Are you interested in seeing one of the best gardens in Japan? How about a massive pristine white castle? Or would you rather explore an original Samurai district and eat your way through a traditional Japanese market? Well, if any of those sound appealing to you, then Kanazawa needs to be added to your next trip to Japan. This guide will go over the best 9 things to do in Kanazawa that you can complete in as little as one day. On top of going over a Kanazawa itinerary, I will also walk through logistics, accommodation, tips, and more!
1) How to Get to Kanazawa
Kanazawa is easily accessible from many of the popular cities around Japan. In order to get to Kanazawa, you will most likely be utilizing the super-efficient train system that Japan offers (with the exception if coming from Takayama or Shirakawa-go). Below are some logistics from some of the main cities along with screenshots from the Japan rail website Hyperdia:
Getting to Kanazawa from Tokyo is a super simple process. All you need to do in hop on a direct Shinkansen bullet train (the main ones include Kagayaki and Hakutaka). The train costs 14,320 JPY and will take about 2.5 – 3 hours.
Getting to Kanazawa from Kyoto is just as easy. The Limited Express JR Thunderbird train will get you to Kanazawa in just over two hours and it costs 7,100 JPY for a reserved seat.
You can also catch the Limited Express JR Thunderbird if traveling from Osaka. The direct train will take closer to 2.5 hours and costs 7,850 JPY for a reserved seat.
Finally, if you are coming from Hakone you will first want to make your way to Odawara Station (just a quick 15 minute train ride away). Once in Odawara you will need to hop on a train towards either Tokyo or Maibara, where you will then connect to Kanazawa.
Set aside around 3.5 – 4 hours to get there based on connection times. If going via Tokyo, the cost will be 17,850 JPY and via Maibara 14,680 JPY (with reserved seats).
No matter which option you choose from the above, a JR Pass will cover each one at no additional cost. Learn more about the JR Pass in the Japan Helpful Tips article.
From Takayama and Shirakawa-go
If coming from either Takayama or Shirakawa-go the Nohi bus is the way to go. From Takayama it would be about a 2 hour ride and Shirakawa-go, a 1 hour ride. The busses are just as efficient as the trains and you should have no problem getting from one city to the next. Take a look at the Nohi bus website for latest schedules and prices.
Note: you can take the train from Takayama but it will probably be longer (and more expensive if you do not have the JR Pass) than just taking the bus.
2) How to Get Around the City
Once you are in the city of Kanazawa, you will need to make your way from one attraction to the next. To do so there are two main options to choose from – bus or bicycle.
Kanazawa is very well connected by bus and makes it easy for tourists to get from one place to the next. There are two “tourist bus” routes that begin and end at Kanazawa Station:
The first is the Kanazawa Loop Bus, which has both a clockwise and counter clockwise route depending on where you want to start your day. You can catch the bus at the East Gate Bus Terminal (stop #7) outside Kanazawa Station and each route costs 200 JPY.
The second option is the Kenrokuen Shuttle, which heads right to the Kenrokuen Garden with a few stops along the way including Omicho Market. You can also hop on the bus at the East Gate Bus Terminal (stop #6) and each route costs 200 JPY.
If you plan on taking several busses a day, you should consider the Hokutetsu Bus Pass which costs 500 JPY for unlimited rides on both the Loop Bus and Kenrokuen Shuttle.
Note: you cannot use an IC card on these busses. You must pay in cash unless you have the bus pass.
While busses can be easy and convenient to get around Kanazawa, my preferred way to get around is by bicycle. Since most of the city’s attractions are not too far away from each other (nothing more than a 15 minute or so ride), using two wheels to visit everything around the city is a great alternative to the bus.
You can either rent a bicycle at one of the shops around the city or there is also a good chance your hotel may have bikes available to rent too. It should cost around $10 or so to rent a bike for the day.
3) Where to Stay in Kanazawa
Kanazawa has plenty of accommodation options to choose from and many of them are right nearby the attractions listed below. Staying nearby the train station can also be a good idea so you won’t need to worry much about getting from the station to your accommodation. Below are some options to choose from alongside some top budget picks too.
5. UAN Kanazawa
A Kanazawa Itinerary
The rest of this guide will go over the 9 things to do in Kanazawa. If you have one full day here you can do your best to fit everything in but it may feel just a bit rushed depending on your travel style and how long you enjoy spending at each place. I have also included a map so you can get a better sense where everything is around the city.
4) Attractions and Map
Below are the 9 things to do in Kanazawa that I will go over in this guide. I also listed them out in an order that would make most sense logistically. If staying for more than one day than you can just pick and choose which places you would like to see on each day you are there.
1. Tsuzumi-mon Gate
2. Omicho Market
3. Kazuemachi District
4. Higashi Chaya District
5. Kenrokuen Gardens
6. Kanazawa Castle Park
7. Museum of Contemporary Art
8. Oyama Shrine
9. Nagamachi Samurai District
5) 9 Things To Do in Kanazawa
If you are only planning a single day to Kanazawa get an early start as there is a lot to see and do along the way. You can really start out anywhere on the route depending what is easiest logistically from your hotel but the below will start of the day right at Kanazawa Station, where you will find the Tsuzumi-mon Gate.
A) Tsuzumi-mon Gate
First up on the day is the Tsuzumi-mon Gate. This massive wooden gate stands in the forefront of Kanazawa Station and is an iconic landmark of the city. It shouldn’t take too long to enjoy the gate as you just walk around the area and take some pictures.
If you are staying the night in Kanazawa, feel free to check it out in the evening when the orange color contrasts with the dark sky above.
B) Omicho Market
Opening Hours: 9:00AM – 6:00PM (shops may be closed on Sundays and Wednesdays)
Just straight down the street from Kanazawa Station is the most popular of markets in Kanazawa – Omicho. In the market you will find all sorts of food, from fish and seafood to fruits and vegetables, and everything in between.
Since many shops open as early as 9AM, you can even have some breakfast at the market before continuing on with your day. There will be no shortage of options to choose from.
C) Kazuemachi District
After enjoying some Japanese cuisine head to the first of Kanazawa’s well known districts – Kazuemachi. It is known as one of the original Geisha districts of the city and walking around the neighborhood makes for a great way to get a better sense of what Kanazawa is all about. Walking alongside the riverfront and over the bridges is a beautiful site to take in.
D) Higashi Chaya District
Once you have had enough time walking Kazuemachi, make your way right across the way to Higashi Chaya, another of the city’s previous geisha districts. Higashi Chaya is a bit bigger in scale than Kazuemachi and you will have the chance to wander all around these historical streets.
You also have the opportunity to visit a couple teahouses in the area – Shima (9:00AM – 6:00PM; 500 JPY) and Kaikaro (9:00AM – 5:00PM; 750 JPY). I just headed into Shima and it was a great way to get a better understanding what an original teahouse was like. It reminded me a bit of the heritage houses in Takayama with its pristine layout and original artifacts.
You can spend the rest of your time here just walking around the streets and exploring what the district has to offer.
E) Kenrokuen Gardens
Opening Hours: 7:00AM – 6:00PM (March to October 15); 8:00AM – 5:00PM (October 16 – February)
Admission Cost: 310 JPY
It is now time to make your way to one of Japan’s most historic gardens – Kenrokuen. I went to a bunch of gardens around Japan (and around the world too), and I must say that Kenrokuen stands above the rest. It was absolutely mind blowing seeing every last intricate detail that the garden had to offer.
The garden is just packed with a variety of lakes, trees, plants, flowers, and much more. Everything is as perfect as can be and I spent well over an hour checking it all out.
Make sure to grab a map when purchasing tickets so you have a better sense of where you are and what else in the complex can be explored.
F) Kanazawa Castle Park
Castle Park: 7:00AM – 6:00PM (March to October 15); 8:00AM – 5:00PM (October 16 to February)
Storehouse and Watchtowers: 9:00AM – 4:30PM
Castle Park: Free
Storehouse and Watchtowers: 310 JPY
Once you are all finished up with the garden, head across the street to the Kanazawa Castle Park. The castle has actually burned down several times in the past and currently only a few structures have been rebuilt to their original state including the Gojikken Nagaya storehouse and Hishi and Tsuzuki-yagura watchtowers.
Its white color almost makes it seem like it has a fresh coat of snow on it, making it a very unique building to visit. Two gates – Kahokumon and Hashizumemon have also recently been rebuilt.
To visit the castle grounds is free of charge but if you would like to head into the storehouse and watchtowers that will come with an additional fee. I highly recommend you doing so as you will be able to see the interior of the structure and get a better idea how it was built.
You also will get some fantastic viewpoints from above of the castle grounds and Kanazawa out in the distance.
G) Museum of Contemporary Art
Exhibitions open from 10:00AM – 6:00PM (Friday and Saturday 8:00PM); closed Mondays
Admission Costs: Varies by exhibition
Right nearby Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Gardens is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. I don’t usually visit too many museums but this one came highly recommended so I headed over there for a bit.
You will find several exhibits all around the circular complex, including the famous Swimming Pool.
H) Oyama Shrine
Opening Hours: Always Open
Admission Fee: Free
One of Kanazawa’s most well known shrines is Oyama. The complex itself is pretty small making it a quick stop during your time in the city. Simply make your way through the large gate, up the stairs and onto the shrine itself.
I) Nagamachi Samurai District
Last up on the day is the Nagamachi Samurai District. Similar to the geisha districts that you visited earlier on, Nagamachi is a great place to walk around and explore. It was originally the area where the families of samurai lived in Kanazawa and you can get the chance to learn all about it and its history.
If you have the time check out Nomura-ke, which was one of the original samurai houses in Kanazawa. There are also several other houses and museums that you can visit in the district if you want to learn and explore more of the city’s samurai history.
One place I did not have the time to visit was Myoryuji Temple, also known as the Ninja Temple. It is a bit further out of the main area of Kanazawa but is well worth the visit if you are up for it. The only tough part here is that you need to make reservations in advance by calling +81 076-241-0888.
6) A Kanazawa Day Trip
If you decide not to stay in Kanazawa itself, it is still possible to make it a day trip destination. If coming from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Takayama I would say it is doable but just get ready for a real long day from any of them.
You will have anywhere from 4-6 hours on trains/busses so if you are not up for that much of travel in one day then this may not be for you. But if you are really short on time, don’t have time for the overnight and really want to visit Kanazawa then it is definitely doable.
You can try and plan the day to get into Kanazawa around 10AM and head back to the station around 6PM, giving you enough time to visit most of the sites mentioned above. Anything shorter than that and I feel like it would feel way too rushed.
7) Where to Next
Once you are all finished up with a visit to Kanazawa it is time to head to your next destination. The closest two to pick from would be Shirakawa-go and Takayama – both a quick bus ride away (you can revert back to the beginning of this guide that goes over the bus to get them).
If you are not familiar with Shirakawa-go, it is a small town located within a valley with the Japanese alps out in the distance. The houses there are known as Gassho styled with thatched roofs that are able to hold up heavy snowfall in the winter.
Walking through the town and visiting some of these houses is a great potential add on to your itinerary. Take a look at the Shirakawa-go day trip guide up on the site.
Takayama on the other hand is another great option to visit while in Japan. It is a small traditional Japanese town and is much different than the bigger cities that you may visiting such as Tokyo or Kyoto.
Walking the streets, enjoying the river and streams, and visiting the city’s attractions is sure to be a great time. Be sure to check out the guide for what to do in Takayama if you plan on heading there!
Whatever is planned on your Japan itinerary though, I am sure you will have an incredible time visiting it all. If making your way to Kyoto or Tokyo you can check out the 5 days in Tokyo guide or 3 day Kyoto itinerary up on the site. And also take a look at the 14 day Japan itinerary for a full detailed trip.
Hopefully by now you have a better idea of some of the best things to do in Kanazawa and this guide has helped you out with what can be done in the city as part of a Kanazawa itinerary. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also be sure to check out the other Japan itineraries and guides up on the site. Have fun out there and safe travels!