Top Things to do in Kanazawa: Eating Gold, Stargazing and More

Top Things to do in Kanazawa: Eating Gold, Stargazing and More

Here’s a Kanazawa guide that covers gold, geishas, and gardens!

A charming city on the west coast of Japan, Kanazawa gets commonly overlooked despite being a jewel of Japan’s tourism. As the second largest city to escape destruction by air raids, Kanazawa is the best preserved Edo Period city in Japan with samurai districts, chaya entertainment areas, and many more attractions that are often seen only in pictures rather than real life.  

Also known as the “little Kyoto” by locals, the beauty of the preserved traditional neighbourhoods in Kanazawa doesn’t fall short. In fact, you might even say it’s amplified thanks to the absence of annoying selfie sticks and loud tourists.

And if you’re wondering what the top things to do in Kanazawa are, look no further. This list is sure to have you booking a flight ASAP.

1. Take a stroll through Kenrokuen

things to do in kanazawa

Image credit: Carlos Donderis

You’ll notice that Kenrokuen is pretty much on every guide to Kanazawa, and that’s with good reason. Crowned Japan’s most celebrated garden, Kenrokuen is a visual feast and a retreat for the spirit. Locals agree that you can’t come to Kanazawa without taking a stroll through Kenrokuen.

Image credit: cotaro70s

Within the garden, you’ll come across little vistas and quaint traditional teahouses tucked in inconspicuous corners, where you can drink tea and nibble on sweets while taking in the scenery. From either end of the park, you can easily access Kanazawa Castle or the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, both of which shouldn’t be skipped.

2. Immerse in history at Kanazawa Castle

things to do in kanazawa

Image credit: 歲月之歌

While not much remains of the original castle, it’s been slowly reconstructed over time to preserve the memory of this important cultural asset. Feel free to enter some of the buildings as they’ve been fitted with displays that narrates its history.

Image credit: Bryan

Kanazawa Castle also offers a remarkable vantage point of the city and Kenrokuen. On clear days, you might even get to see Mt. Haku!

3. Enjoy the exhibits at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Image credit: Yoshihide Urushihara

A small gallery that packs a big punch, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the most popular art museums in Japan. It’s a hit with adults and kids alike. There are plenty of exhibitions featured both outside and inside the museum, with the brilliant Colour Activity House by Olafur Eliasson greeting all visitors upon arrival.

 

things to do in kanazawa

Image credit: CTG/SF

 

The most famous work is perhaps The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich. You’ve probably seen it on social media, too. It’s an interactive simulated swimming pool that can be viewed from above and below the installation. If you’re a parent looking to enjoy some quiet time, you’ll be glad to know there’s a kids area where your children can be left to run around and play.

4. Cool down at Hakuichi

Image credit: Hakuichi

For the uninformed, Kanazawa also happens to be the country’s capital of gold leaves. So don’t be too surprised when you find out that soft serve with gold is a thing here. With a sheet of 24k gold foil wrapped around the ice cream, this sweet and cold treat is pretty darn eye-catching and IG-worthy!

5. Experience the culture at Higashi Chaya

Image credit: Andrea Schaffer

Of the different preserved districts tracing back from the Edo period, Higashi Chaya is the biggest and most interesting of them all. It used to be an entertainment district, and even now you can still spot geishas walking around the picturesque neighbourhood.

Image credit: RachelH

If you’d like to watch a traditional geisha performance, Kaikaro Teahouse is open to the public for a fee. It’s a rare opportunity as even in Kyoto, teahouses are off-limits to tourists, so take this chance for an eye-opening performance.

6. Get your fill at Omicho Market

Image credit: jpellgen

Omicho Market can be considered the (now defunct) Tsukiji equivalent of Kanazawa, being its largest fresh food market packed with a colourful network of stalls. Most of the stalls specialise in local seafood and produce, but you can find kitchen goods and flowers for sale, too.

Image credit: Inazakira

There are also plenty of restaurants around that let you sample the stuff for sale. It tends to remain crowded even after morning hours as tourists start swarming in for lunch. Their kaisendon (rice topped with assorted fresh seafood) is extremely popular among locals and foreigners alike.

7. Meditate inside the D.T. Suzuki Museum

Image credit: Yellow Mao

Named in honour of D.T. Suzuki — the man who brought Zen Buddhism to the West — this museum has quite a different air to it. The structure of the museum alone embodies the message that Suzuki had sought to convey and invites a sense of zen to wash over visitors.

It’s incredibly calming to sit along their Water Mirror Garden and meditate. You’ll also find English and Japanese books written by Suzuki himself.  

8. Let Shirakawago’s sights take your breath away

Image credit: Kagami

For something super special (and if you’re visiting during winter), don’t forget to take a trip to Shirakawago for a night under the stars. The town looks like a scene from a European painting with its traditionally thatched roof farmhouses and snow-covered landscape.

Located just two hours away from the main city, Shirakawago is free of air pollution. With clear skies and chilly weather, get ready to gear up for a magical night with a friend!

There’s still plenty more undiscovered when it comes to Kanazawa, what else have we missed out?

Also read: Top Unforgettable (and Unique!) Winter Experiences in Korea

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Rainer Cheung

Motivated out of bed solely by the prospects of food, travel, or her dog's incessant pawing.

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