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20 Top Things to Do in Okinawa, From Beach Activities to Cultural Deep-Dives

By Ashley Owen
October 31, 2021
Updated: December 21, 2021

Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture in Japan, a string of subtropical islands with a blissfully warm climate, pristine beaches, and abundant marine life. Its unique history as the independent Ryukyu Kingdom gives it a culture distinct from that of mainland Japan, making it an especially interesting destination to explore. So let’s dive right in with some of the best things to do in Okinawa!

20 Top Things to Do in Okinawa 

Here are 20 of the best things to do in Okinawa during your trip to these stunning islands:

  1. Marvel at Shuri Castle
  2. Shop on Kokusai Dori
  3. Wander around historic Ryukyu castle ruins
  4. Scuba dive at the Kerama Islands
  5. Learn how to cook Okinawan food
  6. Visit an awamori distillery and cave
  7. Go whale watching
  8. Hit the beach on Ishigaki Island
  9. Check out the Churaumi Aquarium
  10. Explore the jungles of Iriomote Island
  11. Get cultural at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum
  12. Find seclusion on Kume Island
  13. Admire the pottery of Tsuboya
  14. Have fun at American Village
  15. Take a day trip to Taketomi Island
  16. Discover sacred Sefa Utaki
  17. Enjoy the nightlife of Naha City
  18. Visit the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
  19. Go snorkeling on Miyako Island
  20. Stroll through the caverns of Okinawa World

1. Marvel at Shuri Castle 

An orange path leading up to a grand red castle entrance

Named after the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the reconstructed Shuri Castle gives a fascinating glimpse into Okinawa’s history. There’s a lot to discover in the palace complex, including grand gates, towering walls and regal buildings – all with a fabulous view out over Naha City.

2. Shop on Kokusai Dori

People shopping on a sunny sidewalk lined with palm trees

Kokusai Dori, or International Street, is the main road in Naha City and a great spot for some retail therapy. Its two-kilometer length is lined with souvenir shops, department stores, and boutiques, and branching off it you’ll find the First Makishi Public Market packed with stalls selling everything from food to jewelry.

3. Wander around historic Ryukyu castle ruins

Stone ramparts and walls on a grassy hill

There are several atmospheric castle ruins dotted across Okinawa, which together have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to their cultural and historic significance. Zakimi Castle Ruins and Nakagusuku Castle Ruins are two of the best, where you can ascend the imposing stone walls and feel the heritage of the Ryukyu Kingdom all around you.

4. Scuba dive at the Kerama Islands

An underwater view with coral reef at the bottom and colorful tropical swimming above

Scuba diving is one of the most fun things to do in Okinawa, with an amazing variety of dive sites to explore depending on your level of experience. There are over 100 spots around the Kerama Islands alone, where you can see colorful coral reefs, sea turtles, manta rays, and an abundance of tropical fish.

5. Learn how to cook Okinawan food

Five dishes of Okinawan food seen from above

Okinawan cuisine is a fascinating mix of Japanese and other Asian influences thanks to the prefecture’s unique history and location. The Ryukyu Cuisine Cooking Class in Okinawa will teach you the secrets of this healthy diet, and how to recreate some of its most famous and delicious dishes at home.

6. Visit an awamori distillery & cave

Awamori is a traditional distilled alcohol that's unique to Okinawa, and is a key element of the local culture and cuisine. Take a tour of the Matsufuji Distillery, where they age their awamori in a cave underground, to find out more about the drink and sample the finished product!

7. Go whale watching

View of a whale's tail peeking above the water from a boat in Okinawa

One of the top things to do in Okinawa during winter is to join a whale watching boat tour, where you can try and spot the migrating humpbacks who come here seeking warmer waters. The sight of these majestic mammals leaping and diving right before your eyes is sure to take your breath away.

8. Hit the beach on Ishigaki Island

A view of four boats in Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island, with a golden sandy beach in the foreground and emerald waters behind

Nestled to the far southwest of the prefecture, Ishigaki Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Okinawa. You can also take a glass-bottom boat ride across the emerald waters of Kabira Bay, or scuba dive with huge, graceful manta rays. To truly get away from it all, hop on a ferry to nearby peaceful Kohama Island.

Check out our overview of Ishigaki Island attractions and restaurants for more info!

9. Check out the Churaumi Aquarium

A photo of the main tank at Churaumi Aquarium, with whale sharks and manta rays swimming in front of silhouettes of people

Churaumi Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Okinawa when it rains or if you’re traveling with children. Widely considered one of the top aquariums in the world, it’s home to all sorts of striking marine life including whale sharks, manta rays, and bioluminescent deep sea fish.

10. Explore the jungles of Iriomote Island

A photo of an empty with golden sand and dense green foliage surrounding it

With almost 90% of its land covered in mangrove forests and dense jungle, Iriomote Island is one of the most unique parts of Okinawa. You can explore on foot via the many hiking trails, or take to the rivers on a kayak or boat cruise. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the elusive Iriomote wildcat!

11. Get cultural at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum

An internal shot of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, with baskets and a wooden boat

For those who wish to learn more about Okinawa’s unique culture and heritage, a trip to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum in Naha City is a must. It has a separate history museum and art museum, both bursting with fascinating exhibits, making it a great choice for things to do in Okinawa when it rains. 

12. Find seclusion on Kume Island

A photo of an empty stretch of beach on Kume Island

Located around 90 kilometers west of the main Okinawa island, Kume Island is the perfect spot to find peace and quiet on some of the most beautiful beaches in Okinawa. Its most famous attraction is Hatenohama Beach, which boasts gorgeous white sands that can only be accessed by tour boat.

13. Admire the pottery of Tsuboya

Shisa on sale at Yachimun Street, Naha

In the center of Naha City you’ll find the charming Tsuboya Yachimun Street, which is home to a variety of pottery-related attractions including the impressive Tsuboya Pottery Museum. Browse the shops to purchase some traditional pieces to take home, or join a workshop and have a go at making your own souvenir.

14. Have fun at American Village

Daytime photo of American Village with the Ferris wheel in the background and a bridge over the river to shops and bars

American Village is a large entertainment complex near the center of Okinawa island, instantly recognizable thanks to the large Ferris wheel at its entrance. The area is packed with shops, bars and restaurants, and the nearby Sunset Beach is – unsurprisingly – a fantastic spot to watch the sunset.

15. Take a day trip to Taketomi Island

A street on Taketomi Island with a low stone wall and traditional Ryukyu house with a red tiled roof behind it

Best visited as a day trip from Ishigaki Island, Taketomi Island is home to a wonderfully preserved Ryukyu village complete with lion-like shisa statues and water buffalo cart tours. After wandering the sandy lanes, be sure to stop by Kaiji Beach. Not only is it one of the most beautiful beaches in Okinawa, it has sand shaped like tiny stars.

16. Discover sacred Sefa Utaki

A rock formation at Sefa Utaki where two slabs of rock form a triangular passage

Sefa Utaki is one of the most important spiritual spots in Okinawa, where gods are said to have once walked. Located deep in a lush green forest, this UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a number of rock formations, shrines, and prayer spots all connected by pleasant walking trails.

17. Enjoy the nightlife of Naha City

Japanese street food stalls at Yataimura in Kokusai Dori, Naha

Bustling Naha is the largest city in Okinawa, and in addition to all the sightseeing spots is also a great choice for a night out. From energetic nightclubs where you can dance the night away to relaxed craft beer pubs serving drinks made in local microbreweries, there’s an option for everyone.

18. Visit the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park

A pathway in the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park lined with stone memorials inscribed with the names of fallen soldiers

Okinawa was the site of devastating fighting during World War Two, and today there are a number of memorial monuments to be found across the island. The main one is located at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, where there is also a thought-provoking museum.

19. Go snorkeling on Miyako Island

An image of a footpath on Miyako Island across the turquoise ocean

Miyako Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Okinawa, with sugar-soft white sand and glorious sunshine. The gorgeous cobalt waters are also teeming with colorful marine life, making it an ideal location for snorkeling – check out Yoshino Beach to swim amongst coral reefs swarming with tropical fish.

20. Stroll through the caverns of Okinawa World

The interior of a limestone cave lined with stalactites and stalagmites and blue water at the bottom

Okinawa World is home to the stunning Gyokusendo Cave, which has 850 meters of vast natural limestone caverns lined with stalactites and stalagmites to explore. Above ground you’ll also find a replica traditional Ryukyu village which showcases traditional Okinawan crafts and lets you try your hand at some yourself.

This is just a taste of the many wonders that these gorgeous islands have to offer. Check out the complete list of food experiences in Okinawa to discover more about the prefecture’s culinary culture and keep you fueled as you explore all the amazing things to do in Okinawa!

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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Ashley Owen
Ashley is a freelance travel writer from the UK who spent the last two years living in Japan, and is about to embark on her next adventure to New Zealand. She's always on the lookout for exciting new vegan treats wherever she goes!
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