Top Things to Do in Hiroshima
Hiroshima, Japan was the scene of the deadliest single event in history. And yet, the city has managed to transform its tragic past into a message of hope and peace.
It’s a message that we all need to hear, and for that reason alone, Hiroshima should be included in any Japan travel itinerary.
While learning first-hand about what happened here will be an emotional experience, you may be surprised to find that you leave Hiroshima with a renewed faith in humanity and hope for the future.
Indeed, the entire city is devoted to the promotion of peace, making it a pretty inspiring place to visit. Many people who visit Hiroshima experience increased levels of compassion and empathy. This phenomenon has been dubbed “the Hiroshima effect”.
In this Hiroshima travel guide, you’ll find a complete itinerary for visiting all the main sights and tourist attractions in Hiroshima in one day. If you have more time, I’ve also included several suggestions for day trips from Hiroshima.
The most important things to see in Hiroshima are the museum and the various memorials related to the atomic bombing of the city.
We all know what happened in Hiroshima at the end of World War II. But it’s one thing to learn about it in school, and quite another to see the effects with your own eyes and hear first-hand accounts from the victims themselves.
As difficult as it is to listen to these painful stories, they need to be told so that we as a human race will never again repeat the grave mistakes made in Hiroshima.
What Happened in Hiroshima
At 8:15 am on 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb ever to be used against humankind exploded over Hiroshima.
Until that moment, it had been a bustling Japanese castle town. The Sarugaku-cho neighborhood where the bomb hit was a lively place, home to many artisans, actors and merchants. All those people and buildings were completely wiped out in an instant.
The bomb was intentionally detonated in mid-air, 600 meters above the ground, so that the blast would reach further and create more devastation.
Many of the victims were middle school students who had been “mobilized” to tear down demolished buildings, creating firebreaks in the event of an air raid. Those children who were working outside when the bomb went off became some of its first victims.
And in addition to the estimated 70,000 people who were killed instantly by the blast, thousands more would die slow, painful deaths from radiation poisoning in the weeks, months and years to come.
Their stories are told and their memories honored at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and at the various memorials spread throughout the Hiroshima Peace Park. These places of memory will be the main focus of this Hiroshima itinerary.
One-Day Hiroshima Itinerary
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
I recommend starting your visit to Hiroshima at this museum, as it provides the most comprehensive view of the events of 6 August 1945. Arrive when it opens at 8:30 am, as it can get crowded quickly.
The exhibits are very moving, and a visit here can be emotionally draining. If traveling with children, consider carefully whether they’ll be able to handle it, and monitor their reactions.
All signage is in English and includes big-picture explanations of the events as well as the stories of individual victims. For me, the most heartwrenching items on display were the clothes worn by the mobilized schoolchildren.
Allow yourself at least two hours to visit the museum. If you take the time to read all the information presented, you could spend a whole day here. Entry is a nominal 200 yen.
Atomic Bomb Dome
When the bomb flattened the Sarugaku-cho neighborhood, the only thing left standing was the skeleton of a domed building called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. That building is now known simply as the A-Bomb Dome.
Until that day, its distinctive green dome was a beloved Hiroshima landmark. Originally used for exhibitions, fairs and cultural events, the building was taken over by government agencies during the war.
Everyone who was inside was killed instantly when the bomb struck. But because the blast hit from almost directly above the building, some of its walls remained standing, as did the iron frame of the dome.
Today, the A-Bomb Dome stands as a monument to world peace, calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is carefully preserved to ensure that it looks just like it did immediately after the bombing.
Tour of Hiroshima with an A-Bomb Victim
This is something I didn’t get a chance to do while I was in Hiroshima but really wish I had.
Mito Kosei is an in-utero survivor of the A-Bomb. His mother was four months pregnant with him when the bombing occurred.
She suffered serious health problems, including cancer, but is now in good health at 101 years old and lives with her son.
Mito offers his services as a volunteer guide and is eager to share the history of Hiroshima with foreign visitors. Look for him near the A-Bomb Dome, where he stands with photos and signs that tell his story.
On my visit, I saw his signs, but not Mito himself. He was probably already busy giving a tour. After my trip, though, I looked up his blog about Hiroshima and the bombing, and then I really wished I’d had the opportunity to meet him.
Mito is obviously extremely knowledgeable about the bombing and passionate about creating a peaceful world with no nuclear weapons. He has spent many hours collecting information that you won’t find in the museum. If you see him, don’t hesitate to stop and chat with him!
Or if you find his signs but don’t see him around, take the time to look through his folders of carefully compiled photos and information. They’re written in English and in several other languages.
Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall
Whereas the Peace Memorial Museum can quickly become overcrowded with tourists, the Peace Memorial Hall is a haven of peace and quiet. Even though entry is free, it seems not many people visit, which is a real shame.
The main room inside the memorial is the Hall of Remembrance. It’s an underground, circular room with a small fountain in the shape of a clock set at 8:15.
As you may remember, this is the exact time when the blast occurred. Above ground, on the roof of the Memorial Hall, is a larger fountain clock that also shows the time 8:15.
The theme of water seen throughout the hall’s design symbolizes the extreme thirst felt by the victims who survived the initial blast. These people tried to drink the black drops that fell from the sky, not realizing that it was acid rain.
Etched onto the walls of the hall is a 360° panoramic view of the charred wasteland as seen from ground zero shortly after the attack. It’s a sobering sight.
In other rooms within the Memorial Hall, you can see photographs of the victims and also watch videos of survivors telling their own stories of that horrible day. Those stories still haunt me, and I expect they will be my most lasting memory of Hiroshima.
Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims
A cenotaph is an empty tomb built to honor one or more people whose remains are elsewhere. In this case, it’s a symbolic communal tomb for all of the victims of the bombing who have died thus far.
The most recognizable feature of the cenotaph is the arch that shelters a large chest underneath it. Inside that chest is the register of all deceased victims of the atomic bomb.
The register is filled with the names of approximately 300,000 victims, and more continue to be added. Inscribed on the front of the chest is the phrase: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”
If you stand directly in front of the arch, you’ll notice that it’s perfectly aligned to frame the A-Bomb Dome behind it.
Flame of Peace
Near the cenotaph is the Flame of Peace. You’ll find it sitting above the Pond of Peace, held up by two pedestals that are an abstract representation of two human hands.
This flame was first lit in 1964 and has been burning continuously ever since. It will keep burning until every last nuclear weapon on Earth has been destroyed.
Children’s Peace Monument
This monument was inspired by the story of one little girl named Sadako Sasaki. She was only two years old when the bomb exploded.
Despite being thrown out of a window by the force of the blast, she survived seemingly unharmed. But 10 years later, Sadako developed leukemia as a result of radiation poisoning.
According to a Japanese folk belief, anyone who folds 1,000 origami paper cranes will have their greatest wish granted. When Sadako heard about this legend, she made it her mission to fold 1,000 cranes, believing that she would get well if she did.
Even though she managed to fold more than 1,300, sadly this couldn’t save her. Her classmates, shocked by the loss, started fundraising to build a monument to Sadako and all the other child victims of the bombing.
Notice the statue of Sadako on the top of the monument, holding a paper crane above her head
School groups visiting Hiroshima bring millions of paper cranes here each year. You can see chains of them in brightly colored paper hanging in glass cases near the monument.
I saw a large school group here when I visited, and they all seemed very respectful and attentive. Seeing so many children learning about the tragedy and paying their respects gives me hope for a peaceful future.
Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-Bomb
This monument is to the estimated 45,000 Korean victims of the blast, often forgotten as a marginalized minority group in Japan. Korea was a Japanese colony at the time of the war, and thousands of Koreans had been conscripted to work in munitions plants in Hiroshima.
The monument is in the form of a stele with a turtle as its base, a common motif used in ancient Japan, Korea and China. On the side is an inscription that reads: “Souls of the dead ride to heaven on the backs of turtles.”
Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound
This spot, which is close to the hypocenter of the blast, is where thousands of dead bodies were brought and cremated shortly after the blast. Ten years later, the mound was built and victims’ ashes were buried here.
Inside the mound are the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims and 814 victims whose bodies were identified but never claimed.
The Hiroshima Memorial Service Association and various religious groups hold services here every year on 6 August in memory of the victims.
Donated by the Greek embassy to Japan, this bell is inscribed with a simple quote by Socrates: “Know thyself.” Additional inscriptions are written in Japanese and Sanskrit.
Visitors to the Peace Park are encouraged to ring the bell and make a wish for world peace. When you do, you’ll notice that the spot where the mallet hits the bell is in the shape of an atom.
Peace Clock Tower
The Hiroshima Rijo Lions Club presented this clock tower to the city in 1967. The clock itself is a sphere that represents the people of the world. This sphere is supported by three steel pillars, which represent the hands of the citizens of Hiroshima, united in a prayer for peace.
Every day at 8:15 am, the clock chimes, calling out to the world to plead for “No More Hiroshima”. Its chime was selected by the Environment Agency as one of “100 sounds the Japanese people wish to preserve”.
Lunch at Croissant Marché
In addition to the main memorials and monuments listed here, there are several others scattered throughout the Peace Memorial Park. How long you spend in the park will depend on how many of the memorials you want to visit.
Whenever you’re ready for lunch, head to Croissant Marché just across the river. This tiny health food store and café serves healthy but delicious macrobiotic lunch sets.
It’s so close to the park that you can easily pop over and then return to continue your tour of the park if you haven’t finished. Keep in mind that Croissant Marché is closed on Sundays.
Once you’ve finished exploring the Peace Memorial Park, make your way to Shukkei-en Gardens, about a 25 minute walk away. If you don’t want to walk, take the Hiroshima Dentetsu No. 9 tram from Genbaku Dome-Mae Station and get off at Katei Sanbansho-mae (7 stops).
Shukkei-en was designed in 1620 as a villa for the lord of Hiroshima Castle. Along with the castle, the gardens were completely destroyed by the bombing and have since been rebuilt.
Many survivors took refuge here but died before they could get medical care. They are now buried within the garden.
Inside Sukkei-en, you’ll see many of the classic features typically found in Japanese gardens. For example, there’s a man-made mound that’s the highest point in the garden and is meant to be a miniature copy of Mt. Fuji.
Then there’s Takueichi Pond, crossed by 14 bridges and dotted with a number of islands. Some of the islands are shaped like tortoises or cranes, both symbols of longevity.
The most famous of the bridges is the Koko-kyo, which divides the pond into two halves. One half represents heaven, the other represents Earth, and they are connected by the rainbow-shaped Koko-kyo bridge.
Entry to the gardens is 260 yen for adults, and they are open from 9 am to 6 pm in summer and 9 am to 5 pm in winter.
Just a short walk from Shukkei-en garden is Hiroshima Castle. It was built from 1589 to 1599 by Mori Terumoto, the first lord of the castle.
Like most buildings in Hiroshima, it was completely destroyed in the blast. What you see now is a reconstruction built in 1958 for the Hiroshima Restoration Exposition.
Entry is 370 yen, but you can get some great photos from the outside for free. Since we had just been to Himeji Castle, which is an original Japanese castle, we decided not to pay to go inside this reconstructed one.
One thing Hiroshima castle has that Himeji doesn't is an outside viewing platform at the top level. This would be a great vantage point from which to watch the sunset. If you do pay the entry fee, you’ll have access to the viewing platform and also the “cosplay experience”, where you can dress up in a samurai warrior costume or other period clothing.
And if you visit on a Saturday or a national holiday between 1 pm and 3 pm, you may see people dressed up as samurais marching around the castle grounds. On Sundays, dance performances are held in the outer enclosures at 1:30 pm and 3 pm.
For most of the year, opening hours are 9 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5:30 pm. In winter, the castle closes one hour earlier, at 5 pm.
Sightseeing Boat Tours
While the castle was destroyed in the bombing, the moat and surrounding stone walls survived.
Boat tours around the moat leave from near the castle entrance, departing every 10 minutes or so, but only until around 3 pm.
If you want to take the boat ride, make sure to arrive here before then. The trip costs 1400 per person and lasts for about 35 minutes.
Dinner at Kasane Gasane
I’ll be publishing a vegan foodie guide to Hiroshima shortly, so for now I’ll just briefly mention one dish that everyone has to try when they come to Hiroshima. Okonomoyaki!
You may already be familiar with okonomoyaki, as it’s also a local specialty in Osaka, Kyoto and other parts of the Kansai region. But folks here in Hiroshima give this savory Japanese pancake their own touch of flair by adding noodles to it.
You can choose either soba or udon noodles. The noodles are just a main part of the dish, that, to be honest, it doesn’t really look like much of a pancake. Compare the photo here with the one of okonomiyaki in my food guide to Kyoto.
HappyCow lists several restaurants in town that offer a vegan version of okonomoyaki. The one we tried was Kasane Gasane, and it was super fun. It’s inside a high-rise building that has an entire floor devoted to okonomoyaki restaurants. Sit at the bar and watch the chef at work right in front of you.
See this post for tips on finding vegan food in Japan.
Hiroshima Day Trips
Some people visit Hiroshima as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, but I don’t really recommend this. The journey takes about 2.5 hours each way, which means 5 whole hours of your day will be eaten up by transport.
However, if you must do a day trip to Hiroshima, the most efficient way is probably on this tour, which includes both Hiroshima and Miyajima island. Just be prepared for a packed 12-hour day.
If you have more time, a better option is to make Hiroshima city your base for a few days and take day trips from Hiroshima to other places of interest. Here are three worthwhile Hiroshima day trip suggestions.
The floating red torii gate of Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima Island is one of the most iconic images of Japan. Itsukushima shrine is the second of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Hiroshima area, the first one being the A-Bomb Dome.
This is the most popular day trip from Hiroshima, but there are a couple of things you should know before you set out.
Firstly, the torii gate is currently being renovated and is covered in scaffolding. No one is sure when the renovations will finish, but they are likely to continue well into 2020.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the gate is surrounded by water only at high tide. At other times, you can walk right up to it on solid ground.
Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to see its most famous landmark, we decided not to visit Miyajima on this trip.
I feel certain that I will return to Japan someday, so I don’t mind waiting to see it under better conditions. We also saw a similar floating torii gate at the Hakone shrine later on in our trip, so keep that in mind as an alternative.
If you do decide to go to Miyajima, there are two ways to get there from Hiroshima. You will definitely want to take option 1 if you have a JR rail pass. Not only is this way quicker, but it’s also free with the pass. Just be sure that the ferry you board is a JR ferry.
Option 1: From Hiroshima Station, take the JR Sanyo line train for 27 minutes to Miyajima-guchi Station. From there, walk five minutes to Miyajima-guchi Pier and take the JR Ferry for 10 minutes to reach Miyajima Pier.
Total cost: 600 yen one way (free with JR pass). Total journey time: 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Option 2: From the Matoba-cho tram stop, take tram No. 2 for 67 minutes to the Miyajima-guchi stop. From there, walk three minutes to the Miyajima-guchi Pier and take either the JR Ferry or the Matsudai Ferry for 10 minutes to reach Miyajima Pier.
Total cost: 450 yen one way. Total journey time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes.
You can save money by getting the Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass in advance. It covers transport on all buses, trams and ferries and also includes discounts on attractions.
Shimanami Kaido Expressway
Nearly 60 kilometers long, this expressway includes 55 different bridges and connects 6 islands in the Seto Inland Sea. It has a separate lane that can be used by bicycles as well as pedestrians. This is one of the most popular long-distance cycling routes in Japan.
The expressway runs between Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture and Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. It’s a toll road for vehicles, but tolls are currently being waived for cyclists in an effort to encourage more cycle tourism to the area.
For nature lovers, the stunning Sandankyo Gorge makes a great day trip from Hiroshima. Fall is considered to be the best time to visit, thanks to fantastic fall foliage.
Trains to the gorge have been discontinued, making it difficult to access independently. You’re best off joining a tour, like this Sandankyo Valley boat ride and walking tour.
Take a boat down the Shiwagi river and through the beautiful Sandankyo gorge. Then, stroll through scenic forests, passing by five waterfalls, deep lagoons, glistening streams and huge boulders along the way.
Where to Stay in Hiroshima
K’s House Hiroshima Backpackers Hostel
A good choice for budget travelers, this hostel offer dorms as well as private rooms. You can choose either a room with a Western-style bed or a Japanese-style room with a tatami mat and futon.
Nick and I stayed in the Japanese-style room. As you can see from the photo, it’s pretty minimalist, but that’s exactly what traditional Japanese-style bedrooms are like.
We stayed in lots of these tatami mat rooms in hostels in Japan, because they’re usually the cheapest accommodation option. Everyone says staying in a ryokan is a must-do experience in Japan, but I never really saw the point. A ryokan is just a tatami mat room, after all.
Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to stay in a ryokan, you can just go to K’s house and have essentially the same experience at a fraction of the price.
And don’t worry, you do get a futon mattress to sleep on. They’re typically rolled up and stored in a cupboard during the day, which is why you don’t see them in the photo.
Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima
For something a bit more luxurious, Rihga Royal Hotel is one of the most highly recommended hotels in Hiroshima. The rooms are quite large, which is unusual in Japan, and the corner rooms have fantastic views out over the city.
Located just a short walk away from the Peace Park, the Rihga Royal makes a very convenient base for exploring Hiroshima.
I hope you find this Hiroshima itinerary helpful for planning your trip. And if you've already been to Hiroshima, what's your favorite thing to do there? Share your experience in the comments below!