After doing the Japan Alpine Route journey, we took the train to Kanazawa, a small city on the west coast of Japan. Well, it turned out that it was not as small as we had thought! Kanazawa actually has around 500 000 inhabitants and is a vibrant city with many shopping streets and lots of cozy restaurants and cafes.
There is plenty of things to do in Kanazawa and the city has a lot to offer especially when it comes to cultural attractions, with a castle and a Japanese Garden ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan as well as beautifully preserved Samurai and Geisha districts, temples, and museums. This makes Kanazawa the drawcard in the west Hokuriku region of Japan. Unfortunately, we only had two nights here.
Kanazawa means “golden marsh“, and was Japan`s richest region in its heydays during the 15th century. It used to produce about five million bushels of rice annually! That`s quite a lot! This wealth allowed the head clan, Maeda, to patronize culture and arts. Even today Kanazawa is a national cultural hotspot and a real must-visit if you are heading to Japan!
The Top Things To Do In Kanazawa
1. Kanazawa Castle
The beautiful Kanazawa Castle, originally built in 1580, was called the “castle of 1000 tatami” and housed the ruling Maeda Clan for 14 generations. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1881 but was rebuilt in 2001.
Kanazawa Castle is surrounded by a beautiful huge park and a moat.
It is free to visit the Castle Park but to enter the Castle cost 310 JPY (3 us$) per person. There is not much to see inside, to be honest, except for exhibits of the traditional wooden construction method used to rebuild the castle in 2001. They do for example have a miniature model version of the castle inside, showing it`s internal structure and how it was built.
The view from the watchtower is however very nice! However, I am not sure if the trip inside (and the ticket) is worth it.
The elegant gate from the Kenroku-en Garden, built in 1788, is one of the few remaining original structures left of the original castle. It is connected with a lovely bridge over to the Kenroku-en Garden.
2. Kenroku-en Japanese Garden
The Kenroku-en Garden is ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan, and is absolutely stunning! It was a highlight of our day in Kanazawa.
The garden dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868).
Its name Kenroku means “combined six“, where the six meaning seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water, and broad views. The garden sure has all six of them!
The garden is absolutely beautiful and very peaceful. It is so green and lush.
As we walked around the garden, all of a sudden a bride and groom showed up! They were having a photo shoot in the garden. They were beautifully dressed in traditional Japanese wedding Kimono clothes.
There are also a few teahouses tucked away in between the lush and green garden, where you can participate in a Japanese tea ceremony.
3. Samurai District
A few streets from the main shopping area of Kanazawa is the Nagamachi District which was once inhabited by Samurais. It contains several well-preserved old Japanese traditional buildings once belonging to rich and powerful Japanese families.
One of these beautiful traditional buildings is the Nomura Family Samurai House, which is now a Samurai museum. Espen is a huge Samurai fan, so, of course, we had to visit this museum.
Inside the house (ticket price 500 JPY, 5 us$, per person) there are several Samurai artifacts on display, like a Samurai uniform, swords, knives, and other weapons.
The most notable about the Samurai House in our opinion is, however, it`s decorative garden. The small garden is stunning and well worth a visit! We sat down on the porch and admired all the small details in the gardens, and watched the big orange and white Carps swimming below our feet. We really enjoyed it`s relaxed and Zen-like atmosphere.
Have you ever seen a rock tied in twine like this one below? We have been seeing many rocks like these around the gardens we have visited in Japan, and found this one in the Samurai House garden. When we got back to the hotel, I had to Google it to find out what the heck these strange rocks mean?!
This is a Tome Ishi – a traditional Japanese stop stone. Or to use its more descriptive name: Sekimori Ishi – Boundary-guard stone.
It is used in Japanese gardens, particularly those with a tea house, to guide visitors along a prescribed route. It is a wrong-way marker. A “No Entry” sign.
But why the rope you might wonder? It makes the stone easier to notice and to move from place to place. Smart! Ever since ancient times, Japanese people have used a rope to mark off sacred space and designate things as divine.
It can apparently be difficult to find the right rock for this purpose. It has to be flat on the bottom so it sits well, but with a pleasingly rounded from above. It should be big enough to get noticed, but not so big that it’s difficult to move around.
There are so many cool but also strange things to be found in Japanese gardens. This is at least way cooler and more elegant than a big yellow sign with words like: “DO NOT ENTER!” Don’t you agree? It is more gentle, like a request rather than an order.
4. Geisha District
Across the river from the city center of Kanazawa is an area of narrow streets from the early 19th century where Geishas used to entertain wealthy male customers. The wooden houses are romantically well-preserved.
Most of the former Geisha houses are now turned into museums, shops, restaurants, and cafes.
We visited the Shima Geisha House, dating back to 1820. Inside it has an impressive collection of combs, Shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) and other Geisha belongings.
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take photos inside of the house, so we were only able to take a few snapshots in secret with the iPhone (sorry for the bad quality).
Today it is mostly tourists walking the streets of the Geisha District, but one can easily picture how it must have been back then when the streets were crowded of wealthy tradesmen who sought to fulfill their pleasures.
They enjoyed watching elegant and beautifully dressed Geishas perform in many of the Japanese arts, like the harp, the Shamisen (a three-stringed instrument), dancing, singing, poem reading, and tea ceremony.
During the Edo period, the Kanazawa`s ruling Maeda family started the growing of many crafts of which are still practiced today in the Kanazawa area. In the Geisha District, there are many nice shops selling locally produced crafts that are a specialty of Kanazawa, like for instance lacquerware, pottery, porcelain, silk dyeing, and gold leaf products. The Geisha District is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs and gifts to bring back home.
If you want to see a real Geisha performance of traditional folklore songs and dances, book a ticket to see a Geisha show at the gorgeous theater hall Yamanaka-za close to Kanazawa. It will be one of the highlights of your Japan trip, I loved it! The shows are held every Saturday, Sunday and on public holidays at 15:30 (3:30 pm), and last one hour. If you see a show on a Saturday, you can even get backstage and meet a geisha and learn the dance yourself!
5. Kanazawa City
Kanazawa city really surprised us. We had not thought it was so big and not that much to see and do. It is a super cool city, with a vibrant city center and very nice people. We wished we had more time, as we discovered that one day is not enough to fully enjoy this beautiful city.
The center of Kanazawa has some really nice shopping streets, packed with nice restaurants and cafes, and we particularly liked the walking street.
The walking street is full of cozy shops and trendy cafes.
It seems like the Scandinavian design is trendy in Japan! In all the cities we visited, they were selling handbags, clothes and things from the Finnish brand Marimekko, as well as cups and artifacts with the Moomin theme (the famous and popular Finnish cartoon by Tove Jansson). And in one shop they were selling clothes with Norwegian flags and writings like I ♥ Oslo! Yay! We ♥ Oslo too!!! 🙂
Kanazawa people must love cakes and cookies because the city was packed with cozy cafes selling delicious cakes! Yummy! 🙂
We totally fell in love with Kanazawa! The city really surprised us, as we did not expect to like it that much. It was just going to be a transit city for us between the Japan Alps and Takayama.
The city has such a nice and cool vibe and atmosphere, and so much to see and do both when it comes to sightseeing, shopping, and eating. We ended up wishing we had had at least one more day to spend in this nice city, but, unfortunately, we had to say goodbye after only two nights and get on the train to Takayama. Buhuu…. 🙁
We will be back visiting you beautiful Kanazawa, I promise! ♥
If you are short of time and want an in-depth tour of Kanazawa and its history, join a guided tour – The Golden Kanazawa Tour: Gardens, Castles, Geishas
⇒ Kanazawa is on our recommended two-week Japan Itinerary, which you can find here
How To Get To Kanazawa
- Air: Komatsu Airport (KMQ) is close by, and has a connection to all major Japanese cities as well as Seoul, Shanghai, and Taipei.
- Bus: JR Highway Bus has express buses from in front of the train station (exit east) to Tokyo (7,5 hours, 7840 JPN) and Kyoto (4,5 hours, 4060 JPY). Hokutetsu Buses has buses to Nagoya (4 hours, 4060 JPY). Nohi Bus Company has buses to Takayama via Shirakawa-go (2,5 hours, 3300 JPY).
- Train: The JR Hokuriku line links Kanazawa with Kyoto (2 ¼ hours, 6200 JPN), Osaka (2 ¾ hours, 6930 JPN) and Toyama (35 min, 2100 JPN) with a connection to Takayama (90 min more, 4870 JPN).
- We took the train (had Japan Rail Pass for 14 days) from Toyama (after the Alpine Route) to Kanazawa. Took the train from Kanazawa to Takayama (via Toyama).
I highly recommend that you buy a Japanese Railway Pass which will save you a lot of money if you plan to travel around Japan. The Japan railway system is excellent and the fastest in the world.
How Much Do These Top Things To Do In Kanazawa Cost
- Kanazawa Castle: Free to enter the park, 310 JPY (3 us$) to enter the Castle
- Kenroku-en Garden: 310 JPY (3 us$)
- Nomura Samurai House: 500 JPY (5 us$)
- Shima Geisha House: 500 JPY (5 us$)
Where To Stay In Kanazawa
Kanazawa offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay. Japan is, however, a bit expensive, especially when it comes to accommodation, so don`t expect to find dirt cheap places to stay with good standard. The rooms are in general quite small. You get what you pay for in Japan.
Below are some of the best accommodation options in Kanazawa in our opinion, starting with the place we called home for 2 nights.
We stayed at the Hotel Trusty and had a fantastic stay! Actually, it was probably the best hotel that we stayed at during our entire five-week Japan trip. The hotel has a very good location in the middle of everything and is brand new. We couldn`t believe how centrally placed it is! It is so much better than to stay by the train station in our opinion.
It is located in the main shopping street, with the biggest shopping center in Kanazawa as its neighbor. From the hotel, you can easily walk to the main attractions like Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en Garden, and the Samurai District. The Geisha District is a bit further away, across the river, but we walked one way and took the bus back.
There are bus stops right outside the front door of the hotel, so it is very easy to get wherever you want. There are buses going directly to/from the train station from just outside the hotel. The hotel has a very cozy cafe/restaurant just next to the lobby with lots of delicious cakes.
Will highly recommend this hotel! It is probably the newest and best hotel in Kanazawa, with the best location! The rooms are big by Japanese standards, and the beds are heaven!
Conclusion Hotel Trusty: A fantastic place to stay, perfectly located. Rooms are spacious and come with A/C, TV, free WIFI, slippers, bathrobe, and free tea/coffee.
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Kinjohro Ryokan (Japanese Inn)
If you are looking for a unique and special place to stay, then the Kinjohro Ryokan is it! It is one of the best Ryokans (traditional Japanese Inn) in Japan and they sure know how to treat their guests and give them a special and luxury stay. Amazing Breakfast and dinner are included in the price, where you get to try some Japanese special dishes. Staying here is an experience of your lifetime.
The Kinjohro Ryokan has a perfect location, just 400 m from Kanazawa Castle and 800 m from Kenrokuen Garden. The rooms have private bathrooms which include a true onsen (hot spring). Rooms are incredibly spacious and very well designed with tatami mats and have views to beautiful Japanese gardens. All rooms have air-conditioning, free WIFI, an electronic kettle, flatscreen-TV, and you get free parking. All guests get a free welcome drink where you can choose between locally produced beer, rice wine, and twig tea.
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Maki No Oto Kanazawa
Maki No Oto Kanazawa is a brand new and stunning hotel located only 700 m from Kanazawa Castle and a 13-minute walk from Kenrokuen Garden. Its modern Japanese design is amazing and the whole hotel has a real Zen-vibe to it which I love. The hotel has a beautiful terrace where you can sit and relax and enjoy the garden view.
You get a room with a desk, a flat-screen TV, a coffee machine, a private bathroom with a bathtub, and some rooms come with a balcony.
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This is a lovely new hotel with very large comfortable rooms. It is located just next to the Kanazawa Train Station, a little bit out of downtown, so if you book this you would have to take a bus or taxi to the main attractions and to downtown (a 15 min bus ride). There are a lot of shops and restaurants in the Train Station area, however, with several huge shopping malls.
All rooms are located above the 17th
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Kanazawa Sainoniwa Hotel
The hotel is beautifully located and surrounded by four gardens, only a 15-min walk from JR Kanazawa Station or you can take the free shuttle from the station (5 min drive). All rooms are non-smoking, and the hotel has a great spa and a restaurant. You can enjoy free bicycle rental which is very convenient for getting around the city to all the sights it has to offer. The hotel has some big family rooms.
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This is a very nice hotel option, located right by JR Kanazawa Station. Kenroku-en Garden, Castle, and Myoruji Temple are all a 20-minute bus ride away. You get free WIFI, and each room has a fridge and a flat-screen TV. The hotel even has it`s own onsen (Hot spring) and sauna on the top floor! Very nice!
Free coffee is available at the lobby between 15:00 and 21:00, and you get free Ramen noodles between 21:30-23:00.
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Blue Hour Hostel
If you are traveling on a low budget, then the brand new Blue Hour Hostel is an excellent choice! It is a dorm with bunk beds, and it also has a female-only floor. The hostel is conveniently located just a 3-minute’s walk away from JR Kanazawa Station. Check-in is as early as 10 am so that you can explore the Kanazawa city. You get free WIFI, bath towels (no charge), and can enjoy their nice shared lounge area.
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Have you ever visited a city that you did not expect to like that much, but ended up loving? Please leave a comment in the comment area below. If you liked this article or found it useful, please share on social media. Thank you! 🙂Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, and we will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at absolutely no extra cost to you! Thank you! ♥