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Five Days in Kanazawa City, Japan: A Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors | Insight Guides

Five Days in Kanazawa City: A Guide for First-Time Visitors

Kanazawa City is the capital of Ishikawa prefecture, located on the west coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu. Not only does the city have a fascinating history – which visitors today can explore in its former samurai quarters – but it’s also well-acclaimed for its stand-out cuisine. Continue reading to discover this city in all its glory – and less than 3hr away from Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
The Gate of Kanazawa Castle in Japan © Pond Thananat/Shutterstock
The Gate of Kanazawa Castle in Japan © Pond Thananat/Shutterstock

Why Visit Kanazawa City

During the Edo period (1603–1867), Kanazawa was the seat of power of the ruling Maeda family. With a wealthy legacy to maintain, the family constructed lavish buildings in and around the city, namely Kenrokuen Garden and Kanazawa Castle, and had their samurai retainers reside in the Nagamachi neighbourhood. With this in mind, one of the best reasons to visit Kanazawa City is to experience its rich history for yourself, whether it’s through a free guided tour of Kanazawa Castle, walking down the cobblestone streets of Nagamachi or mooching around museums. 

Kenrokuen Garden © Nonthachai Saksri/Shutterstock

How to get to Kanazawa City

Getting to Kanazawa City couldn’t be easier. Thanks to its west coast position on the main Honshu island, you can take the Shinkansen (bullet train) or Express Train which depart from Tokyo (2hr30min), Osaka (2hr40min), Kyoto (2hr10min) and Nagoya (2hr30min). The trains pull into right into the centre of the action at Kanazawa Station. Also here are coin-operated lockers, where you can store any excess  baggage you don’t want to carry around with you.

You can also fly from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport into nearby Komatsu Airport (1hr). Note that this airport is a little outside the city centre, so you’ll need to hop on a bus (40min) to take you into Kanazawa City.

A more affordable way to reach Kanazawa is by bus. Departing from Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, daytime and nighttime services are available; the day service takes around 5hr while Tokyo’s night service takes up to 8hr. 

Kanazawa castle ©  Ormalternative/Shutterstock

Where to Stay for Five Days in Kanazawa City

Budget stays, luxury hotels and traditional ryokans are all available in Kanazawa City. The vast majority offer Western-style bedrooms, English-speaking staff and other mod-cons

If you’re looking to use Kanazawa City as a base to explore further out, Nikko Kanazawa Hotel is a good option as it’s located directly in front of the train station. Here you can enjoy panoramic views and numerous dining options, offering an ideal combination of luxury and close proximity to all the top sites. 

Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel will see you stay slap-bang in the middle of the city; less than a five minute walk away is the popular Nagamachi district, and after a hard day of sightseeing you can unwind with a massage treatment.

What to do in Five Days in Kanazawa City

Day 1-2: Kanazawa Castle and around

Kanazawa Castle

Start your day with a free guided tour around the impressive Kanazawa Castle. First started to be constructed in 1580, the castle was once home to the ruling Maeda family when they held the seat of power over Kaga (present-day Ishikawa). 

There are a number of rebuilt structures that give a strong idea of how the castle looked in its prime. Firstly, there’s the reconstructed Nezumitamon Gate and Nezumitamon Bridge, with a moat that separates it from the castle and includes the Oyama Jinja Shrine. Whether you choose to join the insightful guided tour or not, visitors can enjoy panoramic views over Kanazawa City from the top of two tall turrets. Also located on castle grounds is the traditional-style Gyokuseninmaru Garden; with its gently sloping bridges and ample seating, it invites calmness and clarity. 

Kanazawa castle ©  Ormalternative/Shutterstock

Kenrokuen Garden

Once you’ve seen all that Kanazawa Castle Park has to offer, stroll along to Kenrokuen Garden which lies just next to it. This famous garden is revered for its seamless blend of six diverse garden elements. In fact, this is what gives the garden its name, which means “garden of the combined six”. 

These six elements are grouped into three pairs: spaciousness and seclusion, artiflice & antiquity, and water-courses & panoramas. As well as a burst of colours and a riot of shapes, this sprawling garden is home to tearooms. Relax at the 18th-century-built Yugao-tei and tuck into traditional Japanese confectionery at Shigure-tei, all while feeling immersed in the surroundings.

Kenrokuen Garden © Andreas H/Shutterstock

Nagamachi District

Continue on the heritage theme for your first couple of days by paying a visit to the Nagamachi District. It’s just as alluring as you’d expect; once the neighbourhood for samurais and their families, this grew to become a wealthy area during the Edo period.

While you’re here, take the time to stroll along scenic canals, take in the restored homes and swing by the Nomura Samurai Residence to see various samurai displays, including a full suit of armour. Also worth visiting is the Ashigaru Museum, based in two restored homes, which details the austerity in which the lower-ranked foot-soldiers lived. Through these authentic insights and more, you’ll come away with a greater understanding of samurai culture.

Walkway in a Japanese Garden at Nagamachi Samurai District © cowardlion/Shutterstock

Day 3-4: Omicho Market, Higashi-Chaya and around

Omicho Market

It’s best to visit Omicho Market early in the morning – it opens at 9am and winds down by around 5pm. This bustling market is nothing new to the area; in fact, it’s been the largest fresh food market in the city since the early seventeenth century.

With over 170 stalls and restaurants to choose from, you can buy, sample and tuck into the likes of fresh shrimp, grilled oysters and squid. Lunchtime is another popular time to visit for obvious reasons, but be prepared to queue – we promise the wait will be worth it!

Omicho market © mTaira/Shutterstock

Kaga-Honda Museum

If time permits, head across to the Kaga-Honda Museum, which isn’t far from the Kenrokuen Garden and The Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art. Here you can find out more about another prominent family from the Kaga domain (present-day Ishikawa); the Honda family was the richest samurai family of the time. 

Take in the grandiose of the museum which is set in a former military arsenal. Exhibits include helmets, katana swords and horse armour and other high-status items. Afterwards, you can indulge your museum-fix further at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History, to which it is connected. 

Exterior of Ishikawa Prefectural History Museum (Ishikawa Rekihaku) and Kaga Honda Museum © Manuel Ascanio/Shutterstock

Higashi Chaya District 

Tradition meets modernity in Higashi Chaya District. This is the largest and liveliest Geisha district in Kanazawa City. It was originally established in the nineteenth century; the traditional wooden buildings with their latticed windows maintain a distinctive atmosphere, as you can feel like you're stepping back in time. 

Higashi Chaya District is still a working Geisha district, but it’s certainly been modernised with the addition of cafes, restaurants, sweet shops and craft shops. National Important Cultural Asset SHIMA  is a museum that focuses on local Geisha culture. It’s housed in an original Geisha house building with all the typical decor; here you can view hair ornaments, musical instruments and tableware on display. And make sure you book a ticket for Geisha Evenings at Kaikaro Teahouse; guests are invited to join in traditional games with the Geisha. 

Higashi-Chaya District © mTaira/Shutterstock

Day 4-5: 21st Century Museum of Art, Kanazawa and Yuwaku Hot Spring

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

There’s simply no missing the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. It is the perfect example to show that Kanazawa celebrates the new as much as it reveres the old – and better still, it’s free entry (excluding temporary exhibitions)!

The various permanent exhibitions display works by local and international artists, while the outdoor exhibits and surrounding garden are ideal for families – especially with the art installations that double up as jungle gyms. If you have kids with you, there’s also an on-site nursery and kids’ studio, so everyone is well-catered for.

The girls are playing the hands shadow on the white wall at 21st Century Museum of contemporary art Kanazawa © Yanyadech/Shutterstock

Yuwaku Hot Spring

Wind down the end of your stay in Kanazawa City with a visit to a 1300-year-old Onsen. Yuwaku Hot Spring is situated a 40min bus ride away from Kanazawa Station, and upon arrival you’ll instantly feel relaxed in its natural, atmospheric settings. 

If you’re just planning on visiting for the day, head to the Shirasagi no Yu public bathhouse and the nearby free footpath. If you’re able to, it’s really worth staying in this hot spring town for at least one night. Choose a traditional ryokan where you’ll enjoy the best of the local cuisine and even better service. And best of all, you can visit any time of year – it’s a great area for snowshoeing, forest bathing and mountain-trekking. 

This is just a selection of the best things to do in Kanazawa City. There’s so much more to see, taste and celebrate here that truly embraces Kanazawa Japan culture. Before you know it, you’ll be planning your return visit to this idyllic part of Ishikawa…

Japanese onsen © PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

This article was created in partnership with Kanazawa Travel.