Japan is a land full of futuristic skyscrapers, quaint temples, tranquil bamboo forests, and neon arcades. The food is incredible, the landscape is diverse and the people are ultra polite. A trip to Japan is sure to be one that is exciting, informative, and even inspiring.
There are so many amazing destinations in Japan that you pretty much can’t go wrong, but we’ve rounded up our eight favorite spots.
Tokyo is everything you have seen in the movies and so much more. One of the world’s most exciting and electric cities, Tokyo is full of amazing restaurants, cutting-edge architecture, busy pedestrian crossings, and crazy youth fashion. A visitor can easily spend a few days dining on fresh seafood, wandering through the many museums, and enjoying a lifestyle of opulence and culture.
There are also countless great day trips from Tokyo, including Kamakura and Nikko (#5 and #6 below).
Kyoto could not be more different from the futuristic city of Tokyo. One of the most culturally rich cities in the world, Kyoto is what many travelers dream of when envisioning Japan: wooden teahouses, forests of bamboo, temples and shrines in gold, silver, and scarlet, graceful tea ceremonies, and so much more.
The concrete high-rises of downtown Kyoto can be disappointing, so head out towards 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 gongs from the many temples and shrines.
Like Tokyo, Kyoto offers fantastic day-trips including Nara and Osaka (#7 and #8 below).
Hakone is a peaceful mountainous area just outside of Tokyo, best known for its luxury ryokans, soothing onsen (hot springs) and stunning views of Mount Fuji. Take a traditional onsen bath in a public bathhouse 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. A local favorite is the hike from Owakudani to Lake Ashinoko because of its views of Mount Fuji.
Kanazawa is one of the best cities to visit in Japan, but few tourists make it here. The main reason tourists flock to Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden, considered one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. Along with its garden, the city is renowned for its impeccably preserved geisha and samurai historical districts, traditional crafts, and its wonderful cuisine — including some of Japan’s best-quality seafood and sake.
Kamakura is a small city about an hour south of Tokyo nestled between the mountains and the sea. This charming coastal town boasts a remarkable concentration of temples and historical gems including the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha).
Nikko is a temple town and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the mountains a few hours north of Tokyo. The main attraction is Toshogu Shrine, a stunning complex with more than a dozen lavishly decorated red and gold buildings amongst huge, ancient cedar trees. The crowds can be overwhelming, so afterward head to one of the quieter shrines.
Located within easy reach of Kyoto, Nara is home to artwork and cultural pieces dating 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 shrine, and the Nara Park where you can browse through temples, the museum, and spot wildlife.
Just half an hour from Kyoto, Osaka is a lively city famous for its food, with specialties ranging from casual favorites to elegant establishments and Michelin-starred restaurants. Osaka is less about the sights and more about taste, but it is also home to Universal Studios Japan, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, and Osaka Castle Park.