How to Spend One Day in Fukuoka
The bustling city of Fukuoka, one of Japan’s largest cities (which surprisingly is actually closer to Seoul than it is to Tokyo – crazy, right?) was never in our travel plans. But, when Dom’s work called for a trip to Southern Japan, well…did the kids and I need any more of an excuse to tag along? Nope. Whenever there’s an opportunity to travel, we’re on board. Lucky for us, Fukuoka happens to sit right in the middle of two of the areas that he needed to be (Nagasaki/Sasebo and Hiroshima/Iwakuni) making it the perfect travel day stop when he needed to transit between the two work assignments!
Although we didn’t fall in love with the city like we did Nagasaki, we feel Fukuoka is a great place to stop + explore and break up long stretches of train travel. Additionally, it’s home to a pretty major airport, so there’s a good shot if your traveling into/out of Japan, you may just find yourself within the city limits. Below is a full one-day itinerary that we think gives both kids (& adults) something fun to enjoy whether Fukuoka is your final destination or if it’s just a stop-over.
Hakata Station Baggage Storage Tip: If you’re in transit, like we were, you can rent a storage locker for your luggage. Cost ranges from 600 – 900yen/per locker (depending on size of locker needed). The picture above shows our luggage in a medium sized locker (700yen).
There are multiple places to store luggage within the station. The luggage storage (coin lockers) we used were located by Chikushi Gate (East) next to Black Cat. When you exit the train terminal you’ll see a sign for Hakata Ekinaka Shopping. Make a left there. Black Cat and coin lockers will be on your right.
Bags are stored; let’s go!
1. Take in the Views from Tsubame-no-Mori Hiroba
You don’t have far to go for our first stop! Saunter up to Tsubame-no-Mori Hiroba, a rooftop garden in Hakata-Ku Station (the city’s major train station), for some views. Since the rooftop is located inside the station, it makes a great first stop and introduction to Fukuoka as well as nice place to get a feel for the city’s layout. Excellent free panoramic views of the city, a small train track, and an area for kids to pedal around bikes.
- Hours: Varies by season, your best bet is to check the website before you go. When we visited it was open 1100 – 1800.
- Admission: Free to go up, but the train and pedal bikes are a small fee
2. Head to Canal City & Eat Ramen at Ichiran
Fukuoka is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, so there shouldn’t be too much debate on what to do for brunch. Honestly, you could spend days researching the “best” tonkotsu ramen in Fukuoka and still never come up to a firm answer. Ichiran, a well-known ramen chain throughout Japan, specializes in tonkotsu, a type of ramen which has a pork bone base, firm noodles and delicious pork belly on the top, making it a prime choice. You can find Ichiran in many Japanese cities (heck, even New York has one now), but they got their humble start in Fukuoka. There are no doubt ramen aficionados in horror that we settled on Ichiran, but with only 24 hours time was of the essence and it certainly did NOT dissapoint! The location we chose in Canal City, a place loaded with many restaurants and stores, is not Ichiran’s main shop, but is the closest to the station (~1 kilometer walk from Hakata Station or essentially 9 minutes walking).
Ichiran Ordering Tips: Ordering deliciousness is simple, too, but if you’ve never experienced before it can be a tad confusing, so here’s a quick run-down on how to go about getting that delicious ramen.
- Decide what you want and purchase tickets for said food items from the vending machine.
- Then decide where you want to sit and select your seat (there will be a chart on the wall which indicates which seats are occupied and which are available).
- Next, find yo’ seat!
- Once there, you’ll find a piece of paper and a pen waiting for you. This is your opportunity to customize your ramen to satisfy all your personal preferences. Soon after, someone will come by and sweep your card away (get more pork belly…you wont regret it).
- Enjoy a beer or water from your personal tap while you wait!
Ichiran Seating Tip: The booths may seem a bit isolating at first and you may be wondering why we would ever select a spot where we couldn’t sit as a family. Well…the black walls on the sides of the booth fold, so you can totally get rid of the divider. While contrary to the way Americans usually dine, the booths are designed to allow each customer to focus solely on the life changing bowl of ramen that will soon slide through the bamboo curtain in front of you. Can you tell our love for tonkotsu runs pretty darn deep?
Canal City & Ichiran:
- Canal City:
- Shops: 1000 – 2100
- Food & Drink: 1100 – 2300 (depending on shop)
- Canal City:
- Cost: Ichiran: 890yen/bowl of premium tonkotsu ramen (Kamadare Style)
- Parking: Monday – Friday: 0700 – 1900 (200yen/30min) and 1900 – 0700 (100yen/30min); Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays: 200yen/30min (at all times)
3. Visit Kushida Shrine
After filling up head back outside and walk a mere five minutes to Kushida Shrine, an ancient Shinto Shrine dating back to 757. No, that is not the area code…it’s the YEAR! As such, it is the oldest shrine in Fukuoka. It is also home to Yamakasa Gion Matsuri, the biggest festival in Fukuoka which begins at 0459 on July 15th. During this festival, thousands of men from seven districts run through the streets of Hakata in traditional dress, carrying or pushing incredibly detailed one-ton floats in a race to the finish. The festival dates back 770 years to an outbreak of the plague in 1241. Legend says that a Buddhist priest sprinkled holy water from the top of a decorated alter to appease the evil spirits causing the disease. Over the years, celebrating the eradication of disease evolved into creating and decorating the massive floats of today in remembrance of the original decorated alter.
- Hours: 0400 – 2200
- Admission: Free
Kushida Shrine Tip: If you opt to take the city subway, plan on a 5 minute walk from Gion Subway Station. If you opt to use the bus, the shrine is a 2 minute walk from the Nishitetsu “Canal City Mae” stop.
4. Stroll the Fukuoka Castle Ruins
From Kushida Shrine there is a bit of a walk to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. You can choose to either use public transport or walk the ~40minutes (we chose to walk as we knew we would be sitting on the train for a while later that evening).
Although Fukuoka used to be the largest castle in the area, it was torn down after the Meiji Restoration, and only a few remaining walls are left standing. These days, the old castle grounds offer lots of walking paths and a chance to enjoy some green space in the middle of the city. Spring is the most popular season here, as the area is bursting with sakura. Even when we visited in January there were some early plum blossoms making an appearance. Climbing up onto a platform at the base of one of the original watch towers, you can also get a pretty fantastic panoramic view of the city.
- Hours: 24/7
- Admission: Free
5. Explore Fukuoka’s City Science Museum
The Fukuoka City Science Museum is only a 17 minute walk from the castle ruins, making for an easy next stop for those with kids in tow. The building features a ton of exhibits which focus on technology, biology, and physics. There is a huge planetarium at the top of the building, but we were told all of the shows were in Japanese. Since Dom’s and my Japanese is pretty poor (at best), we decided to skip. The kids loved playing with the robots, attempting to land an airplane in a simulator, as well as playing with several physics based exhibits. It was a fantastic way for the kids to get the last of their wiggles out before hopping back on the train.
- Hours: 0930 – 2130 (Basic Exhibition however closes at 1800 and Dome Theater at 1830). Last admission to Basic Exhibition is at 1730
- Admission: 500yen/Adult, 300yen/High School Student, 200yen/Junior, Free for preschoolers
- Parking: None
Fukuoka City Science Museum Tip: Although we walked, this museum is also accessible by public transport. Using the Fukuoka City Subway, the museum is located right outside of exit #3 at Ropponmatsu Station on the Nanakuma Line.
6. Grab a Bite at a Yatai Food Stall
When the museum closed, we headed to the subway and started making our way back to Fukuoka Station, but had one last Fukuoka experience to dive into, getting dinner at a Yatai Food Stall. These are street food stalls that pop up around nightfall and serve some of the most delicious food in the city. Each stall specializes in a particular cuisine, but the real draw is the chance to chat with the chef.
The *very* small stalls provide a cozy environment that fosters conversation. The Nakasu/Nakagawa Area (along the river) is well known for several Yatai Stalls, and also happened to be somewhat on our way back to Hakata Station – lucky us! We stopped for some ramen, but the real show stopper was the grilled steak. Overall, good views, great food (albeit a tad expensive), and fantastic conversation…great way to close out our Fukuoka experience before hopping on the Shinkansen to our next destination!
7. Back on Track
That’s a wrap! Either head back to Hakata-Ku City Station and board your next train or continue to explore. Travel on, friends!