When I think of Fukuoka, I usually think of three things – hakata ramen, yatai stalls, and motsunabe. All three are related to food which is unsurprising considering it’s the number one reason why we travel.
But as much as we love Japanese food, there’s more to do in Fukuoka than fill your belly. Compared to busier cities like Tokyo and Osaka, Fukuoka is more laid back. It has an extensive transportation system and an even pace making it a fun and relaxing city to explore on your own.
If you’re visiting for the first time, then listed below are ten of the best things you can do in Fukuoka.
THINGS TO DO IN FUKUOKA
1. Eat at a Yatai Stall
The humble yatai stall is one of the most iconic and well-known symbols of Fukuoka. It’s basically Japan’s version of a street food stall. It opens only at night and serves a few izakaya-type dishes like hakata ramen, yakitori, kushiyaki, and grilled seafood.
Yatai stalls can be found in other Japanese cities but Fukuoka has the most – about 150 clustered in pockets throughout the city like Nagahama, Tenjin, and Nakasu. Pictured below is a row of yatai stalls in Nagahama.
From the outside, yatai stalls look too tiny for anyone to fit inside but they’re actually roomier than they seem. About 8-10 people can fit inside a standard yatai stall.
I’ve been to Fukuoka four times, all in winter or fall, so every yatai stall I’ve been to was enclosed to preserve warmth. But I have seen pictures of stalls opened up in the warmer months.
If you want a truly local dining experience in Fukuoka, then enjoying a beer and some late night bar chow inside a yatai stall is a must. Sitting in tight quarters, you’ll literally be rubbing elbows with locals.
2. Eat Hakata Ramen at the Original Ichiran
If you were to have just one dish in Fukuoka, then it should be hakata ramen. Not only is it one of Japan’s most popular types of ramen, but it originated right here in Fukuoka.
Also known as tonkotsu ramen, hakata ramen is known for its characteristic cloudy broth made by boiling pork bones over a high flame for several hours. This long boiling process allows the marrow to seep out and create a rich and creamy soup.
Thin and chewy ramen noodles are added to the broth along with just a few choice toppings like chashu pork, chopped green onion, and wood ear mushrooms.
I went to several ramen shops in the city to try and find the best hakata ramen in Fukuoka. The global Ichiran chain, which started here in Fukuoka, was one of my favorites.
Ichiran has multiple outlets in Fukuoka but I suggest going to the original branch located inside the building pictured below.
If you aren’t familiar with Ichiran, they became famous not just for serving delicious hakata ramen, but for the unique way in which diners could enjoy it. Instead of regular tables or counters, customers could slurp down their bowls of hakata ramen in solo dining booths.
Every seat has partitions on either side to block other customers from view, allowing Ichiran diners to focus on one thing and one thing only – their ramen.
Address: 5 Chome-3-2 Nakasu, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0801, Japan
Operating Hours: 24 hrs
Expect to Spend: About JPY 950 per bowl of hakata ramen
3. Visit Ohori Park
Ohori Park is a peaceful city park with a large pond at its center. Ohori means “moat” in Japanese and is in reference to this pond which used to be part of Fukuoka Castle’s moat system. Unfortunately, not much of the castle remains apart from a few walls, turrets, and this central pond.
On a clear day, it’s great to take a stroll around the lake. There’s a Starbucks and many benches along its perimeter where you can sit and quietly take in the park’s atmosphere. There are three interconnected islands and a pavilion (pictured below) you can explore as well.
At the southeastern side of the lake are Fukuoka Art Museum and Ohori Park Japanese Garden. Admission is JPY 200 and JPY 250 respectively but entrance to the general park area is free.
Operating Hours: 24 hrs
4. Go Shopping at Canal City Hakata and Tenjin Chikagai
If you’re in the mood to go shopping, then Canal City Hakata and Tenjin Underground Shopping Center are two of the best places to drop some yen in Fukuoka.
Called a “city within the city”, Canal City Hakata is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in Fukuoka. It covers 2.5 million sq ft of space and boasts over 250 shops and restaurants built around a central fountain and canal area.
In contrast, Tenjin Chikagai is a 600-meter network of underground passageways that’s home to over 150 small shops and restaurants. It’s located about a kilometer west of Canal City Hakata so you can easily visit both on the same day.
5. Visit Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is a large public park located across the bay from central Fukuoka. It’s home to flower gardens, an amusement park, playgrounds, cycling trails, and large open spaces with flower fields.
The park measures about 4 km (2.5 miles) from one end to the other making it an ideal area to explore on bicycle. You can rent bicycles at the gate for JPY 500 for three hours or JPY 700 for the day.
If you visit between mid-March and early autumn, then you’ll find millions of flowers blooming throughout different parts of the park. Cherry blossoms bloom in spring while other flowers like tulips, roses, hydrangeas, and sunflowers will be visible at different times of the year.
Uminonakamichi Seaside Park can be reached by metro or ferry from central Fukuoka. If you like aquariums, then you can visit Marine World Uminonakamichi on the same trip. It’s located near the park just a short walk from Uminonakamichi Station.
Operating Hours: 9:30AM-5:30PM, daily
Admission: JPY 450
6. Try Motsunabe
Like hakata ramen, motsunabe is a regional Fukuoka dish and one of the best things you can have in the city. It’s a type of nabemono or Japanese hot pot dish made with beef or pork offal cooked in a shallow pot on your table with cabbage, garlic chives, and champon noodles.
Pictured below is a soft and fatty piece of offal. Motsunabe is typically made with innards like beef intestine and pork tripe that are simmered in a soup base seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, and chili pepper. It’s absolutely delicious and one of the best dishes you can have in winter.
There are many motsunabe restaurants in Fukuoka, but one of the best is Hakata Motsunabe Yamanaka.
Address: 1 Chome-9-1 Akasaka, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0042, Japan
Operating Hours: 5-11:30PM, Thu-Tue (closed Wednesdays)
Expect to Spend: About JPY 1,980 per person for motsunabe
7. Visit Kushida Shrine
Kushida Shrine is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Fukuoka. It was founded in 757 and regarded by locals as the guardian temple of the city.
In July of every year, Kushida Shrine hosts the Yamakasa Gion Matsuri which is the biggest festival in Fukuoka. On the festival’s last day, hundreds of men from seven teams representing Hakata’s seven neighborhoods race while carrying giant floats called kazariyama.
Each of these floats is decorated with elaborate figures and scenes and can measure up to 10 meters tall and weigh over a ton. The largest of these floats are put on display at Kushida Shrine for the rest of the year.
Operating Hours: 4AM-10PM, daily
8. Explore Dazaifu
Located about 15 km (9 miles) south of downtown Fukuoka, Dazaifu served as the administrative center of Kyushu for over 500 years. It facilitated diplomatic relations and was once the main point of interaction between Japan and the rest of Asia.
Dazaifu is no longer the administrative center it once was but it remains a key point of interest in Kyushu. It’s home to a number of temples and shrines, none more important than Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. It’s also where you’ll find Kyushu National Museum, a large museum that hosts collections of Japanese artifacts related to the history of Kyushu.
You can easily visit Dazaifu on your own using public transportation, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you can book one through Klook.
9. See the Giant Reclining Buddha at Nanzoin Temple
Nanzoin is a Buddhist Temple that’s home to a giant bronze statue of a reclining Buddha. Measuring an impressive 41 meters long (135 ft), 11 meters high (36 ft), and weighing nearly 300 tons, it’s said to be the largest bronze statue in the world.
To put those measurements in perspective, the Statue of Liberty from its heels to the top of its head measures about 34 meters (112 ft). It weighs in at a relatively modest 225 tons which gives you a sense of just how massive this reclining Buddha is. Entrance to the temple is free though there’s a JPY 500 fee to enter the prayer room underneath the Buddha.
Nanzoin Temple is located in Sasaguri, about 16 km (10 miles) east of central Fukuoka. It’s a 3-minute walk from Kido Nanzoin-mae Station which can be reached by train from Hakata Station in 21-24 minutes.
Operating Hours: 9AM-5PM, daily
10. Spend the Day in Yanagawa
Yanagawa is a city in southern Fukuoka prefecture, about 56 km (35 miles) south of Fukuoka City. Sometimes referred to as the “city of water” or the “Venice of Kyushu”, it’s famous for its network of canals totaling about 470 km in length.
Built hundreds of years ago, these canals were originally used for irrigation and harken back to Yanagawa’s past as a farming village. Today, they’re used to take tourists on cruises (kawakudari) using boats powered by men with bamboo poles (donkobune). Kawakudari cruises cost about JPY 1,500 per person and last 30-70 minutes.
Yanagawa can be reached by train in about 1 hour and 30 mins from Fukuoka City. If you prefer, then you can also go on a guided tour. Some tours will include a kawakudari cruise and a lunch of steamed eel which is a Yanagawa specialty.
Known locally as “unagi seiro mushi”, Yanagawa has a unique way of preparing eel. It involves placing grilled eel and strips of egg over rice drenched in sauce, then steaming it in a bamboo steamer. If you like unagi, then you need to try this.
Fukuoka is the main entryway into Kyushu so people exploring this part of Japan will inevitably find themselves in this city.
Compared to more popular destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Sapporo, there isn’t as much to do in Fukuoka but it does have its charms. More importantly, it has some of the best regional food in the country.
This came as a bit of a surprise to me but my friend Shori told me that when Japanese people travel for food, they usually go to one of three cities – Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.
Hakata ramen and motsunabe are two of the best dishes you can have in Fukuoka so if you travel for food like we do, then you may want to have them as often as you can when you’re there.
Fukuoka is appealing in its own ways but for me, the food is definitely the best reason to visit.
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