Make the most of this fascinating city with our two day in Hiroshima itinerary. A visit really is one of the highlights of Japan.
How to Spend Two Days in Hiroshima
Hiroshima knows the dark side of fame. It was the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb in an event which killed tens of thousands in a single stroke. The attack is still remembered as one of the biggest tragedies of all time.
However, more than 75 years later, the city of Hiroshima is once again a place full of life. A place which enjoys the cherry blossom, which serves the tasty okonomiyaki, and which promotes, of all things, the concept of world peace.
If this is your first time in Hiroshima, prepare to feel overwhelmed. You will be visiting monuments the Japanese built to pay their respects and to reflect on their lives and deaths. But there is more to this great city than just the story of that day.
This 2-day Hiroshima itinerary will take you through the most important attractions in the city. Then, only 40 minutes away, the Island of Miyajima awaits.
What is Hiroshima like today?
As the sleek shinkansen train slid into Hiroshima station, I admit I felt nervous. The weight of the name infused my muscles, each of my movements becoming that bit slower, that bit heavier, that bit more apprehensive.
In my mind, grey images of flattened buildings and emaciated children reappeared, alongside textbook photos of billowing mushroom clouds. Years have passed since the Enola Gay dropped its bombshell in 1945: 80 000 dead in a single day, 120 000 to follow through injury and disease. Yet for all the studies and reports, I was still unprepared for what I saw.
A sunny, lively, normal city.
Trams bustled along the streets and giggling schoolchildren in navy uniforms followed me around, falling quiet before summoning the courage to practice their English.
Chatting with children
“Excuse me, mister. Where you from? Your first Japan visit?”
Shop fronts were clean, commuters strode along the pavements and Hello Kitty charms swayed from mobile phones. Decades have passed after all, and to the locals “Hiroshima” means “home”, rather than “history lesson.”
Not that the city has forgotten. The twisted remains of the Industrial Promotion Hall, now renamed the A-bomb Dome, form a cobweb on the city’s landscape. Staring at the ruined building, its curved metal girders silhouetted against the sky, I’m shocked to catch myself thinking that it doesn’t look that bad. Perhaps today’s visceral scenes from Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down have desensitized me.
Then I see the photograph that shows that this was the only building left standing after the blast.
Hiroshima has changed
Hiroshima has transformed the rest of the decimated ground into a modern, thriving metropolis, sparing only a central area for the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Both are airy, clinical affairs that commemorate the dead and catalogue the damage, but among the ration books and military uniforms, I found a provocative section that discussed “the causes of war.” In particular, it invited Japan to question how its own actions may have contributed to that fateful 8:15 explosion. This unexpected question still lingers with me today.
Outside, plenty of answers and opinions decorate the Children’s Memorial, scribbled in rainbow-coloured crayons from classrooms across the globe. The statue symbolizes the story of Sadako, a child with radiation sickness who hoped that she could avoid death by folding 1000 paper cranes. She created 664.
Ways to remember
Today, paper cranes cascade in interlocking formations under the protection of Perspex casing. Unguarded crane garlands hang outside the memorial and plastic Hello Kitty cranes dangle from mobile phones. There’s more than one way to remember.
Both Hiroshima and Tokyo have Peace Flames that promise to burn until the world abolishes nuclear weapons. To my surprise, instead of a confrontation with horror and revenge, a visit to Hiroshima teaches hope. Not only through the explicit messages at the memorials but also, perhaps more so, through the city itself. The visible proof that life and the human spirit can recover.
As I headed back towards the train station, another cluster of schoolchildren circled around. With bright eyes and concentrated effort, their ringleader asked, “Excuse me, mister. Where you from? Do you like Hiroshima?”
Now that I’ve seen it, “Yes. Do you?”
A brief look of confusion, a glance back at the clipboard, then a smile. “Yes I like Hiroshima very much. I live here. Is my home.”
How to Travel to Hiroshima Japan
By train: If you are travelling from Osaka, take the JR Sanyo line, the shinkansen (bullet train) to the JR Hiroshima Station. From there, it is simple to get to the centre of the city. JR local trains also come to Hiroshima from Tokyo and Kyoto, so if you’ve already bought a Japan Rail Pass, you will be able to use it on these routes.
By air: There’s also a plane that takes you from Tokyo to Hiroshima Airport in 90 minutes if you find it more comfortable to travel this way, but this option isn’t necessarily faster. If you add in the extra waiting time before boarding the plane and the extra minutes waiting for your luggage at the end, you may, in fact, get to Hiroshima faster if you take the train.
By bus: This is the cheapest option but not the fastest one. Willer Express buses are the most popular and arrive daily in Hiroshima from Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka. Usually, JR passes apply for buses, but not for those going on the highway, so check for the JR logo on the bus before stepping in if you plan on using your pass.
How to Get Around in Hiroshima
The best thing about Hiroshima is that all the main attractions are a short walk from each other (10-15 minutes at most), so if you like to walk, you won’t need to use public transport.
Yet, it may seem too much to walk from the train station to the city centre when you are carrying luggage, so consider taking the tram for this part of the journey. Tram #2 or #6 will take you to the A-Bomb Dome in 12 minutes.
You can also take a taxi if you don’t want to wait for the tram.
Hiroshima Itinerary Day 1: In the Shadow of the Bomb
Welcome to the first day of your 2 day Hiroshima itinerary. Today, you will explore the most important monuments dedicated to the victims of the bomb and get to stroll around the peaceful park that was once the place of disaster.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
No Hiroshima itinerary is complete without a walk around Hiroshima Peace Park. Here, you will discover many of the monuments dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb.
Each of them talks about the general history of the event, but you will also learn more about the particular stories of the people who survived it. The best time to start your visit is early in the morning so you can see all the monuments before everything gets crowded.
You can explore the attractions on your own or hire a tour guide who can give you more details about each monument. Although, if you have enough patience and time to read all the materials exposed within the buildings, you will find quite a lot about what happened on August 6, 1945.
Atomic Bomb Dome
The Atomic Bomb dome is one of the buildings still standing after the attack and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its outstanding universal value. Before the attack, this was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It’s situated only 160 metres from the epicentre of the bomb blast, so it was pretty badly damaged.
However, the iron structure still stands today, and the building retained its dome shape. Many people were killed or injured on its premises and around it, so, obviously, please be respectful as you visit.
Children’s Peace Monument
As you walk along the park, you cannot miss the iconic monument depicting a girl holding an origami crane above her head. This is the Children’s Peace Monument, erected in memory of Sadako Sasaki. She was only two years old when Little Boy fell over Hiroshima.
Although the bomb didn’t kill her directly, the radiation did. She died of leukaemia around the age of 12.
While ill, Sadako Sasaki dreamed that she must make 1000 origami cranes. The Japanese tradition says that if someone manages to make this many origami cranes, they are granted one wish, and Sadako Sasaki’s was that there were no more nuclear weapons in the world. Unfortunately, she died before seeing her dream come true.
It is not clear if she managed to make all the 1000 cranes before passing away, although an inscription in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum states that she had them completed by August 1955 (2 months before her death) and continued to do more until closing her eyes forever.
The monument was built by native artists Kazuo Kikuchi and Kiyoshi Ikebe using money from a fundraising campaign organised by Japanese school children, including Sadako Sasaki’s classmates.
Today, thousands of origami cranes arrive from all around the world at the Children’s Peace Monument, as many people still hope that Sadako Sasaki’s wish will eventually come true.
Just a few steps from the Children’s Monument, you will see the Memorial Cenotaph, a construction created in 1952 in memory of the many victims of the atomic bomb. It proclaims Hiroshima as the City of Peace, and within the stone walls, you will find registries of the names of those who died from impact or radiation. New names are added every year.
The memorial has a roof designed to symbolically offer shelter to the souls of those who couldn’t protect themselves in 1945.
On the chest of the cenotaph, there’s an inscription that reads ‘Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.’ These words were written by Tadayoshi Saika, a professor at Hiroshima University.
Although profound, they caused controversy among the citizens of Hiroshima, as some of them believed that the word ‘we’ used in the code was holding the Japanese responsible for the attack.
In 1983, the city decided to place a signboard within the cenotaph, which explains that the word ‘we’ refers to the entire humanity.
The Flame of Peace
The first thing you’ll see if you look through the arc of the Memorial Cenotaph is the Flame of Peace, designed by Kenzo Tange, the same architect who designed the cenotaph. The monument has the shape of two hands united at their wrists, with the palms facing the sky.
Its goal is to console the souls of the many people who died begging for water after the explosion, but it also symbolises the hopes of humanity to abolish the existence of nuclear weapons. The peace flame was lit on August 1st, 1964, and will continue to burn until there is not a single nuclear bomb left on earth.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
To learn more about the series of events which led to the attack, as well as the effects the bomb had on Hiroshima and its citizens, it’s worth paying a visit to this museum.
As you step inside, it’s easy to feel overpowered by the many exhibits reconstructing the history of the fateful day. The walls are covered in pictures showing how the city looked after the explosion, but you will also discover a lot of artefacts that were left behind.
One of the most heartbreaking collections is the one containing the drawings of those who survived the bombing. You get to see the explosion through their eyes, the massacre that followed, and understand how this event impacted their lives.
The museum also offers interactive exhibits that teach how an atomic bomb functions and how radiation affects people. There’s plenty to learn here, so make sure you reserve enough time for this experience.
For a change of pace, this Hiroshima itinerary then takes you to Hiroshima Castle. The building dates back to 1589 when it was built by a nobleman in the area known by the name of Mori Terumoto.
In 1931, the Hiroshima castle was designated as a national treasure but, unfortunately, this place was also affected by the bomb, with a large part destroyed by the explosion. The castle was rebuilt in 1958 and is still open for visitors.
Inside, you’ll find artefacts relating to the castle that were left after the explosion. Best of all, you can try on traditional samurai armour for free, so this is a great place for children – and for photos.
A genuine oasis in the middle of the city, Shukkeien Garden was slowly reconstructed after its full destruction in 1945. It is built around a pond, representing at a smaller scale, the multiple valleys, mountains, rivers and lakes in Japan (the name translates to ‘shrunken-scenery garden’).
Around the pond, you will find tea houses where you can try traditional Japanese tea or cookies while enjoying the scenery. The garden also has a full schedule of tea ceremonies throughout the year.
The garden was built in 1620, just after the construction of Hiroshima castle, and it was subsequently closed to the public until 1940. The citizens of Hiroshima only got to enjoy it for 5 years before it was destroyed. So, as you stroll around, think about how lucky you are to see this sea of splendour welcoming you with its majestic trees, rare plants, and gorgeous shimmering waters.
Not related to the bombing, but showcasing some interesting artefacts and weapon replicas from World War II, the Kure Maritime Museum, also known as the Yamato Museum after the 1:10 replica of the Yamato battleship exposed in the lobby, is another great location to visit once you finish with the historic landmarks of Hiroshima.
Here you can see a Kaiten human torpedo, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero model 62, and a Kairyū-class submarine. But the most heartbreaking artefacts are the letters left by the kamikaze soldiers before their final mission. They are written in Japanese, but if you are visiting with a guide, they will let you know what they say.
Hiroshima Itinerary Day 2: Miyajima
On your second day in Hiroshima, you have two options:
- either go back to the park and look around to see what you’ve missed, maybe spend more time reading about the monuments or enjoying the Hiroshima local kitchen at the many restaurants in town;
- or take a day trip to Miyajima Island.
It doesn’t take more than 40 minutes to get there by ferry. The starting point is the pier near the Miyajimaguchi Station, and the trip itself is quite energising. Get ready for a new adventure that includes visiting a beautiful temple complex and then climbing a mountain.
Itsukushima Shrine & Its Floating Torii Gate
The biggest attraction on the island is the Itsukushima shrine, a century-old temple that gave the name to the island. Miyajima literally translates as ‘Shrine Island’ in Japanese. The fame of the shrine comes from its special foundation built to make it look like it is floating on the water. The shrine also has an iconic floating Torii gate that is known worldwide.
The shrine complex consists of many buildings that can be visited, including the main hall, no-theatre stage, and a prayer hall. These buildings are connected by boardwalks and sustained by pillars that keep them above the sea.
After sunset, both the shrine and the gate are illuminated, and watching them from the shore becomes one of the best things you can do here at night. However, you cannot enter the shrine after sunset.
The Torii gate looks as if it is floating on days with a high tide, whilst if you visit on a low tide day, you can walk closer to the gate’s pillars. Just make sure to check the tide schedule depending on the experience you are interested in.
Nature lovers will appreciate the views offered by mount Misen, the highest point on the island with a height of over 500 metres. There are two ways to reach the top: one is to take the ropeway, which is the easiest route up, or you can gather your strengths and hike.
At 430 metres, you have the Shishiiwa Observatory which, on clear days, will repay you with a phenomenal view over the small islands around.
On top of the mountain, you can visit a few Buddhist temples and halls that are connected to the Daisho-in temple at its base. The most interesting is the Reikado Hall (Hall of the Spiritual Flame), where Kobo Daishi, the parent of Buddhism on this mountain, lit a flame in 806. It has been burning ever since, and is the source of the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima.
What & Where to Eat in Hiroshima
From fast food to upscale restaurants, Hiroshima, let’s be frank, simply does food well. Some dishes are so famous that you can’t leave the city without trying them.
Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki
Stop by Micchan Sohonten Hatchobori to try a traditional Hiroshima okonomiyaki. What’s special about this version is that the cabbage and the rest of the ingredients are not mixed with the pancake batter, as in other mainstream versions, but placed over the bottom pancake. This fast food is so delicious you may not want to try anything else while in Japan.
Micchan Sohonten Hatchobori serves two options: an okonomiyaki with green onion and noodles and a special one with fresh squid and shrimp (all seafood is fresh in Hiroshima as it is harvested daily from the Seto Inland Sea).
If this restaurant is too busy – as it can be during the high season – go to Atomu and try to find a seat there, preferably by the cooking area, so you can enjoy the cooking show.
Momiji Manju means Japanese maple, and it is a type of dumpling shaped like a maple leaf. The traditional version is filled with sweet red bean paste, but today there are over 30 fillings you can try, ranging from chocolate to cheese, custard, fruit jam, and green tea.
Momijido in downtown Hiroshima is a great place to enjoy this treat, and it also serves okonomiyaki, so you can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Hiroshima is famous for its ultra-fresh seafood. Specialised restaurants serve oysters, either fried in tempura, steamed and mixed with other ingredients in a delicious miso hotpot (the famous kaki-no-dotenabe), grilled, or raw with ponzu sauce. Mabui is the perfect place to try this delicacy, and it has the advantage of being located right in the city centre.
But if you are looking for a more exclusive experience, try the private dining rooms at Kanawa Oyster Boat, a floating restaurant just a few minutes walk from the A Bomb Dome.
If you ask any local guide where you can eat the best tsukemen in town, they will probably mention Bakudan-ya Honten. Their tsukemen follows the Hiroshima recipe, so expect it to be spicy. This dish is similar to ramen, but the noodles are cold in this case and served in a separate bowl next to the soup.
The best way to experience Hiroshima’s local cuisine is to take a seat at a small and busy shop and order a portion of onomichi ramen. This broth is made with fresh soy sauce and flat noodles and usually contains pork or small fish. Onomichi Ramen Aji Oku Yokogawa Honten comes highly recommended for generous portions at a very good price.
Where to Stay in Hiroshima
Among the many things the Japanese are famous for, like discipline and respect, hospitality is extremely deep rooted in their culture. So, the chances of not being treated well at a hotel in Hiroshima are low, no matter what area you choose.
However, I recommend choosing a central location, as it will allow you to visit all the monuments within one day without using public transport. It’s also handy to stay centrally if you want to dine out, as the best restaurants in Hiroshima are in this area.
Here are some recommended places to stay:
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Hiroshima – a huge building with a slim design with views over the Peace Park and other attractions. The rooms are decorated with sea motifs, and everything is exceptionally clean and tidy. You can opt for breakfast to be included and expect to receive fresh fish and vegetables served Japanese-style in tiny individual bowls.
- ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima is also within walking distance of the city centre and is one of the best places in Hiroshima city to rest your head after strolling around. It offers spacious rooms and a welcoming restaurant with fantastic food.
- The Hiroshima Washington Hotel in the downtown area of Hiroshima is another option IT is famous for polite staff and impeccable (although a little too small) rooms.
Day Trips from Hiroshima
Miyajima is the best destination for a day trip from Hiroshima, but if you have more time, it’s worth checking out other three small cities belonging to Hiroshima Prefecture:
Located along the Seto Inland Sea in eastern Hiroshima Prefecture, this quaint city has over 25 temples and a trail that links them all called the ‘Temple Walk’. Depending on how much time you decide to spend at each temple, your tour can take from one hour to half a day.
One of the most beautiful places is the Kosanji Temple on Ikuchijima Island. It is made of a series of buildings that are replicas of other famous temples in Japan, like Nikko Toshogu’s Yomeimon Gate and Byodoin’s Phoenix Hall, so if you’ve been touring the country, you may experience a strange feeling of familiarity here.
As one of the feudal cities of Japan during the Edo period, Iwakuni has a mighty castle on top of a mountain and one of the most beautiful wooden bridges in the country. The Kintaikyo Bridge is made of six massive pillars which support five majestic arches across the Nishiki River.
The Fukuyama Castle is the main attraction of this city, located in the middle of a big park that blossoms beautifully in the spring. It houses a small museum that tells the history of the place and the Fukuyama Museum of Art, where you can see art from local painters.
Another landmark in Fukuyama is the Shinshoji Temple, a true oasis surrounded by forests and a pond, where you can spend a lovely afternoon far from the more crowded areas.