Recommended Outdoor Destinations in Nagano City
One of Japan’s most livable and enjoyable cities, Nagano has some fantastic outdoor destinations to explore and enjoy, starting with the city’s most famous destination:
Zenko-ji Temple – Nagano’s Ancient Heart
Founded in 642, Zenko-ji is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan. Under 20-minutes walk from the station, follow the city’s historic thoroughfare – the ‘Omotesando’ or ‘Pilgrim’s Way’ all the way to the temple.
Along the way you will discover the many smaller temples, restaurants, cafes and shops that make Nagano is enjoyable to explore on-foot. Arriving at Zenko-ji, visitors discover one of the most welcoming and open temples in Japan. The precinct is home to multiple temples and shrines with the main hall – the ‘Hondo’ – being a registered Natioanal Treasure.
A morning ceremony takes place every day of the year, with visitors of all faiths and backgrounds welcome, with the temple also hosting several major festivals each year.
In every way, Zenko-ji is the spiritual and cultural heart of Nagano, hosting multiple festivals through the year including:
Held from November to December, the ‘Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination’ sees the city’s famous temple come to light and life, awash with colour as it and the ‘Omotesando’ (avenue leading to temple are lit-up in the cold winter night.
In the first week of February, the ‘Tomyo Lantern Festival’ again sees Nagano City’s historic temple come to light, as light installations and projects offer thanks to the Buddha – an important act in Buddhism – while also commemorating Nagano’s role as host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.
With light installations in place in the ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings) in the surrounding streets and hundreds of ‘kiri-e’ (cut paper lanterns) leading up to the temple, this is a subdued by beautiful festival in the heart of the city.
The ‘Zenko-ji Summer Ennichi Festival’ takes place in front of the temple in mid-August. This event draws visitors from far and wide – a spectacular display of the continued importance of the temple to the people of Nagano.
Togakushi – A Place of Healing & Escape
Sitting quietly in the mountains bordering Nagano City, Togakushi is home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines set among a beautiful forested landscape.
The five major shrines that make-up the Togakushi complex are spaced-out at intervals through the forest and against the dramatic background of mountains rising above.
Accessible via well-maintained walking tracks, Togakushi continues to draw Shinto practitioners and nature enthusiasts who revel in its tranquility, beauty, and purity – a place of healing where you can escape the city and return to nature.
Especially beautiful in October and November, Togakushi is one of Central Japan’s most popular spots for viewing autumn leaves.
On the literal doorstep of the city, Togkuashi is also home to the Togakure ninja school, Togakushi Ski Resort and famous for its ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles), traditional bamboo craft and stunning autumn leaves making it an ideal destination when planning a day-trip from Nagano.
Readily accessible from Nagano Station, Togakushi is in every other sense a world away.
Matsuhiro – Nagano City’s Samurai Town
Around 12km to the south of central Nagano City, Matsushiro is a small town known firstly for its samurai heritage while also home to an open-secret beneath its feet.
Once the stronghold of the ruling Sanada clan, Matsushiro was established as an important strategic base during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period and thriving domain of the samurai class during the latter Edo Period.
Today, the town’s samurai heritage lives on many excellent Edo Period attractions including Matsushiro Castle Park, the former Sanada Residence and Bunbu Military Academy, other samurai residences, temples, shrines and museums.
A small town, Matsushiro can easily be explore on-foot or by bicycle, available for rent at the Matsushiro Tourist Information Center next to the Sanada Treasures Museum.
Matsushiro retains much of its historic character, making its street pleasant to wander and particularly beautiful in spring when the town hosts its annual cherry blossom festival . Centred around Matsushiro Castle Park, Matsushiro is blessed with some of the best blossoms in Nagano City.
In autumn, the streetscapes and traditional buildings of Matsuhsiro are just as beautiful as the autumn leaves paint the town all shades of red, amber and gold.
Held in the second week of October, the ‘Sanada Clan Jumangoku Festival’ celebrates Matsushiro’s samurai heritage of two-days of events and parades.Easily accessible from Nagano Station, Matsushiro has lots to offer all year round.