The hustle and bustle of huge metropolitan cities like Tokyo can be exciting. But sometimes, you might feel an itch to get out of the concrete jungle just for a couple of days before jumping back into the real world. Enter Niigata prefecture. Nestled in the west coast of Japan and affectionately named the ‘snow country,’ this unassuming prefecture has a lot of gems to explore. There are so many things to do in Niigata that you’ve maybe never heard of… until now!
Top Things to Do in Niigata – As Told By a Niigata Resident!
Only 2 hours away from Tokyo by Shinkansen, Niigata prefecture is comfortably close and easy to get to without breaking your bank. Read on for our top 5 things to do in Niigata over the weekend:
1. Kiyotsu Gorge
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Possibly the most Instagrammable location in Niigata prefecture is the Kiyotsu Gorge. The scenic cliffs and blue water coupled with the iconic Tunnel of Light is enough to recharge your batteries for the coming weeks.
How to get there from Tokyo: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen line and get off at the Echigo Yuzawa station. From the station, you can catch a bus going towards Morimiyanohara. Stop at the Kiyotsukyo Iriguchi bus stop and walk while following the signs for the Kiyotsu tunnel entrance.
2. Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort
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When it comes to snow and skiing, Hokkaido and Niigata are the places to go. But let’s face it, Hokkaido is a whole plane ride away, while Niigata is just a train ride away. Imagine hopping on a train, and in less than 2 hours, you arrive in a winter wonderland.
Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort, located in Yuzawa, is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the area. No skiing gear? No problem, you can rent one for the day! Don’t know how to ski? Also, no problem, you can hire instructors to guide you through the snow.
Niigata prefecture’s snow is said to be more powdery or fluffy compared to Hokkaido’s snow, a quality many skiing enthusiasts tend to seek out. The snow season here starts in mid-December and ends around late April. Niigata prefecture is, in fact, one of the last places to experience the Sakura blooms.
3. Echigo Yuzawa Onsen District
Echigo Yuzawa has two main attractions: ski resorts and onsens. After skiing, you might want to warm yourself at Echigo Yuzawa’s onsen district near the station. The district hosts a number of open-air onsen and ryokans that you can choose from.
4. Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery
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Are you a sake enthusiast or just curious to know how the best sake is made? The months of snowfall and temperature changes are said to be responsible for producing Koshihikari rice, considered to be the best rice in all of Japan. Therefore, it’s understandable why Niigata produces the best sake in all of Japan.
If you love sake, then you will love Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery. Guided English tours are available for English speakers, and you can learn how sake has been made for hundreds of years. You can taste ten different kinds of sake at the end of the tour for just 500 yen! Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle you can take home!
Bonus: If all that sake tasting wasn’t enough, you can also check out Ponshu kan, a store located inside the Niigata station. 500 yen can get you five coins that you can insert into the sake vending machines. On your way out, you can grab a Bakudan onigiri made from the famous Koshihikari rice as a snack for the road.
How to get there from Tokyo: Take the Joetsu-shinkansen train from Tokyo or Ueno station. Stop at the last station on that line which is Niigata station in Niigata city. From there, Imayotsukasa Brewery is only a 15-minute walk.
5. Sado Island
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If you are up for a real adventure, then Sado Island is the right place for you! Located off the coast of Niigata city, Sado Island’s rich history and scenic sites are a must-see. Formerly known as an island for exiles, the island rose to prominence during the 1600s after the discovery of gold reserves. You can visit these gold mines with the help of tour guides. If you are more interested in seeing beaches, the island has several options but Futatsugame and Jodogahama beaches are the most popular destinations.
However, going on a quick ride on a taraibune or Hangiri boat, a traditional wooden bucket-shaped boat, is probably the most charming and unique experience this island offers. Only a few locals provide this experience, and you won’t find it anywhere else in Japan.
Lastly, there are several companies that offer snorkeling and diving tours for those interested in water-based activities.
How to get there from Tokyo: You can take the Joetsu Shinkansen line to Niigata station. From the station, walk or take a bus towards the Sado Kisen ferry terminal to catch a ferry towards the island. Pro tip: get the Sado gold passport at the ticket counter if you want to use the bus to get around on the island. Although there are buses, renting a car to get around is the most convenient option to save time as the bus rides and waiting time can be time-consuming.
Is Niigata Prefecture Your Next Destination?
I hope I have convinced you to give Niigata a try! It’s not the most popular tourist destination, meaning you can avoid the big tourist crowds and enjoy your time. Niigata hopes to see you soon, especially in Winter!
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