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10 Best Cities in Japan to Visit, Eat, and Enjoy [Final List]

By Vicky LengUpdated Jul. 4, 2024

Shrines, cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji, sushi, anime, and other cross-cultural icons blend modernity with ancient traditions in Japan, making it definitely one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. However, each city offers a unique charm. Not only is it impossible to visit them all at once, but it also makes choosing one a daunting task.

Relax, this article is to set you free. Here is a list of the 10 best cities in Japan to visit, along with attractions and highlights. So let's embark together and immerse ourselves in Japan's allure and landscapes!

Takeaways for First-timers:

  • Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are the best places to visit in Japan for first-timers if the trip is less than a week.
  • It's recommended to visit other beautiful places in Japan such as Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nara for more than two weeks of travel.
  • Might as well opt for a 9-day all-inclusive tour that covers meals, accommodation, and transportation to relieve the planning stress, especially if you travel with family or in a group.

Top 10 Best Cities in Japan to Visit

Each city in Japan offers a unique style and travel experience. Some are modern and trendy, some are traditional and quaint, and others are focused on culinary delights. It is best to choose your destination based on your preferences. Here are the top 10 places to visit in Japan.

1. Kyoto: Ancient, Culturally Rich and Slow-paced

Kyoto is undoubtedly the best city in Japan to visit and enjoy traditional culture. As the former capital, it preserves a wealth of artifacts and historical landmarks from the Warring States period.

From Nijō Castle and Imperial Palace to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine and Arashiyama, this journey will not only take you back in time to Japan's past but also allow you to relax and appreciate nature's gift in the lush bamboo grove.

If you're lucky, you might even run across geisha and maiko dressed in kimono, adding a serendipitous encounter with history.

Things to Do:

2-3 days to explore historical sites, taste traditional cuisine, experience samurai culture, and indulge in modern shopping in Nishiki Market district, etc.

Kinkakuji TempleKinkakuji Temple

2. Tokyo: Busy, Vibrant and Cosmopolitan

Even if you've never been to Japan, you've surely heard of Tokyo's iconic Tokyo Tower and Sensō-ji Temple. The two landmarks hint at the fact that Tokyo is a melting pot of a metropolis, offering modern and ancient attractions for everyone.

Tokyo Skytree and Shibuya Crossing will dazzle you with neon lights and bustling crowds, while Akihabara and Ghibli Park can send you back to your childhood with manga vibes.

Of course, Tokyo also has its share of traditional relics. Nikkō Tōshō-gū, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and Ryōgoku Kokugikan are all the best places to visit in Japan.

If you're unsure whether to visit Tokyo or Kyoto first, you can check our post on Tokyo vs Kyoto: Differences in Vibe, Prices, Culture, Food.

Things to Do:

2-4 days to visit traditional and new attractions, relive your childhood at Disney and Ghibli Park, and shop in Shinjuku and Ueno, etc.

Shibuya UrbanShibuya Urban

3. Osaka: Hospitable, Delicious, and Easy Shopping

Osaka, the second-largest city, is the best place to visit in Japan for young couples who love food, shopping, and nightlife.

It is home to many famous attractions, including Universal Studios, the Nintendo World theme park, and the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquariums in the world.

If you want to experience Japanese culture in Osaka as well, Yasaka Shrine, Hozenji Temple, and the Tower of the Sun are must-visit spots. However, the most alluring aspect of Osaka is its nightlife, which you can enjoy in places like Shinsaibashi Shopping Street, Kuromon Market, and Dotonbori. The latter, in particular, is filled with delicious food and beer at reasonable prices.

Things to Do:

2-3 days to savor delicious food like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and gyoza, enjoy drinks in retro Japanese bars, and shop in bustling districts, etc.

Osaka CastleOsaka Castle

A Hassle-free Trip Plan to Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo:

Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo are the 3 best cities to visit in Japan. To make you explore all of them in one trip, here's an 8-day Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo Tour highly recommended by Asia Highlights. This plan includes a detailed itinerary and activity schedule, with food and accommodation arranged. It will alleviate your anxiety about international travel and language barriers, allowing you to fully enjoy Japan's local nightlife, vibrant scenes, and attractions.

4. Hiroshima: Historic, Beautiful, and Delicious

Hiroshima is a city that bears witness to World War II.

You can visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to mourn the ordinary people who perished in the war, and learn about the history and impact.

Despite its tragic past, Hiroshima is now one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Japan. It is enriched by castles, traditional gardens, art, and vintage trams.

Additionally, Hiroshima is also known for its delicious food. Oysters and okonomiyaki are local specialties that you must try.

Things to Do:

1 day to immerse yourself in the weight of history, the beauty of the city, and the flavor of local cuisine.

Hiroshima Peace Building Spring CherryHiroshima Peace Building Spring Cherry

5. Nara: Time-honored and Full of Vigor

As a city steeped in history since the 8th century, Nara boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites. Among them, Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple are particularly famous and worth visiting.

Beyond that, what might surprise you the most are the hundreds of tame Sika deer roaming Nara Park. You can try to feed them and capture some lively photos. If you're lucky, you might even see a deer bow its head in thanks!

Notably, Nara, nestled between Tokyo and Kyoto, is the best to visit in Japan on foot. It's also not far from Hiroshima and Osaka.

A Perfect Tip for the Top 6 Cities in Japan: 11-day Customized Japan Tour: Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nara.

Things to Do:

1 day to walk through the World Heritage sites and interact with the deer in Nara Park.

Deer in NaraFeed Deers in Nara

6. Kanazawa: Cultural, Artistic, and Tasty

If you want to find the best cities to visit in Japan besides Tokyo and Kyoto, Kanazawa is a great choice. It's not as busy as Tokyo, but it's also not crowded, and its history rivals Kyoto's.

In Kanazawa, you can relax in geisha districts like Higashi Chaya and Kazuemachi, and marvel at the changing seasons in Kenrokuen Garden. And don't miss the unique Ninja Temple, filled with secret passages and traps, a disguised fortress.

Most importantly, Kanazawa's seafood is incredibly fresh, making sushi there more delicious and free of any fishy taste.

Things to Do:

1-2 days to appreciate traditional Japanese architecture, tea utensils, lacquerware, and taste fresh seafood.

Geisha in KanazawaGeisha in Kanazawa

7. Sapporo: Rural, Beery, and Snow-white

As the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Japan to visit in winter and summer both.

Sapporo in winter is blanketed in snow. Despite the cold, it is even more able to embody the image of mountains stretching like silver snakes. At the same time, the annual Snow and Ice Festival is held, where you can feast your eyes on a multitude of colorful sculptures.

As for summer, Sapporo is an excellent resort due to its high latitude. It's also the perfect time to enjoy local beer. Paired with Hokkaido-style curry, it's hard to imagine how relaxing and immersive it is.

Things to Do:

2-3 days to enjoy snowscapes in winter. Visit the Sapporo Beer Museum and taste more food and drinks in summer.

Read More: Food and Drinks in Japan: Essential Japanese Food & Traditional Drinks to Try

Snow Scenery in SapporoSnow Scenery in Sapporo

8. Nagoya: Cutting-edge and Long-standing

Nagoya is not only the largest city in central Japan, but also a center for Japan's automotive and aerospace industries. Toyota Museum, Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, and the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park all can give you a glimpse into the technological advancements of Nagoya and Japan as a whole.

However, Nagoya offers more than that. It is also a place full of Japanese Warring States culture. Therefore, renowned historical sites such as Nagoya Castle, Tokugawa Art Museum, Osu Kannon Temple, and Atsuta Shrine are also plentiful in this city.

Things to Do:

1-2 days to immerse in places of interest and trace Japan's automotive and aerospace history and development.

Nagoya

9. Kobe: Montanic, Scenic, and Cozey

Kobe, situated between Osaka and Hiroshima, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan yet is often overlooked by people.

Kobe is not very large with mountains surrounded. Among them, Mount Rokko's fame spreads far enough.

Don't worry the rugged terrain will dull your sightseeing, as Kobe boasts a vibrant nightlife with top-notch seaside attractions and a bustling Chinatown.

You can also soak in Arima Onsen, one of Japan's top three hot springs, to refresh yourself.

Things to Do:

1-2 days to capture mountain scenery, visit Kobe Port and Chinatown, and relax in hot springs.

Mount Rokko in KobeMount Rokko in Kobe

10. Takayama: Quaint, Rustic, and Sake-fragrant

The final recommendation in the list of the top 10 places to visit in Japan is Takayama. Located in the Japanese Alps, Takayama is a charming small town. Its streets are lined with traditional wooden structures, especially on Sanmachi Street, which seems to step back in time to Japan's Edo period (1603-1868).

Takayama also boasts a rich sake brewing tradition. Embark on a brewery tour to savor the unique flavors of this exquisite rice wine firsthand.

If you plan to visit during spring or autumn, don't miss the vibrant Takayama Festival. Decorated floats, dazzling costumes, and attractive performances will absorb you in Japanese culture.

Things to Do:

1-2 days to walk among ancient buildings and savor the unique flavors of Japanese sake and its rich culture.

TakayamaStreets in Takayama are lined with traditional wooden structures

More to Explore

How to Plan A Great Trip to Japan: A Full Guide

Best Time to Visit Japan: When to Go & When to Avoid

Enjoy Your Trip to Japan

These are the 10 best cities to visit in Japan. Metropolises blend the old and the new, featuring traditional traces as well as modern nightlife. The smaller towns are tucked away, slow-paced but uniquely charming.

No matter what you choose, you will deeply experience Japanese culture and satisfy your palate with local delicacies. However, note that a perfect trip relies on perfect planning. We hope this post helps make your itinerary and time planning easier.

Design Your Perfect Japan Trip:

With our pick of Japan's top 10 cities, you may know the best places to explore in Japan. But start with which one? Click here to plan a unique Japan trip with our experienced experts!

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