Nagasaki is known for being one of two cities in Japan that were hit by atomic bombs during the Second World War, and many of the main attractions in the city are linked to this difficult period in the history of the country.
The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and you can visit museums and monuments that tell the story of the survivors and those who lost their lives here.
As well as these historic relics of Nagasaki however you can also take in other sites such as throwbacks to the period when there was a strong Dutch presence in the city, and you can even see canals and windmills in this part of Japan.
To add to this, Nagasaki has some of the best street food and local delicacies in Japan, so you can also spend time here eating your way around this vibrant city.
Here are the 25 best things to do in Nagasaki…
1. Visit Huis Ten Bosch
Many visitors to Nagasaki may not know much about its Dutch history but actually The Netherlands had a strong link to this area thanks to trade agreements in the days of old and this can be seen firsthand at Huis Ten Bosch.
This is actually something of an open air museum which has replicas of the homes and buildings that were constructed here at the time of what was known as the ‘Dutch Golden Age’. These include a full model of the city hall and some mills, canal houses and impressive towers.
To that end, this is a little piece of The Netherlands in the middle of Japan which makes it worth a visit on its own.
2. Admire Oura Cathedral
For something a little different in Nagasaki consider a visit to Oura Cathedral which is a Catholic church that dates from 1886 and which was first erected in Nagasaki by French missionaries.
It also has the claim to fame of being the oldest church of its kind in Japan and would have been built in the period after Christianity was banned across the country.
It is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site which tells you everything you need to know about its beauty and cultural status in Japan.
3. Try the street food
Nagasaki has made a name for itself as one of the best places in Japan to try delicious street food, and there are several dishes that you should try here that are served in the local Chinatown area.
These include snacks such as kakuni-manju which is a kind of pork cutlet which is marinated and then stuffed into a bun which has been steamed, as well as ebichiriman which is similar but made with shrimp.
You can also try sweet treats such as marakao which is similar to pound cake which is steamed and flavored with chestnuts or chocolate.
4. Visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki is of course known as being one of the places in Japan where an atomic bomb was dropped and one of the main monuments to this is the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum which will take you through this dark time in the city’s history.
Here you will find photos and items from the period such as clothes, furniture and other artifacts that were found after the bomb, and you can also see galleries of stories that were compiled from survivors.
5. Visit the penguins at Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium
Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium is around 30 minutes outside the city center and you will find a huge number of penguins here which you can view through underwater tanks so that you can watch them swimming around.
There are also dedicated feeding times at the weekends when you can feed fish to the penguins which can be a highlight if you are traveling with children.
As well as the penguins the aquarium also has other marine life such as catfish.
There is also a small beach here if you want to get out and spend the day next to the water.
6. Visit Dejima
Dejima is the name of an island in Nagasaki Harbour which is also a historically important place in this part of Japan.
The island dates from 1641 when any foreign nationals in Japan had to go and live on the island, and this therefore became the seat of Dutch trading companies.
In the present day you will find a whole host of model buildings from the period here as well as miniature replicas of how it would have looked in the days of old, and this is now an open air museum known as Dejima Museum.
7. Check out the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum
If you want to check out the art scene in Nagasaki then you need to head to Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum which looks out over the harbour.
Here you will find a range of static exhibitions which show you some art work from the region as well as some rotating galleries which also display pieces from all over the world.
There is also a roof garden here which you can visit to take in the gorgeous views all over the city.
8. Take a boat ride to Iojima
Anyone looking for a bit of beach time should head from Nagasaki Harbour to Iojima on a boat.
The ride takes around 15 minutes and you can then visit the island and enjoy the sand and the sea.
You will also find hot springs here so this is a great place to relax outside of the city.
9. Walk through Shinchi Chinatown
Shinchi Chinatown has the claim to fame of being the oldest Chinatown in all of Japan and dates from the 15th century when Chinese sailors would have settled in the area.
Chinese traders also joined them and this then became known as the place to come for Chinese food and products, and this still exists to this day.
If you want to see a different side of Nagasaki then this is a great spot to visit and you can also get some delicious street food here.
10. Check out Urakami Cathedral
Urakami Cathedral was reconstructed after it was bombed when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and it used to hold the title as the biggest church in all of Asia.
The church is now known for housing a statue of the Virgin Mary which was damaged by the bomb and it is also the source of a local legend which says that the statue cries tears as a result of the devastation that the atomic bomb caused to the city.
11. Climb Mount Inasa
If you want to get out of the city then you can head for Mount Inasa which is the best place to come for sweeping views over Nagasaki.
You can even come here at night if you want to check out what is known in the area as the ’10 Million Dollar View’ and this is said to be one of the best nighttime viewing spots in Japan.
You can take a ropeway to the top of the mountain or you can walk up if you are feeling energetic.
12. Check out the Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival in Nagasaki is held every year at the Lunar New Year in either January or February and this is a festival that has its roots in the Chinese community in the city.
As a result, you can head to Chinatown to watch the festivities if you want to know more about it and you can also walk along the river where you will find over 20,000 lanterns on display which are usually in the shape of animals or people.
13. Go on a walking tour
One of the best things to do in Nagasaki is to take a walking tour and see the city from the point of view of the locals.
If you are in the city from March to June, then you can take a walking tour here with companies such as Saruku-Chan and you will get to learn all about the history of this part of Japan as well as check out the cherry blossom at the same time.
The good thing about these walks is that you can take them in English or Japanese and this is a great way to see the city and get a little exercise in at the same time.
14. Travel to Gunkanjima
Gunkanjima is also called ‘Battleship Island’ and, as the name suggests, this is an island which has not been completely abandoned.
No one had lived here since the 1970s and you can take a ferry over to the island to see the ghostly relics of the former town that would have stood here.
This used to be a mining community made up of mainly Korean workers who sadly lost their lives here and you can sign up for a walking tour of Gunkanjima which will fill you in on all the sad history of this part of Nagasaki.
15. Try the castella
Castella is the name for a kind of delicious steamed sponge cake served in Nagasaki which would have been inspired by the Portuguese in the days of old.
The cake is steamed and is usually flavored with different ingredients such as match, honey or chestnuts, making it a delicious sweet treat that you mustn’t miss when you are in town.
16. Visit the Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan
The Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan is rather a laborious title but this is actually a museum and monument which stands in honor of 26 missionaries and Christians who were crucified in the 1600s here and then made saints in the 19th century.
The museum is not one of the biggest in Nagasaki but you will find a series of galleries dedicated to Christian antiques and memorabilia and they even have some letters that would have been in circulation at the time of Saint Francis Xavier.
If you like religious artifacts, then this is one of the best places to visit in Japan.
17. Try the local specialties
Nagasaki is known for its dining culture so with that in mind you need to make sure you try some of the local specialties when you are here such as champon.
This is a local dish made up of noodles in a pork broth which is then topped with bacons, seafood and crunchy vegetables.
You can also try other delicacies such as saraudon which is a dish of dry noodles which have been fried until they are crisp and then topped with meat and seafood.
18. Walk around Glover Garden
Glover Garden is the name for a series of homes in Nagasaki which would have been used by European diplomats and other foreign workers in the days of old.
They would have been used in the 19th century, and this is a great place to visit to see how people would have lived in the time after the Meiji Restoration.
From the homes you can also walk down to the adjacent Nagasaki Harbour which offers you wonderful vistas across the water.
19. Have a drink at the Tenjin Coffeehouse
Tenjin Coffeehouse is the place to come in Nagasaki if you are visiting the neighboring Glover Garden.
This is one of the oldest coffeehouses in the city and it makes a great stop off if you want to see some the Dutch coffee making apparatus on display and also savor a cup of their delicious local brew.
If possible time it so that you go for a walk around Glover Garden first and then come here to put your feet up and relax with a cup of soothing coffee.
20. Visit Koshibyo Confucius Shrine
Koshibyo Confucius Shrine is known for being the only Confucian shrine of its kind to be built outside of mainland China and dates from 1893. The shrine is also part of a wider museum which will fill you in on all the history of the Chinese community in Nagasaki.
If you are interested in this period in the history of the city, then make sure you plan a visit here to see a different side of this part of Japan.
21. Tour the Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum
There are several museums in Nagasaki dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb which was dropped on the city and one of these is the Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum.
The museum tells the story of some of the foreign victims of the bomb and it has galleries that explain some of the Japanese war crimes that took place in the period of the Second World War which is unusual in the country.
It is also close to the memorial of the Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan so you can combine a visit to both spots at the same time.
22. Try the Turkish Rice
Nagasaki is of course known for its traditional fare, but one of the most unexpected local dishes in the city is the Turkish Rice which is so named as it is inspired by Turkish cuisine.
The dish is made up of a pork cutlet which is then placed on top of a bed of rice which has been tossed in a mixture of dry curry and then served, bizarrely, with spaghetti.
It may sound odd, but locals claim that it is delicious, and you can try a plate at Tsuru-chan which is known for being the first Turkish Rice restaurant in Nagasaki having first opened its doors in 1925.
23. Check out the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall
The Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall is located next to the Atomic Bomb Museum and made up of a memorial which was painted in 2003 by Japanese artist Kuryu Akira.
The memorial hall has a number of inscriptions of the names of the victims of the bomb which are etched into the wall and you will also find a large water basin here.
Other spots to look out for include a large hall with 12 glass pillars which are filled with books which are inscribed with the names of all those who lost their lives as a result of the deadly bomb.
24. Visit Suwa-jinja
Suwa-jinja is the name of a shrine which was built in 162 and now stands on a gorgeous hill overlooking Nagasaki.
To get to the shrine you need to walk along a series of staircases but it is more than worth it for the views over the city.
The shrine is known for its ornate sculptures of animals such as guard dogs known as komainu and water sprites called kappa komainu.
One of the quirkiest sculptures on show is the gankake komainu which is another dog statue which would have been used as a place to pray by sex workers in Nagasaki who would hope that storms would hit the city and prevent sailors from leaving.
25. Walk through the Peace Park
The Peace Park in Nagasaki is dedicated to the 40,000 people who were killed when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city and is the spot where the bomb originally fell.
Now you will find the Peace Museum and memorial hall here and walking around the park offers you a moving way of learning some of the history of this time in the history of Japan.
The park is also one of the most serene spots in the city so try to go in the afternoon when the light is at its best and you can take in all the dignity and beauty of this wartime memorial.