Japanese citizens flock to the historic city, known for its seafood cuisine and preserved central district. As foreigners tend to overlook this city, it gives you a chance to immerse yourself in Japanese culture and tradition. The city has everything from ancient shrines to outdoor markets and narrow side streets to explore.
Need help deciding where to start? Map out your trip with this complete 1-day Kanazawa itinerary!
What to do in Kanazawa in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Kanazawa offers plenty of sights to keep you busy for an entire day.
The city sprawls out from its central core, featuring the beautifully preserved Edo-period districts. While the traditional houses and historic structures provide the main attractions, the outer area deserves your attention.
You’ll get to discover one of the most intricate Japanese gardens, along with various shrines, temples, and markets.
As with most of our one-day city itineraries, we try to cut down on time spent travelling between sites. Luckily, the compact layout makes it easy to explore most of the city on foot, even with just 24 hours in Kanazawa.
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Stroll the sprawling grounds of Kenrokuen Garden
During any Japan itinerary, you’ll likely visit at least one traditional garden. In Kanazawa, you have the chance to visit two of the best gardens in the city.
Unfortunately, with just 24 hours, you’ll only have time for one garden.
When you get to Kanazawa, head to the south-eastern part of the older district to reach the entrance to Kenrokuen Garden.
You need to pay a small entrance fee to tour the garden during most of the year, but if you visit during the cherry blossom season, entrance is free.
Considered a “perfect” garden, this green space features a meandering path that takes you past gentle streams and small ponds. The relaxing stroll also takes you past reflecting pools, and several spots provide panoramic viewpoints of the city.
The garden is one of the largest in the country. While you could easily spend the rest of the day here walking through the carefully manicured landscape, you’ll need to move on to see more of the city before the sun sets.
PRO TIP: Want to make the most out of your day? Book yourself onto a Kanazawa Full-Day Private Tour! The 7-hour tour includes admission to Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa Castle, and hotel drop-off/pick-up.
Tour historic buildings at the Kanazawa Castle site
After a morning walk through the garden, cross the north-western bridge to reach the castle.
While you may not see everything in Kanazawa in one day, you can’t pass up a trip to the Kanazawa Castle Site. The black roof and white walls stand out against the city’s backdrop.
Located in the middle of the historic area, the castle park includes a mixture of centuries-old structures and reconstructed buildings. Few of the original buildings remain, but you can still get a good look at several faithful recreations.
Ishikawa Gate and Sanjikken Nagaya are two of the remaining structures. The gate was a side entrance for the castle, while the second site is a former storehouse.
While the preserved sites provide a chance to see part of history, they don’t provide much to look at. For a more intimate look at life in ancient Kanazawa, visit the recreated Gojikken Nagaya.
The long building once guarded the palace and was rebuilt following traditional methods. The structure is open to the public and has several artifacts on display.
PRO TIP: Interested in the history of Kanazawa? Get the inside scoop on a Kanazawa Full-Day Private Tour including visits to Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen Garden, and the Suzuki Museum!
Appreciate the charm of Little Osaki Shrine
Exit the castle grounds from the north-western edge, and you’ll enter Osaki Shrine. The shrine isn’t very big, but it provides an escape from the crowd, as it tends to get passed over in favour of some of the bigger shrines.
The compact little shrine is guarded by two statues and features traditional Japanese architecture. It’s an important cultural site and one of the most postcard-worthy shrines in the city.
Unlike many of the other destinations in Kanazawa, entrance is free. As there isn’t much to really see at the shrine, you may only spend a few minutes admiring the architecture before you start to hear your stomach rumbling.
Before continuing your journey, stop at one of the restaurants on the street just outside the shrine. While Kanazawa is known for seafood, you can find a wide range of lunch options, including Western fast food.
Explore samurai culture in Nagamachi Samurai District
From the shrine, you just need to walk a few blocks directly west to reach one of several historic areas of the city.
The top things to do & see in Kanazawa include trips to these various historic districts, including the Nagamachi Samurai District.
The district aims to recreate the experience of living among the samurai. The area includes several streets of samurai housing, with short walls and sloped roofing.
Unfortunately, almost none of the original buildings remain. Almost every house is a faithful recreation.
One of the few historic buildings in the district, the Nomura Clan House tends to get the most foot traffic. It’s open to the public and has a small, yet detailed, garden.
To enter the house, you need to pay an entrance fee and swap your shoes for slippers. The living museum includes various samurai artifacts and traditional furniture.
PRO TIP: Want to get the low-down on the Samurai District? Join in on the Kanazawa Half-Day Private Tour where you’ll join a professional guide for 4 hours as you learn more about the city’s history & culture!
Travel back in time at Kanazawa Shinise Memorial Hall
When you reach the end of the samurai district, you’ll come to the Kanazawa Shinise Memorial Hall.
Another historic site, Kanazawa Shinise Memorial Hall, or the Old Merchant House, was the leading Chinese medicine shop throughout the 18th century.
While you can’t buy medicine at the shop, you can view a bridal exhibit containing examples of traditional bridal gifts. The exhibit even has a massive flower arrangement constructed entirely from sugar.
Other exhibits and areas within the hall showcase the traditional life of early Kanazawa inhabitants. You can view the typical living quarters, a garden, a tearoom, and some of the local handicrafts.
You don’t need a tour guide to learn more about what you will see. Everything is carefully labelled in both Japanese and English.
Visit the Ninja Temple in the Teramachi Temple District
After learning more about the history of the region at the Old Merchant House, it’s time to cross the river to visit more historic sites.
At the southern end of the district, cross the Asanogawa Bridge. Behind the modern buildings on the other side of the river is one of two main temple districts.
Each of the districts has an array of temples to explore, but you’ll only have time to explore one – the Ninja Temple.
The Ninja Temple supposedly has no connection to the ninja assassins, but the interior of the building makes you wonder. It features an outstanding number of hidden rooms and trapdoors for a temple.
The tour takes about an hour. Just be warned that the tour guides have a reputation for rudeness.
If you make it through the tour without feeling offended by the tour guides, walk to Oyama Shrine on the other side of the Kanazawa Castle Site.
The smaller structure includes a mixture of Western and Japanese architecture, particularly when looking at the stained-glass windows on the gate.
PRO TIP: Want some company as you explore Kanazawa? See the city behind-the-scenes with a bonafide local guide on the Kanazawa Like a Local Guided Tour!
Get your entertainment fix at Higashi Chaya District
While the area includes several other temples and shrines, visiting them all would take up the rest of your Kanazawa itinerary. For now, you’ll cut back through the centre of the city to reach another historic district.
The largest geisha district in the city, Higashi Chaya is just north of the castle park. The area contains rows of tall narrow houses squeezed together off the winding streets.
Most of the buildings were converted over the years, with many now housing tea shops and boutique stores. Luckily, a few of the original entertainment houses were preserved, including the Shima House.
Shima House gives you a look into the period when geishas entertained wealthy patrons. You can take a self-guided tour of the house, but the owners do charge an entrance fee.
You started your day near this district, but it’s best to visit in the evening. The area is lit up with lanterns, casting a warm glow on the historic buildings.
PRO TIP: Interested in Kanazawa’s geisha culture? Learn more about it as you wandering around the geisha district after dark on a Kanazawa Night Tour! The tour concludes with a traditional full-course meal.
Experience local cuisine at the Omicho Ichiba Market
Ending your day near the Higashi Chaya District places you near the best food spots in a city famous for its cuisine. When exploring Kanazawa in 24 hours, it would be a shame not to experience the local dishes.
Walk across the street from the district to Omicho Ichiba Market. The market is crowded with vendors selling fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and meat, but to fill your stomach, you should visit one of the surrounding restaurants.
If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll likely find crab on almost every menu. Sweet shrimps are also popular in the region. For those who don’t like seafood, you’re in the wrong city, but you still have options. Try the local specialty, jibuni, made from boiled duck and veggies.
With the day now over, you’ve been able to see most of Kanazawa. If you’re not ready to call it quits, travel to Kanazawa Station. The area around the main bus and train stop includes many bars and a lively night scene.
PRO TIP: Not sure where to start indulging? Get expert advice on what to eat on the Kanazama Omicho Market & Geisha District Food Tour! The tour include several food samples and a traditional Geiko show.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Kanazawa
Even though it’s not as large (or popular) as some other Japanese cities, choosing where to stay in Kanazawa can sometimes be a challenge.
Although many of the top hotels are located in the city centre, where you’ll want to spend much of your time, there’s a fairly large selection of accommodations for travellers to sort through. Start your search with these top Kanazawa hotels…
- Hotel Pacific Kanazawa: One of the city’s best choices for budget-friendly options, this modern hotel offers simple buy bright & cozy rooms only 5 to 10 minutes from top Kanazawa attractions like Omicho Market, Kanazawa Castle, and Kenrokuen Garden.
- Hotel Nikko Kanazawa: Conveniently located next to JR Kanazawa Station, this excellent mid-range pick charms guests with spacious rooms that feature superb city views. Eight dining options await for travellers who crave an evening in.
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Kanazawa: A top-notch 4-star pick from one of Japan’s most popular hotel chains. The rooms are spacious with a chilled-out modern vibe. The hotel’s best feature though is undoubtedly the relaxing onsen perched on the top floor and decked out with panoramic city & mountain views.