How to Spend 3 Days in Nagano
With three days in and around Nagano, you can spend a day seeing the sights of Nagano city and another two on day trips around mountainous Nagano Prefecture, taking in temples, castles, and the famous local wildlife. Here are our top picks for spending three days in Nagano.
Day 1: Nagano City
Start your day at one of Nagano’s most important sites, the 8th-century Zenkoji Temple, where you can view impressive Buddhist statues and learn more about the city’s long history. Next, turn your attention to Nagano’s 12th-century Togakure school of ninja. If you’re traveling with children, check out the Kids’ Ninja Village, with ninja costumes and obstacle courses; otherwise, visit the Togakure Ninpo Museum, which delves into the school’s history. Finally, take a hands-on cooking class to learn about local cuisine and make—and eat—Nagano specialties such as oyaki dumplings and basashi (raw horse meat).
Day 2: Snow Monkeys
Devote your second day to one of Nagano’s most famous attractions: Jigokudani Monkey Park, northeast of the city in the town of Yamanouchi. Visit the park independently, or join one of the many half- and full-day tours that stop at the park as part of a larger area exploration, including Zenkoji Temple and the Shiga-kogen Highlands. At the wildlife reserve, visitors watch Japanese macaques bathe in the hot springs, a pastime they learned from humans. Winter is the best time to see these “snow monkeys,” although viewing is possible year-round. If you feel like a soak after viewing the macaques, head to a nearby hot-spring resort such as Shibu Onsen or Yudanaka Onsen. Alternatively, hiking enthusiasts can take in spectacular valley views in Shiga-kogen Park, within Joshinetsu-kogen National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 3: Visit Matsumoto
Rise early on your third day in Nagano, and take a day trip to the castle town of Matsumoto, a 1- to 2-hour drive away. Spend the day exploring this small city on the plains, with snow-capped mountains visible in the distance. The town’s star attraction, black, 16th-century Matsumoto Castle survived World War II intact. Other highlights include well-preserved merchant houses and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, where the hometown of eccentric Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama proudly displays many of her colorful sculptures, paintings, and installations.