Although small, Japan is a country that offers a plethora of incredible things to do and places to see.
Home to a striking culinary offer, futuristic cities, awe-inspiring nature, and ancient history as old as time, Japan is a place that is nothing short of bewildering.
If it’s your first time traveling to Nipon, chances are you’re feeling overwhelmed with the number of destinations that are worth checking out.
Even though you could spend an entire year exploring the country, these are a few of the most amazing places to visit in Japan for first-timers.
Kyoto is a city that brims with tradition, be it through ancient temples and shrines, idyllic zen temples, geishas rocking kimonos, or wooden teahouses that make you feel as though you traveled back to the Tang dynasty.
Even though you’ll definitely find modern buildings and amenities here, the real magic of Kyoto lies in the surrounding neighborhoods, where you’ll find yourself in a world of quaint cobblestone streets lined by wooden houses and temples.
Some of the best things to do in Kyoto include is visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine and its red torii gates, taking a day trip out to the village of Kibune to see ancient temples, strolling the streets of Gion, and visiting the various shrines scattered all over.
Ultra futuristic, neon lights, and enormous skyscrapers are the staples of the Japanese capital.
The city is absolutely enormous, so we recommend spending several days here in order to truly be able to take it in.
While here, don’t miss out on uncovering its incredible foodie scene, checking out its many theme parks (Tokyo Disney Sea® and Tokyo Disneyland® are just two of the must-visit ones!), walking across the renowned Shibuya Crossing, strolling through Memory Lane, and getting the best views of the city at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Mount Fuji is one of the most iconic sights of Japan, and the place to go to see it in its full splendor is the village of Hakone.
Aside from getting to see Mount Fuji on clear days (Lake Ashinoko is one of the best spots to see the volcano), there are plenty of other fun things to do in Hakone as well.
Onsens are aplenty here (natural hot springs created by geothermal activity underground) as are gardens and temples, not to mention there are many interesting museums that are worth checking out such as the Hakone Glass Museum.
4. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is the perfect place to escape the cities and find yourself in a peaceful setting that looks straight out of a Japanese storybook.
Here, you’ll find groves of gigantic bamboo trees that look as photogenic as it gets. There’s a single path to walk amid the forest, which goes uphill and ends at the Okochi-Sanso Villa.
Once you reach the end, you can treat yourself to a tour of the villa and its exquisite gardens and reward yourself with Japanese sweets and matcha tea at the property’s traditional teahouse.
5. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Seeing monkeys relaxing and hanging out in hot springs is not exactly a sight you’d ever expect to see, but in Japan, everything is possible.
The temperatures at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park remain pretty chilly year-round due to altitude and snow is present here about three-thirds of the year. In order to escape the cold, the wild macaques that reside in the park find respite in the many natural geothermal springs in the area, and the sight is truly extraordinary!
Located next to the mountains of central Japan, Takayama is a small town that brims with historical importance and tradition.
During your visit, you’ll truly get to see a more local side of Japan, with traditional thatched houses, small shrines, and bustling markets being the staples of Takayama.
Aside from its heritage, Takayama is also a popular foodie destination, so make sure not to leave without trying a few of its gastronomical specialties such as Hida beef, a variety of wagyu which you’ll find all over the town in various forms (croquettes, hamburgers, and plenty more!).
Known for being the home of the UNESCO world heritage temples, the Toshogu Shrine Futarasan Shrine, and Rinnō-ji, Nikko is one of the best places to visit in Japan if you want to feel as though you took a step back into the past.
The most popular shrine to visit is the Toshogu Shrine, built to enshrine samurai leader Tokugawa Ieyasu. Aside from that, you’ll find dozens of quieter shrines scattered all over the town as well as plenty of opportunities to get out in nature (you can even hike up to shrines located on mountains for an uber peaceful experience!)
Even though its past is grim, Hiroshima is a city that managed to completely rebuild itself after the atomic bombing that took place during World War II.
These days, Hiroshima is alive and thriving, but visitors are encouraged to come and pay respects to the victims of the attack at the Peace Memorial Museum and Park, where you’ll also get to learn about the city’s rough history.
After you’ve done that, you can explore the magic of the city by checking out the Itsukushima Shrine, a gorgeous shrine that stands on the water, visiting the gorgeous Hiroshima Castle, or enjoying the various beaches nearby!
We hope this list of amazing places to visit in Japan helped you choose a destination for your next escape! Even though some are more popular than others, they all guarantee a wonderful time.
Have you ever visited any of these places in Japan? What are some other destinations worth checking out?
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If you love to read about a destination before you visit, try these books set in Japan for my favorite fiction and non-fiction books.