| Centrip Editorial Board
A Winter Vacation: 2 Nights 3 Days Matsumoto to Takayama Itinerary
Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture is easily accessible from Chubu Centrair International Airport by train or car, taking about 3 and a half hours. As November comes to an end, the cold sets in, and by early December, snowfall is not uncommon. While adequate cold weather precautions are essential, the winter season brings forth a wealth of beautiful landscapes and activities. Matsumoto is a destination that truly shines in the winter, offering an array of enjoyable experiences amidst the chilly weather.
This time we'll introduce a 2-night, 3-day model itinerary that takes you to Matsumoto, ideal for winter exploration, and to Takayama, renowned for its charming old-town atmosphere. These destinations promise a winter adventure with stunning scenery and a touch of traditional Japanese charm that you won't want to miss.
Day 1: Sightseeing in Matsumoto
Matsumoto Castle in Winter
Arrived in Matsumoto? Head straight to Matsumoto Castle, the city's iconic symbol, and dive into a journey through history and architectural marvels. For easy access to Matsumoto Castle, hop on the city loop bus Northern Course. Board at the Matsumoto Station Oshiroguchi bus stop in front of Matsumoto Station and disembark at Matsumoto Castle/Shiyakusho-mae (Matsumoto Castle and City Hall), a quick 10-minute ride. If you prefer, take a scenic 20-minute stroll from Matsumoto Station to the castle, allowing you to explore the charming castle town on foot.
Matsumoto Castle, adorned with the captivating interplay of white and black walls, holds the esteemed title of a national treasure in Japan. As winter sets in, the Northern Alps that frame the castle are draped in a serene layer of snow, offering a truly magical and surreal spectacle.
The top floor of the main building of Matsumoto City Hall, situated on the east side of Matsumoto Castle, features a public observation deck. This hidden gem offers a unique perspective of Matsumoto Castle from the east, and it's open to everyone free of charge during weekday office hours. While not widely publicized among tourists, it's a worthwhile spot to explore.
Stroll in the City
For a delightful experience in Matsumoto, explore Nakamachi Street and Nawate Street, situated approximately midway between Matsumoto Castle and Matsumoto Station.
Explore Nawate Street, a pedestrian-only haven adorned with charming frog sculptures, perfect for capturing memorable photos. Lined with retro-style shops, this street exudes a unique ambiance. On the other side of the river, Nakamachi Street preserves traditional storehouses, creating a nostalgic and charming landscape. Both streets offer a taste of the castle town atmosphere, providing opportunities to indulge in gourmet delights, sweets, and shopping.
Indulge in the winter flavors of Matsumoto with the local specialty, Touji Soba. This dish features cold soba noodles dipped into a comforting broth enriched with an abundance of mountain vegetables. For those craving a heartier meal, don't miss the Sanzoku-yaki—a delightful dish where a succulent piece of chicken is marinated in a special sauce, and then deep-fried to perfection.
Another must-visit gem alongside Matsumoto Castle is the renowned Matsumoto City Museum of Art. Greeting you at the entrance is the awe-inspiring sculpture Maboroshi no Hana (The Visionary Flowers) by the globally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama, a Matsumoto native. Explore the permanent exhibition Tamashii no Okidokoro (Places for the Soul), where you can encounter the enormous yellow pumpkin artwork and freely capture its beauty. The museum, adorned with polka dots on window glass, restrooms, vending machines, and more, offers a complete immersion into the captivating world of Yayoi Kusama.
One of the highlights of winter in Matsumoto is the Winter Illumination which takes place in various locations throughout the city. The enchanting cityscape bathed in lights creates a magical atmosphere unique to the winter season. As the sun sets, temperatures can drop significantly, even reaching below freezing. Make sure to dress warmly and take necessary precautions before heading out to enjoy the spectacle.
Twilight Square for the Christmas Season Only (1-25 Dec)
For Christmas, the Masugata-ato Hiroba in the castle town is adorned with specially crafted Christmas trees and illuminations, transforming it into a Christmas spot. On weekends, there are also events like a Christmas market, Christmas bar & live performances.
Matsumoto Castle Projection Mapping (12/16 - 2/14)
As evening sets in, the area around Matsumoto Castle is softly lit by lanterns, presenting a view distinct from its daytime beauty. From mid-December to mid-February, the castle becomes a canvas for a captivating digital art show. This art, inspired by Japanese aesthetics, is displayed in 12-minute segments, running continuously from 6 PM to 9 PM each evening. Admission is free, making it an unmissable event this winter.
Stay at Asama Onsen
Asama Onsen, accessible in about 10 minutes by car from Matsumoto Castle or 20 minutes by bus from Matsumoto Station, is a hot spring area in Nagano Prefecture known for its abundant water. In the Edo period (1603-1867,) the lords of Matsumoto Castle frequented it, and it flourished as Matsumoto's Back Parlor, with residences for the lords and their samurai vassals.
Today, Asama Onsen still offers a blend of tradition and elegance, with its grand, established ryokans (Japanese inns) and numerous communal baths that retain an old-world charm. One outstanding feature is Yuyuan Biwa no Yu, a day spa steeped in history as the bathing retreat for the castle's lords. It's a delightful spot to immerse yourself in the legacy and tranquility of these ancient waters.
Day 2: Activities at Norikura Kogen
For those seeking a more authentic winter experience and snow-related activities, you might want to extend your journey to the internationally renowned highland resort, Norikura Kogen. It's approximately an hour and a half away from Matsumoto Station by train and bus.
Skiing & Snowshoeing
For those eager to immerse themselves in the snowy landscape, we recommend taking part in a snowshoe tour to fully enjoy the winter wonderland. Information is available at the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center, so if you're interested, be sure to stop by. Tours vary from half-day, full-day, to night tours, including ones that head towards the ice falls. Equipment rental like snow boots, snowshoes, and poles for trekking in the snow is available. For more information on Norikura Kogen tourist information and activities, click here.
Stay in Takayama City
After relishing the scenic snow-covered landscapes, make your way to Takayama, a destination famed for its enchanting old town. A comfortable express bus ride of under three hours from Matsumoto Bus Terminal takes you directly to Takayama Nōhi Bus Center. In Takayama, indulge in relaxing hot spring baths at numerous hotels and inns, a perfect way to rejuvenate after a day of exploration.
Day 3: Takayama Sightseeing & Shirakawa-go
Your first destination should be the morning market, one of Japan's top three morning markets. Located in two places – one in the plaza in front of the Jinya building, approximately a 10-minute walk from Takayama Station, and the other along the Miyagawa River – the market offers a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, wild plants, preserved foods, handmade folk crafts, and local delicacies that are easy to enjoy on the go. Another highlight of the morning market is the opportunity for direct interaction with the local people, adding to the market's charm.
After visiting the morning market, take a step back in time to explore the charming old town. It's like stepping into a bygone era with its picturesque castle town ambiance. Here, you'll find sake breweries adorned with large sakabayashi (cedar balls) at their entrances, eateries serving up local cuisine, as well as shops offering handicrafts, folk art, and traditional Japanese sweets. Just wandering around this area is a delightful experience in itself.
You can conveniently reach the UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go, in just about 50 minutes by bus. This village, surrounded by bountiful nature and characterized by its traditional thatched-roofed Gassho-zukuri houses, offers a glimpse into Japan's original beauty—a unique and precious landscape found nowhere else.
Matsumoto and Takayama have an array of attractions on offer. Each season brings its own allure, from historic streets to the natural splendor and relaxing hot springs. With a 2-night, 3-day plan, you can make the most of your visit, so why not consider starting your journey from Chubu Centrair International Airport?