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8 Best Places to Visit in Japan

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Hiroshima Castle in Japan

Hiroshima Castle in Japan

From Tokyo’s neon-lit neighborhoods and famous Shibuya Crossing to Kyoto’s golden temple and historic shrines, the best places to visit in Japan reveal a lively, modern atmosphere or preserved heritage.

The spirit of Japan rises from the contrasting visions of futuristic cities and antique temples, and across the pristine countryside to the unique cuisines of each region. Whether exploring the art exhibitions of Naoshima Island or developing a clearer understanding of the history of Hiroshima, each iconic place offers something new and exciting.

The following guide on the best places to travel to in Japan offers a framework for experiencing the architecture, cuisine, artwork, and tourist attractions on your custom trip.

  1. 1. Tokyo
  2. 2. Kyoto
  3. 3. Hiroshima
  4. 4. Kanazawa
  5. 5. Takayama
  6. 6. Hakone
  7. 7. Nara
  8. 8. Naoshima Island
  9. Explore the Best Places to Visit in Japan

1. Tokyo

Senso-Ji Temple with cherry blossoms in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Senso-Ji Temple with cherry blossoms in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is an immersive city that pulls from the past and looks to the future for a remarkable mixture of things to see and tourist attractions to discover.

The dazzling juxtapositions in Tokyo offer contemporary culture alongside traditional heritage. You can navigate colorful neighborhoods veiled in street art and alive with distinctly dressed Japanese animation fans, then turn the corner to find a historic Japanese temple painted pink with cherry blossoms.

The capital city boasts an endless array of sensory adventures, from wandering urban trails to exploring bustling shopping districts, participating in traditional ceremonies, to indulging in authentic Japanese cuisine at Michelin-starred restaurants on 7-day Japan tours or longer.

Highlights: Imperial Palace • Senso-ji Temple • Tokyo National Museum • Meiji Shrine • Ginza District

Recommended length of stay: 3-4 days

2. Kyoto

Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto showcases its passion as a city of artisans, culinary surprises, and the embodiment of the nation’s heart, with more than 2,000 temples and shrines to discover.

Peaceful gardens display intricate details and atmospheric temples ring with hanging bells. Traditional teahouses carry the scent of steeping matcha and glimpses of geishas shuffling between the streets embody the customs and radiant culture central to Japanese life. Kyoto is the embodiment of charm, with tourist attractions that capture the peaceful ambiance and connection to tradition.

A dreamy place to visit on Japan couples’ tours, Kyoto’s unique ambiance of shimmering lanterns above a cobbled lane or stairs leading to an imperial villa can immerse you in a romantic display of active culture.

Highlights: Nijo Castle • Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine • Golden Pavilion • Kiyomizu-dera Temple • Gion District

Recommended length of stay: 3-4 days

3. Hiroshima

Isukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima, Japan

Isukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, captures a broader message of peace amidst its leafy lanes, wide boulevards, and relaxed ambiance.

The thriving cosmopolitan community is an exciting mixture of museums and galleries, grand gardens, and sobering ruins. While forever connected to its tragic history, Hiroshima showcases resilience, beauty, charm, and serenity, with plenty of highlights that embody the city’s enduring spirit.

Hiroshima may be one of Japan’s most infamous cities, but instead of a negative legacy, it reflects endless life and a peaceful spirit. Senior tours of Japan can introduce travelers to the immense stories that reverberate through the historic quarters of Hiroshima.

Highlights: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park • Itsukushima Island Shrine • Hiroshima Castle • Shukkei-en Garden

Recommended length of stay: 2 days

4. Kanazawa

Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa, Japan

Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa, Japan

The serene ambiance and captivating preserved culture of Kanazawa represent a historical jewel on mainland Japan.

As a living embodiment of the Edo period and once Japan’s second-largest city, Kanazawa celebrates its rich heritage around preserved neighborhoods and inside manicured gardens. The combination of modern museums and active historic districts brings a past dating back to the 17th century to life, with a wealth of aromas from the vibrant market and treasures rivaling the reputation of better-known Kyoto.

Whether looking for foundations of living history in a samurai district or signs of aristocracy in a preserved castle, the Edo period remains a distinct cultural era in Kanazawa and fills the streets with a sense of tradition to embrace on educational Japan family trips.

Highlights: Kenrokuen Garden • Ninjadera Temple • Higashi Chaya District • Omicho Market • Kanazawa Castle

Recommended length of stay: 2 days

5. Takayama

Traditional village Shirakawa-gō, Gifu, Japan

The traditional Japanese village, Shirakawa-gō, showcasing a building style known as gasshō-zukuri

Takayama is one of the best cities to visit in Japan, known for its atmospheric townscapes, accentuated by the charming riverside and captivating hillside shrines.

The historic city dates back to the 17th century and now features modern museums and temple galleries steeped in rural tranquility at the foot of Japan’s northern alps. Artisan carpenters remain prevalent in the historic town and the Takayama Festival revisits the Edo period with tremendous floats set against the backdrop of the antique architecture.

The beautiful Japanese city is a wonderful place to escape to on a Japan honeymoon vacation, as you can enjoy the ornate neighborhoods and whimsical atmosphere that envelops the less-crowded streets.

Highlights: Tanmachi Suji District • Yoshijima Heritage House • Hida Folk Village • Masturi no Mori Museum • Higashiyama Walk

Recommended length of stay: 2 days

6. Hakone

Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji in the Background, Hakone, Japan

Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji in the Background, Hakone, Japan

Hakone is a stunning Japanese town in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, with hot-spring resorts and historic shrines overlooking the tranquil waters of Lake Ashi.

It is an incredibly peaceful place to visit that captures the countryside beauty of the Japanese mainland, extending across the Kanagawa Prefecture. Boats take travelers across the lake, offering views of the surrounding landscapes from new perspectives and images of Mount Fuji rising above the hills present cinematic moments worth capturing.

On luxury Japan tours passing through Hakone, you can relish the pleasures of a private onsen, explore the embellished shrines around the lake, or glide across the water in style on replica pirate ships honoring the Edo period.

Highlights: Lake Ashi • Hakone Shrine • The Hakone Open-Air Museum • Pola Museum of Art • Owakudani

Recommended length of stay: 2 days

7. Nara

Sika deer at Nara Park in Nara, Japan

Sika deer ar Nara Park in Nara, Japan

With a history as the first capital of Japan and tourist attractions dating back to the 8th century, many recognized as World Heritage Sites, Nara is a treasure trove of heritage highlights to visit on a day tour or for the night.

Nara has become synonymous with deers, as the “messengers of the gods” have long called the Nara Park home and can be seen trotting beneath the emerald green and burnt orange trees covering the manicured parklands.

Hosting a collection of temples and shrines representing centuries of Japanese empirical and spiritual history, Nara has become a favorite among travelers on longer, 14-day Japan itineraries that make room to experience the city’s history for a day or two.

Highlights: Nara Park • Tōdai-ji Temple • Kasuga-taisha Shrine • Kōfuku-ji Temple • Nara National Museum

Recommended length of stay: 1-2 days

8. Naoshima Island

Couple in front of Yayoi Kusama’s famous and whimsical pumpkin sculpture on Naoshima Island, Japan

Couple in front of Yayoi Kusama’s famous and whimsical pumpkin sculpture on Naoshima Island, Japan

Japan’s famous art island, Naoshima, is a tiny creative paradise in the Seto Inland Sea that dazzles visitors taking the time to wander the impressive art installations dotting the island.

Each work of art is an attraction in and of itself, inviting visitors on a multisensory gallery tour across the remote and peaceful island. Sculptures decorate the piers and contemporary museums open their doors to reveal the local connection to the natural beauty of Japan.

From Claude Monet’s impressionist works to interactive exhibitions sprawling the coastline, there is plenty to photograph and learn about as you explore on a 10-day Japan tour stopping by Naoshima Island.

Highlights: Chichu Art Museum • Benesse House Museum • Yayoi Kusama’s Giant Pumpkin • Art House Project • Lee Ufan Museum

Recommended length of stay: 1-2 days

Explore the Best Places to Visit in Japan

Kinkaku-ji, Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan

Kinkaku-ji, Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan

Whether exploring the ancient history, wandering the modern cities, or immersing yourself in the amazing culture, the best places to visit in Japan invite you to embrace everything the iconic destination has to offer on custom Japan tours and vacations.

You can learn more about the top experiences in Japan or the best time to visit Japan in our guides on how to enjoy a seamless trip, or discover more insight before planning with a specialist in our Japan travel guide.

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