Kyushu is one of the four main islands in Japan and it is the southwesternmost island that enjoys a subtropical climate. If you visit Kyushu, you may find some subtle differences between the most popular travel destination in Honshu – the Tokyo metropolitan area, and Kansai, Osaka, and Kyoto. While Kyushu also offers stunning natural beauty, numerous hot springs destinations, and rich cultural heritages like many other places in the country, Kyushu has its own unique food scene, warmer beaches, and untouched hidden gems that inspire many visitors who went there.
How Many Days Do You Need in Kyushu?
Visitors need to spend at least two to three weeks to truly cover the highlights in Kyushu, and I recommend an even longer time because there are just so many things to see and do.
If you want to cover all the highlights and key spots in Kyushu, you need at least 14 days, excluding the offbeat locations and hidden gems, which may take more time for you to explore. Besides, you may want to stay for a night or two in an onsen resort to indulge yourself, or in a natural site to dive into nature. So don’t expect you can see everything in one trip, it’s truly up to you to plan and prioritize your route. It is typical to design a seven-day itinerary for either northern or southern Kyushu – even so, there is so much more to discover on the island and I can’t wait to re-visit Kyushu soon!
How to get around Kyushu?
Here, I am designing a week-long itinerary that includes three main cities in North Kyushu, with two places that you should not miss during your stay.
You will be traveling among these places by driving or taking the JR or scenic train. The wonderful thing about this itinerary is, you will get to see and experience different sides of Kyushu, from delicious food, natural sights, historic landmarks, and hot springs to active adventures.
What is the best time to visit Kyushu?
Kyushu is suitable to visit all year round. It has so much to offer and the scenery and cuisine change in different seasons.
Like the cherry blossoms in spring, dolphin-watching or going to beaches in summer, outdoor activities, and foliage in fall, and let’s not forget that year-end is a great season for hiking and going to hot springs! There’s always something fun while you are in Kyushu and you won’t be disappointed.
Day 1-2: Fukuoka and Dazaifu
Fukuoka is the capital of Kyushu and it’s the main connecting hub with its Fukuoka Airport and Hakata Station. Most of the Kyushu journeying kick start here and Fukuoka is best known for its cuisine, shopping, and nightlife.
The first thing that makes Fukuoka famous is its food. It is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, and the city has the greatest number of yatai (Japanese street food stalls) in Japan. No trip to Fukuoka is complete without diving into the local culture and having a taste of dango, kabayaki, oden, Takoyaki, and tempura with a glass of cold beer at these stalls at night. Head to the southern end of Nakasu Island when you arrived in Fukuoka on your first day because it is the best place for yatai in Fukuoka. There is a long row of yatai along the water.
The next day, explore some of the historic landmarks in Fukuoka before your shopping spree in the late afternoon. Kushida Shrine celebrates the longest history in Fukuoka, dedicated to three Shinto deities: Amaterasu Omikami (goddess of the Sun) and Ohatanushi no Omikami, and Susano no Omikami.
010 Building is a new landmark in Fukuoka that brings a new experience to the world with its futuristic design by the Fukuoka River. The site features an interactive and immersive theatre, restaurant, and bar. GohGan is a collaboration of two of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant chefs, Goggan Anand and Goh from La Maison de la Nature; they serve new concept Indian dishes that are an umami explosion. The 010 bar is hosted by the best cocktail architects.
Dazaifu’s Grand Tenmangu Shrine, however, is one of the most popular sites to visit in the area. The shrine is a magnificent architecture surrounded by historic plum trees, and students come here praying for academic success. Dazaifu is a small city in Fukuoka Prefecture, as part of the greater Fukuoka metropolitan area. The best way to visit Dazaifu is by train and it’s about 15 kilometers away from Hataka Station, a half an hour’s journey from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station to Dazaifu Station by Nishitetsu Railway.
There are a couple of attractions nearby, including the Kyushu National Museum, Komyozen Temple (with its gorgeous stone garden), and Kanzeonji Temple. It is also a fabulous place to buy traditional souvenirs on the Omotesando (the entrance street) that leads to Tenmangu. Dazaifu’s Starbucks coffee is one of the most beautiful Starbucks in the world, designed by renowned architect, Kengo Kuma. Some of the other most beautiful Starbucks include Starbucks at Famille Park in Seoul, Starbucks Reserve Dewata in Bali, and Starbucks Prague Castle.
Day 3: Nagasaki
If you are not planning to rent a car for this journey, it is also easy to take the JR and the “Relay Kamome” limited express and the Nishikyushu Shinkansen train ride is about 1.5 to 2 hours. The route is also covered by the Japan Rail Pass and the Kyushu Rail Pass.
Nagasaki is located on the northwest coast of Kyushu and its geographic location makes it “a little” isolated from the other cities in the country. Traditionally, Nagasaki is known for being a wonderful natural harbor for one of the designated ports for foreign trade at the end of the 16th century, with buildings on the terraces of surrounding hills. And now, there are four reasons for you to visit Nagasaki: a 10-million-dollar view, a James Bond island, a tragic and impactful past, and delicious castella.
Nagasaki is hilly and Mount Inasa is named one of the three “ten-million-dollar night views” in Japan, together with Mount Rokkō in Kobe, and Mount Hakodate in Hokkaido. The observatory is at the top of the mountain, is 333 meters high, and visitors can get there by bus, car, or ropeway. Get off at Ropeway-mae with bus #3 or #4 at Nagasaki Station, and it’s a 2-minute walk to the Nagasaki Ropeway’s Fuchi-jinja Station. If you want to beat the crowd, visit there in the morning or right before dusk. However, the best time is getting there in the late afternoon so you will be able to see the city skyline with sunlight, and then the beauty of its night view.
Gunkanjima (i.e. Battlesip) is located 18 kilometers offshore of Japan’s Nagasaki west coast, and it is an abandoned island that is shaped like a battleship, hence the name. Back in 2012, CNN Travel announced a list of the “10 of the freakiest places around the world”, and the island was put on the list.
Gunkanjima was a coal mine back in the 1950s and 6,000 workers lived on the island during its prime; The island was then completely deserted after the coal mine was shut down in 1972. With its buildings and facilities remaining unattended for decades, it is now a giant ruin that looks like a mysterious sea castle from the water.
To those who like exploring ruins, the island is reopened for tourism in 2009. Check out the details of the guided boat tour in which you can actually walk on the island and get a feel of what life was like 50 years ago. The island is also featured in a number of movies, including a James Bond Hollywood blockbuster “Skyfall” in 2012, and served as the secret headquarters and hideout of the villain.
Nagasaki Peace Park
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are truly unique cities as they are the only two cities in the world (sadly) that had experienced a nuclear weapon attack in human history.
The repercussion was devastating. I visited both cities in Japan and left the memorial with a heavy heart. I learned the tremendous price that people paid for wars, and it only makes you appreciate and treasure what you have so much more. After the attack, Hiroshima has now been rebuilt and the locals looked at their tragic past positively with goodwill that such tragedy will never happen again.
In Nagasaki Peace Park, take a walk in Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and visitors will see the remains of the aftermath. You will also find a pillar in the center of the yard that was originally a church. The ground in the hypocenter area was strewn with huge amounts of debris from destroyed buildings and scorched earth, and displayed here as important evidence of the disaster.
Megane means “spectacles” in Japanese and this historic bridge has significant importance to the city’s past. The bridge was constructed in 1634 by the Chinese monk Mokusunyoujo – it is said to be one of the oldest stone-arched bridges in Japan, and it survived the bombing.
It might sound strange to you because this classic and simple sponge cake was brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants. This confectionery then hit Japan by storm, and it was developed in Nagasaki as a local wagashi. While castella can be found everywhere in Nagasaki’s souvenir stores, the such cake is also a popular dessert in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan.
Day 4: Kumamoto
Leaving Nagasaki, there are a couple of ways to get to Kumamoto, the best ways are either by train, ferry or drive. Both taking a train and driving take about 3 hours. If you are driving from Nagasaki, you can also consider taking the car ferry and passing through Amakusa.
Kumamoto was not a key travel destination except for being a travel hub connecting to Aso, it has gained media attention with the mascot Kumamon in 2010. The character was designed by the local government as a campaign to draw tourists to the region after the Kyushu Shinkansen line opened. Unexpectedly, the mascot became insanely popular, and it is voted the number one mascot among all mascots across Japan from 2011 to this day. Now Kumamon is not only known as a symbol of Kumamoto, but Japan itself. Yes, there are so, so many mascots (Yuru-chara) in Japan – basically, each and every city has one and every year (until 2020) there’s a Yuru-chara Grand Prix annually, featuring all participating mascots, and they are super adorable.
Kumamoto Castle is a stunning castle that is a landmark of Kumamoto, and it is also considered one of the three premier castles in Japan, along with Himeji Castle, and Matsumoto Castle.
Kumamoto Castle is among the most important castles that you must visit in Japan. Kumamoto Castle is also the third largest castle in Japan, behind Osaka and Nagoya Castles. The castle dates to 1467, established by Ideta Hidenobu. The architecture that we see today is a concrete reconstruction built in 1960, keeping the integrity of its original design and beauty. Unlike the Himeji Castle, which is nicknamed the “White Heron Castle,” Kumamoto Castle is covered in black. Giving a striking contrast with the cherry blossoms if you are visiting there in spring.
If you have more time, Kumamoto is also a great place to get close to nature, go strawberry picking, ride a horse, or go dolphin-watching in the water around Amakusa. Of course, Mount Aso is a must-see for being one of the world’s largest calderas, the natural beauty of Mount Aso is enchanting.
Day 5-6: Aso
The best way to get around Aso is by driving because the locations are scatted among the suburbs and the schedule of public transportation is rather infrequent; another great way to visit a couple of sites in one day is by joining a local tour.
I have shared a two-to-three-day road trip itinerary in Aso, and really it is up to you, to cover the highlights at the most comfortable pace. If you want to get close to the volcano (and you should), you should head to the Mount Aso Visitor Center. It is the hub of all activities, you can learn about the geology of Mount Aso, eat there, and take a walk you see the smoke emerging from the volcano from afar. To make your visit more fun, you can also ride a horse to trek through the rather unique and barren terrain.
There was originally a ropeway that was built in 1958, claiming to be the first of its kind that was built on an active volcano. However, the ropeway was frequently closed due to high volcanic alert levels, the last operation was in August 2014, and the ropeway is permanently closed and dismantled in 2019.
Drive around the caldera and there are many viewpoints to appreciate the beauty of Mount Aso. One of my favorites is at Daikanbo Peak. It is the highest peak of Mount Aso’s northern outer rim and the lookout at 936 meters high, offers an unobstructed panoramic view of the towns and fields of Aso Vallery, as well as the Mount Aso crater. Stay overnight at one of the hot spring resorts and enjoy the local cuisine – I introduced an excellent resort earlier that has a private outdoor onsen for each room, with a view of Mount Aso. Find out more about my Mount Aso road trip itinerary.
Day 7: Takachiho Gorge
Located in a small town in Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Takachiho Gorge is a lesser-known natural treasure to foreign travelers. Interestingly, the gorge is now frequently featured in Kyushu’s tourism. It’s long been one of the most popular geological attractions among the locals because of its beautiful scenery and spiritual value.
The best way to get to Takachiho is self-driving. Continue the journey from Mount Aso, Takachiho Gorge is about 50 kilometers away from the Aso and it takes about one hour to drive there. It is also possible to visit there by public transportation, as the town has various bus connections with the major cities in Kyushu, like Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki.
The spectacle is a narrow passage of Gosake River. Both sides of the rocks on the gorge were crafted through a million-year process of volcanic actions. On top of the 17-meter cliffs are lush and dense green foliage and the Minainotaki waterfall that cascade to the river below, creating a poetic and dreamy picture that leaves visitors in awe.
There are two ways to appreciate the gorge from different perspectives. From above, take a stroll on the scenic paths on the edge of the cliffs where visitors can have an overview of the entire chasm and the surrounding landscape. There are a couple of small diners with a table on the terrace and a view of the river. The paths lead to the Takachiho Gorge Boat Rental. Descend to the surface of the river and row a boat to get into the gorge. Take a closer look at the rock formation and hear the rumbling sound of the waterfall – but be careful that you may get wet if you row right in the falls.
Apart from the cliffs, there are a few other attractions to see like the Takachiho Shrine, freshwater aquarium, stocked fishing pond, and somen restaurants.
What is Nagashi somen? They are thin noodles that flow down a bamboo chute with ice-cold water. Diners will have to catch the noodles with chopsticks. This is a seasonal dish that is eaten during summer. They are dipped into tsuyu sauce that has flavors of onion, ginger, or myoga.
The origin of Nagashi somen is right here in Takachiho, created by a restaurant called Chiho no Ie in 1950. The restaurant is still in operation today.
Wow, I never thought of planning an itenerary like this. From fukuoka to Kumamoto? I would love to do that.
That’s a nice route to cover some of the best places and highlights in Kyushu and you are welcome to stop by if you have any questions about your trip planning 🙂
Whew! Scratch the two weeks you have talked about….I need a lifetime here. Any island is a favourite location of mine to live on.
Well yeah! It’s a lovely city to visit and I am sure you will enjoy Stockholm deeply.