Japan’s southern island, Kyushu, is often overlooked by foreign tourists, but it has a number of points of interest which are not to be missed. Aside from the famous Atomic Bomb Museum, there are many places to visit and things to do here. There are many undiscovered activities and attractions here, whether you’re into hiking, museums, beaches, shopping or natural beauty.
We recommend five great locations where you could easily spend your days in Kyushu:
One of Kyushu’s major ports and one of the most cosmopolitan places in the south island, this is the best place to start exploring Kyushu. Fukuoka is a lively place and there is always something going on. Known for its festivals, check to see what’s on at the time of your visit, or visit the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum anytime to learn a little local history.
Fukuoka is one of the greenest cities in Japan and has recently been hitting the headlines for the promotion of all things eco-friendly. To enjoy some outdoor space, visit Ohori Park and walk across the bridges which run through the lake, or hire a paddle boat if you’re feeling brave. Right next door are the ruins of the Fukuoka Castle – not much is left of the fortress but the area has been beautifully looked after and is well worth a look.
Other top attractions in Fukuoka include Kushida Shrine, the Art Museum and East Asian Art Museum, Nokonoshima Island, the Seaside Park, Fukuoka Tower, eating some Yatai (street food), shopping at Canal City and having a coffee at the Moomin Cafe. Though it is better to have a couple of days here to fully explore, you may check out this one day in Fukuoka (especially good for ramen lovers!).
-> If you’re in Fukuoka during summer, check out Day trip to Itoshima beach from Fukuoka
Well known for its recent history, Nagasaki is so much more than an opportunity for dark tourism. If you do fancy learning about the wartime events, the Atomic Bomb Museum, Memorial Hall and Peace Park will take up anything from an hour of your time to all day long depending on how interested you are. The three locations are all close together and a short ride away on the tram from the central train station.
If you’d like to find out about Nagasaki’s less recent history, a great place to start is Dejima island. Home to Dutch merchants who found themselves no longer welcome in the city, Dejima is a fascinating place and has been beautifully restored. For something similar with a bit more of a view, check out the Glover Garden at the end of the tram line. This beautiful garden also has a number of houses which have undergone restoration in recent years.
Other top attractions in Nagasaki include the 26 Martyrs Museum (near to the train station), Hashima Island, the Spectacles Bridge (stroll all the way up the river for a beautiful walk), Chinatown, the Museum of History and Culture, and the beautiful Seaside Park. While you’re in Nagasaki, grab a plate of Champon – this local dish is Chinese inspired and thoroughly delicious.
-> To find out more about Nagasaki, check out our Top 5 Things to do in Nagasaki
This location is often overlooked by foreign tourists, but if you love spending time by the sea then there are few better places to visit in Amakusa. Glorious beaches are hives of activity in the summer, but head down to the beach a few weeks before or after peak season and you’ll have the place to yourself.
Dolphin watching cruises are one of the most popular pastimes in Amakusa, with trips to suit every budget. Water sports enthusiasts can also find something to tickle their fancy. If land-based activities are more your cup of tea, learn a little local history at one of the many museums detailing the recent past of Christians in Amakusa. The Collegio Museum, Rosario Museum, Amakusa Shiro Memorial Hall, Christianity Museum and of course the various churches and cathedrals are all well worth visiting if you’d like to find out more about religion in Japan over the years.
Further down south, Kagoshima is another historical hotspot with countless museums and art galleries to have a look in. The Reimenkan Museum is particularly noteworthy, and you could do worse than to stroll down ‘culture street’ (Reimenkan is at one end) and take your pick of the museums there. Behind Reimenkan is a not inconsiderable hill. Climb it. The view across the Sakura-jima is unrivaled. Getting from Amakusa to Kagoshima would take up at least 4 hours but it will be worth it.
Sakura-jima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, is also well worth a visit. The ferry across takes no time at all and runs several times an hour. You can’t venture too close to the top of the volcano – probably a good thing given that it tends to erupt pretty much every day – but take a bus to the lava fields for some really unique sightseeing!
Kuro-buta (black pork) is a popular local dish, best tried in hot pot. Another must try are Kagoshima cakes, made from sweet potato. You can buy boxes of them at the main train station and they have a wonderful variety. If you like Japanese alcohol, check out some of Kagoshima’s local sho-chu as they have unique flavours.
If you like hiking, Kirishima will be your idea of heaven. The hiking around Kirishima is unrivaled, and while it gets busy in the summer, the area tends to be quiet at other times of the year. Head up to the Ebino Plateau to start yourself off. The information centre there has plenty of maps and things to help you on your way. There are gentle strolls, medium walks of two or three hours, and then for the more experienced walkers, challenge yourself to a full day hike around the mountain tops.
Japanese deer live in these woods, and if sitting in a forest with a good book is more your cup of tea than sweating it up a mountain, don’t be too surprised to glance up and see a deer sharing the peace and quiet with you. The area is also famous for natural hot springs, so whether you’ve been hiking or not, end your day with a gloriously hot bath – the outdoor pools are best.
Kirishima itself is a small town but worth visiting. They have a huge temple which is open to visitors, and a brilliant little museum of masks which has been set up by a local with a passion for collecting!
Traveling in and around Kyushu
All of these locations in Kyushu are easy to get to by train, but not always on the bullet train – you’ll have to switch to local lines if you want to reach Nagasaki or Amakusa. Alternatively, travelling by car is often cheaper than coughing up for a Shinkansen ticket, but be aware of peak travel times – in the summer, the roads down to Kagoshima and Amakusa can cause traffic jams adding hours to your journey.