The town faces Matsushima Bay, famous for some 260 tiny islands (島 - shima) covered in pines (松 - matsu) — hence the name -- and ranked as one of Japan's Three Great Views.
In 1689, Haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited Matsushima on the trip recorded in Narrow Road to the Deep North. A well-known poem often attributed to Basho claims to record his reaction, signifying that nothing more could be said:
The town did not suffer significant damage due to the Great East Japan Earthquake; the tsunami damage was minimal and was mostly repaired by May of 2011. The scenery, temples, shrines, sightseeing boats and museums are still open and still worth the trip.
The Senseki train from Sendai was fully restored to Matsushima-kaigan station in 2011 and restored through to Ishinomaki in May 2015.
The town is only a short distance from prefectural capital Sendai.
Most visitors arrive on the JR Senseki Line (仙石線) connecting Sendai (40 minutes by local train) and Ishinomaki. Trains bound for Ishinomaki or Takagimachi will pass through Matsushima-Kaigan Station. Trains bound for Tagajo or a Shiogama Station will stop short of Matsushima-Kaigan and you will need to change trains. The most convenient station is Matsushima-Kaigan (松島海岸). The Matsushima station on the JR Tohoku Line is a 15-20 minute walk from the waterfront.
From Tokyo, the Shinkansen bullet train runs to Sendai for connection to the Senseki Line. The total one-way fare is ¥10,900 using the fastest, all-reserved shinkansen service, and the journey to Matsushima-Kaigan lasts around 2 3/4 hours. There is no charge if you use the Japan Rail Pass.
Another popular choice is to take the JR Senseki line train to Hon-Shiogama (don't mistake it with JR Tohoku Line train to Shiogama station), connect to a sightseeing boat to Matsushima (50 minutes; 1500 yen, viewing some of the famous islands along the way), then return to Sendai by train.
Matsushima's seaside attractions are within walking distance of the train station and ferry pier, but the best views are from hilltops not so easy to reach on foot. The easiest to get to is Shin Tomiyama, a panoramic overlook nestled on a back-road between Matsushima station and Zuiganji Temple. The most spectacular views are from Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park, a ¥660 cab ride up from Matsushima-Kaigan station or 20 minute walk. It is covered with cherry blossoms in the spring. A new cafe opened in October 2015, Cafe le Roman, which serves excellent French-inspired food and snacks. Other overlooks are Sōkanzan, a promontory that juts out into the bay, and ŌOgitani, a hill across the coastal highway from Sokanzan. Both are 25-30 minute walks from Matsushima-Kaigan Station or a 10 minute bicycle ride (rental cycles available at Aihara Shoten next to Matsushima-Kaigan station.)