22 Best Things to Do in Nagoya, An Underrated Food and Sightseeing Destination
If you want to branch out your Japan travels beyond Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, then try Nagoya, the country's fourth-largest city! The capital of Aichi Prefecture has a distinctive food culture and a rich history, thanks to its close ties with the old Tokugawa dynasty that left behind the majestic Nagoya Castle and other amazing architectural legacies, such as the Atsuta Shrine, one of Japan’s most prominent shrines. The city not only preserves its historical beauty, but it is also a science and industrial center, being home to Toyota, the largest car company in the world. Read on to discover the 22 best spots to visit while in Nagoya!
Jun 24 2020
What to See in Nagoya
1. Nagoya Castle: Visit a 400-year-old Samurai Castle
Nagoya Castle has been a symbol of Nagoya for over 400 years. Originally constructed in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who established the Edo period (1603-1868), the structure stands at an impressive 48m in height. After the original building burned down in 1945, it was recreated in 1959 using techniques and materials identical to the first construction. Thus you are able to get an accurate insight into the lives of Japanese feudal lords and samurai while wandering through this masterpiece of architecture. Atop the castle, you can spot the two golden shachi (tiger-headed carp) that are considered to be icons of the city. Even if the main tower keep is closed for renovation, be sure not to miss the recently rebuilt castle palace (Honmaru Goten) and the beautiful gardens.
*The main tower keep is closed until October 2028.
2. Atsuta Shrine: One of Japan's Most Prominent Shrines
Atsuta Shrine, with a history said to span over 1,900 years, is the oldest landmark in Nagoya. Located south of Nagoya Station, the plot of about twenty hectares is covered with thick forests that are home to camphor trees that are estimated to be over 1,000 years old. Atsuta Shrine is considered to be a shrine of significant importance in Japan’s native religion, Shinto, as it is believed to house one of the three sacred treasures of Japan: the sacred sword known as Kusanagi no Tsurugi, or the "Grass-cutting Sword." The sun goddess Amaterasu is arguably the most important Shinto deity, and she too is enshrined here alongside the Kusanagi sword. For those interested in Japanese religion, Atsuta Shrine is a must-visit during your time in Japan.
3. Shirotori Garden: Stroll Through a Tranquil Japanese Garden
Shirotori Garden, only a 10-minute walk of Atsuta Shrine, is the biggest traditional Japanese garden in Nagoya. The 3.7 hectare garden is located inside Shirotori Park and was carefully designed with the help of artisans from other regions like Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. Shirotori Garden offers changes in scenery depending on the seasons, with cherry blossoms in spring and red and gold foliage in autumn. Visitors to Shirotori Garden can enjoy teatime in a traditional tea room as well as other small events during the year, such as a bonsai exhibition in January or Japanese classical concerts.
4. Osu Kannon: The Lively Temple and Shopping District
The history of the Osu Kannon Temple dates back to the year 1333, and the temple enshrines one of Japan's most important Kannon (Buddhist goddess of mercy) statues. It is also known for a flea market held on its grounds on the 18th and 28th of every month, as well as its neighboring shopping district. The bustling alleys that make up the Osu shopping district host around 1,200 stores that will be sure to satisfy your shopping fix while in Nagoya. On top of this, the area hosts a wide variety of restaurants and bars that serve Japanese and international cuisine. The shopping district has an entire area that is often compared to Tokyo's Akihabara district, as there are many stores that specialize in electronics, cosplay, and anime goods.
5. Nagoya City Science Museum: Enjoy the World's Biggest Planetarium
Maybe history isn’t your thing? Worry not, for equally as close to Osu is the Nagoya City Science Museum! The world’s biggest planetarium is housed inside the museum’s globe, while the other seven floors are packed full of interactive exhibitions. It has interactive areas such as a -30°C room where you can experience an aurora, the “Tornado Lab” (a 9-meter tall twister that replicates tornados), and the “Secrets of Life” exhibition where you can learn about the mechanisms of cells and DNA. It’s not unheard of for science fans to use a whole day of their Nagoya trip at this museum alone.
*Presentations are only in Japanese.
6. Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology: Discover the History of the Largest Car Company in the World
This museum is located on the site of the original company in central Nagoya, not far from Nagoya Station, and displays the history of the Toyota group. The exhibitions vary from textile manufacturing to robotics, with interactive activities that are available in English as well. If you are interested in the history of the world's biggest car company, from its origins to its recent development, and want to know more about what is perhaps the region's most iconic company, this place is a must-go!
7. Tokugawaen Garden: Relax in a Feudal Lord's Landscape Garden
This Japanese garden belonged to the Owari-Tokugawa family, one of the branches of the Tokugawa clan, the ruling clan in the Edo Period. Their former residence was located here, and the original garden encompassed 44 hectares. The current garden is laid out in the typical "daimyo" garden style (a feudal lord's landscape garden with a central pond) and offers various landscapes as well as seasonal highlights and flowers such as peonies and irises.
8. Tokugawa Art Museum: Learn More About the Samurai
This museum is adjacent to the Tokugawaen Garden and was built on the grounds of the Owari family's former feudal residence. The collection was donated by the descendants of the Owari-Tokugawa family, who amassed great wealth during the Edo Period. The museum boasts more than ten thousand pieces, preserving several of the family's treasures including samurai armor and swords, tea utensils, poems, scrolls, and maps. The comprehensive display helps you imagine the Owari-Tokugawa family's way of life.
9. SCMAGLEV and Railway Park: The Go-To Place for Train Lovers
This museum is run by JR Central and displays about forty retired trains, including a maglev (levitating bullet train), bullet trains, and steam locomotives. The museum aims for a better understanding of the trains' histories and mechanics. Popular attractions are the train simulators, the train crew simulator, and one of the largest train dioramas in Japan. This educational exhibition can be enjoyed by all ages, and it's the perfect destination if you are traveling with kids!
If you're traveling with children, also check out this article for 15 Things To Do in Nagoya with Kids! Sightseeing Spots for the Whole Family to Enjoy.
10. Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens: Spend a Day in the Open Air With 7,000 Different Kinds of Plants
The Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens cover sixty hectares and is a pleasant place for a day out. The zoo, which exhibits approximately 500 species, is one of the largest zoos in Japan. The botanical garden features around 7,000 different kinds of plants, with a large Western-style greenhouse and rose garden. Much of the garden is dedicated to Japanese aesthetics, such as the traditional garden with a pond and irises, a reconstructed gassho-style house (a traditional house with a steeply-sloped thatched roof) from Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, and the gate of a former samurai house.
11. Arimatsu: The Traditional Town Known for High-Quality Kimono
Arimatsu was a town built on the Tokaido Highway, one of Japan's main roads during the Edo Period. Arimatsu's highlights are its picturesque townscape with old wooden houses from the Edo Period lining the street and the famous Arimatsu shibori. "Arimatsu shibori" is a kind of traditional tie-dyeing method for kimono and fabrics. You can visit the Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori Museum or the shops along the main street to see or buy beautiful handmade shibori works and learn more about the town's highly-prized dyeing technique.
12. JR Central Towers: Get Your High-End Shopping Fix
The JR Central Towers above Nagoya Station was the tallest landmark in Nagoya until its neighboring Midland Square surpassed it in 2007. The building consists of the 245m tall Office Tower and the slightly shorter and slimmer Hotel Tower. The complex is the perfect place for some high-end shopping since it houses a Takashimaya department store and the Tower Plaza shopping mall on the lower floors. The top floors of both towers have restaurants and lounges with views run by Takashimaya and Marriott Hotel respectively.
13. Midland Square Sky Promenade: Take a Walk in the Sky
Midland Square is the tallest building in Nagoya, located just opposite of Nagoya Station. The first floor and basement of the building house many shops, a cinema, restaurants, and cafes. The 247m tall building also offers an open-air observation deck on the top floors called Sky Promenade, with an almost 360-degree panoramic view over Nagoya. Several restaurants are located on the 41st and 42nd floors, with tables that overlook impressive views of the city.
14. Oasis 21: Get on Board a Spaceship
Commonly referred to as “Spaceship Aqua,” Oasis 21 is only a short train ride away from Nagoya Station. This hyper-modern complex has an abundance of shops on the basement level, including Studio Ghibli and Shonen Jump stores. The main attraction, however, waits for you atop the fittingly named “Galaxy Platform”. During the day, this unassuming glass walkway may only briefly catch your eye, but come nighttime, this roof transforms as it is illuminated. On the top, you can stroll around an artificially suspended lake while you soak up the views of downtown Nagoya.
15. Nagoya TV Tower: Japan's Oldest Observation Tower
Only a short walk from Oasis 21 stands the oldest observation tower in Japan – Nagoya TV Tower. Its construction finished in 1954 (four years earlier than Tokyo Tower), and it has remained an icon of the city since, even being featured in two Godzilla movies! The tower has two main observation decks at the heights of 90 meters (the indoor Sky Deck) and 100 meters (the outdoor Sky Balcony), with a 360° open-air viewing area.
*Closed for renovations until summer 2020.
What to See Near Nagoya City
16. Inuyama Castle: One of Japan’s Oldest Surviving Castles
Inuyama Castle is located in the serene castle town of Inuyama, a town neighboring Nagoya. The castle here is the oldest of its type in Japan that has been preserved, with the wooden structure standing since 1537. Scaling several steep flights of steps will reward you with an unmatched view of the rivers and mountains of Northern Aichi. The castle is particularly beautiful during the spring, when you can enjoy cherry blossoms while walking through the castle grounds. The main street leading towards the castle also offers a choice of local foods such as baked sweet potatoes and mochi (Japanese rice cake), as well as a picturesque view of old wooden houses.
If you have a bit of time and don't mind going on a bit of a trip from Nagoya City, then you should check out these 13 things to do in Aichi Prefecture.
17. Meiji Mura Museum: Experience the Japanese Lifestyle of the 1800s
Meiji Mura Museum is one of the most visited open-air museums in Japan. Located in Inuyama, it has over sixty buildings from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) on display. The Meiji Period followed the end of the feudal age when Japan opened its borders to Western countries, and therefore the architecture has a strong Western influence. Since only a few buildings constructed during the Meiji Period still survive in Japan today, a collection of representative buildings from across the country have been relocated to the Meiji Mura Museum in order to preserve the period's architectural and cultural heritage.
If you want to learn more about the Meiji Mura Museum, check out this article: Meiji Mura Museum in Aichi: Get a Glimpse of the Modernization During the Meiji Era!
18. Urakuen Garden: A Highly-Prized Center for Tea Ceremony
Urakuen is a Japanese traditional garden in Inuyama, just to the east of Inuyama Castle. The highlight of the garden is Jo-an, a teahouse considered one of Japan's national treasures. This teahouse was originally built in Kyoto in 1618 by Oda Uraku, a disciple of Sen-no-Rikyu (the founder of modern Japanese tea ceremony) and the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga (the most influential feudal lord of the Warring States Period). You can enjoy strolling in the beautiful garden, or relax while tasting matcha and sweets at the Koan Teahouse.
*Closed for renovations until autumn 2021.
19. Tokoname Pottery Footpath: The Hometown of the Maneki Neko
Tokoname has been a center of pottery production since the Heian Period (794-1185) and remains Japan's foremost producer of "maneki neko" (beckoning cat figures). The town is also home to a giant maneki neko that is 3.8m tall and a maneki neko street. One of the highlights of Tokoname is the pottery footpath, offering evocative scenery of pottery workshops and the brick chimneys of kilns. Parts of the path's walls are built with clay pipes from the Meiji Period and clay shochu (distilled Japanese alcohol) pots from the early Showa Period (1926-1945). You will find a large number of facilities, small ceramic shops, and even ceramic classrooms in Tokoname where you can experience pottery making.
20. Toyota Automobile Museum: The Museum for Car Enthusiasts
If you are a fan of automobiles, you should certainly pay a visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagakute, about 50 minutes from Nagoya Station. This museum's theme is the history of the automobile starting from its inception, and the displays are carefully divided into sections dedicated to historic automobiles, luxury cars, and mass production models. A total of around 160 vehicles and 4,000 pieces of automobile-related cultural items from around the world and from various manufacturers and time periods are showcased together in this museum.
Eat Nagoya’s Delicious Food
21. Nagoya's Classic Breakfast: Eat a Full Breakfast Set for the Price of a Cup of Coffee
Have you ever heard of "Nagoya Morning?" It's a breakfast set typical for Nagoya, and you can find it in most of Nagoya's cafes. Each place makes its own version, but traditionally it consists of a cup of coffee and toast which is usually filled or topped with anko (adzuki bean paste). Many places offer the whole set for just the price of a drink, and some others even have all-you-can-eat options! Get to know Nagoya's incredible food culture starting with its unique breakfast; it will set you up for a perfect day. For the best of Nagoya's classic breakfast, check out these 10 Delicious Morning Sets to Start the Day Off Right or have a look at these 11 Cafes Where You Can Enjoy Traditional Japanese Sweets in Nagoya.
22. Nagoya Meshi: Try All the Delicious Japanese Food That Originated in Nagoya
Tebasaki literally translates to "wingtips," and it refers to Japanese fried chicken wings seasoned with a sweet and savory sauce made of garlic, soy sauce, ginger, and black pepper. The chicken wings are fried twice for an extra-crispy texture, and are the perfect side dish to beer. There are countless restaurants, including izakaya (Japanese pubs), that offer tebasaki in Nagoya. One of the best is the well-established Yamachan, which is beloved by the locals.
Hitsumabushi is the Nagoya version of the more common "unadon" (rice bowl dish with eel) or "unaju" (eel on rice in a lacquer box). But how does hitsumabushi differ from these other eel dishes? It is served in a particular wooden container called "ohitsu," and the eel fillets are finely cut in small strips and then placed over sauce-coated rice for a luxurious finish. Even the methods for consuming the dish are unique. You eat the first part as is, the second one covered in a wasabi and onion glaze, and pour green tea over the last part to finish it like a soup. Check out these 5 Best Places to Try the Famous Nagoya Dish Hitsumabushi.
Temusu is one of Nagoya's specialties that onigiri (rice ball) fans can't miss. This local delicacy is a type of onigiri filled with shrimp tempura and then wrapped in seaweed. The tempura usually peek out of the rice ball, and they are often served with butterbur stalks cooked in soy sauce. Because of its popularity, you can find many places that sell tenmusu in Nagoya (even as a take-away food), but if you want to be sure to taste the best tenmusu, note down these 5 Great Places to Try Tenmusu.
Kishimen are a type of udon noodles. The kishimen ingredients are water, flour, and salt (the same as regular udon), but they are flatter and thinner, thus requiring less time for boiling. Just like regular udon, kishimen can be enjoyed in hot soup with a variety of toppings or cold and served with a dipping sauce. But there are actually countless variations to this dish, such as curry kishimen or kishimen cooked with miso. If you want to try some great kishimen, head to these 5 Recommended Places for Kishimen, Nagoya’s Comfort Food.
Fried foods topped with savory miso sauce is a Nagoya specialty. In Nagoya, they use a special type of miso called "Hatcho miso", which is a red type of miso produced in Aichi Prefecture. This unique miso is solely made from soybeans that are fermented for up to 2 to 3 years, and it has been produced in the same way since the Edo Period.
One of the most delicious foods among Nagoya's miso-topped dishes is "miso katsu". Miso katsu is tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) with a sauce made by adding dried bonito stock and sugar to miso. A high-quality, but inexpensive place where you can try miso katsu is Yabaton, which has been running strong since 1947, and uses freshly prepared miso for its dishes.
Nagoya, a City Not to Be Missed!
With a rich culture and equally rich food, as well as being located right between Osaka and Tokyo, Nagoya deserves a spot on the list of must-see places in Japan. From the bustle of downtown Sakae to the tranquil hills of Inuyama outside of the city, there is something for everyone in and around this historic jewel of central Japan.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.