Many tourists heading to Okinawa fail to include a Naha itinerary to their trip. Many land at the airport and immediately get whisked away to the beach resorts up island. And who can blame them? With those white-sand beaches calling, it’s hard to choose to stay in the city—especially if you live in a city.
But those who take the time to spend at least one night in Naha will be rewarded with the chance to see Okinawa‘s vibrant capital, rich with local culture and lifestyle. Small and compact, most of Naha’s attractions can be visited on foot or by the tiny Yuirail monorail system, which starts at Naha Airport and climbs into the hills around Shuri Castle. Pick up a 2-day Yuirail Pass at Naha Airport Station, and you’re good to go, with unlimited trips on the monorail for 48 hours.
Day 1: Explore downtown
After arriving at Naha Airport, it’s a breeze to get to downtown, especially if this is where you’ve booked a hotel. We highly recommend staying close to Kokusai Dori, as it’s the most central location, with lots to see and do. Taking the monorail is fast, cheap and easy, with a travel time of roughly 15 minutes from the airport to the heart of the city. After checking in to your hotel, it’s time to stretch your legs, and explore downtown Naha.
This long strip, which goes straight through the downtown core of Naha, is a must-see entertainment and shopping district. Full of unique souvenir shops, bars and local restaurants, it’s a great place to wander around. Escape from the hot sun by walking through the covered shopping arcades of Heiwa Dori, Mutsumidori and Ichiba Hondori. This is a great place to pick up beachwear and colourful tropical styles, known as kariyushi. If you’re artistic, don’t miss out on the chance to paint your own colorful shisa, the iconic lion-dog statues that you’ll see absolutely everywhere.
Note: Makishi Market is undergoing reconstruction and is at a temporary location (2-7-10 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa 900-0014, Japan) until 2022.
Just off of Kokusai Dori, Naha’s main street, is the popular Makishi Market, or Kosetsu Ichiba. Known as ‘Naha’s Kitchen’, it’s a treasure trove of fresh local specialties, including seafood, vegetables, and meat such as mimigaa (pigs ears). Sample Okinawa sweets and treats, like sata andaagi, which is a bit like a dense, ball-shaped doughnut, or kokuto brown sugar cubes. You’ll also find tiny shops selling handmade sanshin, a local snakeskin guitar, as well as habu-shu (snake wine).
Tsuboya Pottery District
After exploring Makishi Market, continue a few minutes towards the quaint cobblestoned Yachimun Street of Tsuboya. Traditional wooden houses line the narrow streets of Naha’s historic pottery area, famous for beautiful pottery styles. You’ll find lots of gorgeous items for sale, but some of them won’t be cheap! If you’re on a tight budget, look for something small, like little shisa statues, which are easy to put in your suitcase.
Dinner and drinks
There’s food everywhere on Kokusai Dori, from sushi to steak and everything in between. If you want to experience something local, Chinuman is a long-time favorite, as is its neighbor Hateruma, both of which offer quintessential Ryukyu-style cuisine and live entertainment.
Still want to party? Then head over to the Sakurazaka area, with loads of little bars and pubs that stay open late.
Day 2: Shuri Castle, Chinese gardens, and the beach
After breakfast, head for the hills by taking the monorail up to Shuri Station. It’s an easy walk from Shuri Station to Shuri Castle, one of Okinawa’s most iconic World Heritage Sites. Though part of the castle burned down in 2019, much of it is still open and definitely worth checking out. If it’s a hot day, enjoy some sweet treats at the on-site cafe, like Okinawa zenzai, a dish of shaved ice with red beans and mochi.
Okinawa Prefectural Museum
If you only have time for one museum, this is it. Located in the bustling Omoromachi area, it’s an 8-minute ride from Shuri Station. With permanent exhibitions that showcase how the Ryukyu islands grew into a vibrant kingdom, this museum will give you a deeper understanding of Okinawa’s rich history and culture.
Lunch at Omorodunchi
It’s time to enjoy a traditional Okinawa meal for lunch, at nearby Omoro Dunchi. You’ll love the traditional Okinawa-style wooden-house setting, with tatami rooms inside and a dining area in the garden. The food here is authentic, with appetizers like jimami tofu, umibudo sea grapes, shima rakkyo pickled shallots, and goya bitter gourd, plus fresh seafood and other island favorites.
After filling up, head back to Omoromachi Station, and take a ride to Okinawa Prefectural Station. From here, take a stroll to the Fukushuen Gardens, a gorgeous landmark of the area. These classical Chinese gardens boast beautiful landscaped bamboo paths, ponds full of fish and turtles, stone bridges and pagodas, and a big waterfall with a secret passage that goes behind the water.
Naminoue Shrine and Beach
After Fukushuen, continue a few minutes to Naha’s most famous shrine, Naminoue. Perched on a limestone clifftop overlooking the sea, Naminoue is small but scenic, with a path that leads through the gardens and down to Naminoue Beach. It is a shame that a huge overpass was built directly in front of Naha’s only real beach, but the swimming here is still great, despite the unfortunate eyesore.
Dinner at Ibushi Ginjiro
If it’s getting close to dinner time, hop back on the monorail to Akamine Station. It’s just two minutes on foot to Ibushi Ginjiro, a lively izakaya that always plays funky sanshin music and has excellent drink specials. With a wide and varied menu, you can sit at the counter and watch the chefs preparing food, or settle down in a tatami area and get comfy. Ibushi Ginjiro is very popular on Fridays and weekends, so reservations are a must.