Japan is a land of ancient traditions, modern marvels, and breathtaking natural beauty.
From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the peaceful temples in Kyoto and the majestic Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan offers something for everyone.
For first-time visitors, there are plenty of amazing places to explore; from exploring Tokyo’s vibrant nightlife and shopping districts to discovering Osaka’s traditional street food culture, visiting historic Shinto shrines in Kyoto, and admiring the stunning views at Miyajima Island.
Whether you’re looking for an exciting adventure or just want to relax in one of Japan’s beautiful gardens or hot springs, this incredible country has something special waiting for you!
When we visited Japan for the first time, we traveled with our three daughters. We squeezed way too much into our itinerary. And visited 12 different destinations on one trip.
It was a busy trip, and we were sick of trains by the end of it, so my recommendation is to make your trip, light easy and only select 3-5 destinations to visit.
In this article, we will share with you the best places to visit in Japan for your first trip.
5 Best Places To Visit In Japan For First Timers
If you’re only planning to visit Japan for a few days or a couple of weeks, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to take in the entire country at once.
In fact, I recommend that don’t try to see it all in the space of a week or two.
While the northernmost island of Hokkaido is well worth a visit, especially in winter, as well as the tropical islands of Okinawa, we recommend first-time visitors to Japan stick to the regions surrounding Tokyo and the other major Japanese cities in the area.
There is more than enough to see in Tokyo itself to fill up a short itinerary, and if you stay in the capital, there are plenty of exciting side trips you can undertake in a day.
These include short sojourns to the historic city of Osaka and even to Mount Fuji, probably the most iconic international symbol of Japan.
So let’s look at the top 5 best places to visit whilst traveling to Japan as a first-timer.
1. Tokyo, the Capital City of Japan
The majority of first-timers to Japan make the country’s capital their primary destination and with good reason.
A visit to the bustling metropolis is a unique experience and offers travelers a wealth of iconic attractions to explore in Tokyo, as well as a heap of fun activities to keep kids entertained if visiting as a family.
One thing that you might not realize is how big this city is. We were surprised by how many trains we had to take in order to get from our hotel to the various destinations.
So it is important to plan for enough days here. And sort out the attractions you want to see by area within the city to minimize having to go across the city to see different sights.
Some of the must-visit attractions in Tokyo include:
- The Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree – The tallest and second-tallest buildings in the city are ideal vantage points where you can take stunning photos of the capital’s skyline.
- Sensō-ji Temple – The oldest Buddhist temple in Japan and the most-visited spiritual site in the world.
- Meiji Shrine – The Meiji Jingu Shrine is a peaceful garden-filled Shinto shrine in the heart of Tokyo, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
- Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea – You could easily spend a full day in each of these vibrant theme parks near Tokyo, and your kids will probably love you forever no matter which one you choose to visit – grab your entrance tickets online here.
- Asakusa, Imperial Palace, and more – There are also plenty of other exciting districts to explore in the city, including Akihabara (the electronics mecca), Roppongi (the entertainment hub), and Harajuku.
- Take a day trip to Mount Fuji, Japan’s most recognizable landmark. Mount Fuji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the breathtaking views from the top are well worth the trip – book your full-day Mt Fuji tour and Hakone Cruise here.
- Take a day tour to explore some of Tokyo’s nearby cities such as Tsukiji Market in Tokyo Bay – the largest fish market in the world (join a tour here), and Nikko National Park north of the city (join a day tour to Nikko here).
Of course, you don’t need to face long queues at the busiest tourist attractions to enjoy your time in Tokyo.
Just walking around the city and experiencing its mind-boggling range of world-class restaurants and unique shopping areas is enough for many first-timers.
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We would especially recommend taking a stroll around the Shinjuku district – it was my favorite district in Tokyo. I especially recommend you visit it at night.
We visited Kabukichō earlier in the night to avoid exposing our kids to a red light district and they loved staring at all the brightly colored lights surrounding them.
Because Tokyo can be pretty overwhelming to see by yourself, I also recommend you book a few tours in Tokyo as well (it will really help with the planning!).
Here is a quick look at our time in Tokyo with our three daughters.
How many days in Tokyo is enough?
The answer to this question depends on how much you want to see and do.
If your trip is short, two or three days may be enough to get a feel of the city and its major attractions.
However, if you really want to soak up the atmosphere and explore Tokyo in depth we suggest at least five full days there.
We spent 4 nights in Tokyo and another day could have been helpful to just slow down the pace a little.
Where to Stay in Tokyo:
Here is a list of the best places to stay in Tokyo for first-timers.
The Mandarin Oriental is located in the heart of the city, offering breathtaking views of Tokyo’s skyline from its rooms and suites.
It is also conveniently situated above the Mitsukoshimae Train Station, which provides easy access to the city’s major attractions.
The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo boasts luxurious amenities, including a world-class spa, fine dining restaurants, a fitness center, and a gorgeous indoor pool.
Overall, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is an excellent choice for luxury accommodations in Tokyo.
The Hotel Gracery Shinjuku is located in the vibrant Shinjuku neighborhood, which is known for its shopping, entertainment, and dining options.
This 4-Star hotel offers comfortable rooms with modern amenities.
The hotel also has several on-site dining options, including a Japanese restaurant and a café serving light meals and drinks. Additionally, guests can enjoy a fitness center and a massage service.
Overall, the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku is a great option for travelers who want a comfortable and convenient stay in a bustling neighborhood.
If you’re a first-time traveler to Tokyo and looking for a budget hotel, I would suggest the APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae.
This hotel is located in the Asakusa area, which is a popular tourist spot with lots of things to see and do, including the famous Sensoji Temple.
The APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae offers clean and modern rooms with all the basic amenities you need, including free Wi-Fi.
Tip for Families: If you’re looking for ideas on where to stay in Japan’s capital when traveling with kids, check out our guide to the best family hotels in Tokyo.
The next stop on your itinerary should be Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka.
This city is known for its lively atmosphere and delicious food, including the famous Osaka-style okonomiyaki.
It’s also home to Universal Studios Japan, which is a popular amusement park. Our kids loved their day out at this amusement park, their favorite area was the Harry Potter area.
Many travelers prefer combining their trip to Osaka with a day trip to Kyoto, however, I love Kyoto so much that I definitely suggest you stay a few days in both of these beautiful cities.
Some of the must-visit attractions in Osaka include:
- If you have time, visiting Osaka Castle is a must. It’s one of the most famous castles in Japan and the perfect place to learn about Japanese history.
- Other attractions in this city include Aquarium Kaiyukan, Tsutenkaku Tower, Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, and Umeda Sky Building.
- Another must-do activity is exploring Dotonbori, the city’s most famous entertainment district. Here you’ll find plenty of delicious restaurants, unique shopping opportunities, and vibrant nightlife spots.
- Universal Studios Japan is also located in Osaka, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of theme parks. You can buy your Studios pass online here.
How many days in Osaka is enough?
We suggest at least two full days here so that you can get a good feel for the city and its attractions.
In all honesty, I don’t care much for Osaka. I did however enjoy our day trips that we took when we used Osaka as our base.
So I highly recommend you only give yourself a day or so in Osaka and then a few more days to enjoy some of the day trips.
My favorite day trips were to Nara, Kurashiki and Miyajima.Jolene Ejmont (Family Travel Blogger)
If you have more time and you want to add on a few day trips from Osaka, three to four days is optimal.
Where To Stay In Osaka
Here is a list of where to stay in Osaka for first-timers.
The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka is located in the heart of the city, this hotel offers easy access to popular attractions such as the Osaka Castle and the Dotonbori entertainment district.
What we love about this hotel is that it boasts elegant and spacious rooms, each equipped with modern amenities and featuring a stunning city view.
The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka also features a full-service spa, fitness center, and indoor pool.
With its luxurious amenities and convenient location, The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka is a great choice.
The Cross Hotel Osaka is located in the trendy Shinsaibashi area, within walking distance of popular shopping and dining spots.
This 4-star hotel offers modern and stylish accommodations, with comfortable rooms equipped with all the necessary amenities.
Overall, the Cross Hotel Osaka is a great choice for travelers looking for a comfortable and stylish stay in Osaka.
If you’re looking for a budget hotel in Osaka for first-time travelers, I would recommend the Hotel WBF Namba Motomachi.
It’s located in the Namba area, within walking distance of popular tourist attractions such as the Dotonbori entertainment district and the Shinsaibashi shopping street.
The hotel offers clean and comfortable accommodations at an affordable price, with each room equipped with all the necessary amenities.
3. Kyoto, the Most Beautiful City in Japan
Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan and home to some of the most beautiful sights in the country, should be your next stop.
Known as the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is home to over 1,000 beautiful temples, shrines, and other historical sites.
This city offers a glimpse into Japan’s past and is a great place to experience traditional Japanese culture.
This is my favorite city in Japan. It can feel a bit touristy with travelers dressing up in their kimonos for a photoshoot, but the traditional areas are just stunning!
Whilst many visit Kyoto on a day trip from Osaka, I really think you should stay for at least a few days to soak it all in.Jolene Ejmont (Family Travel Blogger)
Best Things to do in Kyoto Include:
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple – This grand Buddhist temple is set on a hill overlooking the city and offers stunning views over the city and Mt. Hiei.
- Kinkaku-ji – This beautiful golden pavilion is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and boasts a stunning lake garden.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – This Shinto shrine is famed for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which stretch up the mountain to the shrine’s main summit.
- Arashiyama – This district is known for its beautiful bamboo forest and many temples and is a great place to explore on foot or by bike.
- Other things to do in Kyoto include exploring its bustling markets, trying traditional Japanese sweets, and visiting Nijo Castle.
How many days in Kyoto is enough?
Whilst you could visit Kyoto on a day trip from Osaka, we suggest spending at least three days in Kyoto so that you can explore all of its must-see sights and experience some of its unique culture.
Where To Stay In Kyoto
Here is a list of the best places to stay in Kyoto for first-timers.
The Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is one of the top luxury hotels in Kyoto, offering a serene and luxurious atmosphere, exquisite dining options, and exceptional service.
One highly-rated 4-star hotel in Kyoto is the Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo.
Located in the heart of Kyoto, this hotel is within walking distance of popular tourist destinations such as Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
The hotel features stylish rooms with modern amenities.
Overall, Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo is a great choice for travelers looking for a comfortable and convenient stay in Kyoto.
4. Hiroshima and Miyajima
Next is Hiroshima, the city of peace.
This modern metropolis is home to many attractions that commemorate its tragic past and pay tribute to those who lost their lives in World War II.
The must-visit sights here include:
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park – This park is located in the center of Hiroshima and includes the A-bomb Dome, which was once a commercial building that survived the 1945 atomic bombing.
- Miyajima Island – One of the most beautiful places located off the coast of Hiroshima and offers stunning views over the surrounding area. Its most famous attraction is the Itsukushima Shrine, also known as “The Floating Shrine”.
- Hiroshima Castle – This castle is located on the banks of the Ota River and is a great place to learn about Japanese history.
How many days in Hiroshima is enough?
Two full days should be enough for you to experience all of Hiroshima’s major attractions, including the Peace Memorial Park and Miyajima.
If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend a trip to Miyajime Island.
Our kids loved strolling around amongst the deer there! What an awesome experience for them.Jolene
However, if you have more time we recommend spending three to four days here.
Where To Stay In Hiroshima
Here is a list of where to stay in Hiroshima for first-timers.
One highly-rated luxury hotel in Hiroshima is the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel.
What we love about this hotel is that it is located in the heart of the city, making explorations really easy. It also offers stunning views of the city.
Spacious rooms are hard to come by in Japan, so you will love the spacious elegant rooms here.
Guests can also enjoy the on-site dining options, as well as the fitness center, indoor pool, and spa facilities.
The RIHGA Royal Hotel Hiroshima is located just a 10-minute walk from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and offers comfortable rooms with city or river views.
The hotel also features an indoor pool, a fitness center, several restaurants serving Japanese and international cuisine, and a bar.
Hakone is a destination that is worth visiting. It is located on the Izu Peninsula, just southwest of Tokyo. The region is known for its hot springs and beautiful views of Mt. Fuji.
Things to do in Hakone include visiting the Open Air Museum, walking around Lake Ashi, and exploring some of the area’s many shrines and temples.
There is also plenty of onsen (hot springs) scattered around the area and these are a great way to relax after a long day of sightseeing. This onsen has a spectacular view and is super affordable.
During our first trip to Japan we had a very tight itinerary and we had one specific day set aside to see Mt Fuji. Unfortunately our day was super overcast and Mt Fuji was pretty much invisible.
Which meant that we never got to see it on our first trip and to see it was dissapointing is an understatement!
And if it is overcast simply check it again the next morning to see if the conditions are better.
How many days in Hakone is enough?
We suggest spending at least one full day in this region so that you can take your time exploring its attractions.
If you’re looking to experience more of Hakone, then I suggest two or three days.
Hakone is easy to do as a day trip, so I wouldn’t stay overnight. Here is the most popular day tour to Hakone from Tokyo.
Here are some answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the best places to visit in Japan for first-time visitors.
There are many amazing places to visit in Japan, but in my opinion, there are three destinations that you should visit on your visit trip: Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
Both Osaka and Kyoto are great places to visit in Japan, and which one to visit first really depends on your personal interests and travel plans.
If you are interested in history, culture, and traditional Japanese architecture, then Kyoto might be the better choice to visit first.
Kyoto is known for its numerous temples and shrines, such as the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), as well as its historic districts like Gion and Higashiyama.
On the other hand, if you are interested in modern city life, shopping, and nightlife, then Osaka might be a better choice to visit first.
Osaka is known for its delicious food, bustling shopping streets like Dotonbori, and attractions like Osaka Castle and Universal Studios Japan.
Personally, I would visit Kyoto first. I really loved Osaka as a base for day trips but didn’t enjoy the city as much as I did in Kyoto. However, I think that if you are still young, you might prefer the Osaka vibe.
It’s a matter of personal preference, as both cities have their own unique charm and attractions.
I think that some people might prefer Osaka’s laid-back atmosphere and delicious food, while others might prefer Tokyo’s modern and cosmopolitan vibe.
It’s recommended to visit both cities to experience their unique cultures and decide which one you prefer.
Personally, I prefer Tokyo over Osaka, and my husband agrees that he would rather visit Tokyo if he had to choose between the two.
Osaka is known for its vibrant nightlife, street food, and amusement parks, while Kyoto is known for its historical landmarks, temples, and shrines.
I personally think that if you prefer a modern and lively atmosphere, then Osaka might be more fun for you. I also think that Osaka is more suitable for the younger crowd.
On the other hand, I think that if you prefer a traditional and cultural experience, then Kyoto might be more fun.
Both Osaka and Tokyo are generally safe cities with low crime rates.
While there may be some minor differences in terms of safety between the two cities, both are generally considered safe for travelers.
We personally felt really safe in both of the cities.
The best way to get around Japan for a first trip would be to use the country’s extensive and efficient public transportation system, which includes trains, subways, buses, and taxis.
We found that the Japan Rail Pass was a cost-effective option since we visited many destinations (that included train trips from one city to the next) on our trip.
As a family of 5, we also found that not only did it simplify things but it also worked out much cheaper in comparison to traveling without the pass.
Final Thoughts On Where To Go In Japan For First-Timers
Whether you’re visiting Japan for a few days or even a couple of weeks, there’s no shortage of amazing places to explore.
From the iconic Tokyo skyline and its vibrant theme parks to the ancient temples in Kyoto and Osaka Castle in Osaka, this country has something interesting for everyone.
And if you have more time on your hands, don’t forget about Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Miyajima Island—all must-see destinations that will leave an unforgettable impression.
With so many incredible sights to see, it’s easy to understand why Japan is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations!
- This a must-read guide for those who will be traveling to Japan with a baby.
- Learn more about the Japan visa policy for families here.
- Find loads of Japan travel tips here.
- Everything you need to know about buying a Japan Rail Pass here.
- Find all our Japan travel blog posts here.