Japan has definitely become a very popular travel destination in recent years. It had been on my bucket list for a long time and I finally was able to visit for my 30th birthday in November! So many of you asked me about my travels and so I finally was able to summarize it all here for you. Here is the perfect itinerary (in my opinion) if you ever decide to visit Japan. From places to stay and things to do in Japan, I think you will find plenty of suggestions and ideas!
NOV 16: TOKYO
We arrived to Tokyo at the Peninsula Hotel. The hotel is right in the center of the city with beautiful views of the gardens of the Imperial Palace and Hibaya Park. You can’t go wrong with this hotel! We were so jet-lagged and tired so we just had dinner at the hotel and rested.
NOV 17: KYOTO
The next day, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Kyoto is an ancient capital of Japan where some of the country’s most revered traditions are preserved. It’s a completely different vibe and experience than Tokyo. You really get the traditional, authentic Japanese experience. There is so much culture in this city! I would 100% recommend you visit Kyoto if you ever go to Japan. It is a must. We stayed four nights at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto. It’s next to a river and the hotel incorporates a lot of traditional Japanese elements. We absolutely loved it!
NOV 18-20 KYOTO
We explored the city! The fall colors of the city were so beautiful. If you follow these suggestions, you can’t go wrong! Your visit of Kyoto will be very complete!
Things to do in Kyoto:
- Walk along the Philosopher’s path, a streamside trail shaded by cherry trees.
- Visit lots of temples! Kyoto has over 1600 temples!! You need to go to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has the most beautiful views of the city and a waterfall!
- Go to the Higashiyama (East Mountain) district to visit Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion)
- Stroll through the private gardens and tea pavilions of Hashimoto Kansetu Garden, once the home of Japan’s most famous painters.
- Walk the slopes of the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka neighborhoods where traditional wooden buildings line the stone-paved streets. They also have a lot of local small shops where you can buy sweets and Kyoto-style ceramics.
- Walk down Ishibe Koji Alley. It’s lined with traditional wooden architecture of small tea houses and restaurants.
- Visit Yasaka-jinja Shrine. It dates back to the 7th century and is best known for hosting one of the most famous festivals in Japan called Gion Masturi.
- Visit Gion, the traditional geisha district.
- Reserve a private tea ceremony in a traditional Kyoto tea house! It’s one of Japan’s most revered and popular arts.
- Visit Arashiyama, a beautiful suburb at the foot of the mountains.
- Walk through an enormous bamboo forest and visit Nonomiya Shrine which is hidden in the forest (it was used by imperial princesses for purification rituals).
- Continue through the bamboo to Okochi Sanso. It’s a traditional Japanese villa complex and gardens builts by a silent movie film star on a hillside overlooking the bamboo forest. It’s a great place to relax with a cup of tea and take in the views.
- Visit Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. It’s dedicated to the god of rice and sake!
- Visit Sanjusangendo, a part of the Rengeo-in Temple. It was built in the 13th century. From the outside it looks very ordinary, but inside, it is filled with 1,001 gilt wooden statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.
- Explore the antique shops in the Shinmonzen district.
- Walk through Nishiki Market where locals buy fresh produce, fish, spices etc.
NOV 21-22: HAKONE
We took the train to Hakone, a mountainous resort area near Mount Fuji. It’s another very traditional and cultural city. My favorite experience about Hakone though, was the hotel we stayed at: Gora Kadan. It’s Japan’s most exclusive ryokan (traditional inn). I think it is one of my favorite hotels I have ever stayed at. We stayed one night and it was amazing. It’s very traditional and a whole experience that is truly worth it. You cannot wear shoes in the hotel. It is built around natural hot springs. If you saw my stories and photos on Instagram, this is where the three of us got into a kimono and had a traditional dinner in our hotel room. This hotel is seriously the perfect place for people on their honeymoon or even families because you do almost everything in your room and trust me, there is a lot to do. You can even get a massage in your room!
Things to do in Hakone:
- Walk among enormous ancient cedars along Tokaido Road.
- Ride on the Hakone Ropeway gondola, taking in the views of the surrounding hills and Mount Fuji.
- Visit Owakudani, a volcanic area with bursting geysers and bubbling mud pools.
- Enjoy a cruise on Lake Ashinoko.
- Visit a local boutique to learn about Hakone yosegi (intricate mosaic wood veneers applied to a variety of objects).
- See the red torii gate of Hakone Jinja Shrine
- Visit the Hakone Open Air Museum
Nov 22-24: TOKYO
We took the bullet train back to Tokyo but this time we stayed at the Aman Tokyo, just to try a different hotel. The Aman Tokyo is a luxurious urban resort high atop a modern tower in the center of the city. You get incredible views of Mount Fuji and the Imperial Gardens.
Things to do in Tokyo:
- Stroll through the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
- Explore the Ginza neighborhood, one of Tokyo’s famous shopping districts (Mitsukoshi and Matsuya are popular department stores there). Many of Tokyo’s most famous tea shops and restaurants are also in Ginza.
- See the exterior of the Kabukiza Theater (Tokyo’s most famous venue for kabuki performances).
- Visit Hakuhinkan Toy Park for Japanese toys and gadgets.
- Explore Asakussa, the traditional downtown district.
- Visit Senso-ji and the the temple’s massive hanging lantern.
- Visit the Tokyo National Museum’s Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nara).
- Go to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, a Tokyo landmark that honors the emperor who helped modernize Japan over a century ago.
- Visit the Shinto Shrine which is a popular place for traditional Japanese weddings. You might get lucky and see one!
- Walk through Harajuku, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Tokyo.
- Stroll along the boutique-lined Omotesando-dori (the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo).
- Go to Shibuya, the vibrant neighborhood at the center of Japan’s pop culture.
- Experience the Shibuya Scramble, a famous intersection where hundreds of pedestrians cross at once!