Okinawa One-Day Itinerary: Our Pick of the Island’s Best

Okinawa is often called Japan’s Hawaii and one visit is all you need to understand why. Short on time? Our local insider, Shante, shows you how to get a taste of this stunning island paradise in just 24h.


Traveller in Okinawa Photo © iStock/imacoconut

So you’re going to Okinawa, but only for a short visit? Of course you want to explore as much of the islands as possible, but first you need to figure out just how much you can squeeze into 24 hours.

I’m just here for a stopover

If you are traveling elsewhere and Okinawa is just a stopover, we’d suggest staying close by the airport, which will most likely be in Naha City on the southern end of the main island. There's plenty to do in Naha and getting around is easy with buses, monorails, or taxis.

To utilize your time well, a taxi will be your best bet. Though it’s the costlier option than the others, you can get to exactly where you want to go. 

Start on Hokusai Street in Naha, lined with souvenir shops and places to try delicious local cuisine. Next, hop in a cab and head to Shuri Castle, the palace of the Ryuku Empire and one of Naha's most prominent landmarks. A UNESCO World Heritage site, much of this magnificent castle was destroyed in a fire in 2019. Though the main hall is currently under reconstruction, visitors can still visit the impressive grounds and gardens. Don’t miss the traditional performances too, where you might even be bitten by a performing shisa (lion-dog) for good luck!

If you’ve got time afterwards, head to Okinawa World – just 30 min from Shuri Castle – where you can visit the museum, explore the massive natural cave and grab a bite to eat. It’s also a great place to pick up some handmade souvenirs for the family.

I’ve got all day

If you’ve got 24 hours in Okinawa, there’s plenty of time to squeeze in a bit more. Hire a car and drive to the northern parts of the island, where you’ll find beautiful beaches and less tourist crowds. 

Updated November 2023.

Head to Motobu Peninsula, a beautiful region in north-central Okinawa surrounded by crystal clear ocean. Visit Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium, which is one of the largest in the world and a must-see. While you’re here, take a walk around Ocean Expo Park to learn about the local marine life. 

Or take a leisurely hike up Mt Gusuku. This distinctive rocky mountain on Iejima is only a 30-min ferry from Motobu Port. The course will have you passing through the torii gate and visiting a sacred shrine. It’s suitable for hikers of all levels. Though hiking boots aren’t required, enclosed footwear is advisable.

While on the Motobu Peninsula, don't forget to stop at Nakijin Castle, one of the largest castles in Okinawa. Depending on your budget, we’d recommend staying at one of the resorts in this part of the island – it will be well worth the money and give you more time to explore this untouched part of Okinawa.

If you're up for a longer drive, a bit further north of Motobu is spectacular Yambaru National Park, famous for its mangrove forests and waterfalls.

But if you don’t have time to venture that far, there is still plenty to see around Naha. Seeking the sun and sand? Take a trip to one of the beaches. Pristine Mirabu beach in southern Okinawa is only 11 miles (18 km) from Naha. Check out the coral reefs and tropical fish on a glass-bottom boat tour – due to calm waters, it operates year round. Or head to Naminoue Beach, the only public beach located within Naha itself. Perched on a cliff above the beach is Naminoue Shrine, worth a visit while you're here.

Wrap up your day of sightseeing by checking out Okinawa's busy nightlife.

Updated November 2023.

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