By Jessica Wright
Located in Hakata Bay and formed from a castle town, Fukuoka is the perfect mix of contemporary Japanese living and fascinating cultural heritage. A trip to the bayside city will inevitably mean days spent basking in the sun on endless strips of sandy beaches and nights bathed in the neon glow of the city streets, slurping down bowl after bowl of ramen. Modern-day Fukuoka is a compelling travel destination, with traditional float races, nearly 3000 shrines and delectable food choices. To ensure that you never find yourself wondering what to do in Fukuoka and to point you in the direction of some of our favourite finds, I’ve created this great guide for the top 10 things to do in Fukuoka. If you’re short on time, check out this compact, action-packed 24 hour itinerary. Whatever your travel situation, this guide to the top 10 things to do in Fukuoka, will help you experience the very kokoro (heart and soul) of Fukuoka.
Slurp down some Ramen
There is almost no chance you’ll find yourself wondering what to eat in Fukuoka because good food is everywhere! If, on the other hand, you want to know what is Fukuoka famous for, I’ll give you the unofficial answer; ramen. Yes, sushi is going to have to take a backseat on this one to make way for exquisite, spine-tingling, soul-warming ramen. You might think you’ve tasted it before in western countries, but only once you step foot in Japan and experience the diversity of this dish can you understand the deeply delicious nature it. Ramen is everywhere in Fukuoka, and tonkotsu ramen – specific to the region – is not hard to find, you just need to know where to find the best of it! If you’re on your own and hunting for that dream ramen dish, go to the Nagahama ramen stalls – known as yatai in Japanese – where you will be one step closer to ramen nirvana.
Also known as also known as Maizuru Castle or Seki Castle, this ancient crumbling fortress is famous among Fukuoka attractions and has been officially decreed an historic site by the government of Japan. Nestled in beautiful scenery, with beautiful stonework that gave the castle its name and close to 50 turrets jutting into the sky, this antique monolith is also home to the remains of some ancient house guests! Entry is free and the castle is almost always open to provide some exercise and ancient cultural appreciation to passing travellers. Bonus; it shares a location with the Fukuoka Art Museum, making for a perfect day out.
This attraction is the highest seaside tower in Japan and the third highest in the whole of Japan, and at a whopping 234 meters high you can’t miss it! It might seem a bit tad touristy, but this tower is an absolute must purely for the spectacular view from the top. Go on a clear day and experience a breathtaking panoramic view of Fukuoka, taking in the sea and seaside resorts, residential areas, surrounding expressways, and even a few distant islands from the observation deck or over some nibbles at the restaurant. Be sure to share your tourist identity for a discount on your entry fee!
If you feel up for a spot of surfing, you’re in luck! Fukuoka is dotted with long sandy beaches bordering the Genkai Sea, and some decent waves that can become world-class around monsoon season. Look out for beaches with good facilities for a family-friendly day of sunshine. Keya, Niginohama (particularly for surfing), and Nogita all have toilet and shower facilities and are listed among the top beaches in Japan. Itoshima in the Kyushu area is the ideal destination for a day out; when in Itoshima, head to Futamigaura beach where you’ll have a view of torii gate and wedded rocks, have the chance to catch excellent waves and be spoilt with the widest choice of cafes in Itoshima, including Sunset Cafe which has reached legendary status. You could also stop by Shiraito no Taki Falls, so profoundly peaceful they were considered sacred by the Fuji cult.
Shopping in Fukuoka
Fukuoka boasts several monolithic malls, all of which are host to an endless range of shopping opportunities. Canal City Hakata is walking distance from Hakata rail station and has a bus that goes there directly. The shopping is great, but the fountain show is even better! With sound effects, a light show, and 3D images to dazzle the audience, there is one every 15 minutes so you can’t miss it. If that’s not enough to tempt you, Canal City Hakata has its very own ramen stadium and boasts one of the larger kazariyama floats from the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. Perfect to visit during the week when the crowds are away or on a rainy, cold day rather spent indoors. Another great choice for your Fukuoka shopping extravaganza is the Tenjin Underground Shopping Centre; easy to reach since it is linked to both the Tenjin subway, rail and bus stations.
Don’t miss the Sumiyoshi-jinja and Dazaifu Tenman-gū shrines! Sumiyoshi is close to the Naka River, and adorned by a spectacularly grand entrance is place for a peaceful and contemplative wander. It is still a site of active religious practice, so be sure to keep it quiet and respectful. Dazaifu, falling on the outskirts of the city, served as the administrative centre of the island of Kyushu for over 500 years. It is famous for the Dazaifu Tenman-gū shrine, which only opened to public as late as 2005. Other excellent shrines to explore are Hakozaki Shrine–which was set on fire by the Mongolians during an invasion of Fukuoka in 1274 and rebuilt thereafter, and Atago Shrine, which is among the less-visited shrines and sitting on a hillside offers an authentic visit. Shofukuji Temple was the very first Zen temple constructed in Japan, founded as far back as 1195 by Buddhists, and religion that dates back to the 500s in Japan.
Fukuoka is foodie heaven, with delicious choices like grilled chicken skewers (yakitori), hot pot (oden), and most famous Hakata Ramen. Open-air food stands, known as yatai, are great for intimate dinners with a group of friends, as they seat only up to eight people. They are also a great opportunity to people-watch over a hearty bowl of Hakata ramen, or to engage the locals, perhaps for some more ideas on what to do in Fukuoka. Nakasu Island has several of these yatai along the water, serving up the spoils of the Genkai Sea straight from the sea to the plate.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hakata_gi
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Hakata Gion Yamakasa is a 700-year-old celebration that boasts flamboyant float races and musical performances for two weeks annually over July 15th. The climax of the festivities involves an extravagant time trial race, where Fukuoka neighborhoods from the Hakata district compete, pushing their beautiful and elaborately decorated festival floats, decked out in full costume for the occasion. Many of the ancient floats, now far too large to fit down the modern city streets, are dotted around Fukuoka to display the festivities of bygone times. One of these sits in the Canal City shopping mall.
If you’re looking for a peaceful walk in the park, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the lush green of Fukuoka prefecture. Ohori park provides a scenic jogging track used for walking dogs and taking a leisurely stroll by the water. It is also home to a traditional Japanese Zen garden, and is connected to the mainland by elegant and decorative stone bridges. Every now and then you might even catch an opulent fireworks display! Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is made up of several different areas including a mini-zoo, extensive flower gardens and an amusements park, among other fun and thrilling facilities. It is a haven for families with children with many playgrounds and large open spaces to choose from, and perfect for a picnic with a large group of friends. If you’re in the mood for a floral feast-for-the-eyes, you will be wowed by the millions of flowers planted around park. Blossom season starts mid-March and lasts to early autumn. If you happen to be in the area in late March to early April you will be privileged to the spectacular sight of 2000 blossoming cherry trees in bloom. Rent a bicycle to get the full run of the enormous park!
Day trips from Fukuoka
If time is on your side, you might take one of many splendid day trips out of Fukuoka. There are a number of bicycle trips you could take to get in some exercise while sightseeing across the city, as well as a plethora of pretty islands which are located just off shore. One such island is Nokonoshima – an idyllic place conveniently accessible by ferry. The ferry only takes around 10 minutes, a relaxing affair with stunning views across the water.
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