Explore Japan's West Coast: 3-Day Kanazawa Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

By Ryan Noble
Updated: March 18, 2024

Kanazawa is a historic, beautiful city in Ishikawa, the north-western prefecture of the Chubu region of Japan. This breathtaking area gives easy access to sweeping views of the Sea of Japan, the Japanese Alps, and as one of the few major cities not destroyed in the bombing raids of World War II, it also retains much of its original Japanese architecture.

Only 2-3 hours from must-see Japanese cities like Tokyo and Kyoto by Shinkansen (bullet train), there’s no excuse not to visit Kanazawa for a few days of historic castle-spotting, memorable park strolls, coastal day-trips, and local Japanese food.

And it all starts here, with our 3-day Kanazawa itinerary, perfect for first-time visitors to Ishikawa or seasoned travelers of Japan looking for the best things to see, eat, and do in Kanazawa! 

Getting to Kanazawa

A high-up shot of central Kanazawa, showing the city lit up as the sun begins to set.

If you’re flying directly to this region of Japan to start your trip with Kanazawa, the closest airport is Komatsu Airport, within 30km of Kanazawa City. Getting from Komatsu airport to Kanazawa is relatively stress-free, with a regular Airport Limousine Bus running between the airport and Komatsu Station. From there, you can catch a train from Komatsu to Kanazawa Station in about 40 minutes, costing under ¥800.

More likely, you’re coming from one of Japan’s most popular cities, like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. Well, you’re in luck! Getting to Kanazawa from any of these major cities is equally convenient, with a number of shinkansen and Express train lines available.

Getting from Tokyo to Kanazawa: Connected by the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen, the journey from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa takes about 2-2.5 hours and will cost around ¥14,000. 

Getting from Osaka to Kanazawa: From Shin-Osaka Station to Kanazawa takes about 2.5 hours on the Thunderbird Limited Express, costing around ¥8,000. 

Getting from Kyoto to Kanazawa: From Kyoto Station to Kanazawa takes about 2-2.5 hours on the Thunderbird Limited Express, costing around ¥7,000. This is actually the same train that leaves from Shin-Osaka Station, traveling through Kyoto to reach Kanazawa.

Getting around Kanazawa

Unlike the major cities mentioned above, Kanazawa doesn’t have an inner-city train or subway service. But, before you panic, don’t worry! Kanazawa is still easy to explore by bus, bike, taxi, or foot.

Buses in Kanazawa

The Kanazawa Loop Bus on the road. It is bright green with a yellow sign, saying "Kanazawa Loop Bus" in a fancy font.

Alongside the usual local buses, there’s the Kanazawa Loop Bus, traveling around the city from Kanazawa Station to many of the popular sightseeing destinations. There’s a flat rate of ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children, with clockwise and counterclockwise buses leaving from the same bus stop by the station.

Another option is the Kenrokuen Shuttle, which goes directly from the East Exit of Kanazawa Station to Kenrokuen Gardens about three times per hour, with the last bus leaving from Kenrokuen at 5:50pm.

Buy the Hokutetsu One Day Pass: This pass can be purchased at the Tourist Center for ¥500 (adults) or ¥250 (children) and it allows you to ride the Kanazawa Loop Bus and the Kenrokuen Shuttle as many times as you wish within a single day. Simply show your pass to the driver as you exit the bus and you’re good to go.

If you’re planning on ticking off multiple sightseeing spots in one day — as we’ll suggest in this very Kanazawa itinerary — you’re likely to make quite the saving by getting the One Day Pass!

Find out more about Kanazawa’s tourist buses!

Pro tip: You get onto buses in Kanazawa at the rear door, then exit through the door by the driver (after paying the fare, of course). Unless you’re using the One Day Pass, grab a ticket as you get on the bus and then present this to the driver at your stop. They’ll tell you how much you need to pay, and then you’re on your way!

Make sure you have cash: Kanazawa buses, unlike buses in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, do not all accept IC cards so it's best for travelers to have coins on hand!

Cycling in Kanazawa

A woman smiles down at a bright green bicycle with a basked, part of Kanazawa's Machi-Nori bike rental scheme.

Cycling is a great way to see Kanazawa without relying on the schedules and routes of public transport. In fact, Kanazawa has a public bike-sharing service called Machi-nori, giving you 70 locations throughout the city to pick up and drop off bicycles. The bikes are also electric-assisted bicycles, meaning you’ll hardly even break a sweat as you cycle around this charming city.

Find out more about Kanazawa’s bike-sharing service, Machi-nori!

Day 1 in Kanazawa

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden on a sunny day. The trees and clouds are reflected on the pond, and the trees are covered in poles to protect from heavy snow.

Kenrokuen Garden is a must-see sight in Kanazawa and it’s considered one of the three great gardens of Japan, likely because of its wide variety of trees, flowers, ponds, and waterfalls — with something flourishing and blooming in every season. 

During winter, you’ll also notice the intriguing cones placed over certain trees throughout the garden. These are called “yukitsuri” and they’re put in place to support the tree branches from being damaged under the weight of heavy snow.

Fun fact: “Kenrokuen” means “having six factors,” and is said to represent the six aspects that make this garden so beautiful: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources and magnificent views.

Kanazawa Castle Park

Kanazawa Castle Park at sunset. In the foreground there are glowing red lanterns and blooming cherry blossom trees.

Next to Kenrokuen Garden is Kanagawa Castle, making it the ideal next stop in our day. But this castle is so much more than convenient, it’s also a place of historic importance in Japan. It used to be the seat of the Maeda Clan, lords of Kaga, coming second to only Tokugawa Ieyasu — the leader of the shogunate — in size and wealth.

Kanazawa Castle has also been the site of much disaster, having been rebuilt many times over the centuries as a result of large fires — the most recent of which was in 1881, when only two storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate survived. 

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art 

A photo taken through a window at Kanazawa's 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, showing people looking at exhibits.

Roughly 15 minutes away by foot is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, an exceptionally sleek, circular museum encased in glass. Hailed as a “progressive museum,” expect to find large-scale displays and interactive exhibits that sometimes feel more like family-friendly jungle gyms than priceless art.

Most tourists come here for the museum’s famous "Swimming Pool" exhibit, where it looks like you’re standing under the surface of the pool itself, but there are also quarterly exhibitions of domestic and international artists in the museum’s gallery space. 

Plus, there’s an on-site nursery and kids’ studio for parents who feel like exploring the museum at a leisurely pace without hearing, “Are we done yet?”

Note: Due to the Noto Peninsula earthquake on January 1, 2024, a number of exhibitions at this museum are still closed, including the iconic Swimming Pool. More details can be found on the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art’s website.

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

A path outside of the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art, lined with green trees, benches, and a map. In the background, the red-brick museum stands tall.

Less than 10 minutes away from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art by foot is the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art, showing off a collection of regional Japanese artwork and artifacts in a stylish, modern facility. With its ever-changing exhibitions, every season brings something new, giving you a reason to come back whenever you find yourself in Kanazawa again.

However, if you only have time for one museum on this day, we’d recommend this one while the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art works on reopening key exhibitions. 

Whether you visit one museum or both, it’s time for dinner and you won’t have to go far…

Enjoy an evening of Italian French fusion cuisine at La Luce

A selection of dishes on a table at La Luce, served alongside a bottle of wine.

Only 15 minutes away from Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art is La Luce, bringing a culinary fusion of Italian and French cuisine to the delicate, understated presentation that Japan is so famous for.

Using local ingredients — many of which are organic and grown in Kanazawa — prepare to indulge in luxurious dishes from flounder and sea urchin carpaccio to veal loin with Madeira sauce, foie gras, and truffles. 

While you’re here, don’t forget to pair your dishes with La Luce’s wide selection of natural wines!

Book your Italian French fusion dinner plans at La Luce!

Day 2 in Kanazawa

Explore Omicho Market and take a Japanese cooking class!

Omicho Market is filled with traditional Japanese seafood and produce shops that have been running for over 300 years, feeding into Kanazawa’s unique food culture. Even so, wandering around it yourself can feel a little daunting if you’re by yourself, which is where our Omicho Market tour (and cooking class!) comes in!

From 10am to 12:30pm, set aside time for an unforgettable experience. First, you’ll be taken through Omicho Market by a local guide, who will tell you the best places to buy kitchenware, seafood, souvenirs, and ingredients for what comes next: a cooking class!

Learn how to prepare Japanese seafood and vegetables and take home more than just souvenirs from Kanazawa’s unique food scene.

Book your spot on the Omicho Market tour and cooking class in Kanazawa!

Alternative morning plan: Kanazawa bike tour with lunch

A picture taken in Kanazawa, showing the river and the banks running alongside stretching into the distance.

Think you’d rather spend your morning on the saddle? Join this half-day bike tour of Kanazawa, running from 9am to 1:30pm and taking you through historic alleys, alongside scenic rivers, and around mountain paths, all before enjoying a traditional Kanazawa lunch at Shijimaya Honpo, famous for their Kaburazushi, a style of sushi made with salted turnips, yellowtail, and koji.

Book your spot on this Kanazawa bike tour!

Make it a full-day Kanazawa bike tour: For an all-day adventure with a few more must-see Kanazawa spots included, running from 9am to 4:30pm, send us an email and we’ll get you back on your bike in no time.

Experience a sushi lunch at Komatsu Yasuke (by Kanazawa Station)!

A plate of sushi and sashimi at Komatsu Yasuke, including prawn, tuna, wasabi, and a lime wedge..

Since you’ll have a bit of time between the morning’s activities and something special we’ve got planned for the evening, how about stopping for a traditional sushi lunch near the station?

Morita Kazuo is the sushi legend that runs Komatsu Yasuke, working into his eighties to bring his expertise in sushi and sashimi to the lucky diners of Kanazawa. Make your choice between a sushi only set-menu or a sushi and sashimi set-menu and prepare for traditional Japanese sushi like you’ve never tasted. 

Note: Morita-san’s known to enjoy a chat with diners, explaining each dish as it’s being served to you, so if there’s someone who can speak Japanese with you, even better!

Take a geisha tour through Higashi Chaya and Kazue Machi

The traditional streets and tea houses of Higashi Chaya, a geisha district in Kanazawa.

From 6-9pm, get your geisha on with our Kanazawa geisha tour, where a knowledgeable local guide will take you through the geisha districts of Higashi Chaya and Kazue Machi, explaining the history and customs behind Japanese geisha culture.

Then, discuss everything you’ve loved and learned over a full-course meal and drinks at a local Japanese restaurant. But don’t stay out too late — Day 3 will see us taking a day trip from Kanazawa, so you’ll need your energy!

Day 3 in Kanazawa: Day trip to Fukui!

Just an hour away from Kanazawa by Limited Express train is Fukui, known for its dinosaur museum, Echizen pottery, Eiheiji Temple — a headquarters of Zen Buddhism — and Maruoka Castle, one of 12 original castles left in Japan. It’ll cost about ¥3,070 to get here, but it’ll be worth it.

Maruoka Castle 

Looking up at Maruoka Castle, surrounded by trees and blue sky. The leaves are started to take on the colors of fall.

Maruoka Castle dates back to 1576, and is one of only 12 original castle towers still standing in Japan today. Surrounding the castle is Kasumigajo Park, a Japanese garden that made it into the top 100 historical parks in Japan.

Even better, if you happen to be visiting during the cherry blossom season in late March to early April, the castle will be lit up by 300 paper lanterns and the cherry blossom trees will be illuminated, alongside a projection mapping exhibition showing the legends of the castle.

Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins

A bridge crossing a river, leading to the Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins. In the river, a bright koi carp swims.

30 minutes from central Fukui is the Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins, a must-see spot for Japanese history buffs. Here you’ll discover the partially reconstructed ruins of the Ichijodani Castle Town, once home to the Asakura clan — at least, that is, until 1573 when this center of culture, military prowess, and commerce was destroyed by the feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

The skeleton of a t-rex at Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Unless you have a car, this next attraction will take you about 2.5 hours to reach by two buses (and a bit of walking, if we’re honest!), but as the center of paleontology in Japan, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum should be on your Japan bucket list — a thought that many dinosaur-loving travelers seem to share, as this museum sees 900,000 visitors every year!

The museum holds excavation experiences from spring to autumn, special exhibitions on specific topics — usually held from July to October — and even has a dinosaur-themed restaurant on the third floor.

Nerdy dinosaur fact: Five dinosaurs have been discovered here: the Fukuiraptor kitadaniensis, Fukuisaurus tetoriensis, Fukuititan nipponensis, Koshisaurus katsuyama, and Fukuivenator paradoxus. In case anyone asks…

Alternative plan #1: Spend another night in Ishikawa

The relaxing, steamy waters of Awazu Onsen at Hoshi Ryokan in Ishikawa, overlooking the gardens.

Extend your time in Ishikawa with our luxurious private ryokan and kaiseki dinner experience, giving you a 1-night stay at Hoshi Ryokan, famous for its beautiful Japanese gardens, irresistible Awazu Onsen baths (free of charge, by the way), and over 1,300 years of history.

And that’s not all! You’ll also be served a seasonal kaiseki dinner and breakfast in the comfort of your room, and learn the art of shakyo (meditative script writing), sure to have you feeling at one with the rich past of this traditional Japanese inn.

Upgrade your experience: This experience also gives you a choice of two rooms, with the possibility of adding a sake tasting to your stay.

Alternative plan #2: Adventure in the ancient region of Kaga

A traditional Japanese temple in the mountains, surrounded by trees and leaves of green, yellow, orange, and red.

Another day trip from Kanazawa that you’ll never forget is our day trip to the ancient region of Kaga, famous for its history, onsens, and beautiful scenery. After being picked up at Kanazawa Station, you’ll be whisked away for 9 hours of new experiences across three different cities. Worship nature at Natadera temple, indulge in a seafood lunch in Yamamotoya, and take a dip in the hot springs of Yamanaka Onsen. 

Then, feeling relaxed, you’ll be dropped back at Kanazawa Station, ready to enjoy your final night in this historic city or begin your journey to your next destination! 

If you’re not quite ready to say sayonara to Kanazawa just yet, you could also join our Kanazawa gold leaf tour, tempting you to stay another day with gold leaf ice cream and takoyaki. Or, take a look through our other Japan travel guides:

Kanazawa FAQs

How far is Kanazawa from Tokyo?

Kanazawa is about 2-2.5 hours away from Tokyo by JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. You can catch this from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa Station and it will cost you around ¥14,000. 

Where is Kanazawa in Japan?

Kanazawa is located on the west coast in the Ishikawa Prefecture and Hokuriku region of Japan. It looks out onto the Sea of Japan to the west and Toyama Prefecture to the east. It is located about the same distance between Tokyo and Osaka, taking between 2-3 hours by Shinkansen to travel from either to Kanazawa.

What to do in Kanazawa?

There’s plenty of things to do in Kanazawa, whether you’re looking for history and culture at Kanazawa Castle, seasonal flora and fauna at Kenrokuen Garden, geisha-spotting afternoons by the traditional tea houses of Higashi Chaya or Kazue Machi, or making memories at the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum or Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art. 

What is Kanazawa known for? 

Kanazawa is known for having a rich history, beautifully landscaped gardens — we’re looking at you, Kenrokuen Garden — and one of the unluckiest castles in Japan, with Kanazawa Castle having burned down multiple times. It also has some of the most aesthetically pleasing Japanese tea houses outside of Kyoto, located in Higashi Chaya and Mizue Machi.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Ryan Noble
Ryan’s love for Japan may have begun with Naruto — something he refuses to hide — but it only grew once he truly understood the beauty of this country’s language, culture, and people. He hopes to use that passion to bridge the gap between Japan and the rest of the world, shining the spotlight on its hidden gems and supporting the revitalization of rural regions.
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