Niigata is the capital and largest city of Niigata Prefecture. It is a beautiful city whose northwest faces the Sea of Japan. As Japan’s largest agricultural city, Niigata is covered largely by rice fields. Yet, this port town is a sophisticated transportation hub, easily accessible by air, sea and rail.
Pier Bandai is the largest fresh food market along the Sea of Japan with a seafood centre and farmer’s market. Not only freshly-harvested seafood but meat and vegetables as well as local brands of sake and coffee beans indispensable for daily life are all available here as the pride of Niigata Prefecture. There are also plenty of restaurants including ramen shops, cafés and conveyor-belt sushi restaurants using the rice and fish that are the hallmarks of Niigata. This market is popular with residents and tourists alike. (Image via Niigata City Official Guide)
Activities: Shopping Fee: None Time required: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Bandai Bridge is an icon of Niigata City. It crosses Japan's longest river, the Shinano, which divides the city into two distinct halves. To the south of the bridge lies the newer, vibrant part of the city; to the north is the older, historical area. Built-in 1886, the original bridge was made of wood and unfortunately destroyed by a major fire in 1908. The third—and final—incarnation was completed in 1929 and constructed with reinforced concrete. This is the version we see today. Now designated as a National Important Cultural Property, the current bridge features six arches and is 306.9 meters long and 21.9 meters wide. During the Niigata Festival, a folk dance procession makes its way across the bridge. (Image via Enjoy Niigata) Activities: Photo stop Fee: None Time required: 30 minutes
Northern Culture Museum
This museum is the former residence of the Ito clan, major landowners in the region. Construction started in 1882 and took eight years to complete. Built-in traditional Japanese style, this home has 65 rooms. Perhaps most interesting is the large (100-mat) reception hall, used only for family ceremonies, with its beautiful view of the grounds. Documents and art collections including paintings and sculptures from former household heads are on display. (Image via Enjoy Niigata)
Activities: Museum visit Fee: JPY 800 Time required: 45 minutes
Niigata City History Museum “MinatoPia”
Niigata City History Museum Minatopia transmits the history and folk culture of Niigata to the present. The historical port town-look of Niigata is reproduced with canals and willow trees, and historic structures stand on the property. The main building adopts a modern Western design used by the second-generation Niigata city hall. Inside, you’ll find a permanent exhibit with the theme “The local sea and locals’ lives,” along with a theatre, planned exhibitions, and more. You can visit the Former Niigata Customs House, which is a National Important Cultural Property, and an old bank building functions now as a French restaurant/cafe.
Activities: Museum visit Fee: JPY 300 Time required: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Ikutopia Food & Flower Complex
Ikutopia Shoku Hana is located near Toyano Lagoon, where the city and countryside come together. It is a food and flower-themed facilities complex that has 13 gardens full of flowers that change by the season. You can see beautiful scenery, wild birds, and other animals up close to this relaxing spot. There is a market full of fresh produce and flowers, a restaurant that serves local wagyu beef, and an area to pet alpacas and goats. (Image via Niigata City Official Guide)
Activities: Photo stop, Shopping Fee: None Time required: Minimum 1 hour
Located in an open coastal area that is constantly refreshed by sea breezes, and with approximately 600 species and 30,000 specimens of sea life on display, Marinepia Nihonkai is one of the most prominent aquariums on the Sea of Japan coast. The most popular attraction is the dolphin show, where a few lucky spectators are chosen from the audience to touch the dolphins, give them signals and view them at close range. The Marine Safari area feeding time for sea lions is also a crowd-pleaser. The marine tunnel runs along the bottom of the large Sea of Japan tank that features approximately 40 species. As you walk along this tunnel you can enjoy the feeling of walking through the ocean. (Image via Enjoy Niigata) Activities: Aquarium visit Fee: JPY 1500 Time required: Minimum 1 hour
Ponshukan Sake Museum
Split between three big JR stations in Niigata, at Ponshukan Sake Museum you can sample the leading brands of sake produced by Niigata's 90 sake breweries. For JPY 500, you get five tastings "coins" which you can use to sample up to five cups of sake. Small vending machines offer nearly 100 different types of sake, produced by Niigata's breweries. There are lists and rankings of recommended sake to help you make your choices. Not only that, you can actually bathe in the stuff. The sake bath mixes specially blended sake into lightly alkaline hot spring water. (Image via Enjoy Niigata)
Activities: Sake tasting Fee: None (JPY 500 for tasting) Time required: 30 minutes – 1 hour
About an hour south of Niigata City, Shirone Town is known for its annual giant kite-flying festival in June. These kites are seven meters by five meters and are all handmade.
Yahiko, another town south of Niigata City, holds an annual lantern festival at Yahiko-jinja Shrine in July, with illuminated floats, parades, and fireworks. (Image via Enjoy Niigata)