Sendai is the largest city in Japan’s northern Tohoku region and the capital of Miyagi Prefecture. While the area was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Sendai remains a vibrant, bustling hub of culture, history, and modern sights.
Home to around a million people, Sendai owes much of its history to the powerful samurai clan of Date, who founded the city back in 1600. Nicknamed the city of trees, these are a feature of Sendai which helps this otherwise urban jungle endear itself to visitors, with plenty of parks and nature on the doorstep.
From famous cherry blossom spots and historic castle ruins to local markets and iconic burger joints, there are some amazing things to do in Sendai that make a visit to this northern Japanese city very much worth your time.
Best Things to do in Sendai, Japan
Hike up to Sendai Castle
Sendai Castle may not be all there – in fact, it’s a ruin – but it remains a top sight in the city. Known as Oaba Castle, it was built in 1600 by Date Masamune, a powerful lord who is immortalized by a statue up the top.
Rebellion, revolution, and WWII carpet-bombing took its toll on the castle. Today, the structure is no more than its nevertheless impressive outer stone walls. Located 100 meters above Sendai itself, on Mount Oaba, it is a beautiful look-out over the city below.
You may even get to meet Masamune himself wandering the grounds for a photo opportunity – not his ghost, but an actor.
- Location: Kawauchi
- Cost: Free (bus from Sendai Station is ¥260)
- Tips: Learn more at the nearby Aoba Castle Museum (admission ¥700)
Visit the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine
Osaki Hachimangu was established by the Date clan in 1607. This Shinto (native Japanese religion) shrine venerates the god of war, Hachiman.
The shrine, recently renovated, is striking for its architecture. Unique in the world of Shinto shrines – usually plain wood or painted red – it is covered in luxurious black lacquer with gorgeous gold leaf detailing.
A shrine busy with locals and tourists alike, Osaki Hachimangu is a National Treasure that remains part of everyday life; visiting is easily one of the best things to do in Sendai.
- Location: Aoba-ku
- Cost: Free to enter the shrine grounds
- Tips: Buy an amulet for good fortune or to protect against failing exams!
Get great views of the Akiu Great Falls
Akiu Great Falls is not only one of “Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls,” but is, in fact, one of the “Three Great Waterfalls of Japan.” Located on the outskirts of the city, in Taihaku ward, traveling here – just 30 minutes from the bustling city center – reveals a wild world untouched by urban sprawl.
Enter through the gate of an old shrine, surrounded by old pine trees for extra atmosphere. There is a platform that allows you great views of the falls themselves, plummeting from 55 meters—an impressive sight to behold.
- Location: Taihaku-ku
- Cost: Free
- Tips: Head to Akiu between late October and early November for fall foliage
Step back in time at the Zuihōden Temple
Zuihōden Temple is a sprawling mausoleum complex dedicated to Date Masamune, with his heirs and various other descendants laid to rest nearby. Surrounded by towering, centuries-old cedar trees – supposedly symbolizing the long life of the Date clan – ticking the Zuihōden off your sightseeing list is one of the best things to do in Sendai.
The architecture is an ornate example of the Momoyama Period (1573-1603) style, with complex roof joints painted a rainbow of radiant red and striking turquoise. This is no dull mausoleum, that’s for sure.
- Location: Aoba-ku
- Cost: Admission is ¥550 (opening hours are 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
- Tips: The nearby museum boasts Date clan artifacts – including hair and bones!
Learn about local history at the Sendai City Museum
Sendai City Museum is the main museum in town. It’s here where you should make a beeline if you are interested in getting to know how the city grew from its humble origins into the largest city in Japan’s Tohoku region.
Inside the impressive concrete structure, you’ll find a collection of over 90,000 items. Everything from old samurai armor to paintings and ceramics is represented in this comprehensive museum—a must-visit for history buffs.
- Location: Aobayama Park
- Cost: Admission is ¥400 (opening hours 9 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.)
- Tips: Try on a replica of Date Masamune’s iconic helmet while you’re here!
Attend the Jōzenji Street Jazz Festival
If you are a music lover, you should plan your trip to Sendai around this hallowed music extravaganza. Beginning life in 1987, Jōzenji Street Jazz Festival is one of the biggest events in Sendai, drawing thousands of visitors and hundreds of performances to a mix of over 40 stages and venues.
Taking place over a weekend in September, it’s not just about the jazz: there’s also pop, rock, blues – you name it.
- Location: Jōzenji Street
- Cost: Free!
- Tips: Book your accommodation in advance – it’s popular
Be amazed by the towering Sendai Daikannon
If you’re looking for something cool to do in Sendai, how about checking out one of the world’s largest statues? Sendai’s Daikannon – or “Big Kannon” – is indeed large. To be specific, it is the tallest statue of Nyoirin Kannon (Buddhist deity of mercy) in the world. At the time of completion, in 1991, Daikannon was Earth’s tallest statue.
A 30-minute bus ride from Sendai itself, visiting is more of an adventure than just gazing at a statue. You can enter the statue – through the mouth of a dragon, of course – then ride up 12 stories via an elevator to reach amazing views at the top. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean.
- Location: Izumi-ku
- Cost: Admission is ¥500
- Tips: Take the stairs back down to see dozens more statues
Have lunch in a sandwich shop from the 1950s (Hosoya Sandwich)
A veritable institution, Hosoya Sandwich is one of the oldest purveyors of delicious things between two pieces of bread that Japan has to offer. If you’re craving something that’s not sushi or miso soup, this should definitely be the place you head to.
Pay a visit, grab a stool at the counter, and order yourself one of a handful of burger variations going on here, such as the “Sendai Burger” (featuring a plus-size patty). Eating here is easily one of the best things to do in Sendai – the food is good, but the interiors are also impressive.
- Location: Aoba-ku
- Cost: Between ¥1,000 – ¥1,500 (including fries and a drink)
- Tips: Look under the burger you order; there’s a logo on the bun!
Soak up some art at Miyagi Museum of Art
Art fan? Then you should head over to Miyagi Museum of Art. Opened in 1981 and set in a building that will make anyone sensitive to cool architecture ready their Instagram for snaps, it hosts an extensive collection of artworks that have a connection with Miyagi Prefecture.
With work by artists from Sendai, the wider prefecture, Japan, Asia, and further afield, there are oil paintings, prints, sculptures, and handcrafts from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). An interesting place to wander.
- Location: Aoba-ku
- Cost: Admission is ¥300
- Tips: Check online for workshops you can take part in
Sample some whiskey at the Miyagikyo Distillery
Miyagikyo Distillery is one of the main distilleries of Japanese whiskey company, Nikka. Not only is it a great place to go to learn about the sensation that is Japanese whiskey, visiting this cool distillery is also one of the more chilled things to do in Sendai.
With a serene natural setting, complete with plenty of trees and ponds, there are also the buildings to consider, which are imposing red-brick structures. There’s a tour you can take; it’s in Japanese only, but they do hand out English-language pamphlets and let you sample some whiskey!
- Location: Aoba-ku (40 minutes on the Senzan Line from Sendai Station to Sakunami Station)
- Cost: Free!
- Tips: Try the Date Masamune Whisky at the bar – it’s limited edition!
Sip tea at a 130-year-old teahouse
The venerable Gengo Chaya has been living out its life as a teahouse for well over a hundred years – and has the interiors to match. Visiting here is easily one of the best things to do if you want to fulfill your dreams of Japanese teahouse perfection.
Known for serving up Sendai specialty zunda-mochi (rice cakes topped with soybean jam), get here for sweet afternoon snacks served up with tea and soak up a moment of calm in the metropolis of Sendai city.
- Location: Nishi Park, Omachi, Aoba-ku
- Cost: Snacks from ¥350
- Tips: They also serve meals, so lunch is also an option
Take in a view of the city from up high
If getting great city views is something you love, then this is going to be one of your favorite things to do in Sendai. AER Observation Terrace is the place to go for just that. Formerly the tallest building in Sendai, at 140 meters tall, the AER Building boasts a well-kept secret of an observation deck on its 31st floor.
There are two terraces: from the west, you can see inland, with the sprawl of Sendai’s shopping streets backed by mountains. In the east, you can spot bullet trains sliding past with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
If all that wasn’t enough, you’ll be happy to know that after dark, the observation deck turns into a mini planetarium!
- Location: Right near Sendai Station
- Cost: Free!
- Tips: Go for sunset when you see the city gradually light up
Spend the morning at a Yuriage Harbor Morning Market
While much of Sendai’s sprawl and sights extend to the west of the station, there is still more to see on the doorstep of Miyagi’s largest city, with suburbs like Natori boasting a much more local side to the sprawl.
Though devastated after the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, Yuriage Harbor Morning Market reopened in 2013 and is still going strong after first opening 40 years ago. This is where to go to see locals bid on fresh seafood, taste some of the produce yourself, and generally soak up a slice of local life.
- Location: Natori
- Cost: Free to wander (pick up produce from as little as ¥1,000)
- Tips: It’s one of Japan’s top spots for aka-gai (arc shell clam), so try it out!
Slip into another world along Iroha Yokocho
Iroha Yokocho is a historic shopping arcade, home to around a hundred different izakaya (Japanese bars), local stores, and eateries. Dip in after dark to soak up the Showa Period (1926-1988) atmosphere.
The shopping arcade began life as a collective of stallholders who began to appear after the center of Sendai city was bombed during WWII. It is one of the best things to do in Sendai at night – a great place to lap up local life and tuck into all sorts of food (and drink).
- Location: Ichiban-cho, Aoba-ku
- Cost: Affordable (¥1,000 upwards for food and drink for one person)
- Tips: When you’re first seated, ask for a nama-biiru (draught beer) to surprise the locals!
Hang out in Tsutsujigaoka Park
Tsutsujigaoka Park is the site of 360 weeping cherry trees that were brought from Kyoto to Sendai by Date Masamune in the 17th century. No wonder it’s an iconic spot in the city for hanami (flower viewing) when the cherry blossom starts coming out.
You will see food stalls, people gathering together, and a lot of sake being drunk – especially by the after-work crowd. Outside of hanami season, this park is also a chilled spot for jogging, cycling, and just enjoying a breather from the tall buildings of Sendai.
- Location: Miyagino-ku
- Cost: Free
- Tips: Go for cherry blossom season (early to mid-April)
Where to Stay in Sendai
Quick Travel Tips for Japan
- Capital: Tokyo is the capital of Japan while Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
- Currency: The Japanese Yen(¥) is the currency of Japan. Most places in Japan do not accept credit card and it’s always advisable to have cash on you.
- Visa: Most visitors can enter Japan visa-free for 90 days – check with your embassy.
- What to Pack: It all depends on when you visit Japan. See our full Japan packing list here.
- When to Visit Japan: There really is no bad time to Japan, but we break it down month by month here.
- Other things to do in Japan? Oh Boy! Japan has it all! Here are the best things to do in Japan.
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Camera Gear We Use
- Fuji X-T3 – Main Travel Camera // (on B&H)
- Fuji X Series Lenses
- Sony RX100 V // (on B&H)
- Fuji X-T20 – Backup Camera // (on B&H)
- GoPro Hero 7 // (on B&H)
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone // (on B&H)
- Lowe Pro Whistler 450
- Peak Design Camera Sling
- Peak Design Travel Backpack
- Peak Design Clip
- Rode Video Mic – For Vlogging
- For Cinematic Shots: Zhiyun Crane V2
- Manfrotto Tripod
- For Storage: LaCie Rugged 4TB USB-C
- For Editing: Macbook 15″ Pro Retina
What to Pack for Japan
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Japan. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me when I’m traveling in the winter, fall, or even spring. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything outside.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
Goretex Rain Jacket
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof and really a great travel rain jacket. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx.
Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
I love real books, but for traveling it can be easier to carry a lighter and more compact item like a Kindle. Plus, then you can download new books on the go!
Please consider purchasing a travel water bottle before your trip! We hate to see one time use plastic bottles ending up in the ocean. The tap water is so good here – seriously please don’t be one of that tourists that buys plastic water bottles in Japan. It’s a waste of money and plastic!
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