Niigata prefecture is located on the west coast of Japan, facing the Sea of Japan, and known for the heavy snow, ski resorts, natural surroundings, and hot springs. It’s the fifth largest prefecture in Japan and is located in the Chūbu region, famous for its high quality rice, delicious sake, fresh seafood, and cut flowers (especially tulips). There are delicious local dishes, including Hegi Soba, Japanese traditional buckwheat noodles eaten in a special way unique to the region. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the best things to do in Niigata!
Make sure to check our private walking tour in Niigata which takes you to historical spots while enjoying local food and tasty sake!
- 1. Grab a bite at the Teradomari Fish Market
- 2. Snap a Pic at the Kiyotsu Gorge
- 3. Visit Sado island
- 4. Ski the Slopes of Yuzawa
1. Grab a bite at the Teradomari Fish Market
Located along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Niigata prefecture is famous for its fresh seafood. At the local Teradomari fish market in Nagaoka city, you will find many lively, local vendors selling all types of seafood. The seafood is caught and directly delivered from the Sea of Japan, which is located just across the road. At the market, you can choose from a large selection of best-quality seafood at an affordable price. The market is also known as the place where all the delicious seafood from all over Japan is displayed. Some shops have a small dining area, or you can buy frozen or processed products to take back to your home/accommodation!
Teradomari Fish Market
8.30am – 5pm
2. Snap a Pic at the Kiyotsu Gorge
Kiyotsu Kyo Gorge is a scenic spot in Tokamachi city. You experience the gorge by walking through the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel, which is 750 meters long and offers differing views from four platforms. The final platform offers a stunning view with shiny mirrored walls and a shallow pool to reflect the panoramic view in all directions! The spot is a popular photo spot, and you can easily understand why. It is also known as a perfect spot to admire colorful autumn leaves with the overwhelming cliff in the background.
The tunnel is wide and flat and is easily accessible to everyone. A round trip takes about an hour, after which you can enjoy some food or drinks at the café or relax at the foot bath at the tunnel entrance.
Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel
8.30am – 4.30pm
Admission fee ￥800 (adults)
3. Visit Sado island
Sado Island is a former exile island in front of the coast of Niigata, about 2 hours out by boat. The island is known for its annual Earth Celebration, a festival organized by Sado’s own world famous taiko group, Kodō. Taiko is a traditional Japanese percussion instrument, and on the island, you can also visit the Taiko museum. If you are looking for a fun activity, try the hot tub boats! These boats were used back in the day by fisherman to collect shellfish and seaweed from rocky coastal waters. The cut-off barrels are a kind of tub boat that are now mainly used to amuse travelers in Sado Island.
The island is also home to a number of different type of onsen. Other attractions on the island include a former goldmine, the Osada Skyline (a beautiful mountain road with scenic views), and Senkaku Bay.
4. Ski the Slopes of Yuzawa
Gala Yuzawa is probably one of the most convenient locations for a weekend of snow fun or just as a day trip from Tokyo. You can reach the ski slopes of Gala Yuzawa in about 1.5 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen, and the ski lift is directly connected to the train station! At the train station, you can also rent your ski or snowboard gear before making your way up to the slopes.
Yuzawa is known for its long ski season and deep powder snow. The snow brought from the Sea of Japan to inland Niigata is of great quality and comes in great quantity. Overnight snowfall of more than 1 meter is not unusual in the area! There are some 20 snow resorts in the vicinity of Yuzawa town, all with their own own features. Some are more suitable for families with children, and others meet the more experienced skiers and boarders needs. However, most of the resorts are not particularly great for advanced skiers and snowboarders that are on the search for off-piste adventures and powder snow. Gala From the Yuzawa train station there are shuttle buses available to all resorts.
Most places also offer great onsen facilities, the area is known for its many onsen and public bathhouses. Another product famous to the area is sake and at Echigo Yuzawa Station you can try about 100 different local sake!
Gala Yuzawa Snow resort
8am – 5pm (operation of ski lift)
How to access Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort
From Tokyo Station take the Joetsu Shinkansen (Tanigawa or Max-Tanigawa) to Gala Yuzawa (ski season) or Echigo Yuzawa (off season).
Foreigners that don’t hold a JR Pass, can purchase a JR Tokyo Wide Pass. With this pass you can travel unlimited for 3 days in the Kanto region and in winter time you will receive an additional discount on the skipass! Or you can purchase the JR East Pass Nagano & Niigata that is valid for 5 consecutive days.
5. See the Hoshitoge Rice Terraces
The melt water of the large amount of snow that Niigata receives every winter provides great circumstances for the rice plants to grow. Niigata is a famous rice producer, and huge rice terraces can be found everywhere while you travel around the city. Hoshitoge Rice Terraces is among the most popular rice field. About 200 terraced rice paddies on the hillside create a stunning scenery, and it is one of the must visit spots in Niigata. The appearance of the rice terrace changes each season, and the best season is in the early summer when the paddies are filled with water reflecting the sunlight shining brightly! If you are lucky, you can come across sea of clouds which creates a magical view!
Hoshitoge Rice Terrace (※Japanese Only)
6. Explore the Ponshu-kan sake museum
When there is high-quality rice, you can be sure that there is also sake! Niigata prefecture is famous for its sake production and is home to around 90 breweries. In comes as no surprise probably that there is a place like heaven for sake-lovers in Niigata! Ponshu-kan is a unique museum which offers over 100 local sake types that are locally produced. Visitors first get 5 coins at the entrance and are instructed to put a coin into a small vending machine installed inside the museum. Each machine features different brands of sake, and it automatically offers a small cup of sake for tasting. There is also a souvenir shop handling local specialty and sake products as well. The main shop is located in Echigo Yuzawa Station, and there is a branch shop offering the same quality service with more convenient location in Niigata station too!
9.30am – 8.30pm (sake tasting Niigata Station shop)
9am – 7pm (sake tasting Echigo Yuzawa Station shop)
7. Hike Mount Hiuchi
Located in the Myoko Togakushi Renzan National Park, Mount Hiuchi is yet another famous and beautiful mountain in Japan. The mountain is well known for its flower fields in spring and autumn colours in fall. In fact, the mountain was listed by CNN as one the top 25 most beautiful spots in the world. The hiking season of the 2462m tall mountain lasts from July to november. The hiking trail is about 9 km in length and along the hiking trail, near the summit of Mount Hiuchi, there is a beautiful lake called Koya pond. The pond has a variety of alpine plants that can be found only in high places such as mountain. There is a cozy mountain hut called Koya Pond Mountain Hut nearby, which offers an amazing view of the pond! A reservation is required for all visitors to stay at the hut.
Climbing season July – September
Koya Pond Mountain Hut
8. Try Hegi Noodles
One of the must do’s when visiting Niigata is trying the regional soba. Soba is eaten across Japan but Niigata is famous for hegi soba. A type of seaweed called funori is added to the flour giving hegi soba a unique taste. Hegi refers to the wooden trays that the noodles are served on in mouthful sized portions. The soba goes well with a side of a tempura and was the perfect way to end a varied, scenic, and thought provoking trip!
9. Visit Yahiko Shrine
Yahiko shrine is a Shinto shrine situated at the base of Mount Yahiko. It enshrines Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto, the great-grandson of Amaterasu Omikami as a deity. Although the details about the history of the shrine still remain unclear, it is considered that the origin of the shrine dates back about 2,400 years ago. Surrounded by a sacred forest, it is visited by a number of people, over 200,000 people visit the shrine to pray for a good fortune for the new year on New Year’s Day. There are also several spiritual spots and historical structures nearby. It’s only a five-minute walk to get there from Yahiko Station.
10. Go to Itoigawa Beach
There are many swimming beaches in Itoigawa city on the coast of Sea of Japan. One of them is Itoigawa beach, nicknamed “Jade Beach.” Jade stones can be found on the beach, though, they are quite difficult to find. They are originally from mountainous areas upstream of the Hime river where there is a mining area of jade. They get carved through centuries while travelling the long river which finally flows into the ocean. You might now find the beautiful jade, but just exploring the peaceful beach brings a refreshing experience for you! If you do find one, however, you are allowed to take those stones back home.
11. Come to the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
The Nagaoka Festival is held every 2nd and 3rd of August on the banks of the Shinamo River. It is in remembrance of the destruction that Nagaoka has suffered and the hope for recovery and peace. Over the course of the two day festival, there will be over 20,000 fireworks set off. This festival is considered one of Japan’s three great firework festivals.
12. Try some Sasa-dango
Sasa-dango is a Japanese confectionery that is a specialty in the Niigata prefecture. It is one of its signature dishes. These dango are rice-cakes filled with a mildly sweet red-bean paste, wrapped in a bamboo leaf called “sasa.” These delicious sweets have a unique flavor that can only be found in this region, and it is widely available in many local shops year-round.
13. Visit Ojiya Nishikigoi no Sato
Nishikigoi no Sato is in the city of Ojiya. This is where the iconic image of the Japanese koi originated. The koi or specifically nishikigoi, are colorful variations of Amur carp that are kept for decorative purposes in ponds and gardens. These decorative fish have been around for over 200 years, and the people of Ojiya are dedicated to their preservation and to create more ornamental fish. This faciltity is the only place in the world where you can see such a vast variety of koi, with hundreds of carps in 15 different kinds all swimming together.
14. Enjoy the Sasagawa Nagare Coastline
This 11km stretch of coastline near the city of Murakami is one of the most scenic places in Japan. The clear blue water and sandy white beaches are a beautiful scene with the jagged seaside rocks as a backdrop. The views of the beach as it looks out over the Sea of Japan during sunset is another must-see perk of this area.
15. See the Tsunan Sunflower Field
From late July to early/mid August, you can see one of the gorgeous displays of flowers in the country. The Tsunan Sunflower Field sits on four hectares of land, with 500,000 sunflowers blooming yearly. Sitting at the foot of Mount Kakuda, this sunflower field is an ideal spot for your brightest and best Instagram photos.
Where to stay in Niigata
- Hotel Nikko Niigata – a central western hotel with a 360 view over Niigata’s cityscape
- Hotel Futaba – a traditional Japanese Ryokan in Yuzawa with amazing mountain views and onsen
- Hotel Azuma – a ocean view resort on Sado island that offers both tatami rooms and Western style rooms
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
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From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots!
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if yu have any questions or need some help!
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