25 Things to Do Around Kanazawa & Where to Stay
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. On this page you will find the following information:
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 channelling 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.
Best Places to Stay in Kanazawa
One of Japan’s most historic and rewarding cities, Kanazawa also offers vis…
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. Let’s begin with the obvious question…
WHERE IS KANAZAWA?
Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture, located on north coast at the top of Central Japan. Under three hours from both Tokyo and Osaka by train, Kanazawa Station is a convenient transport hub from where to explore the city and region. The Hokuriku Shinkansen service runs to Kanazawa from Tokyo via Nagano, while the Limited Express Thunderbird service runs to Kanazawa from Osaka via Kyoto allowing travellers to reach the city quickly and in comfort. Once there, visitors discover one of Japan’s most historic and pleasant cities – a place known for its former wealth and contemporary style. An ideal destination for visitors wanting to explore Japan’s feudal past while enjoying some of the country’s best seafood, dining and shopping, Kanazawa is now firmly established as a popular stop for international travellers. For more information on how to reach the city, see ‘How To Get To Kanazawa’ below.
25 BEST THINGS TO DO AROUND KANAZAWA
One of the most historic and enjoyable cities in Japan, Kanazawa is well-suited to a multi-day visit combining the many attractions of the city with nearby regional highlights. From it’s historic attractions and districts to its excellent galleries, museums, shopping and dining, visitors tend to fall in love with Kanazawa and wish they’d allowed more time in their schedule to explore all it has to offer. The following suggestions of things to do around Kanazawa starts in the city before moving to nearby regional destinations and then onto more distant attractions and activities that can be combined into a multi-day exploration of Central Japan. Let’s start with what is perhaps the city’s most famous attraction:
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 Kanazawa, 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 / MYORYU-JI (NINJA) TEMPLE / all year round
For visitors feeling a little ‘templed-out’ from their time in Japan, a visit to Myoryu-ji 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 Myoryu-ji 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 / KENROKUEN CULTURAL ZONE / all year round
Adjoining Kenrokuen Garden, the ‘Kenrokuen Cultural Zone’ refers to four museums within close proximity of each other, the garden and castle, and other nearby destinations including the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and DT Suzuki Museum. The four museums of the Kenrokuen Cultural Zone includes the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art exhibits thirty-six traditional crafts of Ishikawa Prefecture including lacquerware, porcelain silk-dyeing. Open everyday 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.
Another of the four is the National Crafts Museum. Relocated from Tokyo to Kanazawa in October 2020, the museum is the only major institute in Japan to focus solely on traditional crafts, the museum exhibits around 1900 pieces including ceramics, glass works and dyed textiles, along with more modern pursuits such as graphic and industrial design. Open everyday from 09:30 to 17:30 (other than Mondays, over the New Year Period or during installation of new exhibitions). The cost of admission varies depending on the exhibition.
Rounding-out the four museums of the Kenrokuen Cultural Zone, the Ishikawa Red Brick Museum and Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theater combine to create one of Japan’s most engaging arts precincts. 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 AREA / 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.
12 / CHERRY BLOSSOMS / spring: late-March to April
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’ 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.
13 / HAKUSAN NATIONAL PARK / best: June to November
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.
14 / 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.
15 / 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.
16 / SHIRAKAWA-GO & GOKAYAMA / all year round
15 Things to Do in Shirakawa-go & Where To Stay
The villages making-up Shirakawa-go and Gokyama rank among some of the most…
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.
17 / EXPLORE HISTORIC TAKAYAMA / all year round
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.
18 / TOYAMA / all year round
25 Things To Around Toyama & Where To Stay
The port city of Toyama somewhat lives in the shadow of nearby Kanazawa and…
Sitting to the east of Kanazawa, the coastal city of Toyama can be reached using the Hokuriku Shinkansen service bound for Nagano and Tokyo. Located nearby Toyama Bay, the region is known throughout Japan for its fantastic seafood. One of the great pleasures of visiting the city is trying its famous seafood, best experienced at the seafood markets on the coast or at one of the many seafood restaurants dotted throughout the city. Toyama is a modern and youthful city without the crowds of nearby Kanazawa making it an attractive and convenient option for many travellers.
19 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / April to November
From Toyama, it’s an easy onward journey to the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. Heralded as one of Japan’s best experiences, traversing the 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.
1 Day Tour
|[Spring Only] 1-Day Tour from Nagano: Snow Walls of Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route|
|Period||April to June|
|Time||07:50/08:15 – 18:00-19:00|
|Meeting Place||Hotel Kokusai 21 |
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 / HIT-UP THE SKI RESORTS OF NAGANO / winter: December to April
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 medalled 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 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. For more information including our suggestion of the 30 Best Ski Resorts in Japan, see our ‘Japan Ski Resorts’ page.
21 / JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK / all year round
Accessible via Nagano Station, on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, 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.
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake in Nagano|
|Period||All Year Round|
|Time||09:35 – 17:35|
|Meeting Place||Nagano Station |
Hakuba (winter only)
22 / KAMIKOCHI / April to November
15 Things to Do in Kamikochi & Where to Stay
Part of the larger Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a beautiful al…
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
25 Things to Do Around Matsumoto & Where to Stay
Located in the shadow the North Japan Alps, Matsumoto is a small historic c…
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 / WALK THE HISTORIC NAKASENDO TRAIL / best: April to November
25 Things To Do Around The Kiso Valley / Nakasendo & Where To Stay
Most famous for the historic Nakasendo and its beautifully preserved ‘shuku…
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the ‘Nakasendo’ was an important route connecting Tokyo – then called ‘Edo’ – and Kyoto. Along the route, numerous ‘postal towns’ developed to provide services such as accommodation, food, transport and protection to travellers and merchants who were of course taxed. Many of the towns accumulated great wealth as a result and today, several remain beautifully preserved – best enjoyed on-foot as you walk the historic trail. While the Nakasendo lies quite far to the south of Kanazawa, it offers a fantastic next destination for travellers wanting to pass through the mountainous heart of Central Japan rather than go around it, as they make their way to Tokyo or Nagoya.
25 / KISO-ONTAKE MOUNTAIN RANGE & KISO VALLEY / all year round
The Kiso Ontake Mountain Range is one of several dramatic and beautiful alpine areas covering Central Japan. Dominated by the imposing volcanic peak of Mount Ontake – Japan’s second highest volcano behind Fuji – the region is known for its pristine nature, lush landscapes and emerald water of its rivers and gorges. The geography of the mountain range including its rugged and high peaks, dense forests and deep gorge made the region somewhat inaccessible until modern times, and in doing so, allowed a strong and independent culture to develop; and though modern infrastructure has now opened Kiso Ontake to the wider world, it retains much of its historic character and maintains many traditions. Blessed with rare natural beauty the Kiso Ontake Mountain Range includes the stunning Kiso Valley and the most famous section of the Nakasendo, including the beautiful postal towns of Narai, Magome and Tsumago, which can still be walked today. Somewhat undiscovered by international visitors, exploring Kiso Ontake and the Kiso Valley takes you deep into the heart of Central Japan.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING KANAZAWA
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. A large number of hotels can be found in and around the station while the areas around Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park along with the Higashi Chaya and Asano River has some excellent traditional guesthouses and restaurants. Our ‘Best Places to Stay in Kanazawa’ page includes everything you need to know, including accommodation listings, to find the right hotel or guesthouse for you.
HOW TO GET TO KANAZAWA
Kanazawa Station is the gateway to both the city and northern reaches of Central Japan. Readily accessible using services from Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, visitors can move to and from Kanazawa quickly and in comfort. For information on how to get there, see our ‘How to Get to Kanazawa’ page.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Central Japan offers many, many reasons to visit. 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 transport 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 schedule. All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
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 your adventure in Central Japan and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2022 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? Contact us and let’s get planning together!