“If I had foreseen Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I would have torn up my formula in 1905.” ~ Albert Einstein.
Noticing my breath inhale sharply as I reached the top of the countless stone stairs, I felt a pang of excitement to finally be fulfilling my Nagasaki Itinerary. I didn’t mind my shortness of breath as I’d planned years in advance for this day, so I was determined to make the most of it and share my findings with you on my Japan travel blog!
And boy, were my already high expectations easily blown out of the water – not just here at Minamiyamatemachi, but at so many other Nagasaki attractions – the fascinating remnants of this old trading port city hiding in plain sight are a delight for history buffs.
While in some places like Huis Ten Bosch you’d easily be forgiven for thinking you were in Holland, the views to be found around Nagasaki caused me to let out involuntary “wows” too many times to count.
Most people know of Nagasaki from the unfortunate events that occurred on 9 August, 1945 during WWII. But perhaps what you didn’t know was that this city’s natural beauty has earned it the official title of a “10 Million Dollar Night View” alongside Monaco and Shanghai?
After exploring Nagasaki in 2 days, I realised this gem in Kyushu Prefecture is one of the most underrated places to visit in Japan. Relatively off the beaten path in Japan for first-time foreign visitors, Nagasaki is perfect if you’re hoping to escape crowds of well-trodden Golden Route of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
In my opinion, spending one day in Nagasaki is NOT enough, and you’re about to see why. If you’re wondering if Nagasaki is worth visiting for two days or more (spoiler: it absolutely is), and things to see and do in and around the city, read on for more!
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How to get to Nagasaki
The journey from Tokyo to Nagasaki takes around 7 hours by train, so you may wish to fly from cities such as Tokyo or Osaka.
Nagasaki city is easily accessible from its airport (which is a small island). The flight time takes between 2 – 2.5 hours and from within Japan should cost around 8,000 – 20,00 yen one way per person depending on season.
It’s also easily accessible from other parts of Kyushu Prefecture by train. The Japan Rail Pass will cover journeys on JR train lines.
- From Tokyo: Choose to fly from Haneda Airport (HND) as it’s closer to the city, only 30mins from Tokyo Station area.
- From Osaka/Kyoto: Kansai International Airport (KIX) is a likely choice, however Osaka Itami Airport (ITM) is closer to both cities, only 30mins by limousine bus.
- From Fukuoka: Catch the shiny new Kyushu Kamome limited express shinkansen (bullet train opened in September 2022) from Fukuoka’s JR Hakata Station to JR Nagasaki Station, about 1.5 hours. This journey is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Brief history of Nagasaki
Nagasaki’s geographical location made it a natural port city and a great strategic area for naval trade for Japan in the 16th century. The area of Dejima was created for foreign settlers and traders to reside.
However during the Edo Period, the Tokugawa Shogunate ruling Japan between 1638 – 1859 completely sealed off the country from the outside world.
An exception to this was a Dutch trading post at Nagasaki where only traders from the Netherlands were permitted here during the isolationist period. You’ll notice this foreign influence in architecture built during this time.
Fast forward to WWII in August 1945, a few days after the devastating atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima, Nagasaki unfortunately shared the same fate. Today, the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park is only one of dozens of things to see and do in this beautiful city.
For this 2 day Nagasaki itinerary, we’re going to split our time between the northern and southern parts of the city.
2 Day Nagasaki Itinerary for Million Dollar Views
You can also take a look at my Instagram for videos on all the places I’ve mentioned below.
DAY 1: Things to do in Nagasaki’s North
For your first day in Nagasaki, I recommend visiting the northern areas of the city to understand what happened here on that fateful day on 9 August, 1945, as well as some other nearby points of interest that are sure to delight and surprise you!
From the city centre near Nagasaki Station, take the Red tram line and hop off at the Nagasaki Peace Park, tram stop 19.
Cost: 140 yen each and you can tap on with your Suica Card.
Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park & Fountain of Peace
Once an old prison, The Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park marks a spot where the atomic bomb was detonated above. All that remains of the prison now are rusted steel beams protruding out of concrete foundations in a twisted formation, demonstrating the power of the blast.
Framed by two water fountains representing wings of a dove at the entrance to the Peace Memorial Park sits a 10 metre-tall bronze statue of a seated man. His right index finger points to the sky, as a reminder of the threat of nuclear weapons, while his outstretched left hand signifies world peace.
Throughout the park are emotive memorial statues donated by various countries at the time. Most are from ex-Soviet states.
Further down the road in the Hypocenter Park are the Hypocenter Post, Urakami Cathedral Wall Remnant, and other small memorials to various resident groups.
It’s hard to believe over 73,000 died here almost instantly when the bomb detonated. Over 74,000 were injured from the blast and 120,800 were left homeless.
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Having visited Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, I personally couldn’t put my heart through it again in Nagasaki.
But if you’re only visiting Nagasaki, I’d highly recommend visiting the museum to gain a greater understanding of what happened and the devastating capabilities of nuclear weapons that last generations.
Atomic Bomb-Damaged Torii Arch at Sanno Shrine
Marked with blackened scars and only 800 metres south of the hypocenter, the stone torii gate to the entrance of Sanno Shrine was impacted by the blast.
While the surrounding neighbourhood was completely flattened and destroyed, one half of the torii remained standing, and is now a reminder of the resilience of Nagasaki residents.
Sanno Shinto Shrine Giant Camphor Trees
Completely stripped bare and scorched by the atomic blast, these trees were thought to be dead in the aftermath. At the time, nothing was expected to flourish for another 75 years.
Despite the odds, these two massive trees went on to sprout new growth the following year, and today their combined canopy measures a whopping 40 metres in diameter.
With sunlight creating the perfect komorebi through the dancing leaves, this shrine was one of my favourites in the city. Its beautiful atmosphere is a source of inspiration and hope.
Now to add something of a more positive nature to your Nagasaki itinerary to complete your first day: Mt Inasa Observatory via the Nagasaki Ropeway. It’s considered as one of the three “million dollar night views” in all of Japan.
With panoramic views over hillsides, scattered islands and the entire city below, in my opinion Mt Inasa is one of the most romantic places to visit in Japan. So much so, I included it in my Japan honeymoon itinerary as a must-see!
But don’t worry if you’re not travelling as part of a couple. I went solo and was so impressed with the observatory at Mt Inasa, I can’t recommend it enough on a clear day. Even the ropeway ride up will leave you speechless.
TIP: If you only have a one day Nagasaki itinerary you’ll miss these incredible nighttime views, which would be such a shame!
TIP: You’ll definitely want to begin your ropeway adventure about 1.5 hours before the sunset time. To commemorate your visit, why not have an unforgettable dinner at the observatory’s ITADAKI restaurant? Their set menu of 5 courses was about 3,500 yen and was a LOT of tasty food.
DAY 2: Things to do in Nagasaki City
Something that pops up as a top thing to do in Nagasaki is visit the Glover Garden. This is the former residence of Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish merchant in Japan during the 19th century.
The historic house and gardens offer spectacular views over the whole city. However, it costs 660 yen to enter, so I found a FREE option instead – more below!
The Minami-Yamate District (Minamiyamatemachi) itself is the perfect free alternative to Glover Garden. Geographically, Nagasaki is quite a hilly city. Some of the most fascinating sights are from the hilltops in this area. You can see these views on video over on my Instagram here.
Look out for Oura Catholic Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inscribed as one of the Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region, Oura Church is also known as the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan.
Now housing Christian relics, this place of worship was built as the first Christian church in the country after a dark past. From the 16th century in Japan, Christians were persecuted and the faith was suppressed for 250 years.
TIP: Head up the steep hillside staircases to the left, behind Oura Church to reach vantage points with these beautiful outlooks for free. See my Instagram video for the best 5 viewpoints in Nagasaki for more.
Nagasaki Minami-Yamate Pudding
Popular with locals, these delicious fruity, custard-like puddings are absolutely delicious. Some options available were inspired by the stained-glass windows of nearby Oura Church. Be prepared for a line up!
There are different flavours to try, including chocolate, melon, salted caramel, green tea, coffee, sweet potato and more. They also have pudding-inspired soft serve ice cream which also look amazing.
In Japan I’ve learnt to go for the “signature” items as they are the best-selling for a reason. So I chose the stained-glass inspired strawberry flavour. For 450 yen, it’s the perfect morning tea!
One of Japan’s top 3 Chinatowns alongside Yokohama and Kobe, Shinchi Chinatown in Nagasaki is actually the oldest in the country and perfect for indulging in local street food.
Eat your way around the neighbourhood by sampling different kinds of Chinese and Taiwanese morsels: Dumplings, steamed buns in the shapes of animals, yakitori sticks (skewers of chicken, pork or beef), peking duck and so much more.
It seems the vendors mostly sell the same kinds of street foods. But with the exception of a single ice cream place I saw, most don’t try to undercut their competitors with price.
During Lunar New Year, this entire area is decorated with thousands of traditional lanterns for the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, the biggest of its kind. The sheer number of lanterns hung all around the city took my breath away!
Also known locally as Kōshi-byō, Confucius Shrine is dedicated to the ancient Chinese philosopher of the same name. It’s an absolutely stunning example of Chinese settler influence on architecture in this multicultural city.
The shrine features a Chinese inspired stone bridge over a small koi pond, main courtyard with rows of white stone scholar statues. They say each scholar statue has a face that resembles a relative to anyone who visits! Don’t miss its interesting museum and gift shop at the back.
Cost: 660 yen and includes entry into the museum.
TIP: Ask for an English paper guide when paying your entry fee, otherwise staff will hand you one written in Japanese.
Meganebashi “Spectacles” Bridge
It’s humbling to realise this dark grey stone structure survived the atomic blast during WWII. Dating back to 1634, Meganebashi Bridge takes the shape of a pair of glasses when reflecting in the river below.
It’s so beautifully decorated during the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, don’t you think?
TIP: Around the corner is an actual glasses shop that uses the bridge as its business logo.
Dejima was first created as a man-made island port to trade with the Portuguese in the 17th century. Soon after, they were expelled from Japan and Dutch settlers were relocated here instead, and were then the only Westerners allowed to trade with Japan for 220 years.
The area features old settlers’ residences, warehouses, gates and walls from the time when items such as silk, cotton fabrics, ivory, and sugar were imported into Japan.
TIP: Adjacent Nagasaki Seaside Park features beautiful views over the harbour.
DAY 3 Optional Day Trip: Huis Ten Bosch or Arita
Located about an hour north of Nagasaki City in Sasebo, Huis Ten Bosch had been on my Japan bucket list for a number of years. So when the opportunity to visit Kyushu finally arose, I decided to combine my Nagasaki itinerary with Huis Ten Bosch and add a day trip to Arita, Japan’s porcelain capital.
TIP: Buy Huis Ten Bosch tickets in advance here to save time lining up to get in.
Huis Ten Bosch
With wooden windmills, flowing canals, narrow cobbled streets and the gabled Dutch architecture we’ve come to know and love, Huis Ten Bosch is the perfect way to spend an afternoon and evening in Nagasaki.
Created to commemorate the trading relationship between Japan and Holland centuries ago, Huis Ten Bosch is a Dutch-Japanese fusion themed park. Try different kinds of foods, enjoy beautiful gardens, windmills, indoor attractions, rides, boutique museums and more.
TIP: Read my full guide to visiting Huis Ten Bosch for all the details.
Depending on your interests, Huis Ten Bosch deserves at least half a day to complete. If visiting in winter, I can’t recommend the Winter Europe night illuminations enough. Their 13 million light bulbs ensured the display was one of the best I’ve seen anywhere.
TIP: For me, half a day was enough time here. I headed to the park around 2pm and stayed after the evening fireworks, the illuminations were worth braving the chill for. The prices and opening hours vary depending on season, so be sure to check before your visit.
TIP: You’ll want to select the optimal time to see this outdoor attraction without rain or snow, so I recommend staying flexible with your plans and select a day with the best weather forecast once you’re in Nagasaki.
Things to do in Huis Ten Bosch
- Old-style windmills – Absolutely looked authentic to the ones I’ve seen in the Dutch countryside and in Belgium!
- Kids’ Rides – Don’t miss these near the entrance if travelling with children.
- Porcelain Museum – Interesting collection of glass and porcelain from the area with Western influences over the centuries. The chandelier from the top floor is insanely impressive.
- Bridge of Love – Very similar to its counterparts throughout Amsterdam and lovely against a sunset backdrop.
- Nagasaki Castella – Every region in Japan is known for a local specialty, Nagasaki’s is Castella cake. You’ll see it in all the souvenir and convenience stores, do try its custardy flavour!
- Ferris Wheel – While it can’t be fully appreciated from the ground level, the illuminated maze can is best viewed from above after sundown.
- Markt Square Light-Up – Finally, crowds gather in the main square before 6:30pm to watch the replica Gouda Town Hall and surrounding buildings burst into white light. Two performers sang a rendition of “You Raise Me Up” in English, with a light show and fireworks being timed to the music. Snow in the form of foam (I suspected dishwashing liquid) fell down upon us, which was a lovely ending to the show.
Things to do in Arita
Looking to expand your Nagasaki itinerary? Discover the birthplace of Japanese porcelain in Arita!
Bordering Nagasaki Prefecture in Saga Prefecture, Arita is a charming, sleepy little town featuring traditional buildings, narrow laneways, dozens of little porcelain shops and vantage points. Its main draw card is a beautifully unique shrine adorned with a torii gate made of blue and white porcelain.
How to get to Arita from Nagasaki
If staying at Huis Ten Bosch, Arita can be reached in about 45mins by train. Or from Nagasaki city, 1 hour 45mins by train. The journey on the JR Midori line is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Some ideas for things to do in Arita are:
- Explore the Tombai Wall Alleys
- Discover the Arita Ceramic Museum
- Admire the craftsmanship of the porcelain torii at Tozan Shrine
- Enjoy lunch at Arita Porcelain Lab
- Take in sweeping valley views at the Memorial statue of Lee Sam Pei
TIP: My full travel guide to Arita Japan covers these attractions in details and so much more!
Concluding what to do in Nagasaki in 2 days or more
While the Peace Memorial Park is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and how horrific events should never be repeated, there is so much more to Nagasaki than being a recipient of the world’s second atomic bomb back on 9 August, 1945.
From interesting and moving UNESCO World Heritage sites, stunning scenery from hillsides (during day and night!) and one of the country’s best Chinatowns, why not extend your stay with the option to explore further into Japan’s early trading history at Huis Ten Bosch and Arita, too?
I hope this Nagasaki travel guide has helped inspire your own trip. Which things are you most looking forward to? If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below.
While you’re here, find out what to pack for Japan that you might be forgetting, learn essential Japanese phrases for tourists wth my FREE cheat sheet, find out more tips for how to prepare for a trip to Japan, Japanese snacks to look for, meaningful souvenirs from Japan and more itineraries for less-visited destinations on my Japan travel blog!
Until next time,
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