“Don’t listen to what they say; Go see.” ~ Chinese Proverb.
So, is Nagoya worth visiting? If you’re here, I’m guessing you’re after an honest response to this question. As the capital of Aichi Prefecture and as Japan’s fourth largest city, Nagoya is often overlooked as a tourist destination in favour of Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Osaka. But why is that?
You may or may not be aware but Nagoya gets a bit of a bad rap from locals both in and outside of Japan. I met a Japanese lady hailing from Nagoya at a party in Sydney, and when I expressed my desire to visit she laughed and asked me genuinely, “But why? There is nothing there.”
During WWII, Nagoya was Japan’s largest aircraft manufacturing hub and therefore found itself the target of a slew of air raids by the United States. From 1942–1945, only Tokyo received more firebombing than Nagoya and much of the city was destroyed. As a result, the Nagoya of today can resemble any generic city in Japan – on the surface, that is.
Having only visited Nagoya on my sixth trip to Japan, even I am guilty of overlooking it all those other times (which I’ve shared over on my extensive travel blog for Japan). But I will say, during my visit I believe Nagoya is worth visiting if you’re a particular type of tourist. Read on to learn why!
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How many days in Nagoya is enough?
While some sights in the city can be covered in one day, if you have 2-3 days to spare you can get so much out of your visit. Okay, so what is Nagoya famous for anyway?
Its lengthy history prior to WWII, iconic castle, preserved Edo-era enclave, foodie scene, lack of overcrowding and gateway to fantastic day trips make Nagoya the ideal base to spend a few days.
In a nutshell, these are some of the things Nagoya is known for and 7 points why I’m convinced it’s worth visiting:
- As the capital of Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya has a lengthy history prior to its destruction during WWII. Dating back to the 13th century, Osu Kannon Shrine was an important stop for travellers along the old Tokaido route between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo). There are still a number of old shrines dotted throughout the city, too.
- Most notably during the Edo Period (1603-1868), the three great unifiers of Japan were based in Nagoya. Building Nagoya Castle for the ruling Tokugawa clan, its adjoining Hommaru Palace is an exquisite reconstruction of how it appeared in 1615, more on this down the page.
- There is still a small pocket of the city that managed to escape the firebombing and has been preserved since the Edo Period, making for a lovely historic stroll. More on Shikemichi down the page.
- You may also be surprised to learn Nagoya has one of the biggest foodie scenes in Japan. So much so, it has its own term, Nagoya Meshi, to describe its range of regional dishes. More on the types of dishes below.
- And as we know due to it being often overlooked, Nagoya is perfect to visit if you love to avoid crowds, as I do! Even during peak hour, the trains and transport are not overcrowded. It’s a welcome change from being squeezed like a sardine onto Tokyo’s metro system.
- Home to LEGOLAND Japan (read my full Legoland Nagoya review) Nagoya is great for those wishing to experience a theme park without insane crowds that frequent Tokyo Disney and Universal Studios in Osaka. The city also features impressive attractions including the SCMaglev Museum, Nagoya City Science Museum, several museums on art and a Toyota museum amongst others.
- Nagoya is also known as the gateway to the Japanese Alps, which makes it the ideal base for exploring nearby areas. Jump on a train or hire a car to easily reach gorgeous alpine scenery surrounding preserved cities.
Allow me to elaborate on each of the above points in more detail.
Memorable things to do in Nagoya
Is Nagoya Castle worth visiting?
In my opinion, yes, Nagoya Castle is worth visiting. While you can’t venture inside Nagoya Castle towers at this time, the adjoining reconstruction of Hommaru Palace caught me by complete surprise. It’s very similar to Nijo Castle in Kyoto, which I loved.
Some of the screen paintings from the original Hommaru Palace survived the WWII air raids, which was really cool. As much as I absolutely adored Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage counterpart, I was a little sad that all forms of photography and videography are prohibited there.
While this is absolutely understandable for the sake of preservation and I abided by their rules, I was delighted to learn that no flash photography is fine at Nagoya Castle so I can show you!
The intricate wooden carvings, ornate paintwork, tatami rooms and decorated ceilings are a must if you love admiring attention to detail, and there is even a room featuring Nightingale Floors.
TIP: Shoes need to be removed before entering as some of the floors are tatami. Free lockers are provided at the entrance to store your bags and shoes whilst exploring the palace.
One of the unexpected places to visit in Nagoya: Shikemichi
By some kind of miracle, the Shikemichi neighbourhood managed to remain untouched by the wrath of firebombs that flattened Nagoya during WWII.
Encircled by the Hori River, major streets and a train line, the quiet old Shikemichi area is crammed with narrow residential laneways of dark wooden buildings you’d come to expect in Kyoto. It’s certainly one of the unexpected places to visit in Nagoya.
Enjoy refreshments along Endoji Shotengai Shopping Street
Nearby Nagoya Castle, Endoji Shopping Street is a shotengai (undercover outdoor high street) with roots dating back to 1612.
Lined with small businesses selling clothing and handicrafts to restaurants and cafés, the lengthy roof’s metalwork seems to be a nod to Nagoya’s industrial past.
TIP: I noticed there are a few Western-themed cafés here dotted amongst the Japanese ones, including Spanish and Italian eateries.
Make a wish at Nagoya’s temples and shrines
It was so nice to stumble across many small temples and shrines, they are lovely little Nagoya attractions. Here are a few ideas for you:
- Osu Kannon, moved to Nagoya from Gifu by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1612
- Konpira Shrine, dedicated to the god of fire
- Sengen Shrine, featuring seven 300-year old camphor trees
- Togan-ji Temple, featuring a seated green Buddha
- Banshoji Temple, with a modern LED display above its entrance
- Click here for more shrines and temples in Nagoya.
Tuck into Nagoya Meshi
One of the top things to do in Nagoya is eat, of course! One of the best places to try street food is Kinshachi Yokocho, a pedestrian street of traditional shops beside Nagoya Castle’s main gate.
Why not be a little adventurous and try some of these local specialties?
- Hitsumabashi – Grilled eel with rice eaten four ways in one
- Miso nikomi udon – Thick noodles in a miso broth with egg
- Miso katsu – Fried pork cutlet dripping in red miso sauce served with cabbage and rice
- Kishimen – Broad, flat noodles in broth a dashi-based broth
- This guide to Nagoya Meshi has more ideas.
TIP: Prefer wagyu whenever you get the chance, as I do? The best Japanese BBQ of my life is no longer in Tokyo, but Nagoya at Yakiniku Tokugawaen Restaurant. My group arrived early at around 5pm and didn’t need a reservation. Exceptional service, English speaking staff and unbelievably delicious beef and sides. I highly, highly recommend this restaurant (it even caters to children). I loved the little packs of mouthwash and toothpicks in the bathroom, a nice touch!
Strike a pose in front of Mirai Tower
Taking on the appearance of a silver version of Tokyo Tower, the impressive Mirai Tower is located in the city’s east. It also goes by the names Chubu Electric Tower and Nagoya TV Tower.
TIP: It’s one of the interesting things to see in Nagoya at night when it is colourfully illuminated!
Visit one of the many museums
If you have some extra time in Nagoya, why not visit one of the many fascinating museums? I had planned to visit the SCMaglev Museum but actually ran out of time as there were so many other things to do!
- Nagoya City Museum
- Furukawa Art Museum
- Tokugawa Art Museum
- Nagoya City Art Museum
- Showa Museum of Art Nagoya
- Furukawa Art Museum
- Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology
- Nagoya City Science Museum
- SCMaglev & Railway Museum
- Aichi Prefectural Museum
- Find more museums in Nagoya here.
Admire the beauty of Nayabashi Bridge at night
This stunning riverside landscape at night is perfect to end your Nagoya itinerary. The original bridge was built in 1610, which changed over the centuries to arrive at its current look in 1913.
During WWII Nayabashi Bridge was destroyed but as it was considered one of the finest in the city, it was later rebuilt.
It was decided that Nagoya’s local heroes be incorporated by including crests of Totoyomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobungaga – the three great unifiers of Japan I mentioned earlier.
Spend a full day at LEGOLAND Japan
This is one of the most fun activities in Nagoya! Located just 30mins south of Nagoya Station, LEGOLAND Japan is one of the Nagoya top attractions for adults and kids alike.
Comprised of eight main areas with different Lego themes, I’d say most of the rides and attractions are suitable for primary school-aged children. However, there are some rides more suited to adults such as the Knight’s Kingdom Dragon rollercoaster and the Flying Ninjago. There’s even a submarine ride in the Adventure area.
As a lover of attention to detail, my expectations were actually exceeded here, especially in the Miniland section with miniature Japanese cityscapes all made from Lego. It reminded me a lot of Tobu World Square, Nikko!
And because the park was not crowded during my weekday visit, waits for rides throughout the park were as little as 5 minutes.
The longest my group had to wait for a ride the entire day was 15 minutes! Such a stark contrast to the stories I hear from other theme parks in Japan where people queue up to 2 hours for rides.
TIP: I genuinely had a blast here, and have gone into more details in my full Legoland Nagoya review!
Take a day trip from Nagoya into the Japanese Alps
As mentioned earlier, Nagoya’s location in central Japan makes it the gateway to the Japanese Alps.
Many organised day tours into the Alps leave from Nagoya, but I honestly recommend doing it yourself so you can explore at your own pace and not feel rushed.
TIP: Want to visit Shirakawa-go from Nagoya? Shirakawa-go has been suffering from Japan overtourism issues, so I’d recommend avoiding a day trip or organised tour during the winter months. Either visit during the summer when crowds are fewer, or plan on spending a night or two during winter to better enjoy your time after day trippers have left.
Where to stay in Nagoya
Just 5 minutes’ walk to Sakuradori Station on the red metro line, I enjoyed my stay at Grand Base Hotel Chiyokura Nagoya. It’s in a good location for those staying as a small group and prefer to be in the one room (which can be difficult to find in Japan!)
Concluding why Nagoya is worth visiting
For too long, I somewhat believed the stereotype that there wasn’t much to see in Nagoya. However now I’ve visited, it has left me wanting to go back for more!
Hommaru Palace was the absolute highlight for me, followed by the scrumptious wagyu dinner. The preserved areas and shrines were a delight to discover. And of course LEGOLAND pleasantly surprised me as well, especially how it seems no where near as busy as other theme parks in Japan.
If you’re wanting to break up your journey and want to enjoy some spots that are lesser-known amongst fellow tourists, definitely consider visiting Nagoya.
What are your thoughts on this Nagoya travel guide? I hope, like me, you will be charmed by what Nagoya has to offer when you scratch beneath the surface! Let me know if you plan to visit in the comments below.
While you’re here, why not take a look at my 10 days in Japan itinerary (even if it’s not for your honeymoon), do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette, learn some basic Japanese phrases for tourists with my free cheat sheet, find out what to pack for Japan, and even the best Japanese souvenirs to bring home – I have every step of your Japan planning journey covered from my multiple visits!
Until next time,
This guide to is Nagoya worth visiting contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!