even if itโ€™s not sunny during your ride, youโ€™ll want sunglasses to protect your eyes from debris or wind.
  • Day pack & pack cover โ€“ All items should fit in a day pack.
  • Closed-toe shoes
  • Toiletries (optional) โ€“ Most accommodations in Japan provide toiletries, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, and face wash.

The Japan trip planner below has this Shimanami Kaido packing list in a downloadable format.

What Not To Pack

Here are some things to consider leaving behind if you want to travel light:

  • Umbrellas โ€“ Theyโ€™re not allowed while biking. If you get rained on, a poncho is much more effective.
  • Pajamas โ€“ Many mid-range (and even some budget) accommodations in Japan provide oversized, comfortable pajamas. I packed my pajamas and wished I hadnโ€™t.
  • Battery pack โ€“ If you have a decent phone, your battery should last seven to eight hours on the route.

Top of guide โ†‘

How To Ship Luggage

If you want your luggage to arrive at your final accommodation, youโ€™ll need to ship it there.

I shipped my luggage because I was starting in Onomichi City and ending in Imabari City. I didnโ€™t want to worry about taking the bus back to Onomichi City after my bike ride.

I used Sagawa Express to ship my luggage from the Onomichi bike rental station to my accommodation in Imabari. Make sure that your hotel can:

  • Receive shipped luggage โ€“ Luggage shipping is only available to and from certain accommodations and bike rental stations.
  • Hold your luggage โ€“ Sagawa Express also required me to confirm that my hotel could store my luggage a day before I arrived (since I was biking for two days and they only do same-day delivery).

Top of guide โ†‘

Attractions & Stops

The Shimanami Kaido features over 20 attractions and activities. If you’re taking two days to complete it, I recommend stopping and resting in Setoda on Ikuchi Island, as it has great attractions and accommodations.

My favorite attractions and stops were:

๐Ÿ•Š๏ธ Kousanji Temple and The Hill of Hope

The complex is filled with well-known Buddhist architectural structures and has a fascinating cave. Its most famous attraction is the Miraishin no Oka marble garden (“The Hill of Hope”), which was largely empty when I visited.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Entrance Fee: I paid 1,400 yen (about $10 USD). See the current price.

A marble sculpture with stairs against a blue sky.
The Hill of Hope

๐ŸŒณ Choonzan Park

This park is a hidden gem I only found by chance. The path to the top of the hill is overgrown, and there are many mosquitos (I like this bug repellent), but it has a beautiful view and is an excellent spot for sunset.

A woman standing at the top of a hill overlooking water and a temple.
Choonzan Park

๐Ÿฆ Hakata Salt Soft-Serve Ice Cream

There’s a vendor stall on Hakatajima Island that sells soft-serve ice cream made with Hakata salt. People travel to this roadside station just to eat this ice cream, which is one of the best Iโ€™ve ever had. This is a must-do stop.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Cost: I paid 350 yen (about $2 USD) for an ice cream.
๐Ÿ’ด Cash-only

A woman holding an ice cream cone.
Hakata salt ice cream

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Shiomachi Shopping Street

This narrow shopping street has a traditional atmosphere and several shops selling food, souvenirs, and drinks. Walking down it was one of the most peaceful moments I experienced in Japan.

An Asian temple partially blocked by lush streets.
Temple on Shiomachi Shopping Street

๐ŸŒท Rest Stops

The route has multiple parks, rest areas, and observation decks. One of my favorite rest stops was near the Ikuchi Bridge. It has a water fountain and a covered bench facing the ocean, making it a peaceful place for a quick break. Some locals brought lunch to enjoy here.

A woman sitting on a bench next to a bike looking out at a park and ocean view.
Rest stop on the Shimanami Kaido

Top of guide โ†‘

Japan Trip Planner 2024

To make your travel preparation easier, download the trip planner below. It has destination-specific travel information, itinerary, map, and packing list.

My trip planners are built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning. I genuinely love this tool and creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Japan trip planner.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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