This post was updated in August 2019.
Miyajima, also know by the name Itsukushima, is a beautiful island in Japan within easy travel distance from Hiroshima. There are lots of things to do on Miyajima, but the island is most famous for the impressive floating Torii Gate which is part of the Itsukushima Shrine.
Miyajima Island a great place to spend a couple of days, you can hike, visit ancient temples, eat delicious food or simply relax and enjoy the island vibe.
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The best things to do on Miyajima Island
In this post you can find:
- Why you should visit Miyajima
- What is the best time to visit Miyajima
- What to do on Miyajima
- Where to stay on Miyajima
- How to travel to Miyajima
- How to visit Miyajima on a budget
- Miyajima map with highlights
Why you should visit Miyajima
Leaving Hokkaido a couple days early gave us the opportunity to add both Hiroshima and Miyajima Island to our itinerary and I am very glad we did.
In Japanese Miyajima means ‘the Shrine Island’, which is not surprising as the island is well-known for the beautiful floating Torii Gate and Itsukushima Shrine. But there are other shrines and temples as well, as you can read further on in this post.
Miyajima is said to be one of the top three scenic spots in Japan and having visited this wonderful island I can say that I totally agree! For outdoor enthusiasts Miyajima has plenty to offer as well, with several well marked hiking trails and the 535 meter high Mt. Misen.
What is the best time to visit Miyajima
While you can visit Miyajima year round, spring and autumn are the best time to visit in my opinion. We visited Miyajima in May and had excellent weather (except for a heavy shower on our last morning on the island).
Generally, temperatures are comfortable but not too hot for hiking between March-June and after the hot and humid summer months. While winters are definitely colder they are not extremely cold, so you could still visit Miyajima in winter.
Note however that the trees will be bare in winter and as Miyajima is covered in beautiful trees, I personally feel you wouldn’t see the island at it’s prettiest.
Contrarily, in spring you can see the cherry blossoms (usually early April) and in autumn you can admire the colorful leaves (around mid-November) making these great (but also very popular) times to visit Miyajima.
Read my proposed Miyajima itinerary including all the best things to do on Miyajima below.
Miyajima itinerary day 1
- 9am: take the boat to Miyajima Island
- 10am: drop your bags at your hotel
- 11am: visit the Five Story Pagoda and Senjokaku
- 1pm: have lunch (at Okonomiyaki Kishibe)
- 2pm: take a stroll through Machiya Street
- 2.30pm: buy a souvenir in Omotesando street
- 3:30pm: visit Itsukushima Shrine
- 6pm: have dinner
- Depending on the time of the year: watch the sunset behind the floating red Torii Gate
Miyajima itinerary day 2
- 8am: have breakfast
- 9am: hike to the top of Mount Misen
- 11am: arrive at the top of Mount Misen and enjoy the view
- 11:30am: have a picnic at the top of Mount Misen
- 12.00pm: hike down to Daishion temple
- 2pm: visit the Daisho-in Temple
- 4pm: get your bags from your hotel
- 5pm: catch the ferry back to the mainland
Miyajima things to do
Visit Goju-no-to (the Five Story Pagoda) and Senjokaku
This beautiful Five Story pagoda was built in 1407 and is a combination of Japanese and Chinese building styles. Please note that you can’t enter the pagoda. However, you can visit Senjokaku (The Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats), which is definitely worthwhile!
Interesting fact: the central pillar of the pagoda doesn’t extend all the way from roof to the foundation, instead it ends at the second floor.
Have lunch at one of the many Japanese restaurants
One of my favorite things about travel is enjoying the local cuisine. There are so many delicious options in Japan and Miyajima is no exception. There are lots of restaurants where you can go for lunch, most are located in Omotesando street (though the restaurant pictures below is located in Machiya Street).
One of the dishes I discovered in Japan is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a mix of batter, vegetables and meat (or seafood, usually squid) looking a bit like a pancake. I first ate this dish on Hokkaido, but the dish is said to have originated in Osaka.
You can find okonomiyaki throughout Japan and each region has it’s own version. And so did Miyajima!
We found a cute little place serving okonomiyaki (Okonomiyaki Kishibe, 483-2 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima 739-0588, Japan+81 829-44-0002) and could see our food being freshly prepared on a big hot plate.
Usually you can also order yakisoba in these kind of restaurants. Yakisoba is a fried noodle dish with vegetables and some meat, you can see mine in the picture above (the huge pile of noodles on the right side of the hot plate).
Stroll around Miyajima Machiya Street
Walking through this street lined with old folk houses is like stepping into the past. Visit one of the art galleries, grab a drink in one of the cafes or simply enjoy a stroll through this cute little backstreet.
Buy a souvenir in Omotesando street
In Omotesando street you can find lots of shops selling souvenirs, such as typical Miyajima rice scoops and freshly baked Momiji Manjyu. Take your time exploring the many stalls and shops!
Itsukushima Shrine and the ‘floating’ Torii gate marking the entrance to the complex is the main reason for most tourist to visit Miyajima Island.
The entire shrine is supported by pillars over the water and the different buildings within the complex are connected by boardwalks. Give yourself plenty of time to explore this unique place in Japan!
Important note: there are currently renovation works being carried out on the floating torii gate and it’s covered up by scaffolding.
It is not known yet exactly how long the renovations will take, but they are expected to take at least around one year (they started in June 2019).
Check the Japan Guide website for more information.
Watch the sunset and the floating Torii Gate
Granted, you have to be lucky with the tide, but if you are watching the sun set behind the impressive vermilion floating Torii gate is a sight you will never forget…
Note: after sunset, the shrine and the torii gate are illuminated daily until 23:00. A pretty sight as well!
Hike to the summit of Mount Misen
A must do activity on Miyajima, especially for avid hikers like myself, is to hike to the summit of Mount Misen. The top of Mount Misen rises 535 meters above sea level and while it’s not a leisurely walk in the park to get there, it’s definitely worth the effort!
Wondering how long it takes to climb Mount Misen?
That depends which route you decide to take. There are three official trails (and one ‘secret’ trail) leading up to the summit.
- First of all there is the Momiji Dani Route, which starts at Momiji Dani Park and takes about 90 minutes. The hiking distance is 2.5km (one way).
- The second option is the Omoto Route, which takes around 2 hours. The hiking distance is 3.2 km (one way).
- A third option is the Daishoin Route, which takes about 90 minutes and is 2.5 kilometers (one way). I recommend to take this route on your way down as it will lead you to the beautiful Daisho-in temple (read more below). Mind you, there are around 2000 stone steps so this route isn’t the kindest one for your knees!
There is another trail leading to the top of Mount Misen which starts at the Tsutsumigaura campground. We took this trail but later learned this track is officially closed as it’s not considered to be safe by the government.
Truthfully, I don’t know why because when we hiked it the track was in great condition and well signposted. Nevertheless, it’s officially not recommended to take this trail.
Funny story: about halfway into the hike we ran into a group of friendly Japanese hikers, led by a volunteer guide from Mount Misen Hiking Club. The guide asked us, a little surprised, how we found this track. He stated it was a secret trail that was not on any map and only people from the hiking club knew about!
Well, not that secret it turned out, since it was so clearly signposted from our campsite!
If you do decide to take this alternative trail to the summit of Mount Misen, note that there are viper snakes on Miyajima. Therefore it’s smart to carry a (hiking) stick and poke the bushes in front of you to make sure there isn’t a viper snake lying around…
Have a picnic at the top of Mount Misen
After your hike you are probably hungry and thirsty. A big wooden lookout post near the top is the perfect place for lunch with a view. Make sure to bring some of sandwiches, snacks and drinks so you can join the many families having a picnic here!
Hike down via the Daishoin route, leading to the Daisho-in Temple.
The Daisho-in temple is famous temple on Miyajima and a very unique one. Founded in the year 80, the Daisho-in complex is as ancient as it is mysterious. Hundreds of statues are spread around the temple, many of these are wearing tiny hats.
I was informed by reader Erin that the hats on the statues commemorate babies who were stillborn or miscarried. A beautiful gesture for a heartbreaking situation.
When visiting the Daisho-in temple, don’t miss the multicolored sand mandala made by monks from Tibet and the beautiful lanterns hanging from the ceiling of the Henjokutsu Ichigandaishi cave.
Catch the ferry back to the mainland
Having visited all these beautiful places on Miyajima, it’s time to leave this magical island. Hop on the ferry back to the mainland and continue your trip around Japan. Hiroshima, Kyoto, Koyasan and obviously buzzing Tokyo are other places I highly recommend to visit.
Read about more things to do on Miyajima on the official Miyajima tourism website.
Where to stay at Miyajima Island
There are many excellent accommodation options available on Miyajima, suitable to any budget.
Budget: Nakaya B&B
Mid-range: Itsukushimahigashimonzen Kikugawa
If you are on a really tight budget, you can go camping on Miyajima instead of staying at a hotel (read more below) or opt to visit Miyajima as a day trip from Hiroshima. Alternatively, you can stay on the mainland where accommodation is cheaper than on Miyajima itself.
Transport: how to get to Miyajima
Miyajima has a train station called Miyajima-gushi station which is served by rapid trains. From Hiroshima you can take the Sanyo line, the journey takes 30 minutes.
From the Miyajima-gushi train station it’s only a short walk to the pier where the JR ferry departs every 15 minutes to the island, it takes around 10 minutes to reach Miyajima. More information can be found here.
If you have a JR Rail Pass, both the train as well as the ferry is included in this pass.
Tips for visiting Miyajima Island on a budget
Do some grocery shopping before you take the ferry
A great way to cut the costs is to bring enough drinks and snacks from the mainland. There is no supermarket on the island so before you hop on the ferry to Miyajima Island, do some quick shopping at the 7-11. You can find the 7-11 in between Miyajima train station and the JR ferry.
Instead of staying at a hotel, we went camping at Miyajima Island which is another opportunity to cut the costs. We stayed at Tsutsumigaura campground for 2 nights and paid ¥1000/€8/$9 per night.
We were accompanied by several deer during our stay but there were no other campers! Perhaps it’s busier during the summer months. More information can be found on the campsite website.
There is a minivan service to the Tsutsumigaura campground. Keep in mind though that the minivan service doesn’t run until late. In fact, the last bus to the campsite departs around 6pm.
Map of Miyajima island and the highlights
In the map below you can find the places mentioned in this post.
If you want to read more about Japan, be sure to check out my other Japan posts:
- Japan on a budget
- Japan packing list
- Japanese Alps itinerary
- Guide to Kamikochi
- Funny things in Japan
- Off the beaten track in Japan