We don’t usually repeat our travel destinations but Japan is an exception. Japan is one of our favorite countries if not our favorite country in the world. Ideally, I recommend visiting Japan for at least 2 weeks, but a week is enough for an introduction to this incredible country. Our first trip to Japan we actually visited for 7 days so we have put together the perfect Japan itinerary if you only have 7 days in Japan.
7 Days in Japan Itinerary for First Time Visitors
With 7 days in Japan, we recommending focusing on Tokyo and Kyoto. If you like to pack in a lot on your travels, we recommend adding a few day trips.
Day 1 – Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market
If your body is on a different time zone, your first day in Tokyo might be the best day for an early morning visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Make sure to catch the tuna auction – spots are limited so you need to arrive at 3:00 am in the morning! After watching the tuna auction, make sure to enjoy some fresh sushi for breakfast. If you want to guarantee catching the tuna auction it might be easier to sign up for a tour here.
Sensōji Temple (or Asakusa Kannon Temple)
Visit the famous Sensōji (or Asakusa Kannon Temple) in Asakusa. Although the temple and surrounding area is very busy and packed with tourists, it is still a Tokyo must see.
The walk to Sensōji, Nakamise Dori, is lined with small shops selling various souvenirs. This is a good spot to knock out your souvenir shopping.
Spend a few hours in Akihabara, a district in Tokyo famous for its many electronics shops. One of the popular things to do in Akihabara is to visit a maid cafe.
Day 2- Tokyo
Meiji Shrine/Omotesando/ Yoyogi Park/Harajuku
If you enjoy window shopping take a walk on Omotesando which is a broad, tree-lined street that houses various top designer boutiques. As Omotesando comes to an end you will reach Yoyogi Park, a great spot for people watching.
Also nearby is the famous Harajuku neighborhood. The main action is at Takeshita Dori, which is a short pedestrian walkway. Here you will see shops selling clothes for teens, and lots of Japanese youth and girls wearing Harajuku style.
Make sure to also visit the Meiji Shrine which is located right next to the Harajuku station.
Shibuya Crossing is huge famous pedestrian intersection. While you are at Shibuya do not miss the statue of Hachiko. The statue is a popular meeting point for Tokyo residents and a good spot for people watching. The statue was erected in honor of Hachiko, who was a loyal dog that faithfully came to fetch his owner at the train station each day (even after his owner passed away).
Tokyo can be hectic so visiting a park is a nice way to spend a couple of hours during your time in Tokyo. One of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo is Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which consists of three different types of gardens: traditional Japanese, formal French and an English garden. Home to a large number of cherry trees, it is a popular but also peaceful spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) during the spring cherry blossom season.
Day 3 -Tokyo or Day Trip to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Now that you have seen the major sites in Tokyo, you can have some fun and do some of the unique things to do that Tokyo is known for. Another option (especially if visiting in the winter) is to do a day trip to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park to see the famous snow monkeys. The best time to visit the snow monkeys is early in the morning.
Watch a Sumo Wrestling Tournament or Sumo Practice
Sumo is Japan’s national sport. Attending a sumo grand tournament is a fun and cultural experience we would recommend to anyone visiting Japan during the tournament.
The sumo tournament runs in Tokyo for 15 days at a time during January, May and September (exact dates vary each year). If you visit Tokyo outside of these dates, consider visiting a sumo stable to watch a sumo wrestling practice.
(If you are interested in attending a sumo wrestling match, check out our Tips for Watching Sumo Wrestling in Japan for the schedule, advice on finding tickets, choosing seats and other information that we think is helpful.)
Have a drink or meal at a themed café or restaurant
Tokyo is full of some interesting cafes from various animal cafes (cat cafes, dog cafes, owl cafes, rabbit cafes and a hedgehog cafe) to maid cafes and even a robot restaurant. Read about our visit to a bunny cafe here.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
These are our top choices for every budget:
Grand Hyatt Hotel. This is a great hotel in Tokyo for those looking for a luxury experience or have hotel points to use. The Grand Hyatt Hotel has a great location and gets great reviews on tripadvisor. Click here to see the latest prices or read Tripadvisor reviews.
Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu. This midprice hotel is where we usually stay in Tokyo. The location is super convenient -it is in the same building as a 7-11 and several restaurants and it is also across the street from the Akasaka-Mitsuke subway station with underground access to five different lines. Click here to see the latest prices or read our full review.
The Prince Park Tower Tokyo. This midprice hotel get good reviews. It has a great location and also offers a free shuttle to the closest train station. Click here to see the latest prices or read Tripadvisor reviews.
Richmond hotel Asakusa. This small modern hotel is located in a great location in Asakusa walking distance to the famous Sensōji Temple. Click here to see the latest prices or read Tripadvisor reviews.
Red Planet Asakusa. This newly built hotel also has a great location in Asakusa and offers great views of the Tokyo Skyline and Sky Tree from some rooms. Click here to see the latest prices or read Tripadvisor reviews.
Day 4 – Train from Tokyo to Kyoto
The fastest way from Tokyo to Kyoto is the Shinkansen (bullet train) on the Tokaido Shinkansen line.
There are three options: the Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The Nozomi is the most frequent and the fastest train with a travel time of 2 hours and 20 minutes but it is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. If you wish to use the Japan Rail Pass, the best choice is the Hikari which takes 2 hours and 40.
If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, the fare is 13,080 yen one way.
To search for times and prices visit www.hyperdia.com.
Keep an eye for Mt. Fuji.
Day 5 – Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Take the train to southern Kyoto to see Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is always open and admission is free.
At the back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate covered hiking trail which goes up to the summit of the mountain. You can hike all the way to the top of the mountain which takes about 2-3 hours roundtrip but you can turn back any time. Most visitors just do the shorter hike through the clustered torii gates (approximately 30 minutes) to the Yotsutsuji intersection roughly half way up the mountain which has a great view of Kyoto. The rest of the hike is less crowded but there are less gates and there is not that much more to see. I recommend doing just the shorter hike as there are other places to walk in Kyoto.
After seeing the Fushimi Inari Shrine head to Eastern Kyoto which is a historic part of Kyoto full of temples, shrines, gardens and shops to get a taste of traditional Japan. I recommend starting with Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) a Zen temple that despite it’s name is not silver or covered in silver.
From Ginkakuji you can access the start of the Philosopher’s Path, a pedestrian path that follows a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees. In April, this is one of the best places in Kyoto to see cherry blossoms. Near the end of the Philosopher’s Path are Eikando Temple (one of the most beautiful places for autumn foliage in the fall) and Nanzen-ji Temple (a zen temple with a beautiful rock garden). The Philosopher’s Path is about 2 km long and takes about 30 minutes but you can spend more time visiting other temples and shrines along the way.
If you are still up for more walking after the Philosopher’s Path, head to the Heian Shrine (orange shrine), followed by Kodaiji Temple and then Kiyomizudera. Otherwise take a taxi directly to Kiyomizudera in the Higashiyama area which is famous for its large wooden terrace and amazing views of Kyoto. If you can time it and don’t mind the crowds try to visit Kiyomizudera during sunset for beautiful photos.
In the late afternoon or evening, head to the ancient geisha district of Gion. Gion is known for its traditional wooden houses and is filled with restaurants, shops and tea houses. Kyoto Free Walking Tour has free morning and early afternoon walking tours of Gion and Higashiyama districts.
Gion is also the best place in Kyoto to spot geishas and their apprentices (called maiko) and you will see many tourists waiting around to photograph them. We spotted several geishas on or near Hanami-koji street. The best time to spots geishas is around dusk (5-6pm) when geisha are on their way to their appointments at tea houses. Real geishas are pretty elusive and avoid tourists – you might spot them entering a taxi or one of the buildings. If you see geishas posing with tourists or stopping for photos they are not real geishas, they are tourists dressed up as geishas.
The tea houses are not open to the public but you could book a tour which includes entry to a teahouse and time with a maiko.
After spotting geishas, you can cross the Kamo River and head to Pontocho, a narrow pedestrian only street that runs along the bank of the river and lined with restaurants and bars. In the summer many of the establishments build platforms extending over the Kamo River so you can dine outside.
Day 6 Arashiyama and Northern Kyoto
Sagano Bamboo Forest
Take the train west to Arashiyama to view the famous and beautiful Sagano Bamboo Forest. It gets very busy so I recommend visiting early in the morning. You don’t need a lot of time if you are only visiting the forest as it is not very big but you will need a half or full day if you also visit the nearby monkey park. From the train station, the bamboo forest is a short walk through the town passing shops and restaurants.
Iwatayama Monkey Park
After the bamboo park you can walk to the Iwatayama Monkey Park to see Japanese macaque monkeys. Located in the Arashiyama mountains, the walk to the monkey park is an approximately 20-30 mins steep hike uphill from the bamboo forest. Once you reach the top you will find tons of monkeys roaming around and there are also great views of the city. You can purchase food to feed the monkeys.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
From Arashiyama, you can take the train to Northern Kyoto and then take a taxi or bus to the iconic Kinkakuji temple (Golden Pavilion). Kinkakuji overlooks a large pond and you can take photos of Kinkakuji with its reflection in the pond.
Ryoanji Temple is another temple located close to the Golden Pavilion which has a famous Zen rock garden. Personally, I though the garden was a bit overrated but it was packed with tourists during my visit.
After visiting Ryoanji Temple, I recommend heading to the nearby Okonomiyaki Katsu restaurant which is located in a residential neighborhood nearby. It is owned by a Japanese couple gets great reviews and their specialty is okonomiyaki. Their website is in Japanese but check their times as they are only open for lunch and dinner and are closed on Wednesdays.
Day 7 Central Kyoto and Day Trips
If you ran out of time, visit any temples you missed today in the morning. Then head to Nijo Castle in Central Kyoto.
Located in central Kyoto, Nijo Castle is easily accessible by subway. Nijo Castle is large but easy to explore so I would allow an hour or two to enjoy at leisurely pace. In addition to its beautiful art, Nijo Castle is famous for its squeaky floors (not because they are old they were designed to make noise to alert for intruders).
After sightseeing in the morning head to Nishiki Market for lunch. Nishiki Market is a narrow shopping street lined by shops and restaurants selling fresh seafood, produce, and even souvenirs. Nishiki Market is a good place to wander around and spend hours sampling Japanese food. If you would like some guidance, you can book a food tour.
Day Trip to Nara
If you have time today, your last day in Kyoto might be a good time to take a day trip to Nara. Nara is the ancient capital of Japan and is famous for Buddhist temples, shrines and the famous Nara deer park. You can visit Nara in half a day.
Head to Osaka/Tokyo
If you are flying out of Osaka instead of heading back to Tokyo, you might want to head to Osaka early and explore Osaka a bit.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Kyoto has many great ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) so consider if you would like to stay at a ryokan instead of a western hotel.
These are our top picks for the best hotels and ryokans in Kyoto for every budget.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto. This is our top pick if looking for a hotel luxury experience. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has a great location in Central Kyoto close to Gion and Pontocho and gets great reviews on tripadvisor. Opened in 2014 as the first luxury urban resort in Japan, The Ritz-Carlton is on the banks of the Kamogawa river with views of the Higashiyama mountains. The resort features four restaurants and bars, spa, pool, free wi-fi, in room refrigerator and some rooms have river views. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Arashiyama Benkei. Traditional Japanese Ryokan located in a beautiful area in Arashiyama near the river. It is not as centrally located but is close to the famous bamboo forest and monkey park. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto. Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto has serviced apartments with a kitchenette and free wi-fi. It has a convenient location close to a train station (one stop from the Kyoto Train station), supermarket and restaurant. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Hokkaikan Ohanabo. This midprice ryokan is in a great location within very close walking distance to Kyoto Station. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Hotel Gran Ms Kyoto. Very affordable hotel in a convenient location close to Nikishi Market and subway. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Ryokufuso. Affordable ryokan near train station. Click here to read Tripadvisor reviews.
Tips for Visiting Japan
• Most Japanese ATMS don’t work with foreign ATM cards. To find ATMs that work head to the nearest 7-11.
• Consider whether you need to purchase a Japan rail pass before heading to Japan. Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use discounted ticket, valid for travels on all JR national trains in Japan, including Shinkansen bullet trains and Narita Express. You can select 7, 14 or 21 consecutive validity days. A 7 day rail pass is $262 USD which is about the price of a round trip between Kyoto and Tokyo. If you are flying into Tokyo and out of Osaka and only taking the train between Tokyo and Kyoto you won’t need the pass.
• The best way to get around Tokyo is by the efficient and comprehensive metro system. If you plan to take the subway more than a couple of times, you might want to purchase a PASMO card. PASMO is a prepaid reloadable smart card that you can use for trains and buses without having to calculate and pay a separate fare each trip. You can purchase a PASMO card at airports or train stations.
Hope you enjoyed our 7 day Japan itinerary. Have you been to Japan? If so, what would you do in 7 days?
Looking for more things to do in Japan? Check out our Japan bucket list for more inspiration.
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