Once home to the thriving Kyūkū Empire, the island group of Okinawa is a highly underrated holiday destination.
The capital city of Naha is home to some majestic-looking 14-15th century castles, landscaped gardens and shinto shrines lend cultural heft to islands, while the smaller village-like neighboring communes offer stunning scenery and unbridled access to the open sea.
In short, while in Okinawa, you are likely to have your hands full with new and exciting prospects!
The Okinawa prefecture in itself is made up of a total of 113 smaller islands. And while all major settlements lie on the main island, some of the smaller neighbors also have incredible things to offer.
So picking the right place for your stay in an incredibly important decision. And we have come up with a comprehensive guide to help you with just that.
Here, we have listed some of the best neighborhoods of Okinawa and what they might have in store for you traveller!
The capital city of the Okinawa prefecture, Naha is the erstwhile seat of the power of the Kyūkū kingdom. It is the site of the 14th century-built Shurijo Castle, which remains the major draw for travellers flying into the city.
Smaller landmarks - the Sho dynasty tombs at Tamaudun and ornate Shureimon gate - surrounding the castle complex make for a great starting point for your sightseeing tours.
The expansive neighborhood is also known for other historic sites including the Shikina-en, a vast green space accommodating royal housing, gardens and riverside walking trails.
Shinto shrines including the Okinawa shrine itself, Naminoue, Sueyoshigo and Shikina only add to the cultural capital of Naha.
And even outside of all that, Naha has plenty of modern entertainment options as shopping enclaves and takeout joints can be found in just about every turn.
Also, Chief among those is the Naminoue Beach, a sandy strip stemming out of the city's urban centre. The locale, coupled with the quaint Fukushūen Garden and Matsuyama Park, offer quick getaways from the city crowds.
As the capital city of the Okinawa prefecture, Naha is one of the most easily accessible parts of the region. The Naha airport lies in the western part of the city and is only about a 15 minute ride from the central districts.
The main port has a more central location and ferries coming in are the best way to reach the island. Hotels are in plenty and among some of the finest that the city has to offer.
While technically still a part of Naha, the compact neighborhood of Kokusaidori definitely warrants a separate mention of its own. The Downtown part of the city, Kokusaidori is where you are likely to find the city's crowds at the liveliest.
Travellers and residents throng the merchandise stores and big brand chains that dot the namesake central thoroughfare; the enthusiasm, especially after sun, is almost infectious in nature and it won't be long before you find yourself completely immersed into the experience!
The neon-lit streets are also home to some of the best known restaurants, ramen bars and izakayas in all of Okinawa.
Most of these establishments stay open till late into wee hours, lending the neighborhood an alternative appeal. So if you're looking to explore Okinawa's 24 hour lifestyle and socialize with the Gen Z crowds, Kokusaidori is the place to be!
Kokusaidori occupies the central quarters of Naha, so access to most major landmarks remains relatively straightforward.
The hotel and accommodation options are largely concentrated around the namesake street and provide a nice variety with both luxury and other relatively inexpensive offerings.
The go-to choice for families traveling to Okinawa, the synonymously named town is where you'll enjoy the quintessential island experience - with plenty of time outdoors trying out gourmet delights and rummaging through local crafts - without having to travel too far out from the city centre and major transportation hubs.
Homegrown restaurants for almost all major thoroughfares; many of them are known for serving the gōyā chanpurū, pork cutlets and ribs as well as their own versions of the famed Okinawan soba. You are also likely to come across other joints serving takeout meals and burgers/tacos so make sure that you're on the lookout always!
Okinawa also has a few great sporting fields, mixed-use spaces and wildlife sanctuaries that make for great day-long trips, especially popular with families.
Chief among those are the Okinawa Zoo and Museum, which comes with accompanying picnic spots and children's parks; the Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park, with sport fields and swimming pools; and the American Village, an outdoor mall with a movie theatre, amusement park rides and plenty of shopping options!
Okinawa is situated a little North of Naha and makes for a ideal neighborhood for people looking to stay in the mix of things as it is fairly close to both the capital city as well as the northern villages.
While in Okinawa, you can choose between hotels and homestay/bed and breakfasts as there is a huge list of names to choose from.
Next on our list of neighbourhoods is the outdoorsy Kunigami. It is situated on the northern end of the main Okinawa island itself, and is characterized by a largely mountainous terrain that draws in the ones inclined to discover the under-explored.
The major trek in the vicinity of Kunigami is centred around Mount Yonaha, a small forested hillock that anchors the ranges here.
Walking trails and paths meander about the hills and lead you up to some stunning sceneries, a small national park and popular resting spots by the side of the Hiji waterfall and Kuina lake among others.
Kunigami comprises several smaller villages that make for a quaint vacation setting. The likes of the seaside Ginama have their own harbours that get fresh fish produce, small homegrown restaurants and shinto shrines in some of the most serene settings in all of Okinawa.
Other villages - especially in the extreme north of the island - offer viewing points that will make you want to keep coming back!
The highway no. 58 leads you straight into the village of Kunigami; it is about a two hour ride from the Naha Airport and you can take a bus or avail a private cab to drive you to your destination.
The neighbourhood might feel a little farther out than some of the other listings here, but Kunigami’s quaint setting and cozy homestays/cabins should be enough to persuade you to make that short trip up North.
Centred around the picturesque Nago bay, the city of Nago is the one place that brings Okinawa’s famed waterfront as well as the vast hillside together like no other part of the island. Small beaches, seaside green spaces, promenades and hiking trails make sure that you never run out of things to do around the city centre.
The Koko beach, Seikinomori park and the Lake Bottom Water park are among some of the must-visits. Local service providers in the vicinity of city piers also offer boat tours over the vast open waters.
Nago is also home to the Busena Marine Park, known for its underwater observatory. You can avail trips to the observatory taken on shuttle busses that have glass doors offering an unparalleled viewing experience of the sea and the marine life surrounding the islands, and one that you’ll definitely regret missing out on!
A major highway runs - mostly parallel to the island’s shoreline - runs through most of Nago, connecting it to the capital city of Naha and Okinawa. Outside of the two aforementioned towns, Nago is the town which offers the most number of accommodation options and you're likely to come across a lot decent hotels in all budget ranges.
Known for its stunning coral reefs and quaint beach destinations, Miyakojima is one of the most sought-after island destinations in the Okinawa prefecture. The southern coast here is lined with the aforementioned beaches that makes Miyakojima the perfect laid-back vacation spot.
The Yonaha beach at the southwestern tip of the island has a pristine setting and a nearby golf course to go along with it. The smaller Shigira beach, meanwhile, is popular with divers and/or snorkeling enthusiasts as well as travellers looking to spot sea turtles in their natural habitat.
The northern coastline of the island is more rugged but offers equally exciting prospects. For starters, there are fewer better spots to marvel at the ferocious Pacific Ocean than the lighthouse sitting atop the East Henna Cape. Similar spots can be found northward and are just right for quiet sunset viewings.
Miyakojima has dedicated ports that connect it to the nearby Okinawa and Ishigaki islands. Ferries and boat rides move on the designated routes at regular intervals and you won’t need to sweat too much to find your way in. Once in the island, you can choose to put up at one of the island’s many beach resorts. There are plenty of options to choose from so take your sweet time picking!
And for the last neighborhood on the list, we bring to you the southern island of Ishigaki. It borrows a lot of the outdoorsy appeal from its neighbors, but given its popularity with tourists, can get a little crowded at times.
Among some of the most popular landmarks on the island are the Ishigaki Shiritsu Yaeyama Museum, which chronicles the island lifestyle and the Southern Gate Bridge, a scenic spot.
Whatever points Ishigaki loses in comparison to the more idyllic Miyakojima, it manages to make up for it with the several urban upgrades that it offers over its predecessor on the list.
Families enjoy trips to the Ishigaki Yaima Village, a theme park known to showcase local wildlife and the Euglena Mall, selling souvenirs and other locally produced fairs.
Coffee shops and ice cream parlours surround the latter establishment, so grab your takeout and find your walk about the neighborhood streets and the island coastline to cap off your long vacation days!
Ishigaki has its own air transport hub at the Painushima Ishigaki Airport, which is connected to most of the island's city centres through regular bus service.
You should not have any sort of trouble finding your ideal hotel option irrespective of the budget range.
That's our complete list of neighbourhoods from Okinawa traveller. Take your pick and get packing for your next vacation; a dream island vacation awaits!