Historically, the city of Kanazawa was one of the most powerful cities in Japan. During the Edo period the area was home to some of the country’s greatest cultural achievements rivalling Kyoto and Tokyo. Though today it may be a little overlooked as mega cities like Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka continue to grow, it’s still arguably one of the country’s greatest underrated gems. With some of the best seafood in the world and well preserved historical artefacts, a trip to Kanazawa is an unmissable opportunity for adventure.
Morning: Curio for Breakfast
There’s no better day to start your day than with a seriously decked out breakfast and there’s no better place to eat breakfast in Kanazawa than at Curio Espresso. Having met in Seattle, café owners Yuko and Sol are serious about their meticulously crafted coffee. A favourite among locals and visitors alike, this little café has become a Kanazawa institution and a must visit destination for anyone needing a caffeinated kick-start or refuel. Beyond their diverse coffee list they also dish out pastries and hot food (like pulled pork sandwiches) all made with locally sourced ingredients.
If you have only 48 hours in Kanazawa you really have no time to waste, so it’s straight off to get immersed in the area’s history with a visit to Kanazawa Castle. The carefully restored castle holds an incredible amount of history within its imposing walls. Once the seat of power of the city’s Maeda clan, the castle itself actually burnt down a number of times but has been loving restored by locals who were schooled in the traditional techniques by Kyoto carpenters and craftsmen.
Kanazawa Castle, 920-0937 Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, Marunouchi, 1番1号, +81 7 6234 3800
Located near the above castle is Kenroku-en Garden, a living symbol of Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage and love of natural beauty. This famous Japanese landscape garden has been awarded the title of one of the country’s three most beautiful landscape gardens alongside Mito’s Kairakuen and Okayama’s Korakuen. The name Kenrokuen literally means “Garden of the Six Sublimities” which is a reference to the Chinese landscape theory which focuses on spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. Though Japan is a country filled with stunning parks, a visit to Kenroku-en Garden is an experience unique to Kanazawa.
Kenroku-en is considered to be one of Japan’s three great gardens. Built near the Kanazawa Castle in the 1620s and developed over the course of two centuries, the 25-acre grounds were opened to the public in the 1870s and now host visitors from all over the world. If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring this country’s gorgeous foliage, Kenroku-en is a perfect place to start! Tag a friend who'd love to wander this vibrant garden as its leaves turn golden this fall. Photo by @garyhor #traveldeeper
Afternoon: Omicho Market for lunch
Given that Kanazawa is considered one of Japan’s most vibrant seafood capitals, it’s almost a crime to not visit the area’s famous Omicho Market. And what better reason to visit than for a splendid seafood lunch? The market has been the city’s largest fresh food market since the Edo Period. With over 200 stalls sprawled across the area, it is a fantastic place to take your time and explore Kanazawa’s rich culinary culture. As well as local vendors, there are plenty of restaurants that also call Omicho Market home, so there’s really no better place to stop for a bite to eat.
Omicho Market, 920-0905 Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, Kamiomicho, +81 7 6231 1462
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Ninjadera aka Myōryū-ji aka Ninja Temple
Once you’ve filled your stomach to the brim it’s time to check out the famous ‘Ninja Temple’. Actually, the temple has no direct connection to ninjas, but it was named so thanks to its fascinating architecture which features many hidden defensive mechanisms built into the walls. Originally built as a disguised military outpost, the temple hideout features hidden tunnels, secret rooms, traps, and a maze of weaving corridors and staircases all carefully crafted down to the last inch. A visit to the temple is a lesson in the mindfulness of Japanese architecture and construction.
Ninja Temple, 921-8031 Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, 野町1−2−12, +81 7 6241 0888
Evening: Kourin Sushi for dinner
With the abundance of incredible dining options in Kanazawa, the hardest bit about eating out is simply deciding where and what to eat. If you’d like a little guidance, it’s recommended visitors check out Kourin Sushi – you are in seafood country, of course! One of the most popular dining spots in the city, Kourin Sushi sources its fish fresh from the Omicho Market daily. Whether you’re a sushi novice or expert the friendly staff are on hand to guide you through the culinary delights of Kanazawa’s seafood scene.
Kourin Sushi, 79 Bakuromachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0903, +81 7 6231 5964
Katamachi area for a few drinks
Kanazawa is a lively city and there’s no better way to really immerse yourself in the local scene than by exploring the buzzing nightlife. The Katamachi area is by day a shopping mecca and by night a booze bar crawl waiting to happen. Be warned though, many of these busy local venues may sting you with a small entry fee, but those who won’t will advertise the fact pretty heavily. For something a little different check out the St. Louis Jigger Bar run by Suntory, home to every cocktail concoction imaginable.
Bedtime at Nakayasu Ryokan
It’s now time for a well deserved rest, and Nakayasu Ryokan in the centre of old Kanazawa is the best place to rest your head. This Japanese style inn (ryokan) is a family run establishment that has been keeping the traditions and culture of Kanazawa alive ever since the hotel’s establishment in 1920. Given its super central location it’s fantastic place to set up camp and allow yourself access to the city’s best sightseeing spots and casual hangouts.
Morning: Higashi-Chaya District for a morning tea ceremony
Kanazawa is still a very traditional city, which means it’s a fantastic place to experience the history of Japan first hand. Made a trip to the city’s Higashi-Chaya district, the biggest and most interesting of the city’s three ‘chaya’ (tea house) districts. Here you can witness and even learn the age-old techniques of the noble art of Japanese tea ceremonies. There are a number of options for tea ceremony lessons so it’s best to do a little research and pick one that suits your time and budget.
Nagamachi Samurai District
So you’ve done tea district it’s time for samurai district aka Nagamachi. Sitting by Kanazawa castle, this little pocket of shops and houses is where the city’s samurai and their families used to live. While you’re there don’t miss the opportunity to see exactly where the samurai families used to live by visiting Nomura-ke, a lovingly and carefully restored samurai residence and one of the most popular tourist stop-offs in the area.
Afternoon: Lunch at The Cottage
Time to eat! Though it’s not a seafood focused hideout it’s definitely worth checking out the local institution The Cottage. Infusing a unique Japanese take on the Europen home-style cooking, Tony The Cottage’s head chef takes the freshest locally sourced produce and turns it into some of the best most unique European dishes you’ll find in Japan. Sitting along the stunning canals of the Katamachi District, there’s no better place to take a break and watch the city roll by.
920-0961 Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, 香林坊２丁目１２−１０, +81 7 6262 3277
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Kanazawa is home to one of the country’s most revered museums and it’d be a crime not to check it out for yourself. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, features both local and foreign artists pushing the boundaries of all art-forms including music, performing arts, film, and visual art. With a permanent collection and a rotating exhibits there’s always something to see no matter what time you visit.
Gold Leaf Museum
You may not know it but in Japan, Kanazawa is actually revered for its gold. The history of Kanazawa gold leaf dates back to the Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568-1603), but it was actually during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) that the city made waves across the nation for its superior leafing technology and water used during gold leaving production. These days you can still witness the local gold leaving and even try it out for yourself at the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum.
Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum, 1-3-10, Higashiyama, Kanazawa, +817 6251 8950
Evening: Sushi Ippei for your last sushi meal
You need one final sushi meal before departing this seafood paradise, this time check out Sushi Ippei. Though it’s the fanciest sushi restaurant on the scene, it’s welcoming and laid back atmosphere make it one of the best places in the city to gorge yourself on fresh fish alongside friendly locals. With a huge variety of dishes on the menu it’s a great place to try something new, if you don’t know what to try just ask the staff for recommendations and you won’t be disappointed.
Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, Katamachi, 1 Chome−5−26, 片町Ｎｏ．１スクエア, +81 7 6261 8674
Kazue-machi for a goodbye drink
Time for a goodbye sake in Kazue-machi, one of the city’s most scenic pockets. As the sun disappears and day rolls into the evening this nostalgic town really comes alive. Its labyrinth of bars and restaurants are second homes to weary travellers and locals alike, creating a lively atmosphere. Try a local sake from one of the traditional style bars that call Kazue-machi home. Be warned though, once you get comfortable, it’s almost impossible to leave.