Most commonly known for the atomic bomb which was dropped here during World War Two, Nagasaki is so much more than an opportunity for dark tourism. Ports in Japan always tend to be more cosmopolitan than inland cities, and Nagasaki has a rich history with many different points of interest. Besides the reminder of war, there are quite a number of other things to do in Nagasaki for tourists.
A lot of people visit Nagasaki coupled with Hiroshima, and many do ask which one is better. Both are worth a visit if you can, but if you happen to be in the Kyushu region of Japan, then Nagasaki is definitely worth a stop. It takes only 2 hours from Fukuoka and 3 hours from Kumamoto.
If you have only one day to visit Nagasaki, here are our recommended top 5 things to do:
Visit the Glover Garden
An often overlooked attraction, the Glover Garden is well worth half a day of your time. Thomas Blake Glover (1838 – 1911) was a Scottish merchant, and the garden includes the Western style house where Glover and his family lived, as well as several other traditional houses owned by other notable foreigners of the time. The garden is spectacular, with ornate fountains and plenty to see both inside the old houses and around the garden. With views across the harbour, it’s a lovely place to spend the morning.
Open from 8:00 – 18:00 / 21:30 (depending on the time of year) it is best visited in the morning when queues are shorter or edging towards evening when views of the harbour are glorious. Entry costs 610 Yen. Take the number five tram line right to the end (Ishibashi) and the entrance is a few minutes walk away – go this route and take the elevator up to the Skyline walk, as you’ll enter the park from the top and can save your energy by walking down through the garden rather than up.
Eat lunch at Nagasaki’s Chinatown
If you’ve spent the morning at the Glover Garden, lunchtime is well spent in Nagasaki’s China Town. Not quite an authentic cuisine (Chinese food in Japan tends to be made with less punchy flavours, to suit local preferences) but well worth trying. Look out for champon (ちゃんぽん) which is a local specialty of Chinese style noodles. From the Glover Garden, you can reach Chinatown either by walking through the Dutch Slopes, or along the water’s edge in the beautiful Seaside Park which has been recently developed.
Hop over to Dejima – Dutch Merchants Island
While Nagasaki appears to have had a very cosmopolitan history, that doesn’t mean that foreigners have always been welcome! The man-made island of Dejima was built in 1636 to house Portuguese merchants, and later Dutch merchants, when they were no longer welcome in the main part of the city. The island is a wonderful tourist attraction, with old buildings, artefacts, and exhibits to see. If you’re into history you could easily spend the whole day on Dejima, but most guests spend about two hours or so having a look around. If you fancy a bite to eat, the on-site restaurant is a little pricey (with portions on the small size) but the traditional pie is delicious. One tram stop away from Chinatown, Deijima station is on line one. Open from 8:00 – 18:00 / 19:00, entry is 510 Yen.
Learn up some history at the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park
If you’re interested in finding out more about the events of August 8th 1945, this tourist spot is jam-packed full of information and things to see. Again, you could spend the whole day here if you wanted to see everything, or if you just fancy popping in then you don’t need to visit every section. The main museum is where most tourists head to – this is your first port of call if you want to learn more about the events and see artefacts recovered from the site.
If you don’t fancy being swamped by information and just want some time for reflection, visit the memorial hall which is chillingly beautiful and a wonderful space for contemplation and prayer. The outdoor Peace Park is also worth visiting, with plenty of statues to see aside from the famous peace statue. From Hamaguchi-machi tram stop (line one or three) it’s a five-minute walk to the site. Open from 8:30 – 17:00, museum entry is just 200 Yen.
Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum
If you have an hour or so to kill before your train leaves, this little museum is only a few minutes walk away and is usually overlooked by visitors. Christianity has had a love/hate relationship in Japan since it was first introduced, and in 1597 the religion was once again facing problems. This museum is dedicated to twenty-six believers who were crucified in Nagasaki, and documents their lives as well as providing details about Christianity in Japan at the time. A small but beautiful museum with lots to see, and at only a few minutes walk away from the train station, it’s worth popping over. Open from 9:00 – 17:00, entry costs 500 Yen.
How to get to Nagasaki
Nagasaki isn’t the easiest city to go to, which is why staying for a couple of days is worth it if you have the time – depending on where you come from, it’s a lot of travelling for just one day! Most come to Nagasaki for a day trip from Fukuoka, one of the biggest cities in Kyushu. From Fukuoka, the train takes about 2 hours, and if you’re coming from Hiroshima the train takes more like 3 hours. Domestic flights are a good choice if you can find discount deals – the train from Tokyo takes 7 hours to Nagasaki whereas you can fly there in under 2 hours. If you’re hoping to travel more in Kyushu, top locations to check out include Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Kirishima.
-> Read our Top 5 Must Visit Places in Kyushu
Nagasaki is a beautiful city, and well worth a longer trip if you have the time as there is so much more than you can fit into a one day trip. Other awesome attractions and activities include a city walk to Megane Bridge (which look like a pair of glasses), a visit to some popular religious sites such as Oura Church or the Confucius Shrine, a visit to the Museum of History and Culture, a hike up Mount Inasa, a dip in the Fukunoyu hot springs, the Prefectural Art Museum, or a day trip over to Hashima (Battleship Island). Nagasaki also has a rich variety of festivals throughout the year so check if there are any special events at the time of your visit.
Suggested Itinerary for Nagasaki Day Trip
If you have the time, Nagasaki is certainly worth a weekend trip (or even longer!) and there are enough things to do to warrant a lengthy stay. However, if you only have one day to spare, this recommended itinerary will cover the above must visit places in Nagasaki:
Morning: Glover Garden and Seaside Park / Dutch Slopes walk
Afternoon: Dejima Dutch Merchants Island / Nagasaki Bomb Museum
Extra: Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum