Top 5 Places to Visit in Nagoya (Small and Big)

Isabella Madruga headshot
Isabella Madruga
October 24, 2023
An archway in Sakae

Whenever I told people I was studying abroad in Japan, the first thing they'd ask me was, "Where? Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto?" or something along those lines, but Nagoya was never mentioned. Of course, I can't blame them—those three cities are quite the stacked list. But Nagoya is a special city on its own, one that has the same activities as the "Big Three" without all the crowds, hassle, or scams. Whether you're looking into studying abroad in Nagoya or just want to travel here on your study abroad elsewhere in Japan, I'd definitely put Japan on your travel list! 

1. Sakae

A view Sakae with the MIRAI Tower in the background

Considered a mini-Shinjuku (by me), Sakae is full of fun things to do. From the beautiful MIRAI Tower (which you can dine inside of and see beautiful views of Nagoya from the top) to the numerous shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs, there is no shortage of things to do in this district. I have been here many times, visiting Second Street (an upscale thrift shop chain), going to karaoke bars, going up and down floors of the numerous shopping malls throughout the region, and partying it up in the numerous clubs. If you come to Nagoya, this district is a must-visit!

2. Osu

A shopping alley in Osu

Osu is another fashion and entertainment district that's just around the corner from Sakae, but it gives more Harajuku vibes. I've found myself feeling out of place every time I've gone compared to the lolita-inspired, gyaru-like fashion people wear all around me. I usually don't wear my one pair of ripped jeans I allowed myself to bring out to normal places in Nagoya, but my jeans are tame compared to the things people are wearing in Osu. There are multiple shopping alleyways like Dotombori in Osaka, the streets lined with all sorts of attractions (and to be honest, tourist traps). Some shops I recommend are B-Side Label for all your sticker needs, Don Quixote so you can get your weekly dose of overstimulation, and Osu Kannon, a beautiful Buddhist temple and library if you want to study. Walk into American-themed thrift shops in the morning, have lunch at a maid café, buy a T-shirt that says 'Garfeird' in the afternoon, then eat some takoyaki and karaage with boba for dinner!

3. Nagoya Eki And Surrounding Area

A blue building with a Cats advertising poster on the side.

Wait, train stations can be fun? That's one thing you quickly learn into Japan: train station aren't just train stations here. They're an experience. My friends and I have oftentimes gone to train stations just to shop, and it surely helps that you can ride the train right into the mall. But anytime my friends and I decide to budget a little more money toward food that week, our first stop is an upscale restaurant in the JR Central Towers, such as Din Tai Fung and Fummy's Grill. A small radius from the train station reveals a diverse number of fun things to do, such as a Brazilian steakhouse, endless izakayas, and even a theater where IES Abroad took us to watch the musical Cats (which was as confusing in Japanese as in English). 

4. Tokugawa

A BeReal depicting myself and a friend in the top left with the rear camera facing the rest of my friends with the Tokugawa Art Museum in the background.

If you're a history nerd, art nerd, all of the above, or none of the above, please visit Tokugawa. It's one of the sleepier districts on this lists, but one of the best things it hosts is The Tokugawa Art Museum, which is a museum centered around the Edo Period and the first shogun of Japan Tokugawa Ieyasu (commander-in-chief of feudal Japan). It hosts a number of amazing cultural, historical, and military artifacts and exhibits that are just phenomenal. Because the artifacts are so important and sensitive, no pictures are allowed inside the museum. Additionally, the museum doesn't contain much information in English, just locations and dates. However, there is an entire garden full of beautiful scenery and nature that is photographable and explorable. The surrounding area is full of mom-and-pop restaurants and that good old aesthetic Japanese suburban scenery. 

5. Irinaka—Showa Ward

A picture inside the bathroom of The Flying Dutchman pub, which has posters and decorations all over the walls.

To round out the last of the list, here is the smallest recommendation in terms of recognizability and location. Right around the Irinaka train station on the Tsurumai line are so many amazing restaurants, ranging from reservation-only Volont to the best tonkotsu ramen I've had since coming to Japan, 横浜家系ラーメン いりなか家. My friends and I also celebrating one of our own's birthday at an Irish-themed pub called The Flying Dutchman, which can seat a sizeable number of people and has so many English/Irish/American-themed decorations that, if you're suffering from homesickness, this would be a great place to stop by. 

In Short: Come To Nagoya!

I am a huge fan of visiting places that aren't the first thing people think of when they think of a country. I want to go to the restaurants hidden in a corner run by a family, such as Café Bubu (which is within walking distance of Nanzan University). I want to go to beautiful shrines that aren't on travel lists. I want to live like a local and bring attention to the places that deserve it. 

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Isabella Madruga headshot

Isabella Madruga

I am a senior at Johns Hopkins University studying Writing Seminars (a fancy way of saying creative writing) and Sociology. My main goal in life is to be an author, so when I'm not scrolling on TikTok, I'm writing stories, reading, and daydreaming.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Johns Hopkins University
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