Japan Itineraries for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Beyond

Our 2020 Japan itineraries provide 1-day plans and step-by-step itinerary, strategy, and walking tours of Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Miyajima Island, Kyoto, Uji, and more. These itineraries offer tips & info for temples to visit, where to eat, transportation, and efficiently seeing the highlights. (Updated January 7, 2020.)

None of our Japan itineraries require use of a car or taxi. While public transportation via trains and subway (and very rarely buses) is sometimes necessary, we strive to make these walking tours of each city to the greatest extent possible. We believe a big part of visiting Japan is exploring and getting a feel for the real, lived-in places–not just quickly bouncing from shrine to museum to other touristy points of interest.

To that end, our touring plans for Japan balance efficiency with leisurely exploration and “stopping to smell the roses.” Those concepts might seem at odds with one another, but what we mean here is that we order each stop in a way so that you’ll avoid crowds by visiting popular temples before the tour groups arrive, and continue along a route that minimizes commute times, backtracking, and takes you through the most interesting neighborhoods.

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics bringing the Games of the XXXII Olympiad to Japan in Summer 2020–and likely spikes crowds for another year or more thereafter–these itineraries should help you beat the crowds that will descend upon Japan, and experience major points of interest with fewer people, and also sidestep the masses entirely with some under-the-radar hidden gems…

Tokyo Itineraries

2-Day ‘Best of’ Tokyo Itinerary – Discovering the essence of Tokyo is about visiting its eclectic neighborhoods in addition to particular iconic points of interest, and this itinerary offers both. You’ll explore Harajuku, Shinjuku, Asakusa, and more. You’ll visit Tsukiji & Toyosu Fish Markets, Sensoji Temple, Robot Restaurant, Tokyo SkyTree, and more. All in a whirlwind two day trip to Tokyo!

1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Ueno, Asakusa & Akihabara -Tokyo is commonly divided into the low city and high city. The former is on the delta of the Sumida River and it’s what remains of the historic Tokyo, or old Edo. The latter is the modern metropolis, and where most visitors spend the vast majority of their time. This itinerary “Old Edo” and includes districts like Kanda, Nihonbashi, Kyobashi, Ueno, Asakusa, Honjo, Tsukiji, Fukugawa, and Akihabara–vibrant areas in their own right that provide a different flavor of culture than the ‘headliner’ areas to the west.

1-Day Western Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Shinjuku, Harajuku & Shibuya – The western side of Tokyo is its modern megalopolis home to towering skyscrapers, chic shopping areas, and more. This 1-day itinerary offers an efficient step-by-step walking route for visiting Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Roppongi. We cover architecture, museums, parks, and even a couple of historic sites in these areas of Tokyo.

7-Day Japan Itinerary – This one isn’t solely a Tokyo itinerary, but it’s a good foundation if you’re planning a week (or so) in Japan and want to know how to divide your time among Tokyo and the country’s other top tourist destination.

Other Top Destinations in Japan

1-Day Miyajima Island Itinerary – This island near Hiroshima is famed for its giant torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, which is an icon of Japan when it appears to float at high tide. Our Miyajima Island touring plan offers a course for seeing the giant torii at both low and high tide, the ropeway to Mount Misen, temples, and the island’s best food.

1-Day Hiroshima Itinerary – A visit to Hiroshima will center around the Peace Memorial Museum & Park, but there are also several things to do in the city. Our Hiroshima itinerary recommends other places to visit, plus the best spots for okonomiyaki and ice cream!

1-Day Osaka Itinerary – It’s not our favorite city in Japan, but Osaka does have a lot going for it. We cover which museums to visit, areas of the city to eat, and other things to do. We’d recommend a day trip or two to Osaka rather than establishing it as your home base in the Kansai region.

1-Day Nagoya Itinerary – Japan’s fourth-largest city is often overlooked by tourists, but it really shouldn’t be. Thanks to some of the best museums in Japan and a convenient location between Kyoto and Tokyo on the Shinkansen, Nagoya is an excellent stopover–and one that we highly recommend!

1-Day Kobe Itinerary – We went to Kobe, Japan for the same reason most people do: the world’s finest beef. We quickly realized there was far more to this stunning port city than that, and we’ve been back several times. This itinerary will expose you to the variety and diverse offerings of Kobe that make it a top pick for a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

1-Day Nara Itinerary – This step-by-step Nara itinerary takes you to the top temples, the Great Buddha, and builds in plenty of time for the devious deer as a day-trip to Nara from Kyoto, Japan. Many Japan planning resources advise spending the night in Nara, but we do not. While we love Nara, changing hotels constantly is exhausting, so we encourage maximizing day trips and minimizing hotel-hopping.

1-Day Uji & Kyoto, Japan Itinerary – Uji is famous for being the epicenter of Japan’s green tea and matcha scene, as well a picturesque river valley home to numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the setting for Tale of Genji. This itinerary covers all of that, with the best green tea stops, four different UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a variety of temples & shrines.

1-Day Kurama, Kibune & Kyoto, Japan Itinerary – Want to escape the crowds of central Kyoto? This 1-day itinerary is a great option for weekends, peak season, fall colors season, hot summer days, during festivals or special events…or really any random day. It’s a respite from the hustle and bustle, and offers cooler weather, mountain temples, hiking, and more.

Best Itineraries for Kyoto

1-Day “Best of” Kyoto Itinerary – No one should spend only a day in Kyoto, but if you do, this is an efficient step-by-step plan of attack for visiting the best of the city’s temples and shrines, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a jam-packed day that crisscrosses Kyoto, and will take you to some of the city’s top temples and, by extension, the best of Japan.

1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary – This itinerary is essentially a straight-line path along the Higashiyama Mountains, spanning from Silver Pavilion to Philosopher’s Path to Nanzenji Temple down to Kiyomizudera Temple, also including Fushimi Inari Shrine for sunrise (or potentially nighttime). We think this is the quintessential Kyoto experience, and if we only had a single day in the city, this is the itinerary we’d do.

1-Day Western Kyoto Itinerary – The counterpart to our Eastern Kyoto Itinerary, which is mostly in the Higashiyama Mountains, this itinerary is mostly in the Arashiyama Mountains that flank the other side of the city. The highlight of this day along is visiting Japanese macaque monkeys in their mountain habitat. There are also some cool temples, traditional gardens, and more in this walk-through of Arashiyama and Sagano, including everything from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to under-the-radar gems.

1-Day Central Kyoto Itinerary – While our other Kyoto itineraries are heavy on temples and shrines, this one contains museums, primarily because it takes you to the city’s museum district. The highlight of these is Kyoto Railway Museum, which is one of the best museums in Japan. It also includes a stop at Nijo Castle, which we think is overrated, but is one of Kyoto’s most popular points of interest, nonetheless.

1-Day “Cool Kyoto” (Northern Kyoto) Itinerary – We’ve dubbed this our “Cool Kyoto” itinerary because its really neat and also offers cooler mountain weather (dual meanings!). This 1-day Northern Kyoto Itinerary features an exceptional mountain temple, an imperial villa, hiking, the best onsen in Kyoto, a scenic railway journey, and more.

1-Day Southwestern Kyoto Itinerary – This is more of an off-the-beaten path itinerary for the Southwestern outskirts of Kyoto, but it includes some exceptional hidden gems and highlights. Most notably, there are stops at Yoshiminedera Temple, Katsura Imperial Villa, and Saiho-ji, or the “Moss Temple.”

2-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary – This is our flagship Kyoto touring plan, which we created upon learning that most people only allocate two days to the city. It’s an aggressive ‘best of’ itinerary that enables you to see most of Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines. As we note in this itinerary, we recommend at least 3 days in Kyoto, and those with more than 2 days should follow our itineraries below, rather than this one.

3-Day ‘Best of’ Kyoto Itinerary – This builds upon our highlights itinerary above, spreading out some of the iconic temples and shrines to give them each more room to breathe, while also adding more variety and new locations into the mix. If you’ve three days in Kyoto–the perfect amount of time for many travelers–this is the perfect touring plan for you!

1-Day to 1-Week Kyoto Itineraries – If you want a multi-day itinerary for Kyoto longer than the ones above, are visiting during fall colors or cherry blossom season, or just want to see what else we have, check these out. We’ve spent months in Kyoto field-testing these itineraries, and there’s something for everyone here!

That covers it for our Japan itineraries thus far. We’ll soon be adding several more Japan touring plans, including other cities in Japan off the beaten path. We hope these itineraries are a helpful resource for you while planning your visit to Japan, and enable you to have a more efficient experience, allowing you to see and do as much as possible!

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan, check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other things to do! We also recommend consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Guide to Tokyo to plan.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Japan? Which cities did you visit, and how much time did you spend in each place? What would you recommend to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? If you’re planning your trip to Japan, what do you think about these itineraries? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

20 replies
  1. Julie
    Julie says:

    Visiting Japan is my dream vacation and I am in the midst of planning a trip there in the next year. I am an avid researcher and I have found your website to be a treasure trove of detailed information. Like many tourists, I plan to do the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka route but I am also interested in taking fun day trips. One such location I had in mind was Shizuoka. I was wondering if you have ever been. I am especially interested in Shizuoka’s tea fields, the Oigawa railway, and the Yume no Tsuribashi Suspension Bridge. If you haven’t yet visited, perhaps you might in the future (wink, wink).

    Reply
  2. Maxine
    Maxine says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the helpful itineraries! I was wondering though if the Kyoto sakura itineraries are suitable for old folks? I’m taking my parents to Japan, and they’re both above 65 years old: my mum has a weak knee and arthritis as well. I’m concerned about the amount of walking we’ll be doing.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Unfortunately, they are not.

      All of our itineraries involve a lot of walking, as we try to avoid using the bus as much as possible. You can still use these as jumping off points, but you’ll want to map bus routes in between each point of interest.

      Reply
  3. Gowri
    Gowri says:

    Hi Tom

    We are planning a trip to Osaka and Kyoto next week for the Sakura season and your posts have been a big help. It will be crowded but then I am from India and what are crowds to us !!
    That brings me to my question : you don’t seem to have travelled to India or if you have no posts about it. You must visit. We are a vast and beautiful country, with heritage, nature, wildlife, modern cities, etc etc
    I hope to see an Indian itinerary soon !
    Thanks.
    Gowri

    Reply
  4. Delores
    Delores says:

    Hi Tom,
    I’m in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Japan next fall – first week of October. Depending on best airfare prices and travel time, we will probably have 8-9 days to see the sights. I’m thinking a couple of days in Tokyo, a couple of days in Kyoto and a couple of days at Disney. Would you recommend doing Disney in the beginning, middle or end?

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I like doing Tokyo, then Tokyo Disney Resort, then Kyoto. Gives you a chance to get acclimated to Japan and jet lag for a couple, slower-paced days in the city, followed by intense days at TDR, then a rejuvenating Shinkansen ride to Kyoto.

      That’s just me, though.

      Reply
      • Delores
        Delores says:

        Thanks for the response. I’m hoping to push our trip out to 12 days and add Hiroshima & Miyajima. Based on your response above, I’m thinking after Kyoto. Would also like to see Mt. Fuiji…as in take some pictures but not actually stay the night. I’m thinking we would do this at the front end as a day trip from Tokyo. Sound reasonable?

        Reply
  5. SweetCaoline74
    SweetCaoline74 says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been enjoying binge-reading Travel Caffeine! Have you released your 1-day itineraries for Hiroshima and Osaka? Having trouble finding them so perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little 🙂

    Reply
    • SweetCaroline74
      SweetCaroline74 says:

      Firstly, clearly I’m so excited about planning my trip that I misspelled my own name (sigh…). Neil Diamond would be ashamed. LOL!

      Secondly, I found the 1-day Osaka itinerary, I’m just missing Hiroshima 🙂
      Thanks Tom!

      Reply
  6. Andrew Potterton
    Andrew Potterton says:

    Amazing guides to the city, thanks Tom. I can’t wait to use the Kyoto guides in October!

    On a side note, anyone living in London, England should go to Japan House. It has free exhibitions, shop, cafe and a tourism office for Japan. You can pick up walking tour idea pamphlets along with maps for the Kyoto and Tokyo areas. In addition, there is a Japanese employee on hand to answer any questions.

    Reply
  7. Zach
    Zach says:

    I have really been enjoying exploring Travel Caffiene lately. Of course, I found your work through Disney, but as I am getting older, I have seen a significant transformation of myself from a Disney fan to a travel fan. I still love Disney Parks and Resorts, but I find myself constantly making plans for other destinations, or at the very least, destinations that compliment my Disney travels. This blog is helping me in those endeavors so much!

    Reply
  8. Sam McShane
    Sam McShane says:

    Love the guides Tom, really want to go to Tokyo and Kyoto ASAP

    Please enter me to win all your gelatoni stuff too

    Thanks

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *