When it comes to planning a trip to Japan, one question I often get asked is “what are the best places to visit in Japan for first timers?”
It’s a great question because Japan is one destination that is high on many travelers bucket list. And if you only ever get one chance to visit Japan in your lifetime, then you are going to want to make sure you visit all the best places and do all the best things there is to do there.
Well firstly, I want to manage expectations by letting you know that there are so many amazing places to visit in Japan that you likely won’t get to see them all on your first visit.
Secondly, that’s okay because after visiting Japan for the first time, you will probably fall in love and want to go back again, and again, and again (like we did!).
However, if it’s your first time visiting Japan, then we would recommend prioritising the popular tourist citiesof Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, plus a few other special destinations that are not too difficult to reach but offer a lot of things to do for first time visitors.
In this article, we’ve narrowed down 5 places that we recommend visiting during your first time in Japan, including how long to stay in each place, when is the best time to visit, and the best things to see and do in each location.
Let’s dive right in…
These places to visit in Japan for first timers are within easy reach!
Related articles you may be interested in:
Did You Know? We use ads to help pay the bills so we can continue to publish free travel advice. We also have affiliate partnerships, so when you click through and make a purchase or book your stay from one of our blog posts, we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for supporting Bucket List Seekers! Read our Disclosure Policy for more details.
In This Post:
Quick Tips for Traveling to Japan for the First Time
1. Stick to the Main Tourist Trail
At first glance you might note that this list features some of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. There’s a reason for that. If you’re planning a trip for the first time to Japan, the last thing you want is to spend too much time trying to find obscure locations when you don’t speak the local language. By sticking to the main tourist trail, you are likely to have a much more hassle-free and enjoyable trip.
If, however you feel confident enough to add some off-the-beaten-path destinations to your itinerary, then you won’t be disappointed – check out these hidden gems in Japan that we love.
2. Use Public Transport
Navigating around any country where English is not their first language can be quite overwhelming for many first time visitors. However, Japan has one of the best public transport systems in the world. It’s fast, efficient, and easy to navigate. We highly recommend for a first time visit to Japan, that you consider travelling by train instead of driving. (Hint: all the destinations in this article are quicker and easier to reach by train than car).
3. Purchase a Japan Rail Pass Early
If you plan on using public transport to visit the destinations we recommend in this article, then using a Japan Rail Pass will most likely be cheaper than purchasing point-to-point tickets. A Japan Rail Pass cannot be purchased after you arrive in Japan, so you’ll have to purchase it before departing your home country. Be sure to allow 2-4 weeks for the Japan Rail Pass to be sent to your home address. Click here to purchase a Japan Rail Pass.
4. Everything Runs on Time in Japan
The Japanese are well known for being punctual. Public transport in Japan is no different. If the train schedule says it departs at 10:36 then there’s a good chance it will leave at 10:36 on the dot.
Want more handy Japan travel tips? Here are 20 things that first time visitors to Japan should know before they go!
5 Best Places to Visit in Japan for First Timers
Here is a quick rundown of the five destinations we recommend for first time visitors to Japan:
Read on to learn more about why we recommend prioritizing these five places in Japan for first timers to visit, and what to do in each destination.
#1 | Tokyo
If you’re traveling to Japan for the first time, then spending some time in Tokyo is a no-brainer. This is because Japan’s two main international airports (Narita International Airport and Haneda International Airport) are both located in Tokyo and the vast majority of international visitors arrive at one of these two airports. Tokyo is also the capital of Japan and it is one of the most populous cities in the world, and has something for everyone.
Why Visit Tokyo?
Tokyo is a great place to get a taste of modern Japanese culture. One of the first things you’ll notice about the city is its towering skyscrapers, colourful neon lights, and lively nightlife. But beyond the city’s modern facade, you’ll find a rich cultural heritage that is worth exploring.
Tokyo is also known for its incredible food scene. From sushi to ramen to tempura, there’s no shortage of delicious dishes to try. We highly recommend taking a Food Tour in Shibuya to sample some of the amazing delicacies on offer in Tokyo.
How Much Time in Tokyo?
For your first time in Tokyo, 3-4 days is the ideal amount of time to thoroughly explore the best of what the city has to offer. However, if you plan to spend more than two weeks travelling around Japan, then you could easily extend your Tokyo itinerary to 5 days or more.
Best Time to Visit Tokyo
Tokyo is a great city to visit year round. Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) are the most popular times to visit, as the weather is mild. Beautiful cherry blossoms bloom in spring, and autumn brings stunning fall foliage in parks and gardens throughout the city.
There are plenty of festivals and events held during summer (June to August), but the weather can get hot and humid. Winter (December to February) can be chilly but offers fewer crowds and shorter line-ups at major attractions.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Budget: nine hours Akasaka sleep lab
Mid-range: Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Splurge: Hilton Tokyo Hotel
Top Things to do in Tokyo
Here are some of the best things to do and best places to visit in Tokyo for first timers:
- Visit Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, one of the oldest and most popular Buddhist temples in Tokyo.
- Explore the Meiji Shrine and surrounding park.
- Take a stroll through the beautiful gardens of the Imperial Palace, once the residence of the Emperor of Japan.
- Soak up the lively nightlife of Shinjuku and Golden Gai.
- Visit the iconic Tokyo Tower, which offers breathtaking views of the city from its observation deck.
- Experience the colorful Harajuku neighborhood, famous for its fashion, street art, and quirky shops.
- Spend a day at Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea, which offer a fun and exciting theme park experience for all ages.
- Check out the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the largest fish markets in the world.
- Visit the famous Shibuya Crossing.
- See the sprawling city skyline from the top of the Tokyo Skytree.
Read More about Tokyo:
#2 | Kyoto
Located just 2.5 hours Shinkansen ride from Tokyo, Kyoto is usually the number one destination on most travelers Japan itinerary. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Japan for first timers because it has so much to offer.
Why Visit Kyoto?
Kyoto is a beautiful city with a mix of traditional and modern vibes. It used to be the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years, so there’s a lot of history and culture to explore. You’ll find stunning temples and shrines all over the city, along with beautiful gardens and parks. The food scene is also incredible, with an eclectic mix of delicious Japanese dishes to try.
How Much Time in Kyoto?
Best Time to Visit Kyoto
Spring (March to May) is a very popular time of year in Kyoto, but it’s also very crowded. Autumn (September to November) is absolutely beautiful with plenty of fall foliage, mild weather and fewer touriststhan spring.
Summer (June to August) can be hot and humid. Winter (December to February) is chilly in Kyoto but brings far fewer crowds and is a nice city break after enjoying the surrounding ski resorts.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Budget: Hotel Kyoto Base
Mid-range: Kyoto Granbell Hotel
Splurge: The Thousand Kyoto
Top Things to do in Kyoto
- Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its thousands of orange torii gates.
- Explore the Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.
- Stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a peaceful and beautiful place to wander.
- Dress up in traditional Japanese costume and experience a traditional tea ceremony.
- Visit Kiyomizu-dera, a stunning temple is perched on a hillside overlooking the city.
- Wander through the bustling Nishiki Food Market and sample some traditional Japanese delicacies.
- Wander through the historic Higashimyama and Gion neighborhoods, famous for its traditional architecture, geisha culture, charming shops and restaurants.
- Wander down the Philosopher’s Path, a scenic walking trail which follows a canal lined with cherry blossom trees.
#3 | Osaka
Osaka is the third largest city in Japan and is located just 20 minutes train ride from Kyoto. It’s possible to find cheap flight deals to/from Osaka International Airport, so it’s not uncommon for first time visitors to start or end their trip in Osaka, instead of Tokyo.
Why Visit Osaka?
Osaka is a vibrant and lively city with a lot of personality. But the one thing that Osaka is most well-known for is its delicious food, especially the street food. The locals in Osaka are also very friendly, and the vibe is slightly more laid-back than other large cities in Japan. The nightlife is also fun and energetic, with lots of bars and clubs to explore.
How Much Time in Osaka?
We recommend at least 1 or 2 days as the perfect amount of time to explore Osaka and get a taste of this bustling city.
Best Time to Visit Osaka
Spring (March to May) is one of the best times to visit Osaka as the castle, surrounding moat and streets are lined with cherry blossom trees, and the weather is mild. Autumn is also a beautiful time to visit Osaka.
Where to Stay in Osaka
Budget: Namba Guesthouse HIVE
Mid-range: Hotel It Osaka Shinmachi
Splurge: W Osaka
Top Things to do in Osaka
- Visit the iconic Osaka Castle, one of the most beautiful castles in Japan.
- Taste some of the delicious local specialties, such as takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (a savory pancake), and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers).
- Explore Dotonbori, a bustling area in central Osaka famous for its neon lights, giant billboards, lively atmosphere, good food, and people watching.
- Visit the Osaka Aquarium, home to an impressive variety of marine life.
- Take a day trip to nearby Nara, famous for its ancient temples, beautiful parks, and friendly deer that roam freely throughout the city.
#4 | Hiroshima
If you’re planning a trip to Japan for the first time, then you might consider skipping Hiroshima. We highly recommend you don’t!
Hiroshima is only a 1 hour and 45 minutes Shinkansen ride further south of Kyoto or Osaka. It’s not as popular to visit as the likes of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, but it’s definitely one place we would recommend for first time visitors to Japan.
Why Visit Hiroshima?
Hiroshima is a city with a heartbreaking past but a peaceful outlook. It’s most famous for being the site of the first atomic bombing during World War II, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum are must-visit attractions to learn about this tragic history.
The city has also undergone a lot of redevelopment and offers a lot of modern conveniences. The food scene is incredible, with local specialties like Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (a savory pancake with various toppings) and freshly harvested oysters.
How Much Time in Hiroshima?
We would recommend allowing 1-2 days to visit Hiroshima and experience the city’s historical significance.
Best Time to Visit Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a great place to visit year round, as the best things to see and do are not affected by the seasons. However, as with everywhere in Japan, cherry blossom season (late May to April) can get crowded. Autumn is a good time to visit as the weather is mild and pleasant.
Where to Stay in Hiroshima
Budget: Roku Hostel Hiroshima
Mid-range: The Knot Hiroshima
Splurge: Sheraton Grand Hotel Hiroshima
Top Things to do in Hiroshima
- Visit the somber and moving Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, including the museum, Atomic Bomb Dome, and various memorials.
- Wander through the Shukkei-en Garden, a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city, with beautiful ponds, bridges, and traditional teahouses.
- Visit the impressive Hiroshima Castle, which dates back to the 16th century.
- Try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with noodles, cabbage, seafood, and vegetables.
- Visit the beautiful island of Miyajima, with its famous Itsukushima Shrine and friendly deer.
#5 | Hakone
Hakone is not usually high on the radar for most travellers visiting Japan for the first time, but we personally think it should be. It’s one of our favourite hidden gems in Japan that is actually really easy to visit for first timers because it’s very close to Tokyo.
Why Visit Hakone?
Hakone is a beautiful mountainous region just 1 hour train ride south of Tokyo, and it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day or two. It’s famous for its natural hot springs (onsen), which are perfect for relaxing and soaking in after a long day of exploring. Nature-lovers will be right at home in Hakone as there are beautiful gardens, waterfalls, hiking areas, and even an active volcanic valley to explore. Culture buffs will love the museums, shrines, and quaint villages.
How Much Time in Hakone?
It’s possible to visit Hakone on a day trip from Tokyo. This is a popular way to visit, but we would recommend staying for 1 or 2 nights to enjoy the best sightseeing in Hakone.
Best Time to Visit Hakone
Hakone is a popular place to visit during July and August, as this is a perfect time for hiking. But in order to avoid the crowds, we recommend visiting during late spring (April-May), Autumn (September-November), or winter (December-February).
Where to Stay in Hakone
Budget: Ichinoyu Honkan
Mid-range: Laforet Club Hakone Gora Yunosumika
Splurge: Hakone Kowakien Tenyu
Things to do in Hakone
- Take a scenic cruise on Lake Ashi, with views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
- Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the many hiking trails to explore.
- Visit the famous Hakone Shrine, and the famous Torii Gate overlooking Lake Ashi.
- Explore the quaint mountain village of Hakone-Yamoto.
- Explore the many hiking trails and waterfalls in the Hakone area.
- Catch the cable car to the top of Mount Hakone and enjoy Owakudani black eggs!
Can you recommend any other places to visit in Japan for first timers? Let us know about them in the comments below.
Planning a trip soon? Here’s a list of the websites we use for booking our trips:
- Skyscanner for the best flight deals
- Booking.com for the best rates on hotels
- HomeAway for the best price on apartment and home rentals
- Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals
- Luxury Escapes | Expedia for luxury package holiday deals and tours
- Get Your Guide | Klook | Viator for booking day tours and attraction tickets
- Tourradar for a wide selection of multi-day tours
- Safety Wing for the most comprehensive worldwide travel insurance
Did You Know? We use ads and affiliate links on this website. When you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you), that helps us pay the bills to keep running this blog as a free resource. We only recommend products we use ourselves. If you’re planning to book a trip soon, please consider clicking through the links above, so that we can continue to provide free travel guides, just like this one! Please see our Disclosure Policy for more details.
Feeling inspired? Here are 10 amazing destinations you must add to your Travel Bucket List!