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EPIC 3-week itinerary for Japan (perfect for first-timers)

Have you been looking for a 3-week Japan itinerary, because you aren’t sure what to do while you’re there? Don’t worry, we have you covered.

Japan is an amazing country where ancient traditions and modern customs go hand in hand.

If you think 3 weeks is too long for Japan, think again. It’s easy to travel for 3 weeks in Japan without getting bored. You need three weeks in Japan just to visit the highlights. 

Our first trip to Japan was one of slightly over 3 weeks and when we were planning our Japan trip, we found it very difficult because we had to select from among an over choice of sights that all looked worthwhile. 

This is our 3-week Japan itinerary that we eventually came up with. 

Insider tip: Looking for the best Japan travel tips, click here.

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In a hurry? Here we share an overview of our 3 weeks in Japan

If you don’t have time to read through the full Japan itinerary, use this overview to get an idea of the things to do on each day and save it for later.

  • Day 1-4 Tokyo: Visit Shibuya,  the Imperial Palace, Yoyogi park, the Sensoji temple, Harajuku, Asakusa, and the neighborhood around the Skytree.
  • Day 5: Matsumoto: Visit the Samurai castle and explore the small streets.
  • Day 6-7 Yudanaka: Go watch the snow monkeys and relax in one of the many local onsens.
  • Day 8 Kanazawa: Visit the Kenrokuen garden, Kanazawa Castle, and the old geisha district.
  • Day 9 Takayama: Visit the Hida Folk Village and the old town of Takayama.
  • Day 10 Ise: Pay a visit to the Ise Shrines
  • Day 11-14 Osaka: Explore the Namba district, visit Osaka Castle, walk along the river to the Kema Sakuranomiya Park, visit Shinsekai, attend a cooking class, and see the city from above.
  • Day 15 Koyasan: Spend the night in a temple and walk from temple to temple, attend the morning prayer, and visit the cemetery of Koyasan.
  • Day 16-18 Kyoto: Explore Gion, the Inari Shrines, walk the philosopher’s path, visit the Golden Temple, and make a side trip to Arashiyama.
  • Day 19 Hiroshima: Visit the peace park and Hiroshima Castle.
  • Day 20 Miyajima: Admire the floating Torii gate and the colorful Daisyoin Temple and feed the deer.
  • Day 21-22 Nagasaki: walk along the harbor, the cozy Dejima wharf, and Chinatown. Explore the Dutch history at the old trading post-Dejima and the Dutch Slope. Visit Battleship Island.
  • Day 23-24 Tokyo: Visit Akihabara, Tokyo DisneySea.
Tip: Be sure to become a member of our brand new Japan Travel Planning and Tips Facebook group. The purpose of this group is to help you plan an amazing vacation to Japan.  You can ask questions and exchange tips with fellow travelers.

Japan Essentials

We almost always find the best flights to Tokyo and Osaka on Momondo.  It may be worthwhile to compare these with Skyscanner and a new but promising flight aggregator, WayAway.

Don’t lose time upon arrival at the airport and order your Japan travel SIM or portable WiFi device in advance so that it’s ready and waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.

Having a Japan Rail Pass is often the cheapest way to travel around Japan.

Check out our ultimate Japan travel blog where you can find many more interesting Japan articles to prepare for your trip.

Need help with your Japan trip planning? Check out this post on how to plan your trip to Japan.

Chion-in temple in Kyoto, a must-visit during your 3 weeks in Japan.
Chion-in temple in Kyoto, a must-visit during your 3 weeks in Japan.

Insider tip: Is this your first Japan trip and are you feeling a bit overwhelmed about planning this trip, what to see, and to do in Japan. Check out our Japan travel planner. This document will help you plan your trip smoothly. 

For more Japan tips, take a look at our Japan Travel Guide.

Japan 3-week itinerary: Our 3 weeks in Japan

Here we share an overview of our 3 weeks in Japan.

Tokyo Shibuya, not to me missed on a Tokyo itinerary
Shibuya crossing

Day 1-4: Tokyo

Things to do in Tokyo

Tokyo is a logical starting point for your 3-week Japan itinerary as chances are you will land at one of Tokyo’s two busy airports. Wondering what to see in Tokyo? Hopefully you’re not too jetlagged because the capital has a lot to offer.

We were here during the cherry blossom season so we visited several different places to witness this beautiful spectacle.

Our tips about the best places to see the cherry blossoms are in this separate article.

But you will have no problem filling up these 4 days, even if you are not here during the cherry blossom season.

We visited the busiest intersection in the world at Shibuya as well as the Imperial Palace, Yoyogi park, the Sensoji temple, Harajuku, Asakusa, the neighborhood around the Skytree and much more.

Here you will find more information about the best places in Tokyo to visit.

If you are looking for a detailed itinerary for the best of Tokyo in 4 days, take a look here. If you stay 5 days in Tokyo, take a look at our 2-5 days detailed Tokyo itinerary.

Getting from the airport to Tokyo

When someone refers to Tokyo International Airport, they mean Haneda Airport. In reality, Tokyo has 2 international airports: Haneda and Narita airport.

Haneda International Airport is located 14 kilometers south of Tokyo Station. It is the oldest of the two airports. 

It used to mainly handle domestic flights after Narita airport opened but with the addition of a new international terminal in 2010, it now handles most business routes while Narita focuses more on leisure routes.

The two main ways to reach central Tokyo from Haneda Airport are the Keikyu Line and the Tokyo Monorail. Both require a transfer to the JR Yamanote Line to reach major stations in central Tokyo.

Depending on the location of your hotel and the length of your flight (and the amount of sleep you could get) you might not be looking forward to train and subway rides in your first hours in Tokyo.

After a long flight, a direct transfer from the airport to your hotel will be a lot more comfortable.

You can find more information about a shared or private transfer here:

Shared Transfer

Private Transfer

Narita is the smaller of the 2 airports but does serve as the international hub of both major Japanese airlines, Japan Airlines, and ANA. 

It lies 60 km east of central Tokyo. Although it is located further from central Tokyo than Haneda it is actually better connected to the city. 

There are plenty of public transportation options to reach central Tokyo from the airport.

You could take the JR Narita Express, the Keisei Skyliner, buses, and taxis.  Those who like to make a grand entrance can even opt for a helicopter transfer.

The JR Narita Express, abbreviated as N’EX, is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.  This makes N’EX your best option if you have a JR Pass. 

To use this train with your Japan Rail Pass you need to exchange your voucher for the actual pass at the airport.

Once exchanged you will also need to reserve seats as N’EX is one of the few trains that only has reserved cars.

The Keisei Skyliner is a good alternative to N’EX if you have no Japan Rail Pass.  The prices, comfort, and the train schedule of both trains are comparable.

The main difference is that N’EX will take you to Tokyo station, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro & Yokohama.  The Keisei Skyliner heads to Nippori station and Keisei Ueno (close to Ueno station). 

Both trains offer easy transfer to the JR Yamanote line, the main loop line in Tokyo.

As with Haneda, you can also book private or shared transfers from Narita to Central Tokyo. After a long flight, a direct transfer from the airport to your hotel will be a lot more comfortable.

You can find more information about a shared or private transfer here:

Shared Transfer

Private Transfer

the Senso-Ji temple is will be a highlight of your 3 week Japan itinerary.

Getting around Tokyo

If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can use this pass on the JR trains that run on the inner-city network in Tokyo, a very extensive network that can be compared with a metro network.

If you don’t have a Japan rail pass or you choose to activate your Japan rail pass after your visit to Tokyo, we recommend getting a Tokyo subway pass.

You can buy this pass at tourist information centers, BIC camera shops, and certain hotels.

There’s a list of selling points on the Tokyo Metro website. Be sure to bring cash as credit or debit cards are usually not accepted.

The pass can also be bought online which is even more convenient.

When you buy your pass online you will receive a voucher that you can use to quickly and easily collect your pass at the airport and seconds later you will be on your way to your hotel. Your pass can be used immediately, so you can use it if you would have to change to the metro en route to your hotel.

Click to read reviews or buy your Tokyo Subway Pass:
Tokyo Subway Pass

Read Also:

Shinjuku By Night
Shinjuku is one of the liveliest areas in Tokyo

Top attraction in Tokyo 

Here is an overview of the best attractions in Tokyo. 

We partnered up with GetYourGuide or Klook for most of these activities.  We love GetYourGuide because they’re flexible.  Sometimes your plans change last minute and then you want to be able to cancel your tickets and get your money back.  It’s also good to know that GetYourGuide has your back when the local tour operator doesn’t show up or cancels your trip.

Klook is a trustworthy travel company headquartered in Hong Kong that teams up with local operators to offer all kinds of travel experiences. Chances are the name is not familiar If you haven’t been to Asia before. They are big in Asia and have and have a very wide range of activities in Japan and other Asian countries.

We selected 3 excellent activities in Tokyo just for you.

Unfortunately, the Robot restaurant is still closed and it is uncertain if it will ever reopen. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Enjoy the Robot Show at the Robot Restaurant
Robot Restaurant

The Robot Show is touristy, expensive and the food isn’t so great so you might wonder why you need to visit it.  Well, it’s something you can only experience in Japan.  The show is grotesque and completely over the top like one can only experience in Japan.

For this activity, we decided to partner up with Klook because they often have the cheapest tickets for the Robot Restaurant.

More information and booking:

See Tokyo from above
Tokyo Skytree

The Tokyo Skytree is, with a height of 634 meters, the highest building in Japan. It’s also the highest free-standing tower in the world. The tower houses 2 observation platforms that offer a fantastic view of Tokyo. They are respectively at a height of 350 and 450 meters and are amongst the highest in Japan. Here you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Tokyo. An absolute Tokyo must-visit when you want to see Tokyo from above.

The lines are often very long so we recommend you to book skip the line tickets.

More information and booking:

If you are looking for a free alternative, you should head to the  Metropolitan Government Building. This building has 2 towers that each offer a viewing platform at a height of 202 meters. The northern tower stays open until 11 p.m. and ‘Tokyo By Night’ is really spectacular.

Make a Day Trip to Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji

A day tour to Mount Fuji is the perfect way to escape busy Tokyo.

But there are so many day tours that choosing one, isn’t easy.

More information and booking:

Where to stay in Tokyo

Hilton Tokyo
Hilton Tokyo Shinjuku

The Tokyo Hilton is situated in the lively neighborhood of Shinjuku. It’s about a 15-minutes walk to Shinjuku train station but you can also make use of the free shuttle service offered by the hotel.  The shuttle runs every 20 minutes. The airport limousine bus has a stop at this hotel.  There’re multiple restaurants and supermarkets in this area. Last but not least, after a busy day exploring this vibrant city you can relax in the indoor pool or sauna.  Highly recommended if you are looking for a good hotel in the vicinity of public transport.

More information and booking:


Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen Park in Tokyo
Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen Park in Tokyo

Day 5: Matsumoto

Things to do in Matsumoto

During our 3-week itinerary in Japan, we also paid a quick visit to Matsumoto.  The main reason for this is the Samurai Castle

A Samurai castle is a must-visit and while there are still lots of Samurai castles everywhere throughout Japan most of these are reconstructions.

In Matsumoto, you can visit one of the few remaining original castles. It’s a major landmark in Japan.

Most castles have been destroyed by fires or during one of the many wars but this castle was never under attack.

Several official guides are available who will be happy to guide you around the castle for free.

They can tell you more about how life used to be in the castle and the different wars that prevailed over Japan. 

The guides are located in a cabin right after the entrance of the castle.

Did you know that the inspiration for the helmet of Darth Vader comes from the Samurais?

Matsumoto Castle Japan
Matsumoto Castle

Where to stay in Matsumoto

Hotel Kagetsu
Hotel Room Yukata - Japan

This hotel more than exceeded our expectations.  Hotel Kagetsu is situated 20-minutes by foot from the train station and really close to Matsumoto Castle and the small but picturesque old town.  The hotel offers free bicycles to explore the area.  It also features a good restaurant but you will also find other restaurants within walking distance.  You get a comfortable and spacious room, certainly by Japanese standards, and your Yukata and slippers will be waiting in your room if you want to use the onsen.  A great option in this charming city.

More information and booking:

Snow Monkey - Jigokudani - Yudanaka - Japan
The snow monkeys in Yudanaka

Day 6-7: Yudanaka

Things to do in Yudanaka

The next stop on our three-week Japan itinerary was Yudanaka. This countryside village is famous for the snow monkeys that like to bathe in the hot springs.

The prime reason for our visit to Yudanaka was to see the monkeys, but just like the monkeys, we also took some time ourselves to relax in one of the many local onsens.

We spend about half a day with the monkeys. Not because the park was that big, but it was very cute to see the monkey’s doing their thing.

Judging by the name you could probably already guess that the best time to visit the snow monkeys is, …., the winter. During other periods it’s best to head to the park very early when it’s not yet too warm. The colder it is, the more likely you will see the monkeys warming themselves in the water.

To relax in the onsen we recommend going to Shibu onsen. This is a village a few minutes’ walk from Yudanaka.

In the picturesque car-free high street of Shibu Onsen you will find 9 public onsens that are supplied by the hot springs.

You can wander from one bathhouse to another in your Yukata and on your traditional wooden sandals.

Where to stay in Yudanaka

Shimaya Ryokan
Yudanaka Onsen Shimaya - Japan

Shimaya Ryokan is not a normal hotel but a Ryokan.  After staying there I would even say that it felt more like a Minshuku.  A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn and a Minshuku is a small-scale,family-run, version of a Ryokan.  Where Ryokans can sometimes offer very high-scale and luxurious experiences, a Minshukus offers more of a cozy intimate atmosphere.

The rooms of the Shimaya Ryokan are very simple, and look a bit dated. But the hospitable owners made up for all of this. The owner picked us up at the train station, offered us a ride to the monkey park and back and gave us tons of tips about all the places we would visit next during our trip.

Sleeping in a traditional ryokan or Minshuku is something you should do at least once when you’re in Japan, so why not do it here with these friendly hospitable owners.

More information and booking:

The Kenrokuen Garden is a popular attraction in Kanazawa with both locals as well as tourists
The beautiful Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

Day 8: Kanazawa

Things to do in Kanazawa

Kanazawa charmed us enormously and we had the impression that this city was less touristy than other places we visited during our 3 weeks in Japan. This in itself is a reason to visit this city.

We were here to see the Kenrokuen Garden.  An absolute highlight of any visit to Kanazawa and especially during the cherry blossom season.

The garden is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Japan.

The weather was a bit disappointing during our visit so we couldn’t fully appreciate the park.

We certainly thought it was beautiful, but not better than what we already saw in Tokyo. Still, we could not get enough of the cherry blossoms.

Right next to the Kenrokuen garden is the reconstructed Kanazawa castle.  You can visit it for free and it can easily be combined with a visit to the Kenrokuen Garden.

The main reason for our visit to Kanazawa was the Kenrokuen Garden but another absolute must in Kanazawa is the old Geisha district Higashi Chaya, often just called: “Old Town”.

Kanazawa Old Town - Japan
Old Town in Kanazawa

The old town of Takayama is often praised for its old worldly charm but we found the old city of Kanazawa to be much more charming. Besides, it was also a lot less crowded which made exploring it much more pleasant.

You could take a quiet stroll, look around, and enjoy the beautiful old houses.

A walk through the geisha district in the evening, where you learn more about the mysteries and intrigues of this old neighborhood, was an unforgettable experience.

We also went to take a look at Nagamachi, the old Samurai district. There’re some really spectacular villas in this district, but Higashi Chaya impressed us more.

For lunch and/or dinner we recommend going to the Omicho market. It’s a large fresh food market. Originally it was just a market but nowadays there are many small restaurants housed in and around the market. To find the best addresses you just have to look for the queues at the front doors.

Here is a complete 2-day Kanazawa itinerary. 

Where to stay in Kanazawa

We stayed in the Holiday Inn ANA Kanazawa and loved our stay.

Holiday Inn ANA Kanazawa Sky
Holiday Inn Kanazawa Sky

The Holiday Inn ANA Kanazawa Sky is centrally located within walking distance of the station and just across the Omicho market.

The Kanazawa castle and Kenrokuen Garden are just a few minutes’ walk away.

You have spectacular views on Kanazawa from the lobby and the restaurant.  A perfect choice for your stay in Kanazawa.

More information and booking:

If you are looking for a more traditional place to stay, check out our list of ryokans in Kanazawa.

The Hida Folk Village

Day 9: Takayama

On the train on our way to Takayama, we witnessed some of the most spectacular scenery of our trip to Japan.

As our train squeaked through the bends in the railway and made its way from one tunnel to the other it reminded me of the train trips to the ski resorts in Switzerland I used to make when I was a child.

Things to do in Takayama

In Takayama, we visited the Hida Folk Village. The village consists of 24 traditional houses. They’re all very well preserved and at each house, you will find information panels. 

To take a look inside the houses you have to wear slippers. 

They’re provided at the entrance of the houses. 

Its fun to peek inside the different houses but if you want to do so it is best to wear comfortable shoes that you can easily take off and put back on.

From the Hida Folk Village, we continued our way to Takayama’s old town.

It was extremely and uncomfortably busy in the old town. We noticed that most of the crowd just visited the part of the old town situated to the right of Kajibasi Bridge. 

So luckily we could escape the crowds by crossing the main road and continuing our way toward the Yoshijima Heritage House. 

As you cross the main road you will notice that in this section historical houses alternate with restored or modern houses. 

It’s less authentic than the other section but at least you can enjoy the houses without the masses. 

But as we already said before when we were writing about Kanazawa, the Higashi Chaya district in Kanazawa was so much more enjoyable that we would take it any day over Takayma.

Getting hungry?

Takayama is known for its beef, so if you like meat you should definitely try Hida Beef a variety of the famous wagyu beef. Many Japanese even prefer Hida-gyu over Wagyu.

Where to stay in Takayama

Hotel Wood Takayama

Hotel Wood Takayma is a great hotel in the old town. You will stay in a spacious room.

Friendly staff and small but good spa.

More information and booking:


Ise Shrines Japan
The Ise Shrines are rebuilt completely every 20 years

Day 10: Ise

Today we took the train to Ise to see the Ise shrines, the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan. According to Shinto tradition, these are completely rebuilt every 20 years.

We had imagined there would be something special about this place, but it let us down.

The Ise shrines are not that different from any of the other shrines you can see in Japan. At least not for us who are not initiated into these deeply rooted beliefs. In addition, the shrines in Ise can only be seen from the outside.

In our opinion, it’s better to go to other shrines during your three weeks in Japan. In retrospect, we didn’t think Ise was worth the detour.

Osaka Castle, Japan
Osaka Castle

Day 11-14: Osaka

In Osaka, we are once again in a metropolis.

Prepare yourself for some tiring but oh-so-exciting days. There’s no time to get bored in this city that’s always alive into the wee hours.

Things to do in Osaka

We took an evening stroll in the Namba district. The least you can say about this is that it is simply spectacular. Especially at night, it’s very impressive.

We also went to Osaka Castle. This is a restored castle.  The castle is also a very good spot to witness the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

From here we took a walk along the river to the Kema Sakuranomiya Park, another beautiful park with lots of cherry trees.

Shinsekai is also a district you have to visit and we attended a cooking class in Osaka.

We also did a side trip to Nara from Osaka.

Nara Todaiji Japan
The Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure

Here in the Todaiji Temple, you will find the largest wooden building in the world, the Daibutsuden (“big Buddha hall”).

As its name says inside the building you will find a gigantic Buddha.

Don’t limit yourself to this temple only. Venture up the mountain to “Nigatsu-do” for a breathtaking view. 

Nara was the original capital of Japan but once Buddhism became too powerful in the country the government decided to move the capital. 

The many temples, the city is literally dotted with them, are one of the remains of Nara’s glorious past. 

Besides the impressive temples, there is also a second reason to come to Nara. A visit to Nara is also fun because of the deer that roam freely in the park and no doubt will come begging for cookies.

Here you can read our complete 2 days Osaka itinerary. If you have only one day in Osaka, click here.

Where to stay in Osaka

Holiday Inn Osaka Namba

The Dotonbori Hotel is well-known in Osaka for its distinctive large head-statue pillars on the exterior.

It is located in the center of the Namba-Dotonbori district and so is convenient for access to the best restaurants, shopping, bars, and more.

This is a great choice in Osaka.


More information and booking:


For more info about the most popular districts to stay in Osaka, read our detailed where to stay in Osaka article. If you prefer an Airbnb, take a look at our post about the best Airbnb’s in Osaka.

Koyasan, Mount Koya, Japan
Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism

Day 15: Koyasan (Mount Koya)

Koyasan is a remote place in the mountains. 

A trip to Koyasan is a true expedition during your three weeks in Japan.

After 2 train rides, we got onto a funicular and then a bus to finally reach our temple. The last 2 train rides were very scenic, and once again reminded me of Switzerland. 

Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism and we had booked a Temple stay of 1 night.

Things to do in Koyasan

At least 50 temples in Koyasan offer temple stays and probably there’re even more. You literally walk from temple to temple.  It rained that day and we got soaked very quickly so we didn’t explore much of the town but decided to retire to our room.

The rooms are very much like a room in a Ryokan. At 5 p.m., it was time for dinner. A vegetarian dinner with a variety of different flavors proved that vegetarian food can be just as delicious as regular food.

At the end of the day, we hadn’t seen any monks, not even in our temple.  Probably we didn’t recognize them as they were walking around in day-to-day clothing.

This took away a lot of the charm as we didn’t get the feeling that we were in a temple.

Okunoin, Koyasan, Mount Koya, Japan
The Okunoin cemetery was the highlight of our visit to Koyasan

The next day, we got off to an early start for the morning prayers. I hoped this was going to change our experience and we would witness 1 of the daily rituals of the monks.

When entering the prayer room it turned out that the prayers were led by 3 monks and except for these only about 25 tourists were present.

It felt more like a show that was performed for tourists than an authentic experience.

After prayer and breakfast, we went to the enormous cemetery of Koyasan. It looks like this cemetery is as big or even bigger than the town itself.

With many of its shrines, altars, and gravestones overgrown, this place radiates a special atmosphere.

It would be the perfect place for a Halloween walk.

After what felt like a never-ending walk, we reached the mausoleum of Kobo, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

This cemetery was without a doubt the highlight of our trip to Koyasan. Is it worth a detour? I am not sure. I would skip Koyasan if you are short on time. If you would like to stay overnight in a temple, there are other places where you can do that.

If you’re going to Koyasan it is good to know that the temple that we recommend below is not the one we stayed at.  We were disappointed by our experience but the Shubuko Fudoin temple gets consistently good reviews from travelers.

Perhaps a different temple will provide a completely different experience.

Where to stay in Koyasan 

Koyasan Shubuko Fudoin Temple
Koyasan Fudoin temple

The Koyasan Shubuko  Fudoin Temple lies in a quiet area. You are welcomed by friendly monks and you spend the night in traditional Japanese-style comfortable rooms. There is a tasty vegetarian breakfast and dinner. The temple has a gender separated public onsen and organizes night walks that are very popular.

More information and booking:

Kyoto By Night, Japan
The historic streets of Kyoto become even more charming after dark

Day 16-18: Kyoto

Kyoto is Japan’s cultural, as well as touristic capital. 

We spend two days in the city.  Below is a brief overview of what we did. 

We wrote about our 2 days in Kyoto in much more detail in our 2-day Kyoto itinerary and we also have some tips to discover Kyoto at night.

Things to do in Kyoto

The first afternoon we went to explore the Gion neighborhood together with a local guide. It was a great experience as our guide was able to teach us all kinds of things about the many special traditions in Japanese culture.

We mainly talked about the geisha as Gion is the oldest geisha district in Japan. It is a pleasant neighborhood to explore at night and you should keep your camera ready as chances are you will see geisha on their way to their customers.

Book a private walking tour:



Geisha Walking, Kyoto, Japan
Gion is the best district to spot a geisha

The next day we started our day at the Inari Shrines where you find thousands of Torii gates.

Thousands of instagram posts have made these shrines very popular among tourists. Luckily it’s enough to move further away from the entrance, higher up the mountain, to escape the crowds.

And of course, we also took a stroll along the philosopher’s path. You come across plenty of temples along the path.

Unlike Tokyo where all temples are free, there is an entrance fee for all temples in Kyoto. Most of them are however not that different from temples that you will find elsewhere in Japan.

Kinkakuji, or the Golden temple, is one temple that you should not miss when you’re in Kyoto. This is probably the most beautiful temple we saw in Japan. (Kinkakuji is not situated along the philosopher’s path.)

Golden Temple KinkakuJi, Kyoto, Japan
The Golden Temple in Kyoto

We also made a trip to Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of Kyoto that is well-known for its bamboo forest.

Expect a big crowd! We had read how popular Arashiyama was but were still surprised by the crowd outside the train station. Fortunately, it immediately becomes a lot quieter as soon as you make your way away from the center.

We discovered some charming quiet spots in Arashiyama.  You can go to the park around the Jojakkoji temple from where you have a stunning view.

From there, you can walk further north to Saga-Toriimoto Street. This is a picturesque street lined with preserved, traditional houses.

Best of all, we had the street to ourselves while we were wandering through it. When you reach the end of the street, you will reach the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple, and adjacent you will find a bamboo forest that is just as beautiful as the one close to the center where all the tourists are.

When we just got off the train and ended up in the crowd, we were afraid it would be an unpleasant day because of the bustle. But in the end, we did have a really enjoyable day as we have discovered some pleasant quiet spots in and around Arashiyama.

The bus tours seem to limit their visit to the Togetsukyo bridge and the nearby Tenryuji temple and bamboo groves.  Other places were not nearly as crowded.

Bamboo Grove Arashiyama, Kyoto
The Bamboo Groves in Arashiyama

Where to stay in Kyoto

According to the statistics, Kyoto is the most touristic city in Japan. And by looking at the prices for a hotel room that might be right.

Here is a list of the best areas to stay in Kyoto. If you are looking for cool hotels in Kyoto, click here. If you prefer staying in an Airbnb, take a look at our post with the best Airbnb’s in Kyoto.

We stayed in the in the Marriott lake Biwa, a nice hotel that is located 20 minutes outside Kyoto by train, but it meant a serious difference to our wallet.

Marriott Lake Biwa
Marriott Lake Biwa Kyoto

This Marriott hotel is located alongside the coast of beautiful Lake Biwa, an ideal setting if you want to escape busy Kyoto at night.  The hotel offers a free shuttle service to the train station where you can catch the train to Kyoto station.  As Marriott Rewards Platinum members we enjoyed an upgrade to a suite with a private onsen and a fabulous view of the lake. As platinum members, we also had access to a lounge area in the lobby where we could enjoy free breakfast, snacks, cocktails and a small buffet in the evening. The only drawback of this hotel is that you have to take into account the schedule of the shuttle which only runs once every hour. But considering what we got in return and the tremendous difference in price this is no big deal.

More information and booking:

Royal Park Hotel Kyoto
The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Sanjo

The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto is a good choice for those who are looking for a hotel in the center of Kyoto. It is within walking distance of the Gion district, two metro stations, and various temples. The rooms are neat and the bathroom is fully equipped. You can enjoy a nice breakfast at the bakery next to the hotel.

More information and booking:

If you aren’t convinced of these hotels, you will find a lot of other hotels in Kyoto on


Or read our complete guide about where to stay in Kyoto.  If you prefer staying in an Airbnb have a look at our list with the best Airbnb’s in Kyoto.

Hiroshima Piece Memorial, Japan
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Day 19: Hiroshima

Things to do in Hiroshima

Hiroshima undoubtedly rings a bell with most of you.

We visited the peace park and made a small detour to take a peek at the castle.

In the Peace Park, you will find an interesting museum about the atomic bomb and touching stories about how the survivors had to rebuild their city and their lives.

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can make free use of the hop-on-hop-off bus operated by JR. When you arrive at the station, just drop in with the tourist office. They have route maps of the buses and will be able to explain to you which bus to take and which stop to get off to get to your hotel.

Where to stay in Hiroshima

ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima
Crowne Plaza Ana Hiroshima

The Ana Crowne Plaza is within walking distance of the peace park and near shops and restaurants. The rooms are not too big but clean and fully equipped. The staff also speak good English.

More information and booking:


Miyajima Itsukushima shrine
The floating Torii Gate on Miyajima island

Day 20: Miyajima

We opted to spend the night in Miyajima but you could just as well make it a side trip from Hiroshima. 

You can get from Hiroshima to Miyajima in about half an hour both by tram or by  JR train. The latter is, of course, the cheapest option if you have a Japan Rail Pass.

Once you arrive at the train station in Miyajima, it is nothing more but a short 5-minute walk to the harbor where you then take the ferry to Miyajima island.

You can choose from 2 ferries, one is operated by JR and is free for holders of a Japan Rail Pass.

Things to do in Miyajima

On the island or rather just in front of the island you will find the photogenic Torii gate which seems to float on the water during high tide.

The times of high and low tide are signposted at the entrance of the ferry terminal.

The Torii gate is the tourist attraction of the island, but also the colorful Daisyoin Temple is worth a visit.

We took the time to wander around this temple and it seemed like we found a hidden gem on this island.

Daisyoin Temple, Miyajima, Japan
Daisyoin Temple

Where to stay in Miyajima

Below we list  2 hotels on Miyajima island. As there are only a handful of accommodations on the island you could also for alternatives near the ferry pier on the mainland.  This is an area called Miyajimaguchi.

Since the ferry runs very frequently you don’t lose a lot of time by staying on the mainland and it can save you quite a few bucks.

Premium Comfortable hotel
Iwaso Ryokan
Iwaso Ryokan, Miyajima

This Ryokan offers simple Japanese-style rooms with tatami flooring, shoji doors, separate WC, separate deep short bath and separate sink areas.  Your room has a typical Japanese low table and some comfy cushions. There’re no beds, futon mattresses are spread out each night. The staff is very helpful and friendly.

The chef offers an excellent Kaiseki dinner, this is a traditional set dinner.

This is definitely something you should try when you stay in a ryokan.

The Ryokan also has 2 beautiful open-air Onsen, an excellent place to relax after you have climbed Mt. Misen.  You may even spot some deer while you bathe in the onsen.

This is an authentic, beautifully maintained, good quality Ryokan.

More information and booking:


Sakuraya Ryokan
Sakuraya hotel Miyajima

This ryokan lies on the island within walking distance from the ferry pier and has very helpful staff. The rooms are simple but very comfortable and spacious for Japanese standards, with tatami and comfortable futon. The location is very close to restaurants and there is a delicious oyster cart parked right out front. 

A traditional Japanese hotel with great service.

More information and booking:


Dutch Slope, Nagasaki, Japan
The so-called Dutch slope in Nagasaki

Day 21-22: Nagasaki

Nagasaki is where the 2nd bomb fell in Japan. Just like in Hiroshima, you will find a peace park with a museum and many commemorative statues. The city treated us to some very pretty views.

Things to do in Nagasaki

First, we walked along the harbor and the cozy Dejima wharf where we waved goodbye to a cruise ship that was getting ready to leave port.

From there we continued our walk to the top of Mt. Inasa. It was quite a tough hike but the sunset we enjoyed from the top more than made up for it. We used the cable car on our way back.

It is of course possible to go up and down with the cable car but if you do have the time to hike up we recommend it as it is quite worthwhile.

The day after, we explored the other parts of Nagasaki.

We did find some Dutch history at the old trading post, Dejima, and the Dutch Slope. The houses didn’t look very Dutch to us. They rather reminded us of houses you would find in Aruba or Curaçao.

We walked through Chinatown and took the funicular and elevator to the Glover Garden from where you also have a nice view of the city and the harbor. From here we went down again to the Nagasaki Cathedral which brings you back close to the harbor.

We found Nagasaki to be a very pleasant city and moreover, it felt completely different than Kyoto or Osaka.

We didn’t visit Battleship Island but fans of old industrial places should definitely consider booking a cruise to this Island that was also featured in the James Bond movie Skyfall.

Where to stay in Nagasaki

JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki
JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki

The JR Kyushu hotel is located near the station and within walking distance of shops and restaurants. The staff speaks sufficient English. The rooms are pretty spacious according to Japanese standards. Only the breakfast could be better because there is not much choice. The main reason we would recommend this hotel is its good location.

More information and booking:

Akihabara, also called Electric City, in Tokyo
Visiting Akihabara was one of the highlights of our 3 week’s Japan itinerary

Day 23-24: Tokyo

At the end of our trip, we end up back in Tokyo. This time we visit the Akihabara district as we’re here on a Sunday.

The main street that runs through the Akihabara district is closed to cars on Sundays. This makes a visit to Akihabara much more fun.

Foresee enough time. Browsing through the shops like Mandarake is what makes a visit to Akihabara worthwhile but you will quickly spend several hours snooping around these stores, looking at all the curiosities.

On the last day, we chose to have a relaxing day in Tokyo DisneySea. Next to Tokyo DisneySea is Tokyo Disneyland but we chose DisneySea because Disneyland is a sort of replica of all the other Disneyland Parks in the world.

And above all, DisneySea won an award for its design.

We loved the design of the park and there were some great attractions.  It was also fun to see how some Japanese completely dress up in Disney magic. 

It was a nice way to end our trip around Japan.

Our visit fell in the golden week so we knew in advance that it would be very busy.  Still, getting there and back with public transport was not that much of a problem.

If you want a more comfortable ride to the park you can book tickets including private transport.

Click here to get more information about the Disney tickets:



Shibuya crossing Tokyo Japan
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo’s busiest intersection

Japan travel tips

Here we share our best travel tips for Japan.

Going independent or joining an organized tour

We found it easy and straightforward to create our own travel itinerary.  It was also fairly easy to travel through Japan independently.

Despite the fact that the Japanese don’t always speak English very well, they are enormously helpful.

But if you want the company of a group, don’t have the time to create your own itinerary, or just don’t want to go independent, you could also join an organized tour.


TourRadar is a trustworthy company where you can book an organized 3-week tour of Japan to make it easy for yourself.

Here you can find all organized tours to Japan:
Organized tours Japan

Finding cheap flights to Japan

If you want to score cheap flights to Japan we advise you to have a look at Momondo and Skyscanner.  Both are flight aggregators that compare several hundreds of booking sites and give you an overview of the best flights and the cheapest sites to book them. 

Momondo and Skyscanner are both very good at finding good deals, of the two, Momondo is probably the one with the most intuitive user interface.

Read our full review of 10 booking sites here. 

Those who are always on the lookout for the best deals should join the Dollar Flight Club. 

Joining is free and once you’ve joined you will get alerts in your mailbox whenever cheap flights out of your home airport have been found. I recently joined the club and already saw some incredible deals. 

How much does a trip to Japan cost

Although Japan is not a cheap country to travel around, especially not during the Sakura season and the Golden Week, we still thought it was pretty affordable.

Here we share how much we paid for accommodation, food, and public transport. 


The most expensive aspect is your accommodation. We advise you to book your accommodation well in advance. 

On average, we paid €108 per night (for a 2-person room) in 2018. We stayed in Ryokans, a temple stay, and various 3- or 4-star hotels.


Eating and drinking in Japan is cheaper than it is in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the US.

These are the budgets you must provide for food:

Low budget: € 18 (€ 5 bfast / € 5 lunch / € 10 dinner) This budget should be sufficient for local fast-food restaurants that offer sushi, ramen, etc.

Middle-class: € 35 (€ 8 bfast / € 12 lunch / € 15 dinner) There are many such restaurants. The staff usually speaks limited English but with a little help of Google translate you can order some delicious local food.

Luxury: € 92 (€ 16 bfast / € 16 lunch / € 60 – 80 dinner) For this budget, you can have breakfast at a luxury hotel and enjoy dinner at Japanese fine dining restaurants. Think restaurants that offer French cuisine, delicious Kobe beef, and Kaiseki dinners.

Public transport

Public transportation will most likely take the second-biggest bite out of your travel budget.

Japan has an extensive railroad network that takes you to all major tourist sites. Although traveling by train isn’t cheap, it is still cheaper than renting a car.

The price for a Japan Rail Pass might seem rather high at first, but it can still save you lots of money. We explain how you can check how much you save here.

We go into much more detail about the cost of these 3 items in our Japan Travel Guide.

ANA Haneda airport, Japan
ANA, a 5-star airline in Japan

Do I need travel insurance for Japan

The quick answer to this question is yes.

Travel Insurance is something that can be overlooked when you prepare for your vacation.  Certainly when you’re traveling to a safe and civilized country such as Japan. 

Overall, chances are slim that you will encounter any problems while traveling through a civilized country such as Japan. But when things go wrong in civilized countries, the medical costs can be high. 

We learned it the hard way when we once had to visit a hospital in the United States. 

The medical care was excellent but we had high out-of-pocket expenses as it turned out the insurance that came without credit cards didn’t cover these costs.  It turned out we were underinsured.

Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee.  Good travel insurance covers things like medical expenses, trip cancellation, overseas medical costs, evacuation, baggage damage or loss, and theft. 

Therefore we love SafetyWing and World Nomads travel insurance. Both are good and trusted insurance companies.

Get a free quote:


World Nomads

Best way to pay in Japan

We took a little bit of cash with us but most things we paid with our credit card.

Expenses abroad can be seriously inflated by fees from your bank or credit card.  That’s why we’re a huge fans of our N26 account

The account is available to most EU residents.

The checking account is free as well as the associated Mastercard and there’s no exchange rate provision when you use to card for payments abroad. 

There’s a 1,7% exchange rate provision when you withdraw money abroad but even that is free with the premium Black Mastercard. 

The app is another great feature of the card, you can follow your expenses in real-time and instantly block your card if you see any signs of fraud.

Local Sim card or a pocket WiFI device

A local SIM card or pocket Wifi device comes in handy.

We have often used Google Maps to find our way around major cities.

When looking for a Japanese SIM card, there are so many options that you cannot see the forest for the trees, therefore we created this useful article so you can choose the best Japanese SIM card for you. If you prefer a pocket WiFi device, you can read our detailed post about the best WiFI pocket device here. 

How to travel around Japan

We traveled around Japan by train and could save a few bucks by buying a Japan Rail Pass in advance.

Get more information about the Japan Rail pass here:
Japan Rail Pass

Or read this article in which we describe how you can find out whether you would also benefit from a Japan Rail Pass.

When you’re traveling by train it’s also a good idea to forward your baggage.  You can read these tips and much more in our separate article about traveling to Japan for the first time.

What to wear in Japan

Wondering what to wear in Japan? Take a look at our complete Japan packing list. 


We enjoyed every minute of our 3 weeks in Japan.  The major cities kept us busy exploring from early morning until late at night.

Japan certainly has more to offer than what we have described in this itinerary but this route will take you along many of the highlights.

We missed some nature during our trip and would have preferred to do a side trip to Okinawa but this was not the right season.

If we would ever come back during another season we would certainly spend a week or more on this island.




Monday 22nd of April 2019


What a wonderful travel guide! I was just wondering about a few things and I hope you could elaborate on them.

1. How was the trip from Nagasaki back to Tokyo? I assume that you were traveling by train and a quick search on google shows that the ride is quite long. Was is a boring/difficult travel back? Would greatly appreciate it if you could please elaborate on this part. 2. I am currently planning to travel myself, but I am unsure of whether I should spend a few extra days in Osaka or in Kyoto as I have a total of 21 days in Japan. Which did you find more appealing?

Hope to hear from you soon :)


Monday 22nd of April 2019

Hi Chris, I'm glad you like the travel guide. From Nagasaki we continued onward to Seoul. You could indeed go back to Tokyo with the train but the plane would be much faster. There're many daily flights and several low-cost companies fly the route. You should be able to find tickets well below 100€ (with probably some extra costs for luggage). If there're no reasonable priced flights from Nagasaki you could look at Fukuoka which I think is a slighter larger airport. The train would be cheaper (if you can still use your Japan Rail Pass at that point) but the trip would take much longer... Osaka and Kyoto are just 30 minutes apart with the train. It's easy to visit one city and stay in the other. Both are relatively big cities but they're different in many ways. Kyoto has the Philosopher's path and thousands of temples. Osaka has the Namba district with all the crazy neon-lights. That sort of illustrates the differences we experienced. In Kyoto you can spend your evenings in the beautifully romantically lit temple compounds. (And you should certainly go to Gion, we have an article about the Geishas in Gion at night) In Osaka you can join the huge crowds in the busy shopping, dining and entertainment districts. The temples in Kyoto are busy as well but it still is a totally different experience. I would make your decision based on what you want to do in the evenings. It's easy to travel back- and forward between Osaka and Kyoto during the day. The trains do run late but the idea of spending half an hour on the train when you're tired might stop you from going out at night and that would be a shame. Both cities are very different but both of them are well-worth exploring after dark.

J. López

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Hi there Kris & Sylvia!

What a wonderful travel you both made, it's nice too see that you got to meet so much of this wonderful country. I'm thinking of doing a 3 week travel through Japan myself, and so I wanted to ask you. How much did the trip cost you from start to end? I'm looking forward to your response!


Tuesday 4th of December 2018


I had a look at our expenses. We stayed in Japan for just over 3 weeks and the costs for that part should have been something between €3900 - €4200. I cannot be more precise because I'm missing a detail of 1 credit card statement that covers part Japan and Part South Korea. That amount is for both of us and includes 3-week Japan Rail Passes for both of us. (comes at +/- €450 pp). So the cost for lodging, food, excursions and other local expenses in Japan would have been +/- €3000 - €3300. Kris

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