Things to do in Kanazawa

As one of Japan’s best-preserved historical cities, there are lots of things to do in Kanazawa. Here’s how to explore this Edo period gem!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The best things to do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa is one of Japan's best-preserved historical cities, with a wealth of heritage that captures the power of the country's Edo period.

With plenty to choose from when you visit, I've put together this helpful list of the best things to see in Kanazawa.

Travelling through Japan, you will constantly hear about the Edo period and its significance to the country that you see today.

The Edo period is best described as the ‘early modern’ part of Japanese history when, between 1603 and 1868, the country’s economy and culture blossomed in an environment of peace of international isolation.

The strongest and wealthiest clan during the Edo period was the Tokugawa family and it effectively ruled Japan. The second-wealthiest landowner was the Maeda clan – and it was based in the city of Kanazawa.

Understanding this quick little bit of history is important to understanding what I’m going to recommend as the best things to do in Kanazawa.

Things to do in Kanazawa, Japan

The Maeda clan was not only wealthy, it was also an ally of the Tokugawa  shogunate. This meant that Kanazawa was able to prosper during the Edo period – and it became one of the greatest cities of Japan, rivalling Tokyo (then called Edo) and Kyoto.

We’re talking about an enormous castle, intricate temples, vast gardens, beautiful neighbourhoods, and much more.

Things to do in Kanazawa, Japan

After the Edo period, in what we can call ‘Modern Japan’, Kanazawa was still a major city but it had lost its political clout. However, there was one major event in the 20th century that has had a huge impact on how we see the the city today – World War II.

Kanazawa was Japan’s second-largest city to escape destruction during the war (the largest was Kyoto). Many experts believe that both of them, along with Nara, were intentionally avoided by US air raids because of their cultural significance.

Things to do in Kanazawa, Japan

So, what does that mean for a visit to Kanazawa? Well, it means that you will find one of the best-preserved historical cities in Japan. Amongst the modern urban development are wonderful examples of Edo period monuments and neighbourhoods.

Kanazawa might not be as striking as Kyoto which, as the capital at the time, has much larger temple complexes. But Kanazawa has a lot less tourists and so feels much more authentic.

I think it gives you a much better idea of the real history of the critical Edo period of Japan.

Seisonkaku Villa, Kanazawa

To help you explore it yourself, I have put together this list of the best things to do in Kanazawa. I have marked my suggestions on the map below.

As you can see, everything is quite close to each other. Kanazawa may now have a population of about half a million people, but go back a few centuries and the centre was relatively compact – and that’s the bit worth exploring.

Kanazawa is not usually on the itinerary for first-time visitors to Japan and part of the reason is that, until recently, it didn’t have great transport links. But with a new direct shinkansen (bullet train) link from Tokyo, that has changed.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Sure, head to Kyoto or Kamakura for the big flashy temples, but if you’re really interested in an authentic historical insight into Japan, Kanazawa is the place for you!

Main sights

Although it tends to be the neighbourhoods and smaller sights in Kanazawa where you’ll find the most charm, there are a few main landmarks that are definitely worth visiting – and offer a good insight into the city’s heritage.

Kenrokuen Garden

The jewel of Kanazawa is Kenrokuen Garden, a large landscaped area that’s been declared one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

It was developed by the Maeda clan during the Edo period and wasn’t open until the public until 1871, a few years after the start of the Meiji restoration.

Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa

As you walk through, you’ll see the different elements of the garden that are designed to all sit in perfect harmony – lakes, water features, trees, flowers, and teahouses. The more you explore, the more you’ll appreciate each of the little details.

Kenrokuen Garden obviously looks different in each of the seasons. I visited in summer and thought it was wonderful but it is even more vibrant with the cherry blossoms in spring of the red and orange colours in autumn.

Kenrokuen Garden is open at these times:
March to 15 October: 7:00 – 18:00
16 October to February: 8:00 – 17:00

A standard ticket is ¥320 (US$2.15) and ¥100 (US$.70) for children.

Seisonkaku Villa

At one edge of Kenrokuen Garden, you’ll find the Seisonkaku Villa. It was a private home, built by one of the Maeda lords as a retirement home for his mother in 1863.

The Seisonkaku Villa has two levels. The ground floor is designed as an area for guests and it can have partitions that create separate rooms or it can be opened up as a large hall.

Seisonkaku Villa, Kanazawa

The top floor is more private so the design is more colourful and less formal. I particularly love the blue colour in the reading room.

It’s worth having a look at the Seisonkaku Villa to get a sense of how the rulers decorated their family homes. Make sure you check out all the artistic details on the walls and ceilings.

Seisonkaku Villa is open Thursday to Tuesday from 9:00 – 17:00.
It’s closed on Wednesdays (or Thursday, if Wednesday falls on a national holiday), and from 29 December to 2 January.

A standard ticket is ¥700 (US$4.75), ¥300 (US$2.05) for ages 13-18, and ¥250 (US$1.70) for ages 6-12.

Kanazawa Castle Park

On the other side of Kenrokuen Garden is the Kanazawa Castle Park. In many cities, the castle would be the highlight but unfortunately here in Kanazawa, there’s not much to see.

Kanazawa Castle Park

That’s because the last original castle burnt down in a fire in 1881. The only things you can still see from before are some storehouses and the Ishikawa Gate, which you’ll come in through from the garden.

There are a few restored buildings that you can pay a small fee to enter but, if you’re not interested in that, there’s enough to see around the grounds and from the outside of the castle structures.

Kanazawa Castle Park is open at these times:
March to 15 October: 7:00 – 18:00
16 October to February: 8:00 – 17:00

A standard ticket is ¥320 (US$2.15) and ¥100 (US$.70) for children.


With its beautifully preserved historic city, one of the best things to do in Kanazawa is to explore the different neighbourhoods that still exist almost the same way they did in the Edo period. This is not just about the landmarks you’ll find in them, but getting a sense of how people lived back then.

Nagamachi district

Many people think of ‘samurai’ as Japanese warriors because that’s how they started. But in the Edo period, it’s more accurate to think of them as a ruling social class (who happen to also be in the military).

In Kanazawa, many of the samurai and their families lived in a district called Nagamachi, which was right at the foot of the city’s castle, which they were to protect.

Nomurake residence, Kanazawa

Because the samurai were wealthy and powerful, they had large houses with beautiful gardens. And one of the best examples here is the Nomurake residence.

It’s worth going inside to get a sense of how the elite of Kanazawa would have lived during the Edo period. The garden is particularly photogenic.

You can also have some traditional matcha tea served in one of the upper rooms.

Geisha districts

One of the other neighbourhoods that you would expect to find in a typical Edo period city is the geisha district. Well, in Kanazawa there were actually three of them – and they’ve all been well-preserved. Visiting them is one of the best things to do in Kanazawa.

At Nishi Chaya St (translated as West Teahouse St), you can see the traditional buildings where geishas would entertain their high-class customers.

Many of these have now become shops and cafes but you can go inside the Shiryokan Museum to see what the rooms would’ve once looked like.

Nishi Chaya St, Kanazawa

The biggest geisha district is at Higashi Chaya St (East Teahouse St) and there are teahouses here where you can sometimes see Geisha shows. You can also try the famous Gold Leaf ice cream at quite a few stores.

There is also the small district called Kazue-machi which has significantly less to see but has a charming atmosphere.


As you would expect from such an important historical city, there are a lot of temples in Kanazawa. As I mentioned, they are not as large and impressive as the ones in Kyoto (or Nara or Kamakura, for that matter). But you’ll find some really special ones in the Teramachi district.

Teramachi Temple District, Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa’s Teramachi district has about 70 temples packed together into a very small area. Wander the streets and you’ll find one on almost every block. But there are two in particular that I would recommend.

Ninja Temple

The most famous temple in Teramachi is the ‘Ninja Temple’, which is officially called Myoryu-ji Temple.

It actually has nothing to do with ninjas but has its name because it’s full of clever traps and hidden areas. As you’ll realise, it’s much bigger than it appears from the outside!

Ninja Temple (Myoryu-ji), Kanazawa

You can only visit this temple with a guided tour and you should book ahead because there are limited places.

The Ninja Temple is open from 9:00 – 16:30.

A standard ticket is ¥1200 (US$8.10) and ¥800 (US$5.40) for students.

Korin-ji Temple

You don’t need to make a book at the Korin-ji Temple, another very important one in the district.

Inside, you’ll find a large Jizo statue with some beautiful decorations, as well as a room with an excellent display of Noh theatre masks.

Korin-ji Temple, Kanazawa

But the main part of the temple is the garden outside. It’s said that if you walk around the path three times and then stop at the statue representing your Chinese zodiac animal, your wish will be answered.

Korin-ji Temple is open from 9:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is ¥500 (US$3.40).

Oyama Shrine

Built in 1599, the Oyama Shrine is one of the most important historical sites in Kanazawa, even if it doesn’t quite have the allure as some of the more popular ones.

The shrine was built as a dedication to the first of the Maeda lords who ruled the city. Originally it was on a mountain but was later moved here.

The gate leading to the shrine was also moved here – this time from the entrance of Kanazawa Castle. It’s actually one of the most interesting parts of Oyama Shrine because it has a mixture of architectural styles including Japanese, Chinese, and Dutch.

Oyama Shrine is open from 9:00 – 17:00.

Admission is free.


There are some fantastic museums in Kanazawa that reflect both the local culture and some excellent international art. More than just cultural institutions, some of them are real icons of the city and almost justify a visit to Kanazawa in themselves.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

One of the best things to do in Kanazawa – a real highlight – is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, which is quite different to many of the other things you’ll find here.

In a city full of history, a museum of modern art would always stand out, but the architecture and pieces dotted around the outside make it even more noticeable.

Inside, there is a permanent exhibition but most of the space is taken up with temporary shows that change regularly and show an interesting mix of Japanese and international artists.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

But the most famous part is always there – the ‘swimming pool’ that you can stand inside, making it look from the outside like you’re trapped underwater.

I would highly recommend you take the time to check out the museum when you visit Kanazawa, even if there’s a long line for tickets.

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is open:
Sunday to Thursday: 9:00 – 22:00
Friday and Saturday: 09:00 – 21:00.
It is closed on New Year Holidays.

The entry price changes depending on the exhibition.

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

Focused much more on local culture, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art has an excellent collection of pieces from Kanazawa and the rest of the prefecture, making it a nice complement to its more famous sister gallery.

Originally opened in 1959, it’s one of Japan’s oldest regional galleries, but it’s since moved to a new larger location so it can have more of its extensive collection on display.

As well as standard forms of art like paintings, drawings, and sculptures, the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art also has significant and interesting cultural artefacts on display.

Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art is open daily from 9:30 – 18:00.
It is closed from 29 December to 3 January.

A standard ticket is ¥1000 (US$6.75).

Kanazawa Noh Museum

Speaking of arts and culture, Noh theatre is said to be the world’s oldest theatrical tradition that is still performed and it holds a special place in Kanazawa.

The city’s feudal lords encouraged the theatrical form and one of the five schools of Noh, the Hosho School, was so popular here, it became known as the Kaga Hosho.

Kanazawa Noh Museum

Noh is a slow and simple performance where the story is told through subtlety, like masks and the placement of characters. If there’s a performance while you’re in town, it’s worth seeing.

Otherwise, you can go to the Kanazawa Noh Museum and learn more about it. You can also get dressed up in a costume and mask.

The Kanazawa Noh Museum is open from 10:00 – 18:00.
It is closed on Monday.

A standard ticket is ¥310 (US$2.10).

DT Suzuki Museum

Although a museum dedicated to a Buddhist philosopher might sound like a bit of a boring sight, the DT Suzuki Museum is actually a fascinating site that is one of the most interesting things to do in Kanazawa.

DT Suzuki died in 1966 at the age of 96 and dedicated his long life to sharing the studies of Japanese Zen Buddhism. He’s credited with influencing the way Japanese people incorporate it into their everyday lives, as well as introducing the concept to Western cultures.

In keeping with the philosophy, the DT Suzuki Museum exudes a sense of serenity, with its three buildings surrounded by a large flat pool called the Water Mirror Garden. There are sears for people to sit and meditate, along with the exhibition and his life and his many literary works.

The DT Suzuki Museum is open from 9:30 – 17:00.
It is closed on Mondays.

A standard ticket is ¥310 (US$2.10) and a concession is ¥210 (US$1.45).

Local experiences

Along with the main sights, there are some good ways to experience some local life and culture here in Kanazawa, perhaps rubbing shoulders with the residents or learning more about some of the important regional traditions.

Omicho Market

Since as early as the Edo Period, Omicho Market has been the biggest fresh food market in Kanazawa, and it’s still a hive of activity today.

There are more than 170 stores in the market, with an emphasis on fresh seafood direct from the Sea of Japan. As well as other local produce, there are clothing stores and restaurants (many of them are in the refurbished Omicho Ichibakan building).

Although you can just wander the aisles and look at all the interesting things for sale, I would recommend grabbing something to eat here at the very least. It’s also a great place to pick up some souvenirs.

Omicho Market is open from 9:00 – 17:00

Admission is free.

Tea ceremony

One of the most important cultural traditions in Japan is the tea ceremony and, as a vibrant historical city, there are lots of places where you can do an authentic one in Kanazawa.

The oldest tea ceremony room in the city is at the 16th-century Saisetsu-tei, located in private gardens beside Kenrokuen Garden. Although not quite as historical, the Shigure-tei Tea House within Kenrokuen Garden has a beautiful location.

Things to do in Kanazawa, Japan

The teahouse at Ochaya Shima is another great option and it has been officially recognised as a cultural heritage landmark.

If you haven’t done a Japanese team ceremony before, be prepared for a long performance with lots of intricate steps. Don’t worry, though, they’re very forgiving of foreigners who don’t understand the correct protocols.


You may have seen some examples before of a special type of Japanese craft called ‘mizuhiki’, which is made with thin colourful threads of paper.

In Kanazawa, there is a regional form of this art called ‘Kaga mizuhiki’. It’s quite amazing to see what you can make by tying these threads together.

Mizuhiki-zaiku, Kanazawa

You can even try it out for yourself at some of the shops in Kanazawa, like Tsuda Mizuhiki where even unartistic me managed to make something (with a lot of help from the instructor!).


Because such an important part of visiting Kanazawa is understanding its history, I recommend taking a tour so a local guide can explain all the fantastic things that you’ll see. Or, if you prefer not to do a general tour, there are a couple of other fun tours in Kanazawa.

City tour

From the samurai districts to the geisha districts, explore all the highlights and the hidden gems with a city tour of Kanazawa.

Nishi Chaya St, Kanazawa

The great thing about this guided tour is that it’s private so it can be customised to your interests, meaning you can explore the parts of the city that interest you most.

Or, if you’re looking for some other options, I would also recommend these excellent private tours of the city:

As well as seeing the sights, your guide will likely be able to take you to a tea ceremony and explain how it works, plus show you some of the interesting local traditions.

Food tour

Like every part of Japan, Kanazawa has its own unique cuisine with some interesting quirks to the way some of the dishes are made.

Seafood is a highlight here, but some other dishes worth trying are the Kanazawa-style pork curry, veggie-filled croquettes, and of course the glittering gold leaf ice cream.

My top tip would be this tasting tour that will introduce you to six different foods plus a tour of Omicho Market.

Another option is to try to make some of the local food yourself, with one of these fun workshops:

Whatever you choose, definitely try some of the local cuisine and ask the locals for some tips so you don’t miss any of the top ones!

Shirakawa-go day trip

And my final recommendation for what to do in Kanazawa is actually to leave the city – just for a day, though. Because it’s a great base to explore the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go.

shirakawa go

This small village was so isolated in the mountains for so long that it didn’t develop in the way other places did as Japan became modernised, meaning it’s a little time capsule of how rural life was centuries ago.

The main industry here is silk, and the residents would use their attic space to farm silkworms. The houses are also interesting because they were designed to withstand the bitterly cold winters.

From Kanazawa, I would recommend this private day trip to Shirakawa-go which also includes the village of Gokayama.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Kanazawa City Tourism Association but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

2 thoughts on “Things to do in Kanazawa”

  1. Japan has been on my radar for a few years now. I really must plan a trip there. I’m a huge fan of Japanese simplicity and their traditional architecture. Somehow, everything just makes sense. These traditional villages and “castles” would be so cool to visit.


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