The lively capital of Kyushu

The capital of the southerly island of Kyushu, Fukuoka is now the sixth largest city in Japan, beating even Kyoto. It is actually closer to Seoul than it is to Tokyo, and is a major hotspot for Korean and Chinese visitors.

Despite this, it isn’t widely known to tourists. But it should be: not only is vibrant Fukuoka home to some of the best food in Japan, it also plays host to amazing museums and shops, and the relaxed way of life means you may find yourself wanting to move to the city after just a few days.

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What to do and where to eat in Fukuoka

The first thing to do when you’re in Fukuoka is eat. This is the home of perhaps Japan’s most beloved comfort food: tonkotsu ramen.

Locally, it is more commonly known as ‘Hakata ramen’ but it is essentially the same thing: thin, stretchy noodles in thick, rich pork broth, chashu pork and soy-soaked egg. The Ippudo and Ichiran ramen chains both started in Fukuoka and Hakata Daruma is a popular hotspot to try it (locals also swear by Ganso Nagahamaya in the Nagahama area of the city). Another Fukuoka speciality is mentaiko (marinated cod roe): try it served over rice, or on its own with a cold beer.

The best bit about the food in Fukuoka though is not just the eating – it is where you eat it. This is one of the few cities in Japan where dining at yatai is still very much a thing. These little street carts are set-up and deconstructed daily, and feature no more than 12 people crammed together at a makeshift counter, slurping noodles or wolfing down speedy eats like gyoza (Japanese-style dumplings). They are easy to find too; you will see them on the city’s main roads and clustered around the Naka River.

When your belly is full, it is time to explore the city. Head over to the Fukuoka Art Museum in the historic Hakata ward to view an eclectic collection by artists from Anish Kapoor and Yoshishige Saitō to Andy Warhol. Don’t miss Fukuoka Oriental Ceramics Museum in Jonan-ku either, for a taste of local craftsmanship.

After all that mental stimulation, it’s off to Ōhori Park for a rejuvenating wander around the waters that once made up Fukuoka Castle’s majestic moat. Take a leisurely walk into Maizuru Park to see the castle ruins too, which date back to the early 1600s. It is also one of the prettiest places to visit in cherry blossom season when you can experience hanami (traditional flower viewing) by eating a picnic under the blushing flowers of the trees.

Do a spot of shopping at the famed 90s behemoth that is Canal City Hakata, or at some of the smaller shops in the red-light district, Nakasu. If you are in Fukuoka in July, then the multisensory Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival is a must. Regardless of when you go, end the day sipping sake at Sumiyoshi Shuhan in Hakata Station, a speciality standing bar where you can sample the best of Japan’s favourite alcoholic beverage.

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