Top 16 Things to Do in Nagano
On the lookout for things to do in Nagano? Get some ideas with our rundown of the best sights and activities.
Nagano is a medium-sized city (375’000 people), pretty accurately located at the center of Japan, geographically speaking. Its surrounding high mountains have made it a popular winter sports location with fantastic skiing areas. But there’s a lot more to discover, whatever season you are visiting, and we’re here to help you with that. Keep scrolling for the 16 best things to do in Nagano.
A few towns off Nagano down south, but still in Nagano Prefecture, there’s a famous castle not to be missed, nicknamed the “Crow Castle”. It’s in the beautiful city of Matsumoto, which is always a great day trip anyway.
For everything you need to know about the Matsumoto Castle, head over to our full guide.
Adress: 〒390-0873 Nagano Prefecture, Matsumoto, Marunouchi, 4番1 Opening Hours: 8:30 - 16:30 Website: Matsumoto Castle
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Imagine monkeys. Imagine a hot spring. Now imagine the two combined – how would that turn out? Find out at Jigokudani Monkey Park, where Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) get comfy hanging out at onsens (Japanese hot springs). You’ll find several onsens for humans in the area as well, so why not try the monkeys’ recipe for relaxation yourself.
From Nagano Station, the Dentetsu Line will take you to Yudanaka Station, where you can take a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop. Another 30 minutes of walking until you reach the monkey park. Alternatively, take the express bus from Nagano Station to Shiga Kogen, then walk up to the onsen.
If the trip up to Jigokudani is too far for you, you can still see some of the fun online. There’s a live stream of the monkeys on the park’s website.
Address: 〒381-0401 Nagano-ken, Shimotakai-gun, Yamanouchi-machi, Hirao, ６８４５ Access: Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop, Shiga Kogen Opening Hours: 9:00 - 16:00 Website: Jigokudani Monkey Park
Nagano Ski Resorts
In 1998, the city of Nagano was host to the Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Winter sports are still something the town is famous for, and if you’re a fan of skiing or snowboarding, there are plenty of great places to visit here. Look out for one of the fantastic ski resorts such as Happo-One or Shiga Kogen. The ski slopes are sometimes open until May.
If you’re not visiting in winter, the mountains provide other things to do outdoor, such as biking and hiking tracks or festivals.
Where: Happo-One Ski Resort, Shiga Kogen
The city of Nagano was initially built around Zenkoji Temple, which has been standing at its spot since the 7th century. Today, the city center lies arguably a bit further down south, but the temple is still a main landmark on the Nagano map. The temple houses an ancient buddha statue that’s said to be the first to have ever been brought to Japan. However, the statue is not shown to anyone publically as it’s a so-called secret buddha (hibutsu). Every six years though, a replicated version is displayed during a festival for about two weeks (the last was in 2015).
Find food and souvenirs around the site, too. An admission of 500 yen allows entry to the temple’s insides, a history museum and an underground passage.
Address: 〒380-0851 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Nagano, Motoyoshichō−４９１ Access: Zenkojishita Station Website: Zenkoji Temple
The Mizuno Museum in Nagano’s north shows temporary exhibitions of mainly Japanese painters. Every now and then, you’ll find known artists such as Hokusai, but if you’re generally curious about Japanese art there’s always something worthwhile on the agenda anyway. Surrounding the museum, there are beautiful gardens that invite you to stroll through.
Address: 6 Chome-2-20 Wakasato, Nagano-shi, Nagano-ken 380-0928 Access: Nagano Station Opening Hours: 9:30 - 17:00, closed Mondays Website: Mizuno Museum
Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum
The Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum is a fine art museum near Zenkoji Temple, inside Joyama Park. Shinano was the name of the Nagano Prefecture before the Meiji Restoration came about, and the museum focuses on depictions of the prefecture’s beauty from artists of various periods. Most prominently, the dreamy landscape paintings of Japanese painter Kaii Higashiyama are part of the permanent collection.
Regular admission is 500 yen; for college students it’s 300 yen.
Address: 〒380-0801 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Hakoshimizu, 1 Chome−1−4−4 Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00, closed Wednesdays Access: Zenkojishita Station Website: Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum
Nagano City Joyama Zoo
Next up, also in the Joyama Park area, is a small zoo. Now, don’t expect this to be an activity to fill out an entire day, it only takes about an hour to see every animal here, but it’s a nice way to spend some time. Among the animals to spot are sea lions, penguins, Japanese snow monkeys and squirrels. Best of all, admission to the zoo is free.
The site is especially great for kids, with a carousel, a playground and more.
Address: 〒380-0802 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano, Uematsu, 2 Chome−１−１９ Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 Access: Hongo / Zenkojishita Station
Nagano City Youth Science Museum
The Nagano City Youth Science Museum is a place of discovery for visitors of all ages. A highlight for any kid is the colorful ball pit. A lot of the exhibitions are interactive and a lot of fun for any scientifically curious mind.
There’s no restaurant inside the museum, but space to eat your own lunch. Admission for pre-school kids is free.
Address: 2-4-5 Uematsu, Nagano, Nagano Prefecture 380-0802 Opening Hours: 9:00 - 16:30, closed Mondays Access: Hongo / Zenkojishita Station Website: Nagano City Youth Science Museum
Round 1 Stadium Nagano (Bowling Alley)
Up for a round of bowling? The Round One Stadium offers this, and much more. It’s an all-inclusive game park, where you’ll find various activities such as roller skating, karaoke, darts, futsal, baseball, basketball and various gaming and arcade machines.
The different facilities have separate admission fees, allowing you to only pay for the ones you actually use.
Address: 〒381-0038 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, 大字東和田827−6 Access: Shuttle bus from Nagano Station (twice per hour, free) Website: Round 1 Stadium
Omuro Onsen Makibanoyu
Hot springs (onsen) are very common in Japan and offer a deeply relaxing experience not to be missed when you’re in the country. The baths at Omuro Onsen Makibanoyu are spacious, and the outdoor pool offers a spectacular view on the alps to the north. Saunas round off the places’ great equipments.
There are some rules to follow at onsens, but when you do you’ll be fine. Admission is only 500 yen, and kids can accompany their parents for free.
Address: 〒381-1211 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Matsushiromachi Ōmuro, 長野県長野市松代町大室４１０８−２ Access: Omuro Station Opening Hours: 9:00 - 21:30
The grounds at Hachimanparashiseki Park were once a battlefield for a 16th-century clash between two contenders for local dominance. Throughout the park, there are impressive, life-sized statues that remind of this battle. The Nagano City Museum and a planetarium are nearby and worth a visit.
Address: 〒381-2212 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano, 小島田町１３８４−１ Access: Kawanakajima Kosenjo Bus Stop Website: Hachimanparashiseki Park
Kagami is Japanese for “mirror”, and when you’re standing in front of this lake you’ll immediately know why it’s called this way. The often crystal clear surface of the Kagami Pond reflects the surrounding mountains – a beautiful sight that’s hard to beat. Take the bus from Nagano Station to Togakushi, which takes about an hour. On weekends, there’s a shuttle bus that takes you to Kagamiike Station, otherwise a 30-minute walk will get you there.
Address: 〒381-4101 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, 戸隠西原2039−10 Access: Kagamiike Station (weekends), Togakushi Station (weekdays) Website: Kagami Pond
Donguri House at Kagami Pond
From spring to autumn, a restaurant opens next to the Kagami Pond, and surprisingly, it serves delicious French galettes and sweets. Enjoy them on the sunny terrace with a view of the lake.
Address: 2039-10 Togakushi, Nagano-shi, Nagano-ken 381-4101 Access: Shinrin shokubutsuen-mae bus stop Website: Kagami Pond Restaurant Donguri House
Maybe not a castle in the Disney sense of the word, but a worthwhile view anyway. The Matsushiro Castle in Nagano’s south was built in 1560 (it was originally called Kaizu Castle) to defend against hostile feudal lords. During its turbulent history, the castle has been destroyed and restored several times. Fires, a flood and an earthquake were among the disasters to strike. When the Meiji era began, it was burnt to the ground on purpose. The current castle you can visit was in fact only reconstructed in 2003, using traditional building plans and methods.
Address: 〒381-1231 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, 松代町松代４４ Access: Zozanguchi Station Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 Website: Sanada Treasures Museum
Kids Ninja Village
Located in the forests of Mount Togakushi, the Kids Ninja Village is an amusement park where kids get to dress up and act like ninjas. For the most part, this consists of obstacle tracks and ninja-themed fairground stalls. The park offers a lot to discover and is a sure hit for parents and kids alike.
Address: 〒381-4101 Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi, Togakushi, ３１９３ Access: Togakushi Chusha Station Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00, closed Thursdays Website: Kids Ninja Village
Onbashira Festival (Suwa, Nagano)
At the Onbashira Festival in the mountainous Suwa area, the goal is to transport sixteen giant tree logs over a distance to erect them next to shrines – all by sheer man power. Participants ride on top the trees when sliding them down a hill. The festival is said to have been held annually without any interruptions for 1200 years, even though many people have been badly and even fatally injured many times.
Unfortunately, the festival is only held every six years, but if you happen to be in the Nagano Prefecture when it’s on, make sure not to miss the spectacle. The last time it was held was in 2016.
Where: Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture
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