Best Places To Visit In Japan

Immerse yourself in the timeless beauty of Japan with a journey that invites you to visit ancient traditions and modern marvels.

Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, is a tapestry woven with history that stretches back over 30,000 years. In this enchanting archipelago, the past and the present coexist in perfect harmony. While the bustling metropolis of Tokyo is a must-see for newcomers, Japan’s allure extends far beyond its vibrant capital. From the delicate pink hues of cherry blossoms to the pristine white sands of its beaches, and the tranquil embrace of its onsen (hot spring spas), Japan beckons travelers with diverse interests. In curating this list of Japan’s top destinations, U.S. News considered an array of factors including cultural landmarks, culinary delights, and ease of access. If you have a cherished spot, cast your vote below to influence next year’s rankings.

1) Tokyo

Tokyo, a vibrant metropolis, is a sensory extravaganza. Districts such as Ginza and Akihabara pulsate with dazzling lights and extravagant shopping experiences, while historical sites like Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Imperial Palace offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich heritage. Amidst the urban hustle, serene green oases like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden provide a tranquil retreat. Renowned as a culinary paradise, Tokyo boasts the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants globally, promising a gastronomic adventure for every palate.

2) Kyoto

For those captivated by Japan’s historical and cultural tapestry, Kyoto beckons. Nestled in the heart of the archipelago, Kyoto has long been revered as Japan’s cultural epicenter. Within its bounds lie over 1,000 Buddhist temples and more than 400 Shinto shrines, including the iconic Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Fushimi Inari Taisha, as well as an impressive collection of 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Wander through the atmospheric geisha districts of Gion and Miyagawacho, marvel at traditional wooden architecture, and savor the tranquility of time-honored teahouses. Complementing its rich heritage, Kyoto also offers contemporary delights like the Kyoto Aquarium, ensuring a well-rounded exploration of this storied city.

3) Nikko

Nikko offers a splendid fusion of architectural grandeur and natural beauty. Venture to Nikko National Park, one of Japan’s earliest national parks, to witness traditional edifices nestled amid mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs. The park becomes a kaleidoscope of color in autumn, with foliage painting the landscape in brilliant hues of yellow, red, and orange. Nikko is home to 103 temples and shrines from the Edo era (1603–1868), including the globally acclaimed Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji Temple, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking both cultural and natural wonders.

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4) Osaka

Located approximately 35 miles southwest of Kyoto, the port city of Osaka is a culinary paradise that merits a visit for its gastronomic delights. Renowned for its signature dish, okonomiyaki—a savory pancake that translates to “grilled as you like it” in Japanese—Osaka offers a culinary adventure with its unique blend of batter, cabbage, meat, and assorted toppings. Beyond its tantalizing cuisine, the city beckons visitors to explore the vibrant Dotonbori neighborhood, marvel at the reconstructed 16th-century Osaka Castle, and experience modern attractions such as Universal Studios Japan and the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

5) Yokohama

Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, is often celebrated as a more accessible and budget-friendly alternative to Tokyo, situated just 22 miles northeast. As one of the nation’s earliest ports to embrace international trade, Yokohama boasts a rich tapestry of cultural blends, evident in its diverse expat community, the Western-style architecture of the Yamate area, and Japan’s largest Chinatown, renowned for its abundance of businesses rather than residents. Visitors to Yokohama can delve into the contemporary urban landscape of Minato Mirai 21, a district brimming with towering skyscrapers and bustling shopping centers, and discover a variety of museums, including the intriguing Cup Noodles Museum and the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum.

6) Okinawa

Okinawa, a picturesque archipelago comprising over 160 islands, is a premier destination for those passionate about snorkeling and diving. This Japanese prefecture is a treasure trove of marine life, with coral reefs bustling with vibrant fish, manta rays, and hammerhead sharks, all accessible from the stunning beaches of Okinawa’s Kerama Islands. These islands are also a prime spot for whale watching, as migrating whales grace the waters between January and March. On the main island, visitors can explore one of the world’s largest aquariums, wander through the remnants of ancient castles, and delve into the unique history and culture of Okinawa at a dedicated museum. For the more adventurous, the less explored Iriomote Island offers exhilarating hikes to breathtaking waterfalls.

7) Kanazawa

Nestled on the western coast of Japan, Kanazawa stands as a beacon of history, having escaped the devastation of World War II air raids and natural calamities that have impacted other Japanese cities. This city is a treasure trove of architectural marvels from the Edo period, with landmarks such as Kanazawa Castle, Seisonkaku Villa, and Myoryuji Temple drawing visitors from all corners. The Higashi Chaya geisha district and Nagamachi Samurai District further immerse travelers in the rich cultural tapestry of the region. A visit to Kanazawa is incomplete without exploring the breathtaking Kenrokuen Garden, renowned for its exquisite water features, elegant bridges, and an array of flowering trees that adorn the landscape in every season, rightfully earning its reputation as the quintessential garden.

8) Takayama

Tucked away in the heart of Gifu prefecture’s mountains, Takayama offers a serene rural escape steeped in history. Begin your journey with a leisurely rickshaw ride through the old town, a beautifully preserved area boasting sake breweries, traditional residences, and shops that hark back to feudal times. Venture to the Hida Folk Village, where you’ll find 30 gassho-style houses from a bygone farming era. Satisfy your hunger with local delicacies such as succulent Hida beef and savory Takayama ramen. For a deeper dive into the local culture, plan your visit during the Takayama Festival, a vibrant celebration that graces the town with festivities every spring and fall.

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9) Mount Fuji

As Japan’s tallest peak and a symbol of natural beauty, Mount Fuji has captivated artists and poets for centuries with its near-perfect conical silhouette. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, and the Fuji Five Lakes region at its base serves as an ideal starting point for the thousands of climbers who venture here annually. Embrace the warmth of the area’s museums and amusement park during the sunnier seasons, or immerse yourself in the winter wonderland, indulging in the hot springs and skiing down the snowy slopes of Mount Fuji.

10) Fukuoka

Nestled on Kyushu, Japan’s third-largest island, Fukuoka is a vibrant blend of cityscapes, sandy beaches, and ancient temples and shrines. Highlights include the Tochoji Temple, home to Japan’s largest seated wooden Buddha, and Nokonoshima Island, a floral paradise with stunning bay views. Fukuoka is also celebrated for its mouthwatering Hakata ramen. Be sure to indulge in this local specialty at one of the city’s bustling food stalls. Time your visit to coincide with Fukuoka’s dynamic festivals, such as the Hakata Gion Yamakasa, which lights up the city with excitement in early July.

11) Shikoku

Venture to Shikoku, Japan’s smallest main island, for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Renowned for its 88 Temple Pilgrimage, a nearly 750-mile loop encircling the island’s sacred sites, Shikoku offers a journey through spiritual and natural wonders. Whether you embark on this pilgrimage or carve your own path, you’ll be mesmerized by Shikoku’s verdant mountains and pristine coastlines. In Kochi city, savor affordable delicacies and explore a beautifully preserved castle. If you find yourself on Shikoku in mid-August, don’t miss Awa Odori, the island’s cultural zenith. Held in Takushima, this vibrant dance festival is one of Japan’s most celebrated events and an unforgettable experience.

12) Hakone

Nestled in the heart of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the picturesque town of Hakone is a haven for hot spring enthusiasts. With its 17 distinct hot springs and a unique hot spring theme park, Hakone invites visitors to indulge in baths infused with coffee or mulled wine. Beyond its thermal waters, Hakone boasts an impressive array of art museums, including the Hakone Open-Air Museum, the Okada Museum of Art, and the Hakone Museum of Art. No visit to Hakone is complete without taking in the breathtaking views of Mount Fuji from the serene waters of Lake Ashinoko and the lofty heights of the Komagatake Ropeway.

13) Kobe

Rising from the ashes of a devastating earthquake in 1995, Kobe has transformed into a vibrant cosmopolitan city, brimming with life and flavors. A visit to Kobe is a culinary delight, renowned for its succulent namesake beef and exquisite sake. Beyond its culinary fame, Kobe stands as one of Japan’s most picturesque cities, boasting sleek modern architecture and verdant spaces like Sorakuen Garden. For breathtaking panoramic views, especially as the sun dips below the horizon, ascend Mount Rokko or glide up the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway. Conclude your day with a stroll through Nankinmachi, Kobe’s charming Chinatown, or savor a waterfront dining experience at Kobe Harborland.

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14) Hiroshima

For many, Hiroshima brings up memories of war, as the city is where the world’s first atomic bomb attack occurred in 1945. But today, Hiroshima is a city of peace, with the vast Peace Memorial Park as the center for monuments and memorials like the  the Children’s Peace Monument and the UNESCO-certified Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Atomic Bomb Dome). It is also a city of great beauty. Travelers can take a scenic stroll through Shukkeien Garden, peruse the exhibits at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art or visit Sandankyo Gorge to hike or boat past its beautiful waterfalls, caves and coves.

15) Miyajima

Miyajima Island, formally known as Itsukushima, beckons travelers with its iconic Itsukushima Shrine and the ethereal beauty of its floating torii gate. To witness this architectural marvel at its most enchanting, time your visit with the high tide, when the gate seems to effortlessly hover upon the water’s surface. Just a short 30-minute ferry journey from Hiroshima, Miyajima is a perfect destination for a memorable day trip. Those seeking a more immersive experience, consider spending the night at a traditional ryokan. Where you can soak in the tranquil atmosphere of Miyajima and stroll past the softly illuminated shrine under the cloak of night.

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