Sendai is known for being the biggest city in the Tohoku part of Honshu Island in Japan. There are around a million people living in this vibrant city which means that if you are looking for a little bit of everything in Japan then this is the place to come.
When you visit Sendai you will be treated to attractions such as observation towers, museums and galleries, but the city also has more traditional places to visit such as mausoleums of famous families and the ruins of its ancient castle.
As you would expect for a city of this size, you can also enjoy a delicious food scene here and there are several sizable nightlife districts to choose from if you want to let your hair down in the evenings.
Another reason to come to Sendai is that while it is representative of a modern Japanese town, it is also not firmly on the tourist trail which means that you will get an authentic look at life in Japan without being bombarded with overly touristy things to do.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Sendai…
1. Visit Zuihoden
Zuihoden is also known as the Mausoleum of Date Masamune who was the first lord of the Sendai Domain.
He was also known for being a great architect and is known for having designed this building during the Momoyama Period.
Zuihoden is a riot of gorgeous wood carvings and panels as well as some pretty art work and you can also go for a walk around the grounds.
The paths are shaded by beautiful cedar trees which are also mean to be a symbol of the longevity of the Date family.
2. Check out the Sendai Castle Ruins
The Sendai Castle Ruins were the inspiration for a famous Japanese poem called ‘The moon over the desolate castle’ and this tells you all you need to know about their condition now.
The ruins also do include a model of the original gate to give you a feel of how Sendai Castle would have looked in the days of old.
There is also a small museum here that takes you through the history of the castle although don’t expect anything too grand as Sendai is not one of the cities in Japan that is best known for a complete or particularly impressive castle.
If that is what you are looking for then there are plenty of other options in other cities.
3. Tour Miyagi Museum of Art
The Miyagi Museum of Art is a great place to come if you want to check out some modern art in Sendai.
One section of the museum that is well worth stopping by is the gallery that features the world of local artist Juryo Sato who is known for his beautiful sculptures.
Once you have toured the museum you can also stroll through the idyllic grounds which are located next to the river and make an ideal spot for a relaxing walk.
4. Take in the views at SS 30 Observation Lounge
If you want to get the best views in Sendai then you need to head to SS 30 Observation Lounge.
This building is actually an office block so there is not much to check out here except for two observation decks on the 29th and 30th floors.
These are free to visit and give you panoramic vistas across all of Sendai so try to come in the morning or the late afternoon when you will get the best photo opportunities from the decks.
5. Check out the Museum of the Forest of Depths of the Earth
The Museum of the Forest of Depths of the Earth is dedicated to telling you the story of the stone age in Japan.
On a visit here you can find out all how the Saki Stone Age would have looked in the days of old and learn more about the excavation of the Tomizawa Ruins.
The museum has a huge number of galleries and if you want to know more about the 20,000 year Saki Stone Age then this is the best place to come.
6. Attend Tanabata
Tanabata is one of the most important festivals that takes place in Sendai and begins on August 5 every year when there is an impressive firework display.
The festival then continues from August 6 to August 8 and the whole of Sendai is decorated with opulent decorations which are called kusudama and consist of paper balls adored with decorative flowers.
If you are in town then make sure not to miss this celebration which is an ode to two stars called Vega and Altair although this is also mostly used a reason to party rather than focusing too closely on the actual legend.
7. Tour the Kirin Brewery
If you want to know more about Kirin beer in Japan then consider a trip to the Kirin Brewery.
There are some English language materials in the form of printed pamphlets available to explain how the famous beer here is made and the tour ends with a tasting session so that you can sample the brews in person.
This is a popular attraction however so you will need to make sure you book in advance if you want to be sure of a spot.
There is also an audio tour available in Japanese.
8. Buy some souvenirs
If you want to pick up some souvenirs in Sendai then you will be spoilt for choice.
This part of Japan, in the Tohoku Region, is known for its handmade paper as well as its lacquer ware which is known as tsuishu.
You can also pick up some amazing wooden dolls known as kokeshi which are the ideal gift for young children or you can buy local silk or pottery which helps to support artists and artisans in the Sendai region.
9. Attend the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival
For something a little unexpected in Sendai consider heading to the Jozenji Street Jazz Festival which takes place in September every year.
The festival is well known across Japan as performers come here from all over the country and take to the streets of the city.
There are several stages set up around town and performances go on throughout the day and into the night.
One thing to note however is that people flock to Sendai at this time and hotels are often fully booked so make sure you plan in advance.
10. Try the local food
One of the best local specialties for which Sendai is famous is the gyutan which is a kind of beef tongue which has been grilled.
If that doesn’t appeal then you can also feast on a fish sausage called sasakamaboko or you can try the zundamochi which is a green soybean paste which is made with chewy rice balls.
This part of the country is also known for having a wealth of vegetarian restaurants where you can feast on crisp local produce.
11. Visit the Morning Market
The Morning Market in Sendai runs from Monday to Saturday and has an impressive 40 stalls.
These showcase some of the best produce in the region and you will find crunchy fruits and vegetables here as well as seafood and toothsome sushi.
There are also some stalls that sell dishes like fish soup and noodles and you can also try some of the delicious fried snacks on offer.
They even have a vending machine restaurant that serves up slurpy bowls of noodles.
12. Check out Sendai Mediatheque
Sendai Mediatheque is a sight all of its own as it is located inside a gorgeous building which was built by Ito Toyo who is one of the most famous architects and designers in Japan.
The building is a work of art but it also houses a large library as well as a range of galleries and some performance areas that are used as venues for concerts and other events such as dance recitals.
If you want to catch a performance then make sure to check out the local listings when you are in town.
13. Have a night on the town
If you want to go out for the evening then you will be spoiled for choice in Sendai.
This part of Japan is known for its clubs and bars and there are several nightlife areas to check out.
These include Chuo-dori which usually attracts a young crowd as well as Kokubuncho which is the main center of nightlife in Sendai.
In both of these locations you will find bars and traditional Japanese pubs called izakaya.
14. Attend Sendai Pageant of Starlight
Many people call the Sendai Pageant of Starlight a ‘festival’ but actually it is far mellower than that.
The pageant is more of a light show and over 600,000 orange colored lights are strung across Aoba-dori and Jozenji-dori.
This creates a kind of magical world of illuminations and people stroll here at night to check out the festivities.
The Sendai Pageant of Starlight takes place throughout December.
15. Tour Sendai City Museum
If you want to learn more about the life and family of the famous samurai warrior Masamune then you need to head to the Sendai City Museum.
Here you will find a huge range of family heirlooms and antiques and it is thought that there are more than 13,000 pieces on show.
These are part of the private collection of the Date family so if you are interested in history then this is definitely one attraction not to miss when you are in Sendai.