Have you heard of Takayama, a city in the Japanese Alps? Home to sake, sarubobo, and steep-roofed houses, it’s one of our favourite destinations in Japan. We’d recommend visiting for a couple of days, and this 3 day Takayama itinerary will help you make the most of your time. Read on to find out about the best things to do in Takayama with kids!
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The best things to do in Takayama with kids
Takayama is a small city in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture, Japan. It’s famous for its beautifully preserved Old Town which features several streets of buildings dating from the Edo period (some are 400 years old). Visiting Takayama is the perfect way to experience traditional Japan.
There are plenty more things to see and do in Takayama other than its Old Town. Try some sake from the town’s seven distilleries, see the famous regional gassho-zukuri houses at Hida No Sato Folk Village, or take a side trip to Shirakawa-go. Takayama is best enjoyed at a slow pace, shopping for souvenirs, trying out regional food, and enjoying the relative peace (especially if you’re coming from Tokyo or Kyoto).
Kids will also be intrigued by the town’s mascot, a sarubobo (or monkey baby). They can even make their own sarubobo toy to take home – the perfect souvenir!
See our 2 week Japan itinerary for more ideas on where to go in the Land of the Rising Sun, and how to fit Takayama into a longer trip to Japan.
A 2 – 3 day Takayama itinerary, suitable for families
This Takayama itinerary sees you exploring Takayama at a relatively leisurely pace. It’s possible to visit Takayama in just one day but it’s worth slowing down and covering the main sights over two days in my opinion.
The first two days see you exploring Takayama’s historic town centre and the nearby folk village of Hida No Sato. On the third day you can take a trip to Shirakawa-go and the picture perfect town Ogimachi. If you’ve got less time you can skip Shirakawa-go or swap it with Hida No Sato.
While Takayama is certainly not off the tourist trail in Japan, it’s not as busy as some towns and many people will just whizz through in a day. Take your time and enjoy the atmosphere, ryokan and hot springs in this picturesque town.
Read on to find out about the best things to do in Takayama with kids!
Day 1 in Takayama with kids
Visit the morning markets: Miyagawa Market or Jinya-mae Market
Takayama has two morning markets – which is perfect if the kids are awake early as they open at 7am (8am in winter).
You’ll find one on the banks of the Miyagawa river, and the other is in front of Takayama Jinya. Both are centrally located, and it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
We visited the Miyagawa morning market which has a mix of pop up stands on the river side of the street and permanent shops on the other. The Miyagawa market is about a 10 – 15 minute walk from the main train station – just head up the main road until you reach the Kashibashi bridge.
Take a look at the long limbed statues on the bridge as you cross – they’re a strange sight. You’ll see the market stalls on the left hand side of the bridge.
You’ve got limited time to visit the market as it closes by about 11am (including the permanent shops) so it’s best to visit it early. At the market you’ll find local handicrafts like jewellery and textiles, hot snacks, fruit and vegetables, souvenirs, and other foodstuffs.
Explore Takayama’s preserved streets in the Sanmachi-suji area
After you’ve looked around the morning market, head back to the main street and start exploring Takayama’s preserved streets – the Sanmachi Preserved Historical Area. Try to arrive as early as you can as the streets here do get very busy later in the day. The shops here generally open at about 9am so this is a good time to visit.
There are several streets here lined with dark wooden buildings that date back to the Edo period (around 400 – 200 years ago). It’s a really lovely area and it does what it says on the tin – it lets you imagine the Japan of old. These buildings were originally used by Takayama’s merchants back in the days of samurai and shoguns.
Look out for all the little details on the buildings as you’re walking around; there are pretty shutters and eaves, and clues as to what you’ll find inside each building. Keep an eye on little children to make sure they don’t slip into the streams lining the streets (we may have had an incident). Other than Kyoto, this is one of the best areas to see traditional buildings in Japan.
The buildings in Sanmachi Dori are today mostly used as craft and souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and food shops, and there are several little museums in the area too. As with everywhere in Japan the souvenirs and crafts are pretty high quality with prices to match, and you’re bound to be tempted by some of the tea sets or little ornaments.
While you’re in Takayama it’s well worth exploring some museums and heritage houses found in the area. You’ll pass the Takayama Old Town Museum, the Fujii Folk Museum (or Fujii Art Gallery), and the Hida Archaeology Museum which are among the most popular places to visit. There are also some heritage houses which you can visit later in the day.
Depending on how you’re doing for time you can either pause in a cafe for some drinks and a snack or have your lunch here. Takayama is famous for its Hida beef, but you will also be able to find vegetarian and vegan options without too much trouble. We found several restaurants which spelled out their ingredients and options carefully, so you can order without any risk of fish broth.
Meet some sarubobo
A sarubobo will be among the first things you see when you arrive in Takayama. These little dolls are unescapable in Takayama, and you won’t see them anywhere else in Japan (at least, I never have). The word sarubobo means monkey baby and this cute little spirit is the emblem of Takayama. They come in many colours but the one that you’ll see most often is a red sarubobo.
Traditionally a red sarubobo is given as a symbol of good fortune and ease of childbirth (I’ve had a red one for years and I can confirm that sadly, it did not help in childbirth).
The other colours have their own meanings too; yellow and gold bring luck in gambling and money; green is for good health and peace; blue is for studying and work; purple brings long life and success; pink is for love; and black is for protection against evil spirits.
Expect to find all your favourite Japanese characters turned into sarubobo, from Hello Kitty to Monchhichi. Sarubobos make great little souvenirs and our kids loved them.
Keep reading; on day 2 your kids can make their own sarubobo toy.
Once you reach the far end of the Sanmachi area you can turn to the right and cross the lovely vermilion bridge, the Nakabashi bridge. On the far side you’ll see Takayama Jinya, which is the former local government office. It was originally set up by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the late 17th century and was used until 1969.
Today it’s a museum and it’s a wonderful example of a traditional Japanese building. Expect minimalist rooms, paper screens, long corridors and beautiful verandahs overlooking the gardens.
The building is also a little unusual due to its sprawling layout, and as well as the official government rooms you can also see a torture chamber and the old store rooms and kitchens. It’s quite different to the actual historic homes of rich merchants that you can visit in Takayama, and if you’ve got time then I’d recommend visiting both.
Takayama Jinya is open from 8.45 until 4.30pm in November – February, 5pm in other months except August when it’s open until 6pm. It’s closed on December 29, 31 and 1 January. Entry costs ¥440 (under 18s free).
Look around an historic house – Yoshijima Heritage House or Kusakabe Folk Museum
Takayama has two heritage houses that are open to visitors – the Yoshijima Heritage House and the Kusakabe Folk Museum. They’re found next to each other, a short walk away from the Sanmachi Suji area.
You can visit one, or both, and you might want to see them instead of the Takayama Jinya depending on how long it’s taken to look around the preserved streets.
We picked the Kusakabe Folk Museum which was once a home owned by a rich merchant. Takayama was a real trade hub during the Edo period and plenty of people got rich on the back of it. The original building burnt down in 1875 so this is actually a reproduction.
The Kusakabe house is large and the rooms have some interesting artefacts in them – make sure you venture upstairs. The kids were fascinated to see how different this house is to our homes back in the UK.
Outside, there’s a small cafe in the courtyard which also leads to a collection of ceramics, and more objects from the Edo period. Look out for the palanquin!
The Kusakabe House is open from 9am to 4pm in December – February, and until 4.30pm in other months (3pm on December 29 – January 3rd). Closed on Tuesdays during December – February and from January 4 – 6. Entry costs ¥500.
The Yoshijima Heritage House is open from 9am to 4.30pm from December to February (closed on Tuesdays during this time) and until 5pm at other times. Entry is also ¥500.
Sake brewery tour
Takayama is famous for its sake breweries, and there are seven different breweries where you can try out the different varieties; most of them are found in and around the old town. Sake is sold in all sorts of beautifully decorated and different sized bottles and makes a great gift.
It’s easy to spot a sake brewery – just look out for the ball of cedar needles hanging above the door – this is called a sakebayashi. The bottles and barrels of sake on display outside are also a dead giveaway.
You can visit the sake breweries independently, but to get a better understanding of the whole process you might want to take a tour. This will help you to better understand how sake is made and to find out which types you like the best before you start buying. It’s unlikely that the sake brewery staff will speak much English so unless your Japanese is pretty good, a tour may be better.
Click here to book a sake brewery tour – while kids obviously aren’t allowed to try sake they are allowed to accompany their parents free of charge.
After all of the above you can return to your ryokan for a traditional Japanese meal or eat out. We really enjoyed our meal at Suzuya, a popular restaurant which serves local fare and also does some great vegetarian and vegan options (clearly addressed on the menu). It was great to be able to eat some local dishes without having to worry about accidentally eating dashi or chicken or whatever. They also made fries for the kids – perfect.
Day 2 in Takayama with kids
Hida no Sato Folk Village
Gifu Prefecture is famous for its gassho-zukuri, which are Alpine-like houses with steeply pitched roofs. As you can imagine, Takayama gets really cold and snowy in winter. We had a couple of light snowfalls at the end of December but it gets much colder in January and February and there are often several metres of snow.
The gassho-zukuri are specially designed to cope with the weight of the snow. They have huge interior beams to support the roof and the angle of the roof allows the snow to slide off before the home is damaged. The nearby town of Shirakawa-go is World Heritage listed because of its collection of these houses.
On the outskirts of Takayama you can visit the Hida Folk Museum, or Hida No Sato, to look around a collection of around 30 traditional homes from the Gifu Prefecture, including some gassho-zukuri. You’re able to go inside all of the houses; some are empty, while others have examples of local crafts, clothes and artefacts on display. Some of the houses are around 400 years old. Information is in English as well as Japanese.
Make sure you find the traditional toys down by the lovely lake – little kids (and big ones) can have a lot of fun trying to master the stilts!
The whole setting of Hida No Sato is gorgeous, especially in autumn when the trees are turning all shades of crimson, orange and gold. You can also see traditional farming techniques in the gardens, including a small rice paddy, and it feels as if you’re walking around a little village, back in the Edo period. It’s one of my favourite attractions in Japan.
TIP: Make sure you pick up a little booklet at the office and find the stamps outside some of the houses! A book filled with stamps from all the places you’ve visited in Japan makes a fantastic, and personal, souvenir.
It’s still fun to visit Hida No Sato in winter, but you should really make sure you’re wrapped up well. I’d advise taking some super thick socks with you, as of course you have to take your shoes off when you enter the houses. The wooden floors are absolutely freezing and will chill small feet to the bone very quickly. If you’re lucky the fires will be lit and the house will be slightly warmer than sub-zero!
Actually, this advice goes for visiting any of the traditional buildings in Takayama in winter, including the Kusakabe House and Takayama Jinya too.
To get to the Hida Folk Museum from central Takayama you can either take a local bus or flag a taxi. It’s also possible to walk in about 30 minutes. We were staying nearby so we walked, but we took a bus back to the town centre.
Hida No Sato is open from 8.30 for 5pm every day. Entry costs ¥700 per adult, and ¥200 for school aged children.
Make your own sarubobo at Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre
Just opposite Hida No Sato you’ll find the Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre. It used to be a short bus ride away but it’s moved closer to Hida No Sato in recent years.
Feeling creative? This is where you can pop in and make your own souvenir from Takayama – you can choose from several different crafts including a sarubobo doll, a Japanese tapestry, making rice crackers, making a mobile, and many more. The sarubobo doll is probably the most popular, and it’s also the most expensive at ¥1700. You should be able to get a discount by showing your ticket for Hida No Sato.
We were the only people there when we visited. The kids really enjoyed this activity, although at 5 and 3 we needed to help them quite a bit. My son chose a yellow sarubobo and my daughter chose a Japanese tapestry.
Don’t worry if you’re not at all arty. The staff at the craft centre don’t speak English but it’s easy enough to follow their instructions with a lot of gestures and exaggerated expressions! They’ll help you to get things just so.
Both the kids have kept their Takayama souvenirs in pride of place since we got back home – it’s definitely a fun thing to do with kids in Takayama.
The Hida Takayama Craft Experience Centre is open from 10am to 4pm. Closed Thursdays. Reservations aren’t necessary.
Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall
In the afternoon take a bus back into the town centre and visit the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall. As well as sake, sarubobos and architecture, Takayama’s other big contribution to Japanese culture is its spring and autumn float festivals (matsuri) which are feted to be among the most spectacular in Japan.
The Takayama Matsuri aren’t just any old float festivals – they draw visitors from all over Japan as well as tourists. The floats are historic works of art; painstakingly crafted, carved and gilded, they are Takayama’s prized possessions. During the float festivals the floats are paraded through town and among the shrines accompanied by hundreds of lanterns, which makes for a beautiful and spectacular sight.
At the museum you can find out about the history of the float festival and take a look at four of the floats (they are changed throughout the year). The other floats are kept around the town in special tall storehouses – you might see them as you’re walking around.
Visiting Takayama during either festival would make a very special trip. The spring festival is from April 9 -10 and the autumn one is held on October 9 – 10. If you’re lucky enough to be in Takayama for the festival make sure you book your accommodation well in advance as it will book up super quickly.
Entry to the Festival Floats Exhibition hall costs ¥900 – this also includes entry to Nikkokan (see below). The hall is open from 9am to 5pm (4.30 in December through February).
Sakurayama Nikkokan is right next to the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, and as the price of entry is included in your ticket, you may as well pop in quickly to take a look.
Nikkokan has a large exhibition hall full of miniature models of the amazing buildings in the town of Nikko, which is a couple of hours north of Tokyo. Nikko’s shrines and temples are especially important as they’re the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the head of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Their architecture is strikingly different to anywhere else in Japan; they’re far more ornate than any other shrines you’ll see.
The models here are beautifully detailed and quite interesting to look at – you only need about 20 minutes for a quick peek. If you’ve been to Nikko, it’s a nice reminder of the city, and if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ll be looking in to a visit!
Nikkokan is open from 9am to 5pm every day (4.30pm in December through February). Admission is ¥900 including entry to the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall.
Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
The Sakurayama Hachimangu shrine is one of Takayama’s loveliest, so if you only visit one shrine in Takayama, this is a good one to choose. Its entrance is only a few steps from the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall and Nikkokan.
The Hachimangu shrine is the site of the autumn float festival. It’s set in a quiet, wooded glade, and from here you can walk to the start of the Higashiyama Walking Course if you still have time.
The Higashiyama Walkway is a 2 hour route around the outer suburbs of Takayama. The route takes you past several shrines and around the ruins of Takayama Castle. Higashiyama Walkway is named after the famous Kyoto district.
It’s a pleasant way to finish your day if you still have the energy! It’s also a place that you can let the kids run free for a bit.
The route starts about 15 minutes walk away from the Hachimangu Shrine. You can see a map of the route here.
Bonus: Day 3 in Takayama with kids – Day trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go
Day trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go
Shirakawa-go is one of Japan’s most famous attractions, and it’s not far from Takayama at all. You can easily take a day trip or a half day trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go, as it’s only a 50 minute drive. If you don’t have an extra day then you could always visit Shirakawa-go instead of Hida no Sato.
Shirakawa-go is a World Heritage Site, but it’s not actually the name of the village you’re probably thinking of; rather, Shirakawa-go is a region. The neighbouring area of Gokayama also holds Heritage status. Many of the houses are 400 years old or more.
The most famous village in Shirakawa-go is called Ogimachi, which has plenty of the lovely wooden gassho-zukuri houses. Visiting Ogimachi is a lovely way to experience the Japanese rural life of old as you can also see traditional farming methods in use in addition to the lovely houses. There are plenty of shops showcasing crafts from the area, some lovely walks and make sure you head to the famous view point too.
Some of the houses are open to the public, rather like the open air museum at Hida Takayama. Others are used as b&bs, or minshuku in Japanese, so you can even stay in one if you like!
How to get to Shirakawa-go from Takayama
You can take a bus from Takayama Nohi Bus centre. There are several buses per day and you can buy a single or return ticket to Ogimachi, or a round tour which takes you through Gokayama as well as Shirakawa-go. You can either buy your tickets at Takayama bus station or reserve them online here. You can find more options here.
Of course, there are also day and half day tours available if you’d rather someone else took care of the logistics. Click here to book a half day tour to Shirakawa-go from Takayama.
Takayama with kids: Know before you go
How to get to Takayama
Takayama is easy to get to, although it does take a little time. Expect a journey from Tokyo to take around four hours. You’ll have to change in either Toyama or Nagoya for the Hida Wide Express service to Takayama which is a scenic (but slow) route through the mountains.
From Kyoto the journey takes a little over three hours; again, change in Nagoya for the Hida Wide Express.
The Hida Wide Express service is covered by the JR Pass (recommended if you’re travelling in Japan by train). You can check train times and fares at Hyperdia – we strongly recommend downloading the very useful Hyperdia app just before your trip to Japan as it’s free for 30 days only.
Where to stay in Takayama
Takayama is an excellent location to enjoy a ryokan stay. A ryokan is a Japanese inn, and you can expect to stay in a room with tatami mats and futons on the floor. Many ryokan have shared bathroom facilities – this is totally normal in Japan. A ryokan will often offer a Japanese or Western style breakfast and you can usually eat a Japanese meal in the evenings called a kaiseki meal set.
Where we stayed in Takayama
We stayed in Ryokan Murayama which is a little outside the centre of Takayama, not far from the Hida no Sato open air museum. It took about 20 minutes to walk into town, but there are regular buses and the ryokan also operates a shuttle service at certain times of the day. They will also pick you up from the train station. The staff were friendly and while they didn’t speak much English they also didn’t laugh at my very rusty Japanese (at least, not to my face!).
We enjoyed our stay here as the room we had was larger than others we experienced. Our room also had an ensuite toilet (very useful when you’ve got small kids). We were happy to find that there was a private bath for families so we could enjoy an onsen without having to worry about getting etiquette wrong! You can also do your laundry here.
Ryokan Murayama serves Japanese breakfasts and dinners and we ate here two nights of our three night stay.
Budget hotels and hostels in Takayama
If you don’t mind staying in a hostel with your family, then try K’s House. K’s House is centrally located a few minutes from Takayama Station, and has rooms that fit a family of four, sleeping in two bunk beds.
K’s House has a shared kitchen, lounge and also has laundry facilities and wifi. There are actually two K’s Hostels in Takayama, so click here to book K’s House 1, and click here to book K’s House Takayama Oasis.
Another hostel option is cup of tea which is also found right in the heart of Takayama. Families can book a room with 6 bunk beds and a microwave. Bathrooms are shared. Click here for prices and availability.
Mid range hotels in Takayama
The Wat Hotel and Spa has Western style family rooms and is located in central Takayama. There’s a hot spring onsen bath on site, a bar, buffet breakfast, and free Wifi. Click here to book.
Oyado Hachibei is a very similar hotel to Ryokan Maruyama where we stayed. It’s a traditional ryokan which serves breakfast and dinner, and has Japanese style sleeping arrangements. There is a public onsen on site. It’s located close to Hida no Sato but provides shuttle service from Takayama Station between 3 and 5pm. Click here to book.
Minshuku Kuwataniya is another ryokan offering both Japanese (shared bathroom) and Western style rooms (ensuite). There are two onsen baths on site, and the ryokan serves breakfasts and dinners. The ryokan is not far from Sanmachi Street. Click here to book.
High end hotels in Takayama
Oyado Koto No Yume is an established ryokan a short walk from Takayama station. The ryokan has beautifully appointed Japanese style accommodation with ensuite bathrooms. Breakfast is available and there’s also Wifi throughout the property. You’ll also find on site indoor and outdoor onsen baths. Click here to book.
Ryokan Asunaro is set in a beautiful building. You’ll get the full ryokan experience here, with large, ensuite Japanese style rooms as well as hot spring baths. There’s an onsite restaurant serving Japanese and Western fare for breakfast and dinner. Click here to check prices and availability.
Honjin Hiranoya Annex is located right on the banks of the Miyagawa river and has a rooftop onsen as well as other baths and ensuite Japanese style rooms. The hotel serves both Western and Japanese meals. Click here to book.
The main hotel, Honjin Hiranoya Kachoan, is located right in the heart of the historic district and offers a 5* Japanese experience. The hotel is one of the top hotels in Japan. Click here to book.
Where to eat in Takayama
If you’re staying in a ryokan then it’s probably worth getting a special kaiseki meal set at least once during your stay. You could eat at your ryokan each evening but it’s worth seeking out a few other places to eat. We found Takayama an easy place to find both Japanese and Western cuisine.
There are personal recommendations – bear in mind that we’re not gourmet travellers and often I’m just happy to find anything vegetarian – but we enjoyed our meals at these places.
We loved our meal at Suzuya restaurant which is just five minutes walk from the train station. It gets top points for a fun atmosphere and local delicacies which can be adapted for vegetarians and vegans.
You can take a look at the menu here.
Antica Trattoria Nunohisaan
We wandered past this Italian restaurant which is just outside of the preserved historical area, next to a kimono shop. It doesn’t appear on google maps but you can find it on Trip Advisor. Our pizza was surprisingly good but what sealed the deal for us was the large family room at the back where we sat on tatami mats while the kids played with a selection of toys. For us, it was perfect.
Heianraku is often referred to as the best restaurant in Takayama, and it is usually booked up several days in advance. We tried but failed miserably to get a table. Expect local cuisine and a friendly, intimate atmosphere.
Japanese restaurants often have fairly short lunch hours and we’d forgotten this on one of our days looking around town. Wakidjaya was one of the only places still open for a late lunch so we popped in and had a Japanese meal set. I was happy because they did a vegan set and the kids and Derek also enjoyed their meals. The interior is traditional and we sat on tatami mats. It was fairly cheap despite being on Sanmachi street. You’ll recognise it by the aubergine on the noren (the cloth that covers the entrance).
When to visit Takayama
I’ve visited Takayama twice; once in autumn and once in winter. Both seasons are good times to go but be aware that Takayama is colder than other parts of Honshu in any season. This probably also makes it a pleasant destination in Japan’s notoriously hot and humid summers, too. Of course, autumn and spring are fantastic times to visit Japan and Takayama especially for the festival!
So Takayama is a year round destination as long as you remember to wrap up warm in the winter months!
I hope this guide to Takayama has been useful! Have you been to Takayama? What did you enjoy best? Let us know in the comments!
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