Waterfront fish markets. Cycling trails shrouded in cherry trees. The dark history of Hiroshima and the sunny beaches of Itoshima. The world’s largest statue of a reclining Buddha and the best sake on the planet. All these things are less than 90 minutes from Fukuoka – close enough to catch the train back to Hakata station in the evening for a bowl of broth at one of the dozens of yatai sprinkled throughout the city. Read on for the top 10 day trips from Fukuoka, Japan.
Nokonoshima is only 10 minutes’ cruise from the Meinohama ferry terminal, but this laid-back island feels miles further away. Cycle or walk the 3km (2mi) or so to the Nokonoshima Island Park to see fields full of thousands of flowers blooming 12 months a year – rapeseed flowers in spring, sunflowers in summer, cosmos in fall and daffodils in winter – on a gentle slope down to Hakata Bay. This verdant island is also fringed by golden sand, and all that swimming and cycling works up an appetite that can be satisfied at Noko Burger at the ferry port on the way back to Fukuoka, which has earned cult status for its use of local produce.
Another waterfront day trip across Hakata Bay, this huge park is sprinkled with flower gardens, playgrounds, picnic spots, an amusement park, water park and even a zoo. Like Nokonoshima, seasonal blooms are the big drawcard – narcissus, tulips, nemophila, roses, hydrangeas, sunflowers, cosmos, the list goes on – but nothing beats cherry blossom season (March and April), when the pink petals of 2,000 trees shade the park’s maze of cycling trails. This huge urban retreat is a 20-minute ferry from the Momochi Seaside Park or an hour-or-so train ride to Uminonakamichi, making an easy trip from downtown Fukuoka.
A half-hour bus from Uminonakamichi over the causeway lies another sun-kissed island that hums with cyclists in the warmer months. Shikanoshima is best known for being the place where a couple of farmers stumbled upon the King of Na gold seal in 1784, a designated national treasure that’s now on display in the Fukuoka City Museum. But beautiful beaches and tropical snorkelling spots are the treasures to be discovered today, while the viewing tower in Shiomi Park provides an unbeatable shot of the Fukuoka coastline across the bay. Shikanoshima is connected to the mainland by road, but ferries also run to Momochi.
Away from the water, this former de facto capital of southern Japan is the top day trip to take from Fukuoka. Only 40 minutes’ bus inland, Dazaifu ruled Kyūshū for 500 years, and the ruins of those government buildings are now a public park. The sparkling Kyushu National Museum – which became Japan’s fourth national museum when it opened in 2005 – is a much more modern attraction, while the nearby Futsukaichi Onsen hot spring is as appealing today as when the region’s rich and powerful bathed there centuries ago. And day-trippers can’t miss the Tenman-gū shrine – the walk to the train station is paved with shops selling umegae mochi, a sweet rice cake filled with bean paste and stamped with the shape of a plum blossom, reflecting the thousands of trees inside the temple grounds.
Kitakyushu – the second-biggest city in the Fukuoka prefecture – was an important port linking Kyūshū with Honshu, but there’s more to this town than its industrial heritage. Kokura Castle was built in 1602, burned down in 1866, then rebuilt in 1959 – a striking contrast to the modern buildings around Kokura station, a mere 16 minutes by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Hakata. The nostalgic Mojiko station and the red-brick Western-style buildings around Moji Port reveal Kitakyushu’s history, while museums dedicated to manga and the humble toilet (seriously, it’s called the TOTO Museum) are two of the quirkiest in Japan. Kawachi Wisteria Garden in the shadow of Mount Sarakura is a compulsory detour for budding Instagram influencers, where tunnels of hanging wisteria flowers glow purple each spring.
Another 15-minute train from Kokura across the Kanmon Straits sits Honshu’s westernmost city. Shimonoseki carries a reputation as the fugu capital of Japan for its mountain of locally caught pufferfish, served ocean fresh at the Karato fish market peering out over the port. Drool-worthy sushi, sea urchins and even whale are dished up alongside the fugu – toxic if prepared the wrong way, but safely topped with spices and spring onions here. Ironically, the fish market is located next door to the Kaikyokan aquarium. The blooming Hinoyama Park beneath the Kanmon suspension bridge, as well as the 780m (2,560ft)-long undersea pedestrian tunnel beside it, are less fishy things to do.
The golden arcs of sand and dense greenery of the Itoshima peninsula wouldn’t look out of place in Hawaii or the Pacific Islands, but are found only 40 minutes’ train west of Fukuoka. Catch a wave at surf spot Keya Beach and admire the sunset from Nogita Beach, but Futamigaura Beach – with its white torii gate in the water framing the so-called ‘husband and wife rocks’ further out at sea – is the postcard picture. Oceanfront Karatsu Castle is another 45 minutes on the train along the coast, while nearby Yobuko – best accessed by car – is renowned for its sashimi-style squid, sometimes served still alive.
There’s one big reason to visit Nanzo-in – about as big as a jumbo jet, in fact. The temple is home to the largest statue of a reclining Buddha in the world, measuring 41m (135ft) long, 11m (36ft) high and 300 tons (272 tonnes). Built in 1995, the statue is nowhere near as old as the mighty seated Buddhas in Kamakura and Nara, but it’s about three times as big, even roomy enough to fit a prayer room inside. The lay-down pose is more common in South-East Asia than Japan, but this masterpiece is only 20 minutes’ train east of Hakata direct to Kidonanzoin-Mae station outside Nanzo-in.
While Nagasaki – a peaceful city on Kyūshū tinged with tragedy following World War II – is only 150km (93mi) from Fukuoka, the one-hour bullet train to Hiroshima – the other city synonymous with the atomic bomb – makes this 300km (186mi) journey to Honshu a much more achievable day trip. The Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome are sombre reminders of 6 August 6 1945, when Hiroshima suffered the first atomic bomb attack in history, while the reconstructed Hiroshima Castle and Shukkei-en gardens, as well as the floating red torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island a ferry ride from the city, are also noteworthy attractions.
The Saga prefecture is famous for its award-winning sake, and a couple of breweries are just blocks from Hizen-Hama station, a little over an hour south of Fukuoka. Fukuchiyo Brewery produces the Nabeshima sake, crowned the world’s best by the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in 2011 for its fruity, melon-like flavour. Three blocks south, Minematsu Brewing Company – established 1914 – runs tours through its century-old production process. Visitors can even hop in one of the huge brewing pots for selfie before perusing the shelves of its showroom, loaded with sake, shochu, fruit liqueurs and vinegars, and even amazake, a sweet low-alcohol brew. As well as sake, Kashima is known for the Shinto Yutoku Inari shrine – one of Japan’s most famous – that sits just outside Kashima City.