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Kanazawa Day Trip from Kyoto

When we travel to Japan we  base out of 2-3 cities to minimize time changing accommodation and take day trips using the amazing rail system to maximize what we get to see.  Trains between cities as opposed to commuter trains are so comfortable it is easy to start early and return later in the evening to give enough time at the destination.  Kyoto is my favourite city in Japan to base in and Kyoto Station is a great hub for taking day trips.  With the JR Pass and a bit of research we set off on a 250km day trip to Kanazawa on the northern coast.

Getting from Kyoto to Kanazawa

Using the Thunderbird Limited Express the trip took just over 2 hours each way, if you have the JR Pass the full trip is included on that and we were able to prebook seats from the desk in Kyoto station.  Without the pass a standard unreserved seat is around Y6200 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 the sightseeing bus (Y500) which circuits around the main sightseeing attractions in the city every 12 minutes.  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 and opens up other options if you have time.

Kanazawa’s Geisha District

First stop is the Higashi geisha district in the north east of the city, unlike the areas in Kyoto there are a couple of old O-chaya in this area open as tea houses and one as a museum that you look though.  We went through the Shima teahouse which has been beautifully maintained and preserved with many antiques associated with the geisha performance and traditions on display.

Higashi is one of three Geisha districts in Kanazawa, it’s a beautifully historical area and I understand if you are lucky you can sometimes glimpse a Geisha in the early evening heading out to an appointment.  I’d definitely go back there to wander around in the evening if we’d been staying in Kanazawa but on our day trip we ran out of time.

Shima Ochaya in Kanazawa
Shima Ochaya in Kanazawa


Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa
Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa

 Kenrokuen Garden

A short bus ride later we have the entrance to Kanazawa castle over the bridge to our right and Kenrokuen Gardens to our left, we head into the gardens first.  Kenrokuen gardens are noted for being one of Japans top three gardens and they are beautiful.  An interesting feature during our 2012 visit was the presence of Ume (plum blossoms) and Sakura (cherry blossoms) together in the garden due to the long cold winter, normally the Ume are well and truly done by the time the Sakura are blooming.

The gardens are open from 7am to 6pm during Spring and entry is Y300.




Kanazawa Castle

After a stop for a warming lunch in a nearby restaurant we headed over to the castle.  Of the original castle founded in 1583 only the Ishikawa gate dating back to 1788 is original, the castle itself is an authentic replica having burned down several times during it\’s history.  Entrance to the castle grounds is free and as we had been inside the original castles at Hikone and Himeji we didn\’t go into the turrets and storehouses this time.  The castle grounds also have some great cherry trees which had probably just passed their best when we visited but were still looking really good.

Kanazawa castle
Kanazawa castle
Kanazawa castle

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.

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 was intil later that it was moved to its present location.  The impressive entry gate had earlier stood at the castle and was also moved to the present location.

Oyama Jinja
Oyama Jinja
Oyama Jinja


Oyama Jinja

Oyama Jinja

 Omi-Cho Market

Headed back to the train we found 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 seafood, every type of crab seems to be the specialty here but there was a good range of fish and other seafood too.

We had originally planned to stay in Kanazawa for dinner so were a bit disappointed not to try one of the restaurants but had another early start planned for the next day so decided instead to get a couple of the most amazing Obento boxes of local fresh seafood sushi to eat on our two hour trip back to Kyoto on the train.  We’ve had some pretty good sushi in the past in Japanese restaurants and around the Tokyo fish market but this was right up there with the best; simple and wonderfully fresh.



Kanazawa is a beautiful city, an attractive blend of modern and traditional.  What attracts you to this part of Japan?


  • 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.

    • 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).

  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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. .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.

  • 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?

    • 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!

  • 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?

  • I can only take one day trip from Kyoto on a upcoming trip to Kyoto. Would you go to kanazawana or himinji castle? I’m having a tough time deciding.

    • Ohh tough choice, Himeji castle is less travelling and great if you enjoy the history and architecture of that feudal period. It does have beautiful extensive gardens including Kokoen but the castle is the main attraction in Himeji unless you have time to get out of the city a bit perhaps to Mt Shosha. Kanazawa on the other hand has several well preserved and still operational geisha districts and the garden is one of the top three in Japan, a well deserved title, there are some nice temples and shrines including the interesting Ninja temple (not a theme activity it just was built with secret doors and hatches) but Kanazawas castle while impressive especially in the size of the grounds, is a recreation. We enjoyed the markets and the food in Kanazawa, I thought the sushi here was even better than around the famed Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. We enjoyed both cities and in your position not having seen either I would also find it a tough choice, but the one we will return to would be Kanazawa for the diversity of what to see and do.

  • Thanks for your great photo’s and info!
    I have 3 weeks in Japan coming up in November, my 3rd visit, and I have not been to Kanazawa next.
    I have been researching it for a few weeks on other websites and on Youtube, and I wasn’t sure if I should go or not, but after reading your info and the photos, I have changed my mind and will go.
    I am going from Mt Fuji area (unfortunately back to Tokyo Station and then across, and then from Kanazawa to Osaka via the Thunderbird train. I plan on spending 1 1/2 half days there which should be enough?

    • Yes I think the day and a half would be perfect, we found the day trip was fabulous but we missed a couple of stops that we would have included had we had those extra couple of hours. Have a wonderful time, Japan really is a country that just keeps calling you back.

      • That is a great way to put it, as I have thought the same thing.
        Both times when I have arrived back in Australia, it actually feels like Japan is calling me back in some strange spiritual way.
        I ended up booking a nice little Ryokan not far from Kanazawa station for a good price for 2 nights. I’m hoping the Autumn colours will be in full effect in early November!

        • Fingers cross for you on those colours – will be an amazing place to see them. I would love to hear which Ryokan and what you thought of it after your stay, we’ll definitely be back up that way again.

  • Wonderful blog, loving the extra details you give – it just whets my apetite! Looking forward to a couple of days there in Kanazawa in January. In the winter it will be all snowy and pretty too.

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