3-Day Kanazawa Itinerary for First-Timers
Hailed as “Little Kyoto” and as the capital of the Hokuriku region, Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture is a historically and culturally rich part of Japan and well worth a visit during your travels.
It's a city with streets that reflect the traditional charm of Kyoto, modern art establishments that wouldn't be out of place in Tokyo, and a stunning garden as beautiful as anything you'll see in Nara. Somehow though, it often flies under the radar, so our tip is to get there while it’s still a little bit of a secret.
With carefully preserved samurai and geisha districts, one of Japan's most beautiful gardens, and revered craftsmanship, including Kutani ware and delicate golden leaf, there's a lot to discover in Kanazawa.
The city has convenient access from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and from Osaka on the JR Thunderbird, and it also opens the way to Noto Peninsula's scenic coastline.
To ensure you don't miss the city's key attractions, here's a three-day itinerary in Kanazawa for first-time visitors keen to explore what this city offers.
Day 1 - Stroll back in time and through one of Japan’s most revered gardens
Morning: Higashi Chaya District
From Kanazawa Station, you can walk, take a bus, or taxi to Higashi Chaya District. A "chaya" in Japanese literally means 'teahouse', and it's where, during the Edo Period (1603 - 1868), guests or patrons would be entertained by geisha, traditional female performing artists, or hostesses. There are three preserved historic districts in Kanazawa; Higashi Chayagai (Eastern Chaya District), Nishi Chayagai (Western Chaya District), and Kazuemachi.
Here, two chaya are open to the public; Shima Teahouse and Kaikaro Teahouse. Shima has been converted into a museum, while Kaikaro Chaya is open and operating.
You'll notice as you explore this historical side of the city Kanazawa is known for its love of gold. There are several stores where you can find Kanazawa's treasured gold leaf, including Hakuza Gold Leaf Store, which has a tea ceremony room covered in gold.
Midday: Kenrokuen Garden
Start the day with a must-visit on the itinerary; Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan's three most revered gardens. Kenroku-en means "garden with six attributes" and is a beautiful sight to behold in each of the four seasons.
Unlike a "sit-and-view" garden, Kenroku-en is a "strolling-style" garden designed for visitors to walk around the large spaces and appreciate its scenic features such as winding streams, ponds, hills, tea houses, and cottages.
This sprawling garden was developed by Kaga clan lords and captured their hopes for longevity and eternal prosperity. The park is open during the day throughout the year, and admission is 320 yen for adults, 100 yen for children.
Afternoon/evening: Kanazawa Castle and Park
Next up, visit Kanazawa Castle, which is right next to Kenroku-en garden. The castle itself is a reconstruction of the original. However, you can learn about the historical events that made the castle what it is today.
Walk across the grounds and up through the gates; at a higher viewpoint, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Hakusan on a clear day. Opening hours are 7:00am - 6:00pm (Mar-15 Oct), 8:00am - 5:00pm (16 Oct-Feb).
Day 2 - Explore the Samurai District and bar-hop in Katamachi
Morning: Nagamachi District
Nagamachi Bukeyashiki District is a fascinating area to stroll through as it was home to high and mid-ranking samurai during the Edo period. Close by is the western geisha district of Nishi Chaya Gai.
Along the canals and cobblestoned neighborhood streets of Nishi Chaya Gai, you’ll notice the earthen mud and stone walls layered with rice straw during winter. Visit Nomura House, which is a beautifully restored traditional Samurai residence with heirloom antiques, a tea house, and a stunning private garden.
While you’re in the area, stop by Kaburaki, a café-shop-museum that showcases the artisanal craftsmanship of kutani-yaki pottery of Ishikawa prefecture and fine glassware. You can appreciate the crafts and pop by the café part of the store Oishii Ippukku to enjoy a teishoku lunch set meal or cup of tea served in kutani ware.
Midday: Myoryuji Temple or Ninja Temple
Myoryuji Temple earned the nickname of Ninja Temple not because it actually had resident ninja but because there are enough deceptive defenses that it could’ve been the case.
Some fascinating architectural features of this temple include a trick stairway with two doors leading to different rooms, hidden corridors, and a complex network of passageways, unnoticeable from the seemingly normal temple exterior. You can book a viewing tour (in Japanese only) for 1,000 yen for adults and 700 yen for primary school students.
As you make your way through the district, Kyukeikan Rest House is worth stopping at for a break or to pick up a tourist information pamphlet.
Evening: Drinks in Katamachi
Grab something to eat and some drinks in Katamachi, Kanazawa’s prime nightlife spot. You’ll find several top-notch restaurants, local izakaya, and cocktail bars along backstreets and hidden alleyways. Fill up on some quality Japanese-style pub food and bar-hop to unwind for the night with some drinks.
Day 3 - A taste of Kanazawa seafood, art and culture
Morning: Omi-cho Market
Head to Omi-cho Market, which is Kanazawa's most famous market. Home to delicious fresh seafood and a lively atmosphere, it has been an integral part of local food culture since its establishment in the Edo Period.
With around 200 stores, beyond seasfood you'll find local produce, fruit and vegetables, and restaurants perfect for lunch. Our tip is to try the delicious kano-gani (snow crab) and kaisen-don (seafood rice bowl). The market is open from 9:00–17:00.
Midday: Kanazawa Noh Museum
Noh is a style of Japanese theater that was initially reserved as samurai entertainment by the Maeda family, the lords of the Kaga clan. At Kanazawa Noh Museum, you'll see informative exhibitions where you can learn about this historical performance style. There is also a section where you can try on a traditional Noh mask and costume. This museum is open between 9:30am to 6:00pm, with the last entry at 5:30pm.
Afternoon: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a spacious and light-filled museum exhibiting contemporary artworks by Japanese and international artists like Leandro Erlich and Olafur Eliasson.
In one of the museum's courtyards, you can walk into a swimming pool… without getting wet. Popular with tourists and locals alike, the museum aims to generate new culture and revitalize Kanazawa's community.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
For the evening, there is a range of accommodation options in central Kanazawa. From budget to mid-range near the station, look out for Chisun Budget Kanazawa Ekimae, Hotel Kanazawa, and Hotel Nikko Kanazawa.
Or if you'd like to stick around near the castle grounds, check out Tokyu Stay Kanazawa, Mitsui Garden Hotel Kanazawa and Uan Kanazawa. These stylish options offer easy access to some of the city’s major attractions.
If you’d prefer an accommodation closer to Nagamachi District, the city’s more historical neighborhood, consider spending a few nights at Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel or Hotel Amanek Kanazawa.