Things to do and places to visit in Japan

things to do in japan kyoto

Kon’nichiwa! After slow-travelling for two months in this beautiful country is easy to say that there are so many incredible places to visit in Japan, and there are many more places I want to visit over there as I consider that in all of that time I may have only seen about a third of the country!

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Even so, this post lists the best experiences and places to visit in Japan where I adventured myself!

If you’re travelling on a budget as I did, take a look at my post about everything you need to know for hitchhiking in Japan as this can make a huge difference on your budget as the transport costs – specially trains – could make you to have to chose in between some of the places to visit in Japan above others.

places to visit in japan: naoshima

Another great tip if you’re backpacking in Japan on a budget is to do some couchsurfing, in my two months travelling there I spent only a couple of nights in hostels, the rest was couchsurfing and camping.

If you’re travelling in Japan you most likely have the usual suspects to visit on your plans: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka; and you should definitely visit them as they’re all very different, with lots to learn, incredible local foods to try and wonderful people to meet. I spent plenty of time exploring them, so my list of recommendations of places to visit in Japan are mostly near these 4 main locations as my travels took me from Fukuoka to Tokyo.

Hike the Kyoto Trail

If you’re visiting Kyoto you will most certainly want to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of the most iconic places to visit in Japan!

For us tourists, It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.

hiking the kyoto trail

But as I tend to improvise my adventures, when I was visiting the Shrine, I found an unexpectedly beautiful hike through the so-called Kyoto Trail.

An unexpected detour right after the summit of the shrine pointed towards a castle. This ended up being a stunning walk via completely deserted bamboo groves, stunning forest walk and a viewpoint of Kyoto from the top of mount Oiwa.

The end of the trail was at Fushimi Momoyama Castle, which dates originally from 1594 and rebuilt in 1964.

In Kyoto I had to spend a couple of nights in hostels as I couldn’t find a place for couchsurfing, the Samurai Home Hostel was nice considering it was the cheapest I could find.

hiking the kyoto trail

Go camping, kayaking and SUPing in Lake Biwa, near Kyoto

Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan and it’s located just outside of Kyoto. At its longest is just over 63Km!

The lake is of tectonic origin and is one of the world’s oldest lakes, dating to at least 4 million years ago.

This is a beautiful place for water sports as well, I was lucky to meet Khatsu who created the GOODTIMES outdoor adventures , and I can highly recommend his company for all sort of summer and winter sports.

As I loved this place so much, I also wrote a post about my adventures camping in Lake Biwa in case you want to know all the details!

kayacking in lake biwa near kyoto

Visit a Japanese Whisky Distillery

Yamazaki is where Japanese whisky was born and you can plan your visit as a half-day trip from Kyoto.

To visit the home of the first Japanese whisky to ever win a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge in 2003 you need to book well in advance but I can tell you that after the little distillery tour, whisky library walk and a great tasting it’s definitely worth it!

visiting yamazaki distillery

Visit Sake Paradise

To continue with the spirits theme, the little town of Saijo is famous all over Japan for its wonderful Sake and it’s just a short trip away from Hiroshima, which makes it a perfect half-day activity to do while visiting this city.

The conditions in Saijo are ideal for brewing sake. Perfectly clean and crisp water, lots of rice fields, expert master brewers and a cold winter which is the ideal season to brew Japan’s most famous alcohol.

All over town you can spot the brick chimneys where each brewery is located. As it was not the right season when I visited, I couldn’t see the masters at work but in Saijo you can visit within walking distance 9 different breweries that are over 100 years old. If like me you also visit in the “wrong” season (aka summer), there’s a lot of information still to learn about the how its made and there are free tastings!

saijo sake brewery

Climb Mount Fuji

This was without a doubt one of those magical adventures that I’ll always remember and it was one of my favourite places to visit in Japan.

To see the sunrise on top of the highest mountain in the country of the rising sun had a bit of a romantic meaning to me. I wrote all the details you need to know on this post about how to hike Mount Fuji without a guide.

climb mount fuji with no guide

Visit Miyajima Island

I didn’t know about Miyajima Island but my couchsurfing host in Hiroshima recommended me to go.

The small island is full of temples, some of which are very unique! And full of deers as well that are just wandering around near everyone else.

You can also do a short hike to a summit with beautiful views.

All in all, it’s an excellent option for a day trip from Hiroshima! I wrote all the details on how to get there on this post.

deer in miyajima island

Attend a Traditional Tea Ceremony

The town of Uji which is just outside Kyoto is one of the best places to try matcha tea and take part in a traditional tea ceremony.

Green tea is now ubiquitous in Japan, but when it first arrived from China in the 700’s, the drink was unknown except to a handful of priests and noblemen. A few hundred years later during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), green tea leaves imported from China and cultivated in Uji started becoming popular among the nobility.

traditional tea ceremony things to do in japan

Eisai, the Zen priest who imported Zen Buddhism to Japan from China, introduced the benefits of the beverage in a book and advised the Uji priests in tea plant cultivation and preparation. Tea drinking later became popular among the masses, and Uji earned a reputation for excellent tea production as one of the first places to engage in tea cultivation.

They don’t allow to take photos during the ceremony, but I can guarantee is the best tea I’ve ever had and the ceremony was a great experience as well!

Uji also has a few Unesco World Heritage Sites to visit and even a short hike up a mountain for a viewpoint of the city. I highly recommend this as a day trip from Kyoto!

Visit an Outdoor Art Gallery-Island!

When I was couchsurfing in Okayama my host recommended me to go to Naoshima Island and this ended up being in my opinion one of the best places to visit in Japan!

The island of Naoshima is a hidden gem for art lovers, with a few museums, installations and urban art spread all over the island.

Featuring artworks by Yayoi Kusama and buildings by Tadao Ando. All within walking distance all over the island. My day there was a bit rainy but I walked a lot and it was totally worth it!

There are a few options for accommodation in Naoshima in case you decide to stay more than a day.

places to visit in japan: naoshima island

Are you planning to go travelling to Japan soon?

Even that I spent two months travelling there, there are many places I didn’t go and would love to visit someday such as Okinawa, Hokkaido, Nagano and many more! So if you have other tips, suggestions or questions just drop a comment below!


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