From Historic Sights to Island Hopping

Okinawa specializes in the unexpected. Visitors are often bowled over by the sun-kissed beauty of its beaches, the imposing monuments of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the laid-back attitudes the farther you get from the mainland.

Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, is a good place to begin, with lively markets, excellent museums, and easy access to other main island sights. Then you can start island-hopping, taking in the pristine beaches and clear waters that make this archipelago so compelling, and getting your fill of spectacular snorkeling.

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Vibrant, bustling Naha is home to some of the best attractions in Okinawa.

Visitors should head first to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, a superbly well-organized and informative museum about local history and culture. The incredible building is a sight in itself: built mostly from local limestone, it is meant to evoke Okinawa’s historic castles, but could just as well be straight out of Star Wars. Excellent English signs and free audio guides lead you through the story of Okinawa’s development and unique traditions, while the art museum highlights local artists.

One of the other essential things to see in Okinawa’s capital is the marvelous Shuri Castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the city. Its heavy walls, enormous courtyards, and sloping red roofs were once the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom (the rule of Okinawa from the 15th through 19th centuries) and though what you’re seeing is mostly reconstruction, it’s an intriguing and impressive site.

When in Naha, you’ll likely find yourself returning again and again to Makishi Market, a covered food market selling an extensive variety of fresh fish, seafood, and produce. Pick a fish from a stall and they’ll cut it into instant sashimi for you to enjoy at a table, or you can head upstairs and choose from a number of restaurants that source their ingredients from the market.

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