Although Nagoya might not be the most visited Japanese city, it really does have so much to offer any tourist who wants to give it a go. There are the most beautiful gardens and historic monuments, some truly unbeatable shopping, and not to mention the incredible food we have here. Nagoya food is the stuff of legend in Japan - flat udon and spicy chicken wings are just a couple of tasty things that should be top of your list of things to try. I’m going to be making my list of the top ten things to do in Nagoya that you have to include in your travel itinerary. You’ll find the classic Nagoya attractions such as Nagoya Castle or the Atsuta Shrine, but hopefully, there’s a couple more that you might not have thought about in here too! If you’re not even planning on going to Nagoya (firstly, why not?), then maybe this list can change your mind!
There's a really big, famous Shinto-Shrine, Atuta Shrine here. If I'm honest, I had no idea about when I first moved here. Atsuta Jingu, familiarly known as Atsuta-Sama, is actually one of the oldest Japanese shrines, traditionally believed to have been established AC 71-130. As soon as I walk through the gates, I just feel like I'm so much more relaxed but at the same time I feel very energized – it's so incredible. What I love most about it is that it still has a lot of wildlife and nature, even though it's right in the middle of a crazy Japanese city. There's a tree here that's over a thousand years old, so make sure you see that! You can also get some of the famous flat udon noodles, one of my favorite foods in Nagoya food from one of the little stalls. For someone that wants to experience the power of the Japanese Shinto shrine, this is one of the best things to do in Nagoya for you.
Photo credit: Tomio344456, Wikipedia
I’m an outdoorsy kind of girl, so most of the things to do in Nagoya on this list are going to be somewhere outside. Out of all the spaces I love to come for a break in the city, Shirotori Garden is probably my favorite – even my husband said it’s one of the most beautiful he’s ever been to. It’s a very traditional Japanese garden, complete with a beautiful lake area, mystical looking trees and the cutest Japanese bridges you could imagine. You can have a go at making some origami, or just sit back and listen to the sounds of the traditional Japanese instruments playing. What’s even better is that it costs just three dollars to get in, and in my opinion, there’s nothing more satisfying than going to cheap places that are breath-taking. You can find it just across the river from Atsuta Shrine, so it works well in any one-day itinerary.
Ossu Kannon Temple and shopping street
If you want to compare the ancient side of Japan with the modern side, then there’s nowhere quite like the central Ossu district. You’ll find the Ossu Kannon, which is a classic example of a classic Japanese temple. Just outside the gates though, you’ll find Nagoya's Shotengai – meaning a traditional Japanese shopping street, if you’re Japanese is a little rusty! It’s got lots of diverse food options for you here, including a maid café where the waitresses dress in cosplay to serve you food and drinks. If you’re looking for some things to do in Nagoya at night, then this should definitely be on your list of places to go. Treat yourself to a new handmade handbag or try out a traditional Japanese Kanzashi hairpiece from one of the little artisan shops. If you’re traveling to Nagoya with kids, you can even try on kimonos and rent them for a full day, which has to be every little girl's dream!
Nagoya Castle is one of the most popular Nagoya attractions for tourists who want to experience Japan’s fascinating ancient history. It’s pretty much a must-see destination, and it’s pretty much the poster image for the entire city. The castle itself is actually one of the most important in the whole of Japan, although it was nearly entirely destroyed during World War Two bombings – what a shame that would’ve been! These days you can walk through the castle grounds and explore the beautiful gardens which are usually exploding in color, especially in springtime when the Sakura trees are blossoming. Sit here with a cup of Japanese green tea and feel yourself begin to fall into the quiet Japanese way of life. It also costs just five dollars to get in here, so it’s really good if you’re trying to save as many yen as possible.
Finding what to do in Nagoya with kids isn’t hard – just head to the port area and you’ll find so much to do! You’ve got the Nagoya Aquarium that has a pretty amazing dolphin show that takes place every day. Walk through the park’s underwater tunnels and you will see beautiful tropical fish, manta rays, and sharks swimming right above you. This might not be for everyone, but for kids and animal lovers, it’s a real must-see. Right next door to the aquarium is a really fascinating museum that’s actually inside this huge orange ship that went on an Antarctic voyage many years ago. The ship is called the Fuji, and you can step on board to learn all about its incredible journey. You can also see the crew’s living quarters, which can be quite interesting too if you’re into your maritime history.
Asahi Beer brewing company
Here in Nagoya, you can visit breweries from two of the most famous beer companies that we have in Japan; Kirin Ichiban and Asahi. The buildings themselves are nothing special, although you can now get a tour of the insides which can be one of the most interesting things to do in Nagoya if you love your beer. Your guide will take you on a journey through the entire process, from sourcing ingredients to the production, and then finally the distribution. For a lot of people, it’s the tasting session at the end is the most enjoyable part. Now, I’m not a huge drinker at all, but sipping on Japanese beer that’s this fresh even sounds good to me. You really need to book in advance to get the best deals though, so have a look at their website and you should be able to get all of the information there.
Did you know that Higashiyama Zoo is actually really famous? It has a very long history and is the second most popular zoo in the entire country after Tokyo. It’s easy to see why it’s so well visited – the place is absolutely beautiful. Not only do they have animals that I’ve just never seen before, but it also connects onto a botanical garden which is incredible in its own right. On a warm spring day when the flowers are blooming and the trees are blossoming, spending some time looking around here really is one of the best things to do Nagoya. When you’ve chilled out enough, there’s the amusement park and the Higashiyama Sky Tower which gives you some pretty incredible views out over the city. You could really spend a full day looking around all of the Nagoya attractions that are down in this area.
Dessert at Suzume Odori
One of Nagoya’s quirks, which I think are really unusual for a tourist to see, is the little hole-in-the-wall dessert places that they have in the city. My favorite one is called Suzume Odori, which roughly translates to Dancing Sparrow. You will find it down in the traditional entertainment district Sakae - one of the must-visit neighborhoods in Nagoya. These guys have over one-hundred and fifty years of experience when it comes to dessert, so you can trust that it’s probably going to blow your mind. I can honestly say that this is one of the best hidden Nagoya attractions. It’s also where I’ve had the best kakigori (shaved ice) in my entire life. This is simply a must-try Nagoya food for anyone who’s in love with delicious Japanese desserts like I am.
The best things to do in Nagoya for me usually involve some kind of historical site where you can experience Japan’s unique past. There’s really nowhere better than Inuyama Castle; a building that still has the original structure which dates back to 1537. The building and grounds are really pretty, even by Japanese standards. The interior has remained pretty much the same throughout time, so you’ll be getting a super authentic experience. This was actually the first place that I came to when I first moved to Japan about a year ago, so it has a special place in my heart. It’s about thirty minutes outside of the city center, but you can just catch a train to the Inuyama Station and then walk from there. One thing I will say though is that you should definitely come in the early morning because the line can end up being pretty long.
When locals describe Nagoya, they often use the sentence ‘it’s just right’. This refers to the perfect location of the city – right in between Tokyo and Osaka with lots of beautiful natural areas just a short journey away. Gifu is actually the next prefecture over, but you can get there in about thirty minutes by train so it’s great if you’re looking for some day trips from Nagoya. There’s lots of opportunities for hiking up here and it’s probably going to be for you if you want to indulge in the outdoorsy Japanese culture. You can choose to hike an easier trail that’s close to the city, or if you're a bit more adventurous you could head to the mountains for an expedition to the top Mount Yake. If hiking isn’t your thing, then you should go just to see the little traditional villages; they’re just the cutest places ever!
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