Gateway to the volcanic peaks, hot springs, pottery towns and the near-tropical coastlines of Kyushu island, the friendly city of Fukuoka is a destination in its own right.
Japan’s eighth most populous city is home to several traditional shrines, temples, a ruined castle and charming parks and gardens. Canal City, Fukuoka’s premium shopping destination, provides ample opportunities to max out your credit card, and is also the setting for a spectacular, illuminated fountain symphony.
Fukuoka is also famous for its yatai food stall culture, fresh seafood and Hakata ramen.
To help you make the most of your time in the sunniest city in Japan, this itinerary explores the best things to do in Fukuoka in one day. This article also includes how to get to Fukuoka, how to get around, what to eat in Fukuoka, day trips from Fukuoka, hotel recommendations and suggested reading.
And if you have more than one day here, I’ve included bonus recommendations for things to do in Fukuoka.
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A Brief History of Fukuoka
Closer to Seoul than to Tokyo, Fukuoka has been a major important harbour city for many centuries, and a gateway for economic, religious and cultural exchanges with its Asian neighbours. Formerly the residence of the powerful daimyō of Chikuzen Province, Fukuoka played an important part in the medieval history of Japan.
Today’s Fukuoka is the product of the merging of two cities in 1889: the castle town of Fukuoka on the west bank of the Naka River and Hakata, the merchant town on the east bank.
How Long Do You Need in Fukuoka?
Using this Fukuoka itinerary, you can cover the main sights in one day. For a more relaxed visit, I recommend staying there for an extra night.
However, as Fukuoka is one of the best bases for exploring Kyushu, you can easily spend more days there.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Fukuoka?
Thanks to its balmy climate, Fukuoka can be visited year-round. I visited in March and although I was there too early to see the cherry blossom, sightseeing conditions were perfect and prices moderate.
Visit in April or May for temperate weather and to welcome the cherry blossom. October and November are also blessed with perfect sightseeing temperatures.
The summer months are hotter and wetter. Fukuoka is busy in July around the time of the Yamakasa festival.
Japan’s typhoon season runs from May to October each year, peaking in August and September. However, as few of these typhoons make it as far as Japan’s main islands – Okinawa bears the brunt of these – there is no need to avoid travel during these months.
Compared with more northern regions of Japan, winters in Fukuoka tend to be mild. However, as the wind can be brisk, pack warm layers if you are visiting between December and February.
How To Get To Fukuoka
Fukuoka is served by air, rail and sea.
Getting to Fukuoka by air
Fukuoka Airport is the fourth busiest in Japan receiving passengers from domestic destinations and those from elsewhere in Asia. As Fukuoka Airport is one of Japan’s most centrally located airports, it’s easy to reach downtown by public transport.
Take the subway two stops from the station at the airport’s domestic terminal to Hakata subway station (or five stops to Tenjin Station). If you are arriving at Fukuoka’s International Terminal, use the free shuttle service running between the two terminals.
Getting to Fukuoka by train
I arrived by train from Osaka, a journey of two and a half hours which could not have been easier.
The shinkansen (bullet train) links Fukuoka with major Japanese cities, including Kyoto and Tokyo (journey time of around five hours).
But don’t make my mistake and search for Fukuoka Station when planning your trip. The city’s main railway station is Hakata station.
It is considerably cheaper to buy your JR Pass before leaving home.
Getting to Fukuoka by ferry
JR Kyushu operates a hydrofoil service to Busan (South Korea) five times a day. The journey time is just under three hours. There are also sea connections between Osaka and Kitakyushu.
Fukuoka is split into three main districts:
Hakata – home to Fukuoka’s main train station (JR Hakata Station) and several shrines, temples, museums and gardens.
Tenjin – on the west bank of the Naka River, brimming with department stores, eateries and nightlife.
Daimyo – hip district south-west of Tenjin, heading towards the castle.
How To Get Around Fukouka
Fukuoka is served by Japan Railways (JR), Nishitetsu Railways, three subway lines and a bus network. If you are just spending one day in Fukuoka, the subway is likely to be of most use to you.
Most of Fukuoka’s main attractions are connected by one of the city’s three subway lines: Airport Line, Hakozaki Line and Nanakuma Line.
Tips for getting around Fukuoka
A single ticket on the Fukuoka Subway costs from 210 Yen (May 2021), depending on the length of your journey
On my visit, some of the ticket machines did not have English instructions. Don’t worry! To get around this, take a look at the route map above the machine to determine your fare and then press the button corresponding to that fare.
If you plan to take more than three subway rides in one day, a 1-Day Unlimited Pass (640 Yen) will be cheaper and more convenient. If you are spending more than one day in Fukuoka, a 2-Day Unlimited Pass is available for 740 Yen.
Another, more expensive option is the Fukuoka Tourist City Pass, costing 1,500 Yen (May 2021). In addition to offering one-day unlimited rides on buses, trains, subways and ferries, it also entitles you to discounted admission at many of Fukuoka’s attractions.
As the Fukuoka Tourist City Pass is only available to overseas tourists you will need to present your passport when purchasing the pass at these locations.
Top 5 Things to Do in Fukuoka in One Day
A One-Day Fukuoka Itinerary
This itinerary will allow you to discover the best things to do in Fukuoka in one day.
It starts with a walk through the city’s green lungs – Ohori Park and Maizuri Park – and its castle. After lunch in the shopping district of Tenjin, the afternoon is spent exploring Fukuoka’s most important shrines and temples, before spending the evening at Canal City.
To help you on your way, here’s a map of the places that we will visit during the course of this 1-day Fukuoka itinerary.
BEST THINGS TO SEE IN FUKUOKA IN ONE DAY: MAP
MORNING: OHORI PARK, MAIZURU PARK & FUKUOKA CASTLE
Start your day in Fukuoka by heading to two of the city’s loveliest public parks and its ruined castle. These parks are wonderful any time of year but are spectacular during cherry blossom season.
The centrepiece of Ohori Park is a large pond, which once served as part of the moat system of the Fukuoka Castle. Three islands in the middle of the pond are connected to the mainland and each other by elegant bridges. The path that runs around the circumference of the pond is popular with locals strolling, jogging or walking their dogs.
Pass the swanlike boats for hire and café – or stop here for a morning coffee! – and cross the stone bridge to the central island to the hexagonal, vermilion pavilion jutting out into the pond.
Continue over a series of graceful stone bridges, then back on the path circling the pond until you reach the Fukuoka Art Museum, known for its Buddhist statues dating back to the 11th century and paintings and sculptures by modern artists including Miro and Dali.
Adjacent to this museum is the lovely Ohori Park Japanese Garden. Designed by Nakane Kinsaku, one of Japan’s foremost 20th Century garden masters, this features a magnificent main pond, a waterfall, a dry garden and a traditional teahouse.
Exiting Ohori Park Japanese Garden, your next stop is Maizuri Park, named after the castle’s alias, Maizuru Castle.
Fukuoka Castle was built at the beginning of the 17th century by Kuroda Nagamasa, lord of the Chikuzen feudal domain. With the abolition of the feudal system in 1870, as an unwelcome symbol of this feudal past, the castle was almost completely torn down.
Today, all that remains of the castle are its ruined walls, a few turrets and parts of the moat system. However, it offers one of the best vantage points for a panoramic view of Fukuoka.
From Fukuoka Castle, it’s a 20-minute walk to Tenjin.
The Tenjin shopping district left me a little cold – I am not an enthusiastic shopper – but it is a good place to pick up lunch. There are delis, cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes.
I opted for eating takeaway sandwich on a bench in Tenjin Central Park.
AFTERNOON: KUSHIDA SHRINE, TOCHOJI TEMPLE & SHOFUKUJI
The second half of your Fukuoka itinerary is spent temple and shrine hopping.
From Tenjin Central Park, cross the Haka River and make your way to the Kushida Shrine. This walk should take you around 15 minutes.
This intimate and simple Shinto shrine, dating from AD 757, is one of the important shrines amongst locals. Dedicated to an obscure deity from the annals of Buddhism, it sponsors the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, one of the most interesting festivals in Japan.
Held every summer from July 1st to July 15th, this festival is said to have originated in an attempt to secure protection from a plague in the mid-13th Century.
Ten-meter-high Yamaska (festival floats), flamboyantly decorated with samurai warriors, Japanese fairy tales and anime, are erected in a dozen places across Fukuoka. At the climax of the festival, an additional seven Yamakasa from different neighbourhoods of Fukuoka’s Hakata district are carried in a procession to the Kushida Shrine.
Although the portable and non-portable Yamakasa are usually destroyed once the festival is over, exceptionally one of the Yamakasa is exhibited at the Kushida Shrine throughout the year.
Tochoji Temple is a five-minute walk from the Kushida Shrine.
Legend has it that the Tochoji Temple was founded in AD 806 by Kukai the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, upon his return from Tang (modern-day China). This makes Tochoji the oldest Shingon temple in Japan.
Tochoji Temple is renowned for its 10-meter-tall wooden statue of Buddha in a seated position, Fukuoka Daibutsu, or “The Great Buddha of Fukuoka.” The striking five-storey pagoda in the temple’s grounds is a contemporary addition, built in 2011 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of the temple.
Although there is no charge to enter the temple’s grounds, there is a small charge to view the statue.
The Tochoji Temple area is another popular spot for watching cherry blossoms in the spring.
From Tochoji Temple it’s a three-minute walk to Shofukuji, the final temple included in our one-day Fukuoka itinerary.
Founded in 1195, Shofukuji is the oldest Zen temple in Japan. Although its buildings are closed to the public, the temple grounds with its teahouse, a pond that is home to dancing carp and its resident cats is a good place to linger for a while.
Getting away from Shofukuji Temple
Shofukuji Temple is a short walk from Gion Station, one stop from Hakata Station by subway. Alternatively, it’s a longer (15-20 minute) walk to Hakata Station from the temple.
EVENING: CANAL CITY
Usually, I would avoid shopping centres and kitschy sound and light shows like the plague. However, I confess that I was quite taken with Canal City and its illuminated dancing fountains.
Spread over 5 floors and built around a 200-meter artificial canal, Canal City is an enormous shopping, dining and entertainment complex in Hakata.
It’s a terrific place to pick up travel essentials and gifts for those back home and has a decent selection of restaurants. This includes a Ramen Stadium on the 5th floor with its collection of ramen shops, each serving region-specific fare, including the famous local Hakata Ramen.
But, for me, the star of the show was the ten-minute 3D projection show, which is one of the best things to do in Fukuoka at night. This free sound and light extravaganza features fountains lit up in colours matching the projection, and takes place at half-hourly intervals in the main atrium (Sun Plaza Stage). Admission is free.
As this show is most spectacular when it’s dark, I suggest that you make this the last thing you do during your day in Fukuoka.
Other Things to Do in Fukuoka If You Have More Than One Day …
If you are lucky enough to be able to spend 2, 3 or 4 days (or more) in this lovely city, here are a few additional suggestions for your Fukuoka itinerary.
Visit the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
As I had to curtail the length of my stay in Fukuoka, I had to miss out on visiting this reportedly gorgeous shrine.
One of the important Tenmangu Shrines in Japan, Dazaifu is dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, a scholar politician of the Heian Period (710 – 1185). Visit in late February to mid-March to witness the 6,000 plum trees in bloom in the shrine’s grounds.
Admission to the main hall is free
How to get to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
As there are no direct trains to the shrine, this is one excursion where a bus may be your best option.
- By JR Train: The longest journey time but a better option if you are a JR Pass holder. From JR Hakata Station, take a train to JR Futsukaichi Station and walk for around 15 minutes to Nishitetsu-Futsukaichi Station. From here, board a train to Dazaifu Station. The total journey time is around 90 minutes).
- By the private Nishitetsu Train: Take a train from Nishitetsu-Tenjin Station to Nishitetsu-Futsukaichi Station, and then transfer to Dazaifu Station. Journey time is around 90 minutes.
- By Bus: From the JR Hakata Station the direct bus reaches Daizaifu in 40 minutes.
Indulge in yatai food culture
Another consequence of having to cut short my time in Fukuoka is that I didn’t have a chance to visit one of Fukuoka’s famous yatai food stalls.
Yatai food culture is woven into the fabric of Fukuoka and there are over two hundred of these mobile stalls across the Tenjin, Nakasu and Nagahama districts. The best place to find them is on the southern end of Nakasu Island.
This is an opportunity to sample the best of Hakata’s specialties included its ramen, gyoza, and motsunabe.
Yatai are typically open from 6 pm until 2 am, except when the weather is very bad. Many stands close one day of the week, often on a Sunday.
Take in the views from the Fukuoka Tower
Not unlike many other cities across the world, Fukuoka has a tower that offers a 360-degree view of the city below. Built in 1989, at a height of 768-feet, Fukuoka Tower, overlooking Hakata Bay, is Japan’s tallest seaside tower.
Join a traditional Japanese shopping tour
Hakata has a rich trading history, a merchant tradition that has been sustained to this day. Learn more about this, and enjoy a cup of tea and traditional snacks, on this highly rated walking tour.
- Rakusui Garden, a graceful pond garden built during the Meiji era
- Learn how to pray and get power from the statue of Sumo wrestler
- Minoshima shopping street with its Showa period shops and customs
- Yanagibashi Market, also known as ‘Hakata’s Kitchen’ which is Fukuoka’s main market
Take a relaxing Yanagawa cruise
The so-called Venice of Japan, Yanagawa is an old farming village crisscrossed with hundreds of kilometres of canals. These restored canals are plied by donkobune, traditional flat-bottomed boats that take tourists on short cruises around the town.
Yanagawa is spectacular during the cherry blossom season.
How to get to Yanagawa
From Nishitetsu Tenjin Station, take the private Nishitetsu train (Nishi-Tenjin Oedo Line) to Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station. From here, catch bus #6 to Minjomachiat Station. Total journey time is approximately one hour.
Alternatively, you can book a Yanagawa cruise as an organised day trip from Fukuoka.
Day Trips from Fukuoka
Thanks to Hakata station’s role as the major railway hub for the island, Fukuoka is an excellent base from which to explore other attractions in Kyushu. Here are my suggestions for places to visit within a two-hour train journey from Fukuoka.
If you can only take one day trip from Fukuoka, make it Kagoshima.
Kyushu’s southernmost major city and the capital of Kagoshima Prefecture has a balmy climate, palm tree lined streets, a wonderful Japanese garden (Senga-en) and a smoking volcano (Sakurajima).
Journey time: From 100 minutes
For the ultimate Japanese onsen experience, venture east to Beppu. Producing more hot spring water than any other resort in Japan, Beppu has an unparalleled range of baths, from ordinary hot water baths to mud baths and sand baths.
Journey time: From 100 minutes
Kyushu is famous for its pottery towns, and the easiest of these to reach on a day trip from Fukuoka is Karatsu. Pottery fanatics will not be disappointed but there is also a hilltop castle, a Shōwa-era town centre, traditional buildings and a pretty seaside trail.
The other major pottery towns – Arita and Imari – are also in the Saga Prefecture but are more challenging to visit as a day trip
Journey time: From 80 minutes
Is Fukuoka 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.
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 Fukuoka.
What to Eat in Fukuoka
Fukuoka is foodie heaven.
Even if you don’t have the opportunity to sample the yatai food stall culture – I didn’t – you won’t feel short-changed when it comes to filling your belly.
Here are a few of the foods I recommend that you try to eat in Fukuoka.
Also called Tonkatsu ramen, Hakata ramen is one of Japan’s most beloved culinary exports (I tried my first bowl in a restaurant in London). Eating a bowl of Hakata ramen is one of the non-negotiable things to do in Fukuoka.
The secret is in the broth.
Pork bones, fatback and a number of other ingredients are slowly cooked until they break down into a delicious, rich, milky-white broth. Add pork slices, marinated soy eggs, green onions and the thinnest of noodles and you have a feast that will have your coronary artery crying out for mercy.
Most ramen joints will ask you how firm you would like your noodles. As thin noodles can soften quickly in the hot broth, your best bet is to ask for them to be firm or extra firm.
Who doesn’t love a dumpling or seven? Not this traveller, that’s for sure.
Fukuoka was one of the first places in Japan to take on the humble Chinese dumpling and make it its own. Gyoza in Fukuoka are typically bite-sized style and fried in a cast-iron pan, creating a thin, crunchy film.
Mizutaki is a Japanese chicken hotpot.
Chicken on the bone is slow-cooked with vegetables and tofu in water or a lightly seasoned broth. Other common ingredients include green cabbage, chrysanthemum, long green onion (Negi) and shiitake mushrooms.
Noodles are added to the hotpot at the end of the cooking time.
Where to Stay in Fukuoka
When choosing where to stay in Fukuoka’s city centre you have two main options: Hakata or Tenjin.
Both areas are convenient for seeing Fukuoka’s attractions, have good transport links and abound with restaurants and hotels. Fukuoka is popular with both domestic and overseas travellers, particularly at the weekend when it can be more expensive.
Therefore, it pays to make an early reservation, especially at peak times.
I stayed at this four-star business hotel, opposite Canal City and a seven-minute walk from Hakata JR Station.
A modern, quiet hotel, despite its central location, with stylish, well-designed rooms at a reasonable price for this standard of accommodation.
Here are some other choices that I have found that are worth considering:
An alternative choice in Hakata, the Miyako Hotel Hakata is a mere 150 meters from the train station (the hotel lift takes you directly to the subway). This hotel features a spa with swimming pool and indoor onsen and a rooftop hot tub.
I have stayed in Richmond hotels elsewhere in Japan and found them to be a reliable choice. This new hotel in the heart of the Tenjin district has garnered excellent reviews.
Japan: Suggested Reading
Do you want to learn a little bit more about Japan? Here’s my pick of books to read either before travelling to Japan or whilst you are there.
One of my favourite books ever, Hiromi Kawakami’s gentle novel sets three national obsessions – dining out at izakaya, hanami (flower viewing) parties during cherry blossom season and discussing baseball – against the growing relationship between a thirtysomething woman and a much older man. The literary equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket.
There had to be at least one Murakami book on this list and this is my current favourite. In this tale of love, friendship, and loss, the main protagonist tries to make sense of being abandoned by his closest friends. Unforgettable and heartbreaking.
Ever since reading The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has been one of my favourite authors. This excellent novel set in post-war Japan features an artist who uses his skills promote the military government’s imperialist ambitions
Packing a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Japan, and explore the country whilst you are there, is a wise move. I can recommend the Rough Guide, which includes a free e-book that you can load onto your phone for information on the go.
- Detailed regional coverage
- Full-colour maps and photos throughout
- Recommendations for where to stay and where to eat
- Includes valuable contextual information
- Includes FREE e-book for ultimate portability
Is Fukuoka Worth Visiting?
I was completely bowled over by Fukuoka. What’s not to like about a city with tuneful pedestrian lights?
Although the city is an excellent base for visiting other destinations in Kyushu, including Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Yufuin, and serves some of the best food on the planet, it is so much more than that. Blessed with a mild climate, friendly locals and rich in natural attractions you could easily spend four or five days in the city.
I had planned to spend longer than one day in Fukuoka but sometimes travel plans go wrong. From the day of my arrival, the emergent coronavirus pandemic was casting a dark shadow over my arrangements, ultimately forcing me to curtail my stay in the Kyushu region.
It’s unlikely many travellers will visit Fukuoka on their first trip to Japan. But what is beyond doubt is that this city, and this region, deserve a visit when times are better. Until then, I hope that this Fukuoka itinerary and guide inspire you to plan and book a future trip.