Hiroshima was surprisingly delightful.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – I guess I hadn’t really considered Hiroshima as a tourist destination – but the city ended up being a cultural mecca with amazing Japanese food, walkable streets, and unique attractions. I found it to be much quieter and more intimate than Japan’s other popular cities, and I’m so glad that we decided to make it the first stop on our Japan itinerary.
Although the city is often associated with it’s tragic past, Hiroshima has made an impressive recovery and is a great destination for anyone who wants an authentic Japan experience. And the nearby island of Itsukushima (more commonly known as Miyajima) is the perfect place to snap some pics of iconic Japanese Shinto shrines.
If you’re planning a trip to this part of Japan, here’s how to spend 2 days in Hiroshima and Miyajima!
Where to stay:
We stayed at Candeo Hotels Hiroshima Hatchobori. The location was literally perfect. We could walk to the Peace Park in around 10-15 minutes, and catch trams from a stop 5 minutes away. This made it easy for us to access Hiroshima Station (for the Shinkansen) and get to the Miyajima ferry terminal.
The hotel room did not have a view, but it was fairly nice and decently priced for Japan. The top sell though was the Sky Spa – an onsen on the top floor with killer views of the city! I went up there twice to soak my muscles after full days of walking around. So relaxing.
Day one – Hiroshima
The day one itinerary is focused on seeing the main attractions in Hiroshima, including the Peace Park, memorials, and museum. I’ll also point out some spots to stop for lunch and dinner, and a few other fun things to do around the city!
H – Hotel
1 – Hiroshima Castle
2 – Atomic Bomb Dome
3 – Aioi Bridge
4 – Children’s Peace Monument
5 – Lunch spot
6 – Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
7 – Hondori shopping street
8 – Okonomimura
Start the day at Hiroshima Castle. This monument is a reconstructed version of the original 16th century castle which was unfortunately destroyed in the bombing of 1945. You can head inside to visit the museum, or just admire it from the outside as we did.
Next, walk south towards the Atomic Bomb Dome. I felt a sense of unease when looking upon this crumbling ruin, which had survived events beyond anything I could possibly comprehend. This building was almost directly under the bomb when it exploded over the city, and amazingly it was one of the few structures that remained standing. At one stage there was debate about demolishing it, but the city decided to leave it in place as a historic reminder.
Next to the dome is Aioi Bridge – this was the original intended target for the bomb when it was dropped on Hiroshima. The bridge was repaired after the bombing and was in use for another four decades, though the bridge you see today is a replica of the original. Walk across it to access the Peace Park.
After stepping off the bridge, you’ll come across the Children’s Peace Monument. We happened to arrive here right as a large group of school children were singing in front of it, and I was tearing up within seconds – it was such an emotional moment. There are some large glass cases at this memorial filled with strings of paper cranes which have been left by visitors. These are meant to commemorate the thousands of children that died in the atomic bomb attack and in the years after from radiation-related illnesses.
After an emotional morning, you’ll probably need a long break for lunch to collect yourself. I certainly did! We had a look inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum cafe for lunch, but found the menu to be uninspiring and lacking vegetarian options so we went for a walk to find another place to eat.
Just down the road, we found a local noodle restaurant with Udon noodle soup on the menu. Despite our limited knowledge of the Japanese language, we successfully managed to order it without meat. It was incredibly tasty! If noodle soup isn’t what you’re hungry for, there’s also a bagel shop around the corner.
After lunch, head to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This is a sobering but essential activity for any visitor to Hiroshima. You’ll probably need a few hours to go through the museum, which has explanations (in both Japanese and English) about the lead up and the aftermath of the atomic bombing in WWII, along with personal stories from survivors, affects from the radiation, how nuclear weapons were developed, and how we might work towards a future that is free of nuclear war.
If you’ve still got some energy after the museum, head across the river to Hondori shopping street. This is where locals shop for clothes and Japanese teenagers hang out after school. The mall also has a Sega arcade where Rob and I spent way too many hundreds of yen trying to become pros at the ‘Dance Stardom’ game!
You absolutely have to try Okonomiyaki while you’re in town! This local specialty dish is a kind of cabbage and soba noodle pancake topped with a special sauce and other toppings.
Eat them at Okonomimura, which has a variety of stalls that sell Okonomiyaki in a multi-level building. Levels 2, 3, and 4 are all filled with vendors where the chefs cook your food in front of you. Sipping on a draught beer as we watched our meal being made was one of my favourite experiences in Hiroshima!
Day two – Miyajima
There are a few different ways to get to Miyajima – I found this guide to be particularly helpful in explaining the options. We ended up going with the tram to Hiroden-Miyajimaguchi Station then the ferry across to Miyajima. It wasn’t the fastest route, but it was the most direct path from our hotel.
F – Ferry terminal
1 – Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate
2 – Itsukushima Shrine
3 – Daishoin Temple
4 – Miyajima Ropeway
5 – Itsukushima Shrine Town
Once you arrive on the island, start walking along the waterfront path. You’re bound to see plenty of Miyajima’s famous deer around this area! These friendly creatures may come right up to you in search of food, and beware – they are mischievous! I saw one stick its head deep inside a lady’s handbag, and another eat a paper ticket right out of a man’s hand. Please don’t feed the deer unless you have purchased special deer snacks.
Keep walking towards Miyajima’s star attraction – Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate. This gorgeous icon looks as though it floats on the water in high tide, and at low tide you can walk right up to it. The area closest to the gate is fairly busy with tourists, but if you hold off taking photos until you’ve walked around the bay to the other side, you should find it much less crowded.
Itsukushima Shrine is also really lovely. We paid the small entrance fee (I think it was 300 yen) and wandered through at a slow pace, trying to avoid the huge tour groups of Chinese tourists. The shrine is unique in that it sits on top of the water, kind of like a jetty. You also get some great views of the floating torii gate from inside.
Next, walk up the hill to Daishoin Temple. This Buddhist temple is something special – it sits within a gorgeous landscaped garden, with thousands of tiny buddha statues that for some reason are wearing equally tiny crocheted hats. The prayer plaques and metal cylinders covered in scripture are also lovely elements of this temple.
We struggled to find vegetarian options for lunch in Miyajima… the island is famous for seafood so it seems that everything had fish, eel, or oysters! We ended up consulting the Happy Cow app and found a Japanese restaurant in town that did a basic vegetable tempura.
For dessert, we picked up some soft serve ice cream (locally known as a ‘softcream’) and Momiji manjū (a cake snack shaped like a maple leaf). There are plenty of stores in the town selling these treats. The cake snacks have fillings that are traditionally made from red bean paste, but you can also buy ones with matcha, custard, chocolate, or other flavours.
Walk up to the Miyajima Ropeway Station. Tickets cost 1800 yen for a return trip up the mountain. Hopefully you’ll get a nice day to see the gorgeous views – I was worried that our view would be obscured by a thick haze that was present during the morning, but luckily it had cleared up somewhat by the afternoon.
The ropeway takes you up to the Shishi-iwa Observatory where you get a spectacular vista of the bay and surrounding islands. There are also some walking paths at the top if you want to spend more time on the mountain. We were satisfied with just taking a few photos and admiring the view from the observatory before heading back down.
Afterwards, you can spend more time in Itsukushima Shrine Town buying souvenirs and taking more photos of all the cute deer, or head back to the ferry terminal to hitch a ride back to the mainland.
Back in Hiroshima, spend your evening trying some soba noodles at a local Ramen restaurant. We visited this one which was just around the corner from our hotel and was full of local salarymen. I had a Yakisoba (fried noodle dish) topped with egg, along with a side of edamame beans and a cup of sake. Super delish.