Whether you’ve got six days or 60, these itineraries provide a starting point for the trip of a lifetime. Want more inspiration?
One Week Tokyo & Around10 Days to Two Weeks Tokyo, the Japan Alps & Kyoto
If your time in Japan is limited, don’t try to do too much. Fly into Narita or Haneda (the latter is closer to the city). Stay in a convenient transport hub like Shinjuku , Shibuya , Ginza or the Tokyo Station area . Visit Tsukiji fish market your first morning (a good idea if you’ve got jetlag). Next, head up to Asakusa to visit the temple of Sensō-ji , then over to nearby Ueno for the Tokyo National Museum . The next day, take the loop line to Harajuku and walk to Meiji-jingū , the city’s finest Shintō shrine, then take a stroll down chic Omote-sandō . From there, head up to Shibuya to soak up some of modern Tokyo. Make sure you spend an evening wandering east Shinjuku , since this is where you’ll get the full experience of Tokyo’s neon madness. Other urban areas to check out include Ginza , for high-end shopping; Akihabara , for electronics and geek culture; and Roppongi , for international nightlife.
Break up your time in Tokyo with day trips to nearby attractions like the fantastic shrines at Nikkō and the temples at Kamakura ; if you’re a hiker and it’s summertime, you could even climb Mt Fuji .
The Tokyo–Japan Alps–Kyoto route is the classic Japan journey and the best way to get a quick taste of the country. You’ll experience three faces of Japan: the modern wonders of Tokyo , the traditional culture of Kyoto , and the natural beauty of the Japan Alps . While you can do this itinerary in any season, keep in mind that the Japan Alps can be snow covered any time from early November to late March – this rules out hiking unless you’re an experienced winter mountaineer – but you can visit the attractive cities of Takayama and Kanazawa any time of year.
Let’s assume that you’ll fly into Tokyo . Follow the preceding Tokyo & Around itinerary, which will give you a taste of things in the capital. Don’t worry about skipping some of the traditional sights in that itinerary, because you’ll be heading to Kyoto , and you’ll get your fill of shrines and temples there.
From Tokyo, take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya, then an express to Takayama . Spend a day here checking out the restored Sanmachi-suji district, then head into the Japan Alps via Shinhotaka Onsen or nearby Kamikōchi .
Return to Takayama and rent a car so you can visit the nearby thatched-roof villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama . From there, if you feel like some more alpine scenery, drive northeast and head back into the Japan Alps via the Tateyama–Kurobe Alpine Route (the route is open from late spring to early fall). Next, drive to Kanazawa (some rental agencies will allow you to drop the car in Kanazawa). Note that you can also go from Takayama to Kanazawa by bus, with a stop in Shirakawa-go en route. In Kanazawa, check out the famous garden of Kenroku-en , the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nagamachi district.
From Kanazawa, there are several daily express trains that will get you to Kyoto in a little over two hours. In Kyoto, follow the Kansai in Depth itinerary, then jump on the shinkansen and get yourself back to Tokyo in time for your flight home.