Nagasaki is a city of opposites. At one end, it’s perhaps defined by its targeting towards the end of the WWII. But at the other, its unique, colourful charm exists a world away from the tragedy. Neither can be discounted or downplayed however, combining to form a tapestry of cultural and historical significance that delivers plenty of intrigue and interest to budding explorers.
A prominent port city, the international influence as a result of its coastal location can be felt throughout the city’s varied cuisine, western-style architecture, the San Franciscan-style tram system and a host of other foreign flourishes. A city where west meets east with ease, here’s a guide to this many-splendored region, including how to get around, the best sights to see and the finest food that Nagasaki has to offer.
How to get around Nagasaki
Since there are no subways in Nagasaki, the main means of getting around the city is by its tram system. Reminiscent of those found in San Francisco, these vintage trams are quaint and chic, and you can get around pretty much the entire city on them. All journeys are 120 yen, though a day pass will cost you 500 yen.
Otherwise, the hilly lands make a good pair of walking shoes a must. The city’s sights might seem far apart at first, but once you’re in a district it’s easy to walk from one tourist hot spot to the next. Due to the abundance of slopes, inclines and hills, people rarely use bicycles to get around, while cars are seldom seen.
What to see and do in Nagasaki
Whether you’re a history buff or not, there is so much heritage in Nagasaki that you’re bound to be impressed.
Despite its militaristic name, Battleship Island was never a site of warfare; rather, its name is derived from the island’s resemblance to warships. A former coal mining community, it’s one of the 505 uninhabited islands found in the Nagasaki Prefecture and gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009.
Haunting and eerie, but undeniably interesting, it’s largely been left alone for reasons of prosperity, so some buildings are on the verge of collapse. This means that tours are restricted to boats sailing its circumference.
Atomic Bomb Museum
A cultural touchstone that’s as sombre as it is essential to visit, the Atomic Bomb Museum goes to great lengths to illustrate the destruction of one of the world’s most infamous bombings. Stark and chilling at times, the layout and attention to detail here is set up in a way so that visitors can feel the effects the bomb had on the city.
Actual debris from the blast site, first-hand accounts from survivors and historical photos combine to create a disquieting, though ultimately fascinating experience for the history-inclined.
For those looking to take their Nagasaki adventure to new heights, this 330-metre-high mountain boasts an open-air deck that presents unbelievable, panoramic views of Nagasaki and its serene harbour. If it’s possible, try to time your visit for the evening, when the views become even more impressive, so much so that locals refer to it as the “10 million-dollar night view”. What’s more, you’ll get to ride the Nagasaki Ropeway, which gives you more superb views of the city as you approach the summit.
If you’re in the market for a bargain, or just like exploring interesting, offbeat places then Don Quijote is a superb slice of Japan’s shopping scene. Selling a plethora of goods at rock bottom, tax-free prices, you’ll find everything from clothing and groceries to electronics and household items.
It often closes late – or not at all – and is a superb place to get a souvenir or two. Uniquely Japanese, this at-times bizarre bazaar of goods might not seem like such a tourist hotspot, but the many who flock through its doors will beg to differ.
Huis Ten Bosch
Another sight that’s on the stranger side, 1.5 million sq. metres of land dedicated to recreating the streets of Middle Age Europe might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Nagasaki, but Huis Ten Bosch has been one of its most popular attractions since 2013.
Boasting a vast array of flowers, attractions, and illuminations, this curious recreation might seem strange at first, but it all makes sense after a wander around its enchanting grounds.
Where to eat in Nagasaki
Dining is an art form in Nagasaki, so make sure you take full advantage of the culinary delights during your time in this beautiful city.
If Nagasaki can stake a claim for one thing, it’s their prize-winning Wagyu beef, recognised as the best of its kind in Japan. For a taste of just how good it gets, head to Resutoranmon, where the national favourite Lemon Steak is of exceptional quality. Originating from the Sasebo region, the thinly-sliced beef is cooked with lemons and soy sauce, a combination which might sound odd, but really is delicious. Mix up the sauce with rice for a hearty meal Nagasaki-style.
With its giant red pillars and 19th-century lineage, Shikairo is a glimpse into a Nagasaki of the past. Around since 1899, expect superb views of the harbour and bowls of champon, where the dish is said to have originated from. Pork, seafood and vegetables are fried together in lard, before a chicken soup is poured over and ramen noodles are added. Warming and robust, with plenty of flavour packed into each mouthful, be sure to give this dish a try when you’re here.
A Nagasaki institution since 1960, Butaman Momotaro serves up unbelievable dumplings, bao buns and gyoza – some of the best in the country – which are great for a quick fix after a spot of sightseeing. It stays open until 3am too, great if you’ve got a late night in Nagasaki planned.
Another street food favourite that’s been in business for decades, Hōuntei is a rustic, no-frills eatery that serves some truly excellent bite-sized treats. The gyoza is particularly popular, but make some time for butaniratoji, a pork and shallot omelette that’s superb with an ice-cold Kirin by its side.
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