Matsumoto city is known for its most famous landmark, Matsumoto Castle. But what you might not know is that there are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in Matsumoto. Let’s see what this city has to offer!
- 1. Visit Matsumoto Castle
- 2. Go Hiking in Kamikochi
- 3. Visit a Hot Spring Town
- 3.1. Utsukushigahara Onsen
- 3.2. Asama Onsen
- 3.3. Shirahone Onsen
- 4. Visit the Former Kaichi School
- 5. Go Café Hopping
- 6. Go Bar Hopping
- 7. Visit Art Museums in Matsumoto
- 7.1. Matsumoto City Museum of Arts
- 7.2. Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
- 8. Experience Japanese Culture
- 8.1. Samurai Experience and Cosplay
- 8.2. Try Out Taiko Drumming
- 8.3. Japanese Candy Making
- 9. Participate in a Local Festival
- 10. Local Dishes in Matsumoto
- 11. Best Time to Visit Matsumoto
- 11.1. Matsumoto in Spring (April – Early May)
- 11.2. Matsumoto in Summer (mid-May – September)
- 11.3. Matsumoto in Autumn (October – November)
- 11.4. Matsumoto in Winter (December – March)
- 12. Where to Stay in Matsumoto
- 12.1. Utsukushigahara Onsen Shoho
- 12.2. Hotel Buena Vista
- 12.3. Alpico Plaza Hotel
- 13. Recommended Itineraries for Matsumoto
- 13.1. 1-Day Itinerary in Matsumoto
- 13.2. 2-Day Itinerary in Matsumoto
- 14. Traveling to Matsumoto
- 14.1. From Tokyo to Matsumoto
- 14.2. From Nagoya to Matsumoto
- 14.3. From Osaka and Kyoto to Matsumoto
- 14.4. From Nagano to Matsumoto
- 14.5. From Takayama to Matsumoto
- 15. Traveling around Matsumoto
Visit Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is a destination almost every tourist makes a visit while in Matsumoto. It is one of the national treasures of Japan, with over 400 years of history. The castle looks like it has only 5 floors but actually has a hidden floor inside, making it a six-story castle.
Although it was built to defend against invaders, it has never really been under attack before. This is the reason that Matsumoto Castle is still in its original shape, unlike most other rebuilt castles in Japan, including the famous Osaka Castle.
Go Hiking in Kamikochi
Matsumoto is a city that offers you both cultural and natural attractions. From downtown of Matsumoto, it takes less than 2 hours to get to Kamikochi by Alpico’s train and bus. Kamikochi is one of the most picturesque valleys in the Japanese Alps area. It is a must-visit you don’t want to miss!
Read more about Kamikochi here.
Visit a Hot Spring Town
Matsumoto has many hot spring towns to soothe your mind, body, and soul! Each of them has different characteristics and atmospheres. Here are our recommendations.
Located on the hill overlooking Matsumoto plateau, Utsukushigahara onsen is a hot spring town with a long history dating back to Nara period. It even appears in The Chronicles of Japan, the second-oldest Japanese history book. This hot spring in about 15-20 minutes away from downtown by Alpico bus (No. 31).
Asama Onsen is another hot spring town near downtown Matsumoto and full of Japan’s nostalgic atmosphere. This hot spring town has several restaurants, cafes, and a day-visit hot spring, recommended for both a day-visit and an overnight stay.
Nostalgic hot spring town with retro streetlights and signboards.
Asama Onsen is only 20 minutes from Matsumoto Bus Terminal by Alpico bus (no. 32). Get off at Hot Plaza Asama, the nearest bus stop to everything. The buses depart every 15-60 minutes depending on the hours.
This hot spring town is a little far from the town, half-way to Kamikochi in a remote valley. That guarantees you a secluded and serene atmosphere surrounded by nature! The characteristic of Shirahone Onsen is its milky-white hot spring.
Public hot spring bath (520 yen) and Okayu (rice porridge) made from hot spring with salt
Hours: Weekdays 10:00～16:00, Weekends 09:00～17:00
Closed: Every Wednesday
Bus timetables to Shirahone Onsen
Visit the Former Kaichi School
Together with the Matsumoto castle, the Former Kaichi School is the latest national treasure in town. This place is where you can enjoy the mixture of Japanese and Western styles of architecture. If you like visiting beautiful buildings with cultural and historic values, this place is a must for you.
Go Café Hopping
Coffee lovers, tea fans and café hoppers… Good news to you! From a book café to an antique café – Matsumoto is full of unique and stylish cafés for you to hop around. It is a perfect rest stop for you to put in between your itinerary! Here are some of our recommendations.
Soundo (想雲堂) is small feel-at-home café with over 6,000 books. Not only coffee and bakery, but they also have alcoholic beverages, as well!
Opened in 1956, Coffee Marumo (珈琲まるも) has been loved by the local. If you are into antique furniture, we highly recommend this cozy little coffee shop.
Go Bar Hopping
After sunset, Matsumoto city is no longer the city of cafes, but the “City of Bars”!
There are about 20 bars in Matsumoto city. Considering the population of only 240,000, Matsumoto is called the “City of Bars”. Each bar has its individual uniqueness but the most famous one goes to the “Main Bar Coat”. Its antique wooden interior gives this warm and welcoming atmosphere. And of course, the cocktails taste and look fabulous, too!
But if you want to enjoy a good drink with a spectacular view, go to the 14th floor of Hotel Buena Vista! There you can enjoy a cocktail made by an award-winning bartender while looking out at the night view of Matsumoto city. Romantic!
Visit Art Museums in Matsumoto
Matsumoto City Museum of Arts
If you didn’t know, now you know. Matsumoto is the hometown of Yayoi Kusama, a world-class avant-garde artist. You can see the traces of her works here and there in this town. For example, the “Town Sneaker”, Matsumoto city sightseeing buses that roam around the town.
If you are a fan of Yayoi Kusama, make sure to visit Matsumoto City Museum of Arts. This year, there are two Yayoi Kusama-related exhibitions.
Yayoi Kusama: The Place for My Soul
Schedule: 2022/4/21 – 2023/4/9
Yayoi Kusama: Print Works
Schedule: 2022/7/23 – 2022/9/25
(*Please check the museum website for the closing dates.)
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum has the world’s largest collection of ukiyo-e. There are more than a hundred thousand ukiyo-e prints and paintings in this museum. All the pieces are the personal collection of the Sakai family, who has been an art patron since around late Edo period.
The museum is a little far from downtown. We recommend using a taxi or riding a Town Sneaker (west course) to get there.
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and a humorous Ukiyo-e wood print exhibited in the museum
Experience Japanese Culture
Just walking in the land of rising sun itself is the way of experiencing the culture. However, there are some things we can’t experience unless joining a tour. If you want to learn more about traditional Japan, take a look at Matsumoto Experience website. They provide many cultural tours and activities, here are some of our recommendations.
Samurai Experience and Cosplay
Don’t be shy we know some of you have a dream of becoming a ninja or samurai. 😊 Joining this activity, not only that you can dress yourself as a samurai, but they will also teach you some sword techniques, too.
Try Out Taiko Drumming
Taiko drumming is one of the most fun things to do in Matsumoto. The local experienced drummers will teach you how to pose and strike a drum properly. By the end of the day, you sure will be ready for a solo performance!
Japanese Candy Making
At Yamaya candy shop (山屋御飴所) near the castle, you can try making Japanese candy in a traditional way. This shop was opened in 1672 with a legacy of more than 300 years! If you have a sweet tooth, do not miss it.
Participate in a Local Festival
One of the greatest things of participating in a local festival is that it doesn’t limit you to the usual tourist traps. Here in Matsumoto, we have many annual festivals and events. Here is the list.
Annual Festival Schedule
Early Jan: Ameichi Festival
Jan 21-23: Matsumoto Castle Ice Sculpture Festival
Apr 8-15: Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing
May 28-29: Crafts Fair Matsumoto
Jul 30: Taiko Drum Festival
Aug 6: Matsumoto Bon-Bon
Aug 13: Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival
Oct 8: Asama Onsen Taimatsu Festival
Local Dishes in Matsumoto
Don’t you agree that “Food is the best way to understand a culture”? Here is the list of local foods (and drinks) you should try when visiting Matsumoto.
- Toji Soba: It is a kind of soba that is served in shabu-shabu style. You can find Toji soba in Matsumoto and nearby cities only.
- Shinshu-gyu: Shinshu-gyu (or Shinshu Beef) is shorten from Apple Wagyu Shinshu-gyu. It is Nagano’s local beef brand fed with apple pulps, soy pulps, and sake lees, which are the by-products from Nagano’s food industry such as apple juice, tofu, miso, sake, etc.
- Matsumoto Craft Beer: Opened in 2016, Matsumoto Brewery uses spring water from the Japaneses Alps and Utsukushigahara highlands and local hops to brew various types of beers. You will sure find your favorite one here!
- Sanzoku-yaki: Sanzoku-yaki is a deep-fried chicken, marinated in special sauce made from soy sauce and grated garlic.
- Basashi: Basashi is raw horse meat, usually served with sliced onions, grated garlic, wasabi, and soy sauce.
- Shinshu Salmon: Shinshu salmon is the brand name for Nagano salmon, farmed in freshwater, exclusively in Nagano. You sure will love its melt-in-your-mouth taste and texture, recommended to eat it raw or smoked.
- Insects: Yes, you read it right. Here in Matsumoto, we eat edible insects simmered in soy sauce and mirin. Our favorites are bee/wasp larvae and grasshoppers. You can even buy it from a local supermarket.
Best Time to Visit Matsumoto
Each season offers its own advantages and experience so there isn’t really the “best” time to visit. But we can tell you how it is like in each season.
Matsumoto in Spring (April – Early May)
The most popular season in Matsumoto is spring, from mid-April to the early of May, where you can enjoy cherry blossoms blooming. It is especially crowded on weekends as the locals also go out to enjoy the moments with their family.
(Note: The peak season for Sakura viewing is around the middle of April.)
Matsumoto castle surrounded by pinkish cherry blossoms.
Matsumoto in Summer (mid-May – September)
The reason why we love Matsumoto in summer is because it has relatively pleasant hot and dry weather, not as hot and humid as other places in Japan. And if you go to the mountain, it is a paradise full of lush green, colorful flowers, and summer breeze. That’s why there are so many summer houses in Nagano.
Kamikochi, the best place to escape the summer heat in Matsumoto.
Matsumoto in Autumn (October – November)
Matsumoto in autumn is beautiful and enchanting. It is the perfect season for a city walk. While the best time for autumn leaves viewing in the mountainous area starts from late September until early of November, the best time to enjoy the autumn color in downtown area is around the middle of November.
Yohashira Shrine near Matsumoto castle in autumn season
Matsumoto in Winter (December – March)
The best season for bathing in a hot spring! Compared to countries in Europe, Matsumoto has more sunny days in winter. And when it’s sunny, the sky looks so blue, making you want to go out and do something like walking around the city, or even head to the mountain to do some winter activities like skiing or snowshoeing!
There are not many snow days in Matsumoto but when it snows, the whole town turns into a snow wonderland!
Where to Stay in Matsumoto
Matsumoto has a variety of accommodations for you to choose from, from a business hotel to a luxurious Japanese traditional inn. Here are our 3 different types of recommended hotels for you.
Utsukushigahara Onsen Shoho
One of the luxury ryokans (Japanese-style inn) in Utsukushigahara onsen town that offers a panoramic view of the Japanese Alps from every guest rooms.
There are many types of room available, from a Japanese traditional tatami room to a western-style room with beds and a private onsen bath.
(*Free shuttle bus available from Matsumoto station.)
One of the highlights of staying in ryokan is the dinner that is served in Kaiseki style, where nakai-san (waitress dressed in kimono) come and serve you course by course.
Hotel Buena Vista
Hotel Buena Vista is the best city hotel in Matsumoto, highly rated for its fantastic hospitality. It is located near the JR Matsumoto station and the bus terminal, less than 10-minute walk. However, they also provide a free shuttle service from the station, as well!
After waking up from a good sleep, there is nothing better than to start your day with a good breakfast! Here at this hotel, you can enjoy a hearty breakfast with both western and Japanese dishes.
Alpico Plaza Hotel
Alpico Plaza Hotel is a standard city hotel with a reasonable price on an unbeatable location. The hotel is right next to the bus terminal and just across the street from Matsumoto station.
Next to Alpico Plaza Hotel is “Matsumoto Tsunagu Yokocho”, which is a food hall packed with eateries and Izakayas, Japanese-style bars. (Don’t worry. You don’t need to order alcohols if you don’t like to.) If your priority is convenience, this hotel is the top pick!
Recommended Itineraries for Matsumoto
1-Day Itinerary in Matsumoto
09:00 Visit Matsumoto Castle
10:30 Try samurai cosplay
13:00 Have lunch around Nakamachi or Nawate Street
15:00 Visit Matsumoto city Museum of Arts
17:30 Get back to hotel to freshen up yourself
18:00 Have a Kaiseki dinner at a ryokan
21:00 Enjoy a good onsen before a good night sleep!
2-Day Itinerary in Matsumoto
Day 1 (*Assume that you are already in Matsumoto the day before.)
09:30 Visit Kamikochi
15:15 Visit Shirahone Onsen
18:30 Return to Matsumoto
19:00 Try Izakaya-style dinning at Matsumoto Tsunagu Yokocho
09:00 Visit Matsumoto Castle
10:30 Try samurai cosplay
13:00 Have Lunch around Nakamachi or Nawate Street
15:00 Visit Matsumoto city Museum of Arts
17:30 Go back to hotel to fresh up yourself
20:30 Have a good drink at one of many bars in Matsumoto
Traveling to Matsumoto
Matsumoto city is accessible from many cities by both train and bus.
From Tokyo to Matsumoto
If you have a JR pass (All area or East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)), you can ride a JR Azusa express train to Matsumoto in about 2hr 40min (6,620 yen for one-way ticket).
But if you don’t have one, or want to save your budget for other experiences, you can ride an Alpico’s express bus from Shinjuku bus terminal to Matsumoto in about 3hr 20min. Bus fare costs from 4,100 to 4,500 yen.
From Nagoya to Matsumoto
From Nagoya, you can travel to Matsumoto by JR Shinano express train in about 2 hours (6,140 yen). Another option is to travel by Alpico’s express bus. It takes 3 hours 45 minutes but costs less than the train (3,400 ~ 4,800 yen).
From Osaka and Kyoto to Matsumoto
It takes about 4 hours from Osaka to Matsumoto by shinkansen followed by express train, and cost around 10,800 yen for a one way. You can also choose to use an express bus that costs only between 4,500 – 7,300 yen, depending on the travel date and how early you book for the ticket.
By the way, there is a night bus on this route, recommended for those who don’t want to waste time traveling or just want to save the budget for other travel expenses.
From Nagano to Matsumoto
You can either ride a JR Shinonoi Line (1,170 yen, 1hr 15min), or Alpico bus (1,600 yen, 1hr 15min) from Nagano station to Matsumoto station. However, please note that this bus operates on weekdays only.
(No reservation required)
From Takayama to Matsumoto
Many tourists travel from Takayama to Matsumoto, and vice versa. Alpico and Nohi bus operate 4 round trips a day between the two cities. (3,500 yen, 2hr 30min)
(No reservation required)
Traveling around Matsumoto
Major attractions in Matsumoto, such as the Matsumoto castle, the Former Kaichi School, Nawate/Nakamachi street, and the Matsumoto city Museum of Arts, are all within a walking distance. But you can also use a free rental bicycle to travel around, or ride on the city sightseeing bus, “Town Sneaker”.
The hot spring towns like Asama and Utsukushigahara Onsen are accessible by the Alpico’s local bus that depart from the bus terminal, near the JR Matsumoto station. It takes only about 20 minutes to those two hot spring towns.
- Bus to Utsukushigahara onsen (no. 31), dep. every 20-30 mins
- Bus to Asama onsen (no. 32), dep. every 15-60 mins
Kamikochi and Shirahone Onsen is a little far from the city in the mountainous area. You need to ride a Kamikochi line train from Matsumoto station to Shin-Shimashima station, then transfer to a bus to get to there.
Lastly, if you are considering going to Kamikochi, Matsumoto and the attractions nearby, check out these convenient bus passes, too!