Never heard of it? Neither had we until it came up as being the destination in Japan with the cheapest flights from China. It made for an interesting experience being questioned on our next destination and trying not to swear going through Shanghai customs I can tell you! With how busy we had been exploring China we knew so little about the place it wasn't until we actually got there that we realised we were actually on an island. And so it turns out Fukuoka is the sixth largest city in Japan with a population of over 2.5 million on the Northern shore of Kyushu Island known for ancient shrines, beaches and modern shopping centres. You wouldn't think the population was so large wandering around, it was so peaceful and chilled out we decided to extend our stay to two weeks and recoup a little after our whirlwind tour around China. So if you ever find yourself in Fukuoka or are indeed, unlike us, reading up on the place before going here's some information on how to get there, things to do, how to get around and where to stay!
How to Get In & Out
There's a quite a few international flights that come into and out of Fukuoka airport from China, South Korea and Taiwan. If this is not your only stop and you are wanting to travel up through Japan from here, flying is not your best option. Every domestic flight we looked at went via Tokyo and they were expensive (min. £150) with pretty long layovers. There are local and bullet trains that run from Fukuoka to most major cities if you already have a JR Pass (also not a cheap option at a minimum of £194 for only 7 days’ consecutive travel) your best option for budget travel is to go by bus. Unfortunately, the popular 3/5/7 non-consecutive day ‘Willer Express’ bus passes you may have heard of (we used these for the rest of Japan) don’t cover routes to/from Fukuoka and most other bus companies don’t have English websites – but it’s not a problem, just get your bus ticket direct from the bus station. There are two in Fukuoka – go to Tenjin Bus Station for buses to Tokyo and Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto and Hakata Bus Station for more options such as Hiroshima where we went next. There are numerous buses throughout the day but we opted for an overnight bus (22:35 - 06:30) to save on accommodation costs. The price was £25 each.
What To Do
• Fukuoka Tower and Momochi Beach
Fukuoka Tower presents panoramic views of the city, we didn't climb it as we'd just come from the skyscraper central that is Shanghai but with an entrance fee of £4 the price is reasonable. Right next to Fukuoka Tower is the artificial Momochi Beach which is actually much more pleasant than that title allows. Packed during summer weekends, during the week it's very serene - most days we went it was just us and the flying fish jumping out of the sea. The breakers make for safe swimming areas, both the water and beach are very clean and there are changing facilities and toilets.
This isn't as cool as it sounds but I mention it because many other guides do, unfortunately we left feeling very underwhelmed. It’s more just like a toy shop, don't get me wrong a couple of the robots that you can interact with are quite cool but you'll be in and out within 30 minutes, it should be a lot better. Entrance is free though so if you're in the area pop in and decide for yourself.
• Disaster Prevention Centre
Now this is worth a visit! There are free drills run at 9:30, 12:10, 13:30 and 15:00 that simulate an earthquake, 30mph winds, a fire and what to do in the event of them happening. The earthquake simulation was truly terrifying a real eye opener for someone who’s used to living somewhere with zero earthquake risk. There's no need to book, just turn up. The staff are really friendly and we really enjoyed chatting to them about earthquakes and the measures that the city has in place to protect it. It’s a great one for kids too.
OHORI PARK AREA:
• Ohori Park and Fukuoka Art Museum
Ohori Park is a beautiful park. Busy with runners and cyclists around the perimeter, the stretch of park intersecting the lake crossing from one side to the other is very peaceful. We spent many an hour here sat on a bench looking out over the tranquil lake, watching the terrapins bobbing and herons scouting for their next catch. Within the park, the Fukuoka Art Museum is worth a visit too and at only £1.25 to visit the permanent exhibitions it won't break the bank. From Salvador Dali to Andy Warhol there are some pretty famous artists in there, although just check it's open if you plan to go because it was closing for refurbishment September 2016.
• Maizuru Park and Fukuoka Castle Ruins
There really isn't very much left of the castle, however a stroll around the leafy park is very pleasant and the moat naturally filled by the Naka River, brimming with water lilies is very picturesque. There’s no entrance fee.
• Tenjin and it's Underground City
Tenjin is where it's happening. Pretty quiet through the day, activity starts to pick up from 5pm onwards as people are leaving work. There's tons of bars, restaurants and high street shops. The giant underground city beneath it is a shopper’s heaven, it connects the KuKo and Nanakuma metro lines between Tenjin and Tenjin-minami stations and is lined with trendy clothes and accessory boutiques.
• ACROS Viewing Point and Central Tenjn Park
There's an information desk on the ground floor so just head there and they will tell you where to go. We didn’t do this, got lost and ended up walking in and out of a few office and meeting rooms searching for the panoramic views of Tenjin that the building promises! It turns out the observation desk is only open on a weekend – do go then! If you walk straight through the building you will come to Central Tenjin Park, it's a really pleasant green space to chill out in for an hour or so.
• Kego Park
A paved area with plenty of seating places, people seemed to come here to hang out with friends after work. There were some teenagers practising break dancing whilst we were there and we enjoyed doing some people watching with a coffee. We also had a less than pleasant freak experience here that is in no way reflective of the park, Fukuoka or Japan in general. You can read about here but don’t let it influence your decision to visit.
• Canal City Shopping Centre & Ramen Station
Another paradise for shoppers in Fukuoka. Seriously if you can’t find an outfit here there’s no hope for you. It is however, far from cheap, so as budget travellers we didn’t linger. The design of the complex is pretty cool though – it literally has a canal running through the centre with water fountain shows at regular intervals. Whilst the ramen in the Ramen Station in here wasn’t the tastiest or best value we had in Fukuoka there is certainly plenty of choice – see the ‘what to eat’ section below. On the same floor there is also an extensive gaming arcade which is fun to pop into, it was full of middle aged business men and women on their lunch breaks when we went it!
• Oyafuko Dori - Street of Naughty Children
Literally translated as the 'street of naughty children' this is where all the late night bars and clubs are, they don't get going until quite late. You'll know you're in the right area though as every so often on the street you will see a small sink called a 'Haki' - they are there for those who have overindulged and are feeling a little queasy on the way home! If you do fancy it find a place that has an all you can drink offer - usually around £18 for men and £12 for the ladies.
• Shrine Tour
There's loads of shrines knocking around Tenjin and Hakata areas - Dazaifu Tenmangu, Sumiyoshi, Kushida, Suikyo Tenmagu Shrine and Kego to name a few. They don't take long to see and most have an information board in English at the entrance explaining the history and significance of each of them. There's a great information desk in Hakata station where you can get a good map from and also a good selection of tourist information leaflets to guide you around these.
• Botanical and Zoological Gardens
We went here not realising that they were one and part of the same thing, we thought the £4 entry fee we paid just gave us entrance to the botanical gardens. However, when we wandered past an enclosure with a bear in it then turned around and saw a tiger in a cage we were more than a little shocked considering the price we paid. I wasn't sure whether to include this as we have very mixed and conflicted views on the principle of zoos but it's there. And the botanical gardens are beautiful to stroll around and sit for a while on one of the many scenic viewing spots. There's even a viewing spot to climb to with panoramic views. The address is 1-1 Minami-Koen, Chuo-ku, it’s closed on Mondays.
How To Get Around
There are three metro lines and a bus network that connect the city, however with fares being around £2.50 for a one-way journey, by far cheapest and preferred way of getting around for a budget backpacker is by walking or hiring a bike. Complimentary bikes are included in some accommodation rentals so be sure to look out for that or you can rent them from bike shops for as little as £5 for the week. Taxi's are very expensive because fuel is expensive so avoid these.
What To Eat
• Tonkotsu Ramen
You can't go to Fukuoka and not have Tonkotsu Ramen, it is so good we were eating it every day. It's cheap (as little as £2.35 in some places) and you get a lot of food. As a budget backpacker my tip would be to eat it for lunch as it fills you up for ages and you won't need to spend so much on dinner! Check out J's top Ramen Restaurant Recommendations in Fukuoka – coming soon.
• Yatai Street Food Stalls
These places start popping up from around 6pm on the streets around Tenjin and Hakata areas. Not cheap but not the most expensive places to eat either, they have plenty of variety and are worth the experience. Some have English or picture menus so look out for those.
• Sushi Conveyor Belt Restaurants
These are really good value for money, reasonable dishes range between 75p - £1.35 and we were stuffed for about £7. You need to get a ticket from inside and wait for your number to be called (keep an eye on the screen unless you know your Japanese numbers) and be prepared for a wait as they get very busy - well worth it though and you get as much complimentary green tea as you can drink!
• Fast Food
When I say fast food I'm not talking McDonalds or KFC (although they are knocking about), I mean Japanese fast food chains. Some you can eat in, some you have to take away but all are good quality, cooked from fresh and cheap. Try 'Coco Ichibanya Curry House', 'Yoshinoya' and 'Hotto Motto' - Hotto Motto was our favourite. Don’t bother with 'Mos Burger', the burgers are pretty small and naff for the price - you're better off going to McDonalds.
• Supermarket or convenience stores
There's plenty of fresh food options at either supermarkets or the local convenience stores (Family Mart, Lawson, 7 Eleven) that are not bad priced. They will also warm the food up for you in the convenience stores. We bought sushi from the supermarket a couple of times. Top tip - go early evening when things have been discounted and you can often pick up your lunch for the next day for cheap too (although you should be having Ramen!) If you are into cooking back at your accommodation, we were making meals of noodles with chicken, an egg and salad from 7 Eleven for £1.81 per portion.
***Just a note on alcohol: it's expensive. Many places advertise happy hours and drinks seem really reasonable until you come to pay and are whacked with a whopping big service charge so always check that out that first. The cheapest places to buy booze are the local convenience stores, we found 7 eleven to have to best range and cheapest prices, so we just sat on the balcony at our rental apartment with a bottle of wine if we fancied a drink instead of going to bars***
Where To Stay
There are quite a few decent budget hotels and hostels (the cheapest we found was £19 per person per night) however, travelling as a couple we found it cheaper to rent a small apartment through Air BnB and paid £22 per night. If you are not familiar with Air BnB, be sure to check the total cost of your stay as additional cleaning charges are often added on top of the advertised rate - obviously the longer you stay the less this works our per night. We stayed in two very nice apartments, both were more like hotels, with complimentary toiletries and slippers. The only downside is that you don’t have opportunity to interact with other travellers and have to pay for luggage storage if you need it at the bus or train stations on the days you check in and out – travelling overnight on the bus we obviously had to do this but it’s not too expensive at £4.50 for an extra-large locker that will fit two people’s stuff in.
***In two 2 weeks as a couple we spent on average £40 per day - this isn't including our flight from Shanghai or overnight bus to Hiroshima***
So there you have it, my acquired knowledge on Fukuoka from a budget backpacker’s perspective. We had such a great time and would definitely recommend a stay if you are wanting to relax and enjoy a more laid back Japan for a while. There's plenty going on but at the same time no expectation to do anything, a morning stroll around one of the parks, Ramen for lunch then an afternoon snooze on the beach is more than acceptable here. If you have any questions or think I can help with anything further, please don't hesitate to get in touch!