Last Updated on 18th April 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Nagoya is the third most populated urban area in Japan, and the fourth most populated city, with over two million residents calling the capital of the Aichi Prefecture home. Home to a traditional Japanese castle, a tower which resembles the Eiffel Tower, and a number of other attractions, here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Nagoya.
- Where is Nagoya?
- What is Nagoya known for?
- Getting to Nagoya
- Best things to do in Nagoya
- Eating out in Nagoya
- Where to stay in Nagoya
Where is Nagoya?
Nagoya is located in central Japan, on the Honshu Island (the largest island of Japan), around an hour and a half southeast of Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train). The city is situated pretty close to Toyota city, which is where the Toyota car manufacturer is located.
Many locals from Nagoya joke that there is ‘not much to do in the city,’ but, if you scratch beneath the surface, you’re sure to find some unforgettable classic Japanese experiences.
What is Nagoya known for?
Nagoya is famous for being an important financial and cultural centre and as being one of the largest cities in Japan. The most iconic attraction in the city is Nagoya Castle, which is also one of the most popular places to visit in the city. Nagoya has its own unique food scene, which is referred to as Nagoya Meshi.
Getting to Nagoya
Chances are, if you’re travelling through Japan, then you’ll be doing it by bullet train, which is known as the Shinkansen. Nagoya’s main train station is Nagoya Station, which is served by regular JR trains.
The station is presided over by two large towers, which are known as the JR Central Towers and are so iconic that they have since become somewhat of a symbol of the city. Unfortunately, you can’t visit them, but their exteriors can be spied from various viewpoints all over the city.
Best things to do in Nagoya
Hands down, the best thing to do in Nagoya is to see the castle, which was built in 1610 (and completed around 1615) at the behest of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Following a victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, he built the castle, relocating the entire town from nearby Kiyosu.
The castle and accompanying buildings were designated a Japanese treasure in 1930 on account of their rich architecture. In fact, Nagoya Castle was the first Castle in Japan to be awarded this title!
The castle is particularly famous thanks to the fact that a golden Kinshachi sits atop of the castle. Shachi are fantastical creatures which summon water to prevent fire. Nagoya Castle also has more floor space than any other castle in Japan. Unfortunately, the castle was burned down during WWII air raids.
After growing wishes from the citizens to reconstruct the castle, it was rebuilt in 1959 using architectural plans from the Showa period. The interior housed a museum showcasing the history of Nagoya and the surrounding area, as well as golden screens from Hommaru Palace.
The reconstructed castle was reinforced with steel and concrete framing, though unfortunately these additions that were meant to be a security measure have not withstood the test of time and so the castle is closed as it is deemed to have poor earthquake resistance.
Nagoya Castle Hommaru Palace
In 1615, Hommaru Palace was constructed to serve as the principal residence of the first feudal lord of Owari Province. As the decades went on, the Palace became used as an accommodation for shoguns.
Covering an area of over 3000 square metres and over 30 rooms, this one-storey Palace was designated as a National Treasure at the same time as Nagoya Castle. Just like the castle, the original Hommaru Palace was burned down during air raids in 1945.
Restoration and reconstruction of the Palace began in 2009 and was opened to the public in June 2018. Unlike the castle, you can visit the interior of the Palace, and entrance is included within the price of a ticket to visit the whole Castle complex, including the grounds.
What’s interesting about Hommaru Palace is that there are faithful reproductions of the golden screens which once adorned the walls of the Palace.
You’re allowed to take photos of them (photography is often not allowed in historical Castles and Palaces) and they truly are rather intricate. Just note that you’ll have to take off your shoes to visit the Palace so be sure to wear socks!
Nagoya Castle Park
The park surrounding the castle lies in the shadow of the seven storey central keep and are home to the dramatic double keep which surround the castle complex. In cherry blossom (sakura) season, a number of beautiful pink blooms flower around the castle grounds.
Sample local food and drink
One of the savoury foods that Nagoya is most famous for is Misokatsu, a deep fried pork cutlet encrusted with panko breadcrumbs and smothered with a sweet miso sauce. Head to Yabaton if you want to sample a well-cooked version of this classic dish.
The restaurant chain now has a few branches, including one in Nagoya station, though the original one is in Yaba-Cho. They have other dishes on the menu too, including deep fried seafood.
Another classic experience to enjoy local food and drink in Nagoya is to head to the teahouse in the grounds of Nagoya Castle. There, you can enjoy matcha green tea with gold leaf, served together with a traditional Japanese sweet.
One of the more interesting places to visit in Nagoya is the Chubu Electric Power Tower, which is also known as the Mirai tower or officially as Chubu Electric Power MIRAI TOWER since May 1st 2021.
Constructed in the 1950S (and officially completed in 1954), the tower stands at 180 metres high. In the classic Godzilla film, the tower was destroyed using CGI.
Said to have been built with the Eiffel Tower in mind, today you can pay to go up to the observation deck where you’ll be rewarded with 360 degree views of Nagoya. At night, the tower is illuminated in blue light and is best-seen when viewed near the adjacent reflective pool!
Aichi Prefectural Government building
Thanks to its status as the capital of the Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya is home to several important buildings which are used to govern the region. The Aichi Prefectural Government building was constructed in 1938 and has been designated as an Important Cultural property since 2014.
Just like many other cities all over the world, Nagoya has its very own larger than life sign and you can take photos next to it if you so wish. The sign is located just outside of the Nagoya Castle complex, on the side of the park closest to the Aichi prefectural Government building.
Yanagibashi Central Market
Yet another place to experience authentic Japanese food is at the Yanagibashi Central Market. This market covers the space of around 13000 square metres and can trace its history back around 100 years.
There are over 300 stores selling all kinds of locally caught fish and seafood products. The best time to visit in the morning when all of the stalls are actually open and selling to customers. There are fewer street food shops, though some restaurants are present.
Typically, if you visit mid-afternoon or later, you’ll find that most of the stores have already closed for the day as many shops closes as early as 10 AM.
Tokugawa Art Museum
This museum is so-called because it is formed of collections owned and inherited by the Owari Tokugawa Family, a daimyō family of the Edo period. Today, visitors can pay to enter the art museum and marvel at over 10000 works of art.
One of the most visited shrines in Nagoya is the Atsuta Shrine, which draws in over 9 million visitors on an annual basis and is likely to have been established during the reign of Emperor Keikō l. Highlights include a Treasure Hall and over 70 festivals held at various points throughout the year.
Nagoya City Science Museum
Boasting the world’s largest planetarium, the Nagoya City Science Museum can be found in the heart of Nagoya and has collections and hands-on exhibitions showcasing three distinctive aspects of science: modern technology, life sciences, and general science. The museum is so large that you’ll need a few hours to truly get to enjoy its many exhibits.
It’s no secret that shopping in Japan is incredible, and one of the best places to enjoy shopping is at Ōsu Shotengai, a district which comprises of 9 different Shotengais (shopping streets) selling everything from foodie souvenirs to stationery and clothing.
Eating out in Nagoya
As I mentioned previously, Nagoya’s cuisine is pretty famous and it’s widely regarded to be one of the best places to eat out in Japan. With this being said, I’m actually vegetarian, which is never an easy feat when travelling in Japan. However, here are some places where we enjoyed some light bites to eat!
Beer Pub Brick Lane: This beer bar serves up classic pub food like burgers, macaroni cheese, etc. They had a few vegetable based dishes too, though the true draw was the fantastic selection of beer on tap.
MOLNODA 名古屋駅店: This salad bar was honestly an amazing find because they had an English menu that presented vegan and vegetarian salad bowl options. You can either buy your salad to take away or eat it at the little tables directly in the restaurant.
Where to stay in Nagoya
In order to experience Nagoya at night, I recommend staying overnight in the city, particularly because staying in Nagoya is much more affordable than cities like Osaka or Tokyo, meaning that you can enjoy a better quality of hotel for a fraction of what you would pay in some other Japanese cities.
Mitsui Garden Hotel Nagoya Premier: This four-star hotel is conveniently located just a short walk away from the Nagoya JR station and so this is where we opted to stay in Nagoya. There is also a traditional Japanese public bath on site, though what we liked most about our stay was the convenience to get elsewhere in the city. Check prices and availability here.
THE TOWER HOTEL NAGOYA: If you haven’t had enough of the TV tower from a single visit, then you can actually book to stay in the hotel contained within its frame. Highlights include a fitness centre, 24 hour front desk, and a restaurant onsite. Check prices and availability here.
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