The Best Things to See and Do in Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a city that buzzes with history, culture and beauty. It's a place that once you visit, it leaves a lasting impression that you might not expect. Bursting with attractions that tell the tale of its past, it offers an unmissable experience for any traveller.
If you are wondering what to do in Nagasaki, there are countless sights to see. From the historic Oura Cathedral to the picturesque Mount Inasa, you can easily fill a few days in Nagasaki. Whether you're a history buff or a nature enthusiast, Nagasaki has something for everyone. And let's not forget about the food. Nagasaki's local cuisine is a culinary journey in itself.
An Insight into the History of Nagasaki
Understanding Nagasaki's past is key to appreciating its present. The city has seen some of the most significant events in world history, leaving it with a rich history and many interesting stories to tell. From its role as a prominent international trade port to the devastating impact of the atomic bombing, the city's history is as varied as it is profound.
Many of these historical narratives are beautifully preserved in the city's museums. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, for instance, provides a sobering look into one of the darkest chapters in human history. Meanwhile, the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture offers a broader look into the city's intriguing past.
Nagasaki as an International Trade Port
Nagasaki was one of the very few places in Japan that was open to foreign trade during the country's period of isolation. It was a hub of cultural exchange, where goods, ideas, and people from all over the world arrived in Nagasaki.
One of the most interesting aspects of this history is the introduction of new foods to Japan. A perfect example of this is the sponge cake, a sweet delight that was brought to Nagasaki by Portuguese traders. The dessert quickly became popular among the locals, symbolizing the city's openness to foreign influences.
Today, Nagasaki's legacy as an international trading port is still evident. Its vibrant, multicultural atmosphere is a testament to its past, making it a unique destination in Japan. The city's history and culture are deeply intertwined, creating a fascinating destination for travellers like me.
The Impact of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki
The atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, marked a profoundly tragic and transformative moment in world history. Its immediate impact was catastrophic and far-reaching. The bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man,” exploded with a force equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT, devastating the city. Within seconds, a massive fireball, followed by an immense mushroom cloud, rose over Nagasaki.
The blast obliterated much of the city, instantly killing tens of thousands of people and causing widespread destruction. Buildings were flattened, and fires engulfed the city, leading to further loss of life and extensive damage.
The long-term effects of the bombing were equally devastating. Those who survived the initial explosion, known as hibakusha, faced severe health issues like radiation sickness, chronic illness, and an increased risk of cancer.
The psychological impact on survivors was profound, with many suffering from trauma and stigmatization. The bombing also had significant geopolitical implications. This event marked the beginning of the nuclear age, leading to a global arms race and significant shifts in international relations.
In the years following, Nagasaki became a symbol of the horrors of nuclear warfare and a powerful advocate for peace and disarmament. Memorials and museums were established to commemorate the victims and educate future generations about the consequences of nuclear weapons.
The city's reconstruction was a testament to human resilience and the desire for peace, transforming a place of devastation into a beacon of hope and reconciliation.
Top Attractions & What to do in Nagasaki
There's something truly special about Nagasaki. This city, rich with history and brimming with diverse attractions, offers a unique blend of experiences that are sure to fill a few days. I was really surprised how much I loved Nagasaki. I visited because it was a good stop over and I wanted to do Battleship Island, but overall I stayed 2 more days than I planned because there was so much to see.
Whether you're a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or a food lover, Nagasaki has something for everyone. Here are some of the top attractions that you should definitely consider visiting.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
One of the most significant sites in Nagasaki is the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. This museum serves as a solemn reminder of the city's history, specifically the atomic bombing that occurred during World War II. Here, you can gain a deeper understanding of this dark period in Nagasaki's history through a collection of photographs, recovered artifacts, and compiled survivor accounts.
Items on display include clothing, furniture, and other personal possessions affected by the bombing. These everyday remnants of the tragedy provide a stark reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and the human suffering they cause. The stories of survivors add a deeply personal perspective to the events, leaving a profound impact on visitors.
Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is not just about remembering a tragic event, but also about understanding the importance of peace and the futility of war. It's a sobering experience that will likely stay with you long after your visit. I spent my time here moving from exhibit to exhibit mostly in tears but I would still highly recommend adding this to your Nagasaki itinerary.
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum Opening Times
The Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki is open over the following hours
September to April: 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (last admission 5pm)
May to August: 8:30am to 6:30 pm (last admission 6pm)
August 7th to 9th: 8:30 am to 8:00pm (last admission 7:30 pm)
Atomic Bomb Museum Nagasaki Entry Fees
Entry is 200 yen for adults and 100 yen for school children.
Nagasaki Peace Park
Located just 500 meters from the epicentre of the atomic bomb blast, Nagasaki Peace Park is another significant site in the city. The park is a place of tranquillity and remembrance, where visitors can reflect on the devastating impact of the bomb and the enduring hope for world peace.
The park is home to a collection of statues donated by countries around the world, each carrying a message of peace. Among these is the Peace Statue, a towering figure representing the spirit of peace and the victims of the atomic bomb. Standing tall amidst the lush greenery, it serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of peace.
Each year, a memorial ceremony is held in the park to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombing. The park, with its sea of flowers and peaceful atmosphere, provides a fitting location for this solemn event. Whether you visit to pay your respects or simply to enjoy the quiet beauty of the park, Nagasaki Peace Park is a must-see during your time in the city.
The 26 Martyrs Museum
One of the most significant places to visit in Nagasaki is The 26 Martyrs Museum. Located on Nishizaka Hill, this museum pays homage to the 26 Catholic Christians who were crucified in 1597. Their sacrifice marked a crucial point in the introduction of Christianity to Japan, and this museum serves as a poignant reminder of this part of history.
The museum is easily reachable, with a swift 10-minute walk from JR Nagasaki Station or a short ride on the tram line no 1 (blue) or 3 (red) to the Yachiyomachi Stop. Be aware however that the walk from the station is uphill and is reasonably steep.
Once there, you'll be greeted by a large memorial wall with reliefs of the martyrs, each one telling a unique story of faith and bravery.
Times and Entry Fees for The 26 Martyrs Museum
Visiting The 26 Martyrs Museum takes about an hour, and the entrance fee is quite affordable: 500 JPY for adults, 300 JPY for high school students and 150 JPY for children. They do have group fees for groups over 20 as well.
The Museum is open from 9am to 5pm everyday with the exception of the 3 days over New Year (December 31st to January 2nd).
Fancy A Full Day Tour Of Nagasaki?
Are you concerned that you won't get to see everything you want to in Nagasaki? The answer might be a full day tour. Check out these tours which visit all the main hot spots of Nagasaki. Alternatively consider a self guided audio tour which will allow you to do everything at your own pace.
Another must-see in Nagasaki is Glover Garden. This open-air museum is a collection of historic homes that transport you back to the late 1800s. Each house in the garden has its own charm, portraying a fascinating glimpse into Nagasaki's past when it was a bustling international trade port.
The homes are a collective set in side some stunningly beautiful gardens. Glover House is the oldest building of western style in Japan I believe. It was built by Thomas Glover who was a Scottish traders who moved to Nagasaki in response to the city opening its trade in the mid 1800's.
The other homes in the park have been relocated there from other parts of the city and the park itself has a great view of the port and city area and is a lovely area to walk around, sit and while the day away.
Strolling around Glover Garden is like stepping into a time machine. Whether you're a history buff or just looking for a peaceful place to unwind, you'll find Glover Garden an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon. There are restaurants and cafe's and moving walkways for those less able which allows you to avoid walking up the steps and hills. I had a lovely morning wandering around checking everything out and then of course, had coffee and cake!
Like Kyoto, there was quite a few young women and children who were dressed in the traditional Kimono's for their day out sightseeing.
Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium
There's something magical about the Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium, located around 30 minutes away from the city centre. The aquarium is home to a vast number of penguins, offering a unique opportunity to observe them both on land and underwater. Through the large viewing tanks, you can watch these playful creatures swim, dive, and interact with each other, providing a fascinating insight into their natural behaviour.
One of the main highlights of the aquarium is the dedicated feeding times during weekends. It's a joy to watch the penguins waddle over for their meal, and if you're travelling with children, they'll love the chance to feed the penguins themselves. It's a delightful experience that is guaranteed to leave you with wonderful memories of your visit.
While the penguins are the star attraction, the aquarium also houses other marine creatures like catfish, an anchovy tank and even a jellyfish tank. There's even a small beach nearby, perfect for those wishing to spend a day by the water after exploring the aquarium. All in all, the Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium offers a fun-filled day for the entire family.
How to get to Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium
From Nagasaki Station you can catch the Tramway No 3 to Hotarujaya, and then get on the bus to the Aquarium. I can't recall the bus number but its clearly marked and the people at the stop will help. Its Japan – everyone always helps!
Alternatively you can get the bus direct from Nagasaki Station which takes about 30 minutes.
Prices For Entry To Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium
General admission to the aquarium is 520 Yen. School students (all ages) are 310 Yen and they have discounts for groups as well.
Mount Inasa, often referred to as the best place for panoramic views over Nagasaki, is a must-visit location for any tourist. It's a great escape from the city's hustle and bustle. The view from the top is absolutely breath-taking, and it's no wonder they call it the '10 Million Dollar View'.
What makes Mount Inasa special, though, is the spectacular night view. When the sun goes down, the city lights up, creating a mesmerising spectacle that is said to be one of the best night-time viewing spots in Japan. It's truly a sight that you won't forget in a hurry.
Getting to the top of Mount Inasa is also part of the adventure. There’s a ropeway that will take you straight to the top and its right next door to Fuchi Shrine Station.
After the debarkle that was Mount Hokadate (snowed out!) I thought I would give this one a go. So it seems that even though the days were amazing, for the 3 hours that I rode the cable car and tried to check out the view, it poured raining. I don't mean it rained I mean it absolutely chucked down.
So sadly no photo's to show you of Mount Inasa, I can however recommend the hot chocolate the street vender serves just outside the Ropeway entry at the bottom of the mountain. OMG so good!
Operating between 09:00 and 22:00 all year round, with departures every 15 to 20 minutes, its easy to get up and down Mount Inasa.
Nagasaki's Chinatown, known as Shinchi Chinatown, is one of the oldest and most vibrant Chinatowns in Japan. Its history dates back to the late 16th century, when Nagasaki served as a crucial port for foreign trade.
Following Japan's period of national isolation, Nagasaki was one of the few Japanese cities that continued to engage in international trade, particularly with China. As a result, many Chinese traders and immigrants settled in the area, gradually forming what would become Shinchi Chinatown.
Over the centuries, this enclave grew in size and cultural significance, becoming a melting pot of Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Today, Nagasaki's Chinatown is a bustling, colourful district, renowned for its lively atmosphere, vibrant festivals, and, most notably, its unique cuisine. The area is particularly famous for its Chinese-Japanese food, offering a fusion of traditional Chinese dishes with unique Nagasaki flavors.
One must-try dish is Champon, a noodle soup blended with a variety of seafood and vegetables, which originated from Nagasaki's Chinatown and has become a local specialty.
Apart from its culinary delights, Shinchi Chinatown is also known for its annual celebrations, particularly during the Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival. During these times, the streets come alive with lion dances, dragon dances, and other traditional performances, creating a vibrant and joyous atmosphere.
Visitors can also explore various Chinese temples in the area, such as Kofuku-ji, the oldest Obaku Zen temple in Japan, which reflects the rich cultural and religious tapestry of the Chinatown.
Just south of Dejima is a charming, cobble-stone street known as Dutch Slope. Known in Japanese as Oranda Zaka, this historic path was once home to Dutch tradesmen and their families. However, the term ‘Dutch' in this context referred not just to those from the Netherlands, but to anyone from Europe or the West.
Many of these houses, dating back to 1859, still stand today and offer a unique glimpse into Nagasaki's history. Walking down Dutch Slope feels like stepping back in time, with its wooden European houses meticulously preserved.
Some of these residences have been restored and are open to the public, giving visitors a unique insight into how life was for these Europeans living in Japan. They provide a fascinating look at how these early settlers tried to create their own little European oasis amidst a foreign culture and country.
Visitors should expect to spend about 20 minutes exploring Dutch Slope. It is a single street that goes up the hillside above the port in Nagasaki so there isn't heaps to explore.
Despite what it sounds like, it wasn't just Dutch who lived there. The Dutch had been the only while people in the country for the last two hundred years, so the term Dutch just mean westerners really. It was a nice walk but I must admit I expected a lot more architecturally. It was a nice wander but I would just include it in your walk home from Clover Gardens rather than make a concerted effort to just visit Dutch Slope.
Gunkanjima (Battleship) Island
Another fascinating attraction in Nagasaki is Gunkanjima, also known as Battleship Island. Officially named Hashima, this deserted island is located about 15 kilometers off the coast of Nagasaki. It earned its nickname due to its resemblance to a battleship.
This once bustling coal mine island is now a hauntingly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site, bearing silent witness to a bygone era. Tours to the island operate daily and it is definitely worth the trip.
The island's eerie silhouette has even served as inspiration for the James Bond movie Skyfall. Despite its desolate appearance, Battleship Island is a fascinating piece of Nagasaki's history that shouldn't be missed. Learn more about how to get to Battleship Island in this post.
Tours that visit Gunkanjima Island
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Among the many attractions in Nagasaki, a visit to Oura Cathedral, also known as Oura Church, offers a different perspective of the city's history and culture. This Catholic church, dating back to 1886, is a great example of the city's rich blend of local and foreign influences.
Unlike many traditional Japanese structures in the city, Oura Church highlights the Western architectural styles that have influenced Nagasaki. The church's intricate design and impressive structure immediately catch the eye, making it a must-see for anyone visiting the city.
More than just a place of worship, Oura Church is a symbol of Nagasaki's resilience and cultural diversity. It's a unique blend of history, culture, and architecture, making it one of the city's most notable highlights.
Its right next to Clover Garden so easy to find and visit.
Visiting Hours for Oura Church (Basilica)
The church is open for visitors from 8:30 am to 6pm, however during winter it closes at 5:30pm.
Admission Fees for Oura Cathedral
General admission is 1000 Yen for Adults.
Students (junior high and high school) is 400 Yen
Primary school children are 300 Yen
Like most places in Japan they do offer group discounts.
The do ask that you turn your phone to silent and no photography is allowed. Also please dress respectfully as this is an operating church.
Unmissable Local Food in Nagasaki
When it comes to dining in Nagasaki, the city offers a smorgasbord of culinary delights that are sure to tantalise your taste buds. Whether you're a foodie or just a casual diner, there are a few dishes that are simply a must-try.
Nagasaki's culinary scene is a reflection of its vibrant history, with influences from Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese cultures. Apart from the traditional Japanese dishes, you'll find a variety of unique foods that are synonymous with the city. So, make sure you bring your appetite along on this journey.
While you're here, don't forget to explore the local markets for some fresh produce. The local seafood is especially popular and is used in many of the city's signature dishes. With a plethora of dining options available, you're sure to find something to satisfy your cravings.
The Famous Nagasaki Champon
One dish you absolutely must try in Nagasaki is Champon. This hearty noodle dish is a local favourite and a perfect example of Nagasaki's diverse culinary influences. With its rich flavours and hearty ingredients, Champon is a meal in itself and is sure to leave you feeling satisfied.
This dish originated from the Goto Islands, where it was created as a cheap and nourishing meal for Chinese students studying in the city. Today, it's a beloved Nagasaki staple and can be found in restaurants all over the city.
Champon is made by stir-frying a medley of vegetables, seafood, and meat, which are then added to a rich pork broth. This is then served with thick, hearty noodles. Each bite is a burst of flavour, making it a comforting and satisfying meal. So, when in Nagasaki, be sure to indulge in this local delicacy. It is REALLY good!
Try a Street Food Tour Of Nagasaki
Jump onto a walking tour of the best street food Nagasaki has to offer.
Practical Information for Visiting Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a city bursting with attractions and sights, so I recommend planning at least a two-day visit to fully experience what it has to offer. The city is well laid out, and once you're in one area, it's easy to walk from one attraction to the next.
For those who only have one day, focusing on the most famous attractions like the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park is a good idea. However, if you can spare more time, I strongly suggest exploring more of this vibrant city and its many unique features.
How to Reach Nagasaki
Getting to Nagasaki is straightforward. If you're travelling within Japan, the train is a convenient and efficient mode of transport. The city is well-connected to other major cities, making it accessible for both local and international travellers.
Alternatively, you can also reach Nagasaki by air or bus. The city's airport services both domestic and international flights, while the bus system offers an affordable and simple way to travel. No matter how you choose to get there, you're sure to enjoy the journey.
Getting to Nagasaki by Train
Travelling to Nagasaki city by train is one of the most convenient ways to reach this historical destination. Japan's extensive railway system offers direct lines to Nagasaki, making the city easily accessible from various parts of the country. From Tokyo, you can take the Shinkansen to Hakata station and then transfer to the Kamome limited express train. This journey takes about seven hours in total.
From Osaka, the journey to Nagasaki is somewhat similar. You would need to catch the Shinkansen to Hakata station and then switch to the Kamome limited express. This trip takes approximately five hours. The bullet trains are known for their punctuality and comfort, ensuring a smooth journey for travellers.
The JR Pass can be an economical choice if you're planning to travel extensively within Japan. It covers all JR train lines and is available for periods of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days. It's important to note, however, that you must purchase the JR Pass before arriving in Japan.
Getting to Nagasaki by Air
Another convenient way to reach Nagasaki is by air. The city is served by Nagasaki Airport, which is located about 18 kilometres north of the city centre. The airport offers both domestic and international flights, making it a viable option for those travelling from afar.
Direct flights are available from Tokyo, Osaka, and other major cities within Japan. International connections are also possible, with flights from cities such as Hong Kong. The journey from Hong Kong to Nagasaki takes approximately four hours. Once you land at Nagasaki Airport, you can take a bus or taxi to your accommodation in Nagasaki.
It's worth noting that Nagasaki Airport is relatively small compared to other airports in Japan. Despite its size, it offers a range of facilities, including car rental services, restaurants, and shops. If you're looking for convenience and speed, flying to Nagasaki might be the best option for you.
Getting to Nagasaki by Bus
For those who love a scenic ride, reaching Nagasaki by bus is a great option. While it might not be as fast as a plane or train, it offers a unique opportunity to witness the picturesque landscapes of Japan.
Long-distance buses, also known as highway buses, connect Nagasaki to several major cities in Japan. I've found that these buses are not just cost-effective but also comfortable, with reclining seats and onboard amenities like free Wi-Fi and charging points. The key cities from where you can catch a bus to Nagasaki include Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka. The journey durations vary, of course, depending on the departure city. From Fukuoka, for instance, it's roughly a 2-3 hour trip.
Booking a bus ticket to Nagasaki is fairly straightforward. I usually book online through one of the many bus ticketing websites, which provide detailed schedules and prices. Some sites even offer English language options which make the process easier for non-Japanese speakers like me. It's important to remember though, that buses can get busy during peak travel seasons, so it's advisable to book in advance to secure a seat.
I went from Nagasaki to Fukuoka by bus and it was a great trip. Just over 2 hours the bus was really comfortable and while it follows the train route very closely, so you do see similar things, it was a scenic trip and very easy to do. You want to book at ticket to Hakata Bus Terminal if you are going to do this trip.
Wrapping up Your Nagasaki Adventure
As my journey in the city of Nagasaki came to an end, I can confidently say that the city is rich with history, beauty, and has a unique culture that really surprised me.
Nagasaki is famous not only for its tragic past but also for its resilience and ability to rise from the ashes, a testament to the indomitable spirit of its people.
Even after spending several days in the city, I was surprised at how much I liked Nagasaki. With attractions spread out all over the city, it's best to plan your itinerary well to make the most of your visit. If you have only a day in Nagasaki, I recommend focusing on the most significant attractions like the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.
Where to stay in Nagasaki
I stayed at the Nagasaki Orion Hotel, just across from the main railway station so it was a nice walk for me to and from Glover Gardens and Dutch Slope. I visited the area in the afternoon so I was able to stop at Chinatown on the way home for some dinner!
Re my hotel: At the time the hotel had what they call “Business Man's Rooms” for $35 AUD per night. They are just single rooms really and while it's not anything to rave about it was central, clean and the desk clerk gave me heaps of local advice while practicing his English. I believe its about $60 now which is about twice what you will pay for a dorm bed.
Japanese hostels are usually very good and it was only that the private room was the same price as a hostel bed that I chose the luxury of a room to myself.
In retrospect, my time in Nagasaki was an enriching experience. The city has a deep history, from its time as an international trade port during Japan's period of national seclusion to its tragic bombing in World War II. But it's also a city of vibrant life, fascinating attractions, and delicious food.
While Nagasaki is often overlooked by visitors to Japan, if you have the chance to visit I would thoroughly recommend it.