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Top Things to do in Kanazawa – Day Trip from Kyoto

Kanazawa is a beautiful, welcoming city with a great history, one of Japan’s best gardens and it offers incredible seafood. It’s a big statement, but we think we possibly had our best sushi here. There are so many things to do in Kanazawa, as a day trip from Kyoto can be a great option and with the opening of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, a day trip from Tokyo is now also viable.

Geisha district in Kanazawa
Higashi Geisha district in Kanazawa

Read More: If you are interested in Kanazawa you may enjoy some of our other recommended day trips from Kyoto.

You might also consider an overnight stop here between Tokyo and Kyoto taking the longer route around the top but it adds in a few very interesting options along the way including Kanazawa and Nagano.

When travelling in Japan we find it can be very helpful to base yourself out of 2 or 3 cities to minimize the time spent changing between accommodations and to maximise the time you have available to explore using the amazing rail system. 

Trains between cities are so much more comfortable than commuter trains and it is easy to start early and return later in the evening to give plenty of time at the destination, usually including staying for an early dinner and evening walk if there are light-ups or other events.  If you are thinking you may get one of the last trains out in the evening, make sure you know what time that is and with the JR Pass, we usually book that ahead to ensure a good seat and no complications at the end of a great day.

Kyoto is one of our favourite cities in Japan to base from in this way because of its proximity to many other cities and because Kyoto Station is a great hub for taking day trips.  With the JR Pass and some research, we had no problems making the 250km day trip to Kanazawa on the northern coast.

Getting from Kyoto to Kanazawa

Using the Thunderbird Limited Express the trip takes just over 2 hours each way and if you have the JR Pass the cost of the tickets is included on that, you can also book your seats for your chosen date at the desk in Kyoto station.  Without the pass, a standard unreserved seat is around Y7020 each way.

On arrival we made a quick stop at the information centre just outside the station to pick up an English map and bought a day ticket to use the sightseeing bus (Y500) which circuits around the main sightseeing attractions in the city every 12 minutes. 

Kanazawa loop bus
One of the Kanazawa loop buses

In hindsight we could have easily walked without losing much time, we only ended up using the bus to get to the Higashi Geisha District and then to Kenrokuen gardens but it’s excellent value, super cute and does enable you to save a bit of time especially if you want to backtrack between attractions during the day.

Things to do in Kanazawa

1. Kanazawa’s Geisha District

We started at one of the furthest stops from Kanazawa station and worked our way back in, this was also the area we wanted to visit before it got too busy later in the day. The Higashi geisha district is in the northeast of the city, unlike the Geisha districts in Kyoto there are a couple of historic O-chaya in this area that open as tea houses and one as a museum that you can talk a look through. 

The Shima teahouse museum has been beautifully maintained and preserved with many antiques associated with the geisha performance and traditions on display. It was well worth the small entrance fee.

Shima Ochiya (teahouse museum) in Kanazawa
Interior courtyard of the Shima Teahouse

Higashi is one of three Geisha districts in Kanazawa, it’s a beautiful historical area and I understand if you are lucky you can sometimes glimpse a Geisha in the early evening heading out to an appointment.  Whether or not you pass a geisha it would be a beautiful area to wander around in the evening if you’re staying in Kanazawa.

Higashi Geisha district in Kanazawa

 2. Kenrokuen Garden

You can get back on the loop bus for a few minutes from the Geisha district or walk 15-minutes to Kenrokuen Gardens. The gardens are on your left as you arrive and almost opposite is the main entrance gate to the castle. If you are doing the day trip circuit we suggest doing it in this order as you’ll walk through the castle grounds heading back toward town later in the day.

Teahouse in Kenrokuen gardens in Kanazawa
Tea house in the Kenrokuen gardens

Kenrokuen gardens are renowned as being one of Japan’s top three gardens and they really are beautiful.  One of the most striking features to me is the amount of water, everywhere there are lakes, ponds, waterfalls and small creeks flowing.

Creeks flow throughout Kenrokuen

An interesting feature we noticed here, possibly due to the microclimate in the gardens, was that the Ume (plum blossoms) and Sakura (cherry blossoms) were in flower together in the garden after the long cold winter. In most places, the plum blossom is well and truly finished by the time the cherry trees are blooming.

Garden view out across the valley in Kenrokuen

The gardens are open from 7 am to 6 pm during Spring and summer, and in winter and autumn from 8 am until 5 pm. Entry is Y300.

3. Relax over refreshments or lunch

There are a few restaurants and a couple of souvenir shops selling local crafts around this main entrance to the castle and garden. Like many castles and heritage attractions in Japan, there is a small shopping street that leads up to it that is also in a heritage style with a range of interesting stores, cafes and restaurants.

Heritage shopping street near Kanazawa castle

We decided to stop for lunch at this point in our day trip knowing we’d almost certainly exit the castle grounds by a different gate and there was a good choice here. On day trips we like our meals to be part of the experience rather than grabbing something on the run. We found a lovely little ‘mom and pop’ place and ordered lunch menu sets which were delicious but there are several other choices and you can sit out on the sidewalk tables with a drink or ice cream.

4. Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa castle was founded in 1546 but today only the Ishikawa-mon gate, Sanjikken Yagura, the Tsurumaru Storehouse and rock walls date back to feudal times. The Ishikawa-mon gate was built in 1788 and has been designated as an Important National Cultural Asset.

The other castle buildings are authentic replicas, the originals having burned down several times during its history. 

Kanazawa Castle

There is no fee to enter the castle grounds and as we had been inside the original castles at Hikone and Himeji we didn’t go into the turrets and storehouses here. If you won’t be visiting other castles you can access the Hishiyagura Turret, Gojukken Nagaya Warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura Turret here at a fee of Y320 for an adult.

Kanazawa castle
Kanazawa castle

The castle grounds and park are very pretty and if you visit in early spring it is another great spot in Kanazawa to enjoy the cherry blossom, from what we saw most here were a slightly earlier blooming variety to those in Kenrokuen so if you miss one you may catch the other in peak flower.

Kanazawa Castle park and stone walls

5. Omiya Jinja Shrine

Walking west after the castle we found and wandered through Omiya Jinja Shrine, one of the things I like best about walking in Japan is the things that you just find tucked away in quiet corners, this Shinto shrine had a lovely old strolling garden with a big pond that you could walk around on a path within the pond.

Oyama shrine garden - strolling pond

The shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the powerful, local Maeda Clan and was constructed in 1599 by Toshiie’s successor, Maeda Toshinaga on Mount Utatsu. It wasn’t until later that it was moved to its present location.  The impressive entry gate had earlier stood at the castle before being moved to the present location.

Oyama shrine gate
Garden entrance at Omiya Shrine

 6. Omi-Cho Market

Heading back towards the train station is Omi-Cho market, a local fresh produce market.  There are also lots of smaller places to eat within it and being on the northern coast there was a lot of really fresh seafood, every type of crab seems to be the specialty here but there was a good range of fish and other seafood too.

Omicho market - crabs
Omicho market - mushrooms

This can be a great option to have an early dinner before heading back to the train station and on to Kanazawa but it isn’t your only option. You will pass a few places on the way back and a few more in and around the station.

7. Kanazawa Station

It is a flat 15-minute walk back to the station from the market, keep walking straight down Kanazawa Ekidori Avenue, you can’t miss it.

Kanazawa station

The station has the usual mix of shops and eateries, there is a Starbucks outside the main entrance and we’ve picked up some mixed packs of deliciously fresh sushi at a great price at a kiosk inside to enjoy as train snacks on the trip back to Kyoto.

This station is of course now a shinkansen station on the Hokuriki line so it doesn’t take much longer to make your way all the way back to Tokyo so it is possible to include Kanazawa as a stop along the way between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Kanazawa is a beautiful city, a welcoming blend of modern and traditional.  If you are planning to head to this part of Japan for the first time what is it you are most looking forward to?

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Harlan

Thursday 18th of July 2019

Hi! From Kanazawa I would like to find a way to easily travel to a picturesque onsen village in the Japanese Alps. I do not want to drive. Are there any good ones on a train line? Or can I hire a taxi at a reasonable rate? I would like to spend two nights in a really nice village. Your advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Toni Broome

Saturday 20th of July 2019

Hi Harlan. In general in Japan we've found the taxi's to be similarly priced to Australia (for most of the world that's quite expensive) we use them for a short hop from station to the hotel with luggage but they are an expensive way to travel a longer distance. An option I'd consider for Kanazawa is the towns of Kaga Onsen in Ishikawa Prefecture. The Thunderbird Limited Express train takes 25 minutes to Kaga Onsen station from Kanazawa then there is the loop bus (Can Bus) that loops once an hour through the 4 onsen towns and other attractions (a bus pass is Y1200 for 2 days).

Poh Ow

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

Hi Can you advise on a day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka, is it possible to stop at Kobe Or Okayama. From Kyoto when we check out wonder if it is a idea to go to Takayama for a night via Fukui, Kanazawa and Toyama so that can go to the world heritage site the next day. Then proceed to Nagoya then Tokyo and to Shinnagawa for 3 few nights. Thanks

Toni Broome

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

Kobe and Okayama are stops on the shinkansen train route between Osaka and Hiroshima so it is technically possible. However although I enjoy visits to all of these cities, it would be difficult for us to fit 2 into a single day given the commute time. Hiroshima itself is a full day, especially if making the crossing to the island of Miyajima. We all have different travel styles though and it would depend how much you want to see in each place.

I have assumed you are planning this by train rather than by car? The route works by train but it is around 5.5 hours of travel alone so would leave very little time to see the sites in each of the 3 destinations along the way, again it will depend what you have planned for each and how far those sites are from the stations.

Enjoy your travels, it sounds like a fabulous trip.

Carolyne Thornton

Friday 6th of October 2017

Hi, I am going to be in Kyoto for 4 nights in mid December. I was originally going to stay in Kanazawa for 6 nights but was told it will likely be freezing and snowing. After reading your post I am thinking it might be worth a day trip from Kyoto (with 13 year old daughter). I am interested in the gardens and food and culture, not really worried about Temples. Do you think it would be worth it at this time of year, or would a day trip to Osaka be a better option? If I went to Osaka I would try to find something with a mix of gardens with autumn leaves and food and interesting markets.

2 Aussie Travellers

Saturday 7th of October 2017

That's a tough one Carolyne, the weather and autumn colour can be unpredictable things. On average it's unlikely to be snowing in Kanazawa in mid-December and technically not freezing but daytime highs are around 10c and overnight lows down in the single digits so it won't be warm either. I also rains a bit in December so you wouldn't expect the snow to be built up and impeding you getting around but if there is snow it's more likely to be the slushy stuff. I'll include a link to the long-range weather forecast site I use when planning our trips, it's not perfect but I've found it surprisingly accurate for such a long distance out. https://www.accuweather.com/en/jp/kanazawa-shi/224165/december-weather/224165?monyr=12/1/2017 .For culture and gardens I think Kanazawa is better and both cities have their own strengths for food but Osaka is much closer, as little as 30 minutes depending on where you're heading.

Chi Tran

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

I want to go to Kanzawa from Kyoto on the 26th but will need to meet up with a friend in Tokyo on the 27th. I was thinking of buying the Kansai KR Pass but that doesn't cover Kanzawa, do you have any recommendations for passes and stay? Should I stay in Kanazawa and move onto Tokyo after?

2 Aussie Travellers

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

Hi Chi, as you have already found the Kansai and JR West passes won't work for you getting to Kanazawa. As far as I know there is no pass other than the JR Pass and that makes no sense for just these fares. I am going to assume speed and using limited express / shinkansen is your intention and if so it would be cheaper and faster to go Kyoto-Kanazawa, stay the night and move on to Tokyo from there. The reason is that the time and cost to Tokyo is quite similar from either (167 minutes and Y13400 from Kyoto on the Hikari shinkansen or 152 minutes and Y13920 from Kanazawa on the Kagayaki shinkansen). Likely your room night in Kanazawa would also be lower than Kyoto, therefore, saving you the limited express fare back to Kyoto on the 26th. The downside is that you will have your luggage to contend with on the train both days (not a really big issue on these intercity trains) and you will need to drop it to your hotel or put it in a locker in Kanazawa before you go exploring but it will give you a more relaxed evening there to balance it out. Sounds fabulous, enjoy!

Linda

Wednesday 26th of July 2017

We are going to stay in Kyoto and have the opportunity to spend 3 to 4 days in Kyoto while taking 3 or 4 day trips to neighboring cities. We currently plan on spending time in Osaka and Nara but we are not sure about the other 1 or 2 day trips. Any suggestions?

2 Aussie Travellers

Thursday 27th of July 2017

Hi Linda, we love Kyoto as a base and day trips are a great way to see a bit more of the country. These are our top 10 day trips we recommend if you have Kyoto or Osaka as your base. https://www.2aussietravellers.com/10-of-the-best-day-trips-from-kyoto/ Nara and Osaka are great choices as they don't involve too much travel but there are quite a few options depending on your personal preferences.

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