Travel Destination Japan – Japan is a place that I think everyone should visit. From futuristic skyscrapers to peaceful bamboo forests and neon arcades to serene temples, it’s like nowhere else on the planet.
The food is amazing, the people are ultra friendly, and it has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. We love the combination of easy travel and glorious confusion.
Travel Destination Japan
Japan has so much to offer, but where to start? These are our picks for the 10 best places to visit in Japan, perfect for your first or second trip to the country (plus additional suggestions for repeat visits that are likely to happen!).
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I’ve included our favorite things to do in each location, how long to spend there, and where we stayed. At the end of the article, you will find a map of all these destinations in Japan to start planning your itinerary.
I recommend mixing a few of the popular cities (most people won’t want to miss Tokyo and Kyoto) with quieter, more rural places in Japan to see a different side of the country and take a break from the crowds.
This is traditional Japan as you imagined it – geishas in brightly colored kimonos stepping out of wooden teahouses, bamboo forests, gold, silver and red temples and shrines, gardens Zen gravel, elaborate feasts served on lacquered plates, graceful tea ceremonies and markets full of intriguing but unidentified ingredients.
The concrete skyscrapers of central Kyoto can be disappointing, so climb into the mountains to the surrounding neighborhoods where you’ll find narrow stone streets, old wooden houses, monks in flowing robes, and the sounds of chanting and chanting. gongs at many temples and shrines.
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Gion is a place to spot geishas, Higashiyama has many beautiful temples to explore and Arashiyama in the western hills is one of the most traditional neighborhoods and home to bamboo gardens, picturesque temples and monkeys.
Kyoto is one of Japan’s top tourist spots, so try to visit popular temples early in the morning as they get crowded.
How long to stay: 3 night minimum, but 5 nights would be better. We spent two months in Kyoto and still haven’t done everything! Staying longer also makes it easier for you to avoid the crowds (you have more mornings available) and take some of those great day trips from Kyoto.
Read: Our article on the many amazing things to do in Kyoto (and how to avoid the crowds) and our guide to Kyoto’s temples and shrines and Kyoto’s best vegetarian restaurants
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Where to stay in Kyoto: During our last trip we stayed in an apartment in Miyagawacho, a geisha district close to Gion but much quieter. We saw geishas often and were able to walk to many of the city’s main attractions. Search for apartments in Miyagawacho here. The modern hotel The Celestine is also located in this area. If you prefer a traditional ryokan, the Ryokan Yachiyo near Nanzenji Temple is magnificent. Find more accommodation in Kyoto here.
Here you’ll find skyscrapers, noisy arcades, busy crosswalks, quirky youth fashions, and plenty of incredibly delicious restaurants.
If all you do in Tokyo is eat, you’ll have an amazing time – even as vegetarians, we ate so well.
Tokyo is home to some of the weirdest things we’ve ever done. From themed cafes (cats, owls, maids, robots, goats – you name it, Tokyo has it) to sensory overload shows and arcades to costume go-karting.
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On my first trip to Tokyo, I was overwhelmed by the sprawling city and couldn’t help but compare it unfavorably to Kyoto.
On repeat visits I’ve come to love the city (the food certainly helped) and while it’s not as glamorous as Kyoto, there’s so much to do you won’t want to skip it.
How long to stay: 3-5 nights or more if you want to do day trips (like Nikko, Kawaguchiko or Hakone (for Mount Fuji) and Kamakura). We have spent over a month here on various trips and always find new things to do. If time is limited, I would spend more time in Kyoto than in Tokyo.
Where to stay in Tokyo: Read why I think Shinjuku is the best area to stay in Tokyo. We usually rent an apartment in Shinjuku which is great if you are on a budget. Or a perch at the luxurious Park Hyatt hotel where the film is shown
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Tip: We recommend buying a Japan Rail Pass in advance as it will save you money and it’s easy to get on and off trains all over the country. Read our guide to train tickets in Japan for more details.
Takayama is an utterly beautiful little town on the edge of the Japanese Alps and one of the best and least visited places in Japan.
I loved walking around the historic center full of traditional wooden houses, colorful shrines, neatly shaped trees and bright red bridges over the river.
How long to stay: 2-3 nights. We stayed 2 nights and wished we could have stayed longer as there is so much to do in the surrounding countryside. For longer stays, you can take day trips to the traditional thatched houses of Shirakawa-go and hike to Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps.
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Where to stay in Takayama: We stayed at the Super Hotel Hida Takayama, a good mid-range business hotel near the station. Next time I want to stay at Oyado Koto No Yume, an onsen ryokan that gets great reviews. Find more hotels in Takayama here.
Tip: Check out our 2 Week Japan Itinerary for more details on combining these best places in Japan for one amazing trip.
Mount Fuji is on most people’s list of places to visit in Japan, but this must-see landmark in Japan can be quite elusive and is often hidden by clouds.
There are a number of places you can view the mountain from (Kawaguchiko is another great option), but Hakone is easy to get to from Tokyo and there are plenty of other things to do in the area at the in case you are unlucky with observations. . .
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Despite visiting on a cloudy and rainy day, we were lucky enough to see Mount Fuji emerging from the clouds above Lake Ashi and it was magical!
Hakone is also fun to visit as you can loop the sights on different modes of transport – train, bus, pirate ship (yes, really!) and cable car.
How long to stay: You can visit a day trip from Tokyo, but I recommend 1-2 nights to experience the ryokan and onsen. We stayed one night and did part of the loop in the afternoon, arriving and the rest in the morning. Although it was enough for the main sights, we wished we could have enjoyed our ryokan longer.
Where to stay in Hakone: Hotel Musasia was one of the best places we stayed in Japan. This is a modern ryokan on the shores of Lake Ashi in Moto Hakone. We loved our cozy tatami room overlooking the lake, the indoor and outdoor onsen baths (also overlooking the lake), and the delicious vegetarian feast served to us in our room. It was wonderfully relaxing. Find more hotels in Hakone here.
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Kanazawa is one of the best cities to visit in Japan, but few foreign tourists visit.
It also has one of the most beautiful gardens in the country, a magnificent castle and many art museums to explore.
Where to stay in Kanazawa: We stayed in a standard business hotel in the center – there are plenty of budget options. Find hotels in Kanazawa here.
Nikko is a temple town and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the mountains a few hours north of Tokyo and is a cool retreat from the city. The area is known for its vibrant fall colors.
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Temples and shrines with their green gates and moss-covered stone lanterns dot the forested hillside.
The main attraction is Toshogu Temple, a magnificent complex of more than a dozen richly decorated red and gold buildings among towering ancient cedars. The crowds can be overwhelming, so head to one of the quieter shrines next.
How long to spend: You can visit Nikko as a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s worth spending a night or two to explore one of the most beautiful places in Japan, including hiking trails, lakes, waterfalls and hot springs.
We stayed one night and wished we had two so we could visit Toshogu Temple early on the second day.
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Where to stay in Nikko: We stayed at Nikko Park Lodge Tobu Station, a good budget option conveniently located near the train stations. For more character, you can stay in a traditional ryokan with a view and outdoor onsen baths. Some highly rated ryokans include Nikko Hoshino Yado and Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa. Find more hotels in Nico here.
Koya-san (Mount Koya) is one of the most interesting places in Japan to experience the traditional side of the country.
This secluded and sacred temple town is located in the forest covered mountains of Kansai and is one of the best places to get a taste of monk life while staying in
After wandering through someone else’s Okunoin Forest graveyard, we came to our own.