Nagoya is often overlooked as travelers rush from Tokyo to Kyoto, passing it on the Shinkansen but seldom giving it a second thought.
It turns out that this vibrant city is bursting with amazing things to see and do! Whether you're a foodie, a lover of traditional culture or scientifically minded, there is no shortage of things to do in Nagoya.
This is a city that I myself once called home, and over the years I lived there, I found more and more exciting experiences to enjoy and places to go. Let's take a look at everything Nagoya has to offer!
Special Experience: Learn how to make Nagoya delicacies with a real-life Japanese grandma!
There are also a number of really cool aspects to Nagoya. What is cool about Nagoya, you may ask?
Well, for example, it's history! For example, Nagoya is the birthplace of Japan's very first Shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo, in 1147. His rise to power established the power and influence of the samurai caste and was the beginning of feudal Japan. Truth be told, Yoritomo established his capital in Kamakura and not in Nagoya, beginning the Kamakura Period of Japanese history– but Nagoya folks will be quick to remind you that he, and therefore, technically, samurai culture, came from their humble city!
Nagoya's list of historical names does not end there, either, as the city is also the hometown of a trio of significant Japanese historical heroes– Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. All three were leaders of Japan's samurai class and led their armies during the "Sengoku" warring period. A number of their most significant battles were fought in and around Nagoya. You can still visit the sites of some of these battles– as well as gardens and attractions named after them– today.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ushered in the hugely important Edo period, is particularly beloved by Nagoya residents. He built the iconic Nagoya Castle and built the city on an organized grid layout– which he then took with him to Edo, now Tokyo! (I suppose we could also argue that without Nagoya, there would be no Tokyo!)
Today, Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city and a heavy-hitter in the world of automobile, aerospace, electronics, and other high-tech industries. It is a common destination for business people making overseas trips to Japan, as many large Japanese corporations like Toyota have their headquarters here.
But what about visiting as a tourist? Is Nagoya worth seeing? Well, although Nagoya is independent enough not to rely on tourism, thanks to its huge array of industries, there is still a lot to see and do on a Nagoya trip.
So without further ado, here is our top pick of things to do in Nagoya!
20 Best Things to Do in Nagoya
- Osu Kannon Shopping District
- Join a Food Tour
- Atsuta Shrine
- Nagoya Castle
- Watch a Sumo Match
- Visit the Ghibli Park
- Try a Cooking Class
- Tokugawa Garden
- Try a "Morning Set"
- Higashiyama Botanical Garden
- Shirotori Garden
- Noritake Garden
- Try Wings at Sekai no Yamachan
- Take a Day Trip to Inuyama
- Watch a Baseball Match
- Visit Legoland Japan
- Visit the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
- Visit the SCMAGLEV And Railway Park
- Visit the Nagoya City Science Museum
- Nagoya Port "Bluebonnet" Wildflower Garden
1. Osu Kannon Shopping District
"Shotengai," or covered shopping arcades, are a must for any visitor hoping to get a glimpse into daily life in Japan. Even if you're not planning on buying anything yourself, walking up and down the retro shopping streets is a lot of fun.
Nagoya is home to the iconic Osu Kannon Shopping District, which has a little bit of everything. From quirky street fashion shops to mom-and-pop grocers, you're sure to find a shop that piques your interest and draws you inside!
If you are interested, Osu Kannon Temple also sits at the heart of the shopping arcade and is worth a quick look while you are in the area.
There is so much more to say about Osu Kannon Shopping District that we couldn't possibly leave it just at this– so please check out our detailed article Osu Kannon Shopping Street Food Guide!
For the foodies out there, the arcade also offers a world of tasty bites, so you may also be interested in our Osu Street Food Tour in Nagoya.
2. Join a Food Tour
Nagoya has a pretty incredible food culture, but as it sits so close to Kyoto and Osaka, its cuisine is often robbed of the spotlight in favor of its neighbors. On that topic, you simply must join a food tour while you are here to try Miso-Katsu, Oni-Manju, Ten-Musubi and many of the other delicious foods there are to sample in Nagoya! byFood, as always, has you covered– check out our Specialties of Nagoya Food Tour!
3. Atsuta Shrine
You may not have heard of this shrine at all– a shame, considering it is one of Japan's most important shrines and is almost two thousand years old! Located in the south of the city, it can be found in a beautiful woodland park that will make you forget you are in the heart of Japan's 4th most-populated area.
Atsuta Shrine is of huge religious, historical, and cultural importance, bested only by Ise Shrine. It houses the sacred sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, one of three sacred Japanese National Treasures that symbolize the power and importance of the Imperial throne. As such, all five of the deities said to inhabit the shrine are among the most powerful in Shinto– including the sacred sun goddess Amaterasu.
So special and sacred is this shrine that many of Nagoya's historical figures– including Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu– dedicated huge sums of money to maintaining it. Like so many things in the city, much of the original shrine was destroyed in WW2, but since 1955, painstaking efforts have been undertaken to restore and maintain the shrine to its former glory.
4. Nagoya Castle
This would be higher up the list, if not for the reconstruction efforts currently underway. This is the iconic castle built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, located in the heart of Nagoya. The castle you see today is, like many castles in Japan, a replica (the original having been destroyed in air raids during the Second World War).
Inside the castle is a fascinating museum about Nagoya's history and of course the Tokugawa Shogunate. The castle's palace also offer a look into rooms that suggest how the ruling warrior caste may have lived hundreds of years ago.
Much of the castle's rebuilding after the war was in ferroconcrete, and Nagoya City is currently undertaking a large project to rebuild the entire facility in wood using traditional methods. The palace was successfully completed in 2018, but the castle's main keep (closed in 2018) is scheduled to be torn down in 2024 and rebuilt by 2028.
5. Watch a Sumo Match
Did you know that Nagoya is home to one of Japan's six "Honbasho" official sumo tournaments? Nagoya's sumo tournament, or the "Nagoya-Basho" takes place in July. The arena, the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, is located right next to Nagoya Castle, built by Edo period leader Tokugawa Ieyasu– ironic, considering sumo was banned in the Edo period!
If you are visiting Nagoya during July, this event is absolutely not to be missed– and you will find that tickets are, on the whole, much easier to get hold of than they would be in popular cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
6. Visit the Ghibli Park
Opened in November 2022, this brand-new theme park is a must for all Ghibli and anime lovers. Although it is technically in Nagakute city's Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park, it is so easy to reach from Nagoya city that it makes for an easy and enjoyable day trip. Simply hop on the Higashiyama subway line to Fujigaoka and change there to the futuristic Linimo maglev line. Then you can make your way to– wait for it– Ai-Chikyu-haku-kinen-koen station. (Now try saying that three times really fast!)
The park is slated to expand and include more areas from the whimsical world of Ghibli, but for now, visitors can enjoy three areas– the Hill of Youth, Dondoko Forest (home to Mei and Satuski's house from My Neighbour Totoro) and Ghibli's Grand Warehouse.
Tickets are notoriously difficult to get hold of given the park's inevitable popularity, so make sure you book several months ahead of your visit to avoid disappointment.
7. Try a Cooking Class
As a city with so many delicious specialties to try, it stands to reason that a cooking class is one of our top recommended activities in the city! Being so close to many ports, Nagoya offers plenty of fresh seafood. So if sushi is your thing, be sure to check out this delicious Sushi-Making Class!
Alternatively, if the high number of deep-fried foods that Nagoya is famous for has left your arteries feeling in need of a bit of a cleanse, then you can also opt for a Healthy Japanese Dishes Cooking Class.
8. Tokugawa Garden
As we mentioned at the start of this article, Nagoya's Three Heroes lend their names to many attractions in the city. Tokugawa Garden, or Tokugawaen, is one such place! This traditional Japanese garden dates back to the Edo period when it was constructed as a retirement villa for Tokugawa Mitsumoto, one of the many grandsons of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
To this day, the garden remains popular with locals who seek respite from the busy life of Japan's fourth-largest city. With two towering waterfalls, flowing streams, seasonal flowers, and even a traditional Japanese restaurant to keep you occupied, there is plenty to discover in this garden that could keep you occupied all day long.
9. Try a "Morning Set"
Across much of Japan, cafes don't tend to open until the mid-morning. Nagoya is an exception, as it is home to the famous "Morning Set"!
A "Morning Set" is usually served from a cafe's opening at around 6 am-7 am, right until lunchtime. It usually consists of black coffee, a boiled egg, and a slice of toast served with sweet azuki bean jam and butter. Azuki bean jam on toast is often known locally as "Ogura Toast."
There are hundreds of cafes where you can experience a Morning Set in Nagoya, but if you want to get to grips with a bit of the city's influence on Japan, we recommend enjoying it at coffee shop chain Komeda's Coffee. Although Komeda's Coffee can be found across Japan, Nagoya is its home, and to this day, they still serve a popular Morning Set!
10. Higashiyama Botanical Garden
Like so many of the gardens to discover in Nagoya, this is a green paradise that seems out of place in such a large city! This sixty-hectare attraction also includes a zoo, but the botanical gardens, making up nearly half of the facility, are the star of the show. The garden hosts over 7000 species of plants, all of which bloom during Japan's many seasons. This means that regardless of the time of year of your visit, you are sure to see flowers.
And as if it couldn't get any better, you can enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, colorful leaves in fall, and snow in winter. The garden also boasts a traditional gassho-zukkuri style thatched roof house, akin to those found in Shirakawago, a beautiful greenhouse, and natural woodlands dotted across the premises. It's the perfect place to go if you fancy a stroll in nature without leaving the city.
11. Shirotori Garden
Shirotori Garden is another of Nagoya's wonderful Japanese-style gardens, and at 3.7 hectares, it's one of the largest in the city. But despite its traditional appearance, it is actually a very recent construction! A last-minute decision to turn a lumber park into a beautiful garden instead of a swan pond gave rise to an ambitious renovation project that took over ten years and birthed the beautiful garden that you see today. It remains a beloved place to enjoy a stroll among residents.
The garden's central pond is designed in the image of the Kiso River, which flows through the outskirts of the city. You can enjoy the sight of colorful koi carp swimming elegantly through this pond in all seasons.
If you would like to experience a taste of Japanese culture, you can also enjoy a bowl of green tea and a traditional Japanese wagashi sweet at the Seiu-tei tea house in the center of the garden.
12. Noritake Garden
If the name "Noritake" sounds familiar, flip over your plate the next time you dine out. There is a good chance it may have "Noritake" printed on the bottom!
This china manufacturing company is known for its high-quality dishware used worldwide. And Nagoya is its home!
This big attraction is a beautiful Western-style garden featuring grand red brick buildings, a rarity in Japan. It was opened in 2001 to commemorate the centenary of the Noritake company. Split into three distinct zones, you can learn all about Noritake's history and products, and there is an opportunity to purchase some of their high-quality tableware for yourself. There is also a fine-dining Western-style restaurant on the premises.
13. Try Wings at Sekai no Yamachan
One of Nagoya's famous dishes is "tebasaki", or chicken wings. Although these feature on many yakitori menus nationwide, Nagoya has a special take on them. Rather than being cooked in salt or "tare" (a sweet-salty soy glaze), they are instead grilled in a delicious black pepper spice blend. They are an absolute must-try if you visit the city, and the best place to do so is any of the Sekai no Yamachan izakaya chain restaurants, agreed among most Nagoya residents as being the place to go to try tebasaki.
Sekai no Yamachan had humble beginnings. What started out as a small stall in the downtown Sakae district in the 80s is now a multi-chain enterprise spread across the city and beyond… and still serving delicious wings to this day! You can find Yamachan chains across all of Nagoya's districts and, if you so wish, you can even visit the "Honten" (headquarters and site of the original stall) in Sakae.
14. Take a Day Trip to Inuyama
This is another attraction on the list that is not technically within Nagoya, but it is well worth making a day trip of!
You have probably not heard of Inuyama, but by the time your visit ends, it will certainly hold a special place in your heart. Inuyama is a small town, but its history is as rich and varied as Nagoya's. The Oda clan (yes, the same clan as Oda Nobunaga!) made this town a stronghold during the Sengoku warring period– evidenced by the presence of Inuyama Castle, which watches over the town. And I'll let you into a little secret… unlike Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle's keep is an original, earning it a coveted place in the hall of Japan's handful of castles with their original keep still intact.
Nearby the beautiful castle, there is also a strikingly well-preserved old-town district that is well worth a stroll through. And given that Inuyama is not as well-known as Kyoto or nearby Takayama, this area is considerably quieter, with noticeably fewer tourists. If you stroll through the old town, try a skewer or two of gocheimochi, a local specialty!
15. Watch a Baseball Match
Like so many large cities in Japan, Nagoya is home to a professional baseball team in the Central League, the Chunichi Dragons. As such, Nagoya hosts one of the largest baseball stadiums in Japan, Nagoya Dome. If you enjoy baseball in your home country, it is definitely worth catching a match here in Nagoya, especially if the Chunichi Dragons are playing at home! You will find that the usually quiet and serious people of Nagoya really let themselves go when their favorite team is on the field!
16. Visit Legoland Japan
With only ten Legoland parks around the world, Nagoya is home to one of them! If you are traveling with your little ones or if you have long dreamed of unleashing your inner little one at Lego's signature theme park, then this is the place for you.
As with Legolands all over the world, you can enjoy miniature views of famous cities in Japan, all constructed with the popular building blocks… as well as a few to-scale models dotted across the park! You can also have a go at making your own original Lego kits.
There are a number of rides to enjoy too, appropriate for a range of ages. So if your kids are the adventurous types (or if you're like me and are an adult who is too scared to go on hardcore theme park rides), then you can enjoy a few light thrills!
17. Visit the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
Again, this attraction is not technically in Nagoya. It is in the nearby city of Toyota, from which the globally-renowned car company takes its name. It is easily accessed by taking the Meitetsu-Nagoya Line from Nagoya to Sako Station.
Even if you are not a car enthusiast, then you are sure to find this museum fascinating. In addition to walking you through Toyota's history and with a hall showing dozens of the company's famous models, the museum honors the various technologies and scientific discoveries that led to the human innovation that is the automobile.
18. Visit the SCMAGLEV And Railway Park
Like the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, this is not necessarily an attraction limited to those with a love of science! If you have or will ride the Shinkansen during your visit, this fantastic museum will give you even more insight into this marvel of technology, explaining how the magnetic levitation miracle behind this innovative transport works. The museum, run by JR Central, exhibits various Shinkansen models both current and historic, as well as iconic trains from Japan's past.
19. Visit the Nagoya City Science Museum
This museum is another great option if you are visiting Nagoya with children, but it is also a fantastic option for a rainy day. The building itself is a famous part of Nagoya's skyline, which is its iconic, spherical planetarium lodged between two pillars. The planetarium is the largest in the world at a staggering 35 meters. The museum's exhibits all encourage a hands-on approach, inviting visitors to participate in experiments to see how the world around them works. And when I say experiments, we aren't talking a potato battery-- we're talking making mini tornados right there in the museum!
20. Nagoya Port "Bluebonnet" Wildflower Garden
For the flower lovers among you, this is for you. This beautiful garden, located next to Nagoya Port, was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Chubu Electric Company. It is left to run somewhat wild to allow visitors to enjoy various species of flowers exhibited in different ways.
The attraction is divided into over 20 different carefully-landscaped gardens, each one allowing you a chance to experience a different type of flower or a different type of scenery. The garden's specialty is its collection of wildflowers, which are cleverly planted in such a way that looks natural but also showcases the natural beauty of the flowers.
Author's Top Pick - Sakura on the Yamazaki River
Kyoto and Tokyo are common draws for visitors hoping to come to Japan during cherry blossom season. In moving between the two, they miss a beautiful (and much quieter) cherry blossom spectacle...
The Yamazaki River is designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom viewpoints, and with just one visit, it's easy to understand why. The 2.5-kilometer stretch of river is lined with over 600 sakura (cherry blossom) trees. Their branches overhang the edges of the river, dropping fluttering petals into the water.
During the peak blossom-viewing season, you can also find tasty street stalls lining the roads next to the river. By night, the branches of the trees are also illuminated, so you can even enjoy the blossoms after dark.
So for your next cherry blossom visit to Japan, don't skip over Nagoya! Be sure to stop off on your way between Tokyo and Kyoto to enjoy this magical sight.
Nagoya - Japan's Underrated Hero
Although it seldom has its praises sung in guidebooks, Nagoya, a crucial pillar of Japan's economy and infrastructure, is not to be missed. So it doesn't have the charming old towns of Kyoto or the eclectic mix of Tokyo and Osaka, but that doesn't matter-- what Nagoya has going for it is that it is Nagoya, its own city marching to its own beat. If you take the time to explore this city and unlock its secrets, you'll find your heart suddenly comes in time with this beat, too.
Never change, Nagoya!
Don't miss any of the food Nagoya has to offer! Check out our guide for What to Eat in Nagoya.