Nagasaki has been Japan’s Gateway to the West for hundreds of years and retains a cosmopolitan feel alongside fascinating historical sites
There are few modern harbours with such an impressive approach as Nagasaki. This fjord-like channel is the view that greeted Commodore Matthew Perry when he arrived in 1853 to open up Japan for western merchants. But Nagasaki had already been trading with Europe and China for over 200 years, giving this city a cosmopolitan feel that it maintains to this day. Due to pilot error, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 obliterated the suburb of Matsuyama rather than the historic centre and the harbour, so there is much more of Old Nagasaki than you’d expect. This is a busy, friendly city with a young population, an eclectic range of architecture and some beautiful views.
What to see & do
Cruise ships generally dock at Matsugae Pier, just below the hillside on which the real Madame Butterfly is said to have lived. Glover Garden is worth the short uphill walk for a panoramic view of the city and harbour and lots of tourist shops and places to eat. Japan’s oldest wooden church and an attractive Confucian Shrine are also in easy walking distance while the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum is a way up the Urakamigawa River and should not be missed.
Where to drink
Try Cocktail Bar Joy in Hamanomachi 1945if you don’t want too stray too far from the ship, it’s for upmarket clientele, has a great range of cocktails and an entry in the World’s Best Bars. Chotto Ippai is near Kanko-Dori Station and means “a little drunk”. Ayer’s Rock is a popular basement bar for dancing and attracts hip-hop loving youngsters. Drinks are reasonably priced (500 yen) and there’s more space to breathe midweek.
Where to eat
Shippoku is a typical Nagasaki dining experience, combining Chinese, Japanese and western cuisine in one dish. China Town is the place to go. Ask for Hamakatsu Shippoku at 6-50, Kajiya-machi. Chanpon noodles are another local specialty, a cheap dish created for Chinese students that’s now embellished by the inclusion of Nagasaki’s rich squid, oysters and shrimp harvest. Shikairo, near Glover Garden, claims to have invented Chanpon in 1899. Avoid peak serving hours and enjoy the harbour views from the fifth floor.
Where to stay
Garden Terrace Nagasaki is a stunning boutique hotel with great views over the harbour (gt-nagasaki.jp). Hotel Dormy Inn Nagasaki (hotespa.net/hotels/nagasaki/) is central to the old city centre and reasonably priced, as is the Chisun Grand (booking.com/hotel/jp/chisun-grand-nagasaki.en) near the port ferry terminal.
Gunkanjima is a real oddity. This tiny island 20km from Nagasaki port was a coal-mining community for hundreds of years. When it closed in 1974 Gunkanjima had the densest population of anywhere in the world. Now 50-minute boat trips from the Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal (near the Ohato tram stop) take people out to this crumbling wasteland. It’s surprisingly popular with locals and there are some great views of the city.
- Population 429,000
- Climate Nagasaki has a typical humid subtropical climate and in the summer the heat and humidity can be very unpleasant. In the winter, however, it is drier and sunnier.
- Languages Japanese
- Timezone GMT +9
- Currency Yen
- Transport The city’s tram lines are easy to navigate. The tram lines are numbered 1, 3, 4 and 5, and the stops are both numbered and written in English letters.