Great Things to do in Takayama, Japan | Gifu’s Historic City

a man walking through the streets of Takayama's old town in Japan
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With its beautifully preserved historic Edo district, visiting this lovely city in the heart of Gifu prefecture is like travelling back in time. Here are the best things to do in Takayama, including how to get around, where to stay and what to eat.


Japan. The country of high-tech gadgets, bright neon lights, cosplay, and almost absurdly punctual bullet trains.

Whilst all of those things are completely true; it’s also a country of small towns, charming villages and traditions stretching back over generations.

Outside the hustle and bustle of Japan’s hyper-efficient cities, you’ll find quiet little havens where evening music plays city-wide to welcome people home.

These are the places where life is lived at a slower pace, and the culture of old Japan lives on. Takayama, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site, is one of the best.

Old Takayama is a beautiful Edo-period city in the Hida region, which is the northern part of the Gifu prefecture. I think it makes the perfect introduction to Japan’s more traditional side.

You’ll find beautifully preserved historic buildings, sake breweries that have been operating for hundreds of years, and evidence of the samurai culture that once ruled these lands. Takayama is also home to two of Japan’s most famous seasonal festivals – Sannō Matsuri Spring Festival and Yahata Matsuri Autumn Festival.

Most visitors rush through this part of the country in under a day, but I think it’s worth taking a little more time to enjoy this calmer side of Japan. Takayama is a great starting point to explore the rest of the beautiful northern Japan Alps.

From historic buildings to Donkey Kong (yes, really!) and everything in between, here are my favourite things to do in Takayama. I’ve also shared insider tips on where to stay, where to eat, and advice on transport connections from elsewhere in Japan.

a man walking through the historic Edo Sanmachi Shi district of Takayama with narrow streets lined by dark wooden house fronts
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TAKAYAMA ESSENTIALS

A perfectly preserved historic city centre from the 1600s

Famous for the quality of its sake and the foodie culture

Famous spring and autumn festivals draw crowds from across Japan

A great base for 2 nights

Easily accessible from both Kyoto and Tokyo

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THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN TAKAYAMA


Experience the Past in Sanmachi-Suji

Walking through Takayama’s historic district, dating back to the 1600s, is honestly surreal. I kept expecting samurai to appear around every corner.

This was the part of the city I was most excited about, and it absolutely did not disappoint!

The facades of the old wooden buildings are stained with the smoke of hundreds of years, and every single one has its own story to tell. Amongst the traditional houses, you’ll find businesses that have been operating for generations.

You’ll also find surprising museums, architectural curiosities and some of the tasty treats that Takayama is known for.

During the day, the three streets that make up this district are closed to vehicles, which makes this a lovely place to wander with your camera.

Duck into one of the many local businesses that line the streets, and you may be treated to a sample of the local miso soup, sake or light, fluffy cheesecake.

To my delight, the entire area and much of the surroundings are non-smoking. Somewhat of a rarity in Japan!

A family walks through historic sanmachi suji in takayama japan
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PHOTOGRAPHY TIP | This district is best explored in the early morning, when locals head to work on foot or by bicycle. The best time is around 7am when residents have to move their cars off the street, but before all the stores open. The light is also lovely in the evening, with more people offering a great opportunity for portrait-style street photography.

THE DETAILS

Getting there | located in the heart of the city, this is an easy walk from most of the accommodations in town. For public transport, take the Machinami Bus, which leaves from the terminal next to the train station (¥100 per ride, roughly every 30 mins), to the Sanmachi-dori (Sanmachi Street) stop

Cost | free to wander

Hours | the streets are never closed, but most businesses are open from 8am – 5pm. Restaurants are also open in the evening

Walking Tour | I always love to take a locally guided walking tour to get a better understanding of the history of the places I’m visiting. This tour covers the main sights of the old town, and your guide can help you sample some local treats at the Takayama morning markets if your Japanese (like mine) is a little rusty!

black edo period houses in takayama japan
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a woma
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a lantern and cedar tree in the streets of old takayama
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Sample Japan’s Best Sake

Takayama is famous throughout Japan for the high quality of its sake.

In addition to pure mountain water, Takayama produces a type of rice called Hidahomare, one of the best for sake making. The microorganisms required to make sake also function best at the lower temperatures found in this part of the country.

Since I would never believe the hype without trying it myself, I sampled extensively and can confirm that Takayama sake is, indeed, delicious.

There are 7 breweries in town, a sad decline from the heydays of the 1600s when there were 56 recorded. The reduction in numbers is possibly for the best since I’d probably still be there otherwise!

The oldest sake brewery still operating in Takayama dates back at least 400 years and is currently being operated by the 15th generation of brewers. So they really do know what they’re doing.

Apart from the 12th generation owner who apparently got so tired that he fell down asleep and died two weeks later…

The Nonbei Festival

One of the best times to visit is during the Nonbei festival, which runs from late January through February. All the sake breweries in town open their doors for some good old-fashioned brewery hopping.

The participating breweries are located in the historic Sanmachi area and are really easy to find when you know the secret code!

When there’s a new sake available for tasting, the brewery will have a large ball of cedarwood (sugidama) hanging above the doorway. The rest of the time, they can be identified by the sakadaru (white sake barrels) outside.

a couple sit and enjoy a sake tasting, one of the best things to do in takayama japan
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a ball hanging outside one of takayama's sake breweries indicating that their new season sake is ready to taste
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white sake barrels outside a brewery indicating that it's ready for one of the best things to do in takayama - sake tasting
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new season sake and a nonbei festival cup in takayama
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If you are lucky enough to be there during the Nonbei festival, you can purchase a Sake tasting kit for ¥3000 at any of the participating breweries.

This gets you a really cute sake cup of your very own, 2 tastings of high-end sake at the participating breweries, a booklet for stamps (which also has a map of the breweries) and a local gift (in 2020, locally made pickles) if you collect all 7 stamps.

Once you have your kit, you just present your booklet and cup at the counter of the brewery, and they’ll give you your samples.

You may need to stamp your booklet yourself (you’ll see the Nonbei signage on a table near the entrance), or the staff may stamp the booklet for you. They’ll also stamp your booklet for each of the 2 sake samples you have so they can keep track.

TIP | Most of the sake breweries close for lunch from 12pm – 1pm so plan your visits accordingly

Takayama Sake Breweries

Hirata Brewery | 43 Kamininomachi, open daily from 10am – 5pm

Niki Brewery | 40 Kamininomachi, open daily from 8am – 5pm

Kawashiri Brewery | 68 Kamininomachi, open daily from 9am – 5pm

Hirase Brewery | 82 Kamiichinomachi, open during the Nonbei festival from 8am – 5pm

Hirase (also known as Kusudama) is the oldest sake brewery in Takayama. In addition to the included festival tastings, they offer additional 30ml tastings for an extra cost of ¥100-200 each. The tastings are cash-only, but you can purchase bottles using your credit card. Outside of the festival, you can also arrange this highly recommended brewery tour which is a 30-minute tour of the facilities plus a tasting of 5 sakes with a guide.

Funasaka Brewery | 105 Kamisannomachi, open daily from 8:30am – 6pm

The home of my favourite sake in Takayama. Unlike many of the other breweries, they also do tastings outside the festival dates. You can sample any 2 of their sakes for free, with only the top-end sake excluded. There’s also an option to pay by the cup for tastings – a large cup will set you back ¥350-900, and small cups of the top-end sake are ¥600. They also have an extensive selection of traditional crafts and gifts for sale.

Harada Brewery | 10 Kamisannomachi, open daily from 9am – 5pm

Here, they also offer tastings outside the festival. For ¥350, you receive a cup and can then help yourself to between 12 and 14 sakes. They ask that you only sample each sake once. You can also find delicious local cider for sale here, along with cheesecakes and other local produce, many of which have free tastings. They have a lovely iron hearth seating area where you can enjoy your sake. Well worth a visit.

Oita Brewery | 67 Kamisannomachi, open daily from 9am – 5pm

This brewery also functions as a liquor store where you can purchase a variety of sakes to try outside of the Nonbei festival dates. You might also want to give their soy soft-serve ice cream a try!

a display of the many different sake types that are available to try in takayama's many sake breweries
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THE DETAILS

Getting there | The breweries are all within easy walking distance of each other, but if you’re feeling a little unsteady on your feet after indulging, the nearest public transport option is the Machinami bus at the Sanmachi-dori stop

Cost | varies between breweries, but expect to pay from ¥350 for a cup of sake

Hours | from 8am with some breweries opening later. Almost all close for an hour at lunch, and 5pm seems to be the standard closing time

Re-Live the 80s at Takayama Shōwa-Kan Museum

Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 80s, but this honestly might be my favourite museum of all time. It’s my must-do in Takayama!

The Shōwa era dates from 1926-1989, covering some of the most fascinating parts of Japan’s 20th-century history. This family-owned and run museum is dedicated to the best of those decades.

From the moment you step into the museum, it’s a full immersion into the past.

On the ground floor, you’ll find reproductions of streets and shops of the era, along with an entire room dedicated to pachinko. If you’ve never been to Japan, you’ve probably never heard of pachinko, but imagine a completely addictive pinball game, and you’re basically there.

an old moped and display of photography store front at the showa museum in takayama
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a girl plays pachinko in the showa museum, one of the most popular things to do in takayama
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a replica of a doctors surgery from the 1980s in the showa museum in takayama
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a group of tourists enjoy the showa museum in takayama
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a replica street in the showa museum in takayama
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a small 3 wheeled car at the showa museum, one of the top things to do in takayama
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Venture upstairs, and you’ll find a room of game consoles (where I lost an hour reliving my childhood playing Donkey Kong – still awesome) and a living room straight out of the 1970s.

The museum accepts donations of memorabilia from all over the country, and its collection is truly impressive. Stroll about at your leisure – photography is encouraged!

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 6 Shimoichinomachi. For public transport, take the Machinami bus to Museum stop

Cost | ¥800 per adult

Hours | from 9am – 6pm. Allow at least a couple of hours if you, like me, have a tendency to get distracted by pinball machines and video games

the interior of the showa museum, one of the best things to do in takayama japan
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Eat at Heianraku | The Best Restaurant in Takayama

Tucked away in an unassuming main street, it would be easy to walk past Heianraku without noticing it. That, however, would be a mistake. I found out about this awesome restaurant from my friend Marielena of Epic 7 Travel, and you can read her own post on Takayama here.

The combination of home-cooked food, traditional tatami-mat floor seating and the incredible hospitality of the owners made this my favourite meal on this trip to Japan.

Run by the husband and wife team of Naoko and Hiroshi, this restaurant is an absolute gem. Eating here is one the best things to do in Takayama and, possibly, in the whole of Japan!

the interior of heinaraku restaurant in takayama japan
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fresh vegetables waiting to be cooked at heinaraku restaurant in takayama
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Their menu is available in both Japanese and English, and although Hiroshi is a man of few words, Naoko more than makes up for it as she chats away to her diners. She has an impressive atlas that she gets everyone to sign to show where they come from.

I’ve never met someone more delighted to have a new location added to her map!

The menu at Heianraku is split into vegetarian, vegan and omnivore pages, and they’re very happy to cater to any specific dietary requirements that you may have.

You may be slightly confused by the fact that they call themselves a Chinese restaurant since, for most Westerners, the food is decidedly Japanese. This is because it’s Chūka cuisine, which is based on Chinese food but was developed in Japan with ingredients and seasonings changed for Japanese tastes.

You can either sit at the counter or eat Japanese-style at low tables on tatami mats (my recommendation!).

The set menu here is a fantastic deal with 5 courses and a drink for ¥2500. You can also eat a la carte if you prefer.

a starter and glass of plum wine at heianraku takayama
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the main course at heianraku takayama
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the gyoza at heianraku takayama
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The food is delicious (I recommend the gyoza and fried tofu with miso sauce), and Naoko makes some of the best plum wine I’ve tasted in Japan.

THE DETAILS

Where | 6-7-2 Tenman Cho

Hours | lunch from 11am – 2pm and dinner 5pm – 9pm. Closed on Tuesdays. As the restaurant can only seat 15 people, booking is strongly advised. You can call, message them via Facebook or pop in at lunchtime to reserve a dinner spot

Experience Village Life at Hida Folk Village (Hida-No-Santo)

Although the nearby town of Shirakawa-go steals most of the ‘traditional village’ glory in these parts, the Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village is a lovely (and much more easily accessible) alternative to that day trip.

The site contains local buildings, entirely unique to this area of Japan, which have been relocated here from areas where they would otherwise have been destroyed to make way for things like roads and dams.

Each house has signage in English, describing its original location, inhabitants and purpose, as well as detailing some of its unique features. Many of the buildings are also used as small museums with displays of rural lifestyle and farming through the years. 

traditional ghasso houses at hida folk village one of the best things to do in takayama
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TIP | If you’re looking for things to do in Takayama in the winter, there’s a special illumination festival in January and February where you can see the village lit up at night in the snow. Bus tickets can be purchased from any of the special bus stops (Honjin Hiranora, Hida Hotel Plaza, Takayama Bus Terminal and Takayama Green Hotel) and cost ¥420 return. The bus leaves between 5pm – 5:30pm (30 minutes later on Sat/Sun & public holidays) and also an hour later. Village entry is an additional ¥300. Buses depart the village between 7pm – 8:10pm

Once you’ve had your fill of wandering around the village, you can go down to the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre at the bottom of the hill, where you can either buy local crafts or have a go at making your own.

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 1-590 Kamiokamotomachi. Hida Folk Village is a fair distance from the city centre, so I would advise you to either take a taxi or the Sarubobbo bus to the Hida Folk Village stop. The bus leaves from the terminal just beside Takayama station, taking a loop around some of the more far-flung attractions of the town. The folk village is the 4th stop from the terminal, and a one-way trip will cost ¥210. The first bus leaves from the station at about 8:45am and runs hourly until 3:45pm

Cost | ¥700, which also gives you a discount if you wish to participate in any of the workshops at the craft centre

Hours | 8:30am – 5pm

Get a Taste of Takayama at Miyagawa Morning Market

Is there anything better than indulging in local food and drink when you travel?

Trick question. There’s not.

This delightful market on the banks of the river plays host to many stalls run by friendly locals offering all sorts of delicious treats.

For those who love beef, the local Hida beef is famously delicious, and some say better than Kobe beef! Many people sell either beef sushi or yakitori (grilled on skewers). I didn’t try either, but there were many satisfied customers wandering the streets.

You’ll find more Takayama treats to look out for at the bottom of this post.

TIP | walking whilst eating in Japan is something of a cultural no-no, so get your snacks and then find a quiet bench to sit and enjoy them. Both the locals and your digestive system will thank you for it!

About halfway through the market, on the opposite side of the street to Miyagawa river, you’ll find a lovely lady selling Hida beef skewers and 2 types of local beer – one light lager and one dark ale.

Buy a glass in the late morning and sit on a bench down the quiet side street beside her stall to watch the world go by.

a woman making a sweet treat at miyagawa morning market in takayama
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a woman cooking at miyagawa morning market in takayama japan
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croissants for sale at miyagawa morning market in takayama
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one of the stall holders at the miyagawa morning market in takayama
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Here are just some of the treats you’ll find here:

  • taiyaki – little fish-shaped cakes with a variety of fillings
  • traditional dango – rice dumplings
  • a croissant stall
  • custard puddings made from the famous local milk
  • a tamaten (local sweet) stall
  • a sesame cracker shop that’s been in the same family for 5 generations

THE DETAILS

Getting there | the market stretches between Kajibashi and Yayoibashi bridges along the eastern side of the river. Walk or take the Machinami bus to Kusakabe Folk Museum stop

Cost | food from ¥80, come hungry, and you’ll spend a lot more!

Hours | 8am – 12pm December through March and 7am – 12pm April through November

Tour | If you’re a big fan of exploring the local food and drink scene, then I recommend this 2.5 hour tour with a local guide

Take Tea Surrounded by History at the Yoshijima Heritage House

The Yoshijima heritage houses and attached former sake factory have been beautifully preserved and are presented to show what Takayama city life would have been like back in the 1700s.

The buildings are full of beautiful original architectural details, and it’s well worth spending some time exploring the house and grounds to get a better appreciation of the expertise that went into the design of these structures.

the interior of one of the historic buildings in takayama japan
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Once you’ve had a look at the house, have a green tea before going through to the building at the back, which is the Kusakabe Folk Museum. Here’s where you’ll find more exhibits of local life in the area through the years.

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 1 Chome-51 Oshinmachi. For public transport take the Machinami bus to Sanmachi-dori stop

Cost | ¥500 per adult

Hours | 9am – 4pm December through March and 9am – 4:30pm April through November. Closed on Tuesday from December to February.

Explore Takayama’s Past at the Hida Takayama Museum of Art and History

This little museum is an absolute delight. It’s quite small, so it won’t take you long to cover the whole of it. You’ll get an idea of the rich history of Takayama and the surrounding area.

No photography is allowed inside.

Some of the most interesting displays are beautifully preserved suits of samurai armour, traditional kimono and absolutely gorgeous artwork.

Although there is signage in English, you’ll definitely find it helpful to have a translation app for some of the displays.

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 75 Kamiichinomachi. For public transport, take the Machinami bus to Museum stop

Cost | free

Hours | museum 9am – 7pm and garden 7am – 9pm

Take a Tour of Takayama Jinya

This is a historical government house dating back to the 1600s. It was the government headquarters of the region during the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Although it’s a nice building to wander through, containing many old documents and maps, you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t speak Japanese.

I recommend that non-Japanese speakers wait for an English-speaking guide to be available so you get to hear about the history and features of the building.

There are QR codes placed beside some of the displays to give you the information in multiple languages, but this is still rather limited.

Come in the morning so that you can enjoy the Jinya-mae morning market, assuming that you’re not already full from Miyagawa!

the front of takayama jinja
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THE DETAILS

Getting there | 1-5 Hachiken-machi. For public transport, take the Machinami bus to Takayama Historical Government House stop

Cost | ¥430 per adult. An English tour is available with the admission price, but you may be asked to come back later if they’re already on a tour. It’s worth waiting for so that you can appreciate all that the building has to offer.

Hours | 8:45am – 5pm

Enjoy Some Quiet Time at Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

Ok, so I can’t absolutely promise that you’ll get quiet time here (particularly not if you’re one of the million visitors during festival time), but there’s always a degree of serenity at Shinto shrines that feels a million miles away from what’s going on in the towns.

The 5th-century shrine is located in a wooded area to the north of the old town, and I’d advise setting aside half an hour or so just to wander and enjoy.

You’ll likely be joined by locals who come here to worship and leave offerings at the many altars that are scattered around the location.

Hidden in a corner, you’ll find the fudezuka shrine, a stone with beautiful kanji symbols that have been painted black through the years.

prayers written on paper and hung up at takayama's shinto shrine
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the calligraphy shrine for better writers with kanji symbols engraved on a stone at takayama shinto shrine
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a dragon head fountain in takayama japan
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The shrine is dedicated to the god of learning, and it’s said that if you paint over the kanji, you’ll be gifted with improved writing skills. It’s a popular spot for students to come and pray during the spring exam season!

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 178 Sakuramachi. The closest public transport is the Machinami bus at Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine stop

Cost | free

Hours | always open

Get Festive at the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall

Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan gets onto this list because the floats displayed here are hundreds of years old, beautifully preserved, and pretty famous in Japan.

With that said, unless you’re a festival float fanatic, I don’t think a visit here is compulsory since you can see a really cool miniature float museum at the train station.

However, in the interests of completeness, and since it’s right next door to the shrine, I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

Rotated throughout the year, four of the Shinto festival floats are always on display here at the exhibition hall. They’re hugely ornate and a marvel of craftsmanship, but I can’t honestly say they were worth the price of admission for me.

There is a good English audio tour included.

a carved tiger on one of the festival floats in takayama
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carvings on the festival floats in takayama
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THE DETAILS

Getting there | 178 Sakura-Machi. Take the Machinami bus to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine stop

Cost | ¥1000

Hours | 9am – 5pm from March to November and 9am – 4:30pm from December to February

Visit the Hida Kokobunji Temple Tower

In a country where you become a little accustomed to Shinto shrines and colourful orange towers, it’s always fun to find something a little different.

The temple itself was founded in the 700s as the provincial temple of Hida and is the oldest structure in Takayama.

This beautiful 3-story temple tower is entirely black and makes a striking contrast to many of the others that you’ll see on your travels.

Perhaps even more impressive is the ginkgo tree on the grounds, which is over 1200 years old!

THE DETAILS

Getting there | 1-Chome-83. The closest public transport option is the Machinami bus at Kokubunji Temple stop

Cost | free

Hours | always open

the ornate roof of one of the temples in takayama
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the 3 tiered black tower of kokobunji temple in takayama
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a shrine in takayama japan
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Wander the Higashiyama Walking Course

If you’re only in Takayama for a day, you probably won’t have time for this, but it’s only 3.5km, so should take you less than an hour.

The route starts near the Takayama Museum of Art and takes you on a loop through Shiroyama park, where Takayama castle used to be. From here, you cross the Enakogawa river before walking through ‘temple town’, where there are several shrines and temples.

You’ll finish at the main road to the east of the Shōwa-kan museum.

Take a Day Trip to Shirakawa-Go

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go is home to a wonderfully preserved Edo-period village. The Ogimachi village here is unique in the fact that the houses are located on their original sites, exactly as they were built.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that the land surrounding the village has also been preserved with its original road and canal systems. The village was once famed for its mulberry trees and rearing of silkworms but is now much more famous for the appearance of its houses.

The steep thatched roofs of the houses are not only designed to shed snow but also to have several layers contained within them. This was to allow for the storage of silkworm beds and the mulberry leaves they relied on for food.

You’ll also find the Gassho Zukuri Minkaen museum here, which is an open-air museum containing 26 houses. Unlike the rest of the village, many of these houses have been relocated to be in the museum, in a similar way to the Hida Folk Village in Takayama.

3 ghasso houses at hida folk village in takayama
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If you’re planning a visit to Shirakawa-go, then I would recommend skipping the Hida Folk Village since you’re likely to get your fill of Japanese farmhouses here!

If you’re looking for the best way to explore Shirakwa-go, I recommend this tour with a local guide who can tell you more about the history and culture of the area.

THE DETAILS

Getting there | It’s possible to travel independently to Shirakawa-go from Takayama on the Nohi bus. The bus leaves from Takayama train station and takes 50 minutes, costing ¥4800 for an adult round trip, including admission to the Minkaen museum. You can see the timetable and tour options for Nohi Bus here.

Cost | ¥300 per house. A ticket for the Minkaen museum is an additional ¥600 but is included with some bus tickets

Hours | Houses are open from 9am – 5pm. The Gassho Zukuri Minkaen Museum is closed every Thursday from December to March

Tours | If you’d rather experience Shirakawa-go with a local guide, this private tour includes transport and an English-speaking guide. You’ll definitely get more out of your visit this way.

Stay | One of the coolest experiences in Shirakawa-go is the ability to stay in one of the farmhouses overnight. All the information you need to book your trip can be found here. Ensure you read the descriptions and reviews, as not all host families speak English. Be aware that payment is in cash in Japanese Yen.

MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN TAKAYAMA

To make things easy for you, here’s a map of all the things to do in Takayama, along with some suggestions for where to eat, drink and stay. More on those below.

To save this map to your own account, just click on the little star next to the title.

WHERE IS TAKAYAMA?

Takayama (locally known as Hida-Takayama) is located in central Japan, in the heart of the Japanese Alps. Located only 300km to the west of Tokyo, it couldn’t feel further away from the bright lights of the big city.

As a mountain city, Takayama was historically relatively isolated from the rest of Japan. This allowed for the development of a unique culture and way of life that can still be experienced today in the Gassho-style houses of Shirakawa-go and the perfectly preserved Takayama old town.

These days it’s famous for its biannual Shinto festivals, which draw visitors from all over Japan, as well as the quality of its local food and sake.

WHERE TO STAY IN TAKAYAMA

For me, one of the greatest things about travel in Japan is staying at a traditional Ryokan or Inn. Often passed down through the generations, they’re an experience unlike anything else in the world. I would absolutely recommend that you stay in one if you possibly can.

The vast majority of ryokan will have their own private onsen (hot springs). There’s truly nothing like relaxing in your very own private pool at the end of a busy day of exploring.

Note that prices vary throughout the year. Expect a considerable increase at the time of the spring and autumn festivals.

BOOKING YOUR TRIP | If you book your trip via my links I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps keep me on the road. Thanks for your support – Cat.

RYOKANS, HOTELS & GUESTHOUSES IN TAKAYAMA

Ichinomatsu Japanese Modern Hotel | This is where I stayed, and I loved it. Although it’s on the other side of the train station to the main attractions, I liked the location. Despite the use of the word hotel, it’s very much like a ryokan. The staff were incredibly friendly, and the included breakfast was delicious. The onsen was absolutely wonderful and available for private use throughout the evening. Check prices and book here.

Sumiyoshi Ryokan | Slightly further north of town than some of the accommodations, this beautiful ryokan is a short walk from the old town. There are traditional tatami mats and futon bedding, with large public baths. A choice of Western or Japanese breakfast is included in the rate, and you can also organise a traditional Japanese dinner to be served in your room for the full experience. Check prices and book here.

Oyado Koto No Yume | Another lovely traditional ryokan, this place is close to the train station with great amenities. There’s an indoor and outdoor onsen, massages available, and a Western or Japanese-style breakfast, depending on your preference. Check prices and book here.

Ryokan Tanabe | If you’re after great value luxury in the heart of Takayama, then this is the place for you. With Japanese-style rooms, massage treatments and a beautiful onsen, I doubt you’ll want to leave. There’s a multi-course dinner, and set menu available for breakfast served to your room. Check prices and book here.

Eph Takayama | Only 200m from the station, the location of this hotel is great for all the sights in Takayama. There is a lovely buffet breakfast available, and non-guests can also use the cafe. Check prices and book here.

Iori Stay | Fancy your own townhouse with free pick-up from the station? Then this is for you. This stunning, recently renovated traditional Japanese townhouse is situated right next to the river. Vegetarian and vegan options are available for breakfast, and there’s even a lovely little onsen at the property. Check prices and book here.

the streets of takayama japan
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an older woman cycling through the streets of takayama
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AIRBNBS IN TAKAYAMA

Anchor Suite | This beautifully furnished property has it all. From design details to a coffee machine and fully stocked fridge on arrival. Previous guests loved their stays here, the location is great, and if you’re looking to self-cater, you can’t go wrong. Check prices and book here.

Hideaway House | A beautiful mix of modern and traditional with a kotatsu heating area in the living room, this is a perfect spot for a stay during the colder months. The property is well-equipped, but the stairs to the upper floor are steep. Check prices and book here.

Teriyaki Hotel | This place is so minimalist that the bath is in a whole separate building! Guests loved how relaxed they felt at the property, and the location is great. Check prices and book here.

HOSTELS & BUDGET ACCOMMODATION IN TAKAYAMA

K’s House Takayama Oasis | 500m from the train station and an easy walk to many of the sights in town. This modern hostel also has a shared kitchen available for cooking. You can also get your laundry done for a small fee. Check prices and book here.

Cup of Tea Guesthouse | 10 minutes from the train station and just 5 minutes from the old town, this is a great location for a small hostel. There’s a public onsen right across the street if you’re looking for a real taste of Japan! Check prices and book here.

a view onto one of takayama's beautiful gardens
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WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN TAKAYAMA

If you’ve already been to Heianraku and managed to resist the temptation to simply have every meal there, here are some other options for you to try:

MATSUKI SUSHI

Although Takayama is a fair distance from the sea, the sushi here is as fresh as anything. They also have the local speciality Hida beef sushi if you’ve not managed to find it elsewhere. Although it’s a little pricier than many of the other restaurants, the quality really is worth it. Many of the staff, although not all, speak English if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the menu! In addition to the set menus, there is also the option to order off the board, although this is usually in Japanese.

Where | 1 Chome-1-40 Sowamachi

Hours | lunch from 11am – 2pm and dinner 5:30pm – 11pm

CENTER 4 HAMBURGERS

Okay, listen. I love Japanese food, but sometimes the lack of an English menu or anything remotely approximating vegetarian food means you start craving the familiar. These guys do a good veggie sandwich and a couple of decent salads. I hear from the meat-eaters that their burgers are also excellent.

Where | 94 Kamiichinomachi

Hours | lunch from 11am – 2pm and dinner 6pm – 9:30pm. Closed Wednesdays.

a chef at one of takayama's restuarants
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the outdoor food centre in takayama japan
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a man preparing food at one of takayama's restaurants
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JACKSON CURRY

If you’ve got a Japanese-style curry obsession, this is the place for you. This quirky, family-run spot makes some of the best curries in town. Your dining soundtrack will be eclectic, and the location near the train station makes it a convenient place to grab a bite before (or after) you travel.

Where | 5-5 Tenmanmachi

Hours | lunch from 11:30am – 2:45pm and dinner from 5:30pm – 9:30pm. Closed on Thursdays.

SENNON NO UTAGE

This little izakaya (Japanese bar) is one of the few places in town that’s open after 9pm. Since it’s right opposite the train station, it’s great if you have a late arrival in town. There are English menus available.

Where | 5-20 Hanasatomachi

Hours | 5pm – 3am, except Sunday 5pm – 1am

MENYA SHIRAKAWA

An excellent ramen place apparently rated as the best ramen in town for years by the local newspaper – prepare for a line at lunch and dinner time! The owner and staff here speak excellent English if you’re struggling. They’ll even take your order whilst you’re still in line to make things more efficient once you’re seated.

Where | 56-2 Aioimachi

Hours | lunch from 11am – 1:30pm and dinner 9pm – 1am. Closed Tuesdays.

CHUKA SOBA KAJIBASHI

This place makes Takayama-style ramen, which consists of curly wheat noodles in a soy-based broth. English menus are available, and there was a line outside the door every time I walked past.

Where | 3-Chome-62

Hours | Open whenever I walked past, no matter the time of day; I’ve no idea if there actually are any official opening hours!

SOEUR CAFE

If you’re craving coffee (which is me 99% of the time), tea or a sweet treat, then this is the place for you. There’s a huge window overlooking the river, along with free wifi. If the weather turns, or you just want somewhere to rest your tired feet for a while, then this makes a great little spot to while away some time.

Where | 2-Chome-35

Hours | 12pm – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

OUTDOOR FOOD CENTRE

With a huge selection of little restaurants and bars, I stumbled upon this place quite by accident. You can find almost anything you want to eat or drink here (wild boar included), but English is minimal, so make sure you’ve got a translation app handy!

I’d recommend heading to Lamp, which is a very cool little cocktail bar where they hand-carve the ice and are always keen to practice their English if your Japanese lets you down!

Where | 24 Asahimachi

Hours | 5pm onwards, depending on the venue. Lamp is open 8pm – 3am except for Sundays.

a row of condiment holders shaped like lucky cats in takayama japan
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WHAT TO EAT IN TAKAYAMA

Takayama has a thriving foodie scene, as well as being renowned for the quality of its sake. There are some treats that you simply shouldn’t miss on your visit here:

Hida beer | locally made, this beer benefits from the same high-quality water that makes the sake here so good. There are light or dark brews, and you’ll find it in several locations in the Sanmachi Suji District.

Hida cider | slightly sweet and very refreshing, this makes a fun change from the usual local drinks of Japan. You can buy it at Harada Sake Brewery.

Hida beef | famous throughout Japan, you’ll find this everywhere in Takayama. Whilst it’s expensive in restaurants, there are a multitude of street stalls selling it in everything from sushi to steamed buns.

Taiyaki | little fish-shaped cakes with a wide variety of fillings. Traditionally filled with red bean paste, they also come in vanilla, chocolate, chestnut and spinach flavours. I recommend trying them all!

Senbei | these soy-covered rice crackers are available all over town, but my favourite spot was in the Sanmachi Suji district where they were cooked to order before being brushed in soy sauce and wrapped in a sheet of nori seaweed for ease of handling.

Houba-Miso buns | small, savoury buns made of sticky rice and stuffed with magnolia-leaf that’s flavoured with miso and leek. All of the ingredients are local and they’re absolutely delicious. Look out for then in the Sanmachi-Suji district.

Tamaten | similar to a marshmallow in texture, this is a sweet treat made with egg, agar and sugar. Grilled to order, they’re best eaten at the room in the back of the store whilst still warm.

Dango | these soy-sauce flavoured rice dumplings are a bit of an acquired taste, but they’re a traditional food of the area and you should try them!

HOW TO GET TO TAKAYAMA

BY AIR

Regardless of which airport you arrive at, you’ll need to travel onwards to Takayama using public transport, taxi or hire car. The closest airport is still 80km from the city.

DISTANCE TO TAKAYAMA FROM MAJOR AIRPORT HUBS

(Times given are for public transport options)


DOMESTIC | Toyama
80km | 2h 10min

NAGOYA | Chubu Centrair International
180km | 3h 10min

OSAKA | Kansai International
385km | 4h 50min

TOKYO | Haneda International
320km | 4h 50min

TOKYO | Narita International
370km | 5h 45min

BY TRAIN

The vast majority of tourists travelling in Japan are likely to arrive here by train. There are great connections to Takayama from around the country.

The bullet train will get you here in four hours from Tokyo and three hours from Kyoto. All trains go via Nagoya, where you’ll need to switch from the Shinkansen to the Express Train. This is all covered by the JR Pass.

I used the JR Pass as I was travelling all the way from Sapporo in the north to Osaka in the south, so this was the most cost-effective way for me to travel. If you’re only going to be staying in a single city, then the rail pass isn’t worth it.

TIP | If you get a JR Pass, I recommend ordinary rather than Green (First) Class. If you’re travelling in peak season you can reserve your seats the day you activate your pass for all travel during your visit. Reservations are vital during busy times or if you have larger bags (see below).

Take two or more inter-city trips, and the JR Pass usually works out as good value for money. As an example, a one-way Shinkansen Tokyo-Kyoto currently costs ¥14,170, whilst a 7-day standard rail pass is ¥29,650. If you’re making a return trip within 7 days, then the pass is worth it, but otherwise, you’re better off just getting the single ticket.

Since May 2020, there have been luggage restrictions on Shinkansen trains along the Tokaido (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka), Sanyo and Kyushu lines.

Any bag with a combined height, width and length of 160-250cm will require you to have an advance reservation. You won’t need to pay extra for the bag, but a reserved seat allows you to make a luggage reservation.

The JR Pass automatically gets you the right to reserve seats without additional payment.

BY BUS

If you’re coming from Kanazawa, then you can catch the bus to Takayama. It will take roughly the same time as the train, but you’ll also get to see Shirakawa-go along the way. If you, unlike me, are travelling light, then you can actually split your bus journey so long as you book in advance. This will allow you to see Shirakawa-go without extra expense.

Check times and book here.

BY CAR

Since the public transport system in Japan is incredibly efficient, I wouldn’t really recommend that you hire a car.

I know, this, from a person who loves road trips!

If, however, you do decide that you’d like to drive, then you should note that the historic district is closed to vehicles during the day. There are several car parks around the city, all of which will charge you for parking. I would recommend Takayamaekinishi Parking Lot by the station as it’s the cheapest option at ¥300/hour.

trees under low lying cloud in takayama japan
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festive winter decoration in takayama japan
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GETTING AROUND IN TAKAYAMA

Takayama is a very compact little town, and walking around is easy. The only location I didn’t walk to was the Hida Folk Village due to its more distant location. A return trip here on the Sarubobo bus cost me ¥420 from the town centre (2x one-way tickets at ¥210).

If you think that you’d like to explore several of the more distant sites or you’re not able to walk longer distances, then there are 2 tourist bus routes that service Takayama – the Machinami and Sarubobo routes. A single ride on the Machinami bus costs ¥100, and on the Sarubobo ¥210.

You can purchase a one-day ticket that covers both routes for ¥620. If you present this ticket at 13 of the main attractions in town, you will receive a discount of between ¥50-300, depending on the site. Find out more here.

There are also several taxi services in the town. You can usually hail one from either the train station or your hotel.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT TAKAYAMA

For me, Takayama is magical at the tail-end of winter. You might be fortunate enough to see the old districts blanketed with snow, and there’s also the sake festival in February. Otherwise, late March, early April and September will give you a chance of seeing beautiful colours in the landscape with fewer crowds.

Takayama hosts huge and elaborate festivals twice a year, Sannō Matsuri in April and Yahata Matsuri in October. Famous throughout the country, up to 250,000 tourists flood the tiny streets of this normally quiet town for these celebrations.

These busy events have an appeal all their own, but they’re not the best time to experience the quiet charms that make Takayama such a beautiful place to visit.

Spring (late March-May) is a beautiful time to visit, with cherry blossoms lining the city streets. Compared to other parts of the country, the blossom may arrive a little later. The festival in mid-April is timed to welcome spring to the town.

The summer months (June-August) bring fields of lavender, Sunday flea markets, and a host of activities like cycling and hiking in the surrounding hills. The weather can, however, be hot and humid.

A feast of colourful foliage, blue skies and cooler temperatures are your rewards for a trip in autumn (Sept-Nov), with the festival in early October marking the start of hibernation for the year. The koyo (autumn leaf) viewing here is almost as big of a deal as the sakura (cherry blossom) time.

Winter (Dec-late March) is long due to Takayama’s location in the Japanese Alps, but it brings snow and blue skies, turning the town into a winter wonderland. This is one of my favourite times of year to visit, but come prepared for the cold!

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SPEND IN TAKAYAMA?

Whilst you could see the main sights in a (rushed) day, I think this city rewards a slower pace. I spent 3 nights here, which allowed for 2 full days of exploring.

If you’re using Takayama as a base to travel to Shirakawa-go, then I would consider adding an extra night here if you’re not travelling onwards to Kanazawa.

USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT TAKAYAMA

The centre is very compact and walkable, so you won’t need any other form of transportation to get around. There is, however, a good bus service to all the best sights in the city should you need it.

Staying in the heart of the old city will definitely make you feel as though you’ve stepped into another era, but more affordable accommodation is found outside it. Staying near the train station is kinder on the budget but still within walking distance of the historic heart of Takayama.

The Shinto festivals in April and October are serious business, drawing over 250,000 visitors. If you’re planning a trip to coincide with these dates, book your accommodation well in advance so you’re not disappointed.

In Japan, it’s common practice to remove your shoes on entering homes. This includes many of Takayama’s museums that are located in old houses. Don’t be me, wearing boots that require 5 minutes to get on and off since you’ll be doing it a lot!

UNIQUE GIFTS FROM TAKAYAMA

As well as the food and drink, there are some crafts that Takayama is famous for. If you’re looking for a gift or souvenir (other than sake) to remind you of your time here, these are some to look out for:

Inden Laquerwear | People come from all over to buy Takayama’s Inden, which is usually leather (often deerskin) decorated with lacquer. You can find some beautiful pieces in the shops around the old town. It’s also the method that was used to decorate samurai armour back in the day!

Sarubobo dolls | these cute little red monkey babies are all over Takayama, even on the sides of some of the buses. They were originally made by grandmothers as a form of good luck charm for their grandchildren during the long winter season in this area. You’ll find them in many colours, but the widespread red is my favourite.

Sashiko embroidery | there are some beautiful examples of this on display in the Hida Folk Village, where you can probably get the best appreciation of how the indigo-dyed fabrics change colour over time. Sashiko refers to the type of stitching that’s used to create multi-coloured designs on these base materials.

hand stitched embroidery, one of the crafts that takayama is known for
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sarubobo dolls, one of the most popular souvenirs in takayama japan
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embroidery on a kimono in takayama's museum
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Takayama is undoubtedly one of my favourite towns in Japan, and I now recommend it to everyone travelling to Japan for the first time. Do you have any questions about Takayama? Let me know in the comments below or come and find me on social media!

PLANNING A TRIP TO JAPAN?

With a unique culture and history, world-class skiing in winter and the incredible cherry blossom season, Japan is one of my favourite destinations. Check out these essential guides, travel tips, and more to help you plan your trip:

JAPAN ESSENTIALS | Everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t go anywhere without it! I use and recommend Safety Wing.

THOUGHTFUL TRAVEL | No matter where you go, try to always be aware of the fact that travel impacts the place and people that live there. Being a thoughtful traveller is more important than ever. Here are my top tips to make your trip a mindful one.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Love my photos and want to know how to take better shots on your own trips? Then my photography guide is for you. Here’s all the photography gear I use too. Want to buy one of my images? Head to the Print Store.

ESSENTIAL GEAR | You’ll find my travel essentials here, and a complete guide to all my hiking gear here.


a sarubobo doll sculpture on the streets of takayama japan
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