One of the best ways to get to know what Japan has to offer is to explore the best-of-highlights route from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka. This itinerary allows you to see most of Japan’s famous landmarks and truly get a taste of the culture.
You will travel from the modern wonders of Tokyo, past the natural beauty of the Japanese Alps, all the way to the traditional and ancient Kyoto. The best thing about it? You can do it all in just 10 days!
Get ready to explore the greatest sights in the Land of the Rising Sun, with the help of our guide and recommendations, with your Japan Rail Pass in just 10 days.
Table of Contents
- 1 Day 1: Getting to know Tokyo
- 2 Day 2: Tsukiji Fish Market and Central Tokyo
- 3 Day 3: Traditional and quiet Tokyo
- 4 Day 4: Day-trip to Kamakura, Nikko, or Hakone
- 5 Day 5: Takayama
- 6 Day 6: Kanazawa
- 7 Days 7 and 8: Beautiful Kyoto
- 8 Day 9: Nara
- 9 Day 10: Osaka or back to Tokyo
Day 1: Getting to know Tokyo
Arriving at Narita or Haneda Airport
Tokyo has two airports, Haneda and Narita. Our three days in Tokyo article provides all the detailed information you will need about where and how to exchange your Japan Rail Pass. To get to Tokyo’s city center from Narita Airport, you will need to take the Narita Express, or the Tokyo Monorail if coming from Haneda Airport.
Tokyo is truly an incredible place to discover! It’s a melting pot between cutting edge technology and Japanese traditional culture. From the bustling Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku districts to the majestic grounds of the Imperial Palace to the magnificent Sensoji Temple, to the buildings that once housed Samurai warriors. Tokyo has it all!
Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree
- Start off your day by visiting the ancient Buddhist Sensoji Temple, in Asakusa. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and also its most significant.
- Then cross the river over to the tallest structure in Japan, Tokyo Skytree, for one of the best views of all of Tokyo. On a good day, you will even get a glimpse of the majestic Mt Fuji.
Harajuku and Shibuya Crossing
- Then travel to Harajuku where you can check out Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Omotesando, and the Nezu Museum. Harajuku is the most diverse neighborhood in Tokyo, where you get to experience both traditional Japanese culture, and the craziest off the charts fashion district where young people parade in the most fashion-forward outfits you will ever see.
- To finish off your day head on over to the number one most famous place in all of Tokyo – the Shibuya Crossing. Located in the heart of the city (JR Yamanote line), Shibuya is the perfect place to experience what being a part of Tokyo really means. Shibuya is known for having the best shops, favored by young people, and also has an incredible nightlife. So stay for dinner and have a drink just like a native!
Day 2: Tsukiji Fish Market and Central Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market and Ginza
- Discover a different side of Tokyo with an early-morning visit to Tsukiji market, the world’s biggest and busiest fish market.
- After exploring the market head over to the Ginza area for some shopping and lunch. Ginza district is one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world famous for its department stores, boutiques, restaurants, and coffeehouses.
Shinjuku district and Robot Restaurant
- Then it’s time to discover the incredible Shinjuku district which houses the Metropolitan Government Building, the administration center for the government of Tokyo. Shinjuku is also famous for its nightlife as well as for being one of the best shopping districts in all of Tokyo. Fun fact: Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day.
- For the ultimate Japanese experience, you can eat dinner at the Robot Restaurant (Shinjuku) where giant robots, controlled by bikini-clad girls, will not only serve you dinner but will also battle it out in the ring right in the middle of the restaurant.
Day 3: Traditional and quiet Tokyo
For your third and final day in Tokyo, you can relax a little from the bustle of the city and discover a more laid-back side of the city.
Yanaka and Ueno
- Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the district of Yanaka, where slow paced and tradition is still the way of life. Make sure to walk down Yanaka Ginza street, it is the best place to buy Japanese souvenirs, and it is perfect for all cat lovers since cats are the trademark of this part of Tokyo.
- Gyokurin-Ji – one of the hidden treasures of Yanaka district. Visit this ambient temple home to an ancient chinquapin tree.
- Then, take the subway over to Ueno and check out the park and museums there. This gorgeous area includes the Ueno Park and Zoo, Tokyo University of Arts, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall and more.
Tokyo Imperial Palace and Roppongi district
- Just a short walk away from Tokyo Station you will find the current Imperial Palace located on the former site of Edo Castle. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls.
- After such a relaxing day it’s only fair to finish your stay in Roppongi, located in the Minato Ward district. Roppongi is the most popular nightlife area among foreigners, offering a large number of friendly bars, restaurants and night clubs. Thanks to its numerous leisure options, the district has become one of the most (if not the most) diverse in all of Tokyo.
Day 4: Day-trip to Kamakura, Nikko, or Hakone
A day-trip outside of Tokyo is the ideal way to escape the bustle of the city and explore the picturesque sites close-by. Choose a one-day excursion outside of Tokyo, to either Nikko, Kamakura, or Hakone and the Mount Fuji area.
Because each one offers such different options, we have rounded them up in a nifty blog post: Best day trips from Tokyo by train, where you are sure to find the perfect way to spend your day.
Day 5: Takayama
Takayama is located in central Honshu (Japan’s main island), a short distance west of the main part of the Japanese Alps. Take a shinkansen on the JR Tokaido Line to Nagoya and then switch to a Hida Wide View Express until Takayama.
- Takayama is a charming city, home to traditional craftsmanship and sake breweries. Explore Takayama’s Old Town, local shops, markets and museums on foot – in particular, the splendid (and free) Takayama Museum of History and Art.
- Explore the Sanmachi Suji district, the heritage houses, and the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall and Sakurayama-Hachimangu Shrine.
Day 6: Kanazawa
Take an early Wide View Hida Limited Express Train to JR Toyama Station, since there is no direct train line between Takayama and Kanazawa. Arrive at JR Toyama Station, and then make your way to the Hokuriku Shinkansen which will take you all the way to JR Kanazawa Station.
- Kanazawa packs a lot of incredible sites. Explore the Kenroku-en Garden, then make your way to Kanazawa Castle, and next head on over to Omicho Market for lunch.
- Before catching your train to Kyoto, explore Higashi Chaya Area, and treat yourself to a cup of green tea from one of the local teahouses.
- Then head back to the JR Kanazawa Station to catch the Limited Express Thunderbird to Kyoto.
Days 7 and 8: Beautiful Kyoto
Kyoto is a wonderful, magical city brimming with culture and ancestral traditions. Kyoto has many historical sites and attractions.
On day 1, we suggest visiting the Arashiyama Area and Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Pavilion).
On Day 2 we suggest you head on over to the incredible Kiyomizu-dera and then to Fushimi Inari-taisha. Two days is really a minimum to visit Kyoto and its most famous temples, therefore we have made a travel guide of Things to do in Kyoto. Take a look to discover all there is to see and do.
Day 9: Nara
Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794. It has a total of 8 Unesco World Heritage sites collectively known as Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. So leave your baggage in the coin lockers and brace yourself to explore beautiful Nara before leaving to spend the night in Osaka.
- Start your day off with a stroll through Nara-koen Park, which contains many other important sights, including Todai-ji Temple, Isui-en Garden, and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine.
- The biggest trait of Nara-koen Park is its large population of semi-wild deer that roam freely. You can buy a pack of deer crackers (shika sembeisembei) to feed them, but be careful, sometimes they bite!
- Then stroll through Issui-en Garden until you make your way to the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) at Todai-ji Temple.
- Walk along the east wall of the Daibutsu-den until you reach Nigatsu-do Hall, one of the most important structures of Todai-ji Temple.
- Then make your way to Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, Nara’s most celebrated temple. It is famous for its bronze lanterns, which have been donated by worshippers. They are only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid-August.
- You can also pay a visit to Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples.
- Before leaving for Osaka, take a stroll through Nara-machi, Nara’s former merchant district. Check out Sarusawa-no-ike Pond,Koshi-no-Ie and the shops and galleries of the area.
- Finally, make your way back to JR Nara Station look for the JR Kanjo-Yamatoji Line, which is an express train service. Arrive at JR Osaka Station in Umeda District.
- You can treat yourself to a night-out on the town. Osaka is known for its fresh foods, nightlife, and shopping.
Day 10: Osaka or back to Tokyo
If you are departing from Kansai International Airport or Osaka Airport you can enjoy a fun-filled day exploring Osaka. If departing from Tokyo you can still enjoy half a day walking through its most famous districts: Kita and Minami as well as the Osaka Bay Area, before making your way back to Tokyo to catch your flight.
If you have a little time we suggest adding the Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan), the Tempozan Marketplace, and the Osaka Castle to your to-do list!