Nagasaki is a city of steep slopes and rolling hills at the southwestern edge of Japan. While the tragedy of the atomic bombing dominates many visitors' itineraries, it's worth spending time discovering the rich trading tradition that has infused this blue bay with a real East-meets-West culture. Christian churches perch beside Shinto shrines and a Chinese Confucian temple, while an equally eclectic dining scene will have foodies extending their stays.
While you're in town, check out a Moroccan-inspired Nagasaki hostel with clean white interiors, or a traditional Japanese home in a seaside village. Look out for Nagasaki hostels that rent bicycles or offer free breakfast, and most hostels in Nagasaki have communal kitchens where you can prepare your own meals to save money. Private rooms are often available, though if you're travelling alone you might prefer a dorm so you can meet other travellers.
Nagasaki Bay slices through the centre of the city, with Inasa-yama Mountain to the north and the historic district to the south. To feel the city's bygone days of foreign influence and trade, wander hills dotted with restored European houses on the Dutch Slopes. Follow the streets towards the harbour to Shinchi Chinatown, the oldest in Japan and a hub of street food vendors, from where it's a short walk to the shopping and nightlife of Shianbashi. To the north lies the suburb of Urakami, where you'll find Nagasaki Peace Park and a solemn memorial on the site where the atomic bomb exploded.
One of the most popular stops in northern Nagasaki is the cable car up Inasa-yama. From the windswept summit you can admire panoramic views, visit the Shinto shrine of Fuchi-jinja or even soak in hot thermal waters. Down below, take a morning to learn some history on a city walking tour or at Dejima, the artificial island where foreigners were forced to live in the 17th century. Prefer to spend your day on the beach? Catch the 15-minute ferry from the harbour to Iojima Island for sandy stretches and hot springs away from the bustle of the city.
Reach the city by flying into Nagasaki Airport and taking the 40-minute bus ride to just outside JR Nagasaki Station. Trains arrive to this stop near the harbour from Fukuoka (2 hours), Sasebo (2 hours) and Hirado (4 hours). When you're getting around the city, the tram network will come in handy as most stops are sign-posted in English and the vehicles run until about 11.30pm.