David has been living in Japan for close to ten years. He loves reading, history, music, and movies. He lives with his wife and kids.
Sandwiched between Kyoto and Tokyo, Nagoya is often seen as a short transitory stop, though in truth it offers a lot of sights and sounds that make it well worth taking a short (or long!) detour from the usual Tokyo and Kyoto trips. So if you’re in the area, here are some places you might want to visit.
1. Nagoya Castle
Originally constructed in 1610, this castle is one of the largest and most famous castles in the country. Notable for its Kinsachi (golden dolphins) perched high up on its gables, the castle is a beauty. Although it was largely destroyed during the bombings of World War II, multiple original items were saved and are now housed inside the reconstructed keep. You can also get extensive views of the city on the topmost floor.
In addition, the city has started reconstruction on the Honmaru Palace, which was historically the living quarters of the ruling lord. The palace is partly finished and visitors can visit and enter before venturing out into the main keep.
I have personally visited this castle many times and with the near completion of the Honmaru Palace, Nagoya castle promises to be one of the premier attractions of the country.
2. SCMAGLEV and Railway Park
This railway museum was opened in 2011 by the Central Japan Railways and displays 40 retired trains including bullet trains, locomotives, and a maglev. An English audio guide is also available which can help you understand the plethora of information that is displayed. You can also try out their train crew and train simulators. If you’re into trains, this is one place you should definitely check out.
3. Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium
One of the largest aquariums in Japan, the Nagoya Aquarium houses hundreds of aquatic animals, and unlike its Osaka counterpart, it puts more focus on larger sea animals including beluga whales, orcas, and dolphins. The latter even have their own show. The aquarium is an educational powerhouse and is great for people who are into aquatic life.
4. Atsuta Jingu Shrine
With over 1,900 years of history, this shrine is the oldest landmark in Nagoya. It houses one of the three Japanese imperial regalia, the Sword Kusanagi—though it is NOT open to the public for viewing. The shrine is located in a 20-hectare park just south of Nagoya station and is aptly surrounded by trees that are over a thousand years old.
5. Nagoya City Science Museum
Featuring a giant silver globe, the museum houses one of the world’s largest planetariums and contains numerous attractions that would definitely amaze even those who aren’t into science (namely, me!). Five floors are chock full of a comprehensive array of exhibits that include a tornado room where you can see a 9-meter high tornado, Tesla coils, and a deep freezing lab which simulates conditions in the Arctic. There are ample opportunities for visitors of all ages to interact and try their hand at many experiments.
Programs at the planetarium vary each month and cover different astronomical phenomena, and although the shows are conducted in Japanese, you’ll still be able to enjoy the show just by experiencing the visuals.
6. Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Covering a vast 60 hectares, the zoo and garden is one of the oldest and largest in Japan. Numerous species of animals are housed in the vast complex including lions, wolves, elephants, bears, birds, giraffes, koalas, gorillas, reptiles, and tropical fish. Visiting the zoo and garden can easily fill a whole day and is great for families, couples, and your occasional solo traveler. I have personally visited a dozen times to date and it is always a fun place to explore and visit.
This popular tourist attraction also houses a small amusement park and the 100-meter tall Higashiyama Sky Tower, which offers great views of the city. Try not to visit on the weekends, though, as the place tends to get jam-packed, and the queues to see some of the animals can be quite long.
7. Toyota Techno and Automobile Museums
A big reason why Nagoya city is the industrial center of Japan is that it houses large car companies, and none is more famous than Toyota; they even named an adjacent city after it. So it's no surprise that they would establish museums of their own, not just one, but two!
The Toyota Techno Museum includes numerous exhibits of the looms and textile manufacturing business that the company first started making prior to it becoming the world’s biggest carmaker. It also has displays detailing its transition throughout the years from textile to auto and robotics maker.
The other museum, Toyota Automobile Museum, is located in the outskirts and is home to a magnificent collection of vintage cars made by the company and other manufacturers. So if you’re a car enthusiast, this place will definitely pique your interest.
8. Tokugawa Art Museum
For those familiar with Japanese history, the name Tokugawa will be quite familiar. As the family that ruled Japan for nearly three centuries before Japan opened its doors to the outside world, the Tokugawa is a famous part of Japanese history. This museum houses the magnificent collection of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa including numerous valuable paintings, thousand-year-old scrolls, weapons, furniture, clothes, documents, and items of porcelain. Taking photographs is not allowed inside.
I would recommend you get a One Day Pass (Donichi Eco Kippu) from any subway station. This ticket gives you unlimited rides on the subway, bus, and sightseeing route bus lines for an entire day.