Kanazawa, also known as “little Kyoto” is packed with unmissable things to do, from must-visit sights like Myoryuji Temple to the lush green Kenroku-en Garden. Whether you’re traveling alone or with the whole family, this relatively small city offers something for everyone. Most of Kanazawa’s must-see sights are located around the lush green Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenroku-en Garden. Here are our top 10 unmissable things to do in Kanazawa to help you kickstart your first visit.
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Explore the secrets of Myoryuji Temple
The Myoryuji Temple or Ninja Temple was built by the Maeda lords, rulers over the region during the Edo Period. While the temple didn’t house any ninjas, it earned its nickname because of its many deceptive defenses. When the shogun imposed strict building restrictions as a way of weakening his regional lords, Myoryuji was designed to work around the restrictions and serve as a secret military outpost. It was built with considerable defenses and escape routes so that its defenders could alert the castle in the event of an attack. It is a great place to explore with the whole family if you’re looking for things to do in Kanazawa altogether.
Stroll through Kenroku-en Garden
Forming the green heart of Kanazawa, this lush garden offers almost 12 hectares of green, tranquil space to explore. The garden is one of the top three gardens in the country according to locals and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful walk or to relax after a busy morning of exploring. The name means “six attributes garden,” which is a reference to a Chinese book that describes the six attributes of the perfect garden. One of the best things to do in this beautiful park is to just wander around, take in the picture-perfect vistas and explore the quaint traditional teahouses hidden throughout Kenroku-en Garden.
English address: 1 Kenroku-machi
Shop like a local in Omicho Market
No visit to Kanazawa is complete without a visit to Omicho Market. A local’s favorite, this market is usually less crowded and more enjoyable than Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji and more spacious than Kyoto’s Nishiki market. Even though it is a lesser-known market it’s still packed with stall after stall selling locally caught seafood and a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables There are plenty of restaurants in the market where you can sample some of the stuff you see on sale so it’s a great place to stop for a bite to eat before exploring more of the unmissable things to do in Kanazawa.
English address: Aokusa-machi, Shimotsutsumi-cho
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Discover the D.T. Suzuki Museum
Dedicated to D.T. Suzuki who was the Japanese writer responsible for introducing Zen Buddhism to the West. The D.T. The structure of the museum, as well as the many exhibits within it, conveys the message of D.T. Suzuki and the religion he sought to explain to the world. This is the perfect place to find your Zen as you walk around and contemplate the exhibits and empty your mind of distraction. Another highlight here is the water “garden” outside, it is always a favorite stop for visitors and you won’t want to miss out on this example of a fine traditional Japanese garden.
English address: 3-4-20 Honda-machi
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Enjoy the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
This circular and light-filled museum focuses on art produced since 1980. You can expect to see mixed-media pieces, videos, and installations that are playful, energetic, and thought-provoking. It holds a variety of display spaces and function rooms and is spacious enough to absorb the huge crowds that usually fill the place without it feeling over-crowded. The best time to visit this popular space is in the morning straight at around 10 am just as it opens, and keep in mind that the museum is closed on Mondays.
English address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka
Take in the views from Kanazawa Castle Park
Searching for another green space like Kenroku-en Garden? This park is well worth a visit and definitely an unmissable thing to do in Kanazawa. Although nothing remains of the original castle today, there are a few more modern buildings standing throughout this hilltop park. The views alone make Kanazawa Castle Park a must-visit place. Take a walk through the gates and climb up some of the reconstructed walls to enjoy the views, if it’s a very clear day you’ll be able to see as far as Mt. Hakusan.
English address: 1-1 Marunouchi
Walk through the Higashi Chaya Area
Just a short walk east of Omicho Market or Kanazawa Castle Park, the Higashi Chaya Area is a lovely neighborhood made up of beautifully preserved geisha houses. Many of these houses have now been converted into restaurants or teahouses that are worth a visit if you have time. This area can get very crowded with tourists so the best way to experience it and escape the masses is to stay clear from the main street area. If you’re really looking to explore off the beaten path during your visit then cross back over the Asano-gawa River. On the north bank, facing the river, you’ll find the smaller and less crowded Kazuemachi Chaya Area, which is just as beautiful.
English address: 1 Higashiyama
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Discover the beauty of Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art
Often left out of most guidebooks or overlooked by visitors who rather rush to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. The Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art is well worth a visit. The collection is small but offers an excellent display of the main fields of Japanese art such as ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting, and calligraphy on silk and paper. If you’re feeling hungry after exploring all the beautiful works of art on display then head downstairs. You’ll find a brilliant café here where you can refuel with a cup of Kaga Gosai Tea and a Red Bean Kintsuba.
English address: 2-1 Dewa-machi
Explore the Nagamachi Samurai House Area
Once you’ve explored the beautifully preserved geisha houses of the Higashi Chaya Area, how about visiting real samurai houses? You’ll find the Nagamachi Samurai House Area on the west side of the city, next to the Korinbo District. This is a neighborhood full of perfectly preserved samurai houses located along two canals that run through the area. Several of the houses have been restored and you can step inside the entranceway of a few of them to get a glimpse of how a samurai lived. The best way to explore the area is to head north along the canal just behind the Kohrinbo 109 Building, then turning left at the first traffic light. From there head south again along the next canal. There are several restaurants and cafes scattered about for a quick bite or something to drink.
English address: Naga-machi
Uncover history at Kanazawa Phonograph Museum
If you’re a musician or a DJ or simply love antique stereo equipment, this museum is a must-visit. The Kanazawa Phonograph museum is full of a great collection of old phonographs across three floors. There are also antique radio consoles from back in the day which is great for the kids to see, they’ll be surprised how far technology has come. There is a demonstration that takes place three times a day by a gentleman who demonstrates how several of the phonographs work. It is a great place to visit with the whole family if you’re looking for things to do in Kanazawa with kids.
English address: 2-11-21 Owari-cho
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