Our 1-day Nagoya, Japan itinerary is an efficient step-by-step touring plan for visiting the city’s best museums, eating, and visiting the castle. Best of all, it’s a jam-packed experience that can be accomplished as a day trip while traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka on the Shinkansen.
Along the way, you can visit a Shinkansen museum, see the legacy and evolution of Toyota, visit Nagoya Castle, do some shopping, wander modern skyscrapers, and more. As Japan’s fourth-largest city, there’s a ton to see, do, and eat in Nagoya, making this port city a great option for a visit or even an overnight stopover.
As far as major cities go, we’re fans of Nagoya. It’s not an essential Japan experience like Kyoto or Tokyo, but it’s up there with Hiroshima, Kobe, and Nara for us. Note that if you’re thinking about visiting any of the aforementioned cities–or anywhere else–please consult our Japan Itineraries for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Beyond for our other 1-day and 2-day step-by-step touring plan recommendations.
Before we begin, we should note that Nagoya is a city of world-class museums. Doing all or even most of them in a single day is totally unrealistic, both from the perspective of commuting and how long it takes to experience a museum. As such, we’re making some tough decisions here and leaving out Nagoya City Science Museum (renowned for one of the world’s largest planetariums), Tokugawa Art Museum (the highlights of which are samurai paraphernalia), and a slew of highly-regarded art museums.
Oh, and Legoland Japan also doesn’t make the cut. It should be an all-day experience…but isn’t. Legoland really needs to be fleshed out a bit (it opened only a couple years ago) before those pricey admission fees are justifiable. If you do opt to do Legoland on a second day in Nagoya, it’s easily paired with the SCMaglev & Railway Park. If you have a second day, we’d instead recommend filling it with the aforementioned museums.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves–here’s our step by step itinerary for your first day in Nagoya, Japan…
Extraordinary Ogura – Hopefully you’re in the mood to start your day out early (if you’re doing Nagoya as a day trip while commuting between Tokyo and Kyoto, perhaps you’ll want to skip this step), as one of Nagoya’s specialties is ogura toast, which is available at kissaten and corner restaurants all over the city.
If you’re starting in Nagoya Station (and you probably will at least be passing through), there’s Komeda’s Coffee and Konparu easily accessible. However, you can find ogura toast pretty much everywhere, so there’s no need to limit yourself to these options. Have a hearty breakfast, as your only chances to eat until late are going to be random 7/11 snack stops.
SCMaglev and Railway Park – As is discussed at length in our full post about the SCMaglev Museum & Railway Park, this is my favorite museum in the world. It’s also the main reason we recommend Nagoya as a stopover or day trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. If this itinerary reflected my perfect day in Nagoya, it’d simply be eating, this, eating again, and checking out the exterior of Nagoya Castle at night.
Anyway, it’s imperative that you arrive at SCMaglev and Railway Park right when it opens, limiting yourself to only a couple hours here if you want to accomplish all of the subsequent stops. If you’re having a difficult time pulling yourself away from this amazing museum…don’t. This is as good as it gets in Nagoya, and even though the next two stops are good, they’re nowhere near this good.
Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology – The lesson of this ‘Tribute to Toyota’ is that the company has made a lot of different stuff over the years, from textiles to robots that will soon become sentient and rule us all. The exhibits at the front of the Toyota Techno Museum (its colloquial name) concern manufacturing, and are a bit dry.
As you’ll have limited time, we’d strongly suggest breezing through this half of the museum and head for the second (awesome) half about automobiles, aforementioned robots, and other cutting edge technology. There’s some cool, innovative, and hands-on stuff there, and by focusing on that half of the Toyota Museum, you’ll give yourself sufficient time to make it to the next stop before it closes.
Nagoya Castle – “It’s fine” is probably the most common and accurate review of Nagoya Castle by those who have visited other castles in Japan. We like it, but also wouldn’t go out of our way to see it, nor would we consider it a must-do for anyone who will visit Himeji Castle. In our “Japan Castle Power Rankings,” we’d put it in the same tier as Osaka Castle, which might be a bit easier to slot into your itinerary of that city.
A lot of demolition and reconstruction work remains ongoing at Nagoya Castle. The City of Nagoya is planning to rebuild the main keep out of wood, so at some point this year it’ll be demolished with work concluding in 2022. During that project, other buildings on the grounds will be accessible.
Osu Kannon Temple – This is the best temple in Nagoya. To be honest, that’s like a backhanded compliment, as Nagoya is not particularly known for temples, and Osu Kannon is really nothing special.
We’re basically just including it because this area of Nagoya is fascinating, our itinerary is light on things to do, and if you’re already in the area you might as well check it out. Plus, it’s open 24/7, so it’s a somewhat rare opportunity to see a temple under the night sky.
Osu Shopping District – You might notice that we’ve been a bit ambivalent towards some of the stops on this itinerary. Well, we genuinely like Osu Shopping Street. We’re total suckers for Japan’s covered arcades, and the retail options in this one are top notch.
It’s also historically significant, having existed for 400 years around a concentration of Buddhist temples. The 100 yen stores, souvenir shops, and street food are all great here. Be sure to also peek into the tucked away little corners where you might find little entertainment vignettes (for lack of a better term) that are little machines playing every so often–they’re not worth seeking out, but a nice little surprise if you find one.
This might not be the best sales pitch for Osu Shopping Street, but we love it. The roofed arcade offers an eclectic environment with a ton of personality and charm. Take the time to peruse it.
An Eelxcellent Feast – Somewhat like Osaka, Nagoya is a foodie city with a few local specialties and plenty of reasonably-priced restaurants that are highly regarded. Of these, our recommendation is Maruya Honten Meiekiten, a restaurant specializing in grilled freshwater eel (unagi)
Before we lose those of you who aren’t adventurous, this restaurant is absolutely fantastic, and not at all what your mental preconception of eating eel might be like. One thing to note is that Maruya Honten Meiekiten frequently draws lengthy lines, but it’s also open late, so we’d suggest a very late meal to avoid the crowds. It’s worth the effort–and going out of your comfort zone!
Stellar Skyscrapers – If you’re not ready to end the day, head over to nearby Nagoya Station, where the JR Central Towers rise above the station and house a Takashimaya department store and the Tower Plaza shopping mall. Each of these towers offers a top floor lounge with sweeping views of the city.
If you’re not in the mood for drinks, Midland Square is located across from Nagoya Station, and houses the Sky Promenade. This observation deck is on the top three floors of the 46 story building. It features an open-air observation deck with panoramic views of Nagoya, including Nagoya Castle. Better observation decks are available in other major cities, so you might just consider window shopping at the department stores.
At this point, it’s probably getting pretty late, and if you have to continue on to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka, it’s probably past time to head to your final destination. Alternatively, there’s a surplus of super cheap business class (code for very small) hotels in Nagoya, so it’s not a bad place to spend the night, if you don’t mind sleeping in a closet!
Joking aside, hopefully this itinerary helps you plan a perfect day in Nagoya, Japan. It’s a solid place to visit, and even doing only a few of these options makes for an excellent day (so long as eating and the Railway Museum are among those options you chose), so don’t feel badly about only planning a few things for Nagoya. It’s a much better approach than overextending yourself, and not getting everything done or only having a cursory experience at each stop.
If you’re planning a visit to Japan’s Kansai region, please check out my other posts about Japan. Our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide should also come in handy if you’re visiting those cities in Kansai!
Have you ever visited Nagoya, Japan? What do you think of it? Visit any museums? Have you tried unagi? Any other points of interest that you’ve visited (and recommend) in Nagoya? If you haven’t visited, does this pique your interest in Nagoya? Any questions or other comments about this Japan itinerary? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!