20 Things To Do In Nagano

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Nagano is the capital and the largest city in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan. The site of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, there’s an array of fun things to do in Nagano. From visiting monkey parks to charming castles, tasting soba noodles and admiring magical fireflies, there’s a lot to see and do. Whether you decide to visit in summer or winter, you’ll find plenty to experience all year round.

Nagano, Japan

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20 Things To Do In Nagano

1- Photograph The Charming Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle With It’s Reflection In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Photographing the enchanting Matsumoto Castle is one of the popular things to do in Nagano.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most beautiful and complete original castles in Japan.

The castle survived the post-feudal ages with relatively little damage.

The main castle was built between 1592 and 1614.

It’s a wonderful place to visit if you want to learn more about Japanese history and if you want to check out the picturesque pink Somei Yoshino trees.

One of the best times to visit the castle is during cherry blossom season which is usually in early April.


Matsumoto Castle is at 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873.

2- Feel the Peace At Zenko-ji Temple

Dating back to the 7th century, Zenko-ji Temple is one of the most popular and important temples in Japan.

This site is important, as its home to one of the first Buddhist statues brought to Japan, when Buddhism was first introduced to the country in the 6th century.

Most of the year, you can just see a replica but every six years for a few weeks you can see the real thing.

The next expected year that you will be able to view the original statue is in 2028.

This temple is particularly fascinating as you can enter the underground passage in the basement of the temple.

Walking through the complete darkness is said to be the “key to paradise”.

Just behind the main hall there is also a more modern pagoda which houses the Zenkoji History Museum.

Zenko-ji Temple is at 491-イ, Motoyoshicho Nagano, 380-0851.

3- See Monkeys At Jigokudani Monkey Park

Japanese Snow Monkey Macaque In Hot Spring Onsen Jigokudan Park
Seeing the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of the things to do in Nagano winter.

The enchanting snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park must be on your Japan bucket list!

These wild monkeys or Japanese Macaques can usually be found bathing in the natural hot springs.

Their vibrant red faces and snow-filled fur make them extra adorable.

You will find this park in the forests of Jigokudani valley around 50 minutes’ drive from Nagano.

Despite the drive it’s well worth visiting and you will start to encounter monkeys as you make your way to the pool.

There’s also a small information centre where you can learn more about the monkeys.

You can certainly visit these monkeys all year round, but they are particularly cute between December and March when the area experiences snow.

Jigokudani Monkey Park is at 6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano 381-0401. Find out more here.

4- Appreciate Art At Matsumoto City Museum Of Art

This art museum is dedicated to artists who are associated with the city.

The biggest draw of this museum is the art created by Kusama Yayoi, a Matsumoto-born artist (born in 1929) who is well-known for her vibrant and colourful pieces.

One of her most famous pieces is the sculpture pumpkin on Naoshima Island.

As well as Yayoi’s art there are other paintings and sculptures.

The museum is filled with a series of rotating exhibitions by different artists.

Matsumoto City Museum of Art is at 4 Chome-2-22 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811.

5- See A Hokusai Masterpiece At Gaisho-In Temple

Gaisho-In Temple is home to one of the last masterpieces from Edo period artist Katsushika Hokusai.

The mural of a phoenix painting on the ceiling feels striking as it looks down at you.

The temple itself belongs to the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism and has been rebuilt three times but the temple you will visit today was built around 180 years ago.

The temple can be visited year-round, but it is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season.

Gaisho-In Temple is at 615 Karida, Obuse, Kamitakai District, Nagano 381-0211.

6- Stroll Along Nawate Street

If you fancy taking a stroll, then head to Nawate Street, which is a pedestrian-only street filled with cafes, eateries and shops.

Many of the shop’s structures date back to the Edo-period (between late 1700s and 1800s).

It’s a wonderful place to really get a feel for local Japanese life in both the past and today.

You can also head to Nakamichi where you will find local crafts and lacquerware.

7- Check Out The Hokusai Museum

The Hokusai Museum is home to a collection of paintings created by Katsushika Hokusai, who was an Edo-era Japanese painter and printmaker.

His wood block print series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” including “The Great Wave” are his most famous works.

Unlike many attractions in Japan, the Hokusai Museum displays some of the collection in English.

Watch a short video in English about the artist as it’s well-worth seeing the mastery behind Hokusai’s paintings.

Hokusai Museum is at 485 Obuse, 小布施町 Obuse, Kamitakai District, Nagano 381-0201.

8- Take A Tour Of Ishii Miso Brewery

Nagano is the largest producer of miso in Japan, which is an important element of Japanese cuisine.

Miso is a traditional seasoning made from fermented soybeans with salt and koji.

Whether it’s in soybean paste form or you are trying miso soup, you’ll find it in many dishes and restaurants.

Head to Ishii Miso Brewery and you can try this traditional delicacy.

This brewery is steeped in history, having been founded in 1868 at the end of the Edo era.

The same traditional methods that were used when they first opened are still used today.

The paste is usually made in wooden barrels where it ferments.

While at the brewery you can see the miso making process as well as enjoying a miso dinner of soup, rice balls and even miso ice cream.

Ishii Miso Brewery is at 1 Chome-8-1 Uzuhashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0813.

9- Taste Oyaki

Tasting Oyaki is one of the things to do in Nagano.

One of the most popular, traditional foods in Nagano is oyaki, which is a flour-based bun stuffed with yummy ingredients.

This bun is especially famous in the north of Nagano Prefecture.

Usually, oyaki is filled with vegetables and seasoned with miso and soy sauce.

Some popular fillings include eggplant and turnip leaves.

In Japan, it is difficult to find vegan food, but you can’t go wrong with oyaki.

You can find oyaki in any restaurants and street vendors around Nagano Prefecture or join this food tour.

10- Try The Famous Soba Noodles

Soba Noodles With Soup
Trying soba noodles is one of the things to do in Nagano.

Soba noodles are a popular type of buckwheat noodle eaten around Japan, but they are a specialty of Nagano Prefecture as buckwheat grows in abundance there.

Soba noodles are sometimes served hot and sometimes cold, usually served with a variety of seasonal and locally grown toppings.

Soba noodles are not hard to find in Nagano.

Whether you are at the train station or in a small village you will be able to pick up a dish of delicious soba noodles. You may also like to join this Izakaya Food Night Tour.

11- Relax At One Of Nagano’s Onsens

Snow Monkey
Relaxing in one of Nagano’s onsens is one of the cool things to do in Nagano winter.

Onsen is another word for a hot spring in Japan and either refers to the hot spring itself or the resort that has developed around the spring.

Japan’s natural volcanic activity has blessed the country with incredible mineral rich hot springs.

Hot springs have played an important role in Japanese life for hundreds of years.

Whether you are just looking to relax or indeed cure an illness, then an onsen is a wonderful place to visit.

Of all of Japan’s Prefectures, Nagano has the second highest number of hot springs (around 200 in total).

Whether you’ve just been on a hike or just simply want to treat yourself, the onsen is the perfect way to relax.

Some of the best Onsen include Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen, Yudanaka Onsen and Akakura Onsen.

12- Enjoy Skiing Or Snowboarding At Iizuna Resort

Skiing, Downhill
Going skiing or snowboarding is one of the fun things to do in Nagano in winter.

If you are visiting Nagano in winter and fancy a spot of skiing, then you must head to Iizuna Resort.

The ski resort is on the eastern slopes of Mount Iizuna, north of Nagano City.

There are two pair lifts and a quad lift that goes to 1719m.

The lower section of the slope is often open for floodlit night skiing between Tuesday and Saturday.

There’s also a bobsleigh and luge facility that was used during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

Iizuna Resort is at 2755-209 Kawakami, Iizuna, Kamiminochi District, Nagano 389-1226.

13- Wander Around Nagano Prefectural Art Museum

Another excellent art museum is the Nagano Prefectural Art Museum in Hakoshimizu, where you will find an array of rotating exhibits that showcases fine art.

The artists with work on display are mostly from or have some connection to Nagano Prefecture.

Adjacent to the museum is also the Higashiyama Kaii Gallery which showcases Higashiyama’s work which was heavily inspired by the Nagano scenery.

If you are visiting Zenkoji Temple then this museum is just a five minute walk from there.

The Nagano Prefectural Art Museum is at 1 Chome-4-4 Hakoshimizu, Nagano, 380-0801.

14- Go Hiking Around Kamikochi

Kamikochi In Nagano Japan
Going hiking around Kamikochi National Park is one of the best things to do in Nagano in summer.

Kamikochi is a wonderful place to visit in the Northern Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture.

It should be noted that the park does close during winter because of heavy snow so you can only usually visit between 17 April and 15 November.

Kamikochi National Park is in the western part of Nagano Prefecture.

It covers the 15 km long plateau that stretches along the Azusa River at around 1,500 metres above sea level.

There are several impressively tall peaks in the area, including Nishihotakadake (2909 m / 9543 ft), Okuhotakadake (3190 m/10,465 ft), and Maehotakadake (3090 m/ 10137 ft).

Kamikochi is part of Chubu Sangaku National Park and it is relatively untouched with only a few hotels and shops for visitors.

15- Marvel At The Forest Shrine – Togakushi

Togakushi Shrine has a lower, middle and upper shrine and is surrounded by forested mountains.

It’s a beautiful and peaceful shrine to visit connected by walking trails that go up through the mountain forest.

When you arrive at the lower shrine, you will first head through the praying hall.

The middle shrine is surrounded by 800 year old trees.

There’s also an excellent trail that leads to Kagamiike (Mirror Pond) which offers wonderful views of mountain reflections.

Togakushi Shrine is at 3506 Togakushi, Nagano, 381-4101.

16- Take A Trip To Lake Aoki

Beautiful Lake
Taking a trip to Lake Aoki is one of the best things to do in Nagano.

Lake Aoki is in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture and it’s a wonderful place to visit for natural scenery.

The lake is at the south end of Hakuba Valley, and it’s known as one of the cleanest lakes in the whole of Japan.

The water is fed by the snowmelt from the northern Japan alps and if you visit the lake during spring, then the cherry blossom trees add a magical element to the lake.

While at the lake you should go swimming, paddleboarding or kayaking, camping and BBQing.

Lake Aoki is at Taira, Omachi, Nagano 398-0001.

17- Hike Or Ski At The Hakuba Valley

Hakuba Valley is mostly known for its winter sports but in summer this place is an excellent hiking spot in the Ushiro Tateyama mountain range in the Japanese Northern Alps.

There is an abundance of mountains, pristine lakes and hiking trails.

There are a variety of excellent hikes to choose from.

For a long multiday hike try heading from Tsugaike to Mount Shirouma and if you are travelling with kids, hike around Tsugaike National Park.

If you fancy treating yourself to an onsen at the end of your hike, try Yari.

18- Spot Magical Fireflies

Watching the vibrant fireflies at night has got to be a nature experience on everyone’s bucket list.

In Japan, fireflies are believed to represent fallen warriors who died in battle.

In July and August, you can participate in Hotaru matsuri or the firefly festival.

An excellent place to see fireflies is Lake Aoki, where branches hang over the water making for an incredible spot that attracts fireflies.

You can try and spot them yourself or you can take a tour often in a large canoe.

The Evergreen Outdoor Center is an excellent place to discover firefly tours.

Lake Aoki is at Taira, Omachi, Nagano 398-0001.

19- Hike Around Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park

Hiker Do Trekking Activity On Mountain In Japan
Hiking around Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park is one of the things to do in Nagano Japan.

Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park is a park suitable for everyone, whether you are looking for a long and gruelling hike or something for the family to enjoy.

The park is not only filled with beautiful natural landscapes, but also epic shrines hidden in forests.

There are also plenty of lakes to enjoy a refreshing kayak during the summer heat.

During winter you can also experience some of the best powder in Japan on their ski slopes.

Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park is at Myoko, Niigata 949-2113.

20- Go Underground At The Matsushiro Underground Imperial Headquarters

The Matsushiro Underground Imperial Headquarters is a WWII underground bunker complex that was built in 1944.

It was a fallback headquarters for the Japanese Imperial Army.

These tunnels were intended as a safe base for operational planning.

According to historical records and military accounts the underground tunnels were meant to allow the army to launch a surprise attack.

The largest shelter at the site is 6km in length, this one is under Mount Zo.

Mount Minakami was home to an underground shelter that stored food.

Today there are 500 metres of underground tunnels that are open to the public.

This is an excellent place to learn more about WWII from a Japanese perspective.

Matsushiro Underground Imperial Headquarters is at 479-11 Matsushiromachi Nishijo, Nagano, 381-1232.

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Harriet Comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!