Takayama Old Town, the “Little Kyoto” of Japan’s Gifu region.
Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to avoid looking like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!
This local’s guide to Takayama Old Town was written by Yuki from Finding Yoki. I’m yet to visit this amazing region of Japan myself so I am very excited to share her top things to experience in Takayama from a local’s perspective. Discover how you can make the most of your travel time and enjoy stunning Takayama like a local, written by a local!
Here’s 6 unique experiences to try in Takayama Old Town
Located in Gifu prefecture, Takayama is in the centre of Japan and it has many popular tourist attractions that lure visitors from all over the world. Gifu is famous for its hot spring and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa’s Historic Villages. Although many people visit Gifu for Shirakawa’s historic villages, my absolute favourite part of this region is Takayama Old Town, which is referred to as “Little Kyoto”.
Takayama is famous for retaining its historical appearance. There are streets called “Sanmachi-dori”, and the old town has been beautifully preserved for 1600 years! It is okay to be a tourist, but it is definitely more fun to explore and merge with the crowds. Here are the 6 recommendations for you to enjoy this inspiring city like a local:
Indulge in Takayama’s street food
Japanese people love eating around! There are many stores along the street, and you will never get bored of exploring the historical architecture. Although it is fun to just stroll around the area, you have to eat local food when you are in Takayama Old Town.
There are several shops selling old-fashioned Japanese sweets and Takayama’s local food. My favourite local food is mitarashi dango and rice crackers. I definitely recommend you try mitarashi dango (skewered rice balls covered with soy sauce and sugar), rice crackers, and Hida beef skewer. For mitarashi dango, be sure to visit the shop called “SANGAWAYA”.
I also recommend the store “TEYAKI SEMBEI DOU” for rice crackers. There are several coffee houses and sake breweries here too, some of which have been in business for centuries. The shops in the area are typically open daily from 9AM to 5PM.
Enjoy award-winning sake at a local brewery
There are multiple Sake Breweries in this district as Takayama is popular for its tasty dry sake. One of the reasons why sake in Takayama is unique and delicious is because of its cold weather. Takayama gets cold and it snows a lot in winter, so this cold climate is essential for making good sake. Another reason is due to the flavourful rice produced in here.
Takayama produces a brand of rice called “Hida-Homare”, and the rice has a good balance of flavour. The combination of this rice and cold climate produces amazing sake! If you are in the district, I definitely recommend you try sake tasting. Each brewery makes unique flavours and aromas, so it will be fun to visit and taste the varieties of sake. The breweries are usually open to visitors from 8AM to 5PM.
You are welcome to enter and ask for their tasting samples. Finding the best sake for you is one of the great ways to enjoy Takayama like a local. My favourite brewery is Hirata Sake Brewery as it’s famous for its “suiou” sake, winner of many awards and is popular for its clear taste.
Buy traditional crafts from a Takayama morning market
If you want to enjoy the Old Town like a local, you also cannot miss Miyagawa morning market. It is open from 7AM to 12PM (it is open from 8AM in winter) every day. There are numerous stores along the Kaji Bridge to the Miya River so it’s easy to find. It’s a great place to wander through in the morning, and you can find lots of fresh fruit and veggies produced in Takayama.
You can also find handmade traditional crafts at Miyagawa morning market. It is definitely a perfect spot to hunt down souvenirs for yourself or loved ones!
Although Takayama is famous for their pottery (Shibukusa ware, Koito ware and Yamada ware) or wooden furniture, we decided to get cute crafts with traditional Ichii-Ittōbori. This is the name of a particular type of wood carving style which began in the 19th century. Since each piece is handcrafted, they are varied in colour and shape making them the ideal decoration for your house or a perfect souvenirs gift.
Predict the weather like a local
As temperatures vary significantly depending on the season in Takayama, you should definitely check the forecast beforehand to decide when to visit. Here’s a useful guide to the temperatures for each season to help you prepare:
- Spring: 9°C to 22°C
- Summer: 18°C to 31°C
- Autumn/Fall: 9°C to 20°C
- Winter: -5°C to 3°C
I visited Takayama in January, and temperatures were cold and skies were cloudy. It snowed while we stayed and the road became icy. Be mindful of this if you’re planning to drive around. Although the weather was unpleasant, the city wasn’t crowded.
I would say January and February are the quiet and peaceful times to enjoy a Takayama winter. If you want no crowds at all, I would recommend visiting around 9AM. It usually gets crowded with tourists by the afternoon.
Get involved in a Takayama festival
There are big festivals in Takayama during April and October, and they are two of the three most beautiful festivals celebrated in Japan. Several hundred people participate in the festival, dressing up in traditional costumes. They parade through the streets and perform Japanese orchestra, ancient music, and traditional lion dance.
During the first night of both festivals, approximately 100 lanterns are on each float. Each float has its own unique ornaments, so it is fun to take time to compare the floats when they are all paraded around the festival.
Takayama Festival is a very popular event, and there are usually several hundred thousand visitors from across Japan and the world. I recommend you book a hotel or ryokan as soon as you decide to visit!
Explore a stunning neighbouring village
If you visit Takayama, you cannot miss Shirakawa-go (Shirakawa’s historic villages). They are famous for their traditional farmhouses, and some of them are more than 250 years old. Due to the area’s natural environment, with high mountains and heavy snowfall, interaction with neighbouring regions is limited.
Shirakawa-go is about a 50 minute trip from Takayama old town, and I highly recommend you take a bus. The fee is usually around JPY 2,500 yen per way, with around 16 round-trip bus services a day. Shirakawa-go is out of a fairytale, and every photo you take will be a piece of art. There are many souvenir shops with wide varieties of products as well.
TIP: Just be mindful that you might need to wait in line for 2 hours to get a ticket (JPY 500 ea) if you are willing to take a photo on the observation point.
Ready to be invisible in Takayama old town?
Now you’ve uncovered the best Takayama advice from a local, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotel prices here?
Do you have any Takayama travel tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below ?
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Until next time,
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All photography copyright to Yuki at Finding Yoki.
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