2-Day Kanazawa Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Japan’s Samurai Town

Kanazawa is a jewel of a city and a worthy addition to your Japan itinerary. But how do you decide what to do in Kanazawa?

This is where I can help. Make the most of your time there by following this 2-day Kanazawa itinerary, based on my visit to this cultural gem.

Two days in Kanazawa will allow you to enjoy the city at a relaxed pace. However, if pushed for time, you can see the city’s highlights on a busy day trip and I have suggested how you could do this.

I have also included information on how to get to Kanazawa and how to get around, as well as hotel recommendations.

two women in kimonos posing in a street lined with traditional buildings in kanazawa japan

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What is Kanazawa Famous for?

Kanazawa is best known for its well-preserved Edo-period Chaya Districts, with their ancient samurai houses and attractive temples. It is also home to one of Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s top three gardens.

A Short History of Kanazawa

During the Edo period, Kanazawa flourished under the patronage of the powerful Maeda family and their samurai warriors who governed Kaga (today’s Ishikawa prefecture) for 300 years. Their cultural, gastronomic and artistic achievements, notably the Kanazawa gold leaf and the tea ceremony, persist to this day.

During the modernization of Japan in the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912), Kanazawa’s importance diminished in favour of the industrial development of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Mercifully, Kanazawa escaped the devastation wrought during World War II and, as a result, the city’s historical Edo era streets coexist with the city’s modern architecture.

2-Day Kanazawa Itinerary

My two-day Kanazawa itinerary is intended as a framework to allow you to make the most of your time in the city.

Day One concentrates on the immediate area around Kanazawa Castle Park, including the sublime Kenroku-en Garden and the Nagamachi Samurai District. On your second day in Kanazawa, you will mix it up with visits to a few museums, the famous Omi-cho Market and the city’s largest geisha district.

You will be able to walk between most of these sights. For each day I’ll advise on how to get around, whether on foot or using the city’s tourist buses. There’s all you need to know about the city’s transport system later in the article (here).

If you are short on time or visiting Kanazawa on a day trip, you can compress this schedule into a one-day itinerary. I suggest following day one of my itinerary and adding Kazue-machi Chaya and Higashiyama.

Map & orientation

Although Kanazawa is a sprawling city, its must-see sights are clustered around Kanazawa Castle Park.

Kanazawa Station is located around two kilometres northwest of the city centre. However, the city’s excellent bus network will have you exploring its main attractions within a 10-15-minute journey.

Here’s a map to help you seek out the best things to do in Kanazawa:

map of the best things to do in Kanazawa in 2 days
2-Day Kanazawa Itinerary Map. Data @ 2021 Google (click on image for interactive map)

This map is colour-coded to correspond with the days in this Kanazawa itinerary:

  • Day 1 – red star
  • Day 2 – yellow star

Kanazawa Itinerary Day 1: Gardens and Samurai

Strolling around serene gardens is one of the best reasons to visit Japan, and day one of your Kanazawa itinerary includes one of the country’s most lauded gardens. It then continues with a visit to a shrine that features Japan’s most unique gate, before ending with a stroll through the city’s samurai district.

Start by taking the JR Kenrokuen Shuttle (recommended) or the Kanazawa Loop Bus from Kanazawa Station – a must-see sight in itself – to Kenroku-en. From here it’s an easy walk between the remaining stops on this itinerary.

Kanazawa station

The starting point of your 2-day Kanazawa itinerary is the city’s railway station. Worthy of its architectural plaudits, Kanazawa Station mixes futuristic design with deeply traditional elements.

Looking like it has been lifted straight from a sci-fi novel, the elevated station building is covered by an aluminium and glass roof. This is designed to collect rainfall which is then used to irrigate the plants in the station’s plaza and to feed its fountains. 

Exiting the station, you are greeted by the striking Tsuzumi Gate. This immense handcrafted wooden structure is built in the form of a torii gate, usually found at the entrance to a Japanese shrine.

wooden tori structure in front of train station building in kanazawa japan

Before leaving Kanazawa station stop by the Tourist Information Centre, one of the friendliest and most helpful I have encountered during my 30+ years of solo travel.

From the train station, take JR Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus to the second stop on this Kanazawa itinerary, Kenrokuen Garden.

Kenroku-en

Originally the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.

This Edo-period strolling-style landscape garden takes its name from the six attributes associated with a famous Sung-dynasty garden in China: seclusion, spaciousness, antiquity, human ingenuity, abundant water and scenic views.

lake with reflections of tea house and trees at kenroku-en-garden

Kenroku-en has these qualities in abundance.

From the southern edge of the garden, there are panoramic views over Kanazawa. 

Crystal-clear streams, crisscrossed with graceful stone bridges, lace through the garden. Majestic ancient pine trees (Karasakinomatsu Pines) reach for the sky.

A Japanese plum grove planted with 200 trees of 20 varieties provides a dazzling colour display.

pink plum blossm
Plum blossom at Kenroku-en

At Hisagoike Pond, a graceful, sweet-smelling cherry blossom tree casts a perfect reflection in the pond’s still moss-green water. The 18th Century Yugao-tei tea house sits at the pond’s edge and the centre of the pond is home to a small island planted with fir trees.

reflection of blosson tree in aqua green water of pond at kenroku-en-garden kanazawa

A sound landscape is provided by the adjacent Midori-taki Waterfall and birdsong.

As Kenroku-en is one of Japan’s largest gardens, I recommend setting aside at least one hour for your visit.

VISITING KENROKU-EN

Address: 1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0936

Admission: Fee applies

Stop for a glittering gold ice cream

The next stop on your Kanazawa itinerary is Kanazawa Castle. But before making your way there, treat yourself to an ice cream decorated with gold flakes from one of the sellers outside the garden.

The city prides itself in offering gold-related souvenirs and foods –  you can even find a beef curry embellished with gold flakes – and the most well-known is the gold leaf ice cream.

But don’t do as I did. When setting up for a selfie shot, an ice cream cone raised in the air, a watchful seagull swooped down to gobble the lot!

When you’re done, cross the road and enter Kanazawa Castle Park through the medieval Ishikawa Gate.

Kanazawa Castle Park

Originally built in 1580, Kanazawa Castle was home to the Maeda clan for 14 generations until several fires succeeded in razing it to the ground in the late 19th Century. The imposing structure that we see today is a reconstruction.

kanazawa-castle and bridge under blue sky

In my view, your time is best spent walking around Kanazawa Castle Park. Make your way past the castle’s moat to the small but perfectly formed Gyokusen’inmaru Garden.

Established in 1634, this garden was continually landscaped by successive lords of the Kaga Domain and is thought to have served as a courtyard for the domain lord. Gyokusen’inmaru Garden is centred around a pond with three islets, connected by low wooden and stone bridges.

traditional japanese garden with plants and ponds and mini bridge in kanazawa

The best view of the garden is from the visitor centre, which has some of the friendliest attendants on the planet. One of them gave me an origami crane, complete with a certificate, and told me how to say “thank you” in Kanazawa (this is anayato if you’re interested)!

VISITING KANAZAWA CASTLE PARK

Address: 1-1 Marunouchi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0937

Admission: Free to visit the park and Gyokusen’inmaru Garden.

Exiting Kanazawa Castle Park next to the Gyokusen’inmaru Garden you will reach the Oyama Shrine in five minutes.

Oyama Jinja Shrine

Dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the Kaga Clan, the unassuming Oyama Jinja Shrine was built in 1599 on Mount Utatsu and later moved to its current location.

japanese shrine main building with traditional garden with pond in foreground

It is known for its unusual main gate, which dates from 1875 and was designed by a Dutch architect.

The gate fuses European and Asian religious themes and is most famous for the Dutch-style stained glass windows on the uppermost level. It is said that this once served as a lighthouse. 

Oyama Jinja Shrine also has a peaceful and attractive stroll garden and pond.

VISITING OYAMA JINJA SHRINE

Address: 11-1 Oyamamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0918

Admission: Free

From the Oyama Jinja Shrine, it’s a leisurely 10-minute walk to the last stop of day one, the Nagamachi Samurai District.

Nagamachi Samurai District

If you have a fascination with samurai and have watched The Last Samurai or Rashomon a few too many times, strolling through the Nagamachi district will be one of the best things to do in Kanazawa. Once home to the samurai that supported the Maeda family, today this district preserves a historic atmosphere with its former samurai residences, cobbled streets, narrow lanes and water canals.

To immerse yourself in the life of a samurai, visit the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (Nomura-ke). This restored samurai residence displays artefacts from this era, including suits of armour and traditional furniture.

Nomura-ke also has a peaceful small inner garden with a tea house.

VISITING NOMURA-KE

Address: 1 Chome-3-32 Nagamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0865

Admission: Fee applies

Kanazawa Itinerary Day 2:  Food, Philosophy and Geisha

Your second day in Kanazawa begins with a visit to one of Japan’s best food markets, visits two cutting-edge art museums and ends with exploring the city’s evocative geisha district. With a few shrines thrown into the mix, this promises to be a busy and varied day.

Start your day by walking to Omi-cho Market or travel the short distance from Kanazawa Station on the JR Kenrokuen Shuttle or the Kanazawa Loop Bus.

Omi-cho Market

Get a taste of everyday life in Kanazawa at Omi-cho Market. This busy traditional local market has been around for 300 years and is a warren of about 170 stalls selling fresh produce, including seafood, vegetables and fruit, and restaurants.

dried fish for sale with japanese price signs at kanazawa-omicho-marke

Known as ‘Kanazawa’s Kitchen’, Omi-cho Market is fascinating to walk through and a great place to grab a bite to eat.

Although opening hours vary by shop or restaurant, typically Omi-cho market is open between 9 am and 5.30 pm. Many shops are closed on Sundays or Wednesdays, as well as on national holidays, including the New Year holidays.

From Omi-cho Market, get back on the JR Kenrokuen Shuttle or the Kanazawa Loop Bus to your next stop, the city’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

I confess that although I do make an occasional visit to Tate Modern in my home city of London, much of the time I don’t really get modern and contemporary art. So the fact that I was bowled over by Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art speaks volumes.

Take the design of the museum for example.

This is not just an architectural showcase in isolation. The museum was designed as a park where people can gather and meet and its exhibits extend into this outside space.

bright red art installation in kanazawa-21st-century-art-museum
child walking in blue outdoor art installation kanazawa-21st-century-art-museum

Inside, the collection’s highlights are too numerous to name but the most famous work is ‘The Swimming Pool’ by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. In this unique artwork, people appear to be standing underwater when viewed from above.

VISITING 21ST CENTURY MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, KANAZAWA

Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa

Admission: Free to the public zone; fee applies for entry to the exhibition zone

Ishiura Jinja Shrine

Across the road from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is the tranquil Ishiura Jinja Shrine. Thought to have been built in the Tensho Era as a local shrine for seven villages in the Ishiura district, this shrine was moved from Shimohonda-cho to its current site in the late 19th Century.

Although the Ishiura Jinja Shrine doesn’t look much from the roadside, it features a striking set of vermillion torri strewn with Omikuji.

two people walking along pathway lined with prayer papers in japan

From this shrine, it’s about pleasant 5 – 10 minutes on foot to the D.T. Suzuki Museum.

D.T. Suzuki Museum

Visiting this small museum dedicated to Daietz Suzuki, one of the leading Buddhist philosophers of our time, was one of my favourite things to do in Kanazawa. Daietz Suzuki or Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro, who died in 1996, was born in Kanazawa and was instrumental in introducing Japanese Zen philosophy to the West. 

Designed by architect Taniguchi Yoshio, the museum is an extraordinary space and the epitome of tranquillity. It comprises three buildings, connected by corridors, and three gardens: the Vestibule Garden, the Roji Garden and the Water Mirror Garden.

white geometric buildings around still pond in kanazawa-dr-sitzuki-museum

The D.T. Suzuki Museum is purpose-built for contemplation. As you walk through the wings, you can learn more about the philosophy of Daietz Suzuki through his writings, and then sit and reflect in one of the serene gardens.

A moving experience.

VISITING THE D.T. SUZUKI MUSEUM

Address: 3 Chome-4-20 Hondamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-0964, Japan

Admission: Fee applies

Kazue-machi Chaya District

Kanazawa has three well-preserved traditional entertainment districts, often referred to as geisha districts. Nishi Chaya is the smallest one; Higashi Chaya (East Chaya) is the largest and most popular one; and Kazue-machi Chaya is the second largest.

couple in traditional dress walking alonf street in kanazawa lined with traditional buildings

Whilst Kazue-Machi Chaya doesn’t cover a large area, it is worthy of a ten-minute stroll.

Its Edo buildings, with their wooden facades and lattice windows lining the Asano River, make a great photo opportunity. This district is also more tranquil than the popular Higashi Chaya on the other side of the river.

To get to the Higashi Chaya District, the final stop of our Kanazawa 2-day itinerary, walk to the Asanogawa Bridge to cross the river.

Higashi Chaya District (Higashiyama)

The best thing to see in Kanazawa is saved until last for a very good reason.

two women in kimonos walking past wooden fronted buildings in kanazawa japan

Although a charming area at any time of day, Higashiyama’s seductive beauty is heightened in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. As the sun starts to set, its narrow streets and Edo-period houses are illuminated by the soft glow of lanterns.

If you are lucky, you may even spot one of the members of this district’s geisha community scurrying to her next engagement.

the back of two women dressed in kimonos walking along street

As Higashiyama is rich with craft shops, this is a perfect opportunity to browse and shop for tasteful gifts. And as there is a good selection of restaurants, why not end your day with dinner in a historic setting?

A perfect end to your two days in Kanazawa.

Getting There

Kanazawa is easy to reach by train. It is also served by highway buses and has an airport close by.

How to get to Kanazawa by train

Thanks to excellent rail connections, it is easy to get to Kanazawa from many of Japan’s major cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. All journeys are covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

people standing in front of railway indicator board at kyoto station japan
SHOULD YOU BUY A JR PASS?

Thanks to Japan’s excellent railway network, it’s easy to travel around the country independently.

Buying a JR pass opens the door to unlimited access to all JR trains, as well as some partner railways, buses and ferries for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Private trains and a handful of high-speed shinkansen (bullet trains) aren’t covered.

However, the JR Pass is not the bargain it once was.

To decide whether a JR Pass is a good bet, you need to do your research. Unless you are travelling long distances over a short space of time, the Japan Rail Pass is unlikely to be good value.

Tokyo to Kanazawa by train

The Kagayaki shinkansen (bullet train) travels between Tokyo Station and Kanazawa in 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Although a second shinkansen, the Hakutaka, also runs along this line, it makes more stops, stretching the journey time to three hours. Therefore, if you are taking a day trip to Kanazawa from Tokyo, I recommend taking the Kagayaki bullet train.

Note that seat reservations are compulsory for all Kagayaki trains.

Nagano to Kanazawa by train

The Kagayaki shinkansen travels between Nagano Station and Kanazawa in just over one hour. Again, seat reservations are required.

The slower Hakutaka shinkansen makes the journey in just under 90 minutes.

Kyoto or Osaka to Kanazawa by train

The frequent JR Thunderbird limited express travels between Osaka and Kyoto and Kanazawa in just over two hours. Seat reservations are not required.

Toyama to Kanazawa by train

The Tsurugi and Hakutaka shinkansen make the journey between Kanazawa Station and Toyama in just over 20 minutes.

Takayama to Kanazawa by train

To get to Kanazawa from Takayama, take the JR Hida limited express line to Toyama Station. From there, change to the shinkansen or local train to Kanazawa.

This journey takes over three hours.  

How to get to Kanazawa by highway bus

Getting to Kanazawa by highway bus is a useful option if you are travelling from Shirakawa-go or Takayama.

The Takayama-Shirakawa-go/Kanazawa line, operated by Nohi Bus, runs four services a day (August 2023). The journey from Takayama to Kanazawa takes 2 hours 15 minutes and reservations are required.

Getting to Kanazawa by plane

Komatsu Airport (KMQ) is the closest airport to Kanazawa and serves a handful of domestic destinations (Haneda, Sapporo, Sendai, Fukuoka and Naha) in addition to cities in a few Asian countries (Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei).

A bus travels the 12-minute journey between the terminal building and the airport railway station, from where it is 30 minutes to Kanazawa station.

Getting Around

Although Kanazawa does not have a subway system, its excellent bus services make navigating the city a breeze. The main bus operator in Kanazawa is Hokuriku Rail Road.

There are two bus services that are of most use to visitors: the Kanazawa Loop Bus and the JR Kenrokuen Shuttle. As these special buses have displays and announcements in English and Japanese, you need not worry about missing your stop.

The Kanazawa Loop Bus

The Kanazawa Loop Bus connects Kanazawa Station in a circular route with most sights of interest. These include Kenroku-en Garden, Higashi Chaya District, the museum district at Hirosaka and Omicho Market.

There are two routes; Right Loop Route and Left Loop Route. These routes are identical, merely running in opposite directions.  

KANAZAWA LOOP BUS ROUTES

Right Loop Route (RL) from stop 7 of East Gate Bus Terminal at Kanazawa Station: Hashiba-cho, Kenrokumoto-machi, Kenrokuen Garden/Kanazawa Castle Park, Kata-machi, Korinbo, Minami-cho/Oyama Jinja Shrine, Musashigatsuji/Omi-cho Market to Kanazawa Station.

Left Loop Route (LL) from stop 7 of East Gate Bus Terminal at Kanazawa Station: Musashigatsuji/Omi-cho Market, Mimami-cho/Oyama Jinja Shrine, Korinbo, Kata-machi, Hirosaka/21st Century Museum, Kenrokuen Garden/Kanazawa Castle Park, Hashiba-cho to Kanazawa Station.

Buses operate every 15 minutes in both directions from 8:30 to 18:00.

I recommend buying a one-day bus pass for 800 yen (2023 price) which gives you unlimited use of these tourist buses as well as regular city buses in central Kanazawa. Additionally, this day pass provides discounted admission to several local tourist attractions.

You can buy the day pass from the Hokutetsu Bus Ticket Centre, opposite stop 1 of East Gate Bus Terminal at Kanazawa station.

As the bus approaches the stop at which you want to get off, push the buzzer button to let the driver know that you wish to alight. As you leave the bus, drop the exact fare into the box by the driver, or show him your one-day pass. If you don’t have the exact fare, there is a change machine next to the payment slot that accepts coins and 1000 yen notes.

Unlike those in many other Japanese cities, with the exception JR Machi-Bus (the Kanazawa Shopping Liner) buses in Kanazawa do not accept IC cards (e.g.  Suica, Pasmo).

The JR Kenrokuen Shuttle

The JR Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus is a faster way to travel between Kanazawa Station and Kenrokuen Garden.

This bus departs from bus stop #6 at Kanazawa Station’s East Gate bus terminal bound for Kenrokuen via Omi-cho Market, the Kohrinbo shopping district and the Hirosaka museum district.

Buses operate every 20 minutes from 9.30 to 17.50. There is a flat fare of 200 yen per ride, reduced to 100 yen on weekends and national holidays (2023 prices). The JR Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus is FREE if you are a JR Pass holder.

parked blue bus in japan
bus timetable and route map in kanazawa japan

Hire a bike

Although I didn’t try it, you can get around Kanazawa by bike.

Machi-nori (Town-ride) Cycles is Kanazawa’s self-service bike-sharing scheme. Unlock a bike from one of the city’s many docking stations with your credit card and touch the screen to get started.

By taxi

Although taxis are easy to hail, they are expensive. You should not need to use a taxi.  

Guided Tours and Experiences

This 2-day itinerary has been designed to help you experience the best things to do in Kanazawa independently. But if you are short on time, or are looking for a cultural –  or fun! –  experience, it makes sense to explore the packaged activities available.

GetYourGuide is my go-to platform for booking organised activities. They offer a broad selection of activities with generous cancellation options, allowing you to book in advance with zero risk.  

There is a good selection of activities in Kanazawa from which to choose, but here are a few related to the attractions included in this itinerary.

GUIDED WALKING TOUR OF KANAZAWA

Get to know Kanazawa through the eyes of a local guide on this customisable walking tour.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

KANAZAWA NIGHT TOUR WITH MEAL

Explore Kanazawa by night on this tour of the Geisha district after dark. Includes a full-course dinner at a traditional restaurant.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Where to stay in Kanazawa

As a large city, Kanazawa is not short of places to stay. For convenience, I recommended staying near Kanazawa Station.  

Hotel MyStays Premier Kanazawa

This 4-star hotel, a ten-minute walk from Kanazawa Station was one of my favourite places to stay during this trip to Japan. The room was huge by Japanese standards, with fabulous views and a separate lounge area. The price was reasonable for the standard of the hotel.

bed in hotel room with seating area in background
seating area in hotel room with tv

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Here are some alternative choices that are worth considering:

Dormy Inn Kanazawa Natural Hot Spring

Dormy Inn Kanazawa Natural Hot Spring is closer to the train station and features open-air and indoor hot-spring baths plus a sauna. There is also a coin-operated laundrette and complimentary coffee is available in the lobby in the afternoon and evening.

I stayed in a Dormy Inn during my visit to Himeji and was very impressed by the hotel.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

Hotel Nikko Kanazawa

Stretching the travel budget a little further, this 5-star hotel slap-bang in front of Kanazawa Station has garnered great reviews. The beds are reportedly super comfy and there are panoramic views from the rooms.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK

None of these places takes your fancy? Check out other great accommodation deals in Kanazawa here.

Is Kanazawa Safe for Solo Travellers?

Japan is one of the safest solo travel destinations in Asia, if not the world. This is a country that takes pride in its safety, uniformity and order and has a very low crime rate.

Safety as a solo traveller is a particular concern of women travelling alone.

If you are a woman travelling alone, Japan should be high on your list of first-time solo travel destinations.

Whilst you shouldn’t be complacent, you don’t have to be concerned about pickpocketing or walking alone at night as much as you would in other countries. If you use your common sense, watch your belongings, drink alcohol in moderation and share your itinerary with someone back home, you should have a trouble-free stay in Kanazawa.

Why I Think Kanazawa is 100% Worth Visiting

For very good reasons, first-time visitors to Japan flock to the honey pots of Tokyo and Kyoto, using these cities as bases from which to explore nearby destinations. Whilst Kanazawa may not have the breadth of attractions of these two cities, overlook it at your peril.
 
Whilst Kanazawa is also known as “Little Kyoto in Northern Japan”, this is doing it a disservice.

Like its larger comparator, it offers the opportunity to experience Japanese culture, traditional architecture and history, walks around geisha districts and temples a-plenty.
 
However, Kanazawa is so much more than this. From ancient samurai houses and one of the best gardens in Japan to a cutting-edge art museum, Kanazawa allows you to look at Japan through a variety of lenses.


Thank you for reading my guide

I hope this itinerary helps you figure out what to do in Kanazawa and that you have the best time there. If you’ve enjoyed this article, take a look at some of my other articles about Japan.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.