Top Unmissable Places to Visit in Japan
One of the top travel destinations in the world, Japan is truly a country of endless discovery and a plethora of choices when it comes to things to do, see and experience. Therefore, savouring its all charm or choosing where to go in Japan is not an easy task. To help you save time and have a good start, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in Japan that are perfect for your first or second trip to the country. Let’s have a look.
Almost every traveller to Japan starts their journey in Tokyo, but more than just a gateway to other destinations, the capital city with its perfect blend of the ancient and the new takes longer time for visitors to explore all highlights. At first sight, Tokyo is an incredibly ultramodern city with towering skyscrapers, busy pedestrian crossings, and amazing street fashion. However, a walk down the streets will lead you to its counterpart, full of serenity and tranquillity. You will see traditional gardens with pink hues of cherry blossoms, numerous time-honoured shrines, including the most famous, Meiji Shrine, and the oldest, Sensoji Temple, many delicious restaurants and of course, don’t forget to visit Tsukiji Fish Market, where you can get the best sushi on the planet.
In Tokyo don’t miss:
• Exploring the old and new cultures of Tokyo in Asakusa & Harajuku
• Walking across the famous Shibuya Crossing
• Getting lost in the biggest seafood heaven of Tsukiji Market
• Stepping back in time to Edo era in Kawagoe Town
• Admiring geeky and futuristic architecture on Odaiba man-made island
• Visiting Ueno Park in March – April for the best cherry blossom viewing spot
• Watching a real sumo morning training with locals
Recommended duration: 3 – 5 days
If your vacation to Japan is short and you can choose only one destination to visit (apart from Tokyo), make it Kyoto. It was the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years and today is best known as the country’s cultural capital, where you can catch a glimpse of old Japan and experience its many traditional arts. Located on central Honshu Island, Kyoto is home to a thousand of temples and shrines in gold and silver, ancient palaces, wooden teahouses with geisha in brightly coloured kimonos, landscaped Zen gardens and lush bamboo forests. As the best city in Japan for cultural insight, you should visit the landmarks early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
In Kyoto don’t miss:
• Wandering through the thousands of vermilion torii (Shinto shrine gates) of Fushimi Inari shrine
• Visiting Kyoto heritage sites, such as Nijo Castle, Ryoan-Ji Temple, Jojakkoji Temple, Kinkaku-ji Temple, Tenryu-ji Temple
• Discovering the birthplace of geisha culture in Gion district
• Taking part in an art class, like calligraphy, tea ceremony or cooking
• Experiencing the unique omikuji or paper fortune at Kifune Shrine in the village of Kibune
• Getting inside the birthland of Matcha in Uji
• Stepping into the magic Arashiyama Bamboo Forests
Recommended duration: 3 – 5 days
Nestled amid lush forests and the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is an important cultural town with the mystical vibes of the used-to-be sacred land. The most famous attraction in the city is Toshogu Shrine that is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the legendary founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. With a dozen lavishly decorated gold buildings surrounded by huge, ancient cedar trees and vermillion gates, it is considered an outstanding cultural legacy of the Edo era. In addition to this, many travellers visit Nikko for its relaxing Japanese onsens and splendid natural landscapes. An ideal trip can be made during the autumn when you can admire the stunning red-yellow forests or visit sparkling waterfalls and scenic lakes.
In Nikko don’t miss:
• Visiting Toshogu Shrine and Kanmangafuchi Abyss
• Snapping photos of the picture-perfect Shinkyo bridge and Futarasan-jinja
• Taking a scenic boat trip on the tranquil waters of Lake Chuzenji
• Hiking to the spectacular Ryuzu Falls and Kegon Falls
• Traveling back hundreds of years to Japan’s medieval era in Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
• Exploring Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park
Recommended duration: 1 – 2 days
A pleasant and picturesque tourist destination, Hakone is a Japan’s favourite day trip place located just a short train ride to the southwest of Tokyo. The town is home to many relaxing hot springs, beautiful mountain scenery and a number of galleries and museums with exquisite sculptures and artworks. Most visitors to Hakone will take a boat ride on one of the pirate ships to admire the tranquil Lake Ashi and great views of Mount Fuji in the distance, while those wanting to escape the crowds will choose peaceful hiking trails of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Hakone is also fun to visit on different modes of transport like train, bus or cable car.
In Hakone don’t miss:
• Seeing Mount Fuji from a pirate ship
• Experiencing Hakone Ropeway for great views of Owakudani Valley with its active sulfur vents and hot springs
• Staying in a ryokan (traditional inn) and enjoying Japanese hospitality
• Exploring craftsman's works in Karakuri Secret Box Museum
• Admiring the rolling fields of pampas grass in Sengoku area
• Hiking through Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Recommended duration: 1 – 3 days
Takayama is a beautifully preserved traditional town located high up in the northern Japanese Alps of Central Honshu, in Gifu prefecture. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the town is famous for its tranquil townscape, exquisite houses and buildings dating from the Edo Period, making it a picturesque place for experiencing old Japan. Here, you will find many streets of old merchants’ homes, fantastic sake breweries and boutiques, and have a chance to make local handicrafts at the Hida Folk Village as well. If you’re after vivid ambience and atmosphere, take a trip during the annual Sanno Matsuri and Yahata Matsuri festival, when you can see lavishly decorated floats parade through the town.
In Hakone don’t miss:
• Wandering the old town and admiring ancient architecture
• Savoring delicious food from the morning markets
• Seeing the extravagant floats at Yatai Kaikan (the Floats Museum)
• Visiting the Hida Folk Village to see traditional thatched houses
• Experiencing large outdoor hot spring baths in Okuhida Onsen
Recommended duration: 2 – 3 days
There are a lot of destinations to visit in Japan but make sure you pay a visit to these suggested places. If you need more ideas of where to go in Japan or look to a brilliant trip plan, check out our list of best Japan Private Tours or contact our Asia Private Tours expert team at any time.