20 Must-Visit Places in Japan in 2024

Often referred to as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, Japan is a fascinating travel destination that blends ancient traditions, futuristic innovation and breathtaking natural beauty.

From the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, where modernity and tradition merge in a showcase of neon lights and historic temples, to the peaceful landscapes of Hakone, where hot springs and scenic vistas provide a tranquil escape, each destination offers a unique charm.

Overall, Japan is a country you really need to spend a lot of time in to appreciate all it has to offer. However, if you are pressed for time, then there are certain sites and attractions you should prioritise over others. With that in mind, if you are heading over to the Far East, here are 20 must-visit places in Japan in 2024.

1. Visit Tokyo

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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The vivacious capital of Japan, Tokyo, is a sprawling metropolis that seamlessly combines futuristic skyscrapers with historic temples and shrines.

Start your journey there in the bustling districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku – both of which are known for their neon lights, shopping centres and entertainment hubs. Don’t miss also the world famous Shibuya Crossing, where hundreds to thousands of pedestrians cross the street at once, creating a mesmerising spectacle.

For a taste of traditional Japan, visit Asakusa, home to the historic Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise Shopping Street. Also explore the tranquil Meiji Shrine and the beautiful gardens of Ueno Park for a serene contrast to the energetic pace of the city. Ideally, you should spend at least a week in Japan’s capital.

2. Check out Kyoto

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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As it is the former imperial capital, Kyoto is a city steeped in history and cultural richness. It is perhaps best known for its famous, well-preserved temples, traditional tea houses and iconic geisha districts, which offer a glimpse into Japan’s ancient past.

For all visitors, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is a must-visit destination. It is an iconic symbol of the city that boasts thousands of vermillion torii gates – which create a magnificent spectacle. Tourists should also try to experience the elegance of Kinkaku-ji, aka the Golden Pavilion. Set against the backdrop of a reflective pond, it is a very serene place that will take your breath away.

You should also take the opportunity to stroll through the historic Gion district, where you may encounter geishas in their traditional attire.

3. Eat your way through Osaka

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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If you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, you’ll want to make your way over to Osaka. Affectionately

referred to as the ‘Kitchen of Japan’, the city is a paradise for lovers of delicious South East Asian food.

Whilst there, be sure to indulge in local street food delicacies like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake), particularly in Dotonbori, Osaka’s entertainment and nightlife district.

You should also visit the historic Osaka Castle for a glimpse into the city’s feudal past and make immerse yourself in the fun and excitement that Universal Studios Japan offers. It’s a real haven for those who love thrilling rides and attractions.

4. Pay Your Respects at Hiroshima

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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Hiroshima is forever etched in history due to the tragic events of 1945. But it has since transformed into a city of peace and resilience which you should take the time to visit to pay your respects to those who perished.

The Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome are worth spending a bit of time at as they are poignant reminders of the city’s past that offer a sobering yet important experience.

Be sure also to take a ferry to Miyajima Island to witness the iconic ‘floating’ torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine. The island is also known for its friendly deer and stunning hiking trails which offer incredible Insta-worthy views.

5. Encounter the Sacred Deer at Nara

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital, but it is now a city teeming with cultural treasures – including the adorable deer that roam freely in Nara Park. You’ll want to spend a good amount of time amongst these fabulous creatures, who are only too happy to pose for a selfie!

Elsewhere, the Todai-ji Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage site) houses a colossal bronze Buddha statue that is well worth seeing. Don’t forget also to visit Kasuga Taisha Shrine, which is best known for its enchanting lantern-lined paths that are best explored at night.

6. Relax in the Hot Springs at Hakone

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

Fancy escaping the big cities? Then, make a beeline to the tranquil town of Hakone. Nestled in the mountains not too far from Tokyo, Hakone is known for its hot springs (called onsen in Japan). A dip in them offers a rejuvenating retreat that also enables you to take in picturesque views of Mount Fuji. So, make sure you take a relaxing dip in an outdoor bath at one of the many ryokans (traditional inns) in the area.

If you love art and nature, be sure to explore the Hakone Open-Air Museum. It showcases contemporary art against a spectacular backdrop of lush greenery and mountains. Traversing the Hakone Ropeway is another must-do activity that provides breathtaking views of the Owakudani volcanic valley.

7. Enjoy the Preserved charm of Edo Period Elegance at Kanazawa

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

Kanazawa is a city situated on the coast of the Sea of Japan that has maintained the charm of the Edo period.

One of the best places to observe this is at The Kenrokuen Garden – one of Japan’s most renowned gardens – which offers a peaceful escape via its stunningly landscaped grounds. You can explore the Nagamachi samurai district and wander through its narrow streets lined with traditional samurai residences.

Kanazawa is also famous for its gold leaf production and you can experience this art form at various workshops and galleries. Visiting the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is also highly recommended, as it showcases a blend of modern and traditional art.

8. Check out the Shrine Complex at Nikko

Nikko is yet another Japanese UNESCO World Heritage site to add to your bucketlist.

It is set within a mountainous region known for its stunning shrines, waterfalls and natural beauty that is sure to take your breath away.

One of your first ports of call here should be The Toshogu Shrine. This lavish complex of ornate buildings is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu – the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

You should also prioritise seeing the mesmerising Kegon Falls, one of Japan’s highest waterfalls and take a boat ride on Lake Chuzenji for breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Make sure you have your camera fully charged and ready for both.

9. Immerse yourself in the Winter Wonderland of Sapporo

Located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Sapporo is a winter wonderland known for its snowy landscapes and vibrant culinary scene. It is famous for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival which attracts scores of visitors from around the world with its impressive snow and ice sculptures.

If you have a sweet tooth, you should explore the historic Shiroi Koibito Park, where you can learn about the production of the famous white chocolate biscuits. You will also be able to enjoy plenty of delicious ramen dishes, fresh seafood and local Hokkaido specialities in this foodies’ paradise.

10. Hit the Tropical Beach of Okinawa

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

For a taste of Japan’s tropical side, head to Okinawa, a group of islands in the southernmost part of the country. Known for its unique culture, which is distinct from mainland Japan, Okinawa offers pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters and a laid-back atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to kick back and relax after a busy period of sightseeing.

Once you have had your fill of the beach, the Shurijo Castle is a good place to go. This reconstructed castle was once the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom and is steeped in history. You could also visit The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is home to one of the world’s largest indoor coral displays and provides a fascinating insight into the region’s marine life.

Those with an adventurous spirit can also learn the traditional Okinawan dance, Eisa and savour local delicacies like Okinawa soba and taco rice.

11. Check out the Castle at Matsumoto

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

Nestled in the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto is renowned for its spectacular castle, Matsumoto Castle, which is also known as the ‘Crow Castle due to its black exterior. The castle is one of Japan’s oldest and most beautiful, thanks is part to it being surrounded by picturesque cherry blossom trees, which provide a fabulous contrast to its dark facade.

After viewing the castle, take the time to explore other historic districts, such as Nakamachi Street, which is lined with well-preserved merchant houses and charming shops.

12. Enjoy the Tranquillity of Koyasan Mountain

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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Those after a spiritual retreat should visit Koyasan, a sacred mountain in Wakayama Prefecture.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the centre of Shingon Buddhism and is home to numerous temples, including the atmospheric Okunoin Cemetery. Why not spend the night in a shukubo (temple lodging) to fully experience the serene atmosphere and partake in morning prayers?

13. Visit Kanagawa

20 Must-Visit Places in Japan

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Just to the south of Tokyo, the Kanagawa Prefecture offers a wonderful blend of coastal beauty and historical significance.

Connected to the mainland by a bridge, Enoshima Island boasts shrines, gardens, and panoramic views of Mount Fuji on clear days that make it a terrific spot for a picnic. Alternatively, Kamakura, known for its Great Buddha (Daibutsu) and picturesque hiking trails, is a short train ride away.

14. Head to Fukuoka

Fukuoka is a city situated on the island of Kyushu, known for its rich history and lively street food scene.

Whilst there, you can visit Ohori Park, which is a tranquil oasis located in the heart of the city and explore the historic Fukuoka Castle. Don’t forget to indulge in the local specialities at the yatai (street food stalls) for a taste of Hakata ramen and mentaiko (spicy cod roe).

15. Ancient Forests of Yakushima

If you love nature, one of the best places to visit in Japan is Yakushima, an island south of Kyushu.

The island is covered in ancient cedar forests and a hike to Jomon Sugi – a massive cedar tree estimated to be over 2,000 years old – is a pilgrimage for dedicated hikers. If you think you recognise Yakushima’s lush landscapes while you are there, that is because they served as inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s animated film ‘Princess Mononoke’.

16. Enjoy a Tropical Escape at Ishigaki

Another terrific spot for a tropical escape is Ishigaki, which forms part of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa.

The region offers pristine beaches, coral reefs for snorkelling and diving and the scenic Kabira Bay. Away from the sand and water, take the opportunity to explore the unique culture of the Yaeyama people and savour local delicacies such as Ishigaki beef.

17. Soak in the hot springs at Kinosaki Onsen

For a quintessential onsen (hot spring) experience, visit Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture. This charming town is known for its seven public bathhouses, where visitors can stroll in yukata (light kimono) from one bath to another.

The nostalgic atmosphere and the seasonal beauty of willow-lined canals make it a relaxing retreat and a must-do cultural experience.

18. Hike the Kumano Kodo

Fancy a spiritual journey, then make your way over to the Kumano Kodo – a network of ancient pilgrimage trails in the Kii Peninsula. The trails here lead to sacred sites, including the Kumano Sanzan, a trio of grand shrines.

As well as being a physical challenge you might want to overcome, tackling the Kumano Kodo also provides a fascinating cultural immersion into Japan’s spiritual history.

19. Relax at Matsushima

Located in the Miyagi Prefecture, Matsushima is renowned for its picturesque bay that is dotted with pine-covered islands. You can take a boat cruise there to spend some time admiring the breathtaking scenery and visit the historic Zen temple of Zuiganji.

Foodies will also be interested to read that this area is also known for its delicious seafood – including oysters and grilled fish, readily available at local restaurants.

20. See the Cherry Blossom Trees at Aomori

If you head to Aomori in the northern region of Tohoku in the spring you can see one of the most incredible sights in the whole of Japan.

Held in Hirosaki Park every April and May, The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival is a spectacle of colour and fragrance, made up of over 2,500 cherry trees, which create a breathtaking panorama of that you’ll want to take hundreds of photos.

In addition, Aomori is also home to the Nebuta Matsuri – a vibrant summer festival notable for its illuminated floats and traditional music.