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Travel Guide to Sendai, Japan

By: Swena Kalra

Edited By: Scott Sidders

Updated on November 6, 2023

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Sendai, Japan, is a fantastic travel destination for those exploring the Tohoku region of Honshu Island. In Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai is the largest city, with a population of 1.09 million. It's known for its beautiful natural scenery, including Matsushima Bay, one of Japan's three most scenic spots. The city also boasts a rich history and culture, with many historical sites to explore, such as Aoba Castle and Zuihoden Mausoleum.

The city is compact, making it easy to get around and explore all that Sendai has to offer. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from, as well as museums and galleries showcasing local art and artifacts. There are parks like Jozenji-dori Avenue for outdoor activities, where you can take a stroll or bike along the tree-lined streets. You can also visit nearby hot springs or participate in traditional festivals like Tanabata or Sendai Pageant of Starlight.

Sendai is also home to some great universities, such as Tohoku University and Sendai University, which offer students from around the world a chance to experience Japanese culture firsthand.

Top 10 Attractions & Things To Do in Sendai, Japan

There is so much to see and do in Sendai, Japan. Here are the top 10 attractions and activities to check out while you're in town:

1. Visit Zuihoden

Located in the Aoba Ward of Sendai, Zuihoden is the mausoleum complex of Date Masamune and his heirs, daimyos of the Sendai Domain. Built in 1637 during the Edo period, this site is home to several monuments and buildings significant to Japanese history. The main attraction at Zuihoden is the mausoleum, which was built to honor Date Masamune, one of the most powerful feudal lords of the Edo Period (1603-1868).

The mausoleum features several intricate details, such as gold-plated doors and ornate carvings. Visitors can also explore nearby monuments like the Great Gate and Bell Tower. In addition to its historical significance, Zuihoden also offers stunning views of Sendai city from its hilltop location.


2. Check Out the Sendai Castle Ruins

Built in 1601 by the powerful feudal lord Date Masamune, this castle was once home to the Date clan and is now a popular tourist destination. The ruins occupy a prominent hilltop location west of Sendai City, and most of the castle buildings were destroyed during World War II.

Today, visitors can explore the grounds of Aoba Castle, which are now home to a Gokoku Shrine that honors Japan's war dead and is associated with Yasukuni Shrine. You can also see the walls of the ancient castle and even visit one of the watchtowers that have been reconstructed. Additionally, there is a statue of Date Masamune on-site, and other monuments commemorate his life and legacy.

3. Tour the Miyagi Museum of Art

Located in Aoba-ku, Sendai, this museum has been open since 1981. It features a variety of works from Japanese painters, oil paintings, prints, sculptures, and artistic handicrafts from the Tōhoku region. The museum also houses works by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee and sculptures by Churyo Sato.

The Miyagi Museum of Art offers visitors a chance to explore a range of art styles from different eras. From traditional Japanese woodblock prints to contemporary oil paintings, there's something for everyone at this museum. Visitors can also participate in educational programs such as lectures and workshops on art history or even guided museum tours.

4. Take in the Views at SS 30 Observation Deck

Take the breathtaking views at SS 30 Observation Deck in Sendai, Japan. Located on the 30th floor of a high-rise building, this observation deck offers an unparalleled view of the city. On a clear day, you can see Mount Yagiyama and beyond. The night view is especially stunning, with twinkling lights from the cityscape below.

The observation deck is free to enter and open 24 hours a day. It's also wheelchair accessible and has plenty of seating for visitors to relax and take in the sights. Several restaurants nearby offer delicious local cuisine, so you can make an entire evening out of your visit. For those looking for even more spectacular views, there are several other observation decks in Sendai, such as AER Lookout Terrace and Yagiyama Teppen Hiroba.

5. Explore Aobayama Park

Aobayama Park in Sendai, Japan, is a must-visit destination for any traveler. Located on the old Sendai castle site, this park is full of history and beauty. Visitors can explore the remnants of the past castle and enjoy the lush greenery and tranquil atmosphere of the park.

The park offers a variety of activities to suit every traveler's needs. From golfing at Aobayama Park Golf Practice Range to sightseeing spots like Sendaishi Aobayama Park, there's something for everyone. Visitors can also participate in events such as Vegetarian's Japan Guide or to learn more about the area's culture and history. Aobayama Park is open year-round, and admission is free.

6. Attend Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is one of the most popular festivals in Japan, held annually from August 6th to 8th in Sendai, Miyagi. It's a traditional event passed down through generations and is known for its elegant decorations of paper and bamboo. Every year, more than two million visitors marvel at the live performances, colorful streamers, and other festivities.

The festival also features a variety of food stalls selling traditional Japanese snacks like takoyaki and yakisoba. The highlight of the festival is the parade which takes place on August 7th. During this parade, people dressed in traditional costumes such as kimonos and samurai armor while carrying mikoshi (portable shrines). This procession makes its way through the streets of Sendai with music playing in the background.

7. Visit Rinnoji Temple and Osaki Hachimangu Shrine

The temple complex of Rinnoji dates back to the 16th century and features a formal Japanese garden, koi ponds, a Buddhist cemetery, a tea house, and some Date family tombs. The park is considered one of the best Japanese gardens in the Tohoku region.

Osaki Hachimangu Shrine was built on the orders of Lord Date Masamune in 1567 and enshrines the Date family's patron deity, Hachiman - the Shinto god of war. It is also considered a general guardian and protector of the city. The main shrine is gorgeous, and visitors should not miss out on this unique experience. Rinnoji Temple and Osaki Hachimangu Shrine are popular tourist attractions in Sendai that offer an insight into traditional Japanese culture.

8. Ride the Loople Sendai

Ride the Loople Sendai in Sendai, Japan, and explore the City of Trees like never before! This convenient city loop bus goes around the tourist spots in Sendai, making it perfect for quick tours. It takes about 70 minutes to complete an entire loop, and you can get on and off at any stops along the way.

With an unlimited rides pass, you can enjoy discounts on attractions and free admission to museums. The Loople Sendai is not only convenient but also incredibly adorable. Its bright yellow color stands out against the backdrop of Sendai's lush greenery, making it a great photo opportunity for travelers. The bus also offers audio commentary in English, so you can learn more about each stop as you go along.

9. Go Shopping at Ichibancho

This bustling shopping district has been around since 1954 and is one of the most popular in the Tohoku region. With over 100 shops and restaurants, there's something for everyone here. You can find everything from high-end fashion boutiques to cheap 100 yen chains. There are also plenty of souvenir shops where you can pick up some unique gifts for your friends and family back home.

The area includes Sun Mall Ichibancho, VLANDOME Shopping Center, and many other stores that offer a variety of goods. The streets are lined with arcades, making exploring all the different stores easy without getting lost. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat after a long day of shopping.

10. Admire the Akiu Great Falls

Located just a 30-minute drive from the city center, this 55-meter-tall waterfall is an awe-inspiring sight. The falls are 6 meters wide and have been designated the National Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government.

Visitors can view the falls from two different vantage points - an elevated platform offering a panoramic view of the entire waterfall or from ground level via a path with stairs leading down to its basin. Both offer stunning views of this majestic natural wonder. Akiu Great Falls is also part of Futakuchi Gorge, home to many other waterfalls and hiking trails that wind through lush forests and meadows.

Top 5 Day Trip Ideas from Sendai, Japan

The city of Sendai in Japan is a popular tourist destination with many attractions and activities that you can enjoy. These day trips are perfect for those looking to explore the area without spending too much time away from the city:

1. Matsushima

A day trip from Matsushima to Sendai is a great way to explore the Tohoku region of Japan. Located just 40 minutes away by train, Matsushima is one of the "Three Most Scenic Spots of Japan" and offers visitors stunning views of its 260 small islands. From there, travelers can visit Zuiganji Temple, a National Treasure, or take a cruise through Matsushima Bay with the "Matsushima Pleasure Boat."

After exploring Matsushima, travelers can head to Sendai for some urban exploration. In Sendai, visitors can pick up maps and boat and train schedules at the tourist office in Sendai Station. There are also plenty of outdoor activities and hot springs to enjoy in Akiu Onsen, located just outside Sendai.

2. Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery

Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Distillery is a great way to experience the best of both worlds. Located in northern Japan's Miyagi Prefecture, the distillery is only 24 kilometers away from Sendai city center. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour that shows how Nikka whisky is produced and offers a chance to try some of the produce. On the one-hour tour of the facility, you can watch the manufacturing process and taste the whisky made there.

The tours are Japanese, but they are easy enough to understand with an English-speaking guide. Afterward, visitors can explore scenic routes that include this spot. The Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory Miyagikyo Distillery is open 9:00 am - 3:30 pm (tours are held every 30 minutes). This value-packed trip with a government-licensed and experienced multilingual tour guide is a fantastic and efficient way to explore Sendai.

3. Fukushima

Fukushima is a great way to explore the Tohoku region of Japan. The fastest way to get there is by train, which takes about 22 minutes. You can also take a bus or drive, with the journey taking around 26 minutes and 1 hour respectively.

Once you arrive in Fukushima, there are plenty of things to do. Visit Ouchijuku, an old post town preserved since the Edo period, or explore Hitachi Seaside Park for stunning views of the cityscape and mountains. There are also many shopping outlets and strawberry-picking opportunities in the area.

4. Zao Fox Village

Located in Miyagi Prefecture, the village is home to more than 100 foxes that roam freely in a garden surrounded by mountains. It's easy to get there, with direct trains running from Sendai Station and shuttle buses available from the station's East Entrance.

Once you arrive, you'll be able to witness these furry foxes up close and enjoy a flexible schedule without any hassle. For those who want to explore further, trips are available that combine Zao Fox Village with Matsushima Coast. This allows travelers to experience both the natural beauty of Matsushima Coast and the unique charm of Zao Fox Village in one day.

5. Kesennuma & Rias Coast

Located just two hours away by train, this stunning Sanriku Coast region offers breathtaking ocean and mountain views. The Karakuwa Peninsula Visitor Center provides a great introduction to the area and its history. You can also explore the 10 km Miyagi Olle hiking trail that winds through villages, forests, and the craggy coast.

For those interested in culture, there are plenty of attractions to explore. The Kesen Numa Rias Shark Museum is a must-see for its unique displays of local marine life. The Rias Ark Museum of Art is also worth visiting for its collection of artworks from around the world. The area is also known for its seafood, so try local specialties like sashimi and grilled fish while you're here.

Top 3 Hotels To Stay in Sendai, Japan

The Sendai area is well known for its great hotels and accommodation options. Here are the top three that we recommend:

1. The Westin Sendai

The Westin Sendai is a luxurious 4-star hotel located in the heart of Sendai, Japan. Situated on the 28th to 36th floors of the city's tallest building, this hotel offers breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings. Guests can enjoy amenity-filled upper-floor rooms with complimentary Wi-Fi access and delicious dining options.

The Westin Sendai is conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from JR Sendai Station, making it easy for travelers to explore all that Sendai offers. The hotel also provides easy access to nearby attractions such as Universitas Tohoku and Sendai Kokusai. Additionally, guests can relax and unwind with massage services or manicures/pedicures at the hotel's spa.

2. Sendai Royal Park Hotel

Sendai Royal Park Hotel is an excellent mid-budget choice for travelers visiting Sendai, Japan. This elegant resort hotel offers European décor and free WiFi in a lush garden. Guests can enjoy 3 restaurants, a family-friendly environment, and helpful amenities like massages or Ayurvedic treatments. The castle-like exterior and rich green garden offer a relaxing time and space.

The perfect fusion of majestic western setting and outstanding Japanese hospitality make this hotel an ideal destination for travelers seeking a hassle-free experience. With its convenient location near the golf course, Sendai Royal Park Hotel is the perfect place to stay while exploring all that Sendai offers.

3. Dormy Inn EXPRESS Sendai Seaside

Dormy Inn EXPRESS Sendai Seaside is a great budget option for travelers exploring the city of Sendai, Japan. Located in the heart of the town, it's just a short walk from Sendai Station and offers easy access to all the attractions. The hotel features free-use hot springs, baths, sauna, and spa facilities. Guests can also enjoy free dinner on weekdays. The 3-star hotel offers free WiFi and a restaurant on-site throughout the property. With rates starting at just $47 per night, Dormy Inn EXPRESS Sendai Seaside is an ideal choice for travelers looking for a comfortable stay without breaking the bank.

Top 5 Places To Eat in Sendai, Japan

Sendai has a wide range of restaurants and eateries to choose from. Here are the top five places for food lovers:

1. Steak Kojiro Sendaihonten

Located in the heart of Sendai, this teppanyaki restaurant is known for its high-quality Japanese beef courses. From small to large portions, there's something for everyone. The restaurant also features an array of seafood and other dishes sure to tantalize your taste buds.

The atmosphere at Steak Kojiro Sendaihonten is warm and inviting, with a friendly staff who will make sure you have an enjoyable experience. The prices are reasonable, and the food is always fresh and flavorful. Whether you're looking for a romantic dinner or want to try some of the best steaks in town, this is the place to go.

2. Cho-chomusubi

Sendai is home to some of the best izakaya restaurants in the country. Cho-chomusubi is one such restaurant that stands out from the rest. With top-quality dishes made from local ingredients and creative execution, it's no wonder why many visitors have praised this place. The restaurant also offers a unique dining experience with its traditional Japanese atmosphere and friendly staff.

It's a great spot to enjoy a delicious meal while taking in the sights and sounds of Sendai. If you're looking for something different to do during your visit to Sendai, check out Musubi-maru lunch boxes - a particular type of lunch box featuring Miyagi Prefecture's mascot character! This fun souvenir will make your trip even more memorable.

3. Francesca

Located in the heart of Sendai, this restaurant offers an array of delicious Italian dishes that are sure to please any palate. The menu features classic Italian favorites such as pasta, pizza, and risotto, as well as more exotic offerings like squid ink risotto and truffle oil-infused gnocchi. The atmosphere is cozy and inviting, with a warm ambiance that makes it perfect for a romantic dinner or a casual lunch with friends.

The restaurant also has an impressive wine list featuring some of the best wines from Italy and worldwide. For those looking for something special, Francesca also offers private dining experiences where guests can enjoy a multi-course meal paired with fine wines. Diners have highly praised Francesca for its excellent food and service.

4. Millis - Shisha Bar & Café

Millis - Shisha Bar & Café in Sendai, Japan, is an excellent place for travelers looking for a unique dining experience. Located in the heart of Sendai, this Israeli restaurant offers a variety of Mediterranean-style dishes and vegan-friendly options like falafel pita. The atmosphere is modern and cozy, with plenty of seating and an inviting bar area. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about the food and drinks they serve. The menu features a wide selection of dishes from Israel, including hummus, shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce), and kabobs. There is also an extensive selection of cocktails and hookah flavors. For those looking for something special, Millis - Shisha Bar & Café also offers private dining rooms where you can enjoy your meal peacefully.

5. Rocco Pizza

Rocco Pizza is the place to go if you're looking for a unique pizza experience in Sendai, Japan. Located in the historic Iroha Yokocho, this pizzeria offers a wide variety of delicious Italian-style pizzas. From their signature anchovy Ishinomaki pizza to their classic tomato sauce and cheese pies, there's something for everyone at Rocco Pizza. The pizzas here are small but tasty, so you can enjoy a full meal without feeling overly full.

Plus, they offer delivery services so you can enjoy their delicious food from your home or hotel room. The atmosphere at Rocco Pizza is also something special. It's hidden away in an alleyway filled with Japanese Izakaya bars and restaurants, giving it an intimate and cozy feel that's perfect for enjoying a meal with friends or family. With its friendly staff and excellent food selection, it's no wonder why Pizzeria Rocco has earned such high ratings on TripAdvisor and other review sites.

Final Thoughts

Sendai is a fantastic destination for travelers who want to experience all Japan offers. From the beautiful scenery of Mount Zao and Matsushima Bay to the bustling city center with incredible shopping and nightlife, there's something here for everyone. Sendai makes a great choice whether you're looking for an adventure or just some time away from home. With so many unique places to visit in such proximity, it's easy to see why this vibrant city is one of the top tourist destinations in Japan. We wish you all the best on your travels, have fun, and take care!

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