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Nagoya Starts Here

Although there are plenty of interesting things to do in Nagoya, the city is not my favorite Japanese one. I’m not alone in this sentiment, either—a good friend of mine whose family lives just outside the city feels the same way.

“It’s not that this is a terrible place,” Toshio said one day a spring or so ago, when we were exploring Nagoya attractions together. “There’s just not much special about it.”

On the other hand, I wouldn’t go abandoning your search for flights to Nagoya just yet. There’s plenty of awesome to be found in the hub of central Japan, even if it’s floating in a sea of not-spectacular.

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Is Nagoya Worth Visiting?

I’ll be blunt. With the exception of a few Nagoya sights, there’s not a whole lot to do in the hub of central Japan. This makes sense of course, considering that the city’s modern rise to prominence has come as a result of the automotive industry and not the tourism one; most of its historical sites were destroyed during the bombings of World War II.

Nagoya is not a place I would go out of my way to visit. However, stopping for a few hours between trains to sample food in Nagoya (which I’ll describe in more detail momentarily) or for a night to explore more of the rest of the city might not be a bad idea, assuming your Japan trip has some flexibility.

The Best Things to Do in Nagoya

Circle the Moat of Nagoya Castle

 

Although it usually tops most lists of things to do in Nagoya, Nagoya Castle is actually relative far from the train station—if you’re just here on a stopover, you may or may not have time to visit. Additionally, while the castle’s grounds are expansive and its facade is impressive (albeit, closely reminiscent of its cousin in Osaka), this 17th-century fortress has been reconstructed several times since the Edo period, as recently as 2018 in fact.

Tour Nagoya’s Spiritual Sights

 

As is the case with the castle, Nagoya temples can feel somewhat lacking, largely because of how new they are compared to their counterparts elsewhere in Japan. With this in mind, I’ll limit my recommendations to two: Atsuta Shrine, which is located a few stops south of Nagoya Station on the Meitetsu Line and Osu Kannon, which is not only a temple, but also the name of a covered market full of dining and shopping options.

Chow Down on Misokatsu

 

Speaking of Meitetsu Nagoya Station, it’s where you’ll find the best food in Nagoya—or at least the most famous. Specifically, you’ll want to head to the 9th floor of the Meitetsu Department Store and grab a seat at Yabaton. Try not to drown in your own drool as the smell of fresh-fried pork cutlet fills the air, and watch in awe as the waiter drizzles your tonkatsu with the sweet, red miso sauce that gives it its unique-to-Nagoya name.

Marvel at Nagoya’s Underrated Skyline

 

Taking in a night view probably isn’t on your list of things to do in Nagoya, as it certainly would be for Tokyo and Osaka (and even for smaller cities like Nagasaki and Hakodate, if you’ve done your research). However, whether you ascend the glass-bottom observation deck atop the Oasis 21 mall, or go up to the much higher Sky Promenade (which is much closer to the station), I think you’ll find Nagoya’s cityscape as underrated as I do.

Walk the Nakasendo Way

 

Whether you visit as one of several day trips from Nagoya or walk along the route for several days, the historical Nakasendo Way is one of my favorite excursions in central Japan. Visit charming towns like Magome, Tsumago and Narai, or take in breathtaking scenery of the Kiso Pass, this is a trip back in time—which might be just what you need after a day or two in decidedly modern Nagoya.

Where to Stay in Nagoya

Like the city itself, most hotels in Nagoya aren’t going to win any Japan-wide awards. On the other hand, there are plenty of stylish and affordable boutique properties in the city center. I stayed at Lamplight Books Hotel during my latest visit to Nagoya, while Nishitetsu Hotel Croom is also a place I wouldn’t think twice about calling home for a night.

Luxury hotels like The Royal Park Canvas are also convenient to things to do in Nagoya, if that sort of accommodation is more your style. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Trip & Sleep Hostel is a clean, centrally-located and affordable option if privacy isn’t among your chief concerns.

When to Visit Nagoya

As a general rule, Nagoya weather is similar to what you’ll find in Osaka and the lower-lying portions of the Kansai region—which is to say that most of the year features relatively agreeable temperatures and manageable precipitation. With this being said, cherry blossom season is the the most beautiful time to visit Nagoya, just as it’s the best time to visit Japan as far as most travelers are concerned.

Of course, autumn in Nagoya (and along the aforementioned Nakasendo) is none too shabby. You should be aware, however, that Nagoya’s fall season begins later than you might expect, as is the case with autumn in Japan‘s most popular destinations. Peak colors can take until nearly the first of December to manifest! In winter, Nagoya rarely sees snow.

The Bottom Line

The variety of things to do in Nagoya stands in relatively stark contrast to the city’s lukewarm reputation. While it’s true that you’re probably not going to spend a long time here, or return here on multiple trips to Japan, there’s at least enough to justify a short stay if you have longer than two weeks in Japan. At minimum, you can sit down for a plate of steaming Misokatsu on a layover between Shinkansen journeys, or make a short trip to Nagoya Castle before walking the Nakasendo.