Okinawa is a beautiful island paradise with rich subtropical nature and mesmerizing coral reefs. Home to many unique species, it has been designated as national parks in its northern Yanbaru region and Kerama Islands – not to mention the blissful 23°C average annual temperature! In other words: Okinawa is undoubtedly one of Japan’s top vacation spots! When travelling there for the first time, be sure you don’t miss out on these 10 must-visit destinations.
Shuri Castle 首里城
Shuri Castle is a majestic symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s enduring legacy. Located in Naha, Okinawa and built over 600 years ago, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was once home to kings and served as an administrative center for centuries – its walls retaining countless stories from days long past. A testament to resilience and strength, Shuri Castle provides insight into what it must have been like living among royalty during Okinawan antiquity.
On October 31, 2019, Shuri Castle caught fire and was extensively damaged. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is believed to have been caused by a technical malfunction. The main hall, Seiden, and other buildings were completely destroyed, leaving only the stone walls standing. The Japanese government and local authorities have since been working to rebuild the castle, with the aim of restoring it to its former glory.
The palace was reopened for public in November 2020, but some parts of the castle are still under reconstruction.
Incidentally, this is Shuri Castle before its disappearance.
Access: Take the Yui Rail bound for Shuri from Naha Airport Station and get off at Shuri Station. It takes about 30 minutes and costs 330 yen. 15 minutes walk from Shuri Station to Shuri Castle.
Churaumi Aquarium 美ら海水族館
The Churaumi Aquarium is a must-see destination when visiting Okinawa, Japan! As the second largest aquarium in the world and one of the most popular attractions in Japan, it offers visitors an unforgettable experience. You can marvel at its massive tanks, which are home to over 200 species of fish and other marine life, including whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. You can also explore the Kuroshio Sea area, where they can view the beautiful coral reefs and vibrant schools of colorful fish in the largest tank at Churaumi Aquarium.
Other highlights include touching pools, interactive exhibits, educational programs, and more. From enjoying a close-up look at amazing marine life, to learning about the ecology of the Okinawan seas, a visit to Churaumi Aquarium will be one you won’t soon forget! The aquarium also provides educational programs and various workshops for children and adults alike.
Access: Okinawa Airport Shuttle, Yanbaru Express and Bus No. 117 connect Naha Airport and Naha City directly to Churaumi Aquarium. The one-way trip takes over two hours and costs 1,900-2,000 yen on the Okinawa Airport Shuttle and the Yanbaru Express, and 2,440-2,550 yen on the 117 bus.
Nakijin Castle Ruins 今帰仁城跡
The majestic Nakijin Castle is a unique reminder of the Ryukyu Kingdom, dating back to the 14th century. Built on top of an imposing limestone hill, this gusuku (castle) still stands tall today, offering visitors a glimpse into Okinawa’s proud history and culture. Though it has been partially destroyed by time, the castle went through various restorations, including most recently in the mid-1800s by King Shō Tai. Inside the castle are a number of gates and towers, as well as an old pond and well that still remain from ancient times.
A unique feature of Nakijin Castle is its picturesque views of the surrounding area, taking in both the East China Sea and the Okinawan countryside. The castle is packed with fascinating historical artifacts, including monuments and stone carvings that tell the story of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
On any visit to Nakijin Castle, be sure to take in its beautiful scenery and explore its history and culture. A trip to this unique castle is a wonderful way to experience the islands of Okinawa!
Access: Take the Yanbaru Express from Naha Airport or Nago Bus Station and get off at Nakijinjoji Iriguchi. About 2 hours from the airport, about 1 hour from Nago. The entrance is a 20-minute walk from the bus stop.
Cape Manzamo 万座毛
Cape Manzamo offers a truly unique experience. Perched high above the East China Sea, the viewpoint provides an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the rugged coastline and beyond. On clear days, visitors can even see out to Japan’s islands in the distance! The views from Cape Manzamo are simply breathtaking – a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll, a romantic sunset picnic, or just to sit and admire the endless beauty of nature. With its dramatic cliffside location, Cape Manzamo is truly one of a kind – a must-see for anyone visiting Okinawa!
So no matter the occasion, make sure to put a visit to Cape Manzamo on your Okinawa itinerary – it’s an unforgettable experience you won’t want to miss!
Access: Bus: Take bus 120 or 20 from Naha Bus Terminal and get off at Onnason Yakuba-mae. From there it is a 1km (12 minutes) walk to Manzamo. The bus takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes and costs 1,390 yen one way (as of 2021). From Nago Bus Terminal, take bus No. 120 south and get off at Onnason Yakuba-mae.
Ryukyu Mura 琉球村
Ryukyu Mura is a unique museum offering visitors the chance to explore the fascinating history and culture of Okinawa, Japan. Built around an ancient palace and castle grounds, the open-air museum displays traditional Ryukyuan architecture from centuries past. It also includes replicas of everyday life such as merchant shops, fisherman huts, a teahouse, and more. Visitors can also explore replicas of traditional Ryukyuan architecture like the Shuri Castle and Shikina-en garden.
As you wander around the museum, you can enjoy various activities such as okinawan kabuki performance, okinawan dance shows, okinawan crafts demonstrations, okinawan pottery, okinawan music performances, and okinawan sumo wrestling. You can also explore the museum’s mini-zoo, featuring animals from all over the world. With its fascinating cultural displays, traditional Ryukyuan architecture, and fun activities for all ages, Ryukyu Mura is an interesting destination for anyone looking to learn more about Okinawa’s unique culture and history.
Access: From Naha, take bus No. 120 and get off at Ryukyumura-mae bus stop (Ryukyumura-mae, 80 minutes from Naha Bus Terminal, 1,090 yen, 90 minutes from Naha Airport, 1,180 yen, 2 buses/hour)
The Okinawa World おきなわワールド
Okinawa World is an amazing theme park and cultural village that provides visitors with a unique glimpse into the traditional crafts and customs of Okinawa. Here, guests can view centuries-old castle ruins, witness traditional martial arts performances, and make their way through the various shops selling craft items from all over the Ryukyu Islands.
A special highlight of this destination is the Gyokusendo Cave, one of the world’s largest limestone caves and home to rare sea creatures such as Japanese cave crabs. With its beauty and rich culture, Okinawa World is sure to captivate anyone looking for an interesting experience! So come explore this oasis in southern Japan and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Access: Take bus No. 83 from Naha Bus Center and get off at Gyokusendo-mae bus stop in front of Okinawa World (45 minutes, 590 yen, once every 1-2 hours). About 40 minutes by car from the center of Naha city.
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park 沖縄平和祈念公園
The Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, located in Itoman City on the main island of Okinawa, opened on June 23rd, 1995. The park serves as a symbol of everlasting peace and hope for Japan and all humanity. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives during World War II the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, and honors all victims of war throughout history.
The Park consists of a Peace Memorial Museum, the Cornerstone of Peace (which contains the names of some 240,000 people who died during the Battle, including both Japanese and non-Japanese casualties), a peace memorial hall, and several monuments and sculptures. The Park also has gardens and lawns for visitors to relax in.
Access: From Naha Bus Terminal, take No. 89 bus bound for Itoman Bus Terminal (Itoman Bus Terminal, 60 minutes, 590 yen, every 10-15 minutes), change to No. 82 bus and get off at Peace Memorial Hall Iriguchi (20 minutes), 480 yen , 1 bus/hour).
The Nakagusuku Castle Ruins 中城城
The Nakagusuku Castle Ruins in Okinawa are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an impressive example of Ryukyuan gusuku architecture. Dating back to the 14th century, this fortress was once home to the powerful Aji rulers of Okinawa. It’s been said that Nakagusuku was considered one of the three most beautiful castles in all of Japan, with its sprawling terraces and stone walls standing tall over the landscape below.
Although much of it has been destroyed over time, you can still see remnants of what used to be a grand symbol of power in Okinawa. Here you can explore the ruins, learn about their history and appreciate how they were built using traditional Okinawan techniques – something not many places around the world have to offer. From its grand entrance gate to its watchtowers, Nakagusuku is a truly fascinating site and an ode to the rich history of Okinawa. Exploring these ruins is sure to be an interesting and memorable experience!
Access: Take bus number 30 from Naha Bus Station and get off at Nakagusuku Shōgakkō-mae (Nakagusuku Elementary School Mae, 60 minutes, 760 yen, 2 buses per hour), then walk uphill to the castle for 30 minutes.
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum 沖縄県立博物館・美術館
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum has been a source of knowledge and appreciation for the culture of Okinawa for years. It’s an amazing place to explore the history and culture of this tropical paradise. The museum houses both artifacts from traditional life as well as artwork that showcases the vibrant artistic spirit of the island. You can find tools used in farming, fishing, and everyday life; clothing from every era; pottery crafted with skillful hands since ancient times; and even ancient weapons used by warriors throughout Okinawa’s long history.
The art collection includes works from local Okinawan artists, whose unique style is deeply rooted in their homeland. There’s also a gallery dedicated to modern Okinawan artisans which showcases contemporary interpretations of traditional techniques. Visiting Every visit to the museum is an opportunity to explore Okinawa’s rich history and vibrant culture.
Access: The Okinawa Prefectural Museum is located in downtown Naha City, a 10-minute walk northwest from Omoromachi Station on the Okinawa Monorail. Alternatively, multiple bus routes are available from Naha Bus Center, including his number 10 bus along Kokusai Dori. Get off at Kenritsu Hakubutsukan-mae Station (Kenritsu Hakubutsukan-mae, 240 yen, 1 hour).
The American Village アメリカンビレッジ
The American Village is a great place to explore. Whether you are looking for shopping, food, entertainment, or just a stroll through the streets of Okinawa, it has something for everyone. The mix of American and Okinawan influences creates an atmosphere that is unique and exciting. It’s the perfect place to spend the day with family and friends – no matter what your interests may be! From boutique stores selling rare items from abroad to Japanese-style eateries offering some of Okinawa’s best cuisine, there’s something here for everyone.
After a busy day of exploration, relax in one of the many outdoor cafes or catch some live music at one of its local bars. Come discover why so many locals and visitors alike consider The American Village an essential piece of the Okinawa experience. There’s something truly special here that can’t be found anywhere else! Come explore and see for yourself why The American Village is such a popular destination in Okinawa.
Access: Take bus No. 28 or 29 from Naha Bus Terminal No. 3 and get off at Mihama American Village Iriguchi. It takes about 40 minutes.
Okinawa is a beautiful island paradise that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. With its rich subtropical nature and mesmerizing coral reefs, there’s no wonder it’s one of Japan’s top vacation spots. Be sure to add these 10 must-visit destinations to your itinerary when travelling there for the first time so you don’t miss out on anything!