Thanks to its abundant natural resources and over a thousand years of religious and cultural history, you won’t run out of things to do in Wakayama. Wakayama city, chosen for its strategic location by the Tokugawa Shogunate, is accessible by boat, plane, or train and is only about an hour's drive south of Osaka.
Remote and mountainous regions give way to coastal paradises and onsen. Teeming seas and fruit trees backed by a majestic landscape have made the Kii peninsula a must-see destination for foodies and fans of traditional Japanese culture for a thousand years. We've narrowed the list down to ten of the most unique regional specialties and experiences that highlight the best of Wakayama Prefecture.
10 Best Things to Do in Wakayama
- Tour Wakayama City
- Stay at Koyasan
- Rediscover Ramen
- Walk the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
- Relax in a Rainbow Hot-Spring
- Raft Through the Kii Mountains
- Visit Nachi Falls
- Discover Wakayama Prefecture’s Abundant Seas
- Sample Fresh Tuna
- Experience Forgotten Japan
1. Tour Wakayama City
If you’re lost on what to do in Wakayama, you can’t go wrong by visiting the titular city to sightsee and grab some omiyage. It’s famous for agricultural products like the high-quality produce that has earned Wakayama the nickname “The Fruit Kingdom” of Japan, and soy sauce which is said to be invented in the region. Kuroshio Market features a tourist-friendly tuna cutting show and many restaurants. Minutes outside the city are orchards and vineyards where you can pick your own fruits in season. Tokugawa Shogunate-era castles, temples, and even an amusement park make Wakayama City one of the best things to do in Wakayama prefecture if you’re hoping to hit the major attractions on a tight schedule!
2. Stay at Koyasan
An overnight stay at Koyasan is a great way to immerse yourself in Wakayama’s regional history, but what to do in Koyasan once you get there is up to you! Koyasan Japan is made up of over 2000 temples and is known as the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism. It’s home to several unique sights, such as Okuno-in cemetery where you can even view memorials for famous Japanese companies!
Koyasan’s monasteries have been serving vegan cuisine, called shojin-ryori, for centuries. Monks developed these cooking styles especially suited to follow Buddhist scriptures, so sampling temple fare before tucking into your traditional Japanese quarters for the night is a can’t miss experience.
3. Rediscover Ramen
Wakayama’s ramen is special enough to get its own name. Called “Chuka soba” by locals, it’s not only been voted the best in Japan but made international news! The shop, “Ideshoten” is famous in Wakayama and is conveniently located right in Wakayama city. Chuka soba usually uses a tonkotsu shoyu broth made from pork and soy sauce, but the exact recipe varies from chef to chef. It’s a great stamina meal to prepare for your next adventure in the wilds of Wakayama prefecture.
4. Walk the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
Said next adventure might just take you all the way across the peninsula from Shingu city to Tanabe! The most well-traveled of the many trails making up the Kumano Kodo is the Nakahechi route. Since the 700s, people have sought out heaven on earth by traveling through the mystical environment of the Kumano Kodo. Along the trail, you will encounter beautiful forests, auspicious shrines and temples, and of course delicious stop-over opportunities. To see more of the Kumano Kodo, join Shizuka for a journey for spiritual enlightenment and a full stomach.
5. Relax in a Rainbow Hot-Spring
Located along the Kumano Kodo is the mystical Yunomine Onsen and its color-changing hot spring, “Tsuboyu.” The onsen is the world’s only UNESCO Heritage site bath, and guests are invited to use the facilities in 30-minute rounds of two to three people, making it popular with couples. It is said that the bath’s color changes seven times a day!
Nearby stores sell fresh eggs for making onsen tamago (soft-boiled eggs boiled in onsen water) on-site, and locals regularly use the water for cooking their own meals. Enjoying the warm water and fresh food is an excellent way to relax after a long journey!
6. Raft through the Kii Mountains
For fans of water sports, Wakayama offers a variety of ways to enjoy the many rivers and lakes of the Kii peninsula. But there is one experience unique to Wakayama that is perfect if you’re looking for a thrill: standing on a traditional wooden raft as it careens down historical logging rivers. Not game to try the Japan equivalent of extreme paddle boarding? No problem, run of the (saw) mill rafting and kayaking experiences abound and are a great way to experience the enchanting nature of the Kii Mountains without the hike.
7. Visit Nachi Falls
You’ll be thankful your rafting trip didn’t take this river when you see it: at a drop of 133 meters, Nachi falls is the highest cascading waterfall in Japan, and is revered as a Shinto “kami” itself. On July 14, the Nachi Fire Festival is held at the base of the falls, where brilliant fire purification rituals accompany a shrine procession. Stopping for photos and views of the beautiful falls is an excellent break from the Kumano Kodo, making this one of the best things to do in Wakayama.
8. Discover Wakayama Prefecture’s Abundant Seas
Kushimoto Marine Park is a one-stop-shop to experience the marine bounty of Wakayama. The park features an aquarium and geopark, plus glass-bottom boat and diving experiences where guests enjoy the area’s coral reefs up close. This spot is an excellent destination for families to spend a fun and educational day.
The must-see point? A chance to take part in what Wakayama is famous for: providing the biggest, best tuna in Japan. At Kushimoto Marine Park you can take part in the maguro feeding experience, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a part of the region’s revolutionary aquaculture industry.
9. Sample Fresh Tuna
Once you’ve enjoyed looking at the fish, it’s time to eat some. Wakayama has a deeply entrenched food culture with Tuna at its epicenter. To such an extent that the tuna is even one of the prefecture’s symbols! As the home of the largest Tuna in Japan, as well as the world’s first farmed Tuna, no trip to Wakayama would be complete without sampling its most beloved export.
Our guide took us on a trip to some of the best places to try this regional specialty. From tuna pizza to sashimi to specialty varietals and cuts, Nachikatsuura’s unique offerings make it a hub for tuna connoisseurs and a great place to visit in Wakayama.
10. Experience Forgotten Japan
Although Wakayama is famous for its historical sights, fans of camping should also take advantage of some lesser-known areas. The uninhabited islands of Tomogashima and Miyama Battery are accessible only by a 20-minute ferry from Wakayama City but make the perfect place for a picnic or barbeque among the ruins of a not-so-ancient Japan. Formerly a secret military base and said to be the inspiration for Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky, the Tomogashima islands offer a glimpse into Wakayama’s more recent history before venturing into the mountains.
With so many things to do and see, plus a food scene dating back to centuries of agricultural development and religious tradition, Wakayama is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets when it comes to foodie destinations. It’s a place to walk thousand-year-old temple trails, relax in mountain onsen, and enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences, all accompanied by some of the freshest food and most breathtaking scenery Japan has to offer.