We have been to Japan multiple times and have covered the ‘major’ cities, including the three major amusement parks (Click here for our post on our itineraries and experiences to 16 countries including Japan).
Legoland Japan, really takes the cake with some seriously good activities.
On our last trip, we decided to visit Nagoya before going to Hokkaido, as we wanted to discover a new city other than Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
We were so thrilled to find Autumn blooms at Nabana-No-Sato!
We fell in love with Nagoya almost immediately. It is such an underrated Japanese city filled with world-class attractions such as Legoland Nagoya and the Train Museum which are fantastic for families. The flower park at Nabana-No-Sato is Japan’s most spectacular Winter Illumination. It’s so magical to see it in person.
One of our highlights on the trip: Being inside the cockpit of an actual Shinkansen.
Here’s a snapshot of our 6D5N Winter Itinerary to Nagoya:
|Day 0||Singapore to Haneda Airport, Tokyo. Haneda, Tokyo to Nagoya.||10am Arrive in Haneda Airport.
Take the 12.06pm Shinkansen from Haneda Airport directly to Nagoya.
|Take Shinkansen from Haneda Airport International Terminal to Nagoya (131 mins) using JR Pass (from KLOOK).||Haneda to Nagoya via Shinkansen Hikari 513. Board the train at Haneda Airport at 12.06pm. Reach Nagoya 14.17pm. Check into hotel. Freshen up.|
|Day 1||Nagoya||2.17 pm Reach Nagoya. Walk to hotel (just above the JR train station). Check-in, dinner at mall below hotel, and rest.||Walk||Hotel: Stay 4 nights at Nagoya JR Gate Tower Hotel. Centrally located, above the JR train station and integrated mall with lots of food options. Extremely convenient to travel around Nagoya and to other parts of Japan.|
|Day 2||Nagoya – Legoland and Sea Life Park||Morning: Visit Legoland Nagoya. Afternoon: Visit Sea Life Nagoya.
||Travel using the JR Pass from KLOOK. Take local trains to Legoland Nagoya
from Nagoya JR Gate Tower Hotel.
|Legoland Nagoya and Sea Life Nagoya are located next to each other. Purchase tickets here.|
|Day 3||Takayama and Shirakawa-go Day Trip||Join the Takayama and Shirakawa-go Day Trip. Assemble at Nagoya Station (Taiko Exit).||Buy the Takayama and Shirakawa-go Day Trip from KLOOK.||It’s quite complicated to go to Shirakawa-go on our own. More convenient and hassle-free to join a day tour if you are travelling with kids.|
|Day 4||Train Museum and Nabana-No-Sato Flower Park||Morning: Visit SCMAGLEV and Railway Park Museum.
Afternoon: Nabana-No-Sato Flower Park Winter Illumination.
|Take local train to the Train Museum using JR Pass.
For Nabana-No-Sato: Board the bus from Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Center 4F22.
*Round-trip tickets purchased from the Bus Counter.
|Be prepared to stay till late to enjoy the Winter Illumination at Nabana-No-Sato. Dress warm.|
|Day 5||Nagoya to Shirakawa, Tokyo. Visit Harajuku and Shibuya.||Morning: Check out of Nagoya and take Shinkansen to Shinagawa, Tokyo.
Afternoon: Visit Dog Café, Hedgehog Café in Harajuku, Dinner and Shopping in Shibuya.
|Nagoya to Tokyo Shinagawa via Shinkansen Hikari 518 (94 mins) using JR Pass. Board the Shinkansen at 12.26pm. Reach Shinagawa, Tokyo 14.03pm.||Stay 1 night at Hotel Shinagawa Prince in Tokyo before flying to Hokkaido the following day.|
|Day 6||Shinagawa, Tokyo to New Chitose, Hokkaido||Board domestic flight to New Chitose Airport, Hokkaido.
Self-drive and check-into Hinode Hills, Niseko Village.
|Take the JR train from Shinagawa, Tokyo to Haneda Airport (30 mins) using JR Pass.
Collect rental car from New Chitose Airport and self-drive to Hinode Hills (3hrs).
|Stay 5 nights in Hinode Hills Resort, Niseko Village.|
|Day 7 to 12||Hokkaido||Skiing for kids and cafe-hopping for us!||Walk or self-drive.|
Here are what we think on the attractions and hotels:
Nagoya JR Gate Tower Hotel:
This is a clean and centralized city hotel. The location of the hotel is superb as it sits on top of the central hub for the trains, shinkansen as well as the buses. This enabled us to catch the train in from the Tokyo Haneda Airport as well as catch the Shinkansen and buses to the all attractions in Nagoya conveniently.
The rooms, like most Japanese city hotels, can be a tad small for a family of 4 but it’s quite manageable since we only use the room to freshen up and sleep after a long day of sight-seeing.
Aside from its convenience, there are lots of eateries and shops below. The hotel also offers a birds’ eye view of the meandering lines of the many railway tracks leading into Nagoya. Perfect for the kids, like Buddy, who love to spot trains!
Legoland Japan and Sea Life Nagoya. (https://www.legoland.jp/en/)
Located within stone’s throw of each other, Sea Life Nagoya and Japan’s only Legoland are worthy reasons why a visit to Nagoya should be on the cards for families.
Flying Ninjago – This is one ride families should not miss! Seriously good!
Taking a Lego Submarine ride! Fun!
For most kids, the only Legoland we have experienced would be the one across the causeway in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Legoland Nagoya Japan offers a whole new experience including a fun day in a theme park in winter climate, which is well, cool in every sense of the word!
Fancy being underwater and watching sea life swim around Lego pieces.
While some rides and experiences are similar to the one in Malaysia (E.g., Driving school, Mini Land, The Dragon and Dragon’s Apprentice etc.), the other ‘Must-Do’ rides we recommend would be Submarine Adventure, Cat Cloud Busters, the awesome Flying Ninjago plus the thrilling Llyod’s Spinjitsu Spinners. Try also to catch the Ninjago Live Action Show and visit the Lego Factory to see how Lego bricks are ‘made’!
This ride turned us topsy-turvy 360 degrees. Fun!
Stepping into a Lego Factory to see how the pieces are being made.
Sea Life Nagoya ( https://www.legoland.jp/en/resort-guide/sealife-nagoya/ )
Sea Life Nagoya is just across Legoland Japan and can be included in the same day as Legoland visit. Its entrance pale in significance to Legoland’s grand entrance but don’t let that humble entrance fool you.
Hands on feeding a Stingray.
Once inside, Japan’s ‘hands-on aquarium’ lets visitors ‘see touch and learn’ about sea life. Although not as sprawling as Singapore’s SEA Aquarium, it features unique and diverse range of sea creatures found in Japan!
Sea Life Nagoya should be included in your trips to Legoland Japan.
We really had fun at both Legoland and Sea Life Nagoya. To maximize your day, it’s good that tickets can be bought via KLOOK online, arrive early at Legoland and be strategic on the rides to take before leaving about 3pm to experience Sea Life Nagoya till it closes at 5:30pm.
UNESCO Heritage Site – Shirakawago and Takayama ( https://www.vill.shirakawa.lg.jp/en/ )
I really don’t have enough adjectives in my limited lexicon to describe the beauty of Shirakawago and Takayama especially in Winter.
Step back in time to the magical Shirakawago.
A visit there is akin to taking a step back in time into an old Japanese art piece depicting a village from the Edo era. This World Heritage Site is famous for its thatched roof houses that span back nearly 300 years to the EDO period. We joined a full day trip which brought us to Takayama and Shirakawa-go. En-route to the village by comfortable coach, we enjoyed spectacular scenery embellished by fallen snow.
As part of the experience, we took a the walk through Takayama village. One could almost imagine seeing Samurais walking along the roads. Imagine the snow falling slowly accompanied by the soundtrack from a Studio Gibli anime!
Takayama is so enchanting.
Hida beef sashimi. Melts in your mouth. Oishi!
Do note that you would need to purchase tickets beforehand to visit the medieval houses. As you walk around the village, do taste the local delicacies. Hida Beef, eaten raw or torched, on top of sushi rice, are delectable. A visit to Takayama is similar to a visit to Kyoto only perhaps slightly less crowded.
Like a scene out from a calendar.
SCMAGLEV and Railway Park Museum (https://museum.jr-central.co.jp/en/ )
This museum sits right up there as one of our most loved museums in all our 16-country travels. It is THAT excellent. With its LIFE- sized carriages from every Shinkansen in Japan’s history as well as life-sized models of the notable trains in Japan’s history (E.g., The Emperor’s Train), this museum is mind-blowing and can evoke the inner child within every one of us.
We couldn’t believe our eyes – Life sized Shinkansen from every era is here. Amazing!
This place features some historic trains as well. Yes, the ACTUAL trains.
Every Shinkansen across the generation has a life-size model here.
In addition to seeing the trains, we can walk into them, take photos, and read about the science and history behind these marvelous engines. There are opportunities for you to learn a bit more about the Magnetic Levitation Science (hence the name ‘MAGLEV’) behind how the Shinkansen works.
Someone’s imagination is going at over 300 km/h…’piloting’ the Shinkansen.
“Hello Mommy and Daddy, can we lead you to your seats?” – The kids got to play dress-up in an actual Shinkansen
The kids having a hands-on at the Shinkansen simulator. Cool!
We spent almost an entire day there and felt that we could easily have spent another day more! Note that for some experiences such as ‘driving’ the virtual Shinkansen, you’d need to book early when visiting the museum. In fact, do that first when you enter the museum to avoid disappointment.
Seeing real-life Shinkansen up close. What a treat!
The museum does have a small cafeteria where you could catch lunch. We hope that they still would give the paper train box when one orders the kid’s menu if so, it’s one nice souvenir to take home.
This is one of the BEST museums we have ever visited (and we’ve been to quite a few worldwide!)
Nabana-No-Sato Winter Illumination Park (https://www.nagashima-onsen.co.jp/nabana/index.html )
Reputed to have Japan’s most impressive Winter Illumination, this ‘flower park’ or some sites call it a nursery, is home to the most impressive blooms in Japan. Think Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay except bigger and prettier.
We were very blessed that we caught some late Autumn blooms when we visited in early December. The weather was pleasant, and we enjoyed a cool Autumn’s walk for about 2 hours where we took beautiful family portraits against the stunning Autumn colours.
The park has some good eateries serving good Japanese food. One shouldn’t also miss the ride on the Island Fuji Observatory which offers a 360 view of the huge park. It is especially stunning at night with seeing the illumination in its full glory. Do go early to queue for the experience.
Here are some tips to maximize your experience at Nabana-No-Sato:
We took the mid-afternoon bus from Nagoya after returning from the Train Museum. We arrived at Nabana-No-Sato around 4pm to see the blooms before the sun sets at 5pm. We then opted for an early dinner before queuing for the Island Fuji Observatory ride. After the observatory, we did another walking tour of the park to take in the Winter Illumination shows. Do be warned that the crowd can swell significantly once night falls, so it is virtually impossible to take a decent photo with a ‘clean’ background. You may want to bring a long a tripod for the night shots. Despite the crowds, it is quite a memorable experience being able to admire the huge magical wintry illumination at nightfall.
En-route back to Tokyo to catch our flight to Hokkaido, we detoured to Tokyo for one night to experience the energy of Shibuya – Japan’s famous center for youth culture.
This is SO KAWAII (Cute)!!! The kids learnt about Hedgehogs and how to care for them.
There, we walked down the mall in Harajuku experiencing their street food, souvenir shopping as well as its unique cafes – a dog café and a hedgehog café (yes, you read it right!). There were other interesting cafes including an owl café which was full when we wanted to visit. It pays to plan early and, where possible, purchased the tickets online to secure your time slots. We pre-purchased our tickets via KLOOK and that saved us tons of time and secured us the opportunity to visit.
No visit to Shibuya would be complete without a visit to dine at the legendary Genki Sushi at Shibuya – reputed to be the first of its world-famous sushi chain store that delivers your sushi orders via toy train. Despite having to queue for 45mins in the cold winter, we were impressed by quality of sushi plus experiencing the eclectic ambience of a modern sushi eatery.
At Genki Sushi Shibuya – The original Genki Sushi. Oishi!
With the reopening of Japan, many would throng the well-known cities but if you’re looking for something which is just as much Japan with its family-centric activities, history, food less the crowd and commercial vibes, Nagoya should be on your list. For this family who have been to Japan multiple times, we miss Nagoya and we will certainly return.
16 countries and counting: We share our trip itineraries with our kids here, including Japan.