When I get asked, “What’s my favorite country to travel?” I will probably tell you a list because it’s impossibly difficult for me to narrow it down to a single country. One thing is for sure, Japan is one of my absolute favorites!

Japan is futuristic yet still retains strong ties to tradition. You’ll find serene temples surrounded by beautiful views of nature. People are very warm and the food is delicious. Japan offers nearly all of the kinds of sights and experiences that get me excited when I travel. Best of all, getting around is very easy! You can see a lot even on a short trip.

Ready to achieve your Japan travel goals? Let me show you my recommended places for travelers visiting Japan for the first time. Get to know the main destinations near Tokyo and Osaka. As well as interesting spots to see on the way between these international gateways.

I’ve included tips on how to get there and locations on Google Maps to make it easy for you to plan your trip. Simply use the “Save” feature on the Google Maps app for easy reference. I also shared photos from my Instagram feed. Feel free to use IG’s save feature for quick access as well.

How to spend 2 weeks in Japan? Check out my Japan Itinerary.

1. Kyoto

Location: Kansai Region. Save on Google Maps.

If there’s only one place you should visit in Japan, it has to be Kyoto. This historic city once served as the capital of Japan for more than a millennium.

Kyoto is modern yet still deeply influenced by traditional culture. It is famous for its sacred temples, shrines, and serene zen gardens including the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion) and the Kiyomizu-dera. In Higashiyama district, you can walk along narrow lanes lined with wooden shophouses. Gion is the place to spot a geisha. Venture to the western outskirts to see the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: For travelers coming from outside Japan, the best way to reach Kyoto is by taking a flight to Osaka-Kansai International Airport (KIX). Travel time from Kansai Airport to Kyoto Station is 75 minutes on the express train line. From Osaka to Kyoto, travel time is 15 minutes by Shinkansen (high-speed/bullet train) or 24 minutes by rapid service train. From Tokyo, the JR Tokaido Shinkansen takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach Kyoto.

Pro tip: If you want to visit both Kyoto and Tokyo as well other other cities in Japan, get more bang for your buck by purchasing a JR Pass (book here), which offers unlimited travel on all JR lines. A 7-Day Whole Japan JR Pass costs JPY 29,650. To compare, the Tokyo to Kyoto round-trip ticket costs JPY 26,600 (JPY 13,300 per way).

You can see a few of Kyoto’s major spots in as little as one day. That said, I recommend spending 2-3 days in Kyoto to visit the major attractions and enjoy a relaxed pace.

2. Tokyo

Location: Kanto Region. Save on Google Maps.

Tokyo is Japan’s ultramodern and busy capital — the most populous metropolitan area in the world. One thing I wanted to do in Tokyo was joining the scramble of people at Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. If that’s something that excites you too, then Tokyo is an unmissable destination.

There’s a ton of interesting activities in this city from exploring the quirky youth fashion at Harajuku district, getting immersed in the digital art displays at TeamLab Borderless, experiencing the themed cafes and go-karting at Akihabara to seeing the traditional side of Tokyo at Asakusa district.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Touchdown at either of these two airports that serve Tokyo: Narita International Airport (NRT), which handles the majority of international flights. The more centrally located Haneda Airport handles mostly domestic flights. Travel time from Narita Airport takes roughly 1 hour by express train. Meanwhile, the more centrally located Haneda Airport serves most of the domestic flights in/out of Tokyo.

Spend at least 2 to 3 days in Tokyo to explore the highlights of the city’s different districts. Plan a longer trip if you want to go on day trips to nearby areas.

Pro tip: The subway is an affordable and convenient way to get around Tokyo. Save money and time by getting a Tokyo Subway Pass (book here), which offers unlimited Tokyo Metro rides for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

When in Japan, mobile internet is a must! Purchase a Japan SIM Card (book here) or rent a Pocket WIFI Hotspot (book here) Having access to your favorite travel apps will help you make the most out of your trip. For example, if you want to know how to get around by public transport, you can simply Google Maps directions feature. You’ll find accurate information on train+bus routes, departure/arrive time, and more.

3. Osaka

Location: Kansai Region. Save on Google Maps.

Osaka is a popular tourist destination for many reasons. During my first trip to Japan, visiting Osaka was a no-brainer because I was flying via Kansai airport, and Osaka was on the way to my main destination, Kyoto.

In Osaka, I had my first taste of butterbeer, while enjoying a view of Hogwarts Castle at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Studios Japan). Osaka is a must-visit for foodies! This city is often called “The Country’s Kitchen” and is well-known for its delicious street food and iconic dishes such as takoyaki (octopus tempura balls) and okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancake).

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Kansai International Aiport (KIX) is the main airport serving Osaka. Travel time from Kansai Airport to Osaka takes roughly half an hour via express train. From the Philippines, direct flights from Manila to Osaka are operated by all three major airlines: Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia.

Two days is enough to visit Osaka’s main attractions. If you plan on exploring the surrounding Kansai region, Osaka is the perfect base. You can easily go on day trips to Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Himeji, and more. Kansai region is a great place to spend 3 to 5 full days.

Pro tip: In addition to the Whole Japan JR Pass, there are cheaper “regional” passes, which also offer unlimited JR train rides, but only within a certain area. For example, if you are traveling in the Kansai Region only, buy the JR West Kansai Pass (book here). The price is JPY 2,300 for a 1-Day pass or JPY 6,600 for a 4-day pass. Another option is the 5 Days JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass (book here), which costs JPY 9,200 and includes express trains + the Sanyo Shinkansen (within Kansai).

4. Kawaguchi-ko

Location: Yamanashi, Chubu, Central Japan near Mount Fuji. Save on Google Maps.

See one of the most beautiful views of Mount Fuji from the quiet lakeside town of Kawaguchi. Mount Fuji is not always visible because of clouds. So, I recommend spending a night or two because visibility tends to be best in the early mornings and in the late afternoons. These hours are also the best time to avoid the huge crowd at the popular sites like the Chureito Pagoda. Lake Kawaguchi is located in the Fuji Fives Lakes area. So, there’s plenty of things to do nearby as well.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Travel time to Kawaguchi-ko from Tokyo is around 2 hours by train or 2-3 hours by bus. Kawaguchiko is also popularly reached by joining organized day tours from Tokyo.

One day is enough to visit the main attractions at the lakeside. Extend a day or two if you want to see other spots in the surrounding Fuji Five Lakes area.

Pro tip: Going on a DIY (do-it-yourself) trip to? Save money and enjoy hassle-free convenience by purchasing an attractions+transport pass. Here are the best ones for Kawaguchi-ko/Fuji area:

Mt. Fuji Pass (book here) — The most extensive transport pass covering the circular bus route surrounding Mount Fuji. Includes the bus to Shiraito Falls. Free admission to attractions in Kawaguchi and Yamanako and Motosuko lakes including Fuji-Q Highland, Mt. Kachi-Kachi Ropeway & more. Does not include transport to/from Tokyo and Hakone.

Fuji-Hakone Pass (more info) — Includes unlimited transport throughout the Fuji Five Lakes-Hakone-Mishima-Odaware area. Plus, roundtrip transfers to/from Tokyo (Shinjuku).

Fuji-Q Highland Free Pass (book here) — Includes entry to Fuji-Q and unlimited rides within the park. Plus, bus transfers to/from Tokyo (Shinjuku).

5. Shirakawa-go

Location: Gifu, Chubu, Central Japan near Japan Alps. Save on Google Maps.

Where to go in Japan during winter? Shirakawa-go is Japan’s winter wonderland! This traditional village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site distinguished by traditional Gassho-style grass-roofed houses in a scenic setting. If you are traveling by land between Tokyo and Osaka-Kyoto, consider a side trip here. Shirakawa-go is located near the north coast of Central Japan. It is a bit out of the way but should be worth the detour if you are interested to see a traditional farming village, especially if you are traveling during wintertime.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Shirakawa-go, particularly the main village of Ogimachi, is mainly reached by bus or car from Takayama or Toyama. The easiest way to get there is by joining an organized tour from Nagoya or Takayama.

If you are coming from Tokyo, the fastest way by public transport is by taking the Shinkansen train (2.5 to 3 hours travel time) to Toyama and transfer to the bus to Shirakawa-go (1.5 hours). From Nagoya, you can go by train via Takayama (2.5 hours by express train) and transfer to the bus to Shirakawa-go (1 hour). From Kyoto, buses to Takayama takes around 4.5 hours.

A day trip to Shirakawa-go is enough for most travelers. Spending a night in the village might be a good idea too if you are keen to experience sleeping in a traditional house and know how life is like in the Japanese countryside.

6. Nikko

Location: Tochigi, Kanto Region north of Tokyo. Save on Google Maps.

If there’s one place I want to visit again, it’s Nikko! Located a few hours by train north of Tokyo, Nikko is a quiet temple town and UNESCO world heritage site surrounded by beautiful mountain landscapes. It’s a place I would love to visit time and again, and experience the changing colors of Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer. In Nikko, you can find the Toshogu, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine, and Kegon Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the country. Nikko is a must-visit for nature lovers and well-preserved historic sites.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Nikko is located 125 kilometers north of Tokyo. Travel time to the Tobu and JR Nikko Stations from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) is around 2 hours. From there, it’s a 5-10 minute bus ride to the San’nai area, where you can find the Shinkyo Bridge, Toshogu, and Nikko’s other famous shrines and temples. Kegon Falls is a 40-minute bus ride away from Nikko Station.

Although Nikko is close enough to visit on a day trip from Tokyo, spend at least two full days if you want to visit both the temples/shrines area and Kegon Falls/Lake Chuzenji area.

Pro tip: Don;t leave without booking a Nikko All Area Pass (book here). This travel pass includes unlimited rides on train and bus routes within the Nikko area & Shimo-imaichi Station. PLUS, the roundtrip train journey between Asakusa and Shimo-imaichi. Choose the “Nikko All Area Pass” option, which includes the bus route to Kegon Falls & Lake Chuzenji as well as admission to the Akechidaira Ropeway & Lake Chuzenjiko sightseeing boats.

7. Yokohama

Location: Kanagawa, Kanto near Tokyo. Save on Google Maps.

Yokohama is one of the best day trip adventures near Tokyo. Train travel only takes 25 minutes! This huge port city offers tons of fun things to do. One of my favorite attractions here is the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. Here, you can have a taste of ramen from different parts of Japan and soak up the 1950s Tokyo vibe. The biggest attraction here, of course, is the Yokohama Chinatown, one of the World’s largest Chinatowns. Yohokama is also famous for the Cup Noodle Museum by Nissin, the Red Brick Warehouses, Yamashita Park (seaside park), and the Cosmoworld amusement park.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Yokohama is easily reached by train from Tokyo. Travel time is around 30 minutes.

8. Kamakura

Location: Kanagawa, Kanto near Tokyo. Save on Google Maps.

If you can’t make it to Kyoto during your trip, Kamakura is a decent alternative. Kamakura is often described as the Kyoto of East Japan. It’s easy to visit from Tokyo as the train ride only takes one hour. This seaside town is famous for its many beautiful temples, shrines, and the iconic giant sitting Buddha statue.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Travel time from Tokyo to Kamakura is roughly one hour via the JR Yokosuka Line.

9. Hakone

Location: Kanagawa, Kanto Region near Mount Fuji. Save on Google Maps.

Hakone is another quiet lakeside town blessed with a view of Mount Fuji. If you want to see Mount Fuji from a different angle, go for Hakone. It is farther away compared to Kawaguchi-ko but closer to the Tokyo-Osaka Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train route.

On a day trip, I enjoyed the Pirate ship boat ride across Lake Ashi, ropeway to the Owakudani sulfur mine, and got to see the iconic Torii at Hakone Shrine.

Hakone is one of Japan’s best places to experience a natural onsen, at a private ryokan or public bathhouse. From Hakone, you can also go on a half-day trip to Mishima Sky Walk, Japan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Travel time by train from Tokyo to Hakone is 85 minutes by direct limited express train or around 2 hours by express train (with 1 stop at Odawara Station). By bus, travel time is roughly two hours.

The easiest way to visit Hakone is by joining the organized day tours from Tokyo. If you want to see both Kawaguchi and Hakone in one day from Tokyo, check out this Mt. Fuji Day Tour (book here).

One day is enough to visit the main attractions like Hakone Shrine, Hakone Ropeway & Lake Ashi. Extend a day or two if you want to enjoy the onsen and see other spots in Hakone.

See more places in Japan

Sharing these interesting spots and things to do in case you have extra time, or if you’re traveling nearby.

10. Narita

Location: Chiba, Kanto near Narita Airport. Save on Google Maps.

Looking for a beautiful place to see near Narita-Tokyo International Airport? Narita-san Temple is a beautiful & popular Buddhist temple not far away. This sacred site is known for its fire ritual, performed several times a day for free! The ritual calls upon the temple’s main deity of Ofudo-sama, the God of Fire, to grant worshipper’s wishes and protect them from bad luck.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Naritasan is a 15 to 20-minute walk from JR Narita or Keisei Narita Stations. Train travel from Tokyo to Narita Station is around 1 to 1.5 hours.

11. Sawara, Katori

Location: Chiba, Kanto near Narita Airport. Save on Google Maps.

Do you love old towns? You can feel like you’ve stepped through a portal to the past at Sawara in Katori, Chiba prefecture. Here, you can find traditional houses lined along the charming canal. If you have a long layover at Tokyo-Narita Airport, this is one place you should check out! Katori can also be reached on a day trip from Tokyo.

How to go: Travel time by train to Sawara Station is 1.5 to 2 hours from Tokyo or 30 minutes from Narita Station.

12. Shiraito Falls

Location: Fujinomiya, Shizuoka near Mount Fuji. Save on Google Maps.

I love visiting waterfalls. It’s usually one of the first things I research when visiting a country for the first time. Shiraito Falls isn’t remarkably large but it’s one of the prettiest in Japan. It’s located in the foothills of Mount Fuji and can be reached as a day trip from Kawaguchi-ko. Shiraito no Taki literally means “the waterfall of white threads”, which aptly describes its appearance, as multiple streaks of water drape over the surface forming what seems like a white curtain. I went here during summer & enjoyed the lush greens. If you want a more colorful view, I recommend going during the autumn season.

How to go: The one-way bus trip to Shiraito Falls from Kawaguchiko Station takes about 1.5 hours, and from Shin-Fuji Station (Shinkansen), travel time is roughly 1 hour.

Pro tip: Get free admission to popular attractions and buses/transport within the Fuji area by purchasing a Mt. Fuji Pass (book here). This pass is worth it especially if you want to visit Shiraito Falls. The round-trip bus fare between Kawaguchi-ko Station and Shiraito Falls (Shiraito-no-taki) alone already costs JPY 3,760‬.

13. Matsumoto

Location: Nagano. Save on Google Maps.

I found myself in the peaceful town of Matsumoto after looking for interesting places to visit in Central Japan. The most famous attraction here is the Matsumoto Castle. It’s small compared to other castles in Japan but it’s also one of the prettiest thanks to its peaceful sprawling garden and distinctive black walls beautifully reflected by the surrounding moat. Matsumoto is also a popular base for trips into the Japanese Alps. Train travel from Tokyo is around 3 to 4 hours.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: Train travel to Matsumoto from Tokyo is around 2.5 hours. From Nagano Station, the limited express train takes 50 minutes to get to Matsumoto Station.

14. Karuizawa

Location: Nagano. Save on Google Maps.

While searching for interesting waterfalls in Japan, I discovered Shiraito Falls in Karuizawa. This curtain falls shares the same name as the beautiful waterfall near Kawaguchi-ko. Although this one in Karuizawa is a lot smaller in scale, I wanted to go since I was already in Nagano prefecture and it was a chance to explore the upscale mountain resort town of Karuizawa. Here, you can also find the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, a huge outlet shopping center with a beautiful landscaped setting.

Where to stay

How to go: Train travel to Karuizawa from Tokyo takes a bit over 1 hour. From Nagano Station to Karuizawa, travel time is around 30 minutes by Shinkansen or 1.5 hours by local train.

15. Nagano City

Location: Nagano. Save on Google Maps.

When in Nagano prefecture, drop by Zenkoji Temple, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Japan. Founded in the 7th century, the temple stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan. Train travel from Matsumoto to Nagano is 1 hour.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: The fastest way is to take the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Travel time is around 1 to 1.5 hours to Karuizawa Station from Tokyo or 30 minutes from Nagano Station.

16. Takayama

Location: Gifu, Chubu, Central Japan near Japan Alps. Save on Google Maps.

Takayama was my base when I went to Shirakawa-go village in Gifu prefecture. This town is famed for its well-preserved wooden merchants’ houses dating to the Edo Period and a place to taste delicious Hida Beef. Takayama is also the gateway to the hiking paradise of the Japan Alps.

Where to stayTours + discounts

How to go: The closest major cities are Toyama and Nagoya. Travel time to Takayama is around 1.5 hours from Toyama and 2.5 hours from Nagoya. The train journey from Tokyo to Takayama (via Nagoya) takes roughly 4.5 hours.

Other interesting spots and landmarks

Gotemba Premium Outlets

Location: Shizuoka near Mount Fuji. Save on Google Maps.

With over 200 stores, the Gotemba Premium Outlets is one of Japan’s largest outlet malls. On a clear day, you can enjoy a beautiful view of Mount Fuji. Gotemba Premium Outlets is a popular stopover of organized Fuji day tours from Tokyo. You can also visit while you’re on your way between Kawaguchi-ko and Hakone.

Where to stay

How to go: Gotemba Premium Outlets is 15-minutes away by bus from Gotemba Station, 1 hour from Kawaguchi-ko, or 1.5 hours from Hakone. From Tokyo, train travel to Gotemba Station takes 1.5 hours.

Odawara Castle

Location: Kanagawa, Kanto. Save on Google Maps.

Odawara is a popular train hub for people traveling between Tokyo and Hakone and Gotemba. If you are looking for an interesting place to go nearby, Odawara Castle is worth a peek.

Where to stay

How to go: Odawara is easily reached by train from all major cities in Japan. The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Odawara Station takes 33 minutes and from there, it’s an easy 10-minute walk to Odawara Castle.

Fruit Picking in Chiba

Location: Chiba, Kanto near Narita Airport

One of my most memorable activities in Japan was the fruit picking experience in Chiba. Fruit picking is popular in Japan among locals and tourists alike. For a flat rate, you can pick and all the fruits you can eat, on the spot! Popular fruits include strawberries, apples, grapes, plums, peaches, and cherries. The kind of fruits available depends on the locale and the season.

What places have you added to your bucketlist? Have you been to beautiful places in Japan that should be on this list? Feel free to share your thoughts!

Places to visit in Japan

Japan tourist spots, things to do in Japan, where to go in Japan & more.

Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

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