Surf, smarts and stunning blooms

The coastal prefecture of Ibaraki, just north-east of Tokyo, is a stunning blend of surf beaches, scenic mountains, famous gardens and the home of high-tech development. The capital city of Mito is best known for Kairaku-en, one of Japan’s most celebrated gardens, where thousands flock to see the stunning plum blossoms bloom like confetti, while Tsukuba City is home to Mt Tsukuba and Tsukuba University, famed for its robotics research. The prefecture’s coast attracts surfers to its 60kms of impressive beaches, while the city of Kasama draws tourists to its ornate Inari shrine. Ibaraki is home to an extraordinary number of striking parks, including Hitachi Seaside Park, so there are plenty of places for the kids to explore. It’s also home to the world’s biggest Buddha statue, which is sure to impress the kids – once they’ve finished hanging out at the adjacent playground.

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Things to do

  • A close up of the pretty plum blossoms in season at Ibaraki’s famous Kairaku-en Park.

    Meet the alternative cherry blossom

    Everyone knows about Japan’s famous cherry blossoms, but in Mito, the 18-acre Kairaku-en Garden explodes with plum blossoms in all shades of pink every February and March, thanks to the 3000 plum trees planted here. Established in 1842, Kairaku-en is ranked amongst the top three landscaped gardens in Japan and it really is a feast for the eyes. For the Japanese, it’s a perennial favourite, with thousands of visitors attending the Mito Plum Festival (20 Feb-31 Mar) too.

  • Magnificent autumn leaves surround the waters of the Fukuroda Falls, one of Japan's top three waterfalls.

    Find art in the sky

    Go to Mito and you can’t miss that 100-metre tower that spirals into the air like a helix – yep, that’s the Art Tower Mito, a wildly contemporary arts complex that includes art galleries with a focus on contemporary art, a concert hall, a pipe organ, a theatre, a conference hall, a restaurant and a café. It’s home to the Mito Chamber Orchestra and a resident acting company and hosts both dramatic and musical performance from local and international musicians.

  • Waves splashing around a lone torii gate on the coast.

    Go surfing!

    Yes, you read that right! You might not automatically associate Japan with surfing holidays but there are some gnarly beaches to take your board to. The west coast of Ibaraki is studded with a range of surf spots, from year-round waves to reef breaks, so do some research and find the beach that best matches your surfing ability. Beaches to check out include Oarai, Kyochigama and parts of Kashima.

  • See the world’s biggest Buddha

    Tsukuba city is Ibaraki’s second largest city after Mito and it’s an intriguing place, with pretty, wide boulevards and parks. Its renowned universities enjoy reputation for high tech research and development. It’s also home to Mount Tsukuba, with its double peak and stunning seasonal foliage. But for Buddhists (and fans of world-record big things), you can’t go past Ushiku Daibutsu, the world’s largest Buddha statue. It stands 120m high, with a viewing platform 85m up so you can take in some amazing views.

  • Dive into the seaside park

    Prepare your eyes for the most unbelievable carpets of colour at Hitachi Seaside Park. This 350-hectare coastal park features sand dunes, forests, grasslands, springs, cycling tracks, a scenic railway, amusement park, cafes, restaurants and amazing swathes of ever-changing plants and flowers that paint the park in shockingly bright colours. For a perfect family day out, hire a bike and cycle between the environments.

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Airport information

Ibaraki Airport

Distance to Mito 26km

Bus: There are two bus routes to Mito Station – the public highway route (North Gate, 1hr 10 mins) and the express highway route (South Gate, 40 mins)

Taxi: There are taxis available at the airport – it will take you around 45 minutes to get to Mito Station.

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When to go

Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit, with mild temperatures, as opposed to hot, wet summers and chilly winters. February to early March is prime plum blossom-viewing time, and the Koga Peach Blossom Festival happens in late March to early April.

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