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Kanazawa is a charming city on the west coast of Japan’s main Honshu Island.
Sometimes called “little Kyoto” thanks to its picturesque Edo area districts, we quickly added the city to our Japan itinerary when we heard about its attractions.
If you like teahouses, art and design, beautiful gardens and a buzzing market then you should put Kanazawa on your must visit list for Japan – you won’t be disappointed.
In this article we share the main attractions and things to do in Kanazawa as well as practical information to help you plan your trip including this great hotel!
Kanazawa Japan travel guide overview
Translated from Japanese, Kanazawa means “marsh of gold” and stems from a legend about a local man who discovered flakes of gold while digging for potatoes.
The city developed under the patronage of the powerful Maeda clan and their samurai warriors who ruled for 300 years. Under their influence, local crafts flourished and remain an important part of the city’s culture.
Gold leaf decoration is one of many craft specialties in Kanazawa – you can even eat it with ice cream (more on that below). In recognition of this creativity, Kanazawa was recognized by UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art in 2009.
Kanazawa escaped the devastation that hit much of Japan in World War 2. As a result, the city’s Edo era districts and their beautiful streets and architecture survived and are beautiful to wander around.
And if you love the serene beauty of Japanese gardens you are in for a treat. Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en is one Three Great Gardens of Japan.
We love exploring the secondary, less obvious cities wherever we go and Kanazawa did not disappoint. It is a cool and compact town with lots to keep every type of traveler occupied for a couple of days.
What's in this article
- 1 Kanazawa Japan travel guide overview
- 2 6 must see Kanazawa attractions
- 3 What to eat in Kanazawa
- 4 Where to stay in Kanazawa
- 5 Getting around Kanazawa
- 6 How to get to Kanazawa
6 must see Kanazawa attractions
One of Japan’s top 3 gardens, Kenroku-en was the first place that we visited in Kanazawa. In Japanese, Kenroku-en means “garden of six”.
This refers to the six attributes that all great gardens should have: seclusion, antiquity, spaciousness, human ingenuity, water and scenic views.
Kenroku-en definitely has all these elements. The 200 year old garden has quiet spaces, babbling brooks and ponds full of koi carp.
You can spend as little as an hour or many more exploring the paths, ponds and statues of this picturesque spot. I can imagine it looks absolutely stunning in spring and autumn.
Kenroku-en is open from 07:00 – 18:00 (March 1 to October 15), and 08:00 – 17:00 (October 16 – February 28). Admission is ¥310 for adults and ¥100 for children aged 6-17
Higashi Chaya District
Higashi Chaya is the main entertainment district in Kanazawa. It is a charming area of teahouses much like Gion in Kyoto and has its own community of geisha.
The photogenic streets of Higashi Chaya are perfect for a morning or afternoon stroll with a stop at one of the many cafes or historic tea houses.
If you a looking for a special souvenir there are many craft shops to browse including the glittering Hakuza Gold Leaf Store where you can visit their tea ceremony room completely covered in gold leaf [Hakuza honten: 1-30-4 Moriyama, Kanazawa].
The geisha houses put on visitor friendly shows that are highly recommended. They were not running during our visit but this show looked fascinating.
Just across the Asano River, Kazuemachi district is another entertainment area with historic houses that face the river. During spring this is a popular place to enjoy cherry blossoms but it was lovely in late summer too.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is small gallery that packs a big punch, especially if you are traveling with kids.
Aiming to connect regional traditional arts with the future, there are several exhibitions running at any time both inside and outside the building.
The most famous work is ‘The Swimming Pool’ by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. This is a fun piece that can be viewed above and below the surface of the simulated pool.
There are several free exhibits inside and some paid (including below the swimming pool). We liked the amazing free kids area where children can explore craft and art making with the help of the very kind supervising team.
If you are looking for quality souvenirs, the museum’s gift shop is fantastic.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa. Please see their website for latest exhibitions, opening times and admission.
Operating for over 280 years, Omicho market is known as ‘Kanazawa’s kitchen’. With 185 stalls offering the freshest fish and seafood from the Japan Sea, the market is a highlight of any visit to the city.
On our stroll through the market we saw some of the biggest oysters we had ever seen, huge fresh crabs and hundred of fish varieties. There are also stalls selling dried fish products and delicious, fresh (and cheap) sushi.
If you want to take full advantage of the market bounty, eat at one of the many sushi of kaisen-don (seafood with rice) restaurants inside the complex. Get there around 11.30am to avoid lining up for your lunch!
The market is a fun place to visit even if you do not like eating seafood. It is a buzzing hub of local life and you can also pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. The market is in the center of the city near the main train station.
Omicho market is open daily from 08:00 until 18:00 except on some public holidays. See the official website for more details.
Kanazawa Castle gazes down over the city from its raised vantage point opposite Kenroku-en gardens. Dating from the 16th century, most of the current structures were built in the 18th century after a series of devastating fires.
Over the years the castle had many purposes including a military barracks and university. It was reclaimed by the city in the 1990s after falling into disrepair. These days Kanazawa castle is undergoing faithful rebuilding works to restore it to its former glory.
It is free to explore the extensive grounds and cross the moat to the castle site. There is a small charge to access two turrets and a storehouse near the Kahoku-mon Gate.
Nagamachi Samurai District
Fascinated by samurai? The Nagamachi district was once home to upper and middle class samurai clans that supported the Maeda clan.
Here you can wander the well preserved streets with cobbled streets and buildings made from distinctive mud packed walls. I wish we had visited at night when the antique street lanterns glow.
At Nomura Samurai House you can view the artifacts and heirlooms of the wealthy Nomura family. Most impressive is a full suit of armour. Many visitors to the house come just for its peaceful garden and teahouse. Check the website for opening times and admission prices.
Other places in Kanazawa worth visiting
We simply ran out of time in Kanazawa so I know we will be back. Here are some Kanazawa attractions that were on our list:
- D.T. Suzuki Museum – small museum dedicated to acclaimed zen Buddhist philospher Dr Suzuki
- Myoruji Temple – known as the ninja temple, Myoruji is famous for its series of trapdoors and secret passages
- Kurando Terashima’s House – a collection of calligraphy and antiques belonging to a former middle ranking samurai
What to eat in Kanazawa
Famous for its fish market, of course you must eat seafood in Kanazawa. From the most enormous oysters you have ever seen to delicious sushi and everything in between, you will find it in Kanazawa.
As mentioned earlier, head to the market for seafood. If you are in a rush you can grab fresh sushi and eat at one of the casual market stalls. Plan your day around the market and get there around 11am so you can dine at one of the many kaisen-don (seafood with rice) restaurants.
As you probably know already, Japan’s regional sweets known as wagashi are legendary. It’s easy to find lots of treats to try in the Higashi Chaya district .’Chaya’ literally means tea house so you are in the right spot.
Keep an eye out for dorayaki – a red bean pancake, and kami-fusen – ball shaped wafers filled with jelly.
We also discovered these soufflé pancakes there. Light as air, it felt like you were biting into a cloud. The pancakes were paired with seasonal apple. [Cafe Tamon, 1 Chome-27-7 Higashiyama]
If you are a sweet tooth you must not leave Kanazawa without trying their famous gold leaf ice cream. Essentially soft serve with a sheet of gold leaf, it is a very decadent treat you find all over the city.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
I was very impressed with the accommodation available in Kanazawa. You can choose from many highly regarded traditional ryokan, AirBnBs and modern hotels.
We preferred to stay in hotels for this trip and I felt like we hit the jackpot with The Share Hotels Kumu Kanazawa property.
Close to Omicho market and main attractions, it is a modern hotel with both western and Japanese style rooms.
Each room sleeps up to 4 people in single beds so the hotel would also suit adults traveling in a group. The rooms are spacious and airy with a separate shower room including a bath (I want one at home now!).
A buffet breakfast is served each morning that includes western and Japanese options. The hotel also offers rooftop yoga and bike hire to guests.
We appreciated the communal areas with a kettle and microwave where you could have a little picnic from the convenience stores close by.
By Japanese standards this hotel would probably be classed as budget but it definitely did not feel budget. The interiors are slick, modern and cool and the service is excellent >click here for Share Hotels Kumu Kanazawa latest prices
Getting around Kanazawa
Kanazawa is a small city that is easily walkable for adults. If you are traveling with kids there are tourist loop buses that begin at the main station and stop at the major attractions to make sightseeing easy. Grab yourself a day pass as they are much better value than single rides.
We saw these bikes around town and they looked like a great way to get around the mainly flat streets. Our kids were a bit young for them but I looked into it anyway. You can rent bikes for as little as ¥200 per day. There are some rules that apply and the system is a bit complicated. It is best described here
Taxis are easy to hail too however note that the base fare is ¥700 even for very short distances.
How to get to Kanazawa
We took the JR Thunder Bird Limited Express shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Kanazawa. (To be honest I really wanted to ride the Thunder Bird just for the name!) The journey takes only 2 hours and trains depart every hour.
The trip from Tokyo’s Ueno station is from 2.5 hours with at least one departure an hour.
Building Kanazawa into your trip is easy if you use the JR Pass (available for purchase outside of Japan to non-Japanese residents only). You will make significant savings too if you follow our Japan itinerary: Tokyo – Kyoto – Kanazawa – Nagano – Tokyo within 7 or 14 days.
The standard non-reserved one way ticket from Kyoto to Kanazawa is ¥6,700. From Tokyo the price is ¥13,710.
Kanazawa’s station building is often listed among the most beautiful train stations in the world. The huge structure welcoming you into the city is shaped like a torii gate. It was handcrafted and reflects the city’s passion for art and design.
Kanazawa is an interesting place to add to your itinerary for Japan. This design centric town with a love of seafood and picturesque gardens is sure to win you over.
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