9 Under the Radar Things to do in Sendai

Welcome to Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan! Nestled between lush mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Sendai is a vibrant city that seamlessly blends modernity with traditional charm. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or a foodie, Sendai has something for everyone. Here are 9 under the radar things to do when you visit Sendai.

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Getting to Sendai

Sendai is located an hour and a half from Tokyo by Shinkansen. This is the quickest and easiest way to arrive. If you are coming to Sendai I highly recommend also looking at the JR East Pass (Tohoku area). This pass is valid for 5 days and is valid for both residents and non-residents of Japan. It makes touring this area a lot easier. 

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative there are plenty of highway buses that run this route. They cost a fraction of the cost, usually around $30 to $40 USD depending upon the company. However, from Tokyo to Sendai it is about a five and a half hour bus ride, longer if there are delays. If you plan on taking a bus, take advantage of the night buses.

When to Visit Sendai

Just like most of Japan, Sendai can be a great place to visit year round depending on what you want to see. During the spring, Sendai is renowned for its stunning cherry blossoms, with several parks and gardens coming alive in shades of pink and white. The most famous spot is the Tsutsujigaoka Park, where you can enjoy hanami (flower viewing) picnics under the blooming trees.

Summer is known for the great outdoor adventures and beautiful festivals. Autumn brings in the fall foliage and cooler temperatures. Sendai is a beautiful place to see the colors of leaves changing from the mountains.

Finally, the winter months bring additional festivals called illuminations. These light up the city and change it into a winter wonderland. You can even find some ski and snowboarding slopes near Sendai.

9 Under the Radar Things to do in Sendai

Yamadera Temple (1000 step Temple)

Experience a spiritual journey at Kanmanji, known for its 1000 stone steps lined with statues of Buddhist deities. The temple grounds feature lush gardens, ornate pagodas, and quiet meditation spaces, offering a sense of peace and serenity

This temple is best visited in the morning for a few reasons. First, many tourists visit this destination later in the day, making the morning a great time to be alone. Secondly, due to its location morning fog tends to stay around the temple. It gives it this majestic look that it is floating high above the ground.

Zuihoden Mausoleum

Embark on a journey through history at Zuihoden Mausoleum, the final resting place of Date Masamune, a legendary feudal lord. The mausoleum showcases intricate woodwork, vibrant colors, and detailed carvings that reflect the craftsmanship of the Edo period.

Cedar trees surround the area to signify the long history of the Date clan. Make sure not to miss the museum next door, to see some of the artifacts from the Date family.

Aoba Castle

Aoba Castle offers a lot of history for the Sendai area. Originally built in 1600 by lord Date Masamune. In the past 400 years it has gone through fires and bombings, leaving only stone walls and a guard tower remaining. 

On site there is also a museum which depicts what the castle would’ve looked like if fully constructed. They even have a pretty cool VR headset that you can use.

Matsushima Bay

Embark on a scenic cruise around Matsushima Bay, renowned for its picturesque islands adorned with pine trees and rugged cliffs. The cruise offers opportunities to visit historical sites such as Zuiganji Temple and Godaido Hall, providing insights into the region’s cultural significance. 

I recommend getting in line early to secure a good spot by the window. Otherwise you might end up sitting in the middle, where the views are still decent but taking pictures is difficult. Most ships also offer an upstairs at an additional cost. If the weather is nice I think this is worth it because you can walk around a bit more. 

This is also a great place to grab something to eat. There are many restaurants that overlook Matsushima Bay. 

Indulge in Local Cuisine at Gyutan Street

Indulge in Sendai’s signature dish, gyutan, at local restaurants specializing in grilled beef tongue. You can explore the diverse gastronomic scene, from traditional izakayas to upscale dining establishments. Trust the locals, if there is a long line it is the spot to be at. 

Culinary tours, cooking classes, and tasting experiences offer deeper insights into Sendai’s culinary heritage. You can do many of these classes and tours solo or as a group.

Visit an Onsen

During a trip to Japan, visiting an onsen is a must. While at first it may be a bit awkward, they are so relaxing. Sendai has plenty of onsens to choose from including in the city and in more rural areas. 

I recommend visiting the Aoba Ward for a relaxing onsen visit. Relaxing in the morning is a perfect way to start the day before a nice lunch in the town. I was the only one there for the majority of the time, so it was almost like having a private experience.

Izu Peninsula

Take a day trip to the picturesque Izu Peninsula, known for its rugged coastline, pristine beaches, and stunning landscapes. Explore charming seaside towns, hiking trails, and natural attractions such as Mount Omuro, Shirahama Beach, and Jogasaki Coast. 

Even in winter the Izu Peninsula is a nice place to visit. Although not beach weather, snowfall on the beach adds a magical allure.

Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory

If you are a whisky drinker then the Nikka Whisky Sendai Factory is a must visit. While their more popular distillery is located in Hokkaido there is also one located near Sendai.

This immersive tour (free!) allows you to see the process of making whisky. It even ends with a tasting. I should mention that they also have a bar on site, as well as a gift shop with all of the whisky that they make for sale.

Sendai Tanabata Festival

Join the vibrant Sendai Tanabata Festival, featuring elaborate decorations, traditional performances, and lively parades. The festival celebrates the reunion of celestial lovers with colorful paper strips, music, dance, and food stalls.

This festival is held annually in August, specifically the 6th to 8th.If you are visiting the night before make sure to check out the firework show as well.

In Conclusion - 9 Things to do in Sendai

Visiting Sendai offers a captivating blend of historical intrigue, cultural richness, and natural beauty that leaves a lasting impression on every traveler. From exploring ancient temples and strolling along scenic riverbanks to indulging in culinary delights and experiencing vibrant festivals, Sendai offers a diverse range of activities and experiences that cater to all interests and preferences. 

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