What to do in Kanazawa, the streets of Higashi Chaya District

What to do in Kanazawa, Japan

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Japan has this magnetic pull that will just keep drawing you in – the rich culture, stunning cities, tempting food, and the allure of those picture-perfect islands – are all tough to resist! After making the rounds in Tokyo, exploring Kyoto and ticking off the other heavy-hitters, it’s always worth taking some time to discover fresh, lesser-visited corners of this enchanting country… why not start with Kanazawa?

Enter the Ishikawa Prefecture – the quieter region perched on the coast of Honshu island, gazing out over the Sea of Japan. It may well not be on your radar for your Japan holiday, but it should be. This quieter spot is often overlooked by tourists, making it the perfect place to visit on your Japan holiday if you’re after an authentic and less crowded experience.

From enchanting gardens to stunning historical sites, Kanazawa has a plenty of must-visit sights and stunning gardens to keep you busy. Read on for our quick guide on what to do in Kanazawa.

Things to do in Kanazawa - Kenrokuen Gardens

Discover Kanazawa, Ishikawa’s capital city

Discover the real Kanazawa – a lesser-visited Japanese city alive with rich cultural heritage and modern sights. Once the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan during the Edo Period, unlike many Japanese cities, Kanazawa escaped World War Two bombings, so the ancient streets of the Nagamachi samurai and chaya entertainment district are incredibly well preserved.

Affectionately known as ‘Little Kyoto’, Kanazawa is the place to sample the local sake, explore the contemporary art scene, or even try your hand at gold leaf crafts, there’s something for everyone. Known as Japan’s ‘Garden City’, it’s packed full of stunning landscaped gardens to find your zen in, ancient neighbourhoods to amble through and countless museums to explore – it’s Kyoto-esque, without the crowds.


How to get to Kanazawa

Nowhere is difficult to reach in Japan. And similarly, reaching Kanazawa is a breeze! If you’re coming from Tokyo, the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train whisks you to Kanazawa in just over two and a half hours, (super efficiently and in ultimate comfort – of course!) It also makes a great stop-off between Tokyo and Kyoto. You could even pay a visit to the beautiful Takayama and the historical village of Shirakawa-Go en route.


Shirakawa Go Japan holiday


10 things to do in Kanazawa

1. Step back in time in Kanazawa’s Higashichaya district

The meticulously preserved neighbourhood of Higashi-chaya is the perfect place to take a stroll and immerse yourself in Japan’s history. A chaya is a traditional restaurant or teahouse, where throughout the Edo period, geishas would perform songs and dances for guests. These beautifully preserved Edo-architecture teahouses line the cobbled streets, so settle in, treat yourself to a warming cup of matcha, and soak up the ancient ambience through the intricate lattice windows.

Back in the 19th century, Higashi-chaya was the place to go for entertainment in Kanazawa if you were lucky enough to be considered an aristocrat. Even today, a visit to the Higashi-chaya district is like a  journey through time, allowing you to see ancient Japan, first-hand. With a cup of macha in hand, of course.

Kanazawa has three of these beautifully preserved slices of history. Higashi-chaya definitely has the most to explore, but if you’re particularly interested in Edo-architecture and geisha culture, visit Kazuemachi (all of the beauty, with far fewer crowds and just a 5-minute walk from Higashi-chaya) and Nishi Chayagai before you leave, too!


things to do in Kanazawa

2. Find your zen in Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens

Get lost in the living masterpiece and beauty of Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s finest gardens. Nestled in the heart of Kanazawa, and with its origins tracing all the way back to the 17th century, this vibrant garden is the perfect place to soak up a bit of nature and breathe in the serenity, right in the heart of the city.


things to do in Kanazawa

A quick 15-minute bus ride from Kanazawa Station, Kenrokuen offers a vivid display of flowers, winding streams, fountains, bridges, ponds, and cozy teahouses, it’s a great place to escape for a few hours.

Whatever month of the year you’re visiting, the gardens are magic. If you’re visiting in spring, you might even be lucky enough to be greeted by a wall of cherry blossom. An autumn visit is equally as rewarding, with the gardens bursting to life in hues of reds and orange. If winter is your season of choice, you’ll see the pines have been supported by extra sticks of bamboo (yukitsuri – meaning ‘snow-hanging’), to help them support any snowfall.


things to do in Kanazawa - gardens


3. Explore Seisonkaku Villa, a traditional Japanese home nestled in Kenrokuen Gardens

Seisonkaku Villa was built by Maeda Nariyasu, the 13th great lord (daimyo) of the Kaga clan. He built the traditional two-story home in Kenorkuen Gardens to make sure his mother had a beautiful place to see out her days, and you can really tell that every part of it was constructed with love. There are ornate illustrations hidden throughout the rooms and even intricate covers made to cover the nail heads. No thought was spared in the building of this villa! If you’ve got a spare hour or so in Kanazawa and really fancy stepping back in time, head to Seisonkaku Villa.

4. Stop off for some street food at Omicho Market

There are so many things to do in Kanazawa, that you’re going to need to stop for some sustenance!

Fancy, upscale multi-course dining (kaiseki) is hugely popular in Kanazawa, but its street food offerings shouldn’t be overlooked! Head to the vibrant, covered streets of Omicho Market, just a short stroll from Kanazawa Castle to sample some street food delicacies. Don’t miss the local speciality, kaizen-don. These delicious rice bowls are topped with an array of fresh and raw seafood such as shrimp, snow crabs, and eel and are a must-try during your time in Kanazawa. Not sure which of the many stalls to choose from? That’s simple, follow the locals and pick the longest queue!

things to do in Kanazawa


5. Treat yourself to Japan’s luxury Kaiseki cuisine

Omicho Market is a great option for lunch, but when dinner rolls around, we hugely recommend treating yourself to an experience of Kaiseki cuisine when in Kanazawa. Expect food so beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it. Try Kincha-ryo, Kanazawa Gyokusentei or Zeniya for a truly memorable Kaiseki dining experience in Kanazawa. Make sure you bring your appetite, because a Kaiseki lunch consists of many, many courses.

things to do in Kanazawa Japan

6. Celebrate Kanazawa at the Annual festival, Hyakumangoku Matsuri

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Japan in June, don’t miss the chance to experience Kanazawa’s liveliest celebration, taking place every first Saturday of the month. You’ll be transported back in time to the Edo Period as the city streets come alive with thousands of dancers, drummers, and performers dressed in traditional dress. Celebrating Kanazawa’s historic roots, the festivities start at Kanazawa Station early afternoon and wind their way along the streets until they reach the magnificent Kanazawa Castle. Even after the main parade ends around 6 pm, the city stays alive with the buzz of locals, all donning vibrant yukata and kimono, celebrating their city and revelling in the festive atmosphere. If you’re in Kanazawa in June, you’re in for a treat.

7. Take a Kanazawa Craft Tour

Tap into your creativity and uncover the artistry of the Ishikawa Prefecture with a Kanazawa craft tour. Explore the delicate world of gold leaf at the Yasue Gold Leaf Museum in Higashi-chaya (Kanazawa produces an incredible 99% of Japan’s gold leaf!), witness the pottery prowess at the Ohi Museum and discover the intricate beauty of lacquerware at the Wajima Lacquerware Museum. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, immerse yourself in the rich local heritage, experiencing traditional techniques such as kimono-dying and maki-e lacquerware decoration. If you’re the crafty type, this tour would be the perfect thing to do in Kanazawa.



8. Explore the Nagamachi Samurai District

Similar to the Chaya districts mentioned above, the Nagamachi district is a must-visit in Kanazawa – especially if you want to really experience the history and culture of the Ishikaw region. Found really close to Kanazawa Castle, this neighbourhood was home to the samurai and their families.

Nomura Samurai Residence things to do in Kanazawa

There are a handful of different museums to explore, don’t miss the Nomura Samurai House, but the main draw here is the chance to walk around the streets, step back in time, and soak up the ancient samurai culture. Japan’s big cities are special places to visit, but there’s a genuine and authentic feel to wandering through the cobbled streets of Japan’s historical past.

things to do in Kanazawa Japan


9. A tea ceremony in Gyokuysen-Inmaru Garden

You can’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the ancient art of the tea ceremony during your time in Japan. Whilst in Kanazawa, the beautiful Gyokuysen-Inmaru Gardens are the perfect place to do so. Wander down a path lined with stone lanterns and majestic pine trees, leading to Gyokusen-an’s traditional teahouse with its traditional, classic screen walls. You’ll be seated on a tatami mat and served a traditional matcha tea by your kimono-clad host. Your tea will be served with wagashi, a local sweet treat made from layers of brightly coloured bean paste in the shape of mountains and seasonal fruits. This whole experience is as authentic and meditative as it is tasty, it’ll be a highlight of your time in Kanazawa.

things to do in Kanazawa tea ceremony

9. Explore Kanazawa after dark

This ‘Kanazawa After Dark‘ guided tour is a great one if you’re keen to learn all about Kanazawa’s unique history and culture, and introduce your belly to some of the best food you can find in the city. As the day draws to a close, you’ll head out with your guide to explore the mazes of narrow alleyways in this historic part of the city. Keep an eye out for the local Geisha, who still to this day entertain guests behind the wooden facades of the teahouses. You’ll be treated to tales from times gone by as you explore, before heading to a local izakaya (casual Japanese restaurant) to enjoy a delicious meal longside the locals that call the city home.


Kanazawa by night - 48 hours in Kanazawa


Where to stay in Kanazawa

Sainoniwa, Kanazawa

Where to stay in Kanazawa

Tucked away down Kanazawa’s peaceful residential streets, Sainoniwa is a cozy hotel offering public baths with beautiful garden views, charming lounge areas, and little details we love – complimentary ice lollies anyone?! It’s a little way away from the action, but a free shuttle to Kanazawa Station makes exploring the city a breeze.


Hotel Nikko

Where to stay in Kanazawa - Hotel Nikko

If you’re looking to be in the center of the action, and if you’re partial to a view that’ll knock your socks off – Hotel Nikko is a great choice. Perched at the very top of Hokuriku’s tallest building, this opulent hotel boasts unparalleled views across Kanazawa. It’s also perfectly positioned in city for getting out and exploring what Kanazawa has to offer.


Kanazawa Tokyu Hotel

Where to stay in Kanazawa - Hotel Tokyu

The perfect spot for exploring Kanazawa’s attractions, Tokyu Hotel is a great mid-range choice for your stay in Kanazawa. Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, and museums are all on the doorstep, plus it’s close to the historic Nagamachi district. The restaurant is great, as is the bar – it’s a great hotel to retreat too after a busy day of Kanazawa adventures.



If a real, authentic Japan adventure is on your wishlist, Kanazawa and the wider Ishikawa region could make the perfect addition to your holiday. Our Japan expert, Fenton, knows all there is to know about Japan (we’re serious… the language, the samurai history, the films, the food… he knows his stuff). So, get in touch today on 01242 253 073, or request a quick quote here to get the ball rolling on your Japan holiday.

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