Is Nagoya Worth Visiting For One or Two Days?

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Nagoya is one of Japan’s largest cities and yet you rarely hear tourists talk about it like they do Tokyo and Osaka. It’s not like Nagoya is a small or remote place, it’s a massive industrial city in the Aichi Prefecture of central Japan, right between Kyoto and Tokyo. The reason seems to be that Nagoya is most famous for having a reputation as a boring city. So is it even worth visiting?

I was very unsure about adding a couple of days in Nagoya to my Japan trip. But it was the most convenient city to go to after exploring the Kiso Valley. Plus, I dislike the idea that some destinations have nothing to interest travellers. So I took a chance to see whether visiting Nagoya was worth it or not and I think the answer is quite clear if you read below. Let’s look at the places of interest in Nagoya that make the city worth visiting.

 

Why visit Nagoya?

Japan castle moat

To me, there are two main reasons I can see for visiting Nagoya – transit and curiosity. You may need to stop in Nagoya during your trip to break up a day of travel or if you’re flying out of Chubu Centrair International Airport. Perhaps you’re flying somewhere else in Asia and you’ve found through Kayak that Nagoya is the cheapest place in Japan to fly from.

But it’s also understandable to be curious about Nagoya. Why aren’t people talking about it if it’s one of the largest cities in Japan? For some people, like me, you notice that and feel compelled to see why. Is there really nothing to see in Nagoya or is it just down to some weird reputation?

Nagoya also has some differences from other cities in Japan that I noticed. For one, it felt a lot more tropical than Tokyo or Osaka. which I chalked up to humidity and its different types of trees and plants. But Nagoya also felt edgier than anywhere else I went. Local people with tattoos or wearing Western fashion were much more frequent in Nagoya and something I immediately noticed at the end of my month-long trip.

 

How to get to Nagoya

Nagoya City Hall

Nagoya may be the easiest city in Japan for tourists to reach. The city has direct train connections with Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka – the most common places on a Japan itinerary.

You can travel by Shinkansen to Nagoya from Kyoto and Osaka in under an hour, while Tokyo is only 1.5 hours away. However, if you’re using a JR Pass, it will take a little longer since you can’t use the fastest services, Nozomi and Mizuho.

If you’re not just hitting the highlights and travelling more regionally in Chubu, Nagoya is still easy to reach. Direct regional trains connect Nagoya with Takayama, Gifu, and Matsumoto, the last of which passes through the Kiso Valley.

Travelling through the region, you can still use a JR Pass, of course. However, regional passes often provide a more cost-effective alternative to people travelling more slowly. The two regional passes to look at that include Nagoya are the Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass and the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass.

 

Where to stay in Nagoya

Japan street

Accommodation in Nagoya is clustered in a few particular areas in the centre of the city. Picking which to stay in will depend on what your plans are and how long you stay in Nagoya.

The area around Nagoya Station is one popular part of the city to stay in. Lots of hotels fill the Meieki business district east of the station, as well as in Noritake on the far side of the station. These areas are good choices if you’re transiting through Nagoya and want to be close to the station.

Nishiki is another common place to stay in Nagoya and sits right in the heart of the city. It is close to several of the city’s main attractions, has good public transport access, and is a hub for nightlife in Nagoya.

This was the area where I stayed and it worked well for me. While parts did look a bit messy in the early morning because of the nightlife, I had no problem with noise at night. My stay at Hotel Actel Nagoya Nishiki was fine, it was much like the other compact 3-star hotels I stayed at throughout the trip.

 

How long to spend in Nagoya

Hommaru Palace Japan

One to two days in Nagoya seems the ideal length of time to stay in the city for most types of visits. People who are transiting through Nagoya can get a nice taste of the city in one day without feeling like they’re missing out. Spend two days sightseeing here and I think you’ll feel content with what you’ve done and be ready to move on.

 

Things to do in Nagoya worth your time

To see why Nagoya is worth visiting, we have to look at the various Nagoya tourist attractions there are to visit. Below are places in Nagoya that I went to over two days in the city, taking my sightseeing at a leisurely pace. I explored Nagoya independently, but you can have a local show you around if you prefer.

 

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle, Things to do in Nagoya Japan

Probably the most famous place to visit in Nagoya is Nagoya Castle. That’s no surprise, as Japan has some fascinating castles that you can visit. But visiting Nagoya Castle is a little different than what you’d expect.

At first glance, Nagoya Castle doesn’t look quite as impressive as some of Japan’s most famous castles, such as Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle. It’s also not a fully original castle, as it was mostly destroyed in 1945. You also can’t visit inside the main castle tower, which has been closed since May 2018.

So, why visit?

 

Hommaru Palace

Hommaru Palace Japan

Well, Hommaru Palace is the reason you visit Nagoya Castle. This low-lying palace stands in front of the main castle tower and was originally built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most important figures in Japanese history. Like the main castle tower, it was faithfully restored/reconstructed, only opening to the public in 2018.

Inside Hommaru Palace you’ll see rooms and halls lavishly decorated with painted panels, meticulous transom windows, and elegant ceilings. Original or not, the palace interior is a work of art. Gold is used throughout the halls and the paintings of animals and landscapes are masterful. I do think the Hommaru Palace is a highlight of visiting Nagoya.

Besides visiting the Hommaru Palace, the other main thing to do at Nagoya Castle is look at the exhibits at the Nishinomaru Okura Museum. It’s a small museum, but it’s the best place to go for castle history and artifacts.

I should also mention the castle gardens because they are picturesque. Not only do you have the immense moat surrounded by trees, but the Nonomaru Gardens around the castle ruins are nice to wander through.

 

Hisaya Odori Park

Mirai Tower Chubu Japan

Nagoya has its share of parks and green spaces, Tsuruma Park and the Meijo Park Flower Plaza being two. But the most interesting to me is the Hisaya Odori Park which runs north-south from Nagoya City Hall through the city centre.

This long and narrow park breaks up the urban jungle of Nagoya but also serves as a hub for shopping and leisure. At street level, Hisaya Odori Park provides a nice green space, with lawns, trees, and reflecting pools. You’ll also find some cafes, kiosks and international restaurants up there, usually the more trendy places. Under all of this is a typical Japanese underground mall that connects metro stations and has even more cafes and eateries.

Hisaya Odori Park

But it’s the Chubu Electric Power MIRAI TOWER in the park that makes it one of the most popular places to go in Nagoya. This TV tower looks quite similar to the Eiffel Tower and offers two observation decks with city views.

 

Atsuta Jingu shrine

Atsuta Jingu, Places of interest in Nagoya Japan

While most of the things to do in Nagoya are close to the city centre, there is one important outlier. Down south in the Atsuta Ward, you’ll find Atsuta Jingu, an important and revered Shinto shrine surrounded by a lush park.

Atsuta Shrine is an ancient site, with a lot of traditional history and folklore surrounding it. You can learn about its history at the Kusanagi Museum, while the nearby Bunkaden Treasure House hosts exhibits with historic Japanese artifacts. I regret not visiting the museums because I was in a rush and hadn’t allowed enough time for them.

As a visitor, it offers a similar experience to visiting the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, although it’s a little smaller and much less busy. Paths lead through the surprisingly thick forest between wooden torii, making it a pleasant and scenic place to walk around.

Atsuta Jingu

 

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology

Vintage car Japan

Did you know that the business Toyota didn’t start with manufacturing cars, but rather with looms used for weaving textiles? I know I certainly didn’t.

It was in a Nagoya factory that Sakichi Toyoda developed mechanized looms, the starting point of a family business that would become the global company Toyota. This factory is now the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, where the history of Toyota is explored and celebrated.

My visit to the museum came at an interesting time and I was seeing cars before I even stepped inside. A convoy of vintage cars was driving down the street as I approached the museum, part of a special car show I believe.

Toyota Museum, Nagoya tourist attractions

But despite the special events, this huge museum was strangely empty as I visited. Some staff in the early halls focused on the loom machines were just standing around exhibits, waiting for visitors to approach to give them something to do.

The museum starts with the loom business, but the bulk of its exhibits look at Toyota’s innovations with cars and their development over time. If you’re into cars, I must imagine this is extra fascinating, but even I enjoyed it. Seeing the different stages of modern automated manufacturing machines right in front of you is pretty impressive.

 

Noritake Garden

Noritake Garden, Places to go in Nagoya

Industry and manufacturing have long been a part of Nagoya’s history. But at Noritake Garden, you get to see how that legacy can be repurposed to keep it alive.

The site was once a ceramics and pottery factory for the Noritake company. For the factory’s 100th anniversary, they converted the area into a cultural and entertainment precinct. Today, old brick chimneys are covered in ivy and warehouses host galleries, restaurants and a museum.

Next to the historic buildings and cultural attractions, there is also a big, brand-new Aeon shopping mall. Even if you don’t dive into the history and art spaces, it’s a pretty area and a good place to go shopping.

Noritake Garden

 

Osu Kannon

Osu Kannon, Nagoya Japan

Besides the Atsuta Jingu shrine, you will find other temples and shrines in the centre of Nagoya. They aren’t at the same scale as the temples in Kyoto, for example, but if you haven’t been to many temples in Japan yet, then they’re worth a visit.

The best place to go is the neighbourhood south of Nishiki around the Osu Shopping District. Near this historic covered market, you’ll find several temples and shrines. There is the Miwa Shrine with its bunny statues is nice to see, as well as the Seishuji Temple and the Wakamiya Hachiman Shrine.

However, the main temple in the area is Osu Kannon. Although the current buildings are from the 20th century, a Buddhist temple to the goddess Kannon has been here since the 1600s. Get past the swarm of pigeons in its courtyard and the massive bronze bell, and you can see the altars inside the temple.

 

Other places of interest in Nagoya

Nagoya City Science Museum

With any city the size of Nagoya, you’re never going to get through all the things to do with a short visit. With two days in Nagoya, there were several attractions I didn’t have time for. Most were museums, for some reason.

One was the Nagoya City Science Museum, which I did walk around during my visit. Its enormous orb is hard to ignore, but I didn’t feel the pull to go inside. The planetarium at the museum is said to be its highlight. It was also hard to tell how it differed from the Electricity Museum, just a few blocks away.

A museum that I feel like I would have enjoyed was the Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art near Hisaya Ōdōri Park. This modern art museum seems to have a collection of works from impressive international artists, such as Picasso and Klimt, alongside works by Japanese artists.

 

Final Thoughts

Despite any reputation it may have, you can clearly see there are things to do in Nagoya. Often the attractions are similar to popular ones in other places, but that doesn’t mean they and Nagoya aren’t worth visiting. I didn’t regret adding the city to my Japan trip, but only you will know whether it looks like somewhere you might enjoy.

 


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Have you heard of Nagoya’s reputation or wondered whether to visit or not? Do you think you’d add Nagoya to your Japan itinerary? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.



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