nagoya travel guide

Conveniently located between Tokyo and Kyoto on Japans biggest island Honshu lies a rather big city called Nagoya, it is actually the 4th largest city by population. Nagoya is the perfect place to stop for trips to other popular tourist spots on the island such as Takayama and Shirakawago to the north and Ise to the south.

Many people stop here on their way across the country to one destination or another, but it is really seen as a way point rather than a destination in itself. In my opinion that is a big mistake. Nagoya has a lot to offer any traveler who is interested and open to it.

In this complete Nagoya travel guide I will not only cover the top things to do in Nagoya but I will answer all burning questions any traveler to Nagoya might have and give lots of insider tips to make your stay in Nagoya a memorable one, no matter if it is a short or long one.

While Nagoya has a history that is more than 1900 years old (the famous Atsuta Jingu was mentioned in the first written history book of Japan called the Kojiki which dates from the early 8th century) the city gained in importance during the 17th century with the construction of Nagoya Castle. The Tokugawa Shogun (military leader of Japan) moved the regional capital Kiyosu to nearby Nagoya in 1614 in what was called the “Kiyosu-goe”.

From there on out Nagoya developed first in infrastructure, and then culturally with the blossoming of the arts like Noh, Kyogen and tea ceremony.

It also became an industrial power horse, first with the production of ceramics and textiles as well as the brewing of sake, later when Japan entered the industrial age as one of the front runners in the automotive industry.

Facts About Nagoya, Japan

Many people describe Nagoya as “the most boring Japanese city”. I think that isn’t really fair to the city, and when you dig a little deeper, it actually has a lot to offer tourists and locals alike. Here are 3 facts about Nagoya city you maybe didn’t know about:

1. Nagoya is the 4th largest city in Japan after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, and the biggest in the region. The population in 2015 was 2.3 million that’s more than the population of Paris (2.1 million).

2. Nagoya is an important transportation hub in Japan. As I mentioned above, it lies conveniently between Osaka and Tokyo on the Shinkansen line. But did you realize that Nagoya also has one of the biggest international ports in the country and a big international airport? From Nagoya, you can conveniently reach not only all parts of Japan but the whole world. If you are looking for cheap flights, I can recommend flying Air Asia from Nagoya.

3. Nagoya, especially Nagoya Castle has been featured in 3 Godzilla movies. I was impressed when I first heard it, but then I realized there had been a total of 35 Godzilla movies over the last 60 years.

What is Nagoya Famous For

So what is Nagoya famous for? Most people associate Nagoya with the Nagoya Castle, and so I would think that is what makes Nagoya memorable. But among Japanese, it is also famous for Nagoya Meshi, the unique Nagoya cuisine that can be only found here. Between the two I think Nagoya already has a lot to offer.

Nagoya has actually put a lot of effort into promoting Nagoya Meshi to Japanese as well as international tourists. Interest in Nagoya Meshi was first sparked when Nagoya hosted the World EXPO in 2005 and has only continued to become more popular since. In 2011 Nagoya staged a Nagoya Meshi EXPO.

Is Nagoya Worth Visiting

If you asked me is Nagoya worth a visit? I would say, yes definitely.

As I mentioned, it is an excellent base for trips to other parts of Japan, but in itself, it is also a charming destination, especially if you love Japanese food and want to learn more about its regional variations and specialties.

Best Time to Visit Nagoya

Most parts on the main island of Honshu are great to visit all year round, and so there really isn’t the best time to visit Nagoya, per se. Every season has something beautiful, and of course, there are advantages and drawbacks to a visit in each season. You should also have a look at the Nagoya weather forecast before you visit as it can get very hot especially in July and August.

Nagoya in Spring

A visit to Nagoya in spring will be unforgettable. Especially when the cherry trees are in full blossom around the end of March to the beginning of April each year. It is also the time for different spring festivals in Nagoya.

Spring is also the most pleasant season temperature wise. In March it is already pleasantly warm and generally sunny, and from there the temperatures keep on rising.

Really, the only drawback to visiting Nagoya in spring are the crowds and the inflated prices during the cherry blossom season all over Japan. But if you want to avoid the crowds and still see the beautiful cherry trees a visit to Nagoya might be a great solution as it is generally much less crowded than Tokyo or Kyoto.

Nagoya in Summer

For some reason, summer is the most popular season to visit Japan. I could never figure out why. June is the rainy season in Japan, and July and August will make you feel miserable not only because of the heat but also the almost unbearable humidity.

If you do visit in summer make sure to drink and rest enough and bring a hat to avoid getting a heat stroke. In Nagoya temperatures in summer 2018 reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). One food that is supposed to help in the heat is Unagi, Japanese freshwater eel, which energizes the body because of its richness in vitamins. The Unagi dish famous in Nagoya is called Hitsumabushi.

There are however a couple of good reasons to visit Nagoya in summer, for example some of the summer festivals as well as beautiful fireworks. (Check the event calendar here)

 

Nagoya in Autumn

Another really great season to visit Nagoya is autumn when the temperatures finally drop at the beginning of the season or when the trees change color at the end of autumn.

Autumn is also the season for warm food in Japan, and you will appreciate Kishimen or Miso Nikomi Udon even more after you just took a walk in the crisp autumn air.

Nagoya in Winter

While Nagoya doesn’t see any snow in winter, there are many ski resorts only a short drive from Nagoya, and they are easily reachable by bus.

Another great experience you can only have in winter is the Japanese new year celebration. If you have the opportunity to do so visit Japans most important Shinto shrine Ise Jingu just after the new year for an unforgettable experience. You can reach Ise Jingu conveniently by bus from Nagoya.

Things to Do in Nagoya During the Day

If you have decided to visit Nagoya but are still wondering about what to do in Nagoya, no worries. There is plenty to do here.

For a more detailed post about the things to do in Nagoya for first timers read my detailed post. If you are just looking for the top 10 Nagoya attractions, read on:

 

  1. Visit Nagoya Castle
  2. Visit Atsuta Jingu
  3. Shop at Osu Shopping Arcade
  4. Visit the Toyota Commemorative Museum
  5. Ride a Roller coaster at Nagashima Spa Land
  6. Visit the Railway Museum
  7. Visit the Tokugawa Art Museum
  8. Learn about Ceramics at the Noritake Garden
  9. Visit the Nagoya Aquarium
  10. Go shopping around Nagoya Station

Things to Do in Nagoya at Night

If you are a night owl and are wondering if there is anything worth doing in Nagoya at night, don’t worry, there is plenty to do.

You can start by strolling the modern Sakae district at night and you will not only find the beautiful lights of Nagoya but also bars and restaurants to enjoy your time at.

Clubs in Nagoya

The three most popular nightclubs in Nagoya are called Maverick, Steps and iD Cafe. They are all located in the Sakae district, so if you have the money and energy you can visit all three of them in one night.

iD Cafe is the biggest nightclub in Nagoya, with 5 floors featuring different entertainments and music. It is open every day from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and costs around 2000 yen admission (20 USD). You can find more information and their event schedule on the iD Cafe website (in Japanese).

 Maverick features 3 rooms including a VIP area and sunken dance floor. Every day of the week you can enjoy different music genres from hiphop, over house to dance classics. 

 At Steps you can not only dance into the early morning hours, as it is the only club open until 6 a.m. but you can also enjoy dinner, and sports and even try out pole dancing, all under one roof.

Bars in Nagoya

In Naogya you can find international bars such as Mybar or a British pub called the Elephant’s Nest but also typical Japanese bars called Izakaya.

While the old and run-down Izakaya have the most charm, they aren’t easily accessible to foreign tourists since the menus are all in Japanese and the owners usually don’t speak English. But there are some more modern Izakaya with menus with pictures and a very welcoming attitude toward foreigners. If you don’t have a Japanese friend or local guide to take you to one of the hole in the walls I recommend Sekai no Yamachan.

Sekai no Yamachan is an Izakaya chain which originated in Nagoya. It specializes in Nagoya style chicken wings called Tebasaki. They also serve other delicious Izakaya food as well as a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, which go so well with the spicy and crispy chicken wings.

 

What to Buy in Nagoya

If you are looking for shopping opportunities in Nagoya, you won’t be disappointed either. No matter if you are looking for some brand outlets, select department stores, cheap 100 yen shops or large electronics stores, Nagoya has it all.

Outlets in Nagoya

The biggest outlet shopping mall in Nagoya is Nagashima Outlet, south of the city. Nagashima Outlet is part of the Nagashima Resort which also features an amusement park, hot spring facilities and a flower garden with the most impressive winter illuminations called Nabana No Sato.

I enjoy visiting Nagashima Outlet because it has many Japanese as well as international brands. Even on weekends, it is usually not too crowded and great for a half day shopping trip.

Department Stores in Nagoya

No matter if you are looking for Japanese makeup or perfumes or exclusive clothing brands, you will find everything you need in the gigantic department stores around Nagoya Station. These multi-story stores have anything you might desire if you can afford to pay the price.

By the way, check out the below ground levels for the best sorted (and most expensive) grocery shops as well as a fantastic selection of delicious readily prepared foods from all over the country.

Daiso in Nagoya

If you cannot afford to go shopping at a Japanese department store and still want to buy amazing souvenirs, check out the other end of the price scale: Japanese 100 yen shops.

For about 1 US dollar you will find so much fantastic stuff at Daiso, the most popular 100 yen shop chain, you will need to purchase a second suitcase to take it all home with you, trust me I have been there.

Bic Camera in Nagoya

If you are looking for Japanese electronics you will find anything from cameras to Japanese toilet seats at Bic Camera. There are two stores right around Nagoya Station, on on the east and one on the west side.

If you buy items for more than 5000 yen (50 USD) you can get a tax refund. The consumption tax is currently 8% but will be raised to 10% on the 1st of October 2019. You can save a lot of money by getting a refund, don’t forget about it.

With this free e-voucher on klook.com you can get an additional 7% discount and consumer electronics and other items! It’s completely for free so get it now before you go shopping at any Bic Camera in Japan!

 

Food in Nagoya

I wouldn’t be a Nagoya Foodie if I didn’t talk extensively about the Nagoya cuisine Nagoya Meshi. I have dedicated a different guide to the whole topic which I recommend you have a look at Nagoya Food Guide.

The guide introduces you to the delicious Nagoya Meshi dishes and where you can try them in Nagoya.

Best Restaurants in Nagoya

If you are looking for the best restaurants to eat at in Nagoya, I also encourage you to check out my Nagoya Food Guide, where I mentioned the best places to try some of the best food in Nagoya.

Nagoya Food Tour

I am still in the process of creating multiple unforgettable food tours to let you experience Nagoya cuisine in a completely new way without language and other barriers and with a knowledgeable guide who can tell you everything you always wanted to know about Japanese and Nagoya food, culture, and history.

1 Day in Nagoya Itinerary

Chances are you are going to spend one or two nights in Nagoya. If you were looking for a Nagoya 1 day itinerary here is my suggestion on what to do in Nagoya in one day from morning to night.

 

  1. Have a Nagoya Morning Service at Komeda’s Coffee
  2. Visit Nagoya Castle
  3. Visit Atsuta Jingu
  4. Have Kishimen for Lunch at Miya Kishimen
  5. Go Shopping at Osu Shopping Arcade
  6. Visit the Tokugawa Art Museum and Tokugawa Garden
  7. Stroll around Sakae at night
  8. Have Hitsumabushi for Dinner at Hitsumabushi Bincho LACHIC
  9. Have a beer and some Tebasaki at Sekai no Yamachan

If you want more details have a look at my what to do in Nagoya post for the complete Nagoya itinerary.

 

Festivals in Nagoya

Day Trips from Nagoya

As I mentioned in the introduction of this guide, Nagoya is a transportation hub, and it is easy to reach different places within the country from it. While you can make countless day trips from Nagoya, some destinations are better explored by spending one or two nights there.

My favorite side trips from Nagoya are Shirakawago, Takayama, Inuyama, and Ise but there are many more destinations close by worth a visit such as Gero Onsen or Iga famous for its Ninja.

Shirakawago

If you have ever heard about Shirakawago before you probably imagine a town of thatched roof houses covered in a thick blanket of snow, and while that is really an awe-inspiring sight Shriakawago is also worth a visit during any other season.

I made a day trip to Shirakawago from Nagoya in summer and the rich green colors made for great photo opportunities. At Shirakawago you can learn about life in the old farmhouses of the region and just imagine what it must have been like to have lived in Japan hundreds of years ago.

Takayama

Takayama is a beautiful town north of Nagoya in Gifu Prefecture. Takayama managed to retain its traditional touch and has a great atmosphere of days past. There are many sake breweries but also shops and delicious restaurants found in the beautiful streets of Takayama.

Don’t forget to visit the Takayama Jinya where you can learn how Japanese provinces used to be governed. It is one of the only old government buildings that has survived the passage of time and is worth a visit.

Inuyama

Inuyama is home to the smallest of Japans castles Inuyama Castle. Located on a hill overlooking the Kiso River and with an amazing view of the scenery from the balcony at the top of the castle. Inuyama town is also a very charming place with restaurants and shops along a pedestrian street and a cute Shinto Shrine at the bottom of the hill leading up to Inuyama Castle.

You can reach Inuyama from Nagoya Station on the Meitetsu line. From the Inuyama Station or Inuyama-Yuen Station it is a 15 to 20 minute walk to the castle.

Ise

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Kanchi1979

Ise Jingu is one of the most important Shinto Shrines in Japan. It is a very popular destination for Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the year) during the New Years holiday. The area around the shrine features stalls with delicious Japanese food, the stroll to the main shrine will be very crowded with people wishing for great fortune in the new year and the atmosphere will be something you have never experienced before.

Where to Stay in Nagoya

In Nagoya you have many different accommodation options, from cheap hostels to high-class hotels. The best area to stay in Nagoya is either around Nagoya Station or in the Sakae District. But those are also the more expensive options.

Hotels in Nagoya

You don’t have to miss luxury while staying in Nagoya, and five star luxury hotels in Nagoya are surprisingly cheaper than you might think. You can find the famous hotel brands like Hilton or Marriott in Nagoya as well as Japanese luxury hotels such as the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel or The Strings Hotel Nagoya.

Nagoya Tokyu hotel

The Nagoya Tokyu Hotel is for you if you really want to enjoy your stay in Nagoya. This five-star hotel features a fitness center including indoor pool and saunas as well as three restaurants serving French, Japanese Kaiseki, Chinese and international cuisines.

The luxurious European style rooms are spacious and comfortable including a mini bar, a flat-screen TV, bathrobes, and slippers which you can use after enjoying the bathtub in your private bath.

If you want to enjoy pure luxury in Nagoya book your stay at Nagoya Tokyu Hotel today via booking.com.

The Strings Hotel Nagoya

The Strings Hotel Nagoya is a boutique hotel close to Nagoya Station. This five-star hotel has many amenities such as a flat-screen TV, seating area and a tea kettle in the room. The rooms are very stylish and modern as are the private bathrooms.

If you want to enjoy modern Japanese comfort close to Nagoya Station book the Strings Hotel Nagoya now.

Hostels in Nagoya

If you are happy with a dormitory bed you can find accommodation in a hostel for as low as 2500 yen (25 USD) per person per night. Below you can find the best options, one close to Nagoya Station the other close to Sakae Station.

Nagoya Travellers hostel

Nagoya Travellers Hostel is only a short walk from Sakae subway station and is great for young travelers on a low budget. The hostel features affordable beds in dormitory rooms as well as private rooms with air conditioning and free WIFI.

If you are on a tight budget while traveling in Japan book the Nagoya Travellers Hostel now on booking.combefore it is fully booked.

Hostel Wasabi Nagoya Ekimae

The Hostel Wasabi is located directly at Nagoya Station and is a very cheap and convenient option if you are on a tight budget. The bunk beds in the Japanese style dormitory are an adventure in itself but look very comfortable and clean and just generally very Japanese. There is a common area with books and other amenities.

Book your bed in a Japanese style dormitory today via booking.com!

Airbnb in Nagoya

Airbnb is a difficult subject in Nagoya. In 2018 new laws were introduced to regulate the market, this move has led to a decline in listings, a rise in prices as well as a rise in illegal listings. Therefore I cannot really recommend staying in an Airbnb. If you do so it is at your own risk that your booking might be canceled last minute.

If you want to use Airbnb make sure you read all previous reviews for the listings and take them seriously.

How to Get to Nagoya

Nagoya can be conveniently reached by flight into Centrair Airport, by bullet or regular train using Nagoya Station, by inter-city bus and, of course, by car.

Airport in Nagoya

Chubu Centrair International Airport is located on an artificial island 35 kilometers south of Nagoya. It is conveniently connected to Nagoya Station by train which takes only 30 minutes and costs 870 yen (9 USD) for a non-reserved seat.

If you have a lot of luggage, are a group of people or simply want to avoid the hassle of taking the train you can book your private transfer from the airport to your hotel on klook.com.

It is the main airport of the region and one of the most important airports in Japan after Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda and Osaka’s Kansai Airport. The airport opened in 2005 and serves routes not only in Japan but also international routes in Asia, Oceania and America.

The cheapest flights I have found so far are with Thai Air Asia via Bangkok. You can check flight prices on skyscanner.com.

The Japan Rail Pass

One of the biggest questions every traveler to Japan asks themselves is do I need a Japan Rail Pass. If you hear about this pass for the first time let me explain:

The Japan Rail Pass offers free rides on all Japan Rail trains to tourists who purchase either a 1, 2 or 3-week pass. Unfortunately, Japan Rail does not operate all trains in Japan, but it does cover the famous bullet trains which connect the big cities.

Now that we are all on the same page, do you need one?

It depends. If you are planning on traveling only in Nagoya, then you won’t need one since the metro in Nagoya as well as the buses isn’t operated by JR.

If you are planning on visiting only one other city aside from Nagoya using the bullet train, for example, Kyoto or Tokyo and you aren’t planning on returning to Nagoya via train, then you will probably also not need a JR Pass because your train ticket will be cheaper than the cost for a 1 week pass.

But if you are planning a trip around the country with at least 2 stops in one week, then it might already make sense to buy a Japan Rail Pass.

You can buy a Japan Rail Pass comfortably at home, or when you are already in Japan, and your voucher will arrive within just a couple of days if you buy it at jrailpass.com.

From Tokyo to Nagoya

The distance from Tokyo to Nagoya is only 260 kilometers (160 miles), and there are multiple options to travel between these two cities.

The bullet train Tokyo to Nagoya takes about 2 hours and costs around 11000 yen (110 USD) one way. It is the quickest way to get there, even faster than flying if you calculate in the time you need to get to and from the airports — generally the flight costs at least about the same as the train.

A much cheaper option, if you are lucky is to take a long distance bus. These buses are very comfortable and can be a real bargain compared to the bullet train.

Another cheap option is taking only local trains from city to city, but it involves many transfers and especially with big luggage it isn’t worth the time and effort.

From Osaka to Nagoya

The distance from Osaka and Nagoya isn’t very far and you can reach Nagoya from Osaka in 50 minutes by Nozomi Shinkansen Train. The ride will cost about 6000 yen (60 USD) one way.

There are cheaper options like highway buses which will cost you less than half has much, but will take about 3 hours for the same distance.

It doesn’t make sense to fly between Osaka and Nagoya because the time you would need to get too and from the airports and the costs that are involved doesn’t make it a time or cost efficient option.

From Kyoto to Nagoya

The distance between Nagoya and Kyoto is only 130 kilometers by car (80 miles). The bullet train just needs 36 minutes and costs around 5500 yen (55 USD).

You can also travel by local train. There is no direct Kyoto to Nagoya train though, you will need to change trains once at Maibara Station, and the whole trip will take around 2 hours and cost 2500 yen (25 USD).

Much more comfortable and also very convenient are buses. The highway buses cost about half as much as a Shinkansen Train and takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes between the two cities.

Final Thoughts

If you are seriously considering things to do in Japan for the first time, I think you shouldn’t skip Nagoya, even if you only visit for one day to experience the unique and delicious food.

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