Kanazawa Itinerary: 2 Days in the City of Samurais
In this Kanazawa itinerary post, I’m going to show you how to spend 2 days in Kanazawa, a city famous for its stunningly restored samurai and geisha neighborhoods and its fabulous and fresh seafood. If you’re looking to escape the craziness of Tokyo and the tourist-saturated streets of Kyoto, then you can’t go wrong visiting Kanazawa. With Japan’s swift train system, you can easily visit the city in 2.5 hours (with your JR Pass, it’s free).
BONUS: I've created a FREE detailed PDF version of this 3-week Japan itinerary. The guide also includes step-by-step instructions for buying and using your Japan Rail Pass.
I spent 3 days in Kanazawa. Sadly, on the first day, I ended up at the hospital to take care of an infected blister (FYI: despite what the internet says, a closed blister can become infected). You can read all about my misadventure in my post on what to do if you get sick in Japan. How much do you think a hospital visit in Japan will set you back? Find out!
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Table of Contents
- Kanazawa Tourist Information Center
- Booking onward tickets
- Kenrokuen Garden
- Kanazawa Castle Park
- Omicho Market
- Higashi-chaya District (Geisha District)
The History of Kanazawa
The luckiest city in Japan
When you visit Japan, you’ll be disappointed to learn that most of the buildings you see were constructed after World War II. That’s because the Americans bombed over 60 of Japan’s cities to near annihilation. However, two major cities were lucky enough to have escaped the firebombings. As you’re probably aware, the first was Kyoto. The second: Kanazawa. And so today, you can still find neighborhoods, like the geisha and samurai, the same as they were before the war, making the city a historians’ and architectural lovers’ dream destination.
But that’s not all: If you go back further in time to the Sengoku Period (a major civil war from 1467 to 1600), it becomes more apparent how lucky Kanazawa has been. During the civil war, the most important family in Kanazawa, the Maeda clan, just happened to be a major supporter of the winning side, the Tokugawa. As a result, during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), the family became the second most wealthy and powerful family in Japan, and thus, Kanazawa became one of the wealthiest and largest cities (from 5,000 to over 100,000) in Japan as well.
The city also grew as a result of the Maeda’s policy of supporting the merchant class. At the end of the war, Kanazawa had too few people, so to increase its population and wealth, the Maeda recruited artisans and merchants. They were given guaranteed business, special privileges, and tax breaks to move to the city. Unlike in the rest of Japan where the merchant class was among the lowest social classes, in Kanazawa, they were elevated to the highest. This government support helped the city attract the best and brightest artisans and business people.
Guided Tours of Kanazawa: If you’re not keen on doing your own tour of Kanazawa, check out these guided tours from Klook:
- Kanazawa Full-Day Tour from Nagoya: This Kanazawa tour is a full-day one geared for those staying in Nagoya. It includes most of the major tourist sights. What I like about it is that it’s 12 hours, so you should get your money’s worth.
- Kanazawa Half Day Tour: If you’re short on time and looking for an efficient way to see Kanazawa AND/OR you want a guide to explain what you’re seeing, check out this half-day tour of Kanazawa.
How to get to Kanazawa
By Train: Thanks to the construction of a new Shinkansen rail line, you can get to Kanazawa from Tokyo in only 2.5 hours and from Kyoto in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Technically, you could do it as a day trip from Tokyo or Kyoto.
By Bus: You can also take a night bus from Tokyo or Kyoto. Buses are cheaper than trains and by taking a night bus, you’ll save on a night’s accommodation. You can book a Tokyo-Kanazawa bus ticket here or check out the Willer Bus website.
Other Popular Routes to Kanazawa:
The two most popular ways to access Kanazawa for tourists are from Shirakawa-go and the Alpine Route. I’ll explain both below:
1. Shirakawa-go to Kanazawa
If you’re following my 3-week Japan itinerary, you’ll be coming from the fairy-tale-like town of Shirakawa-go. Besides a car, your only other option is taking a bus. In my Shirakawa-go itinerary post, I list two options: spend the night in Shirakawa-go or leave for Kanazawa in the late afternoon. Either way, the bus ride is 1 hour and 15 minutes.
To give you an idea of bus times, the bus schedule for 2018 shows the first bus leaving Shirakawa-go at 8:50 am and arriving in Kanazawa at 10:05. In the late afternoon, the last bus is at 5:30 arriving in Kanazawa at 6:45 pm. Buses leave every 30 or 60 minutes.
The bus will drop you off at the East Gate of the train station, near where you can catch the city buses.
You can put your luggage under the bus.
Make sure to buy your ticket at least a day in advance as this is a popular route, especially during the peak season.
This is how I got to Kanazawa. I was amazed by how incredibly comfortable and smooth the buses are in Japan. The Japanese maintain their buses very well to the point that it feels like you’re moving over clouds (their shock absorbers are amazing).
Check out my Shirakawa-go itinerary for more info on traveling to this beautiful village.
2. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Another popular way to access Kanazawa is by the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. If you don’t know what that is, read my Alpine Route post.
You can take the route in either direction. I took it from Kanazawa (technically starts in Tateyama, which is near Kanazawa) to Shinano-Omachi. Many people, instead, start in Shinano-Omachi and end in Kanazawa (technically, Tateyama). If you do it the latter way, you’ll probably take a train from Tateyama to Kanazawa.
How to Get Around Kanazawa
One of the many things that amazes me about Japan is how easy it is for tourists to use its cities’ public transportation system. Kanazawa is no exception.
You can get lots of great info on bus routes and schedules from the Kanazawa Tourist Information Center inside Kanazawa Station or at the Transportation Information Center just outside the East Gate of the station (it’s where you catch the city tourist buses).
Getting Around By Bus
Along with their regular bus service, Kanazawa has set up an additional bus system specifically for tourists.
- Right Loop Bus runs in a clockwise circle stopping off at the major tourist attractions.
- Left Loop Bus goes counter-clockwise stopping off at the same sights as the Left Loop Bus.
- Kenrokuen Shuttle is a bus to Kenrokuen Garden and back to the station.
A bus ride costs ¥200, but you can also get an all-day pass for ¥500. You can buy the pass at the Kanazawa Tourist Information Center or at the Transportation Information Center.
Getting Around by Taxi
You can also get around by taxi. It cost me around ¥900 to go from the Kanazawa Train Station to my accommodations near the Higashi-chaya district (the old geisha quarter).
Getting Around by Foot
You can easily walk to some attractions. I easily walked from the Higashi-chaya District to Kenrokuen Park.
Kanazawa Itinerary – Day 1
1. Kanazawa Tourist Information Center
OPEN: 8:30 am – 8:00 pm
The first thing to do on your Kanazawa itinerary is to head to Kanazawa’s Tourist Information Center at Kanazawa Station. They were very helpful and knowledgeable (especially about the Alpine Route) when I was there. You’ll get some terrific maps, information about public transportation, and information about your next destination (the Tateyama Kurobo Alpine Route or Shirakawa-go).
2. Booking your onward journey
I also suggest booking your onward journey when you arrive in Kanazawa.
- Shirakawa-go and Takayama: If you’re going to Shirakawa-go or Takayama, book your bus ticket or tour early as prime departure times often sell out during peak travel times. You can buy bus tickets at the Hokutetsu Ticket Office (the bus company) outside the East Gate of the Kanazawa Train Station (where the Loop buses depart from). You can read about how to travel around Shirakawa-go in my Shirakawa-go Itinerary post and about Takayama in my Takayama itinerary post.
- Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: If you didn’t buy your Alpine Route ticket before Kanazawa, you’ll need to buy it at least the day before you start the route. Let me stress that you CANNOT buy it on the day you start the route. You can read more about how to buy the ticket in my Alpine Route post.
3. Kenrokuen Garden
COST: ¥310 for adults and ¥100 for children OPEN: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm (Mar 1 – Oct 1); 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (Oct 16 – end of Feb) | LOCATION: Google Maps
The first fun stop on your 2-day Kanazawa itinerary is a visit to Kanazawa’s most famous attraction, the beautifully designed Kenrokuen Garden. The Garden is considered to be one of the three greatest gardens of Japan (Okayama and Mito are the locations of the other two gardens).
Kenrokuen dates back to 1676 when the fifth lord, Lord Tsunanori, built a house and garden on a slope facing Kanazawa Castle. After it was destroyed by a fire, it was restored in 1774. At that time, the Midorotaki Waterfall and the Yugao-tei teahouse were added. Subsequent daimyo (lords) expanded the garden including adding more streams and making the pond bigger.
Kenrokuen is a typical Japanese garden with winding paths leading from one small garden area to another all located around a central pond. Each garden is unique.
The design of Kenrokuen is based on a classical Chinese book about the gardens of Luoyang. The name Kenrokuen means “combined six gardens”, which represent six features: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas.
It’s very popular with Japanese tourists so if you want any kind of tranquility, get there before 9:00 am.
The highlight for me was my visit to the Shiguretei Tea House, where you can drink matcha tea and have a Japan-style snack (¥710). Before leaving the tea house, wander around the building. There is a room covered on all sides by glass that looks over a beautiful and peaceful garden. A great place to rest.
Free garden tours: You can stop by the Information Booth near Ishikawa-mon Gate in Kanazawa Castle Park for free guided tours of Kenrokuen Gardens and Kanazawa Castle any time between 9:30 and 3:30 pm.
Getting to the Gardens:
- Right Loop Bus – Get off at bus stop #7 (Kenrokuen Garden)
- Left Loop Bus – Get off at bus stop #9 (Kenrokuen Garden)
- Kenrokuen Shuttle – Get off at bus stop #8 (Kenrokuen Garden)
4. Kanazawa Castle Park
COST: ¥310 for adults and ¥100 for children | OPEN: Park: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm (Mar 1 – Oct 15); 8:00 – 5:00 pm (Oct 16 – Feb 28) Castle: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Kanazawa Castle is a replica of the one built in 1580. The original castle, which housed the powerful Maeda clan, was destroyed by a fire in 1881. During World War II, it was used as an army base.
You can wander around the Castle Park for free, but it costs ¥310 to enter the castle costs. I walked around the park but I didn’t go inside the castle as it opened much later than the garden and once I finished the garden, I was too far from the Castle Park entrance to make the trek back.
5. Omicho Market
COST: free to wander | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
After the gardens, visit Omicho Market. This is Kanazawa’s version of Tsukiji Market. Here you’ll find over 200 stores selling mostly fresh seafood and other local food products. This market is also where locals and tourists come for lunch. Make sure to try the rice bowls topped with Kanazawa’s local seafood specialties.
Getting to Omicho Market:
- Walking: If you exit from the Kuromon Gate in Kanazawa Castle Park, you can easily walk to Omicho Market.
- Right Loop Bus: Get off at Stop #14 (Minami-cho).
- Left Loop Bus: Get off at Stop #1 (Minami-cho).
- Kenrokuen Shuttle: Get off at Stop #11 (Minami-cho).
Tour of Omicho Market Tour and Cooking Class: There is no better way to go deeply into a culture than to learn about its food. Check out this Omicho Market Tour and Cooking Class here!
6. Higashi-chaya-gai – Geisha District
COST: free to wander | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
The next stop on your 2-day Kanazawa itinerary is a tour of the beautifully preserved Geisha District of Higashi-chaya gai. It’s a great opportunity for architecture nerds to see Japan’s traditional buildings and for just anyone to people watch and buy souvenirs.
There are tons of shops selling souvenirs, cafes, and restaurants that you can check out. You can also try on a kimono and wander the streets in one.
One place that you must stop at is the Shima Geisha House (COST: ¥500 | OPEN: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm | Google Maps) a museum that used to be a traditional teahouse where geishas performed for their patrons. You can see where the geisha performed, some of the guest rooms, the proprietress’s room, and the kitchen.
Getting to Higashi-chaya District:
- By Bus: Take the Right Loop Bus to Bus Stop #4 (Hashiba-cho Stop).
- By Foot: It’s about 1.1 kilometers or 15-20 minutes from Omicho Market to the Geisha District.
Kanazawa Itinerary – Day 2
1. D.T. Suzuki Museum
COST: ¥300 (adults); ¥200 (over 65); free (children) | OPEN: 9:30 – 5:00 pm (closed on Mondays) | LOCATION: Google Maps
Start day 2 of your Kanazawa Itinerary at the D.T. Suzuki Museum. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966) is famous for his contributions in bringing Buddhism to the West.
The museum is in a sleek modern white building that would make Steve Jobs proud. Inside the museum, you’ll find some information (in various languages) about Suzuki’s life. There’s also a library containing the over 100 books he wrote in English.
The museum’s star attraction is this outdoor mirror pool (no you can’t swim in it) and indoor contemplative space (photo above). There is seating for you to sit and meditate.
Getting to the museum:
- Right Loop Bus: Get off at Bus Stop #9 (Honda-machi Stop)
- Left Loop Bus: Get off at Bus Stop #7 (Honda-machi Stop)
CHECK OUT THESE POSTS ON SOME HIDDEN GEMS IN JAPAN:
2. Myoryu-ji (Ninja Temple)
COST: ¥1,000 (adults) | OPEN: 9:00 – 4:30 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps
Get back on the loop bus and head to the Temarachi Temple area. Here you’ll find the interesting Myoryu-ji Temple, also known as the Ninja Temple.
I love backstories about famous landmarks and the “Ninja Temple” has a great one. When the Tokugawa Shoguns took power in Edo (Tokyo), they ordered local daimyo (lords) to take down their defensive structures (smart!). But the daimyo of Kanazawa (Maeda family) found a work around. They built a line of defense of temples in the southern (Teramachi) and northern areas of the city.
Myoryu Temple was even more clever. They built secret passageways and floors to go around the government regulations on structures. So, the temple has nothing to do with Ninjas.
To visit the temple, you need to go on a guided tour, which you need to arrange by phone (07-241-0888). Kind of a pain. But my suggestion is to ask your hotel or hostel to help you with the reservation. And do it at least a day beforehand. Tours are popular. Oh, and the tours are in Japanese. You’ll get a translated printout in English (or other languages) of what you’re seeing and what the guide is saying.
Despite the inconvenience of arranging a tour, visiting the temple’s unique design is worth it. Luckily it’s on the tourist loop bus route, so it’s not too hard to get to.
Getting to the Myoryu-ji Temple: From the D.T. Suzuki Museum, at bus stop #9, get on the Right Loop Bus (clockwise) and get off at stop #11 (Hiroji Stop).
3. Nagamachi District
COST: free to wander | OPEN: 24/7 | LOCATION: Google Maps
As someone who loves looking at architecture, wandering around the winding cobblestoned lanes and canals of the Nagamachi District was a highlight of my Kanazawa itinerary. This neighborhood was where the samurai lived during Edo times.
There are a few historic houses that you can visit.
- Nomura Samurai House (Google Maps) – This is a restored samurai house that has been turned into a museum. The house once belonged to the Nomura family, a samurai family that served the Maeda clan from the sixth century to the end of the Edo period.
- Shinise Kinenkan Museum (Old Merchant’s House) (Google Maps) – At this museum, you can see how a merchant family lived. The building was originally a pharmacy selling Chinese medicine. At the front of the house was the pharmacy and the back was the living quarters.
Getting to the Nagamachi District: Take the Right Loop Bus and get off at bus stop #12 (Kata-machi Stop).
Other Things to Do in Kanazawa
If you have time, check out these additional tourist attractions:
- Oyama Jinja Shrine: This shrine is dedicated to the first lord of the Maeda family. This is an unusually designed shrine as it was designed by a Dutch architect and incorporates European style (gate and upper stories) with Chinese and Japanese temple style (first story). (Google Maps)
- 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (COST: ¥1,000 | CLOSED until Feb 2020) – This museum is supposed to be one of Japan’s top art museums. You can find works by contemporary international and Japanese artists. (Google Maps)
If you’re not into staying at hostels, check out these hotels:
- Hotel Intergate Kanazawa: (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) This is a brand new hotel in the center of town. Very affordable rates. Good for budget travelers and solo travelers who don’t want to stay in dorm rooms.
- UNIZO INN: (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) This is another affordable, clean, and comfortable hotel. It’s near Kanazawa Castle. Rooms can be small, but it’s perfect for budget and solo travelers.
- the Square Hotel: (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) This midrange priced hotel is also centrally located. It’s beautifully designed. The hotel has a Japanese onsen and sauna.
So there you go–my Kanazawa itinerary for 2 days! Kanazawa makes for a worthwhile stop on any Japan itinerary. For one thing, it’s one of the few major cities whose pre-war buildings still remain. Second, it’s got one of the three greatest gardens in Japan (Kenrokuen).
Which sights are must-sees? My 3 favorite ones in Kanazawa are…
- Higashi-chaya District (Geisha District)
- Kenrokuen Garden (make sure to stop at the teahouse)
- Nagamachi District (Samurai District)
If you have any questions about my Kanazawa itinerary, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.
If you want more info on Japan, check out my Japan Travel Guide page with a list of all my Japan travel articles.
Happy and safe travel!
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