With an altitude of 371.4 m (1218.50 ft), Nagano City is considered the highest prefecture capital in Japan. It is also one of the most visited cities in the country during winter, for its many ski resorts that offer varieties of slopes which are perfect for all levels of skiers. But apart from winter activities, the place is boasting of historical sites, shrines, scenic attractions, and more. Also, because it is an underrated tourist destination in Japan, the area tends to have lesser crowd which means you can do whatever you want here without the hassle of lining up and everything that comes with crowded places. Before you head to the city, secure your stay in any of the best ryokans and Airbnb vacation rentals in town. In case you’re still researching about the activities and attractions in the city, read on, and discover our list of the top things to do in Nagano, Japan.
1. Go trekking in the pristine Kamikochi highlands
As beautiful as the Yosemite Valley in United States, Kamikochi highlands is surrounded by mountains and features marshes, streams, ponds, and lakes. And during summer, you can taste the water in the crystal-clear pond, which is mostly from melted snow. A lot of people travel here to see its marvelous sceneries and be one with nature. There are also many opportunities for hiking here that ranges from beginner to advance levels of hikers. The most difficult mountain to hike here is the Mt. Oku-hotakadake, which will take you more or less three days to reach the top. For it is the third highest mountain in Japan, and only 600 m (1968.5 ft) shorter than Mt. Fiji, you’ll need professional trekking gears. Moreover, this place to visit in Nagano is only open seven months a year, and the best time to visit is during mid-spring to November.
Address: Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
2. Climb to the top of the ancient Matsumoto Castle
Recognized as one of Japan’s National Treasures, Matsumoto Castle is the oldest remaining donjon castle in the country. Unlike other castles, which are located atop a hill, the Matsumoto is on a plain. It has a black exterior, which is why it is also known as the Crow Castle. It also features wooden interior, steep wooden stairs, and an observation deck on the sixth floor, which will give you a stunning view of the city. Apart from the beautiful structure, the castle is also known for being a great spot to view cherry blossoms. It has a spacious ground and park, as well as an outside moat, where people can stroll.
Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873, Japan
Website: Matsumoto Castle
Opening hours: 8:30am - 4:30pm (daily)
Price: 610 JPY (5.73 USD)
3. Soak in the famous white waters of Shirahone Onsen Yumoto Saito Ryokan
A majestic mountain resort that offers excellent accommodations and amenities, Shirahone Onsen Yumoto Saito Ryokan is the perfect attraction for people who are looking for peace and relaxation. One of its best features is the Shirahone hot-spring, which is in the list of Japan’s 100 best hot springs. It has milky white water which is said to make the skin soft, and rejuvenate the body and soul. There is a story about the spring, which says that if you soak for three days, you’ll never catch a cold for three years. Also, the water is potable and can be used to boil rice porridge, which the resort serves at every breakfast.
Shirahone Onsen Yumoto Saito Ryokan
Address: Japan, 〒390-1515 Nagano, Matsumoto, Azumi Shirahone Hot Spring 4195
Website: Shirahone Onsen Yumoto Saito Ryokan
4. Slurp up aromatic soba at Kajikatei
If you don’t know what to do in Nagano, the classic food trip is always a great choice. A trip to Nagano wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Kajikatei. The restaurant specializes in Sasa-Sushi and Tomikura Soba. Both dishes are unique and date back 400 hundred years ago. The Tomikura Soba uses the leaves of oyamabokuchi to hold together the wheat, while the Sasa Sushi is made of vinegar-ed rice along with miso paste, egg, walnuts, ginger, and more, then wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Make sure to drop by the restaurant, before leaving town, so you would also taste what the famous samurai, Uesugi Kenshin, eats during his visit in Nagano.
Address: 1769 Tomikura, Iiyama, Nagano 389-2258
Opening hours: 10am - 4pm (daily)
5. Marvel at Kanaguya, a traditional onsen ryokan
Set in a traditional wooden building that is an excellent depiction of the architectural style of the 18th century Japan, Kanaguya is a property straight out of an anime movie. One of the special features of this Nagano attraction is its four-story ‘Saigetsuro’ section, which is in the list of the Important National Cultural Property in Japan. It offers 29 individually designed rooms, with a standard feature of coffered wood ceilings and tatami floors. It also contains futon and a traditional Japanese table. And, some rooms include soaking baths. Additionally, it has numerous baths where the water comes from four separate hot springs.
Address: 2202 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano 381-0401, Japan
6. Sprawl back on the rolling grasslands of Utsukushigahara Highland
Located in between Matsumoto and Ueda, Utsukushigahara Highland is a 2,000 m (6561.68 ft) plateau that has a picturesque 360-degree view of its surrounding. To the east, you’ll see the stunning Mt. Asama, to the north and west is the remarkable Japanese Alps, and in the south is the famous Mt. Fuji. Another attraction here is its 133,000 sqm (1,431,600.09 sq. ft) ridge that features over 200 kinds of wildflowers. You’ll also find here the Outdoor Art Museum that has a collection of more or less 400 classical and contemporary sculptures scattered around the area. You’ll surely fall in love with Utsukushigahara Highland at first sight, so take as many pictures as you want.
Address: Takeshikamihoniri, Ueda, Nagano 386-0507, Japan
Website: Utsukushigahara Highland
Opening hours: 12am - 12am (daily)
7. Get up close with wild monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park
Located in the forest of Jigokudani valley, Jigokudani Monkey Park features Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkey. The good thing about this Nagano tourist spot is you’ll see happy wild monkeys that still live in their natural habitat. Apart from seeing them up close, you’ll see them bathe in a natural hot spring. Also, these monkeys are so photogenic, especially during winter, when the place is covered in snow, which happens every December to March.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Address: Japan, 〒381-0401 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Yamanochi, Hirao, 6845
Website: Jigokudani Monkey Park
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5pm (daily)
Price: 800 JPY (7.52 USD)
8. Picnic on the peaceful banks of Lake Suwa
Located southwest of Matsumoto, Lake Suwa is the largest lake in Nagano Prefecture. On its shores are the four shrines complexes of the Suwa Taisha Grand Shrine, which is one of the oldest and most notable Shinto shrines in Japan. Another famous attraction here is its wondrous gorge which you can explore through a boat ride that is accompanied by a singing boat woman. It is also a perfect place where the family can have picnics with the beautiful Lake Suwa at the background.
Address: 394-0000, Nagano Prefecture
9. Admire the stunning alpine wildflowers at Central Alps Senjojiki Cirque
Featuring the most scenic alpine view, Central Alps Senjojiki Cirque is a must-visit attraction for people who love nature, flowers, and spectacular sceneries. Its meadows, during summer, features a stunning view of subalpine and alpine wildflowers, and in autumn, it features an astonishing fall color. If you’re wondering what’s the easiest way to get to Senjojiki Cirque, you can ride the Komagane Ropeway, which is the oldest mountain ropeway in Japan.
Central Alps Senjojiki Cirque
Address: 1st Block, Akaho, Komagane City
Website: Central Alps Senjojiki Cirque
Opening hours: 8am - 5pm (daily)
10. Dip your feet in the emerald river waters of Atera Valley
Located northwest of Nojiri, Atera Valley is well-known for its turquoise and emerald green water and picture-perfect waterfall. And during summer, this place is filled with families trying to escape the heat of the city and cool down a bit by swimming in its picturesque water. Apart from the falls, the valley is a good source of timber like cypress, which is used to build shrines and buildings. Additionally, it is also famous for its species of wildflowers, such as rhododendron, clove cherry, and azaleas.
Address: Nojiri, Okuwa, Kiso District, Nagano 399-5504, Japan
11. Explore the magnificent Zenkō-ji Temple
Founded in the seventh century, Zenkō-Ji is one of the most prominent temples in Japan, which is home to the first Buddhist statue in Japan. You can only view the replica of the statue every six years, while the authentic copy is hidden from the public’s eye. Another popular part of the temple is its basement that has an underground passageway, which you need to walk in pitch darkness to find the “key to paradise.” This key is said to bring salvation to anyone who touches it.
Address: 491 Naganomotoyoshichō, Nagano, 380-0851, Japan
Website: Zenkō-ji Temple
Are you looking for a luxury place to stay in Nagano that has everything you’ll need? If so, you have to book a room at the Spa Lodge Redwood Inn. It is set in the mountains and close to a few attractions like Yamaboku Wild Snow Park and Kaminari Falls. The inn features eight no-frills rooms that have a standard feature of tatami floors and free Wi-Fi. Also, in some rooms, you’ll find traditional Japanese short-leg table, futons, as well as a balcony. But what makes this place special is its outdoor hot spring, made from an old redwood log. Moreover, it has an onsite restaurant and an attic room that contains a hammock and a sleeping loft.
Address: Okuyamada 3681-347, Takayama, Nagano, Japan, 382-0800
13. Worship at the celebrated Suwa Taisha Shrine
One of the most celebrated shrines in Japan, Suwa Taisha Shrine is composed of four shrines complexes that are located in the largest lake in the country, Suwa Lake. The two upper shrines worship Mt. Moriya, a holy mountain, while the lower shrines feature a sacred tree, which is the focus of their devotions. There are also more or less 10,000 Suwa sub-shrines all over Japan.
Suwa Taisha Shrine
Address: 1 Nakasu Miyayama Suwa, Nagano 392-0015, Japan
Website: Suwa Taisha Shrine
14. Take a scenic chairlift ride from Happo Pond
Poised in the Northern Japanese Alps, Happo Pond is a picturesque attraction that in a good day, reflects the Hakuba Sanzan mountains in its clear water. Though it has a high location, the pond is an easy 90-minute hike, and along the way, you’ll encounter beautiful wildflowers. Also, you can ride a chairlift and admire the views of the alps from above. Make sure you take lots of amazing photos when you visit.
Address: Happo-One gondola station: 5713, Hokujuo, Hakuba Village
Website: Happo Pond
Opening hours: 8am - 4:30pm (daily)
15. Pay tribute to ancient feudal lords at Sanada Shrine
Nestled in the Ueda Castle Ruins, Sanada is a small shrine that worships feudal lords such as Sanada, Sengoku, and Matsudaira. Though it is located in the castle, the shrine has no entrance fee, except if you wish to explore the inside of the castle. A lot of people visit the shrine to ask for better work and school situations. Also, there is a gift shop where you can buy a seal stamp that brings good luck.
Address: 1-12 Ninomaru, Ueda, Nagano 386-0026, Japan
Website: Sanada Shrine
16. Hike through the winding cedar woods to Togakushi Shrine
Located in a forested mountain, Togakushi Shrine is consist of lower, middle, and upper shrines. This shrine is based on a Japanese legend about the Sun goddess hiding in a cave after her brothers misbehaved, which as a result enveloped the world in complete darkness. So the other deities perform ritual dances, and when the sun goddess got curious and peek, one of the deities throw the cave door, giving the world light once again. Learn more about this mythology when you visit this beautiful shrine.
Address: Japan, 〒381-4101 Nagano, 3506 Togakushi, Nagano
Website: Togakushi Shrine
If you haven’t decided where to stay during your vacation in Nagano, then, why not book a room at the Ryokan Sakaya? It is a hotel that offers traditional Japanese rooms with free Wi-Fi access. It contains a flat-screen television for your entertainment, safety deposit box for your valuables, and a refrigerator as well as a tea set. Also, you’ll find a yukata robe and a private bathroom with bathtub. Another great feature of the hotel is its many relaxation amenities, such as an open-air and indoor bath, massage room, and sauna.
18. Tread the quaint Edo-style streets of Narai juku
Nestled in the mountainous Kiso Valley, Narai-Juku seems to be frozen back in time with its Edu Period structures. It features a 1-km (0.62 mi) flat walking path, perfect for strolling no matter your age. This pretty town is a popular merchant hub where you’ll find numerous shops selling a variety of items, such as lacquerware, souvenir items, and crafts. Also, it is lined with food stall and restaurants serving a variety of local delicacies like rice balls, soba noodles, vegetable buns, and more. Moreover, don’t forget to visit the many house-turned-museums.
Address: Narai, Shiojiri, Nagano 399-6303, Japan
Website: Narai juku
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
19. Ride a cable car over the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an attraction in Nagano, which will take your breath away because of its sceneries. It is a mountain scenic route that starts in Tateyama, Toyama, Ōmachi, and ends at Nagano. You’ll also pass through the stunning Mt. Tateyama in the Japanese Alps. Make sure to try this route before leaving Nagano to have a complete experience of the Prefecture.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Address: Tateyama, Nakaniikawa District, Toyama 930-1406, Japan
Website: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Located conveniently near the JR Bessho Onsen Station, Umematsuya Ryokan offers varieties of traditional Japanese rooms with television and air conditioning unit as well as a private bathroom. All rooms here feature tatami floors, futons, and shoji screen. Additional things you may find in your room include slippers, tea set, refrigerator, and free toiletries. The hotel also offers public and private baths that will surely relax its guests.
Hello beautiful Nagano
The city of Nagano has so much in stores for its visitors, starting from winter activities, beautiful shrines, frozen in time sites, up to the vibrant art scene and local eats. So, what are you waiting for? Head down to Nagano and have a wonderful vacation ahead. But, first, check out our list of the top things to do in Nagano, Japan, for your guidance.
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