If historical sightseeing is high on your wish list during your first visit to Japan, throw the best things to do in Takayama into the mix. This lovely ancient Japanese city is famous for carefully preserved historic old town district with its characteristic multi-story wooden buildings that lay scattered along its main streets.
Walking through this old district will gives you a taste of life in ancient Japan, but there are plenty of other things to see among the top tourist attractions in Takayama from exploring the nearby mountains, travelling to an open-air museum, or taking a trip to a former castle site.
Not sure where to go in Takayama? Start planning your trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Takayama…
What to do in Takayama
Travel back in time at Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village
One of the top things to see in Takayama is just outside the major urban areas of the city. About two kilometres west of the main station, you’ll find a preserved collection of traditional Japanese thatch-roof homes.
To tour the homes, you need to take paths through a wide-open park with rolling green hills. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon and a great way to transport yourself to ancient Japan. You can picture what life was like as you walk past the various historic homes.
Wander through the historic Sanmachi Suji District
If you’ve chosen to add Takayama to your off-the-beaten path Japan itinerary, a highlight of any trip here will be travelling through the streets of Sanmachi Suji. The district is in the centre of the city’s old town and features the best-preserved examples of historic Japanese structures.
The narrow streets feature traditional buildings on each side, including a mixture of houses, restaurants, and shops. You can even find a couple of sake breweries and quaint little cafes.
Other than a few signs of modern life, you really get the sense that you’re visiting Japan over a hundred years ago. If you want to beat the crowd, try to visit the district first thing in the morning.
Navigate the Higashiyama Walking Course
If you plan on taking a Takayama sightseeing tour of the most important shrines and temples in the region, go for a stroll along the Higashiyama Walking Course.
The paved paths take you through the ground of a few different temples and shrines. You can also get a view of the Japanese Alps from the top steps of Hakusan-Jinja Shrine.
The walking course provides a way to enjoy the fresh air and get away from the bustling city.
The path covers 3.5 kilometres of ground. To help you navigate the path, signs are written in both Japanese and English.
View the Japanese Alps from the Shinhotaka Ropeway
If you’ve only got 24 hours in Takayama, it’s hard to see everything. Riding the Shinhotaka Ropeway can help. The cable-car ride takes you up into the mountains, giving you an aerial view of the surrounding region and a breathtaking look at the Japanese Alps.
The ropeway starts toward the bottom of one of the main mountain ridges, taking you 2156 meters into the sky in just over 10 minutes. When you get to the top, you can explore the collection of touristy venues, including several onsens (Japanese hot springs) in the valley just below the ropeway.
To reach the ropeway, simply take a bus from Takayama Station and get off at the Shinhotaka Ropeway Bus Stop.
Visit post-war 1950s Japan at the Takayama Showa Museum
If you want to know where to go in Takayama to experience life in post-war Japan, visit the Takayama Showa Museum. The area resembles the historic Sanmachi Suji District, as both locations feature preserved buildings from an earlier era.
While the historic district included traditional Japanese buildings, the Takayama Showa Museum features a recreated commercial district circa 1950. It showcases the rebuilding of Japan after the war.
Some of the exhibits provide interactive features, including a couple of spots where you can play real vintage pachinko machines. When combined with the other historic sites in Takayama, these museums help paint a vivid picture of the history of the region.
Immerse in history at the ancient Takayama Jinya
Some of the best places to visit in Takayama are out of the way, requiring you to take the subway, bus, or train. One of these destinations is Takayama Jinya. The official building once held the administrative offices for the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The original building was constructed in 1615 while the current building was erected in 1816. It’s an interesting place to visit, mostly for the history lesson that you get during the tour.
The tour guides speak English and cover the history of the region, including how rice was the primary payment for taxes.
Marvel at the gilded floats of the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall
If you want to know what to do in Takayama in the middle of the spring season, visit the Takayama Matsuri Festival. The city puts on a major show, with 11 detailed floats travelling through the centre of Takayama.
Luckily, if you visit outside of the festival season, you can still check out the floats and watch videos of the festivities. The Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall keeps the floats on display throughout the year. It’s a fun attraction that provides something a little different compared to visiting shrines and shopping malls.
If you visit the Exhibition Hall, make sure that you visit the Sakayama Hachimangu Shrine. It’s right around the corner and it’s another ancient site that you can cross off your itinerary.
Start early at Hida-Takayama Miyagawa Morning Market
The morning market makes the list of the top Takayama points of interest, thanks to the wide variety of vendors on display. You can shop for almost anything, including local produce and handmade items.
The market is located near the river, providing a relaxing setting as you walk past various merchants with their tents and goods on display.
The various stalls start opening bright and early in the morning. If you arrive at sunrise, you should have the freedom to explore the goods without having to stand shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.
Where to stay in Takayama for sightseeing
Although it’s hardly as large as other Japanese cities, choosing where to stay in Takayama can be challenging for some travellers.
Many of the city’s top places to stay are geared towards Japanese rather than Western travellers, making it a little more difficult (and usually more expensive) to find rooms with standard amenities like private bathrooms.
For sightseeing in Takayama, the best areas to stay include the areas in and around Sanmachi-suji, Central Takayama and Takayama Station. Here are a few ideas…
- Hotel Wood Takayama: One of the only hotels in the old town, these beautiful accommodations tend to book up quick, especially during Takayama’s high season. Not only is it located close to many of the top attractions in Takayama, this hotel features Western-style beds, private bathrooms, and an on-site onsen.
- Hida Takayama Onsen Takayama Green Hotel: Whether you’re looking for Japanese or Western-style accommodations, this hotel’s got it. Like so many of Takayama’s top places to stay, this property charms guests with its on-site onsen and massage services for the ultimate in relaxation while visiting the city.
- Wat Hotel & Spa Hida Takayama: An excellent central option featuring Western-style rooms with elegant modern furnishings. Besides the tasteful accommodations, there’s a whole host of amazing amenities here including a classy bar & restaurant, terrace, and on-site spa & onsen.