Nagasaki – the perfect small Kyushu city to visit

Nagasaki – the perfect small Kyushu city to visit

Nagasaki is the place I spent the longest time in last year – apart from home. But writing about Nagasaki has been a bumpy experience.

It’s not because I didn’t love it – quite the contrary. There’s rather so much to write about that I didn’t know where to start. Having stayed there for six weeks, I got to know the city quite well for a tourist. Even though I spent most of my days at the university, evenings were long and balmy, and I did a lot of local exploration. Apart from a weekend of day trips in Western Kyushu, I didn’t feel the need to venture further, as there was so much to see in Nagasaki.

Central Nagasaki with Nagasakiminato Ferry Terminal – admittedly not love at first sight

And this post is far from complete, and there probably will be some more Nagasaki posts. Also… because I was so happy in Nagasaki, I didn’t explore the cities of Fukuoka, Kumamoto or Kagoshima, so I do not know how they would compare to Nagasaki. So, here’s my passionate plea for Nagasaki.

Why is Nagasaki such a perfect city to visit?

For starkets, the location of Nagasaki is very scenic. Situated between the Nagasaki Bay and the Omura Bay, Nagasaki is surrounded by the sea. And just beyond the narrow beaches, some sandy, some forested, there are some mountains covered in thick subtropic forest,  with Mt. Unzen volcano looming in the distance.

The climate is fairly pleasant subtropical warm and quite wet. It makes for lovely green vegetation and fertile soil, with tea being grown just outside Nagasaki.

Historically, Nagasaki was  open to the world even during the isolationist period under the Tokugawa Shogunate from the early 1600s. Its Dejima Island was an important trading post for Dutch and Chinese until the beginning of the Meiji period, and when Japan gradually opened to foreigners again, it was a pioneer city of the Japanese Industrial REvolution.

With all this, Nagasaki is so rich in history that even a US Atomic bomb was unable to destroy. You will find remembrance everywhere, but like Hiroshima,  Nagasaki is a cheerful, forward-looking city.

A tiny shrine in my neighbourhood – complete with parked kei car

Nagasaki Practicalities

And before singing more praise, let’s discuss Nagasaki’s only disadvantage – getting there. Sitting in the West of Kyushu, it is geographically closer to China than Tokyo. If you have unlimited funds or a Japan Rail Pass, it’s all good.

Fukuoka is served by the Hakata Shinkansen. From Fukuoka, you will need to take a bumpy old train, which speeds along to Takeo Onsen, and change onto the new Kamome Shinkansen for a swift 20-minute ride to Nagasaki. It is now almost impossible to get to Fukuoka on non-Shinkansen trains, making the trip a bit pricey, about 5500 JPY (35 Euro) for a single trip. Highway buses cost about a third and take about an hour or two longer, but need to be pre-booked.

So, while Nagasaki is served by several train lines, getting there from the rest of Japan is a bit pricey. Of course, you can also fly, but with such great high-speed train system, it would be a shame not to use it.

The cutest aspect of Nagasaki transport? The vintage trams! Not fast but comfy and super reliable

Other than that, Nagasaki is a small, relaxed city that is easy to get around. Most sights are served by its charming tram system. Accommodations are plentiful and high quality, due to the local industry and trade conferences.

What to see in Nagasaki

Nagasaki is infamous abroad for one thing: The Atomic Bomb. And while there is a good museum about it in Nagasaki, there is a lot more to see. In fact, the museum is good but rather small, and would not be a reason alone to visit the city. When you dig a little deeper, you’ll soon find a few days are not enough to see everything worth seeing… but with no one hyping any “Must See!” sights either, the city is very forgiving and offers a few days at a relaxed pace where you will never get bored.

Atomic Bomb Memorials

If you are short on time, head for the Peace Park, Nagasaki’s Showcase Park with lots of art installations dedicated to peace and solidarity, crowned by the famous blue peace statue by Seibou Kitamoura, thought to represent a Buddhist symbol.

Peace Memorial in Peace Park, Nagasaki

Even more interesting is the adjacent Hypocentre Park, representing the actual bomb hypocentre, with educational displays and shrines everywhere. It is green and pleasant and very little visited, unimaginable from what it used to be.

Around the hypocentre, you get many smaller memorials that have been preserved as educational and remembrance sites – from the wonky entrance gates to Nagasaki Medical College, to Sanno Shrine with its one-legged torii gate and the camphor trees that survived the bomb and fallout, to the really modest but moving Nyokodo Hermitage, residence of the “Saint of Nagasaki” Takashi Nagai.

Nyoko-do Hermitage: sadly undervisited

The rebuilt Urakami Cathedral and Fukusaiji Temple also serve as memorials – while Urakami Cathedral was rebuilt in a fairly sober red brick traditional style, Fukusaiji Temple went all out with its 1970’s almost psychedelic structure in turtle shaped, topped with a huge goddess statue.

Trading and Industrial Revolution Sites

Okay, here are the sites that will probably receive the most tourists, apart from the Atomic Bomb Museum.

First of all, the oldest, Dejima Island, served as the only contact between Japan and Europe for two centuries. What you can visit today is a replica of a Dutch trading station. From the 1840’s onwards, still under shogunate, Japan slowly started to open towards Europe and the Americas, and merchants started to reside in Japan, and during the Meiji restoration period from 1968 onwards, Nagasaki was the portal for Japan’s industrialisation and flourishing trade with the West.

Dejima, surrounded by downtown Nagasaki

Thomas Glover, one of those early early traders, is the namesake for the hilly park-like area called Glover Garden where these merchants settled in Nagasaki. It is a pleasant large park with mid-1900s Western style buildings and very popular among Japanese and Asian tourists.

Glover Garden – former seamen’s lodgings

Last not least, the much hyped Hashima Island (AKA Gunkanjima) Island also falls under Industrial Revolution sites. It was established as a coal mine in the late 1800s and was abandoned in the 1970s and is famous for its stacked bleak-looking tower blocks and an appearance in a James Bond movie.

Just so you know, I did not visit that one – it’s a long pricey boat trip, often one cannot land due to weather conditions, and the area you can actually enter is tiny. I may have considered it in favourable weather but really run out of time.

Temples, Shrines and Churches

Surprisingly, despite its industrial past, Nagasaki has plenty of beautiful spiritual and religious places of worship, all of which are open to the public.

Starting with a really underrated gem, Kiyumizu-dera in the southern centre. Located next to a Shinto Shrine, the temple is little visited, yet is a typical example of traditional Japanese religious architecture and, to top it all off, offers some fantastic view over the town and is 2 minutes form a tram stop.

Unlike its Kyoto cousin, this one is really quiet: Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Nagasaki

From here, you can walk the Eastern Nagasaki “Temple Street” via Sofukuji all the way to Chinese-style Kofukuji – it will take you most of the day of you visit every temple or shrine and stop in the cute cafes and bars on the way.

Not far from Kiyomizu-dera yet built in totally different style, the Chinese Confucian Temple, built in the late 1800’s, is a testimony to the centuries-old cultural exchange with China and houses a Chinese Culture museum in one of its buildings.

While you find probably 20-odd temples and shrines in Nagasaki’s Eastern hillside, there are plenty in the hills across town, too. Starting with the most venerated of Nagasaki’s Shinto shrines, the Suwa Shrine. It sees more visitors, mostly locals. There are more temples and shrines in the neighbourhood, and it’s best combined with nearby Museum of History and Culture, or you get lost in the extremely pleasant residential neighbourhood, or explore the lovely Shindaikumachi and Sakurababa neighbourhoods.

Suwa Shrine

Last not least, Nagasaki has an astonishing number of active Christian churches. Christian missionaries from Spain and Portugal managed to convert a considerable number of Kyushu residents, against all resistance and persecution from the Shogunate, and Nagasaki to this day has a sizeable Catholic population.

Oura Church is Japan’s oldest church and can be visited, my most interesting trip was to the community church in Nakamachi, where, after a service in the beautiful bright church, the congregation would move on to tend the church gardens together.

Oura Church

And it doesn’t stop here. You will find a temple, shrine or a church within a couple hundred metres wherever you are in Nagasaki. Often there are some friendly people around, who will show you what they think is worth seeing, and the temples and shrines warrant a separate post, really, because there are so many beautiful ones with very few visitors.

Cool Miscellaneous Stuff…

I am trying to remember anything else worth seeing that doesn’t fall into any of the categories above. Honestly, in six weeks in Nagasaki I did not see everything I wanted to see, even though I stayed very close to Nagasaki in all my trips, skipped a couple days of university and didn’t even make it as far as Fukuoka City.

But I tried to learn to write kanji but failed miserably to get into a class (they were held in Japanese only), went on a firefly viewing exhibition, tested a decent number of onsen in and around Nagasaki… and of course, ate my way through town and got to know all the book shops and fabric shops. There will be something else for you to discover.

Like most larger Japanese cities, Nagasaki has its own Museum for Culture and History. I admit I didn’t visit it, but my husband, who gets bored of museums easily, visited and rated it very highly. Also, its location, in a residential green neighbourhood, and its relaxed traditional style make this one a good place to start your Nagasaki explorations.

A really offbeat attraction for garden lovers is Mihara Garden. A community project / design experiment tucked away in a hilly suburb, the garden is one of my favourite attractions in Japan – undervisited, green, pleasant, with a beautiful cafe.

Giverny at Mihara Garden – one of the prettiest cafes I;ve been to, with a cracking view

If you are spending the night and I hope you do, the Mount Inasayama Observatory is rated as one of the world’s Top Ten night views. You can take a cable car, a bus (a bit tricky) or walk if you’re feeling super energetic.

And to relax, the huge Fuku No Yu Onsen on the Inasayama Hillside (great views from there, too) is a great way to finish a Nagasaki trip.

Where to Stay in Nagasaki

Nagasaki is full of hotels and inns, most belonging to local or national chains. The most convenient area to stay is the JR Nagasaki Station. If you love nightlife, Chinchi Chinatown is your place to stay. The perfect balance of all is the lovely residential area between the NAgasaki Museum of History and Culture and the train station. Easy to walk, or two stops on the tram.

What follows are a few personal recommendations, most of which I stayed in.

Chic Minimalist Style: Grand Base Nagasaki City

My first “home away from home” when I went on my course in Nagasaki. I wanted comfort and Western Style, and good access to the tram. For less that 300 Euro per week, I got a spacious one-room apartment with kitchenette, a huge bath with washing machine, all new, in a super quiet location yet only five minutes walk from the nearest tram stop.  The building was low-rise, new and has maybe 20 units. It is really quiet.

My apartment had two very large beds, making this good for up to four people, an actual sofa and coffee table and although I missed a desk, it was comfortable for studying. I also could make my own breakfast and dinner easily, thanks to a well equipped kitchenette.

Beds were super comfy, it was really clean.   Style is minimalist Western style except for the bath setup and the all-singing and dancing toilet in its own palatial room. And, arriving terribly sleep deprived at midnight, I didn’t love their unmanned reception and faff with self-check-in, but there was a phone to get assistance, and it all worked out. Once checked in, it was easy to communicate by messaging. For a very comfortable stay in a nice residential area, I really recommend Grand Base Nagasaki City.

Another of their hotels, Grand Base Nakamachi, is located even closer to the station and is very similar.

My neighbourhood at Grand Base Nagasaki City – lovely residential area, short walk to restaurants

Traditionally Japanese in the city: Relaxing Inn Origami  (和みの宿 おりがみ)

Origami Inn is just down the road and the choice for travellers who prefer a Japanese style room. Again, a relatively small modern building, with just a few rooms. On the first floor, there is a small cafe and bar and some Western Style rooms, whereas the second floor is Japanese down to the corridor and huge family bath.

I don’t quite know where to start because I stayed two weeks in this place so I got to experience everything. My room, a spacious tatami room, had a small fridge and was otherwise very Japanese in style – low tables and legless chairs and all. Sleeping on the tatami floor on a classic (thin!) futon set-up took a bit of adjustment. But for the authentic JApanese experience, it was well worth it. I found it even more difficult to study here, but didn’t want to stay in the library, because my husband was visiting at the same time so I actually joined a lot of lectures remotely, and the yukata was perhaps my most used piece of clothing during that time.

There was a huge bath, sinks, a microwave, kettles and water dispensers in a communal area, but it would not have been convenient for cooking – just reheating food.

The cafe was usually empty, but the staff take great price in it, and roast their own coffee, which they will happily supply in neat little packets for breakfast. Another big plus was the ample private off road parking space which cost just 500 JPY a day. So, if you bring your car into the city, and want a very Japanese experience in central Nagasaki, try the Relaxing Inn Origami. I paid about 600 Euro, just for myself, for just under two weeks.

My husband relaxing in my “study” at Origami Inn

Business at its best: S Peria Hotel Nagasaki

The S Peria is one of the typical Japanese convenient, lower priced business hotels. It is quite conveniently located 150 metres from a tram stop, 120 minutes walk from the train station and right by a main road. The area isn’t charming, but you are certainly very central, and one of my favourite restaurants (Hiroshimatei) and coffee shops (Kariomon) are literally next to the hotel. There’s three shopping malls in walking distance, and you can walk to almost all central Nagasaki sights from here.

What’s not to love? Honestly, as far as business hotels go, you could not do much better. I paid around 40 Euro per night for a double room with single occupancy. It was newly furnished, comfortable, and I finally had a desk! Okay, a small one, and barely room for anything else, but  the room got serviced daily, we had a microwave (in the lobby, of all places) , cheap self service laundry, and a super comfortable bed and a bit of built in storage. Not ideal when you have just bought a huge box of porcelain, your husband notoriously overpacks, and you have luggage worth six weeks and a fair bit of shopping, but Japanese rooms are known to be small, and this wasn’t the smallest room I stayed in.

Every one might have their favourites – Toyoko Inn is most known outside Japan, Dormy Inn has an onsen bath on site, but S Peria Hotel is my new favourite for central, convenient comfort in Nagasaki.

Can’t be beaten on a budget: Himawari Hotel

Last not least: one of my favourites. In terms of value for money, this is high above everything else here. Yes, it is spartan. But it’s clean, spacious, there is a tram stop and tons of little restaurant just outside the door, and there is a communal kitchen. The photos do it no justice.  I really didn’t expect much but six weeks in Japan, tuition fees and airfare were eating up my budget. Plus I wanted to be near the university for the last two weeks of my course and expected to study a lot, so I booked this small hotel.

When I entered my single room, I was pleasantly surprised. Huge by Japanese standards, bright, with a comfortable double bed and a small desk and small shelf. The aircon was working. It was spotlessly clean.

Honestly, I didn’t need more, Thanks to a good supermarket with the most extensive deli and the use of a shared kitchen, I would often eat at home, but there probably hundred restaurants in a the grid of small streets just outside the door.

The place is run by the loveliest couple ever. They do everything to accommodate you.

The Atomic Bomb Museum ist 5 minutes on foot, the University Hospital and Medical School are about 5-10 minutes on foot. I did not find anything comparable for roughly 20 Euro per night for a private room, so  Himawari Hotel  is my budget recommendation.

Himawari: Spartan but lovely – with the added benefit of a kitchen

Where to eat in Nagasaki

I will keep this fairly brief, as I have enough material for a food-related Nagasaki post.

Generally speaking, Nagasaki is a great city for food. While there are quite a few tourists, they spread quite nicely over the city centre, so while you might  get some meh restaurants round the trains station and in the malls there, it’s quite easy to find great food in Nagasaki.

Hiroshimatei near JR Nagasaki – best Okonomiyaki I tried

My favourite areas for really good local food are around Siebold Street (Shindaikumachi), the Hamanomachi and Shiambashi area and  north of Urakami Station. And hey, one of my favourite coffee shops and casual restaurants are in walking distance from the station – there are definitely gems there.

Random Shiambashi Restaurant feast

Nagasaki is famous for Chinese food, creamy noodle soup called Champon and Castella cake. I give the first two a pass, being mostly vegetarian, definitely not eating meat. I tried Castella cake because the flagship store of Bunmeido, famous castella cake baker,  was right by my tram stop. Castella is basically a European-style, very sweet and fluffy pound cake. My mate said his granny would make a better one.

So while I wasn’t so keen on Nagasaki’s famous foods, I found some really fresh sushi, really nice comfort food and just really good standard Japanese food. There isn’t much hyped or “must do” food or restaurants in Nagasaki, really. Generally I stay away from them. I went to eat at a very famous restaurant in Shimabara, which, while certainly not bad, wasn’t worth the hype either, so gimmick restaurants, Michelin-starred ramen whatever, I have no experience on.

Shopping in Nagasaki

There are probably better places to shop than in Nagasaki.  I still managed to bring back 30kg of extra stuff, not counting the table ware I gave my husband to carry home.

Most of my shopping was food related. There are plenty decent supermarkets everywhere to buy your favourite Japanese sweets, savoury snacks, spices and curry sauce.  Let’s see what most travellers love to bring back… snacks! Like many, I have fallen for the weird flavour KitKat and Pocky Sticks. And even more important to me are “beer snacks” small bags of rice crackers. I have a few favourite brands.  For overall supermarket fun, the very large supermarket in the Chitosepia Mall had all these things in abundance. The supermarket at the Atomic Bomb Museum was my “local” and the supermarkets in Shindaikumachi were good also.  Another large supermarket is in the mall adjacent to the JR Nagasaki Station.

My first trip to the 100yen store and I went a bit overboard

As far as malls go, Mirai Cocowalk is the largest, with the nicest book store and a huge Uniqlo and two restaurant floors. The YoumeTown Yumesaito was my second favourite, with a rather olde-worlde feel but a nice Seibu Loft, and a crazy gaming floor on top. The train station mall has a large Muji but the rest of the shops and restaurants were rather meh to me.

Since I am no big shopper, take the rest with a pinch of salt. My favourite shops are thrift, antique, perfume and fabric shops. And book shops. Throw in an unusual jewellery store, and I can look for hours.

So, where in Nagasaki can you find that combo? Your best bet might be Hamanomachi Arcade. A bit staid but still full of life. It has Kyushu’s largest stationery shop, Ishimara Bunkoudou, inside. It was pretty impressive. I got everything I was looking for except Hobonichi notebook (found those in Loft). They also have nice incense and non tacky souvenirs, among them the ultimately tenugui towels. Behind the arcade is Nishizawa, a Sasebo-based fabric and crafts shop, for all your Japanese fabric needs. Not so much to report on antique and thrift, but we went to Second Street, a second hand store, where you get very gently as good as new clothes and accessories from quality brands.

No shortage of malls in Nagasaki – this one is integrated into the train station

My second favourite was Mirai Cocowalk. A bit crazy for someone who is really not into malls. However… it was a very short walk from my accommodation, had a decent food court and Nagasaki’s best book shop with a Doutor in its centre, cue endless browsing with weirdly flavoured coffee drinks. Also has a branch of Seria, which I think is the best 100 yen store chain.

Other Activities

If not sightseeing, you can walk the Nagasaki Hills, eat your way round town, or visit the lovely onsen dotted over town.

It’s not far to some decent beaches either – the best ones are on the other side of Mount Inasa (accessible by public bus) or south of the city.

I have a few posts on places I visited outside Nagasaki such as the lovely tea gardens of Higashi Sonogi. If you are interested in good kitchen knives and don’t fancy Kyoto or Tokyo prices, pay a visit to gentle seaside Omura and the Shu Matsubara foundry. A little further out, walk the charming kiln village of Okawachiyama and shop cheap vintage tableware at the Kouraku Kiln Treasure Hunt.

And that’s just a fraction of potential activities – there are posts to come on day trips to Itoshima and Karatsu, Shimabara and Unzen. Never heard of them? Good, because they are so undervisited and lovely and just waiting to be explored!

How many days to spend in Nagasaki?

To be honest: As many as you can. I spent six weeks in Nagasaki and did my “tourist work” on weekends and revision periods, and did not see everything. Given the relatively modest accommodation prices, I would really consider a week here is a week well spent.

You can see the highlights in two or three days. I probably would not make the trip from, day Osaka or Fukuoka for less than two full days, as it is quite far out on the Southwestern edge of Japan, and until the Shinkansen is fully built, it’s either a pricey, bumpy ride from Fukuoka (only Takeo Onsen to Nagasaki is smooth Shinkansen Line right now) or a three-hour trip on a highway bus (which you really ought to pre-book).

The Small Print

I visited Nagasaki in May and June 2023 to attend university. All costs were paid by myself, with a small grant (less than 10% of total cost) from my current employer towards tuition fees.

As I do not rely on income from this blog – quite the contrary – I see no need to hustle hard, so I only recommend places and things I have either tried myself or that I have at least checked out, and every recommendation is honest. I do have some affiliate links to, so if you make a booking using these links, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you, but as I said, my income comes from my regular job!

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16 thoughts on “Nagasaki – the perfect small Kyushu city to visit”

  • Nagasaki is one of the areas in Kyushu that I have never made it to. When I was first in Japan, I was less interested in seeing Japanese version of Christianity or where the first westerners visited. Looking back, I am not sure why!? It does seem like the kind of place I would love. Especially with the surrounding mountains and the calm spots like Mihara’s garden.

    You made me smile about going overboard on your first visit to the 100yen shop. We’ve all been there!!

    • Hi Josy, Nope, that would not interest me in the first place either, but Nagasaki is perhaps the place in Japan, that, historically, had the most “foreign” influence… you see it in many ways… Buddhism, Christianity, Castella cake… Also, it is where Western Medicine was first introduced in Japan by Bavarian physician Philipp Siebold, he contributed to the opening of Japan during the Shogunate and is still highly regarded in Japan.

  • I haven’t had the chance to visit Japan yet, but I would love to! I’ll definitely keep Nagasaki in mind when the time comes. Thanks for such a helpful post, and I love your photos!

    • Hi Tess, thank you for your comment! I really love Nagasaki and am considering visiting again, if there weren’t so many great places in Japan I haven’t visited yet! I am definitely recommending considering Kyushu to any one who wants to travel in Japan.

  • I really enjoyed reading your post. I must admit I did not know anything about Nagasaki except being the bomb site. But so many amazing paces to visit.

    • Hi Shweta, I felt the same before I visited – notorious as the second and hopefully last place the Atomic bomb was thrown. And honestly, there is so much more to it than Atomic bomb, but it is stuck out in Western Kyushu that relatively few visitors come – most are Koreans on weekend trips from Busan or Americans from the military. Also, it has been a gateway to the West, and, interestingly, it is where Western Medicine was introduced to JApan in the 1800s.

  • Great post. We did not visit Nagasaki when we went to Japan. I hope to see it next time. I will save this for then!

  • I appreciate your perspective on this city after spending so much time there! I enjoyed my visit to Japan but didn’t make it to Nagasaki – you have me thinking about returning!

    • Hi Tracy, thank you for your comment! It’s true, not so many travellers visit Kyushu since it’s a long way from Kansai and Tokio where the major sights are. It’s well worth a trip especially when looking for somewhere with fewer tourists.

  • Those vintage trains in Nagasaki and the cafe at Mihara Gardens look so cute! hope to visit the city when I make it to Japan (even though it is truly far away)! thanks for sharing all the tips

    • Hi Anna, the trams are a real gem, and I am not a trainspotter. They are even retrofitted with aircondition as far as I remember and fairly comfortable. I took them to uni very morning and tried to ride as many different trains (they have old ones, modern ones and some really special ones) as possible!

  • Hi Trisha, that’s cool! I had my fair share of okonomiyaki but Hiroshimatei was the best. I want to return to Japan but having heard the “top destinations” are so busy, I am hoping to visit less known places this time, too. THankfully, I have been to Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo back in 2004/2005 and even then places like Nikko or Nara were fairly busy.

  • I appreciate the detail in your blog post and, particularly, the hidden gems, like Mihara Garden. What a neat place. It is also interesting to see the contrasting architectural styles in your pictures.

    • Hi Michelle, thank you for your comment! Nagasaki has a lot of nondescript concrete architecture and the older traditional gems in between them… I was blown away by Mihara Gardens. My classmates actually recommended it, it is not that well publicised, but of you like a JApanese garden, it’s a really rewarding place to visit.

  • I love Japan and I am glad that you are exploring other parts apart from Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto! I have been to Hiroshima Tei too and that’s really a great choice for Japanese pancakes! Thanks for sharing!

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