15 Best Places to Visit in Japan

Written by Chantae Reden
Updated on
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Japan is revered as being a destination that makes every type of traveler feel right at home. From big cities to quaint temples to adventure trails and snow slopes, Japan is a diverse landscape that does an incredible job at blending a modern lifestyle with ancient traditions. A trip here is sure to be one that’s exciting, informative, and even inspiring.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Japan:

1. Kyoto

Kyoto, JapanSource: flickr
Kyoto, Japan

A sacred city with iconic temples, shrines, palaces, gardens, and bamboo forests, Kyoto often tops the list of people’s favorite Japanese cities for good reason. In Kyoto, traditional culture is rich and vibrant, seen weaved in the citizen’s daily life.

Though it would take months to visit every site that Kyoto has to see, you’ll feel at ease in at the temples of Kinkaku-ji, Kyyomiza-dera, Ginkaku-ji and the bamboo forest of Arashiyama.

2. Tokyo

Tokyo, JapanSource: flickr
Tokyo, Japan

Busy, vibrant, and often the first point of contact for travelers, Tokyo is Japan’s lively capital city. A visitor can easily spend a few days dining on fresh seafood, wandering through the many museums, gazing up at the skyscrapers, and enjoying a lifestyle of opulence and culture. To give a sense of how busy this city of 13 million people can be, the intersection at Shibuya Crossing is known as ‘The Scramble.’

Customs that are simply Japanese are found all throughout the city. In Harajuku, you can watch Japanese fashionistas use the main street as a runway, shop for the clothes yourself, view anime collections, and enjoy the overdose of color. For fresh seafood, head to the Tsukiji Market, thousands of tons of seafood are traded daily. The city also hosts tens of shrines, temples, and palaces perfect for finding peace if the crowds become overwhelming.

3. Osaka

OsakaSource: flickr

Not your average port city, Osaka has a range of fun things to do for visitors. Osaka hosts Universal Studios Japan, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, and Osaka Castle Park. The heart of the city, Dotonbori, is a place filled with flashy billboards, scrumptious dining options ranging from fine restaurants to foot carts, and shops. Families should check out Kids Plaza, where children can let their imaginations run wild with dress-up areas, hands-on science experiments and plenty of room to run around.

4. Hakone

Hakone-jinja ShrineSource: flickr
Hakone-jinja Shrine

Hakone is a peaceful mountainous village with hot springs with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop. Take a traditional onsen bath in a public bath house or inn for a relaxing experience unique to this part of the country. Travelers will also find peace at the Hakone Shrine at the end of Lake Ashinoko, a stunning crater lake.

The hot springs will come in handy after a long hike through the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, with several well-maintained hiking trails where Hakone is an ideal base. A local favorite is the hike from Owakudani to Lake Ashinoko because of its views of Mt. Fuji

5. Kobe

Kobe, JapanSource: flickr
Kobe, Japan

Kobe is located on the harbor with incredible vistas of the nearby mountains with a variety of activities, adventures, shops, and restaurants to explore. For a well-rounded itinerary, include activities like relaxing at the Arima Onsen, a hot spring resort in the middle of Kobe, riding above the city on the Kobe Ropeway, learn about planet at the Earthquake Museum, and enjoying the oasis known as the Sorakuen Garden. Trekkers should walk up Mount Rokko for a panoramic sight of Kobe and neighboring Osaka.

Foodies, especially those with carnivorous cravings will love the city’s gastronomy scene. Kobe beef is king of nearly every menu and you can order warm sake at one of the many breweries in the Nada district.

6. Nara

Tōdai-ji Temple, Nara, JapanSource: flickr
Tōdai-ji Temple, Nara, Japan

Captivating and peaceful, Nara is a city in Japan with a devoted Buddhist population who find peace inside the Nara’s many temples daily. Nara houses artwork and cultural pieces dating all the way back to the 8th century, making it one most culturally significant cities in the country. Beloved sites include the Todai-ji with its gargantuan Buddha, the Kasuga-taisha shring, and the Nara Park where you can browse through temples, the museum, and spot wildlife.

If looking for a peaceful, interesting, and not as heavily visited city in Japan with temples galore, then Nara is the perfect spot.

7. Sapporo

Sapporo, JapanSource: flickr
Sapporo, Japan

Sapporo, located in the mountains and renowned for its cold brew, is one of the best places to visit in Japan for thrill seekers and adventure travelers. Sapporo hosts ice sculpture festivals, ski and snowboard competitions, and is a prime base for athletes wanting to hit the slopes themselves.

Find out more in-depth about the city’s famous beer at the Sapporo Beer Museum, where you can learn all about this history of the beer and taste some yourself amidst a beautiful beer garden.

8. Kamakura

KamakuraSource: flickr

Escape the chaos of big-city life in Kamakura, a peaceful city with dozens of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and a gargantuan Buddha statue to greet visitors at the Kotoku-in Temple. In between temples are lush hiking trails leading through bamboo forests and over calm hills. For a fun break from walking, hop on the Enoden, an electric train that weaves between the stations of Fujisawa and Kamakura. It’s loud, rickety, and slow, but a fun experience nonetheless. Kamakura is also known for its beaches, where surfers can catch a wave at Yuigahama Beach.

9. Yokohama

YokohamaSource: flickr

Walking around some streets in Yokohama, you might be mistaken for being in China. This city has a thriving Chinatown and Chinese influence with hundreds of restaurants, shops, and decorations centering around that central theme.

Home to 3.7 million residents, this big city considers itself Tokyo’s largest rival, citing its high standard of living and opulent skyscrapers as back-up for this claim. Travelers can witness this rivalry by attending a BayStars game if they ever play the Giants during your stay.

The Sankeien Garden is a local favorite, where you can wander in peace through beautiful gardens and view buildings from eras gone past.

10. Izu Hanto

IzuSource: wikipedia

Fit for tourists, Izu Hanto has a plethora of relaxing and adventurous activities to choose from that are a far cry from big-city sightseeing. The island has many hot springs, luxury resorts, calm beaches, and a rugged coastline ideal for exploring. The city hosts the vibrant Kawazu Cherry Tree Festival, where tourists can appreciate the country’s most iconic blossom with all senses.

11. Hiroshima

HiroshimaSource: flickr

During World War II, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing over 100,000 of its residents and decimating many of the city’s buildings. Today, visitors can pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

The city has now made a comeback with a climbing tourism industry. Travelers can visit two UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Itsukushima Shrine and the Bomb Dome in Peace Memorial Park, learn traditional craftwork at Fudenosato-kobo, and even explore the lush islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Additionally, shops and restaurants are aplenty.

12. Shikoku

ShikokuSource: flickr

The smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku is one of the best places to visit in Japan due to its religious importance which is why it’s often dubbed as the ‘Spiritual Island.’ Many devotees embark on the Shikoku pilgrimage, a 1,200 kilometer walk that takes Buddhist pilgrims to 88 temples and many other religious sites. Visitors can embark on the entire walk, or go to just the main sites that catch their interest.

Adventure travelers should take a cycling tour over the Shimanami Kaido Highway bridges, around Omishima Island, and through Imabari, followed up by a relaxing dip in the Dogo hot springs. Those looking for a souvenir will find one at the Towel Museum ICHIHIRO, where you can find the world’s fluffiest towel. Otherwise, consider seeing the sites of the Matasuyama Castle and Uchiko-za Kabuki Theater.

13. Nikko

Temple in Nikko, JapanSource: flickr
Temple in Nikko, Japan

Nikko is a vibrant town located at the entrance of Nikko National Park, home to Toshogu, Japan’s most beloved and lavishly decorated shrine. After standing in awe at one of the world’s most beautiful constructions, head further into the national park to explore the waterfalls of Kegon Falls, Ryuzu Falls, and the mountain of Mt. Nantai. Outdoor enthusiasts will also love walking around Lake Chuzenji, a placid lake set on the foothills of the national park.

If you’re short on time during your visit to Japan, Nikko makes for a great day-trip from Tokyo.

14. Takayama

TakayamaSource: flickr

Takayama is one of the few Japanese cities to cling tight to its architectural roots. The city does a fantastic job preserving its heritage, especially in the Old Town district, where colorful old merchants’ houses line the streets. During the feudal ages, skilled artists and carpenters took pride in their craft which is why so many of the buildings have an ornate flair. For the best experience, visit during the Takayama Festival, a celebration that happens twice a year and celebrates the arrival of Spring and Autumn. The festival features performances, incredible floats, and draws crowds hailing from all over Japan.

You can easily spend a few days passing through temples on the Higashiyama Walk, checking out the museum of Matsuri no Mori, and gaze at the Yatai Kaikan, an exhibition hall filled with festival displays and floats.

15. Chichijima

ChichijimaSource: flickr

Perhaps one of the most remote places in Southeast Asia, the faraway island of Chichijima is a hidden island with a tropical vibe. Water lovers will delight thanks to its surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, whale watching, and more. Interestingly, the journey here requires over a twenty hour boat ride, which is what has kept the island so hidden from the main tourist trail and preserves its magic.

15 Best Places to Visit in Japan:

  • Kyoto
  • Tokyo
  • Osaka
  • Hakone
  • Kobe
  • Nara
  • Sapporo
  • Kamakura
  • Yokohama
  • Izu Hanto
  • Hiroshima
  • Shikoku
  • Nikko
  • Takayama
  • Chichijima