Best Places to Visit in Japan

Known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan's civilization dates as far back as 30,000 years. Today, the archipelago seamlessly blends its rich history with its ultra-modern present. And while its capital, Tokyo, is a must-visit for first timers, Japan has so much more to offer travelers of all types. U.S. News took into account cultural attractions, culinary options and accessibility (among other factors) to bring you the best places to visit in Japan. Have a favorite? Vote below to help decide next year's ranking.

SUMMARY

Best Places to Visit in Japan

  • Kyoto
  • Tokyo
  • Osaka
  • Hiroshima
  • Nara
  • Fukuoka
  • Mount Fuji
  • Izu Peninsula
  • Sapporo
  • Nagasaki
  • Hakone
  • Kamakura
  • Okinawa
  • Kobe
  • Nikko
  • Furano
  • Niseko
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    Kyoto

    #1 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Travelers most interested in Japan's history and traditions should head to Kyoto. Centrally located on the archipelago, Kyoto has long been considered the cultural capital of Japan. Here, you'll find more than 1,000 Buddhist temples and 400-plus Shinto shrines, including a whopping 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can also stroll through geisha districts like Gion and Miyagawacho, admire classic wooden architecture and visit traditional teahouses before checking out more modern attractions, such as the Kyoto Aquarium.

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    Tokyo

    #2 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    This metropolis is a feast for the senses. Neighborhoods like Ginza and Akihabara buzz with flashing lights and larger-than-life shopping, while Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace give you a look into Japan's storied past. There are also a number of green spaces like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which acts as a place to escape from the chaotic, concrete jungle. What's more, Tokyo is regularly regarded as a top foodie city thanks in part to its abundant Michelin-starred restaurants (the most you'll find in any city in the world), so come hungry.

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    Osaka

    #3 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Situated about 35 miles southwest of Kyoto, this port city is worth a visit for its food alone. One of the city's most famous dishes, the tasty pancake-like okonomiyaki (which means "grilled as you like it" in Japanese), is made with batter, cabbage and your choice of meat and other toppings. After you've gotten your fill of the delectable local cuisine, explore the flashy Dotonbori neighborhood, check out the reconstructed 16th-century Osaka Castle or head to contemporary sights like Universal Studios Japan and the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

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    Hiroshima

    #4 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    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 monuments and memorials like the Peace Memorial Park, the Children's Peace Monument and the UNESCO-certified 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.

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    Nara

    #5 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Japan's first permanent capital is famous for housing the Great Buddha, a more than 50-foot-tall bronze statue of Buddha. You'll find this jaw-dropping national treasure in Nara's Todai-ji temple, which is the largest wooden building in the world. While on the temple grounds, explore the deer-filled Nara Park and the ornate Kasuga Taisha shrine. Also save time for visiting Yakushiji Temple, a property that's considered one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara.

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    Fukuoka

    #6 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Located on Kyushu (Japan's third-largest island), Fukuoka offers travelers a mix of urban sprawl, sandy coastlines and ancient temples and shrines. Can't-miss sights include Tochoji Temple – home of the largest sitting wooden Buddha in Japan – and Nokonoshima Island, which features colorful flower fields and beautiful views of the surrounding bay. Fukuoka is also known for its incredible ramen, so be sure to try this tasty dish at one of the city's many food stalls.

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    Mount Fuji

    #7 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    The country's tallest mountain and one of its most iconic symbols is a popular destination for outdoor recreation. For centuries, Japanese artists and poets have been inspired by Mount Fuji's almost perfectly round form. The Fuji Five Lakes region at the foot of this UNESCO World Heritage Site makes a great base for the thousands of climbers who visit each year. Enjoy the area's museums and amusement park during the warmer months. Or, arrive in winter to soak in the hot springs and ski Mount Fuji's slopes.

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    Izu Peninsula

    #8 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    This peninsula situated 62 miles southwest of Tokyo makes a great getaway from the busy city. It is popular among locals and tourists alike thanks to its relaxing hot springs and stunning white sand beaches. These, along with various museums and ryokans (Japanese-style inns), can be found in cities like Atami and Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula's eastern coast. During spring visits, travelers will also want to check out Kawazu's vibrant cherry blossoms. Meanwhile, on the southern and western coasts, vacationers will find more rugged yet equally scenic coastlines, such as Dogashima.

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    Sapporo

    #9 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Hokkaido island's capital city is perhaps best known for its ties to the 1972 Winter Olympics. It's hardly surprising, then, that Sapporo's main draw is its winter activities. In addition to featuring top-notch ski slopes, the city hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival – with large, elaborate snow sculptures – every February. Plus, Sapporo offers a variety of tasty brews and bites. Learn about the city's beer at the Sapporo Beer Museum. Then, grab a bowl of ramen in the Susukino entertainment district. Have more of a sweet tooth? Visit chocolate-themed Shiroi Koibito Park.

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    Nagasaki

    #10 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Americans might only associate the name Nagasaki with the dropping of the second atomic bomb during World War II, and today this city on the northwestern part of Kyushu island pays homage to the devastation at sights like the Nagasaki Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. But you'll find an array of fun outdoor attractions here, too. Head to Glover Garden or Mount Inasa for sweeping panoramas. Also save time for a stroll through Nagasaki's Chinatown to shop and savor authentic Chinese fare in Japan's oldest Chinatown.

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    Hakone

    #11 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Mountainous Hakone is one of Japan's most popular hot spring destinations. Nestled within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the town features 17 different hot springs, plus a hot spring theme park with unique baths like one with coffee and another with mulled wine. After you've dried off, visit one of Hakone's art museums, such as the Hakone Open-Air Museum, the Okada Museum of Art or the Hakone Museum of Art. No Hakone vacation would be complete without enjoying spectacular views of Mount Fuji from Lake Ashinoko and the Komagatake Ropeway.

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    Kamakura

    #12 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Overlooking Sagami Bay less than 38 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japan's former political capital attracts culture hounds and outdoor enthusiasts in droves. Kamakura features a multitude of temples, shrines and monuments, including the 36-foot-tall Great Buddha of Kamakura statue. What's more, the city offers three white sand beaches – Yuigahama, Zaimokuza and Koshigoe – where visitors can surf, paddleboard and swim, among other activities. When it's time to eat, head to Komachi-dori Street to try local delicacies like shirasu (raw or boiled, salted and dried whitebait) and candied bean snacks.

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    Okinawa

    #13 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    More than 160 islands comprise Okinawa, a top destination for snorkeling and diving. The Japanese prefecture boasts proximity to multiple coral reefs teeming with fish, manta rays and hammerhead sharks that you can access from beautiful beaches like those found on Okinawa's Kerama Islands. These 20-plus islands are also ideal places to see migrating whales between January and March. Back on the main island, visitors will find one of the world's largest aquariums, several castle ruins and a museum that focuses on Okinawa's unique history and culture. And on Iriomote Island, adventurous travelers can hike to awe-inspiring waterfalls.

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    Kobe

    #14 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    After an earthquake caused significant damage to the city in 1995, Kobe rebuilt itself into a thriving cosmopolitan city. You'll want to remember to bring your appetite when you visit. Kobe is famous for its namesake beef, as well as its sake. It's also considered one of Japan's most attractive cities, with sleek architecture and beautiful green spaces like Sorakuen Garden. For some of the city's best views – especially at night – go to the top of the Kobe Port Tower or ride the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. End your evening exploring Kobe's Chinatown or dining at one of Kobe Harborland's waterfront restaurants.

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    Nikko

    #15 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Nikko is the place to go to see lavish architecture surrounded by nature. Head to Nikko National Park, one of Japan's oldest national parks, to enjoy an up-close look at traditional structures situated alongside mountains, lakes, waterfalls and hot springs. The park is especially beautiful in fall when its trees display vivid shades of yellow, red and orange. In total, you'll discover 103 UNESCO World Heritage-listed temples and shrines in Nikko, including world-renowned sites like Toshogu Shrine and Rinnoji Temple.

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    Furano

    #16 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Furano's two biggest attractions are its slopes and its flowers. In winter, the town's 24 ski runs – which are designed to suit skiers of all levels – are blanketed in about 30 feet of powder. Meanwhile, summer is when Furano's lavender fields burst with color. One of the best places to see the fragrant blooms is Farm Tomita, where you can tour lavender fields in an open-air tractor carriage and sample lavender-flavored treats like tea and ice cream.

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    Niseko

    #17 in Best Places to Visit in Japan

    Japan's most famous ski spot features multiple resorts with nearly 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. In fact, Niseko is such a popular place to ski that winter sports enthusiasts from around the world flock here to shred powder. But there's more to do here than ski. Visitors can relax in one of the town's multiple hot springs, go snowshoeing or zip around Mount Niseko-Annupuri on a snowmobile. For those who arrive in summer, Niseko offers golf courses and opportunities to mountain bike, fish and paddleboard.

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