It was the perfect autumn day for biking in Kyoto. It was sunny and cool, and the maple leaves had begun to turn red. Also, we were at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto, which is right next to the Kamogawa River, and the river has wide bicycle lanes on both sides. One turn into a side road, and then you’re already along the path on the banks of the Kamogawa River.
Moreover, the hotel rents out Panasonic electric bicycles. These are perfect for city biking and these also make any uphill climbs easy. The concierge team organizes two bike experiences every day, weather permitting. So hotel guests who book in advance can go before breakfast at 630 AM or after breakfast at 830 AM. We chose the latter, preferring to enjoy a relaxing meal prior to heading out.
WHERE TO GO BIKING IN KYOTO
“Where would you like to go?” Wakabayashi-san, our bicycle guide from the hotel, asked. She gave us several options including a ride through Gion, the old geisha and entertainment district of Kyoto. However the river called out to us. It’s not often once comes across a lovely river that’s made for biking and walking. So we asked for an itinerary that included a long ride along the river.
“There’s the lovely Shimogamo shrine just off the river,” Wakabayashi-san suggested. “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s very beautiful. We can bike all the way along the Kamogawa and then get onto the street just very near it.”
BIKING ALONG THE KAMOGAWA
That sounded like the exact biking itinerary we wanted. The trip took about 20 minutes by bike along the Kamogawa from the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Once we got off the river bicycle lane, we entered a neighborhood with large trees and old houses. It was the kind of area I often imagine, whenever I think of Kyoto.
One of the houses in this neighborhood was the villa of the Mitsui family. We just passed by it on our way to the Shimogamo Shrine but it certainly looked impressive estate from the outside. Then we found ourselves in a wide clearing of tall trees that led to the shrine proper. The ride all the way to the spring was just so picturesque.
ABOUT THE SHIMOGAMO SHRINE
“There’s evidence that this shrine is over two thousand years old,” Wakabayashi-san said. Some archeologists scouring the forests around the shrine had apparently unearthed broken pieces of plates and arrowheads that date back to the Yayoi Period of 4 B.C.
The Shimogamo Shrine is also a great favorite of members of the Japanese Imperial Family through the centuries, as well as descendants of several famous Shogun. The Emperor Saga (809 – 823) is one of the Japanese emperors most closely associated with this shrine. It is also mentioned in The Tale of Genji, the famous epic story created by a court lady during the Heian era.
AWAY FROM TOURISTS IN KYOTO
For biking in Kyoto, the Shimogamo Shrine is ideal. It’s a very famous landmark but it’s also the kind of place that is not quite on the tourist shortlist since Kyoto has so many temples. Nevertheless, it is as important and Instagram-worthy as the better known temples of the city. In fact, in many ways, a visit to Shimogamo Shrine is even more meaningful because it doesn’t feel as commercial or touristy compared to so many others.
So after a morning of exploration here, we biked back to the Ritz Carlton Kyoto along the same river, our hearts and minds full of what we had just seen. We thoroughly enjoyed biking in Kyoto. It’s a great way to explore this ancient city.