25 Things To Do In & Around Kanazawa
As the terminus of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line from Tokyo and Thunderbird rapid services from Osaka and Kyoto, Kanazawa is readily accessible from Japan’s major urban centres and as such, a popular stop between those cities.
Kanazawa is a relatively small city with an attractive mix of historic areas, modern museums and great food. Part of the ancient Kaga Province, the name Kanazawa literally translates as ‘marsh of gold’.
Under the rule of the Maeda clan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), Kanazawa developed into one of Japan’s most important cities, accumulating great wealth and attracting artisans through a series of policies designed to consolidate the power, and services the needs, of the samurai class.
The Maeda clan won the favour (and alleviated the suspicion) of the shogunate by channeling a significant portion of its wealth into the arts and crafts, including its famous gold-leafed items.
Today, Kanazawa remains a city of historic districts and modern entertainments. From the centrally-located Kanazawa Station, it is a pleasant city to explore on-foot.
Outside of the city, the region is blessed with many outstanding destinations and attractions including Kaga Onsen, Hakusan National Park, the Noto Peninsula and a little further afield the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, along with Takayama and Kamikochi.
Our ‘How to Get to Kanazawa’ page provides information on how to get there from Nagano, Tokyo, and beyond. While in the region, we recommend the following 25 things to do in and around Kanazawa:
1 / Kenrokuen Garden / all year round
Opened to the public in 1871, Kenrokuen Garden was designed by the Maeda samurai clan and to this day is regularly cited as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.
The name ‘Kenrokuen’ translates as ‘Garden of the Six Sublimities’ and reflects a design underpinned Chinese landscape theory, and the six essential attributes needed to create an ideal garden. The garden is accessible any time of year however at its most beautiful during the cherry blossoms of spring and changing leaves of autumn.
Open daily from 07:00 to 18:00 – March to mid-October – and from 08:00 to 17:00 – mid-October until the end of February. Admission is JPY320.
From Kanazawa Station: 30 min walk
2 / Kanazawa Castle Park / all year round
Exiting the garden via the Katsurazaka Gate, you will see a bridge leading to Kanazawa Castle Park. Home to the ruling Maeda Clan, the castle is a relatively recent reconstruction yet nevertheless, a beautiful and relaxing area to wander through.
The grounds can be entered and enjoyed free of charge but to enter specific structures such as the Gojukken Nagaya Storehouse and Hishi and Tsuzuki Yagura turrets costs JPY320.
Open daily from 07:00 to 18:00 – March to mid-October – and from 08:00 to 17:00 – mid-October until the end of February.
From Kanazawa Station: 20 to 25 min walk
3 / Nagamachi Samurai District / all year round
Located nearby Kanazawa Castle the Nagamachi District was traditionally home to samurai residences. While the samurai may now be gone, preservation of the historic character of the precinct including earthen walls, narrow lanes and traditional entrances convey the character and aesthetic of the past.
The Nomura House – a restored samurai residence with a lovely garden – is open to the public while the Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan profiles the history of the Maeda clan.
From Kanazawa Station: 20 min walk
4 / Higashi Chaya District / all year round
The historic precinct of Higashi Chaya is a well-preserved geisha district where geisha used to entertain their customers with singing and dancing at the ‘chaya’ or teahouses. Two teahouses – Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse – are open to public, allowing you to see the spaces in which geisha once lived and applied their trade.
Many other chaya have been converted into cafes and various shops. One of the more interesting is Hakuza Gold Leaf – selling all sorts of Kanazawa gold leaf items.
From Kanazawa Station: 25 min walk
5 / Omicho Fish Market / all year round
While not exclusively selling seafood, Omicho Fish Market is without doubt most famous for the delicious array of fresh seafood on sale at its 200 shops and stalls. The market is undercover and sells seafood from the fishing grounds in the nearby Sea of Japan.
If you are a fan of seafood and in Kanazwa, you nearly have to go. While the market is open daily, individual shops will take days off with the greatest number of vendors shutting on Sundays, public holidays or Wednesday.
Some restaurants are open at night however daytime hours – between 09:00 to 17:30 – see the greatest number of vendors selling to the public.
From Kanazawa Station: 15 min walk
6 / Myoryuji (Ninja) Temple / all year round
For visitors feeling a little templed-out from their time in Japan, a visit to Myoryuji Temple might be just what you need to reengage. While ninjas were not actually associated with the temple, it is commonly referred to as the ‘Ninja Temple’ due to its use by the Maeda clan to watch for approaching enemies. Hidden tunnels, secret rooms, corridors and staircases reveal that Myoryuji was more than just a temple but in reality, a disguised military outpost. Located the Teramachi District of Kanazawa, the area is home to many important temples but the Ninja Temple can lay claim to being the most interesting.
Entry is limited to Japanese-speaking tours – JPY1000 – operating every 60 minutes from 09:00 to 16:00 (weekdays and winter) or every 30 minutes from 09:00 to 16:30 (weekends and public holidays outside of winter).
From Kanazawa Station: 35 min walk
7 / 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art / all year round
Opened in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is the most popular museum in Kanazawa and one of the best museums for contemporary art in Japan.
Distinctly modern compared to Kanazawa’s historic buildings, the museum exhibits modern works by both Japanese and international artists – including, most famously, Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’.
Located next to Kenrokuen and Kanazawa Castle, a visit to the museum can be incorporated into your exploration of those famous sights. Public areas of the museum are open from 09:00 to 22:00 while paid-entry/exhibition spaces are open from 10:00 to 18:00 (or until 20:00 on Friday and Saturday). Admission varies depending on the exhibition but is usually around JPY1200.
From Kanazawa Station: 30 min walk
8 / DT Suzuki Museum / all year round
Opened n 2011, the DT Suzuki Museum commemorates the life and work of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro. Many international visitors will be familiar with Suzuki – or at least heard his named mentioned before – due to his principal role introducing Japanese Zen philosophy and teaching to the West.
The architecture reflects those teachings through tranquil, uncluttered lines and structures. Located on the backside of Kenrokuen and Kanazawa Castle, the museum is open every day other than Mondays and from Dec.29 to Jan.3 from 09:00 to 17:00. Admission is JPY310.
From Kanazawa Station: 40 min walk
9 / Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art / all year round
Adjoining Kenrokuen Garden, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art exhibits thirty-six traditional crafts of Ishikawa Prefecture including lacquerware, porcelain silk-dyeing.
Open every day from 09:00 to 17:00 (other than the third Thursday of each month from April to November and every Thursday from December to March, along with New Years holidays). Admission is JPY260.
From Kanazawa Station: 40 min walk
10 / Kurando Terashima House / all year round
The former residence of Kurando Terashima – a middle-class samurai belonging to the Maeda clan – the house was constructed in the second half of the 18th century and offers a glimpse into the life and homes of the middle-class during the Edo Period.
Open daily from 09:30 to 17:00 (other than Dec.29 to Jan.3). Admission is JPY310.
From Kanazawa Station: 25 min walk
11 / Kanazawa Station / all year round
Located in the heart of the city, Kanazawa Station is your gateway to everything on offer. The station is relatively new and pleasant to spend time in. While large, it is nowhere near the size of stations in Tokyo and Osaka. It is easy to navigate yourself from one point to the next, and with lots of good shops and restaurants inside the station, it’s an excellent place to spend a few hours if transferring from one train line to another.
Whether you are staying in Kanazawa or just transferring train services on your way to Nagano, Tokyo, Kyoto, etc. the station offers a good array of restaurants, cafes and shopping including good seafood and local produce.
Further information about the station can be found on our ‘Kanazawa Station’ page.
12 / Accommodation in Kanazawa / all year round
There is no shortage of accommodation in the city ranging from luxury hotels, mid-range to budget, and extending to traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouses) and youth hostels. For accommodation listings, please refer to our ‘Kanazawa Hotels’ page.
A large number of hotels can be found in and around the station, with the greatest concentration then stretching to the south-east, in-between the station and the Kenrokuen/Kanazawa Castle and Higashi Chaya Districts.
13 / Cherry Blossoms / spring
Blooming every April, the cherry blossoms of Central Japan transform the atmosphere and character of the region and banish all thoughts of winter. Known as ‘sakura’ in Japan, the blossoms are viewed as symbolic of the fleeting beauty and fragility of life itself and Japanese look forward to ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) each spring.
Given Central Japan’s higher altitude and cooler climate, the blossoms bloom later than in Tokyo with many varieties of wild cherry trees spread throughout the mountains. Our ‘Cherry blossoms in Nagano’ page introduces everything you need to know about the importance of the flowers and where to find them in Nagano.
While in Kanazawa, the blossoms can be bested enjoyed (unsurprisingly) at Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle.
14 / Hakusan National Park / summer to autumn
Lying to the south of Kanazawa, Hakusan National Park covers a total area of 47,700 ha and is home to Mount Haku – one of Japan’s three sacred mountains – and a stunning landscape, rich in flora and fauna. Known for its seasonal beauty and excellent mountaineering and hiking,
The park extends across four prefectures – Ishikawa, Fukui, Gifu and Toyama – and is accessible from Kanazawa in around 60 minutes (by car). Visitors in Kanazawa heading to the World Heritage villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama should consider making the journey by rental car, and in doing so, navigate the ‘Hakusan White Road’ across the national park.
Stretching 33km from Ishikawa Prefecture to Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, the road ascends to 1400 metres above sea level, offering beautiful views of the pristine landscape.
The road is well-maintained and comfortable to drive, with viewing-points, walking trails and the occasional restaurant or drinks stand along the route.
The road takes around 60 minutes to go from one side to the other (without stopping) and is only open 07:00 to 18:00 from June to August and 08:00 to 17:00 from September until November 10th. From that date onward until the end of May the road is closed to public traffic. Tollgates at either end of the road charge JPY1700 one-way or JPY2600 for a round-trip.
15 / Kaga Onsen / all year round
Located to the south-west of Kanazawa, Kaga Onsen consists of four hot spring towns – Yamashiro, Yamanaka, Amazu and Katayamazu. Said to have been discovered 1300 years by monks on pilgrimage to nearby Mount Haku, Kaga Onsen is one of Central Japan’s most popular hot spring areas.
Each town has many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses), most of which have their own in-house hot spring, and a central ‘soyu’ (public bath).
The entire Kaga Onsen area is quite spread out however a convenient shuttle bus service called ‘Canbus’ connects each of the onsen towns, costing JPY1000 for a 1-day pass or JPY1200 for a 2-day pass.
Kaga Onsen can be easily reached from Kanazawa Station using a local train to Kaga Onsen Station – 50 min / JPY770 – or take the Thunderbird from Kanazawa to Komatsu Station and switch onto the Hokuriku Line (local line, not the shinkansen) and head to Kaga Onsen Station. From there, visitors can use the Canbus to reach their desired hot spring town.
16 / Noto Peninsula / all year round
Situated to the north of Kanazawa, the Noto Peninsula is not well-known to international visitors. Extending 100 kilometres into the Sea of Japan, Noto Peninsula is relatively isolated and almost forgotten. A place of tremendous beauty including rugged coasts and lush forests, the area has not developed to the extent of other regions of Japan and as such, offers visitors escape, solitude and pristine beauty.
Coastal roads allow for scenic drives while just inland from the sea, rural villages ago about their daily lives with a strong sense of tradition. Needless to say that any visit to the peninsula basically obliges you to try plenty of seafood which is unsurprisingly pretty amazing.
A lack of public transport in and around the Noto Peninsula also helps to keep visitor numbers down, requiring you to arrange a rental car to really make the trip worthwhile.
Avoid August, when Japanese school children enjoy their summer holidays and areas of the peninsula will be buys with holidaying families. Otherwise, rent that car and get going – we highly recommend it.
17 / Visit the villages of Shirakawa-go & Gokayama / all year round
Easily accessible by bus from Kanazawa Station or train via nearby Toyama Station, the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995. Actually consisting of three villages, they are known for this distinctive ‘gassho-style’ thatch-roofed houses set in a beautiful alpine setting of rice fields and high mountains above.
World Heritage-listing has ensured that the villages are hugely popular with both domestic and international tourists but don’t let that put you off. The villages are well-worth visiting and walking away for the central area of the main village of Ogimachi, will quickly have you unencumbered by other visitors.
If you really want to avoid the crowds, consider heading to the other villages of Suganuma and Ainokura. Much smaller than Ogimachi they are also far less visited and offer a peaceful experience of these important rural hamlets.
18 / Explore historic Takayama / best: spring to autumn
Around one hour from Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, the historic old town of Takayama is another popular destination. Famous for the excellent preservation of its Edo Period (1603-1868) historic centre, Takayama draws large crowds.
Much like Shirakawa-go, be prepared to share the streets with many other visitors. Try to avoid the middle of the day – between 11:00 and 15:00 – when large tour buses arrive and crowd the small historic area with tourists.
Guesthouses and other accommodation options in Takayama can be viewed through the following page.
19 / Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route / spring to autumn
Heralded as one of Japan’s best experiences, traversing the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route takes approximately 6 hours without allowing for time to stop and enjoy all of its stunning sights. In reality, undertaking a visit to the Alpine Route is therefore a full-day activity.
Visitors can start from Toyama via Tateyama Station or Nagano via Ogizawa Station, and choose to finish on the other side or return to their point of origin. A series of mountain transports including trolley buses, cable cars, a ropeway, and coaches transport visitors to and from Murodo Station – which at 2540 meters is the highest station in Japan.
Open from mid-April to mid-November, the Alpine Route is most famous for its immense snow walls which, at their peak, ascend 20 meters above the road below. The walls are at their best from the opening day in April until late-June, after which outstanding hiking is available through summer and autumn, climaxing with stunning autumn colours in October until the route closes again in November.
20 / Experience the ski resorts of Nagano / winter
As host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano is proud of its Olympic heritage. Events were spread across different resorts across the region and at several venues in Nagano City.
Nagano is home to around 80 resorts however only a few were lucky enough to host events including Hakuba Happo One. Several events took place in and around Happo One, establishing Hakuba’s global profile. To this day, the resorts of Hakuba can lay claim to being Nagano’s most international and popular. Plenty to keep you entertained on your winter adventure!
The Nagano Winter Olympics were the first to include snowboarding as a medaled sport, with all snowboarding events taking place in Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort. Boasting Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow conditions – given its higher altitude and prevailing weather conditions – Shiga is another resort quickly coming to the attention of international visitors. Offering over 600 hectares of interconnected terrain, Shiga is likely to become much more poplar over the coming years so get there now while it’s still relatively quiet.
Less than an hours drive from Shiga, Nozawa Onsen is one of Nagano’s most popular resorts – offering skiers and boarders around 300 hectares of train between 565 and 1650 metres.
Also known for its great powder and setup for snowboarders, Nozawa is a lively resort serviced by a large village full of accommodation, restaurants and bars and ‘onsen’ (hot springs), Nozawa’s reputation is as much based on what happens off the mountain.
21 / The Jigokudani Monkey Park / all year round
Accessible via Nagano Station, on the Hokuriku Shinakansen, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Central Japan’s most well-known destinations. At its most popular through the snow of winter, the park is in fact open all year round. The monkeys – known for their hot spring-bathing antics – come to the park all year round with each season offering its own reasons to visit.
Known fondly as ‘snow monkeys’, they are in fact there all year round with spring, summer and autumn each providing their own reasons to visit to the park.
22 / Kamikochi / spring to autumn
Situated in the Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a pristine and beautiful alpine valley open to the public from mid-April until mid-November each year. The valley follows the Azusa River while some of Japan’s tallest mountain peaks rise to over 3000 meters above.
From the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, walking trails span-out along the valley – suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness – before more advanced hiking and mountaineering trails lead into the mountains.
Considered the jewel of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, visiting Kamikochi is one of Nagano’s most memorable experiences – a truly special place of natural and spiritual importance.
23 / Matsumoto Castle / all year round
Standing guard over Matsumoto City for more than 400 years, Matsumoto Castle is a registered National Treasure and for Japanese, an instantly recognizable structure. Visiting the castle is an easy and enjoyable day-trip via Nagano Station or over the mountains, from Takayama or Kamikochi.
While there, enjoy the historic character of the city along with its many good cafes, restaurants, museums and shopping.
24 / Follow the Nakasendo Trail / best: spring to autumn
Lying to the south of Matsumoto, the Nakasendo Trail traces a historic highway that once connected Tokyo – then called Edo – and Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Though much of the route is now gone, several sections can still be walked including the picturesque ‘Kisoji’, the section of road that runs through the Kiso Valley.
Serviced by many ‘juku’ or post towns, the Kisoji is known for the historic preservation of Narai-juku, Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. These picturesque little towns are cared for by local residents who strive to maintain their traditional aesthetic and ways of life.
The journey on-foot between the towns is a lovely experience – particularly in spring and autumn – and one that can be combined on your way to or from Myoko.
25 / Organise a private tour or charter to any of these destinations / all year round
As the suggestions above show, there is a lot to do around Kanazawa and the wider region. Based in Nagano City and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1-rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including group tours, private tours and charters.
We can arrange transport including a private vehicle and driver, along with an English-speaking guide to, from and between any of these destinations and more! Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Kanazawa and Central Japan? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!