Takayama Old Town

If you love ancient beauty and Japanese history, Takayama City will surely be a great destination for you. Dubbed “Mini Kyoto” with old and charming streets, traditional Japanese restaurants have been preserved intact for hundreds of years. And there are many interesting things waiting for you to discover when coming to Takayama and its surrounding areas! So, what to do and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Takayama, Gifu for the first-time? Let’s check out our Takayama travel blog (Takayama blog) with the fullest Takayama guide (Takayama travel guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!

Takayama Old Town, the “Mini Kyoto” with ancient wooden houses dates back more than 300 years ago. | takayama guide

The most famous specialty of Takayama is the so-called premium Hida beef that compares to famous Kobe beef.

Takayama is known as the pure heart of Japan. Takayama attracts millions of visitors not only because of the UNESCO ancient world heritage village of Shirakawa-go, but also because of the way they bring visitors back to the country’s more than 300-year-old primeval times. These are the lush green trails, rustic, gentle under the warm noonday sunlight or the hundred-year-old jazz pubs located in the old town of Sanno Machi (Sanmachi-Suji) historic district. You can leisurely strolling along the peaceful, simple streets with red bridge across the river of Miya-gawa, connecting ancient houses on its banks.

Takayama is hidden in the Hida mountainous region of Gifu Prefecture. So, the city is often called Hida-Takayama, to distinguish it from other places also named Takayama.
1winter Takayama honshu japan.1
Magical in winter.
Takayama also famous for its onsen thanks to mineral water from surrouding mountains.

Takayama guide: When to visit?

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The signature Nakabashi red bridge of Takayama.

Thanks to mild climate, Takayama is a great year-round destination. I went to Takayama at the end of October, so it was raining (it was changing the season from summer to autumn) and cold. Actually, I realize that time is not the best time to come. In the summer months (June – August), Takayama is usually quite hot. In winter (December – February), it is usually quite cold and snowy.

If you choose the most ideal time, it will be early October, because this is when the weather is warm. And October is also not a peak month so you won’t have to worry about crowds.

Takayama Hokke-ji Temple garden with stone bridge in autumn.

Autumn

Time: Early October to early November
Events: Takayama Matsuri (fair) in autumn which takes place from October 9 to 10 and autumn leaves season in early November.

Winter

Time: From mid-January to mid-February.
Event: Shirakawago Winter Light-Up on weekends

Takayama is a "charming" city, especially in winter or early spring.
Takayama is a “charming” city, especially in winter or early spring. | takayama travel blog

Spring

Time: Mid-April
Event : Takayama Festival, cherry blossom season. April 14-15 every year.

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Takayama in spring

Takayama travel blog: How to get to Takayama?

From Kyoto / Osaka

Means of transport to Takayama

By bus

My friend and I took the bus of Nohi Bus with the cost of 4,200 yen / person / way. The bus departed at 5:10pm and we could not book in advance (because the tickets were sold out at 4:45pm), so we had to choose the other at 6:40pm. Arrived in Takayama was quite late at 11pm.

So the total traveling time by bus from Kyoto / Osaka to Takayama will be about 4-6 hours.

Nohi Bus

The bus will go through Namba station, Osaka station and Kyoto station and stop at Takayama Bus terminal, remember to pay attention to find the right bus terminal. In fact, I noticed that on non-festival season or late-night trips, the bus is usually almost empty, as on my trip there were only me and my sister on that bus while the previous trip was full.

However, many people report that if going on the Takayama festival (April and October) as well as the Winter Light Up event in Shirakawago, tickets will be scarce, so please book in advance on Nohi Bus’s website to ensure tickets.

For more information, please visit: https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/.

I went from Shirakawa-go with a fare of 2,470 yen for one way and 4,420 yen for round trip.

Kyoto-Takayama bus schedules. After checked this calendar and found out that the bus I took of Kintetsu company (KT)

By train

To avoid having to change lines, instead of taking Shinkansen bullet train, you should choose to take the Hida Limited Express line because you don’t have to change trains and it’s more cheaper if you have to buy single tickets.

But even so, the train tickets are still very expensive, about 7,800 yen / way ticket from Kyoto and from Osaka is about 8,500 yen / way. In comparison, the train goes faster than the long-distance bus which takes only 1 hour!

Hida Limited Express
The train route map.

But if you have a JR Pass, all are free.

From Tokyo to Takayama

From Tokyo to Takayama will be farther, guys. And moreover, traveling is also more difficult because it’s no direct train line from Tokyo to Takayama. There are 2 ways to get Takayama like from Kansai: bus and train. The traveling cost is almost twice as expensive.

By train

Taking a train from Tokyo to Takayama will need to go through Toyama because Takayama does not have a direct train line to Tokyo. The fare is the same as taking Shinkansen which takes 6 hours to travel, too long!

By bus

Keio bus at Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal

To take a bus from Tokyo to Takayama, you should go to Shinjuku station and then take a bus to Takayama of Nohi Bus or Keio Dentetsu Bus.

The total cost is up to 6,500 – 7,000 yen/way. In regard to traveling time, please see the table below:

Tokyo to Takayama bus schedules

Traveling by bus is better than taking train because you don’t have to change lines. Moreover, the traveling time for both is the same, the bus fare is less than half.

But in general, I still think that if you have planned to go to Takayama, departing from Kyoto is the most reasonable for you, because it’s both cheap and close.

Tips: In general, if you getting from Kyoto to Takayama and traveling around cities in the Japanese Alps and want to save money on travel, you can use this pass: JR Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass (5 Days).

Takayama access routes

Takayama guide: Getting around Takayama

The famous attractions are located very close to the central station (within a radius of only 1km), so I find the best way to go is to walk, both being able to admire the beautiful scenery on both sides of the road without spend much energy.

Alternatively you can take a bus. Actually, there are also not many bus routes in the city, only 2 lines:

  • Sarubobo: Mainly going to Hida Folk Village. Price 210 yen / way (equal to Kyoto).
  • Machinami: Connecting small tourist spots in Takayama. Price is only 100 yen/trip.

Takayama blog: Where to go, what to do?

Hida-Takayama walking map

The most characteristic feature of Takayama is the ancient, quiet, nostalgic beauty of a peaceful but prosperous city. Below are top places to visit and best things to do in Takayama.

Hida Kokubunji Temple

Actually, at first I planned to visit Miyagawa Morning Market without pay attention about this temple. But when passing by, seeing the temple is so beautiful with ancient architecture, so I stopped by to visit. Then, when I check information, I found out that this is a very famous temple built by Emperor Shomu in the Nara period (710-794).

The symbol of the temple is the icho tree (ginkgo tree) with a lifespan of more than 1250 years, the tree is very tall with luxuriant leaves. When I came, I just wished it was autumn, so I could admire the beauty when the leaves turn yellow like this.

| takayama travel blog

Address: Japan, 〒506-0007 Gifu, Takayama, Sowamachi, 1 Chome−83

Miyagawa Morning Market

This is a morning market only open from 6:30AM-12AM, so you should take advantage of going early. The market is located by the gentle Miyagawa River, the river section near the market there is the very beautiful and bold schooling fish, you can buy food at the market to feeding them.

Scholling fish

The market is quite busy and bustling with many shops with colorful products, items mixed with green-leaved grapevine fences with full of fruit.

The market sells a lot of cheap fresh agricultural products of local people, gradually towards the end of the market are souvenir shops. The number of tourists here is so crowded that the Japanese farmers can communicate in English with them, making me feel like I’m in Saigon’s District 1.

The market sells countless delicious foods, especiallyだんご (dango) and おわら玉天 (owara tamaten). Dango is a mochi cake dipped in sauce and grilled with a very attractive aroma and cheap price (only about 100 yen / 1 skewer). In addition, if you want to eat sweet, choose owara tamaten, which has a light sweet, soft and spongy taste with an attractive golden color.

Dango stall

Sanmachi Suji Old Town

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| takayama guide

Just a few steps from the morning market, the streets dating back the Edo period are bustling with tourists with wooden souvenir shops, restaurants, bars… The items, products sold in these streets are extremely sophisticated and are made by skilled artisans. Most are traditional animal-shaped crafts and jewelry.

Takayama Old Town, the “Mini Kyoto” | takayama guide
takayama sake brewery (1)
Takayama specialty Sake | takayama guide

This ancient town with some restaurants specializing serving premium Hida beef (which is one of the delicious beef in Japan), you can try beef sushi (beef placed on rice like nigiri sushi) or yakiniku (grilled beef) but you have to wait because there are always many diners already lining to try.

Hida beef sushi | takayama guide

Funasaka Sake Brewery

takayama sake brewery (1)
Takayama sake brewery | takayama guide

After enjoying Hida beef, don’t forget to visit 船坂酒造店 (Funasaka Sake Brewery) which is a sake brewery with an over 200-year history and still applies the traditional brewing technique using high quality rice. At the shop you are allowed to taste a few small cups of sake wine rice for free, or you can buy a slightly larger jar for 200 yen or more. The interesting thing I see here is that when drinking, people put a little salt on the mouth of jar, when sipping the salt penetrates the tip of the tongue combines with the strong taste of the wine, making the taste even more intense.

takayama sake brewery (1)
| takayama travel blog

Address: 105 Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu 506-0846, Japan
Hours: 9AM–6PM

Nakabashi Bridge

Strolling around the old town, you will see the Nakabashi bridge, which is considered the symbol of the city. Nakabashi is a red bright bridge refecting itself on Miyagawa River with along its banks are lush green of willow trees and cherry blossoms bloom in spring. The bridge is famous for its view of sakura (cherry blossoms) in spring, and during the festival season, it is a very attractive place to watch the Yatai procession pass.

Lovely museums and unique cultural experiences

Not only has beautiful shops, traditional Machiya houses (traditional wooden townhouses), but Takayama also has interesting museums such as:

Takayama Showa Museum | takayama guide
  • Karakuri Museum: The puppet museum. Entrance fee is 600 yen. It displays many interesting puppets that are performed on boats during the festival here.
  • Takayama Showa Museum: This is like a movie recording every moment of the old life. Everything in Takayama in the 60’s and 70’s with many artistic pictures and many things related to both Old Manga and Anime too.
  • Hida Folk Village (Hida no sato): An open-air museum with typical inverted V-shaped thatch-roof houses similar to those in the ancient village of Shirakawago – the common thing of the Gifu mountainous region. To get there, you must take a bus ride from Takayama station. A special thing here besides the old houses and the feeling of experiencing Oshin’s time, you will be able to join the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Center to make antique toys from the past. The entrance fee is 600 yen. The price of making each toy is charged according of each experience.
Hida Folk Village
| takayama guide

Yoshijima Heritage House

A place to visit when you come to Takayama old town that cannot be missed is the world heritage house of Yoshijima – built in 1907, which was originally a sake brewery. The house is a typical house of Edo period and is still very strong thanks to the columns and beams made of solid wood. Not only visiting the architecture of the house, walking around the garden, but you can also enjoy sake here!

takayama sake brewery (1)

Address: 1 Chome-51 Oshinmachi, Takayama, Gifu 506-0851, Japan
Hours: 9AM–5PM

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

Sakurayama Hachimangu is the oldest shrine in Takayama. This is a small wooden shrine, surrounded by a lot of big trees, very peaceful, quiet and suitable as a resting place in your Takayama old town tour. This place is also very close to the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, you can combine to visit on one journey!

Address: 178 Sakuramachi, Takayama, Gifu 506-0858, Japan

Historical Government House (Takayama Jinya)

| takayama guide

Located a few minutes’ walk from the Sanmachi neighborhood, Takayama Jinya is a building that served as the local administrative office of the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan from 1600 to 1868. Exploring the building’s rooms and interiors, you can learn how trade was managed in ancient times.

Address: 1-5 八軒町 Takayama, Gifu 506-0012, Japan
Hours: 8:45AM–5PM

Takayama guide: What and where to eat?

Although I was only in Takayama for 2 days and 1 night, I still remember the restaurants here I used to visit. Takayama belongs the mountainous province of Gifu, so here all the delicious local restaurants use Japanese. But don’t think that this is a mountain town that despises, the price of food in Takayama in my opinion is as expensive as places like Kyoto and Tokyo, but sometimes even more expensive.

Hida beef

If you are a foodie, don’t miss this very famous dish, which is Hida beef. When it comes to beef, everyone thinks that in Japan, Kobe is the only region that produces high-quality beef, but when you come to Gifu, forget about Kobe and enjoy premium beef called Hida beef – The specialty of Gifu prefecture.

Some restaurants to try Hida beef as below. You just need to search for this exact name on Google Maps to find out.

Hida beef yakiniku | takayama guide
  • Hidagyu Maruaki: Expensive but deserve. 1 set meal costs about 6,000 – 7,000 yen but all are A5 beef – the highest grade. A regular set meal is about 3,000 – 4,000. It’s the most famous restaurant in Takayama.
  • Hida Takuma: This is very cheap shop, especially at noon. If you only want to enjoy Hida beef, choose the cheapest dish is Gyūdon (beef rice) for about 1,500 yen.
  • Ajikura Tengoku: This is the second famous restaurant in Takayama with hotpot sets that are also quite cheap: 3,000 – 4,000 yen/set for 2 people. You can order extra side dishes for 600 – 1,000 yen.
  • Kitchen Hida: The price is not cheaper, but the restaurant is western style, so the style is also different. A plate of steak is also about 5,000 – 7,000 yen. Generally expensive. But the restaurant’s atmosphere is quite ok, so if you like it, you can try it.
  • Hidatakayama Kyoya: Contrary to the shop above, this one is very traditional. The price is also cheap, 1 beef set meal is about 2,000 yen including rice and side dishes. The decoration is very special, bold Japanese style.
  • Yamatake Shoten: Cheap price but has very good review. The price is about 3,500 yen / for a full set with beef, vegetables and side dishes along with 2 ounces of beef. Recommend this restaurant because of cheap food + good reviews.
  • Sakaguchiya (坂口 屋) is the birthplace of the best Hida beef sushi in Takayama. Restaurant Sakaguchiya was originally an inn that first opened in 1907 and is very popular in the area. Many high-class diners have stayed here, including Emperor Heisei’s brothers. In the middle of the Showa period, the inn opened a small sweets shop in front of the house and was very popular with visitors to Takayama.
Hida beef sushi | takayama blog

It wasn’t until 1983, the owner reinvented the inn into a Sakaguchiya restaurant that specializes in local specialties. And also from this place was born the legendary Hida beef sushi placed on senbei rice cake, becoming the ideal street food when walking around the old town of Takayama.

This sushi is served with premium Hida beef, which is delicious and melts in your mouth with one bite. One of the best things is that their plate is made with rice cakes (senbei). You can eat the senbei plate after you finish eating the Hida beef sushi.

Grilled Hida beef on Houba Miso leaves

Houba miso is a specialty of Takayama that features miso paste spreading on a houba leaf and then grilled over charcoal. When the leaf is grilled, it releases a special aroma, which blends with the miso to create a rich and intense flavor!

Grilled Hida beef on Houba Miso leaf | takayama guide

After that, Hida beef, sliced ​​very thin and beautiful, will be put on a houba leaf to be grilled with Miso. Thus, the beef after grilling will have a rich, unique flavor of miso and houba leaves aroma, eaten with hot rice in winter or any season in Japan is nothing like that! I will die of craving for this specialty of Takayama region!

To try Hida beef grilled on Houba Miso leaves, you can visit two famous places in the area, Hidatakayama Kyoya restaurant (reviewed above) and Suzuya restaurant (寿々や).

Train Bleu Patisserie Bakery

In Takayama city, there is a long-standing famous bakery, Train Bleu Patisserie Bakery with a famous story about the owner of the bakery, despite being a talented person, but returned to his hometown with the desire to serve the local people and he has received a lot of students who have desire to stay and serve the people of the city.

Why is this bakery so famous? Of course the main reason is that the pastries here are made deliciously, the owner of the shop is a person who has won many awards for making bread not only in Japan but also around the world. In addition, he is also known for being extremely careful and meticulous, so each bread is made with absolute care to create a perfectly delicious cake.

| takayama blog

However, the bakery is delicious and famous, so be prepared to wait. I waited in line for an hour and a half but the return was deserved it. Delicious and very fragrant pastries with limited quantity, variety of designs and new flavors. Some are soft and sweet, some are crunchy and fragrant of sesame, and some are fatty with cheese flavor… and especially because I have to wait in line for a long time, when I eat, I feel cherished each cake. For me, this is a very interesting experience.

Address: 1 Chome-73-5 西之一色町 Takayama, Gifu 506-0031, Japan
Hours: 9:30AM–6PM/Wednesday, Tuesday: Closed

Takayama guide: What to buy?

Sarubobo Dolls

When it comes to souvenirs, Takayama’s most famous is the Sarubobo monkey doll (red human-shaped dolls), which is considered a lucky charm to pray for good fortune, healthy delivery. I see this doll being sold everywhere, in addition, there are various types of dolls that are modified with the basis of this monkey doll.

Sarubobo Dolls

Doll making experience: If you want to experience Takyama doll making, you can go to: Hida no Sato (if there are more than 10 people) or Hida Takayama Omoide Taiken Kan Hall (if you go alone or few people). The price for one experience is 1300-1400 yen.

Takayama Ramen

Hida Wagyu Beef Ramen | takayama guide

Another famous Takayama specialty is Ramen, also known as Takayama Ramen. However, the ramen here has very different flavor from other regions in Japan. The broth is made from chicken bone and vegetables, so it has light sweet taste and clear. Thinly sliced ​​yellow noodles, with wontons added, similar to Chinese noodles.

The ramen shop I recommend you should try is Tsuzumi. This is one of the oldest ramen shops in Takayama. The taste of the ramen here is said to keep the original taste of Takayama Ramen from the past.

Actually, if compared to Kyoto or Tokyo, the price per bowl of ramen is not cheap at all. But ok, it’s also acceptable. 1 bowl costs about 900 – 1,000 yen.

Tea ceremony and Wagashi

In the old town of Takayama there is an old Wagashi store called Tohoen that has been in business for over 110 years. If you want to try the famous traditional Japanese Wagashi sweets, be sure to visit this shop.

Wagashi at this shop are not only delicious, but also very beautiful and delicate, as they can emulate and convey the taste of Japan’s natural transformation through the four seasons.

For example, the snow on pine trees in winter, cherry blossoms in full bloom in spring, fireworks and fireflies in summer, autumn leaves and chestnuts in autumn have all been scaled down and simulated through small pretty Wagashi sweets. Recently, the shop is also famous on TV for Manju cakes shaped like Japanese cats. Especially during the Covid-19 epidemic time, cats can also wear masks!

| takayama travel blog

Mitarashi dango

Mitarashi dango is traditional Japanese mochi in which mochi sticky rice dough is molded into small round balls, then covered with sauce. Usually, Mitarashi dango is covered with sweet soy sauce like malt sugar sauce. But in Takayama, people lightly pour soy sauce over dango, then grilled it to give off the fragrance of the sauce. Sticky rice cakes in the form of small round balls are easy to hold and enjoy when you walk around the old town.

Dango shop | takayama travel blog

When you wandering around the old town of Takayama, you will see a lot of stalls selling Mitarashi Dango. The most famous of them all is Jinya Dango, a store that has appeared in historical movies and TV series. However, you can buy it at any stall in the old town that I can easily see, because any shop selling Mitarashi Dango is equally delicious!

In addition, you can stop by an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) tro try local cuisine and sipping sake, cheap, delectable.

Takayama travel blog: Day trips from Takayama

Takayama is Gifu’s capital, so it’s the largest transportation hub in the region. From Takayama, you can make day trips to others, such as:

  • Shirakawago and Gokayama Ancient Villages: 1 hour and 20 minutes by bus.
  • The large Onsen areas such as Hirayu Onsen, Gero Onsen, Fukuji onsen, Tochio onsen, Okuhida. The bus ride is just over 1 hour.
  • Kamikochi: It takes 3 hours to come but the scenery is amazing.
  • Norikura skyline: A beautiful snowy peak of Gifu.
  • Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: The famous snow-white road.
  • Shinhotaka Ropeway: Enjoy a beautiful view of the snowy mountains.
  • Kanazawa: An old city that’s as quiet and beautiful as Takayama, the birthplace of Geisha.
  • Nagoya: The most famous city in central Japan, where there is a famous lantern light-up festival.
kimono kanazawa travel blog (1)
Kanazawa | takayama travel blog

My advice is for those of you who have a short trip with a large group, you can refer to booking a day tour to Shirakawago from Takayama. The cost for a tour is about 6,000 – 7,000 yen/tour including lunch. Or choose a tour on the occasion of winter light-up festival, the costs is about 12,000 yen.

Hida-Takayama guide: Where to stay?

Let’s talk about the hotel in Takayama. In Takayama, there are many different types of accommodation, I like hostel because it’s cheap and convenient, but those who like to enjoy the classic Japanese atmosphere, you can consider to stay in Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) which is expensive but very Japanese style.

Hostel

My rules when choose to staying in hostel in expensive place like Japan are:

  • Stay in a private dorminity room (dorm), separate women or men.
  • Choose a hostel near a train or bus station.

I planned to take the bus from Takayama to other tourist attractions, so I immediately chose this hostel near Takayama station. What’s more interesting is that this hotel offers a tour to Shirakawago with a cheaper price than other tour agents, so it’s more suitable for me. The room rate for one night is $20 – $25/person/night (inexpensive but ok in terms of quality).

Ryokan

Having been to the mountainous region of Japan, let experience of staying in a ryokan. Really worth a try. In addition to being traditional, staying in a ryokan also offers many experiences, perks that you has never tried before:

  • Experience sleeping in a Futon mattress: Lying on the ground + spreading a mattress on the floor to sleep.
  • Sitting in groups around a traditional Japanese Kotatsu table: a small table with a blanket covered.
  • Soaking in a hot tub feels like in a movie, a good ryokan even have its own onsen, really relaxing.

During my visit I stayed in Oyado Hachibei which located just only 15 minutes from JR Takayama Station by taxi. The ryokan has its own outdoor onsen along with delicious and subtle cuisine. You can seserve a room in advance via Booking.com or Agoda.com.

| takayama travel blog
Oyado Hachibei | takayama guide

Below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.

Check out more top hotels in Takayama on Agoda.com or Booking.com.

In addition, you can refer to one of the best Airbnb in Takayama for budget stay:

| takayama travel blog

–> Use this link https://www.airbnb.com/c/anht5185, to register for an Airbnb account and book a room, you will get a discount up to $55 for the first booking.

Takayama blog: Takayama travel itinerary

Takayama is considered one of the best tourist cities in central Japan, especially in the Alpine mountains, so you should arrange at least 2 days here.

I visited Takayama for 2 days and those 2 days, I experienced a lot of interesting things. Here is my Takayama for 2 days you can refer to:

  • Day 1: The night before, I took the bus from Kyoto to Takayama. Morning: Went to Shirakawago, afternoon: Explore the old town of Takayama.
  • Day 2: Traveled to Hirayu Onsen, experienced an onsen bath and then went to Kamikochi. Afternoon: Trekking Kamikochi and evening from there went back to Tokyo.

This itinerary is quite rush but in return you will experience quite a lot.

Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Takayama you can refer to

| takayama blog

Read more: What to do in Takayama? — Top 5 see & must things to do in Takayama, Japan and Japan travel guide here.

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