“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard.
You may be wondering, what are the best places to visit in Japan? You see, rather than a straight answer for this, it’s more of a squiggle…
All too often in Japan travel forums I see this question asked repeatedly, and every time the answers are drastically different. The “best” places are always going to depend on the interests of the person answering – perhaps they love modern robots and anime, whereas someone else may adore ancient history and tradition.
Thankfully, there are so many cultural experiences in Japan to suit all kinds of tourists. But first, we need to decide what “best” means to you. Don’t worry if you’re unsure, because I’m here to help you figure this out so you can plan the Japan itinerary that’s perfect for you!
I’m going to share the dozens of places I’ve visited in Japan over the past decade, the things to see and do in each based on interests, and who they would be best suited to. Think of this article as the “Tinder for Japan destinations”: Instead of swiping right when you find your match, you can scroll down and click through to my accompanying detailed articles for more info on each place.
From popular cities to their lesser-known alternatives, I’m about to share the best places in Japan for Foodies, Culture Vultures, Maritime History Fans, Edo Period Nostalgia, Nature Lovers, Spiritual Travellers, Architecture Geeks, and even Ancient History Fans. Which will be best suited to you? Read on for more!
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TIP: If you’re wondering about the places to visit according to season, my guides to the best time to visit Japan for cherry blossoms, where to go during spring in Japan and the things no one tells you about summer in Japan or winter in Japan will help you out instead! Planning your honeymoon? My guide to a honeymoon in Japan will help you explore the most romantic destinations.
What are the best places to visit in Japan for every type of traveller?
As I am going to recommend destinations I have personally visited and written about on my Japan travel blog, I guess we could say these are my “best” suggestions for who I believe they would be suited to. But please don’t just take my word for it, travel is all about going and seeing for yourself!
TIP: Planning on taking several shinkansen bullet train trips in Japan? The famed Japan Rail Pass can save you a lot of money throughout your trip! Buy in advance here as they are more expensive in Japan.
Are you ready to take notes? Here we go, in no particular order…
Tokyo: One of the best places to visit in Japan for first timers
Best suited for: All kinds of travellers
As the world’s largest city, there is literally something for everyone in Japan’s capital! There are dozens of neighbourhoods in Tokyo, so it’s a good idea to figure out the ones you wish to visit before your trip.
Tokyo really does have it all… Sprawling parks to escape the hustle and bustle, ancient temples and modern shrines, locations to spot from popular anime, preserved Edo-era neighbourhoods, countless shopping options, iconic landmarks and city outlooks, narrow laneways for foodies, endless cultural experiences to enjoy… Need I go on?
TIP: My detailed 6 days in Tokyo itinerary is a great starting point for first-time visitors, and even for your second (or subsequent) trips as it includes plenty of lesser-known spots and tips, as well as where to stay in Tokyo based on all the 7 hotels I’ve personally enjoyed!
Things to do in Tokyo
- Discover Shibuya! Aside from the famous Scramble Crossing, check out these things to do in Shibuya during the day and night, my guide to visiting Shibuya Sky (Tokyo’s top attraction in my opinion!), how to find the best ramen in Shibuya, and even where to find hidden street food in Shibuya.
- Visit Kanda & Akihabara for anime fans and learn 6 cultural experiences with my guide to meeting a geisha in Tokyo at Kanda Shrine
- Explore Shinjuku’s tranquil side at tranquil Shinjuku Gyoen before and Neon lights and alleyways of Shinjuku at night
- Enjoy Harajuku’s kawaii (cute) snacks and treats
- Explore old town Tokyo in Yanaza Ginza, an Edo-era preserved neighbourhood, and meet a 5th-generation tea master for a wagashi-making class and Tokyo tea ceremony
- Don’t miss Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo’s most important temple and one of the most famous landmarks of Japan (and some Tokyo hidden gems located nearby)
- Go shopping in Ginza for luxury goods and department stores
- On a clear day, see Mt Fuji over 100 kms away from the Tokyo SkyTree
- Marvel the Minato neighbourhood’s Tokyo Tower and enjoy a casual tea ceremony at Hamarikyu Gardens.
Yokohama: One of the most fun cities to visit in Japan
Best suited for: Maritime History Fans, Foodies, Architecture Geeks
As Japan’s second largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama can often be overlooked by foreigners despite it being one of the easiest day trips from Tokyo.
Just 30mins away from Tokyo by train, Yokohama is dotted with reminders of the city’s important role in maritime trade when Japan reopened its closed borders after its 200 year isolation period during the Tokugawa era.
Settlement building ruins hiding in plain sight, picturesque harbour front walkways, a giant Gundam robot, massive Ferris wheel and the largest Chinatown in all of Japan make it a cosmopolitan place to spend a day (and even the night!)
TIP: Check out my detailed guide to many more things to do in Yokohama during the day and night for more!
Things to do in Yokohama
- Allow the CupNoodles Museum to inspire your creativity
- Don’t miss Minato Mirai’s night illuminations along the waterfront
- See the giant Gundam robot up close
- Go bar hopping in the Noge neighbourhood which escape redevelopment
- Enjoy a treat at the old Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
- Eat your way around Yokohama Chinatown and explore the detailed temples
- Walk across the Yokohama Bay Bridge.
Kawagoe: One of the underrated cities to visit
Best suited for: Edo Period Nostalgia, Spiritual Travellers, Foodies, Architecture Geeks
Perhaps one of my favourite day trips from Tokyo by train is the incredible town of Kawagoe. A prosperous trading area during the Edo Period (1603-1867), dominating the Old Town’s skyline is a 16-metre wooden bell tower that dates back to the 17th century, complete with a shrine at its foundation.
With visitors dressing up in kimono and yukata for the day to leisurely wander around the city and enjoy its many cafes, Kawagoe is a must for anyone who loves Edo Period buildings and nostalgia, as well as art deco architecture during the Showa Period (1926 – 1989)!
TIP: Read my itinerary for a Kawagoe day trip from Tokyo for more details and things to do!
Things to do in Kawagoe
- Find old Edo Castle buildings at Kita-in, transported along the river from Edo (now Tokyo) centuries ago
- Admire the intricately decorated old warehouses of Kura no Machi
- Fish for your fortune and wander through the ema tunnel at Hikawa Shrine, a beauty at sundown
- Eat all the lollies and sweet potatoes along Penny Candy Alley, which once supplied candy throughout Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923
- Buy souvenirs from Japan in the form of a lucky 3-legged crow at Kumano-jinja Shrine
- Don’t miss Shimgashi Riverbed during spring, extensively lined with pink flowers during cherry blossom season.
Fujinomiya (Mount Fuji): The most iconic Japan place to visit
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures, Spiritual Travellers
One of Japan’s newest UNESCO World Heritage sites listed in 2013, Mt Fuji is a must for any Japan itinerary. Her evasiveness is part of her intrigue (as she’s only visible about 80 days of the year!) and as the most sacred mountain in the country, she is recognised as a spiritual and artistic icon.
Culture vultures will get excited at the prospect of learning more about Mt Fuji’s role throughout Japanese history, while nature lovers will enjoy gazing at her from multiple surrounding viewpoints.
Often overlooked by foreigners, Fujinomiya is one of the best places to visit in Japan for sunrise views. As it was the ancient starting point for pilgrims to climb when Kyoto was Japan’s ancient capital, Fujinomiya today is home to the Mt Fuji World Heritage Centre where visitors can take a virtual journey to the mountains’ summit and learn all about her.
Things to do in Fujinomiya
- Wake up to the sun rising over Mt Fuji from your hotel room
- Explore Fujisan Hongen Taisha Shrine, where pilgrims once said their final prayers before their journey
- Admire the clear waters of Wakutamaike Pond, considered sacred for purifying rituals
- Try sake at a brewery made with Mt Fuji’s water, some of the purest in the country
- Visit nearby Shiraito Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Catch Diamond Fuji from Lake Tanuki during the spring and autumn equinoxes
- Take a leisurely walk to the Urui River, especially for cherry blossoms against Mt Fuji in spring.
Nara: One of the best places to go in Japan for ancient history
Best suited for: Architecture Geeks, Spiritual Travellers, Ancient History Fans, Nature Lovers
While Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for 1,000 years, Nara was its ancient one beforehand from 710 – 794 AD. It’s arguably the best place to visit in Japan for ancient history.
Sacred deer, believed to be messengers to the gods, roam free here and love being fed shika senbei (deer crackers) by visitors.
Architecture Geeks, Spiritual Travellers and Ancient History Fans will be left in awe by the many structures in Nara with deep connections to the past. It’s such a special place, with its outermost temples and shrines nestled within mossy, leafy grounds.
TIP: My detailed one day in Nara itinerary is a great starting point for first-time visitors, as it includes plenty of lesser-known spots and tips for visiting.
Things to do in Nara
- Make friends with the sacred deer in Nara Deer Park
- Marvel at Todai-ji, the largest wooden structure in the world until recently
- Admire the Daibutsu and its golden counterpart
- Visit the ancient temples and shrines such as Kasuga Taisha, Todai-ji Nigatsu-do and Kofuku-ji
- Explore the old stores around Naramachi
- Participate in a matsuri festival if one coincides with your trip.
Kyoto: A Japan must-see city
Best suited for: Foodies, Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures, Architecture Geeks, Spiritual Travellers, Ancient History Fans
Did you know Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for over 1,000 years from 794 – 1868? Thousands of temples and shrines were built throughout the city over the centuries, making Kyoto one of the best places to visit in Japan for ancient history.
From tea ceremonies and ryokan to ancient matsuri festivals, geisha upholding centuries-old traditions, thriving food scene and national treasures housed within artistic temples, it’s no surprise that Kyoto is regarded as the cultural heart of Japan.
TIP: My detailed 4 days in Kyoto itinerary is a great starting point for first-time visitors, and even for your second (or subsequent) trips as it includes plenty of lesser-known spots and tips.
Things to do in Kyoto
- Visit temples and shrines, most notably Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji and Fushimi Inari Shrine – but don’t forget to add some Kyoto hidden gems to your itinerary to avoid crowds and have a more fulfilling experience
- Spot geisha running errands in Pontocho and Gion, or meet one as I did during a Kyoto tea ceremony
- Get nostalgic for the Edo Period along narrow Sannenzaka and Ninnenzaka streets
- Eat your way through Nishiki Market and try all the matcha (green tea) treats
- Pay respects at Yasaka Shrine
- Visit Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Explore the bamboo groves of Arashiyama and discover dozens of at lesser-known spots overlooked by foreign tourists
- Go bar hopping with locals in Kyoto at night
- See Kyoto Tower illuminated at night.
Miyajima: One of the best day trip destinations
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Spiritual Travellers, Ancient History Fans
Located just 45mins away from Hiroshima by express ferry lies the gorgeous island of Miyajima. Like Nara Park, Nature Lovers will enjoy Miyajima as it’s home to sacred deer that roam freely through the streets, parks and shrines.
Literally translating to “Shrine Island,” Miyajima’s grand floating torii of Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s top tourist attractions, dating as far back as the 6th century. From mid-2019 to late 2022, the torii underwent reconstruction and is now like new for Spiritual Travellers and Ancient History Fans to enjoy.
Dotted with smaller temples, shrines and hiking tracks, the island’s peak Mt Misen can be reached by cable car or on foot – although, after 30mins I was ready to give up as the staircases on the easiest track turned my legs to jelly!
TIP: My guide to travelling from Hiroshima to Miyajima covers the 3 ways to visit the island with different transport options and passes, as well as the below activities in further detail.
Things to do in Miyajima
- Admire the floating grand torii of Itsukushima Shrine (or walk beneath it at low tide)
- Make friends with the sacred deer
- Go souvenir shopping along Omotesando
- Head to Mt Misen’s peak by cable car or foot
- Admire jizo in colourful knitted hats at Daisho-in Temple
- Enjoy the natural beauty of Momijidani Park, famed for its autumn foliage
- Try momiji-manju, small leaf-shaped treats filled with red bean paste or custard.
Nikko: One of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures, Architecture Geeks
Located 2 hours north of Tokyo in Tochigi Prefecture and nestled within lush forests is Nikko, final resting place of one of the great unifiers of Japan, Tokogawa Ieyasu.
Not only will architecture lovers have to pick their jaws off the floor at the detail of Toshogu Shrine, they will also be blown away by miniature versions of their favourite landmarks at Tobu World Square!
Culture vultures like myself will love Edo Wonderland, where they can learn more about what life was like during this time through activities, workshops and live performances.
And of course, nature lovers will spend their time in Nikko as locals do on numerous hikes to waterfalls, lakes, soaking in hot springs and indulging in shinrin yoku (forest bathing – learn more beautiful Japanese words like this here).
Things to do in Nikko
- Don’t miss the UNESCO Temples and Shrines of Nikko, including Tokugawa Ieyasu’s tomb
- Take a photo of the iconic Shinyoku Bridge against a leafy backdrop
- Have fun spotting miniature landmarks and 140,000 small figurines at Tobu World Square
- Admire the natural beauty of Kegon Falls, Ryuzu Falls and Lake Chuzenji
- Step back in time to the Edo Period at Edo Wonderland
- Stay in a traditional ryokan with hot springs at Kinugawa Onsen.
Takayama: One of the unique alternatives to Kyoto
Best suited for: Foodies, Culture Vultures, Edo Period Nostalgia
Do you love sake and wagyu beef? While Takayama is bursting with cultural charm and things to see, these two things alone mean Takayama is the destination for you! The sake here is so pure as it’s made with water from the Hida Mountains.
Known as the “Little Kyoto of Hida,” stretched along Takayama’s canal-lined streets are old wooden townhouses of Sanmachi-Suji that have been converted into shops, breweries, ryokan (traditional accommodation), specialty stores and more.
With spring and autumn matsuri festivals a huge drawcard for visitors, nearby thatched farmhouses provide insight into what life was like in the Japanese Alps during the Edo Period.
Things to do in Takayama
- Have breakfast at the Miyagawa Morning Market
- Visit Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, home to the famous matsuri
- See the giant festival floats up close at Takayama Yatai Kaikan
- Find the festival float sheds in the streets
- Sample pure sake and Hida beef, some of the country’s best
- Admire a 1:10 scale model of Nikko’s UNESCO sites at Sakurayama Nikkokan
- Watch a traditional puppet show from the Edo Period at Karakuri Museum
- Take a day trip to Shirakawa-go or its lesser-known and closer alternative Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village).
Kurashiki: One of the unique places to visit in Japan
Best suited for: Culture Vultures, Architecture Geeks, Edo Period Nostalgia
Can’t get enough of preserved Edo Period towns? Consider spending the night in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, the “Venice of Japan.” Wearing traditional pointed hats on small wooden boats, visitors can take an enjoyable ride along the town’s grand canal, dipping beneath the willow trees and stone bridges.
Once a thriving merchant town, the old white warehouses have been converted into funky little museums, boutiques, shops and cafes. Some of which you’d be hard-pressed to find any similar in Japan.
Perhaps the most surprising attraction is the thoroughly impressive Ohara Museum of Western Art. Featuring original artworks by grand masters such as Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Rodin, Gauguin and even Pollock, the story of how they ended up here is fascinating so I’ll allow you to see for yourself!
TIP: My guide to things to do in Kurashiki covers the below activities and more in further detail, and provides recommendations for where to stay.
Things to do in Kurashiki
- Be surprised at the Ohara Museum of Western Art
- Take a boat ride on the canal
- Wander around Honmachi-dori, preserved shopping street
- Explore Kurashiki Ivy Square
- Enjoy a tour by rickshaw around the town
- Visit the Japan Rural Toy Museum or Kurashiki Archaeological Museum
- Make your own pair of jeans on Kojima Jeans Street
- Dress up in kimono or yukata for the day.
Nagasaki: City of Million Dollar Views
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Maritime History Fans, Architecture Geeks
Often omitted from the itineraries of first-timers to Japan, there are so many reasons why this city in Kyushu Prefecture should make it onto your radar! I loved it so much I even included it in my Japan honeymoon itinerary.
Once the only source to the outside world during Japan’s 200 years of isolationist policy under Tokugawa Shogunate rule, Nagasaki suffered the same unfortunate fate as Hiroshima during WWII.
However, its surrounding naturally beautiful scenery has earnt Nagasaki the title of one of only 3 “Million Dollar Night Views” in the world, alongside Monaco and Shanghai. The city’s ties to maritime trade with Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese settlers prior make it so fascinating to visit, too!
TIP: My 2 days in Nagasaki itinerary covers the below attractions in further detail and tips for where to stay to make the most of your time here.
Things to do in Nagasaki
- Learn what happened during WWII at the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Museum
- Find the Atomic Bomb-Damaged Torii Arch at Sanno Shrine
- Pay a visit to the inspiring Giant Camphor Trees of Sanno Shinto Shrine
- Have your breath taken away at Mount Inasa with incredible “Million Dollar Night Views”
- Head to the scenic hills of the Minami-Yamate District (and don’t forget to try the local pudding)
- Eat your way around Shinchi Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Japan
- Get lost in the details of Confucius Shrine
- Cross over the 17th century Meganebashi “Spectacles” Bridge
- Learn about the city’s maritime port history at Dejima
- Take a day trip to (or stay overnight) at Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch themed park with rides and night illuminations.
TIP: My full guide and review of visiting Huis Ten Bosch Japan has all the details about attractions, tickets, where to stay, what to expect and more.
Best suited for: History Fans, Edo Period Nostalgia
About an hour from Nagasaki in Kyushu is the little-known town of Arita. Famed for Arita-yaki, or Arita pottery, the town is akin to a time capsule into the Edo era. It’s perfect for escaping the crowds of Kyoto.
With Arita’s traditional streets lined with little porcelain shops and boutiques, it was the first place in Japan to create porcelain thanks to skilled craftsmen brought over from Korea.
Almost everything in Arita is related to stunning blue and white porcelain, so this is the place to purchase some as a lovely souvenir!
TIP: Check out my detailed Arita travel guide, including how to get there for more.
Things to do in Arita
- Explore the Tombai Wall Alleys
- Discover the Arita Ceramic Museum
- Admire the craftsmanship of the porcelain torii at Tozan Shrine
- Enjoy lunch at Arita Porcelain Lab
- Take in sweeping valley views at the Memorial Statue of Lee Sam Pei
- Visit Tosa (Sueyama) Shrine
- Be left in awe at the giant Gingko Tree of Arita
- Find the Porcelain handrails and details at Arita Station
- Admire the porcelain vases decorating Higashinomae Bridge
- Witness exceptional stone craftsmanship at Keiun-ji Temple.
Kamakura: One of the most spiritual places to visit
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Spiritual Travellers Ancient History Fans
Once a powerful military hub in ancient times, the coastal town of Kamakura was once Japan’s capital city from 1135 – 1333. It can easily be reached in around an hour south of Tokyo, and is packed with interesting Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
Nature lovers will adore the sprawling gardens within the many temple grounds and seaside vibes, while spiritual travellers will be left in awe by the blending of religions over time in the form of shrines, temples, carvings in ancient caves and a famous giant Buddha.
TIP: Check out my detailed guide to how to take a Kamakura day trip from Tokyo and more things to help plan your visit!
Things to do in Kamakura
- Eat your way along Komachi-dori
- Learn how to pray at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
- See the thousands of miniature red torii at Maruyama Inari Shrine
- Admire Japan’s second-largest bronze daibutsu, the Giant Buddha at Kotoku-in Monastary. It’s over 800 years old!
- Uncover Hasedera Temple’s incredible history, gardens and seaside views
- Explore the bamboo groves of Hokoku-ji Temple.
Osaka: One of the best places in Japan for foodies
Best suited for: Foodies, Architecture Geeks, Culture Vultures
Its sprawling pedestrian-only streets crammed with all kinds of eateries has earnt Osaka the title of the “Kitchen of Japan.” So much so, the Japanese word kudaiore is the city’s unofficial slogan and means eat ‘til you drop!
The jewel in the city’s architectural crown is undoubtedly Osaka Castle, its golden trims and intricate details glisten in the sunlight. Historically a samurai city rather than one of merchants, you may notice that unlike the rest of Japan, people tend to walk and keep on the right-side of escalators here, rather than left.
Want to impress locals with some basic Japanese phrases? Be sure to use the local Kansai dialect and say onkini for thank you!
TIP: My detailed 3 days in Osaka itinerary is a great starting point for first-time visitors, as it includes lesser-known spots and tips.
Things to do in Osaka
- Eat your way along Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi-suji and Kuromon Ichiba Market
- Take a photo with the Glico Man neon signboard
- Don’t skip the museum and observation deck at the top of Osaka Castle
- Pay a visit to Namba Shrine, where a giant lion’s head greets you
- Check out the old retro architecture and signage through Shinsekai on an Osaka street food tour
- Hit up Amerikamura for American-themed merch
- Visit Super Mario & Harry Potter Worlds within Universal Studios Japan (buy advance tickets here).
Hiroshima: One of the humbling places to go in Japan
Best suited for: Foodies, Nature Lovers, Modern History Fans
Despite its incredibly sad past, Hiroshima is one of the best places to visit in Japan not only for Modern History Fans, but also for Foodies and Culture Vultures.
On 6 August 1945, Hiroshima was the first recipient of an Allied nuclear bomb blast, changing its landscape and the lives of its inhabitants forever. While the city has been rebuilt in a way that you’d never otherwise guess the atrocities that happened on that fateful day, its Atomic Bomb Dome in the city’s centre is a haunting reminder.
But it’s not all about reflecting on the past. Hiroshima is a bustling, vibrant city in a naturally beautiful area of southern Japan that is worth spending a night or two.
TIP: My guide to things to do in Hiroshima elaborates on the following activities and more in further detail, as well as provides tips for visiting and my hotel recommendations for where to stay.
Things to do in Hiroshima
- Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park with the Atomic Bomb Dome and related monuments
- Hear stories from survivors of the blast at the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
- Spot the nuclear shadow visible on a Jizoson
- Eat all the okonomiyaki in Okonomimura
- Enjoy a bar hopping tour with locals
- Take a Japanese cooking class with a local
- Shop along the Hondori Arcade and eat famous soufflé pancakes at Happy Pancake
- Pay a visit to Hiroshima Castle
- Tour the Mazda Museum.
Kanazawa: An alternative capital of culture
Best suited for: Foodies, Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures, Edo Period Nostalgia, Architecture Geeks
Also known as a “Little Kyoto,” Kanazawa is a cultural capital brimming with traditional wooden townhouses, intriguing tales of geisha, remnants of ruling samurai classes and beautifully preserved neighbourhoods.
With the ability to evoke Edo Period Nostalgia, did you know Kanazawa is home to 99% of Japan’s gold leaf production and even a ninja trick temple? It’s also one of the few remaining cities where geisha still actively practise today.
Kanazawa’s most prized attraction is undoubtedly Kenroku-en gardens, once part of the castle grounds. Dating back to the 17th century, the beautifully landscaped gardens are gorgeous anytime of year and are full of symbolism throughout.
TIP: My 2 days in Kanazawa itinerary covers the meanings behind the symbolism throughout Kenroku-en, as well as details about each of the below activities and tips for where to stay.
Things to do in Kanazawa
- Admire the details of Tsuzumi-mon Gate
- Eat your way through Ōmichō Ichiba Market
- Be blown away by ninja trickery at Myouru-ji, known as the “Ninja Temple”
- Be left in awe at the size of Kanazawa Castle
- Find hidden symbolism in Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s Top3 Gardens
- Walk in geisha’s footsteps in the Higashi-chaya District
- Step back in time in the Nagamachi Samurai District
- Discover how the samurai classes once lived at Nomura Clan Residence
- Visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
- Don’t forget to try gold leaf ice cream, the local specialty.
Hakone (Mount Fuji): One of the best for onsen
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures
Do you love soaking your aches and worries away in onsen (Japanese hot springs)? You can’t get much better than doing that with a view of Mt Fuji! Nature lovers will love the many chances to do this at traditional Japanese inns with hot spring baths known as onsen.
Located in Izu Hakone National Park, Hakone is one if the more easier (yet popular) Tokyo day trips due to its ease of accessibility by high-speed train. Jump on the Odakyu train line’s “Romance Car” from Tokyo and explore the scenic area of Hakone via bus, cable car, ropeway and pirate ship (yes, really) to see lakes, active volcanoes, lakes and lovely gardens.
Things to do in Hakone
- Use the Hakone Free Pass to navigate to all the area’s attractions ay a hefty discount (buy in advance here)
- Stay longer than one day in Hakone by booking a stay at a ryokan with onsen
- Enjoy the fascinating artworks and sculptures of Hakone Open Air Museum (the Picasso exhibit is my personal favourite!)
- Eat a black egg boiled boiled in Owakudani’s seismic waters, it’s believed to add seven years to your life. But don’t be greedy and eat too many!
Nagano: One of the best Japan places for nature
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Spiritual Travellers, Ancient History Fans
Could you imagine waking up as dawn beaks to the chants of local monks? This is possible at dear old Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano, one of the country’s oldest and few remaining pilgrimage sites.
Dating back to the 7th century, the city of Nagano was built around the temple, owing its fame to the belief that a secret Buddha was brought to Japan from India via the Korean Peninsula and housed here. The statue is considered so precious, not even the chief priest is able to see it.
Surrounded by gorgeous and tranquil forests, the city of Nagano makes a great base to visit the famed snow monkeys that bathe in hot springs during the winter.
TIP: Don’t worry if you’re not visiting Nagano in winter, the snow monkeys are there year-round! There is a huge benefit to going in the warmer months, find out what to expect in my guide to things no one tells you about visiting the snow monkeys in summer. Also take a read of my Nagano itinerary for where to stay and things to do in the city centre.
Things to do in Nagano
- Explore Zenko-ji Temple and grounds, there enough here to spend several hours
- Try interesting ice cream flavours along Nakamise-dori
- Sample buckwheat soba noodles and shinshu apples, the local specialties
- Learn the story behind Nagano’s fabled “running ox”
- Shop along retro Gondo Covered Shopping Arcade
- Visit the 1998 Winter Olympic Venues
- Take a day trip to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
Matsumoto: One of the best places of Japan for original castles
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Architecture Geeks, Edo Period Nostalgia
While not as popular tourist destination as nearby Nagano, Matsumoto is a fantastic place to visit in Japan by its own merit. Dominating the skyline is Matsumoto Castle, the oldest of its kind in Japan dating back over 500 years. Its inner keep bears fascinating scars of fire and battles throughout the centuries.
Aside from the castle which is a National Treasure, the city is surrounded by alpine scenery which is just breathtaking. There are also several smaller attractions in Matsumoto that make it a great place to spend the night.
Natural spring water fountains are abundant throughout Matsumoto, so it’s a great deal to bring along a refillable bottle to sample some of the freshest water you’ll ever have!
Things to do in Matsumoto
- Visit Matsumoto Castle and see the city from its observation deck
- Count the many frog sculptures amongst quirky shops along Frog Street
- Make a wish at Yohashira Shrine
- Try wasabi ice cream, the local specialty
- Drink sake in a tiny sake bar with locals
- See the old converted warehouses along Nakamachi-dori
- Buy some hand-crafted souvenirs from Watashi no Heya
- See the centuries’ old geometric Genchi Well
- Walk beneath the torii gates of Jorin-ji
- Find spotted artworks by Yayoi Kasuma at Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
Lake Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji)
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Spiritual Travellers
Many of the images you see of Mt Fuji on glossy travel brochures and online is at Lake Kawaguchiko. With her snowy cap reflecting into the waters below, Mt Fuji reflecting into this popular lake is one of the most iconic things you’ll experience in Japan.
The closest station to the eastern side of the lake is Kawaguchiko Station, which can be reached from western Tokyo in around two hours. With plenty of things to see and do in a day, you may even wish to extend your stay by staying a few nights to increase your chances of seeing the sacred mountain amongst clear skies.
Nature Lovers will be spoilt for choice with scenic hikes, while Spiritual Travellers will enjoy the history behind the stunning UNESCO sites at Oshino Hakkai.
Things to do at and around Lake Kawaguchiko
- Head for the hills for the best vantage points on the Mt Fuji Panoramic Railway
- See the 8 sacred ponds of Oshino Hakkai, clearest water filtered through volcanic rock for over 80 years
- Ride rollercoasters and enjoy a quirky theme park with a Mt Fuji backdrop at Fuji-Q Highland (buy admission tickets in advance here)
- Visit an unusual theme park and museum of musical history at Kawaguchiko Music Forest
- Hike the 400 stairs to see Mt Fuji from Chureito Pagoda and Arakura Sengen Shrine
- Don’t miss autumn foliage of the Momiji Tunnel during the cooler months
- Capture iconic shots of Mt Fuji amongst cherry blossoms during spring
- Shop up a storm at Gotemba Premium Outlets.
Uji: Home of matcha green tea and ancient spirituality
Best suited for: Foodies, Architecture Geeks, Spiritual Travellers, Culture Vultures
Located about 30mins by train from Kyoto or Nara, Uji is makes a lovey day trip for those interested in green tea and the more spiritual, ancient side of Japan.
During the Heian Period (794 to 1192), the impressive Byodo-in Temple was constructed and now features on the back of bronze 10 yen coins. The city has been famous for quality green tea cultivation for almost 1,000 years.
Things to do in Uji
- Don’t miss Byodo-in Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site providing amazing insight into spirituality in Japan over a millennia ago
- Visit the Byodo-in Museum to be left in awe by reconstruction of the inside of the temple with its vibrant interior colours
- Cross Ujibashi Bridge, one of the oldest in Japan with its origins dating back 1,300 years, and take in the nearby mountain views
- Find the small statue of Murasaki Shikibu, lady-in-waiting to the Empress credited with writing the world’s first novel, The Tale of the Genji, about 1,00 years ago during the Heian Period.
- Shop for traditional souvenirs and everything to do with tea along Byodo-in Omotesando street.
- Visit Uji Shrine, a small, ancient shrine dedicated to rabbits (not to be confused with Ujigami Shrine).
- Enjoy matcha parfait, ice cream, or even matcha curry at Itoh-Kyuemon, a few moments from JR Uji Station.
Himeji: City with the finest original castle in Japan
Best suited for: Architecture Geeks
Towering above the town below like a bird about to take flight, Himeji Castle is one of the best preserved in Japan. While much of the surrounding city was flattened during air raids during WWII, remarkably, the White Heron castle remained undamaged. This fact alone is worth a day trip to see!
Kobe: Harbourside Views and Earthquake History
Best suited for: Foodies, Nature Lovers, Maritime History Fans
Famous throughout the country for its delicious wagyu beef, Kobe is one not to miss for foodies. With a cool vibe enveloping this harbourside city, there is much to be learnt about the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that rocked Kobe in 1995.
With hillside shrines, retro downtown area, scenic ropeway, historical Chinatown and crooked lampposts left exactly as they were after the quake hiding in plain sight, Kobe makes a delightful day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.
Gala Yuzawa: Perfect day trip to see snow for non-skiers
Best suited for: Nature Lovers, Culture Vultures
Want to see snow during winter in Japan, but aren’t panning to ski? Just 75mins north of Tokyo is the snow resort area of Gala Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture.
TIP: My Gala Yuzawa day trip itinerary from Tokyo covers how to get there and the below things to do in further detail.
Things to do in Gala Yuzawa
- Ride the Diligence gondola
- Grab a bite to eat at Cheers Rest House
- Watch skiers & snowboarders power through the powder snow
- Go sledding on the slopes
- Ride the Barouche chairlift
- Enjoy panoramic views from the Bell of Love Observation Deck
- Head to nearby Echigo Yuzawa to experience a wall of sake vending machines!
Concluding the best and unique places to visit in Japan by travel type
Japan’s stunning natural scenery, ability to tie the past and present together so beautifully, endless food options, fascinating architecture, intriguing culture and strong spiritual connections make it a top travel destination for any kind of visitor. Whether you’re hoping to relax or go on an epic adventure, Japan will absolutely have something to suit!
I hope my extensive list of Japan tourist attractions will inspire your very own itinerary! How many of these are you planning to add to your Japan trip? Let me know in the comments below.
Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book. And while you’re here, why not learn the do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette, find out what to pack for Japan, and even essential advice for how to plan a trip to Japan – I have every step of your Japan planning journey covered!
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Until next time,
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