Takayama Itinerary: Travel Back in Time to Old Japan

by Oct 7, 2022Itinerary, Japan, Travel

When you visit Takayama, it feels like you’re stepping back to a time when Japan was ruled by shoguns and samurai. Many of the beautifully-preserved wooden houses, shops, cafes, shrines, and temples were in fact built 400 years ago. It’s often referred to as “Little Kyoto.”

Located about 5 hours by train from Tokyo, the small city is nestled in the Japan Alps.

You’ll also find some of the most delicious food in Japan in Takayama. Don’t leave the city without trying the Hida beef and mushrooms.

Overall, the city exudes charm, and it is worth spending at least 2 days touring the city. However, I recommend staying longer and using Takayama as a base to explore the Japan Alps, the plethora of onsens scattered around the area, and the fairytale villages of Shirakawago.

In this Takayama itinerary, you’ll find out how to spend 2 days visiting the most historically important attractions and eating some of the best food in Japan.

By the way, you might see Takayama referred to as Hida-Takayama. The reason is in order distinguish it from the other cities named Takayama in Japan.

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BONUS: I've created a FREE PDF version of my Japan itinerary guide. It includes detailed day-to-day itineraries for Tokyo, Kyoto, and 9 other destinations in Japan.  You'll also get step-by-step instructions for buying and using your Japan Rail Pass.

Click here to get lots of great tips for traveling around Asia as well as my FREE Japan itinerary guide. 

Below is an itinerary for 2 days in Takayama. This Takayama itinerary is part of a larger 3 weeks in Japan itinerary that you can find here.

I have not included information on itineraries for side trips to areas around Takayama. For Shirakawago, you can visit my itinerary here, and for hiking at Kamikochi, you can visit my Kamikochi itinerary.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel medical insurance. During my travels over the past 3 years, I've been using Safety Wing for my medical insurance. They're very affordable and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.

Takayama itinerary: Day 1

1. Tourist Information Center

Let’s say that you arrive in Takayama at around 12:00 pm from Tokyo. Even if you’re coming from Kyoto or Kanazawa, you’ll probably be arriving at this time as well.

The first thing to do is to visit the tourist information center to get a map, some brochures, information about the surrounding area, and bus schedules for visiting the attractions outside of Takayama. You’ll want to get a bus schedule for Kamikochi which includes the Shin Hotaka Ropeway, the onsen town of Hirayu, and Shirakawago.

The town has only about 88,000 people, but the center of the town and the friendly people make it feel like it’s even smaller. It took me 10-15 minutes depending on how heavy my bags were or how tired I was to walk from the train station to my hotel. The other tourist attractions mentioned in this Takayama itinerary should be about 20 minutes from the train station.

2. Lunch

After dropping off your bags, head to one of the restaurants in the old part of town that is serving local beef or soba noodles.

A bowl of soba noodles should cost around  ¥1,200 (US$9 | £8 |€9).

Here are a few popular restaurants that serve these noodles:

SumikyuGoogle Maps – I had excellent soba with a variety of mushrooms. Soooooo good! Very good location!

Miyabi an Soba – (Google Maps) – Another excellent soba restaurant

Kofune – (Google Maps) – Another good soba restaurant; near the train station

3. Old Town Area of Takayama

COST: free; OPEN: 24/7 but stores are open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Next, spend the afternoon exploring the Old Town area, also called the Sanmachi area. It’s the merchant district of Japan during Edo and Meiji periods. It takes about 15 minutes to walk there from the train station.

The Sanmachi area consists of three streets of old merchant houses that have supposedly remained untouched over the past 400 years. It is pretty cool, and it does feel like you’re in another era.

traditional wooden building in the old part of Takayama

In Edo times, society was divided into four levels:

1. Samurai and their lords (daimyo) – lived on higher ground

2. Farmers and peasants – they produced food so they were considered above artisans and merchants

3. Artisans 

4. Merchants – the lowest class of society, so they resided in the lower levels of Takayama; that’s why you’ll see so many merchant homes in the center of Takayama

Each group lived in its own section of the city and did not mingle socially with each other.

However, during the Edo times, there was an increase in trade as well as money and credit, resulting in an elimination of the barter system. The merchants started to become wealthier, while the samurai became poorer and in debt to the merchants.

Takayama merchants were particularly wealthy. One reason was that Takayama was famous for its high-quality lumber and carpentry. As a result, the city was considered strategically important, and thus it came under the jurisdiction of the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo), giving it opportunities to acquire more wealth.

old wooden buildings along Kamiichinomachi Street

Takayama was famous for its sake breweries. Make sure to drop by the many breweries to do sake tastings. 

You can also visit the Takayama Museum of History and Art to learn about the history of Takayama and the Takayama Showa Museum to learn about Japan’s modern history from 1926 to1989.

4. Takayama Jinya

the entrance to Takayama Jinya

Entrance of Takayama Jinya, the former home of the governor of Hida province, is one of the most visited historical buildings of Takayama

  • COST: ¥440 (US$3 /£2.72 /€3.10)
  • OPEN: 8:45 am – 5:00 pm (Mar 1-Oct 30); 8:45-4:30 (Nov-Feb)

For history buffs, visit Takayama Jinya, the government administrative offices and the home of the governor during the Edo period.

You can see the hall used for receiving important guests, the living quarters of the governor and his family, an interrogation room, a courtroom, and a storeroom for holding the rice that peasants used for paying their taxes.

5. Dinner – Wagyu Beef

Japan is famous for its high-quality beef known as Wagyu beef. The most well-known Wagyu beef is Kobe beef, which can cost you an arm and a leg in some restaurants.  Well, did you know Japan has other kinds of Wagyu beef? Takayama’s Hida beef is one of them. And it’s amazingly delicious.

⇒ If you’re interested in learning more about Hida beef, visit this website here.

Try Hida beef by having a traditional Japanese barbecue called a yakiniku at Kyoya (Google Maps).

I had a set meal, which was perfect for one person.  It included two kinds of beef that you grill yourself. The staff can help guide you through the grilling process.

You get beef with vegetables (carrot, cabbage, and onion) barbecued over one small grill and beef with miso grilled on a leaf over another small grill. The set meal comes with miso soup, rice, tofu, and pickled cucumber and ginger.

The beef set meal was ¥3,000 (US$21/£19/€21).

I also ordered a draft beer which cost ¥600 ($4.17/£3.71/€4.23).

If you’re alone, you can get a seat at the counter and not feel so conspicuous.

For 1200 years, eating meat was considered taboo in Japan.

Influenced by Buddhist beliefs against the killing of animals, in 175 CE the Emperor prohibited Japanese people from killing animals like cows and chickens for consumption. They were allowed to hunt and eat wild animals, though. As time went on, eating meat also became socially taboo.

But then when the Jesuit missionaries came to Japan in the 1500s and local lords started converting to Christianity, eating meat slowly became more acceptable.

Although Christianity was eventually banned, some people still continued this new custom. However, overall, for most people, it was still considered taboo.

Finally, in an attempt to make Japan more westernized, the Emperor lifted the ban on eating meat in 1872. Gradually, the consumption of meat spread throughout Japan.

Takayama itinerary:  Day 2

On your last day in Takayama, get up early enough so that you can wander around the morning market. Then tour a traditional Japanese merchant house before making your way to the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall. The rest of the afternoon will be spent doing the Higashiyama Walking Course.

map of the Takayama itinerary day 2 morning walking route

1. Miyagawa Morning Market

  • COST: Free
  • TIMES: 7:00 am – 12:00 pm
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
Food for sale at Miyagawa Morning Market, Takayama,

Begin your second day in Takayama with a stroll through the Miyagawa Morning Market.

 Located next to the Miyagawa River, this farmers’ market has been around since the Edo period. It sells fresh fruits and vegetables. The market is also a great place to buy local handicrafts and sample locally-made snacks.

2. Yoshijima Heritage House

After the morning market, visit the Yoshijima Heritage House to see what the home of a wealthy Takayama merchant was like over 100 years ago. 

Built by a famous carpenter in 1907, this traditional home belonged to the Yoshijima family, who were famous sake brewers and moneylenders. 

There are other merchant houses that are open to the public. These include Miyaji Heritage House (Google Maps) and Kusakabe Folk Museum (Google Maps).

3. Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall

  • COST: ¥900 (US$8.20/€7.17/£6.28)
  • OPEN: Mar-Nov 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Dec-Feb 9:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

One of THE top three Japanese festivals is the Takayama Matsuri, which takes place twice a year. A popular feature of the festival is the parade of floats.

If you can’t be in Takayama during the festival, you can still view the floats at the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall (Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan).

Four of the twelve floats are on display in the Exhibition Hall. The hall rotates the floats on display three times a year.

Dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the festival is held twice a year: April 14 and 15 and October 9 and 10.

In April, the purpose of the festival is to pray to the gods for an abundant harvest. In October, the purpose is to thank the gods for their harvest.

A parade is held twice a day each time: during the day and at night.

4. Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine

Next to the Festival Float Museum is the beautiful and peaceful Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine.

The shrine goes back to the fifth century, making it the oldest shrine in Takayama.

The woodwork on this shrine complex is just beautiful.

5. Lunch

Take a break from your Takayama itinerary for lunch.

I had bought food earlier from a convenience store and had that near the shrine and Matsuri Exhibition Hall.

There aren’t many restaurants near the shrine.

6. Higashiyama Walking Course

Nestled on the upper level of Takayama is the Higashiyama Walking Course, a 5.5-kilometer trail that winds its way from the Higashiyama temple area to Shiroyama Park, where the remains of Takayama’s castle are located. It’s a great way to take a leisurely walk and escape the hordes of tourists in the town center.

The route from the Sakurayama Shrine to the beginning of the walking course passes by some lovely buildings. There are few cars and few people. 

And the sound of rushing water is everywhere in Takayama whether it’s from the river that flows through town or the drains along the side of the road. 

The path for the Walking Course is well-marked–great for those like me who are directionally challenged.

There are no restaurants along the route so you probably want to do lunch before you start.

After you pass under the gate in the above photo, you’ll arrive at the first of many temples: Unryuji Temple (Google Maps).

This temple was first built in 720 and rebuilt in the 1300s near the town’s castle.

Then in the 1600s, it was moved to its present location at the request of a local samurai named Kanamori Nagachika. He loved Kyoto so much that he wanted Takayama to be filled with beautiful temples like those in Kyoto.

After leaving the Unryuji Temple, continue up a path to Higashiyama Hakusen Shrine, the oldest shrine structure in Takayama (719 AD).

This temple is small and simple. The highlight is its peaceful surroundings, its view of the city below, and the nearby cemetery. 

After visiting this shrine, walk back down the stairs and turn left at the bottom of the stairs. You’ll come next to what looks like a newer temple called Daiou Temple.

This temple was also transported to Takayama by Kanamori. 

The next stop on the route is Dounin Temple.

What’s the difference between a shrine and a temple?

A shrine is a Shinto religious structure, and a temple is Buddhist. 

Shrines have torii gates, but temples do not.

However, it’s difficult to tell the differences because temples borrow features from Shinto and shrines have Buddhist features.  

You have two choices. You can go up some stairs to Higashiyama Shinmei Shrine or keep going straight to the Tenshoji Temple.  As my feet were killing me, I chose Buddhism and went to the temple.

Which religion is more popular, Shinto or Buddhism?

The Japanese tend to follow a bit of both Shinto and Buddhism.

Japanese generally pay attention to their religions during major events like births, marriage, and death rather than during their everyday lives.

There is a common saying in Japan: Japanese are Shinto when they’re born and when they get married and then become Buddhists when they die.

The next temple, the Hokkeji Temple, is the perfect example of a Buddhist temple complex with a Shinto shrine. Above is the main hall of the temple.

There’s a pond and stone arched bridge on the temple grounds. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll come to a Shinto shrine, the perfect example of how the two religions coexist side by side.

You can leave the Higashiyama walking route anytime you want. I exited after Hokkeji because it was getting late and I was tired and hungry. I had seen enough temples and I wasn’t that excited about seeing anymore.

But if you continue this route, you’ll see a few more temples and shrines and then you’ll come to a park with the remains of a castle.

7. Dinner

Not too far from Hokkeji Temple is Center 4 Burger. This is an excellent place to have dinner.

Get the burger made with Hida beef! The restaurant only serves 30 to 40 of these per day, so make sure you arrive early. It’s a bit pricey at ¥2850 (US$19.63/£17.63/€20.07 ), but it is sooooo worth it!

The décor of the restaurant is also pretty cool. The walls are covered in Americana. And I spotted a copy of the Twin Cities City Page free newspaper, my hometown weekly free newspaper. The owner said that he got the newspaper when was visiting friends who were living in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, there’s a sign saying you’re not allowed to take photos of the restaurant for fear of others copying it.

Side Trips from Takayama

1. Shirakawa-go

Shirakawa-go is a charming village located an hour by bus from Takayama. It’s special for its Gassho Zukuri houses. You’ll need a full day to visit the town. To learn more about the village and what to see, where to stay, and how to get there, visit this article, Shirakawago Itinerary: Enter a Japanese Fairy Tale.

2. Kamikochi

Another great and easy side trip is a trip to Kamikochi, a park located in the Japan Alps. It’s special for its natural beauty, majestic mountains, and babbling rivers and streams. You’ll need a whole day to visit the town. It’s only an hour and a half away from Takayama. I tried to squeeze in a visit to the hot springs along with Kamikochi, but it wouldn’t have  worked if I wanted to catch the last bus back to Takayama. To learn more, read this article, Kamikochi itinerary: The Perfect Day Trip from Takayama.

3. Shin-Hotaka Ropeway

Another option is to do the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway. The ropeway takes you to the peak of one of the mountains in the Hotaka mountain range. I’ve read that there’s a 2.5-hour hiking trail from the ropeway station to Kamikochi. I’m not sure how easy it is, though.

4. Okuhida Onsens

Situated near Takayama in the Okuhida Valley are five hot springs (onsen) towns: Hiraryu Onsen, Shin-Hirayu Onsen, Shin-Hotaka Onsen, Fukuji Onsen, and Tochio Onsen. For some, you can enjoy the hot springs just as a day trip, while for others, you’ll need to book a room and stay overnight. Most of them supposedly have great views of the Japan Alps. I tried to do half a day at Kamikochi and half at Hirayu Onsen, but I couldn’t manage it. Schedule a full day at one of the onsens.

Where to eat in Takayama

As a recap of where I suggested eating on my Takayama itinerary, the following restaurants are

  • Hidatakayama Kyoya – Eat here for traditional barbecue Hida beef (¥3,000)
  • Center 4 Burger – Eat here for an amazing burger also with Hida beef (¥2,600)
  • Sumikyu – Soba noodles with 7 kinds of mushrooms (¥1,200)

Where to stay in Takayama

I stayed at the Rickshaw Inn  (Booking.com | Agoda) a cozy traditional Japanese-style hotel. You get the whole Japanese experience of floors covered in tatami mats and comfy futons for beds. However, there are modern conveniences like a coin-operated washer and dryer, a small kitchen for simple cooking, and a cozy lounge to hang out in.

  • It’s reasonably priced for Japan at $65, so it’s a great place to stay for solo travelers who don’t like hostels.
  • It’s close enough to walk to the train and bus stations even with luggage (10-15 minutes), and it’s just a five-minute walk to the main tourist sites.
  • The owner and staff have lots of great advice on where to eat.

If Rickshaw Inn doesn’t fit your needs, here are some other popular places to stay in Takayama. For more info on different sources for finding a place to stay, check out my post on preparing for your trip to Japan. 

Budget:

K’s House #1 (Booking.com | Agoda) and K’s House Oasis #2 (Booking.com | Agoda)

There are 2 K’s House Hostels in Takayama. Both are near the train station. You cannot go wrong with this Japanese hostel chain (I stayed at one in Hiroshima). The hostels are friendly, comfortable, and well-located. Both hostels have shared kitchens. RATINGS: 8.7 – 9.1

Mid-Range:

Auberge Hidanamori (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) – This hotel is a bit far from the center of Takayama, but it’s located in the woods so you can go hiking around the hotel; amazing dinners; free pick-up service from the Takayama station. (RATING: 9.5)

 Oyado Koto No Yume – (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) – Centrally located; Japanese traditional inn; hot spring bath (RATING: 9.1)

Luxury:

Hidatei Hanaougi AGODA | BOOKING.COM – Japanese-style inn, some rooms have their own private outdoor hot spring bath; free transport from JR Takayama station (RATING: 9.1)

Honjin Hiranoya Kachoan –  AGODA | BOOKING.COM –  located in the heart of old Takayama; traditional Japanese inn; indoor hot spring bath (RATING: 9.1)

Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?

I have a post that will show you whether a Japan Rail Pass is worth it. I break down the transportation price (based on 2020 August prices) for each of the destinations in this Japan itinerary of 3 weeks. Then I compare that to the price of a Japan Rail Pass. After that, I show where and how to purchase a Japan Rail Pass, how to activate the Pass when you get to Japan, and how to use the Pass.

Just check out my article on getting a Japan Rail Pass here.

How to get to Takayama

From Tokyo to Takayama

There are two train routes that lead you to Takayama from Tokyo.

  1. Tokyo – Nagoya – Takayama
  2. Tokyo – Toyama – Takayama

I have included train times to help you get an idea of possible departure and arrival times. Please check the Navitime website for the most current times.

1. Tokyo – Nagoya – Takayama

This route takes around five hours. The best part of the trip is the stunning scenery between Nagoya and Takayama. I couldn’t get over how clear and blue the water is.

To give you an idea of train times, these are the times for the non-Nozomi trains (you can’t use your JR Pass on Nozomi trains) from October 2022. The 2022 times were the same as the times in August 2018.

All trains leave from Tokyo Station and require you to transfer in Nagoya.

Tokyo – Nagoya Nagoya – Takayama
7:33 – 9:14 9:39 – 12:24
8:33 – 10:14 10:48 – 13:11
9:33 – 11:14 11:43 – 14:12
10:33 – 12:14 12:48 – 15:10
12:33 – 14:14 14:48 – 17:13

I took the 7:33 train, so I was able to get in a half-day for my Takayama itinerary.

If you don’t have a JR Pass, it will cost around ¥5,280 (¥4,180 from Tokyo to Nagoya and ¥1,100 from Nagoya to Takama). This is the price as of October 7, 2022. 

Make sure to check that the train going to Nagoya is NOT a Nozomi train as you cannot use your JR Pass on these trains.

If you’re thinking of staying in Nagoya for a day, check out this 1 day Nagoya itinerary.

2. Tokyo – Toyama – Takayama

This train leaves at 7:20 am from Tokyo Station and gets in at Takayama at 11:23 am. I tried to take this train, but the tracks were flooded so the route was not running.

Without a JR Pass, it costs around ¥5,830 – ¥6,360 (Tokyo to Toyama) and ¥1,200 (Toyama to Takayama). 

Tokyo – Toyama Toyama – Takayama      
7:20 – 9:30 9:53 – 11:23
10:24 – 12:31 13:02 – 14:34
14:24 – 16:56 17:14 – 18:41

For an up-to-date schedule and additional times, visit Navitime Website.

3. Bus: Tokyo to Takayama

If you want a cheaper and more direct way, take the bus. As of October 2022, A one-way ticket costs ¥4,100 –  ¥7,000  (US$28-$48/£25-£43 /€29-€49) depending on what day you travel and where you buy your ticket.

When you’re looking for your ticket online, you want to search for the destination of “Gifu”.

The bus leaves from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (Google Maps), and arrives in Takayama at the Nohi Bus Terminal, which is right next to the train station and tourism office.

 

Tokyo Shinjuku Takayama Nohi Bus Station
7:05 12:50
8:15 114:00
11:05 16:50
14:35 20:20
22:55 4:50

You check times and buy tickets from this website for Willer Express or this website called Highway Bus.

From Kyoto to Takayama

You can travel by train or bus to Takayama from Kyoto.

1. Train: Kyoto – Nagoya – Takayama

A one-way ticket from Kyoto to Nagoya costs ¥2,530 and from Nagoya to Takayama is ¥1,100.

Kyoto – Nagoya Nagoya – Takayama
7:33-8:25 8:43-10:58
10:08-10:42 10:48-13:11
12:08-12:42 12:48-15:10
14:08-14:42 14:48-17:13

There is also a direct train leaving Kyoto at 8:31 am and arriving in Takayama at 12:24 pm.

For the most up-to-date schedule and for additional departure times, check Navitime.

2. Bus: Kyoto – Takayama

One way ticket is ¥5,000 – ¥6,500.

Kyoto Takayama
8:30 12:52
16:45 20:57
22:38 4:00 am

For more times, visit Willer online booking site or Highway Bus online booking site.

From Kanazawa to Takayama

Another popular way to get to Takayama is to travel from Kanazawa.

There are no trains, but there are buses.

The cost is ¥3,600 (US$24.80 /€25.35 /£22.28) one way.

Kanazawa Takayama
8:10 10:25
11:10 13:25
13:10 15:25
16.00 18:10

For the MOST up-to-date schedule, check out the Nohi Bus Company website.

Where to go after Takayama

You’ve seen Takayama. Now where to next?

I recommend getting on a bus and visiting the fairy-tale village of Shirakawa-go. This is where you can see the famous gassho-zukuri houses. The name of these houses literally means “constructed like hands in prayer” and comes from the fact that the roofs of the houses look like two hands coming together in prayer.

You can stay overnight in one of the gassho-zukuri houses in the village.

Or you can just visit during the day. Store your luggage at the bus station in Shirakawa-go. Then take the bus to Kanazawa in the afternoon. I tell you how to do it in my post on Shirakawago.

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.

Click here to get lots of great tips for traveling around Asia as well as this FREE 3-week Japan itinerary guide. 

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a meal of Japanese food and a street at night in Takayama Japan
a red bridge surrounded by trees and a river with stone embankment iNT

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