The city of Wakayama is a gem “hidden” only 1 hour from Osaka and 40 minutes from Kansai Airport. Wakayama is the place where you will find the best ramen soup, the most delicious tuna sashimi, beautiful hot springs and beaches, shrines and temples and more!
If you are planning to visit off the beaten path parts of Japan, you should definitely add Wakayama to your list, at least for a day! During my entire trip there I felt like I was the only tourist and had all those special places to myself!
I visited some shrines and there were only a couple of locals there, so I could really enjoy the experience and feel the authentic vibe of each place, listen to the sounds of nature and relax.
Wakayama is not about the hustle and bustle of crowded touristy places like Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. Instead, it is a town of peace, where you can walk around and take your time while discovering the hidden gems.
I suggest you stay for about 2 days in Wakayama, Japan, if not more. Depending on your desired itinerary and your list of to-do things, you will have enough time to experience some great attractions, see some authentic shrines and witness the true spirit of the city!
I was invited to visit this charming city by the wonderful people from My Secret Wakayama and I spent 2 beautiful days there. On the first day I visited the entire Marina City area, and on the second I visited some shrines and ate some delicious ramen.
I rented a bike while I was there because I wanted to truly experience the city and wander around the streets at my own pace. You can do the same or you can take a bus to get around. There are also trains that are easily accessible and you can find everything about transportation in Wakayama at the end of this article.
Regarding Japan prices, the local currency is the yen (¥). 1,000¥ is equivalent to US $8.80.
Without further ado, here are the top 11 things to see and do during your Wakayama stay (plus some bonus activities and useful info such as how to get there, how to get to the airport and where to stay):
- 1. Visit Wakayama Castle
- 2. Drink a cup of tea in Momijidani Garden
- 3. Pass through Ohashi Roka Bridge
- 4. Walk up to Kimii-Dera Temple and Buddha Hall
- 5. Visit Kishu Toshogu Shrine
- 6. Visit Tamatsushima-Jinja Shrine
- 7. Teleport yourself to Italy at Porto Europa
- 8. Watch the tuna show at Kuroshio Market
- 9. Taste delicious fruits and juices at Kinokuni Fruit Village
- 10. Bathe in Kishu Kuroshio Onsen
- 11. Eat some of the most delicious ramen
- Bonus things to do and see:
- Where To Stay In Wakayama
- Where To Eat And Drink In Wakayama
- Transportation options In Wakayama City
- How To Get To Wakayama City
- How To Get From Wakayama To Kansai Airport
1. Visit Wakayama Castle
Wakayama Castle is one of the most iconic attractions of the city and a must-see during your stay, regardless of how short it is!
Wakayama Castle is a historical site dating from the 16th century, but since then, it was taken down and rebuilt again several times. The last time it was rebuilt was in 1958, after World War II and since then it stands proudly overlooking the entire city as a symbol of Wakayama’s history.
The castle is nestled in a very nice area, full of nature, gardens, a zoo, and a very special bridge. You can walk freely around the entire area, admire the stone walls which lead up to the castle, go up the beautiful stone stairs and finally you will reach the castle. The entire itinerary takes about 60 minutes, depending on how much you want to hurry. You will get many photo opportunities along the way and the best spot to photograph the castle is clearly marked on the trail. Here is the best photo spot of the castle:
And this is the view from the photo spot:
How to get there: You can take the bus from Wakayama JR Station (any bus from Platform 2 such as 25, 26, 30, 33, 24 etc.) to Koen-Mae stop, about 7 minutes. Price of the bus ticket is 230¥ (US $2). Read more details about Wakayama buses and transportation at the end of the article.
Price: The admission fee to the castle was 410¥ (US $3.70) when I went (August 2018), but you can visit the surrounding area, the zoo and the gardens for free. The admission ticket includes a visit to the museum inside the castle and you can also go up to the Castle Tower to see the stunning view over the city.
Pro tip: After you finish visiting the castle, go to Wakayama City Hall which is very close by. Take the elevator up to the top floor and enter their restaurant. You will have a beautiful panoramic view of Wakayama Castle and you can even enjoy a set menu for lunch if you want!
2. Drink a cup of tea in Momijidani Garden
Momijidani Garden is right near Wakayama Castle and it is a gorgeous oasis where you can rest and drink a cup of traditional green tea (matcha)!
After you are done visiting Wakayama Castle, keep walking and you will arrive at Momijidani Garden. It is a very small garden with a pond, a wooden bridge, and many trees. I was simply mesmerized by the color of the water and the way the sun was reflecting through the leaves of the trees!
If you want to take your Japanese experience to a whole new level, you can participate in the tea ceremony at Kosoan Tea House, right near Wakayama Castle and the gardens. The tea ceremonies take place between 9 AM – 4:30 PM and the last admission is at 4 PM. You will get to taste a bowl of matcha tea and some traditional Japanese sweets. Unfortunately, the tea house was closed when I visited, but I participated in a tea ceremony in Kyoto and it was one of the highlights of my Japan trip!
How to get there: Go down from the castle using the Back Path. Turn left and you will find the garden with the pond. It is kind of hard to miss it, as it is so close to the castle.
Price: Entrance to Momijidani Garden is free. The tea ceremony is 460¥ (US $4) (includes matcha and sweets)
3. Pass through Ohashi Roka Bridge
Ohashi Roka is a very special wooden bridge, with a roof and walls, dating from the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), and tilted at 11°. The perfectly polished wooden floor has some small steps inside and the entire idea behind it is that the people who pass through it cannot be seen from the outside.
You will have to take your shoes off when you go on the bridge and, even though this is such a simple bridge, it is very charming! After you pass through it coming from the castle, you will enter the beautiful Momijidani Garden (no. 2 on this list).
How to get there: Ohashi Roka bridge is located right near Momijidani garden.
4. Walk up to Kimii-Dera Temple and Buddha Hall
The city of Wakayama is full of beautiful temples situated at the end of hundreds of steps, but Kimii-Dera is definitely the largest and most stunning one of all!
Founded in 770, Kimii-Dera temple sits proudly at the edge of Mt Nagusa-Yama, 231 steps above the city. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, but the view from above and the entire scenery is definitely worth it!
“Kimii-dera” means “the temple in Wakayama with three fountains”. The entire site is very peaceful and it is the perfect place to have a rest after the long way up. The scenery includes a pond, fountains, many shrines and small statues and there are also some cafes, vending machines, and souvenir shops on the way up. There were only a couple of locals visiting when I was there, so I really felt like I had the entire place to myself!
If this temple was so beautiful in August, I can only imagine how splendid the entire scenery is in spring with the cherry blossoms or during autumn when there are red leaves everywhere!
One of the highlights of this temple is the Buddha Statue called “Kimii-dera Dai Kannon,” a wooden statue covered in gold that is a mesmerizing 12-meters tall. Built in 2008, it is the biggest wooden statue in all of Japan to this day! The statue depicts Daisenju-juichimenkanzeon-bosatsu-zo (try to pronounce that!), a Buddhist saint with 100 hands and 11 faces, and it is super impressive!
How to get there: Take buses 40, 42, or 43 (Platform 1) or 20, 121, 22, or 122 (Platform 2) from Wakayama Station and get off at Kimiidera station (about 25 minutes). The temple is a 5-10 minute long walk from the station. Price of the bus ticket is 400¥ (US $3.60)
Price: admission fee is 200¥(US $1.80)
5. Visit Kishu Toshogu Shrine
Built in 1621, the Kishu Toshogu Shrine is an important cultural property in Japan nestled in a dark green forest!
Kishu Toshogu Shrine has the most beautifully carved wooden gates of all the temples I’ve seen in Japan! The gate is very colorful and when you are standing at the top of the 107 stairs leading up to the temple, you will be able to see Wakayama Marina City far away on the horizon, the artificial island in Wakayama that I talk about in no. 7 on this list.
Again, while I was at this shrine I only saw a maximum of 5 local men who came to pray at the temple. Other than that, I was all by myself and I could take my time and admire this historic site. The entire atmosphere was very serene and there were crickets chirping all over the place!
How to get there: From Wakayama Station you can take bus no. 24 or 30 (Platform 2) and get off at the stop “Gongenmae” (about half an hour). The shrine is a short walk from the bus station. Price of the bus ticket is 380¥ (US $3.40) (for bus 24) or 500¥ (US $4.5) (for bus 30).
6. Visit Tamatsushima-Jinja Shrine
I wasn’t kidding when I told you Wakayama is full of wonderful, unique ancient temples!
Tamatsushima-jinja Shrine has been a continuous inspiration for Japanese poets so it appears in many poems. This shrine is located in a residential area and is just as peaceful as the others I visited in the city! You can take your time and admire the statues, take pictures and maybe even buy a trinket (a small object that will bring you luck) from the souvenir shop to bring back home.
Pro tip: If you have some more time on your hands, go behind the shrine to the path to Mt. Kagamiyama. If you walk for less than 5 minutes you will get to the top of the mountain and the view is absolutely stunning! After you finish your visit at Tamatsushima Shrine, you can also head out to Furobashi Bridge – it is really close to this shrine and nice to see. It is a beautiful arched bridge made of stone, built in the 19th century.
How to get there: From Wakayama Station, you take bus no. 24 and get off at Tamatsushima-jinja-mae station (about 25 minutes). Price of the ticket is 380¥ (US $3.40).
7. Teleport yourself to Italy at Porto Europa
Wakayama Marina City and Porto Europe were some of the most special and unique things I saw during my Japan vacation!
Marina City is an island resort and a very special experience in Wakayama. The island includes Porto Europa (amusement park), a fish market, a fresh fruit market, a stunning hotel and an onsen (hot communal baths that are super popular in Japan)!
Porto Europa is an amusement park with different attractions such as roller coasters for kids, a ferris wheel, a water slide, a carousel and more! The entire area was designed to resemble Italian, French and Portuguese streets and they did a really good job! You won’t even feel like you’re in Japan anymore with the stunning ocean views and the pleasant breeze.
There are also some European-style restaurants and cafes there where you can enjoy a nice meal. If you are not fond of amusement park attractions, I suggest simply walking around the place and admiring the architecture. You will get many great photo opportunities on those cute little streets, especially if you go in the afternoon!
How to get there: From Wakayama Station you can take the bus no. 42 (Platform 1) or 121, 22, 122 (Platform 2) for Marina City and get off at the last station (Marina City). Price of the ticket is 520¥ (US $4.70). You will see Porto Europa right from the start. It is only a short walk from the bus station.
Price: The entrance fee to Porto Europa is 3,500¥ (US $31.4) for adults and 2,900¥ (US $26) for children. There are some rides that you have to pay individually for. It is free to walk on the streets.
8. Watch the tuna show at Kuroshio Market
You simply can’t miss the tuna show at Kuroshio Market that takes place 3 times a day: at 11:00, 12:30 and 15:00!
Kuroshio Market is the perfect place to try some authentic, fresh sushi, freshly cut tuna sashimi, eel sushi and other Japanese treats, sweet or savory. You can have lunch there – just buy whatever your heart desires from the fresh dishes prepared on-site, or buy some fresh fish and they will barbecue it, then take a seat at the special eating place outside. Enjoy your meal with a seaside view and you will understand what makes Japanese food so delicious!
At Kuroshio Market, you can also buy great souvenirs and presents like Japanese sweets and spices to bring back home!
Pro tip: If you want to take your tuna experience to a whole new level, you can try the sushi making experience for 1,500¥ (US $13.5)! You can change into the special chef clothes and then the sushi chefs at the market will teach you how to make different types of sushi (5 types of nigiri sushi and 2 rolls). At the end, you will get to eat your own sushi!
How to get there: Kuroshio Market is right near Porto Europe, very close to the “Marina City” bus stop.
Price: the access to the fish market is free and the tuna show is free to watch.
9. Taste delicious fruits and juices at Kinokuni Fruit Village
If you want to taste some delicious locally produced Wakayama fruits and veggies, this is the perfect place to do it!
Kinokuni Fruit Village is a small fruit market full of fresh fruit and vegetables. All of the fruit sold there is locally grown and is super tasty! You can walk around and sample different types of fruit or fruit products such as freshly squeezed juices and more. This is also a very good place to buy souvenirs like honey (I bought some orange blossom honey there that I simply love!), ginger ale (famous local drink), sauces, sweets, and cakes!
How to get there: Kinokuni Fruit Village is right across from Kuroshio Market, very close to the “Marina City” bus stop.
Price: Entry to the Kinokuni Fruit Village is free.
10. Bathe in Kishu Kuroshio Onsen
Wakayama is best known for its multiple onsens, and Kishu Kuroshio is probably one of the most beautiful ones!
An “onsen” is a public Japanese bath with hot spring water where Japanese people go to bathe and take time to relax. The rule is that you have to get into the onsen completely naked (no underwear or swimwear allowed!) and I must say, this is a truly unique experience. Even though I was a bit shy at first, nobody bats an eye as they are very used to this ritual, so you will slowly learn how to feel comfortable in your own skin.
There are some steps that you have to follow for bathing in an onsen, though. First, you have to enter the facility, take off your shoes, purchase your ticket, receive your towel, and leave all your stuff, bags and clothes, in a special locker. The onsens are divided into female and male zones, so you won’t have to worry about this. Then you have to wash yourself at the communal shower and only after this step are you allowed to enter the onsen. Sit there, relax, then go and wash yourself a second time, get back into the onsen and you are done!
Kishu Kuroshio Wakayama Onsen has an indoor and outdoor bath with water pumped from 1,500m below sea level. The outdoor one is amazing as you will have a stunning view of the city! I went at around 9 PM and the weather was perfect, I could feel the ocean breeze while I was soaking in the hot water. The onsen is open until 12 AM.
Tip: You can’t take photos at the onsen. You cannot go into the onsen if you have tattoos. The way to get around the rule is to cover your tattoo with a bandage or even a band-aid if it is small. It is important that the locals don’t see your tattoo, as this is a taboo subject for them. I can’t assure you that this will work in every onsen because it also depends on how big your tattoo is.
How to get there: The onsen is right near Marina City Hotel, across the street from Porto Europe, very close to the Marina City bus station.
Price: Admission fee is 830¥ (US $7.40) for adults (1,000 with the towel included) and 520¥ (US $4.70) for children (600¥ (US $5.40) with the towel).
11. Eat some of the most delicious ramen
No Wakayama experience is complete without a big bowl of hot “chuka soba”!
Trying some authentic Wakayama ramen, called “chuka soba”, was definitely on my list of priorities while in the city. On my way back from Kimii-dera to the Wakayama station, I parked my bike and stopped at the famous Ide Shoten where I ordered the ramen with extra meat. Ide Shoten is a very small and traditional restaurant with fast service and delicious ramen! I arrived late in the afternoon and the place was packed with businessmen and students, all of them slurping from their own big bowl of ramen. Of course, I was very excited to do the same and I have to admit I was not disappointed!
Wakayama ramen has a very special and distinctive taste thanks to the “tonkotsu” (pork soy sauce broth), which makes it famous in the entire country. Regardless of the restaurant you choose to try, I am sure you will be amazed by its mix of flavors and subtle soy seasoning!
Entrance to Ide Shoten, Wakayama
Pro tip: If you are a ramen lover ready for an adventure, you can take the “Wakayama Ramen Taxi,” a special taxi that will take you to the best ramen places in town after you tell the driver your preferences! All the drivers have a high knowledge of ramen and local history, so they will tell you everything you need to know. If you take this taxi, you will have special offers of ramen places such as being able to order only half a portion, so you can taste even more ramen!
How to get to Ide Shoten: The restaurant is close to the Wakayama JR Station. Here is the address: 4 Chome-4-84 Tanakamachi
Prices: The standard ramen bowl is 700¥ (US $6.30), with extra meat or extra noodles it is 800¥ (US $6.30) and if you want extra of both it is 900¥ (US $8).
Bonus things to do and see:
Here are some of the things that were on my to-do list for Wakayama, but because I was only there for 2 days, I didn’t have enough time to cross everything off my list!
If you have more time in the city, I spoke to some locals and this is what they recommended to add to the list of attractions in Wakayama:
1. Take a boat to Tomogashima Islands
This is one of the things I really regret not doing while I was in Wakayama due to lack of time! 🙁
Tomogashima Island is a chain of 4 beautiful islands: Jinoshima, Torajima, Kamijima, and Okinoshima. You can only take a boat to Okinoshima Island and the ride there is totally worth adding it to this Wakayama, Japan guide, as it is a very beautiful island, full of fortress ruins dating from World War II. You will feel like you are in a Miyazaki anime while wandering around the ruins and small streets of the island!
Tip: Make sure to take some food and water with you to the island. Some insect repellant spray will also be useful, as there are many mosquitoes and insects on the island. If you want to explore everything at your own pace, consider investing around 4 hours in this island trip.
How to get there: From Nankai Wakayama Station you take the train on the KADA line to Kada Station. From there, take the ferry from Kada port for 20 minutes and you will arrive at the island.
Price: The train ticket to Kada station is 300¥ (US $2.70) one-way and the ferry is 2,000¥ (US $18) roundtrip.
2. Witness the only train in the world with a cat conductor
Yes, you read that right! Wakayama has a cat as a train Stationmaster!
Wakayama Electric Railway has one cat to rule over all: Nitama! Actually, the first stationmaster cat was Tama, who was “in charge” between 2007 and 2015. After she died, her apprentice (Nitama) took her place and Tama was transformed into the goddess of Wakayama Electric Railway and Local Public Transport! She even has a shrine at Kishi Station.
You can find Nitama at Kishi Station. There are 14 stops from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station and on your way there you will enjoy some beautiful scenic landscapes. Like any other employee, Nitama has some specific working hours and she takes the day off on Wednesday and Thursday. On her regular days, you can see Nitama peacefully asleep in the front cabin of the train!
As a bonus, Wakayama Electric Railway has 4 themed trains: a Strawberry Train, an Omocha (Toys) Train, a Tama Train (Tama the cat!) and an Umeboshi Train (plums). Each one of these trains is unique and decorated according to the specific theme. The Tama Train is probably the cutest train ever!
Price: The train ride from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station is 400¥ (US $3.60) (200¥ (US $1.80) for children) one-way and it takes about 35 minutes to get there. You can buy a one-day ticket for 780¥ (US $7) (adults) and 390¥ (US $3.50) (children).
3. Visit the uniquely creepy Awashima Shrine
Out of all the shrines in Wakayama, Awashima is definitely the most special and spooky one!
The reason I am saying this is because Awashima Shrine’s altar is full of dolls! And when I say “full” of dolls, I mean over 20,000 dolls – from Japanese women to owls and other colorful animals. The entire site has a very mysterious and creepy mood and I am sure you will be intrigued by the entire setting! All the dolls at the shrine were sent by people all over Japan to be used in a special ceremony in March. Even though it may not sound like such a big deal, I am sure being there is simply incredible.
The Awashima Shrine is in the Kada region and other than the dolls, it is famous among women who go there to pray for different feminine problems, such as childbirth, infertility etc.
How to get there: From Nankai Wakayama Station you take the train on the KADA line to Kada Station. Price of the ticket is 300¥ (US $2.70) one-way. Awashima Shrine is a 15-minute walk from the train station.
Price: free admission