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Niigata Sightseeing Guide: Top 15 Fun Things to Do, Food, Souvenirs & More!

Niigata Sightseeing Guide: Top 15 Fun Things to Do, Food, Souvenirs & More!

Date published: 5 November 2019
Last updated: 10 February 2021

If you're a nature lover, Niigata sightseeing needs to be at the top of your bucket list! Niigata is the fifth largest prefecture in Japan. Known for its scenic mountains and beautiful rice fields, it is situated on the Sea of Japan.

Here you'll enjoy the many magnificent nature spots such as Kiyotsu Gorge and the rice paddy terraces. Known for being snowy, it is very popular with skiers in winter.

Niigata is also known for producing some of the best sake in Japan, many of which you can try at the local restaurants.

Table of Contents
  1. What Kind of Place is Niigata?
  2. How to Get to Niigata
  3. 1. See the breathtaking Kiyotsu Gorge
  4. 2. Gaze out at the Hoshitoge Rice Terraces
  5. 3. Visit Sado Island - Japan's 'Island of Exile'
  6. 4. Visit the Toki Forest Park!
  7. 5. Experience the fantastic sea creatures at Niigata City Aquarium Marinepia Nihonkai
  8. 6. Unique to Niigata, the place for rice! Tour the many sake breweries
  9. 7. Get fresh Niigata seafood along Teradomari Fish Market Street
  10. 8. Enjoy Niigata's specialty: red snow crab
  11. 9. Taste the local cuisine! Hegi soba noodles
  12. 10. Enjoy the snow festival and winter sports
  13. 11. Enjoy sake in the station!
  14. 12. Watch fireworks at the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
  15. 13. Enjoy a train ride on the Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka
  16. 14. Search for lifelong souvenirs in Tsubamesanjo
  17. 15. Sample the Sasa-Dango Dumplings

What Kind of Place is Niigata?

What Kind of Place is Niigata?

Niigata is a large city with a population of about 2.22 million, located about two hours from Tokyo via Shinkansen.

The most convenient way to get to the main Niigata sightseeing spots is to take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Niigata Station. If traveling from Niigata Airport, take the bus to Niigata Station (about 25 minutes).

Niigata City, the center of the prefecture, is home to many modern commercial facilities and historic buildings, including a museum opened to preserve an old mansion built in 1887.

There are plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops, making it an ideal area for food and shopping. The suburbs are dotted with markets that handle fresh seafood, as well as superb scenic views spots with beautiful natural landscapes.

There is also a remote island nearby called Sado Island, where you can enjoy even more unique sightseeing spots including the Kanayama Ruins and the “tarai-bune” (tub-boat).

How to Get to Niigata

How to Get to Niigata

The Joetsu Shinkansen bullet train is the most convenient way to get from Tokyo Station to Niigata Station, the gateway to sightseeing in Niigata. From Niigata Airport, it takes about 25 minutes to get to Niigata Station by bus.

Most areas in Niigata Prefecture can be reached by train from Niigata Station, but many tourist spots require a cab or bus to get there from the nearest station, so check the accessibility beforehand. Rental cars can be found in the area around Niigata Station.

To get to Sado Island, take a bus from Niigata Station to Niigata Port, and then take a boat to Ryotsu Port. Buses or cabs are recommended for transportation around the island. Okesa Kanko Taxi, a cab company on the island, has Wi-Fi in its vehicles and offers smartphone payment for fares.

1. See the breathtaking Kiyotsu Gorge

1. See the breathtaking Kiyotsu Gorge

Kiyotsu Gorge is known as one of Japan's Three Great Canyons, along with Kurobe Gorge in Toyama and Osugi Valley in Mie Prefecture. In 1941, it was also selected as the most beautiful scenic spot in Niigata. The huge V-shaped canyon expresses the beauty of the four seasons, with fresh greenery in the spring and red-dyed trees in autumn.

It is recommended to take a walk through the Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel. There are three observatories located along the 750-meter long tunnel, as well as spots where you can learn about the nature of Kiyotsu Gorge through images.

The Panorama Station at the end of the tunnel is one of this spot’s main attractions. Stretched across the floor is an artistic image designed to resemble the surface of the water in the gorge reflecting the surrounding natural landscape.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

2. Gaze out at the Hoshitoge Rice Terraces

2. Gaze out at the Hoshitoge Rice Terraces

Paddies and terraced rice fields (called tanada) are carved into the mountains and valleys like staircases. The Hoshitoge Rice Terraces, located in Tokamachi, is is said to have one of the best views in the city.

Tourists from both inside and outside the country visit to see the nearly 200 rice paddies that make up these amazing views.

The best time to come see them is from around the end of March to June (after the snow melts), and from October to November. These times are when the rice fields are filled with water, reflecting a mysteriously beautiful views of the rising and setting sun, and even the early morning sea of clouds, depending on the day’s weather.

Keep in mind, rice terraces are privately owned, so please be considerate, don't trespass, and take any trash with you.

  • Hoshitoge Rice Terraces
    星峠の棚田
    • Address Toge, Tokamachi Shi, Niigata Ken, 942-1351

3. Visit Sado Island - Japan's 'Island of Exile'

3. Visit Sado Island - Japan's 'Island of Exile'

Sado Island is a remote island located in the western part of Niigata Prefecture. There are various sightseeing spots on the island, including Toki-no-Mori Park, where you can see the “toki” (Japanese crested ibis), a bird which has been designated as a natural monument of Japan, as well as the Sado Kinzan gold mine ruins, which was discovered in 1601. Sado is also known for its unique activities, such as riding the “tarai-bune,” a wooden, tub-like boat once used for fishing.

You can get to Sado Island from Niigata Port via jetfoil (approx 1 hr) or car ferry (approx 2 hr 30 min) to Ryotsu Port. You can use the regularly-scheduled sightseeing bus, Niigata Kotsu Sado, to get around the large island.

Also, in Sado, various measures are in place to prevent Covid-19 from spreading so travelers can enjoy visiting with peace of mind. Have a look at the video to see more.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Rikiya Kanko Kisen
    力屋観光汽船
    • Address 1935, Ogimachi, Sado Shi, Niigata Ken, 952-0604, Japan
    • Phone Number 0259-86-3153
    • Hours: 8:30am-5pm (changes may apply depending on the season)
      Admission: 500yen for adults, 300yen for children
      Closed: open daily

4. Visit the Toki Forest Park!

4. Visit the Toki Forest Park!

Toki Forest Park, on Sado Island, is a sanctuary that protects and breeds Toki birds, a national natural monument, with the aim of allowing them back into the wild. At the Toki Fureai Plaza in the park, you can watch the crested ibis flying freely around from up close.

Also, there are many attractions like the Observation corridor, where you can admire the crested ibis in the adjacent enclosure Sado Toki Conservation Center, in the Toki Material Exhibition Hall, where you’ll find exhibits related to the conservation, breeding, and eventually returning to the wild of the ibis are displayed.

We recommend trying the edamame soft cream (sold at the shop in the park) made from Sado edamame.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

5. Experience the fantastic sea creatures at Niigata City Aquarium Marinepia Nihonkai

5. Experience the fantastic sea creatures at Niigata City Aquarium Marinepia Nihonkai

Niigata City Aquarium Marinepia Nihonkai, in the city of Niigata, is an aquarium that breeds and displays 30,000 animals of about 600 species. The most popular attraction is the dolphin show held at the dolphin stadium in the complex. You can observe from up close the charms of the life of many sea creatures through many viewing points, like the Marine Tunnel. Also, the Sea of Japan Main Tank opens a door on many fish species, and the Marine Safari allows you to see sea lions from up close.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

6. Unique to Niigata, the place for rice! Tour the many sake breweries

6. Unique to Niigata, the place for rice! Tour the many sake breweries

Niigata Prefecture is blessed with good quality rice and water, making it a thriving place for sake brewing. There have been many sake breweries since ancient times, and the number of the current ones in the prefecture is the highest in Japan.

The prefecture has a history of 470 years with breweries like Yoshinogawa Sake Brewery in Nagaoka City, and Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery in Niigata City, which can be toured with guides in English as well.

From November to March, which is the time of preparation, every sake brewery is busy. Even if it’s not required to make a reservation, we recommend you do, by phone or email.

7. Get fresh Niigata seafood along Teradomari Fish Market Street

7. Get fresh Niigata seafood along Teradomari Fish Market Street
(Image photo)

For the best local Niigata seafood, we recommend checking out Teradomari Fish Market Street. Fresh fish line the national highway, drawing in crowds of shoppers every day. The cafeteria has many shops which include menus such as seafood bowls and set meals, all made with fresh seafood. Shops tend to get particularly crowded on weekends, so be sure to take that into consideration when planning a time to visit.

For take-out, our recommendation is “Hama-yaki,” a skewer dish of squid, scallops, and fish. They are cooked right on the spot, so enjoy the warmth as you wait.

8. Enjoy Niigata's specialty: red snow crab

8. Enjoy Niigata's specialty: red snow crab
Photo courtesy of Niigata Prefecture Tourism Association

Red snow crab is one of the specialty products of Niigata. The crimson snow crab, a dish with miso is a must-try item if you visit Niigata. You can taste it at sushi restaurants in the prefecture and restaurants in the markets, but we especially recommend Roadside Station Marine Dream Nou, in Itoigawa City.

At Kanaya Yokocho there are a lot of stands where you can buy snow crab from local fishermen, and you can taste it right there at the roadside station. From January to February the fishing season for red snow crab is closed, so keep that in mind when visiting.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Michi-no-Eki “Marine Dream Nou”
    道の駅「マリンドリーム能生」
    • Address 3596-2 Noukodomari, Itoigawa, Niigata 949-1351
    • Phone Number 025-566-3456
    • Hours: 9am-6pm (depending on the store and season)
      Closed: open every day

9. Taste the local cuisine! Hegi soba noodles

9. Taste the local cuisine! Hegi soba noodles
Image courtesy of Niigata Prefecture Tourism Association

Niigata's specialty Hegi soba is a kind of noodle that has been made popular by Uonuma City a long time ago. The noodles are rolled up in a square bowl called hegi and funori is used to connect the noodles. In Japan, it’s popular to use wheat flour to connect buckwheat noodles, but since Uonuma City is big on textile production, they started using gloiopeltis. The noodles are firm and flavorful.

Hegi soba can be tasted in various parts of the prefecture. There are many popular shops in Uonuma City and Tokamachi City, so make sure to stop by.

10. Enjoy the snow festival and winter sports

10. Enjoy the snow festival and winter sports
写真はイメージです

In Niigata Prefecture, one of the areas in Japan with the heaviest snowfalls, there are plenty of snow festivals and winter activities. Visit in winter and enjoy the unique experience of Niigata with its spectacular snowy scenery.

A recommended event is the Tokamachi Snow Festival, held in Tokamachi City from the third Friday to Sunday of February every year. During that period, snow sculptures handmade by citizens will be exhibited throughout the city. And don't miss the show performed on a huge snow stage.

(*The event was canceled in 2021)

The ski resort is full of popular spots visited by international and local skiers. Choose accordingly to your preferences. Maybe you’ll like the Maiko Snow resort, which has a long run with a maximum gliding distance of 6,000 meters, or maybe you'll prefer the Kagura Ski Resort, where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Joetsu Border, or perhaps you’ll like the popular Naeba Ski Resort.

Recommended Ski Resorts in Niigata Prefecture

  • GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT
    • Address 1039-2 Kayabira, Yuzawa, Yuzawa-Cho, Minami-Uonuma-Gun, Niigata-Ken 949-6101, 949-6101
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Gala Yuzawa Station (Joetsu Shinkansen Bound For Gala Yuzawa)
      0 minute on foot
    • Phone Number 025-785-6543

    Reserve a Lift ticket in advance

    • Pack tickets Spring (With voucher)
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      • All-Day
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      4,700
      4,500JPY
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    • Pack tickets Spring (With voucher)
      • Pack Ticket
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      • All-Day
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      2,600
      2,500JPY
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    The ticketing website is available only in Japanese. Please use a translation plugin to view it in your language.
    Check with our partner site as the latest rates, details and conditions may vary.

11. Enjoy sake in the station!

11. Enjoy sake in the station!
Photo courtesy of Niigata Prefecture Tourism Association

If you like sake, you should definitely stop by Ponshukan in JR Echigo Yuzawa station. This is a unique spot with a sake gallery and bathing facilities where you can enjoy a sake bath.

For sake tasting, we recommend Kikizake Gallery Koshinomuro, where you can enjoy sake at a reasonable price. You will find 117 types of representative brands for all sake breweries in the prefecture. If you find a sake you like, buy it at the Station Sake Brewery right next to it.

In the Sake Bath Yunosawa, you can soak in a natural hot spring with a special liquor. The admission fee includes towels and large lockers, so you won’t need to prepare ahead.

Ponshukan is also located at Niigata Station and Nagaoka Station.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Limited capacity / increased space between seats / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

12. Watch fireworks at the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival

12. Watch fireworks at the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
Photo courtesy of Niigata Prefecture Tourism Association

The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival, held by the Shinano River in Nagaoka City, is a popular fireworks festival visited by tourists from all over Japan. It takes place on August 2 and 3 every year, and about 20,000 fireworks are set off in two days. Among them, the fireworks shot in commemoration of the Great Chuetsu Earthquake are particularly beautiful with their wide flowering pattern. Enjoy the spectacular sight.
*Please check the official website for the latest event information.

13. Enjoy a train ride on the Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

13. Enjoy a train ride on the Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka

A train ride using the resort train Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka, running in the Joetsu region of Nigata is also recommended for sightseeing. There is also an open-view deck inside the train and a lounge where you can relax and enjoy a fantastically luxurious time on the train. After departure, you can also enjoy the original sparkling wine as a welcome drink. Lunch boxes are different in the morning and in the afternoon and are particularly popular.

There are several 15-minute stops. Enjoy a luxurious experience on the train while shopping and interacting with locals.

Train Information
Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka
Phone: 025-543-8988 (Echigo TOKImeki Resort Setsugekka Reservation Center)
Reservation time: 10am-5pm (reception only Monday-Friday)

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizers installed / Disinfection after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wearing masks, gargling, washing hands regularly, and monitoring of body temperature / reduced number of people allowed in at the same time / increased spacing between seats / Declined entry to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

14. Search for lifelong souvenirs in Tsubamesanjo

Niigata's Tsubamesanjo area boasts excellent metal processing technology. The name is a combination of Tsubame City and Sanjo City, which are located in the center of Niigata Prefecture. The area has been long known as a manufacturing town where the production of cutlery, hardware, and Western tableware thrives.

At Tsubamesanjo Station Tourist Product Center Tsubamesanjo wing, and at Roadside Station Tsubamesanjo Local Product Center in Sanjo City, there are a wide variety of metal products made in Tsubamesanjo. These are great items that you will want to use for a long time, like the horie tumbler from a manufacturer that specializes in titanium objects, or the Ichiryo Metal ladle, which combines ease of use with aesthetics.

15. Sample the Sasa-Dango Dumplings

15. Sample the Sasa-Dango Dumplings

Sasa-dango is a Japanese confectionery, and one of Niigata’s signature dishes, made from dango (Japanese rice flour dumpling) mixed with wild grass and mugwort, wrapped in bamboo leaves, also known for its pleasant aroma. The dango filling is made with a mildly sweet red bean paste. Niigata city is dotted with dango shops where you can try these local sasa-dango. They are also available at Tanakaya Honten Minato Kobo, so be sure to stop by during your visit and try them out!

Sansa dango demonstration sales are also held at Tanaka Main Store Minato Kobo, in Niigata City, and Eguchi Dango Main Store, in Nagaoka City, where you will find plenty of sweets shops.

Check out the amazing food, events, and key spots for sightseeing in Niigata and plan the perfect trip for you.

Text by: Shoepress

The information in this article is current as of January 2021. Please check the official website for the latest information.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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