The city is popularly known as Hida–Takayama (飛騨高山) in reference to the old Hida Province to differentiate it from other places named Takayama” ~ Wikipedia.
What things should you include when creating a Takayama itinerary? I’ll give you some ideas: Indulge in mouth watering wagyu? Check. Enjoy sampling some of Japan’s best sake? Check. Explore centuries-old temples and traditional architecture? Check. If you’re wondering about the things to do in Takayama 高山, hiding just beneath the surface there’s much more to this city than you might think!
As an invisible tourist, a visit to Takayama old town had been high on my list of off the beaten path places in Japan for quite some time. I’m pretty much obsessed with learning more about Japanese culture, so you can imagine my excitement when I finally had the chance to visit.
Although I had high expectations, they were easily exceeded and this city high in the Alps quickly became one of my favourite destinations in Japan. I daresay even more than gorgeous Kyoto – which is ironic, as Takayama is known as the Hida region’s “Little Kyoto!” Beauty and tradition are around every corner and I excitedly look forward to revisiting again in the future.
NOTE: This Takayama itinerary forms part of my larger 3 weeks in Japan itinerary that incorporates both the Old Golden Route and “New” Golden Route. For more ideas for visiting Japan in a relaxed, sustainable way be sure to take a look once you’re done here.
If you’re wanting to learn more about the breathtaking things to include on your itinerary for Takayama as well as a hidden gem that makes the perfect alternative to busy Shirakawa-go, read on for more!
This 2 days in Takayama itinerary will cover:
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Is Takayama worth visiting? Why create a 2 day Takayama itinerary
As Takayama province was one of the last to join a unified Gifu prefecture in 1876 the city boasts a unique, rich history that’s begging to be discovered. This dear old city is often overlooked, as only 6% of tourists include Takayama on their Japan itinerary.
What made me fall in love with Takayama was the undeniably similar hallmarks of famous Kyoto but without the annoying crowds. Think narrow laneways lined with dark brown wooden townhouses, bridges arched over free-flowing canals scattered about and incredible temples that stood the test of time.
In saying that, many tourists only use Takayama as a base to visit the gassho-thatched farmhouses of Shirakawa-go, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately overtourism in Japan is becoming a real issue so when planning a trip it helps to spend time at less-travelled destinations and alternatives to these overcrowded spots.
Spending longer in Takayama allows you to visit any busier areas after the day trippers and tourist crowds have gone for the day, making for a more enjoyable experience. There are benefits to tourists and locals alike as mentioned in my guide to overtourism solutions, and I’ll reveal my alternative to Shirakawa-go further down the page!
Where to stay in Takayama
I stayed in a lovely ryokan called Minshiku Iwatakan during my time in Takayama. It’s the perfect place to experience true omotenashi おもてなし (superb Japanese hospitality – here’s more beautiful Japanese words like this). The family running this traditional accommodation provide impeccable service.
Guests can dress in supplied kimono/yukata for meals as breakfast and multi-course dinners are included. It’s also in a quiet location about 15mins walk from the city centre. With onsen (hot springs) available to guests, what more could you want?
How to get to Takayama
There are a few different ways to get to Takayama from major cities in Japan. The trains mentioned below are covered by the Japan Rail Pass (the highway bus, however, is not).
- Tokyo to Takayama
JR Tokaido shinkansen via Nagoya, 4.5 hours, cost approx JPY 14,500
- Kanazawa to Takayama
JR Shinano limited express via Toyama, 2 hours, cost approx JPY 6,500
- Nagoya to Takayama
Wide View Hida limited express scenic train, 2.5 hours, cost approx JPY 9,420
- Matsumoto to Takayama
Highway bus, 2.5 hours, cost approx JPY 3,500
TIP: You can also save money by purchasing a JR Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass if you’ll be travelling a lot in the surrounding region.
Takayama Itinerary: Amazing things to do in the “Little Kyoto of Hida”
So, what to do in Takayama? There are so many wonderful things to uncover, you won’t be at a loss for things to do during your stay! The opening hours for some below attractions change depending on season so make sure to check directly.
DAY 1: Uncover history and beauty of Takayama’s Old Town
Cross the Nakabashi Bridge
We start our Takayama itinerary by admiring the view from the famous Nakabashi Bridge 中橋大橋, a symbol of the city and a popular meeting place. This vermillion bridge is created in traditional style and is surrounded by cherry trees during spring. It’s also where Takayama’s famous festival floats cross during the spring and autumn for an iconic scene.
Nakabashi Bridge’s prominent position in the city makes it a gateway into the preserved Old Town, also known as Sanmachi Suji district 三町筋.
TIP: I also absolutely LOVED exploring the Sanmachi Suji area at sundown. Golden hues splashed across the old wooden buildings to the sounds of water flowing through the streetside canals. It’s just magical!
Visit Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Surrounded by dense alpine trees Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine 桜山八幡宮 boasts the title of oldest in shrine Takayama. It’s believed its origins date back to the 4th century! The Takayama matsuri belong to this shrine.
It’s a relatively small in size but is quite beautiful and tranquil. Keep your eye out for Kiyoujin-isi (Madman Stone) hiding here and what will happen if touched!
Hunt down Takayama festival float storage sheds
Festival float storage sheds are dotted throughout the city and it’s enjoyable to stumble across them whilst exploring. Known as yatai-gura, these specially-designed storehouses have extremely tall wooden doors and thick stone walls to store the beautiful matsuri floats inside.
Takayama matsuri is one of the top 3 festivals in all Japan dating back to the 16th century, along with Kyoto’s Gion matsuri and Saitama’s Chichibu matsuri. The festival is so important to the area that it is listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage asset.
Each shed has a descriptive sign out front about the float stored inside. There are twelve floats in total, although four at a time are displayed on rotation at Takayama Yatai Kaikan, more below!
Be left in awe at Takayama Yatai Kaikan
If your trip doesn’t coincide with one of Takayam’s famous matsuri (spring and autumn festivals), definitely visit Takayama Yatai Kaikan 高山屋台会館, the festival floats exhibition hall. Gosh, the floats really have to be seen to be believed, their intricate details are simply jaw-dropping.
Four of the floats feature marionettes depicting nobility and are manipulated by local expert puppeteers during the festival. These puppets each have 36 strings and need 8 puppeteers to bring them to life!
Many of the floats date back to the 17th century. Each wheel on these portable shrines measures 1.5 metres high and they were designed to look similar to the old Imperial Carriage that transported the country’s Emperor. They’re also so much taller in real life than I had imagined – make sure you see for youself!
Admire intricate details at Sakurayama Nikkokan
Don’t forget drop in to Sakurayama Nikkokan 桜山日光館. It’s included in the entry cost to Yatai Kaikan and is absolutely incredible if you love attention to detail. A huge room hosts a 1:10 scale model of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Nikko.
I lost track of time here admiring the beautifully hand-painted models of the miniature shrine replicas. This exhibition took 15 years to create with 33 carpenters working on it. I also got the feeling this is often overlooked by visitors, so remember to take a look!
Enjoy sake tasting at a local brewery
In the preserved Old Town, enjoy sake tasting at one of the breweries. Due to the colder climate, Takayama is famous for its pure sake so while you’re here make sure you don’t leave without trying some! Book online in advance here.
As I explain in my Kyoto bar hopping guide to spot places that sell sake, look out for sugidama (leafy cedar balls) hanging at the storefront. At one of the breweries, I was able to sample 12 kinds of sake for JPY 300 – yes seriously!
NOTE: This system is based on goodwill, so please don’t be an annoying tourist by making a scene and ruining this experience for everyone. As sake is made from rice, it’s said to absorb into your body quicker than wine or beer!
End day one of your Takayama itinerary with delicious local specialties
For dinner, cross the river over the bridge featuring Ashinaga & Tenaga Statues to land at Kajibashi street. There are endless eateries around here, so follow your nose and make sure you try some of the local specialty, Hida beef – you can’t get much better than that as Takayama is famous for it.
I personally enjoyed Karakuri Japanese BBQ near Takayama Station. It’s not the cheapest but has a great local atmosphere, quality Hida beef and a tonne of Daruma dolls on display at the bar inside.
DAY 2: Immerse yourself in Takayama’s local culture
Enjoy sights, sounds & smells of Miyagawa Morning Market
This is a must add to your Takayama itinerary! The Miyagawa Morning Market 宮川朝市 runs parallel to the Miyagawa River. Indulge in some hot taiyaki (more about these in my guide to Japanese snacks and how you can have them sent from Japan to you in my guide to Japanese sweets) or enjoy an edible cookie cup espresso at the talented Garage Doto Coffee stand!
There is plenty of street food and fresh produce at this market for a hearty breakfast. The stores lining the river also specialise in handicrafts, traditional souvenirs and intricate fabrics.
Opening hours: 07:00 – 12:00 from April – December and 08:00 – 12:00 in January to March. The below video shows my delicious edible espresso in the making! (if you can’t see it, simply disable your ad blocker):
Admire Takayama’s newest attraction
While you’re nearby the Morning Market, make sure to see the newest addition to Takayama while you’re there – the Gyojin Bridge. In typical Japanese fashion, the modernity of the bridge ties into tradition with Gifu cypress wood latticework adorning its walls. This style of woodwork is what Takayama is famous for and you’ll learn why if you decide to visit Hida Folk Village, our optional day trip!
Go temple hopping along the Higashiyama Walking Course
Embark on the Higashiyama Walking Course 東山遊歩道 near Teramachi in the city’s east. Perched on a leafy hillside overlooking the town below, the course explores a dozen wonderfully preserved temples, some are designated cultural assets of Japan. The entire course is 3.5 kilometres long and takes around 2 hours to complete.
I honestly ran out of time to visit all temples along the way, but I made sure I visited the one I wanted to see most, Hokke-ji. Founded in 1553, this temple features a gorgeous pond with an arched stone bridge and has ties to the former Takayama Castle. One of my favourite YouTube channels about Takayama covers this course, so take a look for what to expect.
Within some of the cemeteries at these temples and shrines, you’ll find graves of figureheads that were important to Takayama. After the Higashiyama Walking Course, it’s lovely to take your time wandering back down into the Old Town along the pretty canal backstreets of the Higashiyamamachi area.
TIP: If visiting Takayama in summer, be aware along the Higashiyama Walking Course there are tiny annoying insects like mosquitoes that come out during sundown here, so it may be a good idea to use insect repellant during this time.
Step back into the Edo period at Takayama Jinya
If you’re interested in seeing an Edo period government house, check out Takayama Jinya (cost: 440 JPY). Due to Takayama’s valuable timber, the city fell under control of the Tokugawa shogunate who sent officials here from Edo (now Tokyo).
Built in traditional style, Takayama Jinya features tatami mats and sliding wooden doors throughout the former offices and conference rooms. It was used until as recently as 1969 and is now a museum.
DON’T MISS: Karakuri Museum
If you have time, the Karakuri Museum is an underrated Takayama attraction I haven’t seen listed in other guides. This is a thoroughly enjoyable cultural experience and I’m so glad I saw it!
Dating back to 1617 during the Edo period, traditional marionettes and automated dolls became very popular and were first used on the Matsuri floats. Make sure to watch the impressive performance as the wooden dolls swing from trapezes, climb stairs, write calligraphy and move on their own across the stage.
Cost: 600 JPY, no photography or video permitted (but take a look on the Karakuri Museum website to see amazing shots of what to expect). It truly amazed me at how old this tradition is and I couldn’t help but think these marionettes may have been an early sign of Japan’s fascination with robots! The museum has over 300 masks and other interesting theatre artefacts on display, too.
OPTIONAL: Takayama to Shirakawa-go, iconic village of central Japan
Ok, so you want to do a day trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go? With its iconic thatched-roof farmhouses nestled deep within a valley of the Japanese Alps offering a glimpse into life during the Edo period, I can’t blame you! However, there are some important things to note about day trips to Shirakawa-go from Takayama in one day.
- The UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawago began to suffer from overtourism in recent years with overcrowding from day trippers and illegal parking on the narrow streets from tourists ignoring road rules.
- During peak season, tourists are known to line up for around two hours to get an iconic photo of the valley from Shirayama Viewpoint.
- Day-tripping coaches showing up with thousands of tourists are an unsustainable way to see a town and not enjoyable for anyone.
- Some organised bus tours only spend 2.5 hours at Shirakawa-go, arriving at 5pm for the night illuminations during winter.
In case you haven’t already guessed from the name of my blog, I’m all about encouraging tourists to ‘blend in’ as best as possible when abroad to not cause issues for locals. Yes, some locals still reside in these 250-year old farmhouses!
Where to stay in Shirakawa-go
I’m not saying don’t go if your heart is set on it, however set realistic expectations. My honest advice would be to do a DIY Shirakawa-go itinerary, or actually spend the night in a traditional farmhouse to make the most of your visit. You’ll get to experience the village after the crowds of day trippers have left, making for a more intimate, enjoyable encounter.
Search for accommodation in Shirakawa-go here.
To get to Takayama on your own, the Nohi bus takes 50mins from Takayama and can be reserved online in advance to ensure you don’t miss out on a seat. More info here.
NOTE: If you hire a car, you’ll need an international drivers’ license for driving in Japan. It also may not be a good idea if you’re not used to driving in icy conditions. And remember, people drive on the left!
TIP: If you do decide to take an organised tour, try and find one that limits group number to around 12-14 people. These smaller groups are a much more sustainable way to travel.
BONUS: Alternative to Shirakawa-go: Hida Folk Village
Love the idea of Shirakawa-go, but prefer to avoid crowds? Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) is the perfect alternative! It’s only a 10 minute bus trip or 30 minute walk from Takayama station.
While I loved visiting Takayama in summer, Hida Folk Village is perfect to visit any time of year with stunning natural scenery that changes with the turn of every season – cherry blossoms in spring, lush greenery in summer, hues of red during autumn and thatched farmhouses coated in snow during winter.
Hida Folk Village showcases what life was like in this alpine region during the Edo period. Have fun with traditional old Japanese toys by the pond, visit each of the incredibly preserved farmhouses, learn about tools used to survive in the area, marvel at the craftsmanship of Takumi Shrine and even join a workshop creating pottery and other handicrafts.
TIP: You can even see the unusual shiny roof of Sukyo Mahikari temple off in the distance from here.
TIP: My full guide to Hida Folk Village details exactly what you can expect when visiting and includes what to buy in Takayama. If you happen to visit during July, find out the once-in-a-year event that I was so fortunate to experience!
BONUS: Gero Onsen, one of Japan’s top 3 hot spring towns
Do you want to *quite literally* soak up the local culture in Japan? Just an hour from Takayama is Gero Onsen, a relaxing hot spring town nestled within the Japanese Alps. Often flying under the radar of foreign tourists, it’s the perfect place to escape the city, relax in the natural hot springs and enjoy the best of omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) in a traditional ryokan.
For all the details including the best things to do and where to stay, check out my 2 days in Gero Onsen itinerary.
Have some extra time? Here are more things to do in Takayama
Need a few more ideas for your Takayama itinerary? Take a look at things to do in the greater Takayama area:
- View the Japanese Alps from above on a Shinhotaka Ropeway ride
- Visit Kusakabe Heritage House or Yoshijima Heritage House, both important cultural properties from the Meiji period
- Explore the quirky Retro Museum with memorabilia from Showa period (1926 – 1989) movies & TV shows
- Relax in Shiroyama Park, featuring Shoren-ji Temple and the site of former Takayama Castle
- Find Hida Kokubunji Temple, a 3 storey pagoda completed in the 19th century, but its origins date back 1,200 years.
Concluding this 2 day Takayama city travel guide
This concludes my travel guide to Hida Takayama! Now you know all the best places to learn more about life, history and culture in the Japanese Alps. You know the significance of matsuri to Takayama, sake and of course Hida beef. You also know that you don’t need to make a long journey to Shirakawa-go for the quintessential rural Japan experience with my nearby alternative to this popular destination.
Do you plan on using this Takayama itinerary someday? Is there much more to Takayama than you initially thought? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
While you’re here, I have many more itineraries for this amazing country on my Japan travel blog. For tips on planning your trip to hidden gems, off the beaten path locations and more, go take a look for tonnes of inspiration or join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok for more ways to “be invisible” on your travels!
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