10 Best Must-See Cities in Japan for Tourists

Japan has consistently been on top of the list of must-visit Asian countries. From towering skyscrapers to rich cultural heritage and modern art museums, it has always been a country of contrasts between the traditional and modern.

Whether a busy metropolis or a small quiet city, each city in Japan always has something different for its visitors to appreciate. Here are the top 10 best cities in Japan to visit on your next vacation that are definitely must-sees.

Table of Contents

1. Tokyo

The capital city of Japan, Tokyo is a city of 40 million residents, being the most populated city in the world. It’s a city of contrasts where the old meets new with captivating neon lights and ancient temples. This ultramodern city is where you’ll find skyscrapers, busy crossing streets, and Michelin star establishments.

For high-tech entertainment, Robot Restaurant is a 10 billion yen restaurant that offers one of the most unique experiences in Tokyo. It’s a flashy neon-lighted restaurant where you can dine in, have a drink, and watch a crazy robot show.

Tokyo is pouring with nightlife as you go along Izakaya Alley, where hundreds of restaurants and bars are found.

For sports enthusiasts and to learn more about its culture, you can watch Sumo morning practices in several sumo stables in the Ryogoku area.

One of the best museums located in Tokyo is MORI Building Digital Art Museum in Odaiba, the first digital art museum that has now become a hot spot for tourists. Let’s not forget about historical monuments like Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, and other 4,000 temples and shrines.

Traveling to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without trying local food, from traditional to modern and expensive dishes. Try Wagyu dishes in numerous restaurants in Tokyo, eat the best ramen at Shinjuku, and enjoy a cup of matcha tea. You can also indulge in food trends like rainbow cotton candy and fluffy Japanese souffle pancakes.

2. Osaka

Osaka is the second-largest but one of the most laid-back cities in Japan. It boasts having one of the best food places and spectacular attractions to explore, from amusement parks to museums and galleries.

The most popular must-see museums are Kamigata Ukiyoe, for traditional art and Japanese print, and Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, showcasing models of houses and traditional buildings.

To witness a panoramic view of the city, get to the top of the Umeda Sky Building, which soars 173 high up to the 39th floor.

If you fancy watching a show, head over to the National Bunraku Theater, which features a puppet show run by puppeteers.

Osaka is also home to Osaka Aquarium, otherwise known as Kaiyukan, where you can observe marine creatures like dolphins, sea turtles, and whale sharks.

Don’t forget to try local food, like Okonomiyaki and kushikatsu. To find more lunch options, go to Dotonbori, which is packed with bars, cafes, and restaurants. Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum is a unique attraction to learn about how ramen started and get the chance to even make your own ramen noodles.

If you’re into park rides, don’t miss out on riding the Tempozan Ferris Wheel to get spectacular views of Osaka Bay. Plus, go on a ride of your life at Universal Studios with a Japanese twist.

Fun things to do in Japan are endless; from relaxing at Spa World to admiring the Tower of the Sun, there’s always action in every corner.

3. Yokohama

Yokohama is only 30 minutes away from Tokyo by train. You can get there via JR Rail Pass and JR Tokyo Wide Pass. Yokohama originally was a fishing village that eventually became one of the first harbors for international trade, which is the second busiest harbor in the world today.

The city has a Western influence and is considered to be the first city to embrace Western fashion.

This beautiful port city has plenty of things to do for sightseeing, shopping, and eating. To experience a Japanese garden, go to Sankeien Garden, which is comprised of 17 historic buildings including the Shunsoro (tea room) and the Gekkaden (guest house).

For more scenic views, visit Yamate and Yokohama Foreign Cemetery that has a gorgeous view of the harbor. It’s also the place where several notable westerners were buried.

For more scenic views at night, Yokohama Landmark Tower and Minato Mirai are must-visit places to witness dazzling night lights. The Yokohama Landmark Tower, the second tallest building in Japan, is the best place to get a glimpse of the beautiful skyline and observe Mount Fuji.

Of course, Japan never runs out of ramen museums. You’ll find Shin-Yokohama’s Ramen Museum, a place where you can indulge in a delicious bowl of ramen, here.

If you are a baseball fan, don’t miss out on catching a baseball game at the Yokohama DeNA Baystars Baseball Game. If you want to do some shopping, explore Yokohama’s Chinatown that started in the 50s.

4. Kobe

Located by the sea and sandwiched between the Rokko mountains and oceans, Kobe is an old port with many restaurants, cafes, and natural landscapes.

One of the most unique things to do is walking along the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which spans 283m in height. However, it’s not that simple crossing since the floors are made of glass for thrilling views.

For a bit of adventure, walk up Mount Rokko to get the best night views of Japan.

If you’re lucky to visit during festival season, you might be able to attend Kobe Luminarie, one of the many festivals that is celebrated every December. In this festival, places will be filled with colorful lights as a form of tribute to the dark history of Kobe.

One of the most unique places is the Tetsujin 28 Statue, a large robot that serves as a reminder of Kobe’s dark history and the earthquake in the 90s.

Since Kobe is a port city, you can get to know more about its history in Kobe Maritime Museum and Kawasaki Good Times World where models of ships are displayed.

For a bit of nature, visit the Nunobiki Falls, a place where Japanese artists find inspiration. Of course, there are several shrines and towers to visit here like the Ikuta Shrine from the 201 AD period and Kobe Port Tower, built in 1962.

If you’re hungry, one of the most notable dishes in Kobe is Kobe beef – but it comes at a hefty price. You can try other dishes, like sobameshi, and don’t forget to try sake from sake breweries.

5. Kyoto

Kyoto can be visited any time of the year, but it is recommended to come here in spring or autumn for the best weather and a view of bamboo forests and blooming cherry trees.

One of the most iconic places to go to is the majestic Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, a pathway built with thousands of torii gates. It’s also the best place to get superb views of Kyoto.

Another incredible place is the golden Kinkakuji Temple, which feels like it came straight from a painting. It’s surrounded by trees and a lake which was made for a famous shogun.

To fully immerse yourself in Japanese culture, participate in tea ceremonies that will teach you about Zen Buddhists and the importance of present matters.

Kiyomizudera Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is covered by cherry trees and is believed to work miraculous wonders, such as finding true love. The temple also hosts Otowa Waterfall, where you can drink from one of the three streams of the falls that represent love, success, and long life.

If you’d like to get a 360 view of Kyoto, ascend the Kyoto Tower, which is the tallest building in Kyoto.

If you’re looking for food options, head over to Pontocho near the Kamogawa River. There are countless restaurant options for every kind of dish, from fine dining to street food. You can also cool down and simply admire nature by sitting down by the Kamogawa River.

6. Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a compelling choice for a vacation. From visiting memorial parks to eating out and shopping, you’ll never get tired of this place day and night.

Get to know about its history at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is situated near the atomic bombing of 1945 in WWII. The admission fee costs ¥200 and you can explore the various displays of war memorabilia and photos of the devastation. The park seeks to raise awareness of the effects of nuclear weapons as well as remember the city’s history.

Next is the Hiroshima Castle, which used to be a residence of feudal lords. Today, it is known as one of the best sites to take a photo with full bloom cherry blossoms. As you venture into the castle, you’ll find relics and documents about the castle’s history.

If you’re in the mood for shopping, visit Hondori Shopping Street and buy from famous local and international brands. You’ll find every item you need such as clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, and the like.

If you get hungry from all the shopping, it’s time for a Hiroshima food trip! Try famous dishes like Okonomiyaki, oysters, and of course, Hiroshima ramen.

If you’d like to see another UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site attraction, you can visit the Itsukushima Shrine complex on Itsukushima Island, just an hour away from Hiroshima.

Other fun places to visit are Hiroshima’s Manga Library, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Transportation Museum.

If you’d like to experience some of Hiroshima’s festivals, visit in May for the Food Festival, early October for the Sake Festival, and late October for another Food Festival.

7. Nara

Nara is easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka. It’s a small place for delicious food and lots of deer. You can easily explore the city on foot or by bike.

You can first visit Kofukuji Temple, just a short walk from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station. It’s an old temple built in 669 CE by Fujiwara’s wife. Another shrine near here is Kasuga Taisha, built in 768, which is famous for its 3,000 stone lanterns.

Nara is famous for the hundreds of deer living here, which are mostly situated in Nara Deer Park. You can buy special biscuits to feed the deer, but take extra caution, as they can get quite aggressive when they see it. The deer in Nara are considered sacred animals, as they’re thought to be a messenger of god in Shinto.

Going to Todaiji is where you can get souvenirs and snacks like Hello Kitty rings, shaved ice kakigori, deer-shaped snacks, and yakitori. One of the most notable snacks to try here is Nakatanidou, a Japanese rice cake, or fresh mochi.

From here, you’ll see the Todaiji Temple or the Great Buddha Hall, which is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world with the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world as well. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism.

8. Sapporo

Sapporo is mostly known for winter attractions such as ski resorts, winter festivals, and delicious food. You can visit many parks, mountain views, and traditional temples.

One of the non-typical Japanese attractions is the Ishiya Chocolate Factory. You can take a tour of the factory and find out how they make their chocolates. It’s also a place for dining and watching a robot show – and is a perfect place for little ones that should not be skipped.

One of the main events of Sapporo is the Snow Festival that takes place in early February at Odori Koen. It holds an ice sculpture competition where you’ll see ice castles and igloos.

To get a bit of green, visit Asahiyama Park and appreciate the beautiful flower gardens. To get the best views, we recommend visiting in spring or autumn.

For sports enthusiasts, Sapporo Dome is a must-visit. It hosted the FIFA World Cup back in 2002 and is now used for baseball teams.

If you’d like to see some of the oldest buildings, visit the Clock Tower, which dates back to 188. You can learn about its history and take pictures of the awe-inspiring building.

If there’s something you must try in Sapporo, it’s the signature snack called Shiroi Koibito – which also translates to “white lovers”. This special treat is made of white chocolate put inside a wafer.

9. Fukuoka

Fukuoka is a more relaxed version of Tokyo. There are great places for shopping, eating out, and relaxing.

If you want peace and tranquility, go to Ohori Park, where you’ll find a large lake at the center with three interconnected islands to explore. From the east of the lake, you can visit Fukuoka Art Museum and Ohori Park Japanese Garden.

Another park to visit is Uminonakamichi Seaside Park which has flower gardens, cycling trails, and playgrounds. The park is blanketed with different kinds of flowers, including sunflowers, tulips, and roses. There’s also a shrine you can visit called Kushida Shrine, an important Shinto shrine founded in 757.

There are loads of shopping places if you’re in the mood to splurge. Visit Canal City Hakata, the largest shopping mall in Fukuoka which is also known as “city within the city”. Head over to Tenjin Chikagai, an underground shopping center that comprises more than 150 stores.

One of the food stalls you must try in Fukuoka is a yatai stall, which serves Japanese street food like yakitori, grilled seafood, and ramen. You should also try Hakata ramen or tonkotsu ramen, a type of ramen which originated in Fukuoka as well.

10. Kanazawa

If you like Kyoto, you’ll surely enjoy Kanazawa as well. It’s called “Little Kyoto” because of its beautiful landscapes and traditional atmospheric charm. For instance, you can visit a geisha district that has a well-preserved chaya district, otherwise known as teahouses where guests are entertained. You can find all of Kanazawa’s well-preserved districts at Kazue Machi, Nishi Chayagai, and Higashi Chayagai.

Another top attraction here is Nagamachi Samurai District, where you can fully immerse yourself in samurai culture. So if you’re a fan of samurai-themed anime and movies, you’ll surely enjoy this district. From this district, you can already visit Kanazawa Castle, where samurais used to live.

For a garden view, go to Kenrokuen and simply rest on a bench and enjoy the views of greenery. The garden was made by the Maeda family and is said to be constructed based on six essential features of a perfect garden: antiquity, abundant water, artificiality, broad views, seclusion, and spaciousness.

Other activities you can do here are participating in a tea ceremony while viewing the Gyokusen-Inmaru Garden, visiting the D.T. Suzuki Museum, and trying fresh seafood at Omicho Market.