The best things to do in Sendai on a budget include a unique mix of nature, tradition, and modern vibe in one neat package. While Sendai may not be as famous as other cities in Japan, such as Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, this capital of Miyagi Prefecture is more than capable of holding its own against Japan’s metropolises. 

    Founded by the famous samurai Date Masamune in the 1600s, Sendai is one of the oldest cities in Japan with a deep history that can be felt throughout the cityscape. From castles, temples, bustling marketplaces, and scenic spots to visit after sundown, this guide will point you toward things to do in Sendai that won't put a huge dent to your billfold.

    1

    Zuihoden

    The resting place of one of the One-Eyed Dragon

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    Zuihouden is a notable landmark in Sendai, styled in highly decorated woodwork and bright colors. The mausoleum entombs Date Masamune, the first samurai ruler of Sendai, who is also known as Dokuganryū (One-Eyed Dragon). It's a mere 15-minute bus ride away from Sendai Station or 30 minutes on foot.

    Zuihouden also hosts the mausoleums and graves of Date Masamune’s son, grandson, and their descendants. Visiting all of them allows you to soak in the tranquil atmosphere. The paths at this mausoleum are lined with massive cedar trees as a symbol of the clan’s long history. If you’re still curious, check out the Date clan’s artifacts in the Zuihoden Museum, next to the main mausoleum.

    Location: 23-2 Otamayashita, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan

    Open: February–November: daily from 9 am to 4.50 pm. December–January: daily from 9 am to 4.20 pm

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    2

    Aoba Castle

    Scenic park where a glorious castle once stood

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    The Aoba Castle ruins served as an important gathering place for high-ranking members of Japanese society in the 17th century. After several fires, earthquakes, and WWII bombings, only the outer walls and a guard tower remain today.

    You can get an unobstructed view of Sendai cityscape, listening to tales surrounding the castle, and taking photos with official samurai reenactors. If you want to see how the castle was back in Edo period, a nearby museum hosts models, artifacts, and a short movie about the castle.

    Location: 1 Kawauchi, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan

    Open: April–October: daily from 9 am to 5 pm. November–March: daily from 9 am to 4 pm

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    3

    Tsutsujigaoka Park

    The place to experience the height of spring in Sendai

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    Tsutsujigaoka Park is a must-visit if you’re visiting Sendai in late March or April for its breathtaking views of cherry blossoms. It has over 360 cherry blossom trees, with historic roots dating back to the 17th century. This park is a popular spot among locals for cherry blossom-viewing picnics known as hanami.

    Travelers can enjoy the colorful views, as well as food stalls selling locally-produced sake and Japanese festival food. Standouts include takoyaki (squid balls), fried chicken, and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). When the sun goes down, Tsutsujigaoka Park is illuminated with red paper lanterns, adding another layer of otherworldly Japanese beauty. 

    Location: 1-3 Gorin, Miyagino-ku, Sendai, Japan

    Open: 24/7

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    4

    Loople

    Cheap and fun way to move around Sendai

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    Loople Sendai is a sightseeing bus that runs on a looping route through some of the city's most popular tourist spots. Sendai Station serves as the starting point. These buses, however, are more than a cheap way for you to commute – they are also an attraction on their own.

    One event to note is the Pageant of Starlight Bus, where Loople buses tour the illuminated streets of Sendai. Take it easy and marvel at the sights of Sendai as you leisurely ride through the city centre. Budget-conscious travelers are treated to a variety of discounts, postcards, and even a bicycle rental by getting the Loople 1-day pass.

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

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    photo by Mutimaro (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    5

    Matsushima Bay

    One of Japan’s big 'Three Scenic Views'

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    Matsushima Bay comprises around 260 islands in Sendai. You can see some of these islands by walking along the coastline . But the overlooks and vantage points let you marvel at the expanse from different but spectacular angles. Being this close to the ocean also means seriously good seafood options. 

    Take your time to enjoy Matsushima (literally ‘Pine Island’), as the view will change depending on the time of the day. If you visit during the Obon season in August, you’ll come across lanterns that add even more magical touches to Matsushima Bay.

    Location: Konashiya-7-4 Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi-ken, Japan

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    6

    Risshakuji Temple

    Explore a breathtaking Buddhist temple complex

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    Risshakuji Temple is an incredible mountain temple complex overlooking Yamadera village. The temple was founded in AD 860 and is commonly known as Yamadera, which literally means “mountain temple” in Japanese. 

    This temple is part of the Buddhist pilgrimage route in the Tohoku region. Locals believe that it can repel bad luck and bad relationships. Yamadera offers astounding natural views year-round, but is especially beautiful in autumn when the foliage turns into fiery hues of red, orange and yellow.  While it's a great place to bask in the tranquility of a verdant forest in Sendai, you need to climb up over 1,000 steps to reach this enchanting temple. 

    Location: 4456-1, Yamadera, Yamagata-city, Japan

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

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    7

    Akiu Sato Center

    A place to rest weary legs in Sendai

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    The Akiu Sato Center is both a visitors’ information center and an attraction in Sendai. It offers locker service, bike rental, and an onsite restaurant. The center also regularly holds exhibitions, tea ceremonies, and music performances throughout the year.

    Jiuemon’s Onsen is a must-visit at the Akiu Sato Center. This open-air footbath contains natural spring water, allowing you to relax while seeking information about the area. The center and onsen are free to enter, while fees apply for lockers and bike rental.

    Location: 40-7 Teradahara, Yumoto, Akiumachi, Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm

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    8

    Miyagikyo Nikka Whiskey Distillery

    Learn how beloved Japanese whiskeys are made

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    The Nikka Whiskey Sendai Distillery is famous for its award-winning Japanese whiskeys. Back in 1969, Masataka Taketsuru was scouting for a place to build his second distillery. He came across a junction of 2 rivers surrounded by mountains. After tasting the water, he was so impressed by the taste that he decided to establish the distillery on that very spot. 

    The Nikka Whiskey Sendai Distillery offers guided tours of the facility, with English, Korean, and Chinese headsets available. Don’t miss out on the free tasting session. After touring the distillery, you can visit an onsite museum to learn more about Masataka’s journey in perfecting Nikka whiskeys. There's a souvenir shop selling the world-renowned Japanese whiskey. 

    Location: Nikka 1, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi 989-3433, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 3.30 pm

    Phone: +81 (0)22-395-2865

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    9

    Kokubuncho

    The heart of nightlife in Sendai

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    Kokubuncho is where you go to experience the best of Sendai’s nightlife scene. The area is roughly separated into 3 districts, with different price ranges and types of establishments. You can find around 3,000 restaurants, clubs, pachinko parlors, and bars that draw locals and visitors every night. It gets livelier over the weekends.

    Drop by an izakaya (Japanese bar) to have a beer with some classic Japanese pub foods like yakitori (broiled meat skewers) Kokubuncho is also a great spot to try Sendai’s famous beef tongue. Keep an eye out for nomihodai (all-you-can-drink deals) if you're a particularly heavy drinker who can knock back more than a couple pints in 2 hours.

    Location: 2-15 Kokubuncho, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Japan

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    photo by MichaelMaggs (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Asaichi Market

    Shop and dine like a local in Sendai

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    Asaichi Market is an urban shopping street chock-full of fresh produces and tasty street food. It's also known as Sendai Daidokoro (Sendai’s Kitchen), so you can expect plenty of amazing treats, especially fresh sushi.

    Asaichi Market is just a 5-minute walk of Sendai Station. It makes for a solid place to grab a snack right after getting off the train. Despite its name, this market operates until late afternoon. It's best to go there in the morning when the crisp morning air, energetic atmosphere, and crowds are in full swing.

    Location: 3-8-5 Chuo, Aoba, Sendai-shi, Miyagi, Japan

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm (closed on Sundays)

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    photo by Neuropower (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Amy Vivian-Neal | Compulsive Traveler

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