Best Things To Do In Nagano – A Comprehensive Guide

Nagano Prefecture, located in the Chūbu region of Honshū Island, is a landlock prefecture which is the center of not only Honshu but also Japan. This mountainous area has became a popular destination for many travelers around the world after it hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. The city is famous for its beautiful scenery landscape and interesting cuisine. In today’s location guide, we will give you a comprehensive guide on the best things to do in Nagano.

Best Things To Do In Nagano – A Comprehensive Guide

1. How To Get To Nagano From Tokyo

It’s about 240 km from Tokyo to Nagano, which normally takes about 3 hours to drive. Besides driving, there are many other ways to travel to Nagano from Tokyo. You can either take bus or take a flight, the choice is up to you.

  • By train: You can take the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It is probably one of the fastest way to travel to Nagano. The one way trip takes about 80-100 minutes. However, the ticket fare does not come cheap. It costs about 8000 yen and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
  • By bus: The one way trip takes about 3.5 hours. Conventional bus companies charge you about 4000 yen while bus operators such as Willer Express charge you around 2000 yen one way. The good thing is that you can make online reservations though the website Willer and Japan Bus Online.
  • By airplane: Cheap flight from Tokyo to Nagano is around 4000 yen.
things to do in nagano

Shinkansen is probably the fatest and most convenient way to get to Nagano.

2. Where To Visit:

1.1. Yudanaka Shibu Onsen

Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen, located near the base of Shiga Kogen, are among the most famous tourist attractions of Nagano. The hot springs were discovered more than one thousand years ago. Japanese people believed that the water here hold healing power as it provides medicinal benefits. Therefore, either local people or foreigners have been coming to the hot springs for centuries. If you visit Nagano, do not take Yudanaka Shibu Onsen off the list. You would not want to miss the chance to get a glimpse of traditional Japan while staying in this lovely town.

things to do in nagano

This definitely one of the best destination to visit in Nagano.

1.2. Togakushi Okusha

Next stop is Togakushi Okusha. Local people build this shrine to worship Mt. Togakushi. Located in the forest, it consists of five buildings which are Okusha,  Hokosha,  Chusha, Kuzuryusha and Hinomikosha. How romantic and peaceful it is to walk down the path alone, listening to the birds chirping and wind blowing while be surrounding by the pleasant scent of Japanese summer! You will have enough time and a quiet atmosphere to get a true feel for local culture and traditions here.

Numerous tourists visit this shrine every year to wish for good luck, health and abundant harvest. The entrance path is  about 2 kilometers with a red, thatched-roof Zuishinmon gate in the middle. It leads visitors to the avenue of over 400-year-old cedar trees.

things to do in nagano

Located in the forest, it consists of five buildings which are Okusha,  Hokosha,  Chusha, Kuzuryusha and Hinomikosha.

1.3. Kamikochi Highlands

Kamikochi Highlands is definitely one of the most beautiful place in Nagano. Many people said that visiting the highland is on top of list “Best things to do in Nagano”. Surrounded by the vast mountains and green streams, ponds, and lakes, Kamikochi Highland is undoubtedly beautiful and peaceful. In the summer, you can even have a taste of the water in the crystal-clear pond. The water here is so pure because it is mostly from melted snow.

Kamikochi has a lot of customers during the opening season but is especially crowded during the summer vacation period from mid-July to August and on weekends during the red-leaf season.

things to do in nagano

Kamikochi Highlands is definitely one of the most beautiful place in Nagano.

The valley is most splendid in autumn. Although a lot of visitors flock to Kamikochi in October, you will not find this place too crowded. If you go further  towards the river, you will soon escape from the crowd. Another option is a day hiking near Yakedake Mountain.

You can have a closer look at the beauty of Kamikochi in the link below:

1.4. Kanaguya

Have you ever stayed in a ryokan? Well, if you have not, you would not want to miss the opportunity spend a night at Kanaguya. Founded more than 250 years ago, Kanaguya is located on a narrow street in Shibu Onsen, Nagano. The most popular feature of this place is definitely the hot springs. In total, there are 9 baths in the Inn. Among them, 5 are private baths and 4 are communal baths. The price may be expspensive but the experience is totally worth it! Just change your casual clothes into your yukata and you’ll be ready to explore the traditionally charming atmosphere of Shibu Onsen!

Kanaguya

Kanaguya is one of the oldest Ryokan in town!

1.5. Matsumoto Castle

There are many interesting activities to do in Nagano but one thing you should not miss is to visit one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, Matsumoto Castle. The castle is also known as the “Black Crow Castle”.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the five castles that were awarded the title “National Treasure of Japan”. It looks extremely gorgeous in Autumn. With pink pastel color of Sakura blossom tree, Spring is the best time of the year to visit the castle.

what to do in Nagano

The castle looks splendid from the lake side.

The castle is just a 10-minute walk from Matsumoto Station. With 700 yen, visitors can visit the inside of the castle and discover old masterpieces that have played an important role in history. These objects and are now carefully preserved. Around them were swords and armor engraved with the names of the samurai.

1.6. Zenkoji

When talking about things to do in Nagano, we could not forget the Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple. Founded in the 7th century, it is one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. One special thing about this temple is that it  stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan. In fact, that statue has been around since the 6th century. Quite impressive right? However, the original statue is actually hidden and preserved carefully. Visitors will have chance to see a copy of it every six years for a few weeks.

things to do in nagano

Founded in the 7th century, it is one of the most important and popular temples in Japan.

Read more:

2. What To Eat

1.1. Soba

One of Nagano’s signature foods is Soba noodles. In case you do not know, Soba, made from buckwheat, is quite different from the shorter and thicker udon noodles. There are plenty of restaurants serving Soba noodles so you will not have to worry about where to find them in Nagano.

Nagano’s Soba noodles are made from barley flour. The entire noodle making process is handmade so the noodels give an unique flavor that is different from other regions. In Nagano the best soba noodles are Matsumoto.

Things to do in Nagano

Nagano’s soba is uniquely delicious. You will never forget the sweetness of the broth and the tenderness of the noodles!

1.2.  Nagano Apple

As soon as you come to Nagano, you will see that fruits are everywhere. This prefecture is home to a high number of orchards. And among the fruits, apple seems to be the dominant one. Indeed, Nagano is ranked no 2 on the list of best apple producer in Japan. Apple, just like mountains and monkey, is an integral part of Nagano. You should not miss the chance to taste this amazingly fresh sweetness while staying here. Besides, Nagano apples are a good choice for gift too. You can find them at the gift shops or some cafe.

things to do in nagano

Nagano Apple are famous worldwide for its high quality

1.3. Horse Sashimi

Japan is a country famous for raw fish dishes such as sushi, sashimi, … But besides, there is also raw meat that is horse meat made in sashimi style. The dish is called Umatoge or Basashi. In Japan, eating horse meat is not uncommon. This dish has been around since the late 1500s when Japan fell into a shortage of food. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that beef consumption really exploded when people began to change their means of transport. On the roads, horses were replaced by cars, and in agriculture, machines gradually took up more of the horse’s work. Farmers in Kumamoto prefecture try to find ways to deal with horse overload in their camps. That’s why basashi (raw horse meat) appeared on the market.

To some extent, it tastes quite similar to beef. However, horse meat is leaner and less fatty. The meat taste best when paired with some soy sauce and a good, local craft beer. More on those later.

things to do in nagano

Horse sashimi is the most unique dish of this prefecture. If you are into raw meat, this one is a good option for you.

1.4. Oyaki Dumplings

Oyaki dumplings, originated from Nagano, is one of the most popular traditional food in Japan. These delicious little dumplings are made of fermented buckwheat, stuffed with vegetables or meat and roasted on a hot pan. Some of the most common fillings used are pumpkin, eggplant, mushrooms and red bean paste. In addition, you can also get them with sour pickled vegetables.

You can find some of the finest Oyaki dumplings at restaurants or street food stores. This dish is also very suitable for picnic. In deed, there’s nothing better than having hot, delicious Oyaki Dumplings in a late autumn evening in Nagano!

This round cake symbolizes happiness so it is often used in the New Year as good wishes for the family. Mean while on other occasions, the cake is used as snack to welcome guests.

things to do in nagano

This dish is quite easy to make. You can try to create your own dumplings at home by follow the recipe and the instructions below:

1.5. Mushrooms

Beside apples, Nagano mushrooms are very famous too. In fact, Nagano is the number one in Japan in terms of mushrooms. More mushrooms come from this mountainous area each year than any other city in Japan. Among more than four thousand types of mushrooms, the most commonly grown mushrooms are Shitake and Shimeji.

Though the price is not cheap, we suggest that you should try Nagano at least once while spending your vacation here. It is definitely one of the best things to do in Nagano!

things to do in nagano

Nagano is the number one in Japan in terms of mushrooms. More mushrooms come from this mountainous area each year than any other city in Japan.

FAQ:

What is famous in Nagano?

There are many popular things in Nagano. For tourist attractions, most popular name should be Matsumo Castle. Meanwhile, for foods, Oyaki dumplings and apples are on top of the list!

Beside what we have mentioned above, there are so much more that are waiting for you to discover.

  • Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum
  • Togakushi Shrine
  • Chibikko Ninja Village
  • Sanada Treasure Museum
  • Togakushi Forest Botanical Garden

Is Nagano worth visiting?

If you prefer quiet and traditional places, the answer is yes! You will definitely be amazed with the breathtaking nature scenes and peaceful atmosphere here.

 Is Nagano safe?

Yes, Nagano is a safe prefecture. In general, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world so you do not have to worry too much. However, try not to go out alone at night.

What is there to do in Nagano in the winter?

There are many activities you can do here. The best thing to do in Nagano in the winter is definitely soaking in the hot springs! You can also go skiing or observe monkeys here.

Conclusion

So that’s the end of our tour today. Now you knew what to do in Nagano, do you feel like you wanna visit this city? If you’ve never been there, we highly recommend you should do it once to experience the beauty of nature and local culture there! Hopefully, this blog will give you useful information to plan your trip. If you have any concern or queries, feel free to leave comments in the section below.

About Yuu Sato

Yuu Hiasa has been working in hospitality industry since 2003. In the past, he used to work as a tour guide and now he is running his business of supplying comfortable accommodations in Japan. Thanks to this experience and his passion for writing blog, the articles by him provides awesome tips and things to do when you are traveling in the country of cherry blossoms.