Kōraku-en draws the crowds with its reputation as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. It has expansive lawns broken up by ponds, teahouses and other Edo-period buildings, including a nō theatre stage; it even has a small tea plantation and rice field. In spring the groves of plum and cherry-blossom trees are stunning, in summer white lotuses unfurl, and in autumn the maple trees are a delight for photographers. There are also seasonal events (fancy some harvest-moon viewing?).
Built on the orders of daimyō Ikeda Tsunemasa, the garden was completed in 1700 and, despite suffering major damage during floods in the 1930s and air raids in the 1940s, it remains much as it was in feudal times. It was opened to the public in 1884.
In summer, from late July to mid-August, the garden and castle are dreamily lit up and stay open to 9.30pm.
From Okayama Station, take the Higashi-yama tram to the Shiroshita stop, from where it's about 10 minutes on foot. Bus 18 (¥100, 10 minutes) from the station will drop you right outside the garden (Kōraku-en-mae stop). Alternatively, walking the entire way will take about 25 minutes.