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18 best places to visit in Japan

Deer in Nara, Japan

Fascinating culture, fantastic food. Kind people, kinder deers. Robotic waiters, samurai swords. Snowy mountains, soft sand dunes. No number of words are enough to describe the wonder that Japan is. And since it’s a destination on everyone’s bucket list, we’ve curated a quick guide about the 18 best places to visit in Japan.

1. Osaka

Welcome to the most vibrant city in Japan. And I hope you came with a big appetite because the street food here is gonna leave you wishing you had a bigger one. Head to the Dontonbori for a feast for your eyes and taste buds. Visit the iconic Universal Studios and historical landmarks such as Osaka Castle. There’s no getting bored in Osaka. 

Osaka, Japan

Image source:Contiki

2. Tokyo

Japan’s bustling capital is a land of mindblowing contrasts (and a perfect mix of modernity and tradition). It’s a city where skyscrapers are a walk away from century-old temples. And also where you can slurp a bowl of delicious ramen served to you by a robot. Visit the Tokyo Tower, check out the Shibuya crossing, or cosy up at a cute cat cafe. Either way, this city will leave you mesmerised. 

3. Nara

Better practise your bows! Nara is home to ancient temples like Todai-ji and its massive Buddha statue. But it’s also home to the friendly deer who bow down before accepting the food you give them. (Of course, the deer are friendly in Japan too). Nara will captivate you with its history and natural beauty.

Deer in Nara, Japan

Image source:Contiki

4. Kyoto

Want to experience the charm of traditional Japan? Kyoto is THE spot you need to go to. Stunning temples, blooming gardens, Geisha districts, and of course, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony – this city is the culmination of culture. No wonder it’s one of the best places to visit in Japan.

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5. Hiroshima

Wanna see resilience symbolised in a city? Welcome to Hiroshima. Take a tour of the Peace Memorial Park and Museum which serve as poignant reminders of the city’s past and why we need peace in this world. You can even visit the Atomic Bomb Dome – built at the exact spot where the atomic was dropped in 1945. The Hiroshima Castle (which was rebuilt after the tragedy) is worth a visit too. 

6. Mount Fuji

Honestly, we don’t need any explanation here. The iconic Mt Fuji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of natural beauty and spiritual significance. And you can hike up the mountain too! Don’t forget to capture the breathtaking view of this mountain from the Shinkansen (bullet train). Pro-tip: Sit on the right side! 

7. Kagoshima

This seaside wonder is located on Japan’s Kyushu Island. Here you’ll find an active volcano called Sakurajima, and wonderful hot springs along with it. Oh, and if you’re into Samurai culture, you’ll love Kagoshima. You’ll find all the juicy info you wanna know at The Museum of Birthplace of the Meiji Restoration.

8. Hakone

Looking to soothe your travel-tired muscles? It must be your lucky day! Hakone is a must-visit for its hot springs, scenic views of Mount Fuji, and the ropeway for your ski adventure. But it doesn’t end there. Hakone is one of the best places to visit in Japan if you’re an art lover. The Hakone Open-Air Museum showcases modern art installations (in the middle of a beautiful garden!). What a treat! 

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9. Kanazawa

Carefully landscaped gardens. Traditional crafts. Rich history. There’s a lot to unpack in Kanazawa. And we highly recommend starting at the world-renowned Kenroku-en garden. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during cherry blossom season, you’ll find the wondrous sight of soft pink and white trees stooping over a bridge! Other than that, Kanazawa is the epicentre for traditional crafts such as gold leaf production and pottery in Japan.

10. Koyasan (Mount Koya)

Mt Koya is the best place to visit in Japan if you’re interested in its spiritual side. This sacred mountain is a retreat and centre of Shingon Buddhism. You’ll find ancient temples, serene forests, and even the atmospheric Okunoin cemetery here. It’s like you’re living in a scene straight outta ‘Spirited Away’. You can even join a morning Buddhist service here on our Japan Unrivalled trip

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11. Miyajima Island

This is the spot you’ve seen in all of those photos. Famous for its iconic Giant Torii Gate (that looks like it’s floating), lush forests, hiking trails, and friendly deer – Miyajima is a picturesque island retreat just a short drive (or train) away from Hiroshima.

12. Takayama

If you’ve seen ANY Japanese anime, you’ve probably seen a part of this charming mountain town of Takayama. On its well-preserved streets from the Edo period, you’ll find traditional wooden houses and morning markets selling the freshest produce. Takayama is best explored on a bike (just like a local!). 

13. Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Ever wondered why the Japanese are one of the longest-living populations? You’ll find your answer in one of these UNESCO World Heritage-listed villages. Immerse yourself into the traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses with steep thatched roofs. It’s a glimpse into the rural life of Japan’s mountainous regions, and their active lifestyle that keeps them strong even after their hair turns grey.

14. Shimotakai

I have two words for you. Snow monkeys. This is the spot where you’ll find the cutest snow monkeys at the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Shimotakai is one of the best places to visit in Japan during winter with its wonderful skiing spots, and onsens to warm you up. 

15. Hokkaido

Japan’s northernmost (and second largest) island is a paradise for nature lovers. Better keep your camera with you when you’re here. The colourful landscapes will completely captivate you. Visiting in spring? You’ll find the Farm Tomito covered with a rainbow of flowers. And if you’re here in autumn, you’ll see the entire place covered with a golden-orange glow. Don’t forget to visit the clear-blue Shirogane pond too!

16. Okinawa

Looking for a beach paradise in Japan? You’re in the right place. Okinawa is known for its beaches, crystal-clear waters, and unique Ryukyu culture. It’s a welcome change from the other fast-paced cities in Japan. Botanical gardens, whale-watching, aquariums, and even snorkelling. This place is the hidden tropical heaven in Japan. 

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17. Tottori

Don’t worry, you didn’t just land in Egypt by mistake. No, you’re just seeing the swooping Tottori sand dunes. This is the place where snowy mountains meet the desert and the ocean. It is nature’s incredible beauty captured all at once. Ride on a camel, climb up the mountains, or take a swim in the sea. There’s no place like Tottori, and it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Japan.

18. Yamagata

There’s really no end to Japan’s natural wonders. So last, but not least we have the intriguing prefecture of Yamagata. Head to Mount Zao during the winter, where you’ll see “snow monsters” – or just fir trees covered by snow from the Siberian winds. Oh, and don’t forget to try the yummiest and freshest cherries you’ll find. Japan really is a gift that keeps giving…

What is Japan’s number 1 tourist spot?

While there might be quite a few contenders for this list, Japan’s number 1 tourist spot currently is Shibuya City – the beating heart of Tokyo. With the iconic crosswalk, vibrant nightlife, and reaching skyscrapers, Shibuya has become the heart and soul of youth culture in Japan.

Shibuya Crossing, Japan

Image source:Contiki

What is the prettiest city in Japan?

Now how could we ever choose? Kyoto is the prettiest if you’re looking for traditional Japanese culture. Tokyo is the prettiest for its skyscrapers and modern culture. Hakone is the prettiest for its breathtaking natural beauty. 

Time to tick it off your bucket list

Feeling inspired to visit this incredible country? Same. While these are only 18 best places to visit in Japan, there’s no end to what Japan has to offer. So, book your Japan trip, and book your flights. Because how lucky are we to exist on a planet that has Japan? 

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