The Best Sightseeing Spots in Nagasaki: World Heritage Sites, Gourmet Dining, and More!
Have you visited Nagasaki in Kyushu? This is a famous Japanese sightseeing spot that features beautiful World Heritage sites, natural scenery framed by the mountains and ocean, and delicious gourmet foods. Nagasaki's port has been open to foreign trade even during periods when international exchange was banned for the rest of Japan. This has lead to the development of a townscape and food culture that is heavily influenced by China and the West. In other words, Nagasaki has many sightseeing spots and examples of local cuisine that, while Japanese, incorporates influences from different cultures. This article will introduce some of Nagasaki's many charms, including World Heritage listed cultural sites, cruises from Nagasaki's harbor to Gunkanjima Island, highly-rated history museums, and unique local foods like Nagasaki champon and castella cake. We'll cover spots within Nagasaki City that are easily accessed by public transport so you can see the sights without the difficulties of renting a car. We hope you can use this article as a guide for your trip to Nagasaki!
Dec 26 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
Dejima Island: The Symbol of Nagasaki's International Exchange
During Japan's Sakoku, or "national isolation" period (1641 - 1859), the country was closed to foreign entry. The one area in Japan open to the outside world was Dejima Island. This fan-shaped, man-made island is around 1.5 hectares in size, and functioned as a site of trade between primarily the Netherlands and Japan. At the time, residences and warehouses designed with a unique blend of Japanese architecture and Western elements were also built on the island.
While Dejima Island's function changed with the times, restoration efforts began in the 1950s after the island was designated as a national historic site in recognition of its value as an important cultural landmark. Visitors can enter the restored buildings, and actors dressed in period garments come and go throughout the premises, just like a kind of historical theme park. While Dejima Island today is surrounded by Nagasaki City's modern architecture, entering the grounds is a chance to enjoy a sense of stepping back in time.
Gunkanjima Island: Impressive Island Ruins Tell of a Vibrant History
Gunkanjima Island developed in the 1890s when this man-made island was created to facilitate the construction of a seabed coal mine. In Japanese, "gunkan" means "battleship", and "jima" means island. The island was given this nickname because the shape of the island resembled a battleship, but its official name is actually Hashima Island.
Only around 1.2 km in circumference, this island covers around 6.3 hectares, or approximately the size of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. The island had apartments for its residents, which at the coal mine's peak in 1960 was around 5,267, making the island's population density at the time around nine times higher than that of Tokyo's. Life on the island was supported by facilities such as a school, hospital, gymnasium, movie theater, temple, pachinko parlor, and bars, all of which were abandoned after the mine closed in 1974. Today, these abandoned buildings create an otherworldly sight that attracts many tourists. In 2015, the site was designated a World Heritage Site as part of the Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding, and Coal Mining category.
How to See Gunkanjima Island
A number of Gunkanjima Island sightseeing cruises depart from Nagasaki Harbor. In this article, we'll introduce a tour run by one of these companies, Gunkanjima Island Concierge. This cruise departs from Tokiwa Terminal, which is close to the Ourakaigan-dori stop on Route 5 of the Nagasaki Electric Tramway. Based around thoughtful commentary by former Gunkanjima Island residents, this approximately 2 hour and 45 minute round trip cruise includes a stop on the island. This tour is a chance to hear the important recollections of people who lived on the island, from the history of the island to the lifestyles of its inhabitants. The tour includes audio guides in English, Korean, and other languages, so international visitors who don't speak Japanese can also take part.
Landing on the island is a chance to see the goosebump-raising sight of the impressive Gunkanjima Island ruins first hand. Incidentally, Gunkanjima Island has also been used as the location for a number of films, so visitors can see its scenery featured in movies such as Skyfall (2012) and Attack on Titan (2005).
Check out some drone footage of Gunkanjima Island below!
Learn More About Gunkanjima Island at Gunkanjima Island Digital Museum
Located close to the port the tour departs from, Gunkanjima Island Digital Museum is also managed by the Gunkanjima Island Concierge. We highly recommend a visit to this museum to anyone interested in learning more about this island. Visitors to Gunkanjima Island Digital Museum can enjoy the guides' commentary accompanied by immersive experiences created through the skillful use of digital technology such as projection mapping and VR. The museum guide is in audiobook format with language options that include English, Chinese, French, and Korean. If you are taking a tour to Gunkanjima Island, we recommend the plan that also includes museum admission.
Glover Gardens: A Collection of Nagasaki's Historical Architecture
Nagasaki was host to foreign traders from latter half of the 16th century onwards, which lead to the development of foreign settlements in the area. These foreign settlements were mainly built in the Nagasaki City hills, and the examples found today at Glover Gardens are particularly worth seeing. Glover Gardens houses a number of beautiful European style houses including the former residence of Scottish trader Thomas Blake Glover, the former Linger residence, and the former Alt residence. These residences were originally built in the Nagasaki hills, and ones deemed to have cultural value were moved in 1974 to create Glover Gardens. This attraction is like a theme park designed around historical buildings, and the chance to enjoy the park's beautiful tulips and roses in the spring and the view of Nagasaki Harbor from the hill areas also makes it worth a visit.
In 2015, the former Glover residence was included as a World Heritage site in the Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining category, which began to draw more attention to Glover Gardens.
However, the former Glover residence will be unavailable for viewing from 2019 to the spring of 2021 for seismic retrofitting renovations, so please keep that in mind when planning a visit. Other buildings, including the former Alt and Linger residences, will still be available for viewing as usual while the Glover residence is renovated.
Megane Bridge: Japan's First Stone Arch Bridge and a Popular Photo Spot
Megane Bridge is built over Nagasaki's Nakashima River. This bridge is famous as being Japan's first stone arch bridge, and has been listed as an Important Cultural Property. Megane Bridge, which means "spectacles bridge" in Japanese, gets its name for the fact that its reflection in the water makes it look like a pair of glasses when photographed straight on. This feature has made it a popular spot to photograph for social media.
Nakashima River runs near famous Nagasaki sightseeing spots like Dejima Island and Shinchi Chinatown, so taking a walk along the river to Megane Bridge would be a great addition to your itinerary.
The Heart Stone in the Nakashima River revetment has also been gaining attention as a power spot for those looking for luck in love. If you're visiting Nagasaki with a special someone, why not take the chance to hunt for the Heart Stone together?
Dutch Slope: An International Atmosphere Blended into the City
The Dutch Slope, a former foreign settlement, is located in the Higashi-Yamate area of Nagasaki. This area, with its consulates, churches, and mission schools, offers an international atmosphere. It's said Japanese people began referring to the area as Oranda-zaka, or Dutch Slope, due to its location in a hilly area with many sloping roads. However, where did the "Dutch" part of the name come from? In fact, this area has no specific connection to the Netherlands, but because there were many Dutch people living at Dejima Island at the time, it's said that the Japanese locals tended to refer to any non-Asian person as Dutch. In other words, the area took on the name "Dutch Slope" in reference to the fact that Europeans in the area tended to come and go along these hilly roads.
Learn About the Nagasaki Atomic Bombing and its Aftermath
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
11:02 am, August 9th, 1945.
150,000 lives were lost in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which occurred three days after the bombing of Hiroshima. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum contains exhibits that explaining what the atomic bomb was, the events that lead up to the bombing of the city, and the scenes of destruction that afflicted the people and their city. The museum also covers the history of the rebuilding of the city from the bombing to the present day, and the hope for a peaceful future without nuclear weapons. Every visitor to this city should take the chance to visit this important museum. Visiting the museum at the site of such a tragedy is a chance to consider issues around peace and nuclear weapons in a day where the total abolition of nuclear weapons is still being debated.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum has been well reviewed among locals and international visitors alike, and took first place in the Japanese museums and galleries category in the 2018 Trip Advisor Travelers' Choice Awards.
Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
The Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is built in memory of the the victims of the atomic bomb and in the prayer of everlasting peace. This memorial is located beside the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, with exhibition areas located on the basement floors. The themes of the exhibits are divided into three themes: commemorating the victims and praying for peace, gathering and disseminating material about the atomic bombing, and sharing medical information and facilitating an international dialogue about radiation illness. They focus a bit more on the victims here, with portraits and written records from victims of the bombings on display.
Nagasaki Peace Park
Nagasaki Peace Park is located on an elevated area in the north of the park that today stands near the hypocenter of the bombing. This park was built to embody the prayer for world peace and the vow to never again repeat the tragedies of war. The a fountain called the Fountain of Peace is located near the entrance to the park. Victims of the bombing who suffered severe external and internal burns begged for water before they died. This round fountain was built from funds donated with the aim of creating an offering of water to the souls of these victims, praying for their happiness in the next world, and in the hope of world peace and the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
One of the World's Top Three Night Views! Ride the Nagasaki Ropeway to the Mount Inasa Observation Deck
The cityscape and the harbor area of Nagasaki City makes for a beautiful sight from the surrouding mountains. It's a little known fact that this view was chosen in 2012 along with Hong Kong and Monaco as the world's top three night views by the YAKEI Convention & Visitors Bureau at the 2012 Nightscale Summit in Nagasaki. In 2015, Nagasaki was also recognised as one of the new Top 3 Night Views in Japan. Be sure to take the chance to see this view when you visit Nagasaki.
The best spot to see a panoramic view of Nagasaki at night Mount Inasa Observation Deck. Make use of the Nagasaki Ropeway, which takes you from the foot of the mountain to the lookout in around five minutes. You can ride the ropeway at the boarding platform at Fuchi Shrine Station.
Must-Try Local Nagasaki Foods!
Nagasaki's local food culture has been heavily influenced by Chinese and European cuisine. The Chinese cuisine in Nagasaki, in particular, developed in a unique way that differs significantly from other parts of Japan. Nagasaki Chinese cuisine such as Nagasaki champon and sara-udon are famous throughout Japan, and should definitely be on your list of foods to try when coming to Nagasaki. In the second part of this article, we'll introduce the local foods you should eat in Nagasaki!
An Unmissable Local Dish: Nagasaki Champon
Nagasaki Champon is a noodle dish invented by Heijun Chan, the owner of the restaurant Shikairo, who moved to Nagasaki from China's Fujian province in 1899. At the time, Chinese students studying in Nagasaki tended to eat poorly, so Nagasaki champon was created to offer a filling and nutritious meal at an affordable price. As this dish became popular it spread to other Chinese restaurants in Nagasaki, eventually becoming known as a famous local dish.
The roots of Nagasaki champon can be traced back to a Fujian noodle dish made with pork, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and green onion in a light soup. Nagasaki champon is made with local ingredients like fish paste cakes, squid, oyster, prawn, bean sprouts, and cabbage. The soup has a rich flavor based on stewed pork bone and chicken bone, and is characterized by its pure white color. Nagasaki champon noodles also have a distinctive texture. These noodles are a little more soft and springy than ramen noodles found in Japan. Typical ramen noodles are made with wheat flour and potassium carbonate, while Nagasaki champon instead use sodium carbonate. This ingredient is what gives these noodles their unique soft, chewy texture.
Recommended Nagasaki Chanpon Restaurants
Today, it's said there are over 1,000 restaurants in Nagasaki serving Nagasaki champon, but we recommend first trying them at the restaurant where they were first invented, Shikairou. The flavor of the dish varies from restaurant to restaurant, but you can probably consider Shikairou's dish the standard.
Shikairou is a spacious restaurant that can seat over 100. On the fifth floor guests can enjoy a panoramic view of the ocean as they dine. The Champon Museum on the second floor is a chance to learn about the history of Nagasaki champon. Admission is free.
Soupless Nagasaki Champon? Sara Udon
Sara udon, or "plate udon", is essentially Nagasaki champon without soup. This dish was also invented by Shikairo's Heijun Chan as a variation of Nagasaki champon, and the ingredients in this dish are typically the same. To make it, the ingredients and a small amount of broth are added to the noodles, which are fried together until the soup is absorbed. A variation of the dish is made by adding potato starch to thicken the soup which is then served over the noodles. It's said that the lack of soup made it easier to deliver for takeout, which contributed to the spread of its popularity.
The same noodles are used in sara udon and Nagasaki champon. In other words, sara udon is not actually made with udon noodles. At the time of its invention, a noodle dish served on a plate without soup was unusual, and the fact that the noodles resembled udon is what earned the dish its name.
Incidentally, there is another variation of the dish that replaces champon noodles with crunchy fried noodles. The variation made with soft, chewy champon noodles is sometimes called yawa-men (soft noodles) or futo-men (thick noodles), while the type made with crunchy fried noodles is called kata-men (hard noodles) or hoso-men (thin noodles). Chinese restaurants in Nagasaki will almost always have Nagasaki champon and sara udon together on the menu, however some will have both hard and soft noodles available, while others may serve just one or the other.
People from other areas in Japan are often surprised to see Nagasaki locals adding Worcestershire sauce to their sara udon. It's common in Japan to add vinegar as a condiment to this type of dish as way to add some variety to the flavors. However, the tartness of the Worcestershire sauce pairs very well with the slight sweetness of the sara udon, which is typically cooked with a little added sugar.
While Nagasaki champon is the most famous example of the area's local cuisine, sara udon is another dish you should definitely try during any visit.
Recommended Sara-Udon Restaurants
Kozanro is a famous Chinese restaurant in the Nagasaki Shinchi Chinatown area. This restaurant is also very highly rated on Japanese restaurant review sites. The dish comes in three grades: standard sara udon, special sara udon, and deluxe sara udon, all of which can be made with either thick or thin noodles. (The thick noodle version is pictured above.) At 1,500 yen, the deluxe sara udon may be a little on the expensive side, but it's a chance to enjoy the high quality flavor that comes from its generous serve of local Nagasaki seafood. Kozanro has two branches, with its main restaurant in Nagasaki Chinatown.
Daihachi Chinese Cuisine
Chuka Daihachi is a Chinese restaurant located in a local part of town around a 5 minute walk from Nagasaki Station. Even smaller local restaurants like this in Nagasaki will almost always have Nagasaki champon and sara udon on the menu. Sara udon here is priced at 850 yen, with a choice of thick or thin noodles. Its thickened sauce made with a generous serve of vegetables and plenty of noodles makes this a satisfying dish, and the rich umami flavors of the seafood gives you an authentic taste of local Nagasaki cuisine. An extra large serve is available for 1,150 yen, but you'll likely find the standard size filling enough on its own.
Try the Rich Pork Flavor of Kakuni Manju
Nagasaki has a unique style of course dining called shippoku ryori. A blend of Japanese, Chinese, and European cuisines, this type of cooking is typically served at occasions like banquets or parties. One notable dish served in a shippoku ryori course is a sweet and savory stew of braised pork called kakuni. In Nagasaki, kakuni manju are made by filling buns with this pork to make it easier to eat. While they may look similar to the steamed meat buns called nikuman you'll see in convenience stores all over Japan, kakuni manju are made by sandwiching the meat between the dough like a hamburger. You'll find these buns on the menu at Chinese restaurants in Nagasaki, and they're also sold as a street food around town, too.
Recommended Kakuni Manju Restaurants
Iwasaki Nishihama Head Restaurant
The restaurant Iwasaki is said to be an originator of kakuni manju. You can try freshly steamed kakuni manju here for 400 yen a piece. Iwasaki has seven locations in Nagasaki, including the Nishihama store at Nagasaki Shinchi Chinatown, at JR Nagasaki Station, Nagasaki Airport, and the shopping arcade by Glover Gardens.
The Classic Nagasaki Souvenir, Castella Cake
Castella cake is a cake made with wheat flour, egg, milk, sugar and baked in a covered pan. Known for its moist, springy texture and gentle sweetness, this cake is popular all over Japan. It's said that the recipe came to Nagasaki from Portuguese people in the 15th and 16th centuries. Foods made with sugar were not common in Japan at the time, but as the import of sugar increased through trade with Portugal, people began to eat sugar based sweets like castella cake. There are a number shops in Nagasaki that have continued to make castella cake adapted to suit Japanese tastes since this period. Nagasaki castella cake is so famous around Japan, it's considered by many to be the standard choice as a souvenir.
Recommended Castella Cake Shops
The long-running castella bakery Shooken was first established in 1681. Their castella cakes are made with particular care paid to the quality and balance of the wheat, egg, coarse brown sugar, and syrup used in the recipe. Also popular are their chocolate castella and green-tea flavored matcha castella cakes. Shooken has five stores in Nagasaki, including their main store by the Civic Hall and at Amu Plaza at Nagasaki Station, Oura Street, and Kanko Street. Their main store also has a cafe on the second floor where visitors can enjoy coffee and tea with their castella cake.
Nagasaki's Location and How to Get There
Nagasaki is located in the Kyushu area. Kyushu is a region in the southwest of the Japanese archipelago, and Nagasaki Prefecture itself is situated in Kyushu's northwest. Nagasaki Prefecture extends into some surrounding islands, so its borders are framed by mountains and ocean. Its climate tends to remain comparatively stable throughout the year, giving it one of Japan's more comfortable climates. Nagasaki's summer temperatures don't tend to rise above 35 degrees Celsius, while in winter the average temperature is 4 degrees, making snowfall a rare occurrence.
How to Get to Nagasaki
Visitors can reach Nagasaki by plane from cities like Tokyo or Osaka via Nagasaki Airport. This airport also serves a number of direct flights to other locations in Asia. You can also reach Nagasaki by bus or train via Fukuoka. In recent years more international visitors are visiting Nagasaki as well as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu areas like Kitakyushu City and Saga Prefecture.
● From Tokyo
・Approximately a 2 hour flight from Haneda Airport (JAL, ANA, or Solaseed Air)
・Approximately a 2.5 hour flight from Narita Airport (Jetstar)
● From Osaka
・Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Kansai International Airport (Peach)
・Approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Itami Airport (JAL/ANA)
● From outside Japan
・Direct flights international from China (Shanghai), Korea (Seoul), and Hong Kong to Nagasaki Airport are available.
Other transport options
By train from Fukuoka: JR Limited Express Kamome from Hakata Station to Nagasaki Station. One way approximately 2 hours, 4,270 yen.
Kyushu line from Hakuta Bus Terminal (Hakuta Station) to Nagasaki Station. Approximately 2 hours, 2,620 yen.
Nagasaki has many highlights, from historical buildings and museums to delicious local cuisine. You could easily spend two or three days just seeing the sights in the city.
There are also some other attractions outside the Nagasaki City, including the Huis Ten Bosch theme park that recreates a Dutch town, Sasebo, a shipbuilding town with plenty of seaside resorts, and Tsushima, a more remote island known for being a treasure trove of beautiful views. Any of these would be a great addition to your sightseeing plans.
We hope you can use this article as a guide for your trip to Nagasaki!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.