We simply love Japan – with its incredible varied and healthy food, its interesting mix of old history and futuristic cities, and its unbeatable combination of hiking in the mountains followed by soaking in an onsen /hot spring. Plus the Japanese trains always run on time and are super fast, making it easy to get around.

BONUS: We have made a free printable PDF and ePUB version of this two week Japan travel itinerary. Perfect to print or carry on your iPad!

⇒ CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS FREE JAPAN PDF ITINERARY ⇐

Before You Go

We used the train to travel Japan. It can be done by bus but it would be much slower. Japan has a unique train pass available only to foreign visitors that makes train travel much cheaper. The pass provides almost unlimited use of Japans extensive rail network and high-speed trains. It is available for either 7, 14, or 21 days.

The easiest and least expensive way to buy the Japan Rail Pass is online from an official JR Pass vendor. Click here for prices & information on how to order the JR Pass online.

Here are 11 reasons why you should check out Japan and book your next vacation there.

Our ultimate two weeks best-of Japan itinerary

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Our two week Japan itinerary includes these 11 places

1. Tokyo (A) – Day 1 and 2 (4 nights)

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Me in Shibuya in Tokyo, one of the world`s busiest street crossings. Shibuya is one of the fashion centers in Japan with great nightlife.

Start your Japan adventure in the urban, modern and energetic big-city Tokyo. Spend two full days here, as there are plenty to do and see in this city. Tokyo is the place to experience the modern side and culture of this amazing country.

Where to stay in Tokyo

MyStays Hotel
We stayed at MyStays Hotel in Asakusabashi and loved it. It is cheap and brand new with excellent service and location, close to the subway/train station Asakusabashi. The train station Akihabara is also within walking distance.  Lovely beds and the rooms have everything you need and more. The hotel has washing machines where you can wash your clothes. There are plenty of excellent and cheap restaurants nearby (check out the cozy pizzeria one street away), and there is a small convenient store (7 Eleven) in the basement of the hotel open 24/7.
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It can be difficult to find a good and cheap hotel in Tokyo as it is an expensive city, so this is a real gem!

For more about Tokyo’s many exciting neighborhoods and our favorite Tokyo hotels, click here to read our ultimate guide to where to stay in Tokyo.

2. Nikko (B) – Day 3 – A day trip from Tokyo

DSC00530In the morning of day 3, activate your JR train pass in Tokyo, and take an early morning train up to Nikko (2 hours north of Tokyo) for a day-trip. Use the whole day walking among the colorful shrines and temples tucked away in the green and lush forest.

Head back to Tokyo for the night.

⇒ Read more about what to see in Nikko here: https://nerdnomads.com/temples-of-nikko

Where to stay in Nikko

If you want to stay the night in Nikko, we recommend:

Nikko Station Hotel Classic
We walked passed this hotel, it is located just opposite of the Tabu train station right in the downtown of Nikko. The rooms are spacious by Japanese standard and cheap for Japan and this area. The hotel also has a nice Onsen/ hot spring.
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Nikko Tokinoyu Hotel
The Nikko Tokinoyu Hotel has a perfect location as it is the hotel/ryokan that is closest located to the sights and temples of Nikko. You only have to walk 2 minutes to get to the temple area. There is a bus stop for the shuttle bus from the train station/ downtown of Nikko just outside the hotel. It is also possible to walk to the hotel from the train station. This ryokan has an onsen/ hot spring in the basement and free wifi in all rooms. There are plenty of restaurants nearby the hotel.
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Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa
If you want to treat yourself with a top-notch traditional Japanese Ryokan (inn), then you should book a night at the Okunoin Ryokan Hotel Tokugawa. They have an excellent Onsen/ hot spring with beautiful mountain view. The dinner is an authentic Japanese gourmet food experience. They have a free shuttle service that can pick you up at the train station or bus stop. This hotel is number 1 on Tripadvisor for Nikko hotels at the moment.
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3. Hakone (C) – Day 4 (1 night)

Take a morning train south to Hakone(2 hours), a part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Hakone is a very popular place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and enjoy the natural beauty of this national park.

Spend the day walking around Hakone and its peaceful surroundings, and admire the spectacular view of Japans highest mountain Mount Fuji (3776 meters), and one of Japan`s three sacred mountains. At the center of Hakone is the Ashino-ko lake with its much-photographed red Torii gate.

Other highlights include the Odawara Castle, The Open Air Museum,  Hakone Shrine and Choanji Temple. Hakone is also well known for its many traditional Japanese Inns (Ryokans) and hot spring baths (Onsen).

Spend the night in Hakone, and in the evening indulge in one of the many famous hot springs/ Onsen here.

Where to stay in Hakone

Mount View Hakone Ryokan
This beautiful ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is easy to access, with a bus stop right outside the hotel. It has delicious authentic Japanese food included in the price, both dinner, and breakfast, as well as a lovely Onsen/ hot spring.
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Hyatt Regency Hakone
The Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa seems just perfect and has everything you want in a hotel. The hotel has a free bar every day from 4 to 7 pm in the lounge area with a fireplace. The hotel has an eastern/ western fusion feel to it, both when it comes to interior and food. They provide a complimentary shuttle service from Odawara train station. This hotel also has a lovely Onsen/ hot spring, and the rooms have a mountain view.
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4. Matsumoto (D) – Day 5 (1 night)

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Crow Castle in Matsumoto

The next day, head north up to Matsumoto after breakfast (4,5 hours by train). Spend the day visiting the beautiful Crow Castle, and walk around the cozy streets by the river in the evening.

Spend the night at one of the many excellent hotels in Matsumoto.

Where to stay in Matsumoto

Richmond Hotel Matsumoto
We stayed at Richmond Hotel, a western style hotel (not a Ryokan). This hotel has a perfect location, right in the center of Matsumoto, within walking distance to the train station, Matsumoto Castle, the river, Walking Street, and lots of restaurants. There is free wifi in all rooms and breakfast buffet in a cafe next door. It is #1 on TripAdvisor for Matsumoto.
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Dormy Inn Matsumoto
The Dormy Inn is located only three minutes walk from the JR Matsumoto Train Station, right in the heart of everything. It has a lovely Onsen and is modern and new.
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⇒ Read more about what to see and do in Matsumoto here: https://nerdnomads.com/matsumoto

5. Alpine Route – Day 6

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One of the cable cars we took at the Alpine Route

Get up real early in Matsumoto, and do the Alpine Route Tateyama-Kurobe (we spent 9 hours altogether on this route, but it can be done faster if you don`t want to walk around on the mountain as much as we did).

Bring warm clothes and good walking shoes, and be prepared to get a day packed with amazing Japanese nature and scenery, plus a ton of fresh mountain air.

This Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is only open from 15th of April till 30th of November, although some parts of this route are open 10 – 15th of April.

In the evening, take the train to Kanazawa city on the west coast of Japan.

⇒ Read our complete and detailed Alpine Route guide here: https://nerdnomads.com/alpine-route-japan

6. Kanazawa (E) – Day 7 (2 nights)

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The famous Kenroku-en garden in Kanazawa

Spend a full day in the beautiful Kanazawa city, visit Kanazawa Castle, go for a walk in the stunning Kenroku-en garden ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan, and stroll through the Samurai district and the geisha district.

Top off your day in Kanawaza with some shopping and a delicious Japanese meal downtown in the evening. Stay two nights in Kanazawa.

Where to stay in Kanazawa

We stayed at Hotel Trusty and loved it. It is brand new, with beautiful design and super comfortable beds. It has the best location in Kanazawa, right in the center, with easy access to all the sights. A real gem! In the basement, next to the reception, is a lovely cafe with delicious cakes and coffee.
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⇒ Read more about what to see and do in Kanazawa here: https://nerdnomads.com/kanazawa

7. Shirakawa-go (F) – Day 8

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Gassho-zukuri farmhouses in Shirakawago

Take the bus to Shirakawa-go the next day (1,5 hour). Stroll around the narrow streets of this World Heritage Site and admire the over 110 famous gassho-zukuri farmhouses, many of which are now museums and restaurants.

Take the bus to Takayama city in the evening (50 minutes).

⇒ Read more about what to see in Shirakawago here: https://nerdnomads.com/guide_to_shirakawa-go

8. Takayama (G) – Day 9 (2 nights)

The Yamakyu Ryokan in Takayama where we stayed one night

The Yamakyu Ryokan in Takayama where we stayed one night

Spend a whole day in the beautifully preserved old city of Takayama, and indulge in old Japan history and museums.

Where to stay in Takayama

Takayama is a great place to try a traditional Ryokan hotel. We stayed one night at the classic Yamakyu Ryokan, one of the most affordable Ryokans in Japan. There you can have a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast and have Onsen/ hot spring bath.
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If you want, hire a bike and bike out to the Teddy Bear Museum and Hida Folk Village just outside of Takayama center.

⇒ Read more about Yamakyu Ryokan hotel here: https://nerdnomads.com/staying-in-ryokan

⇒ Read more about Takayama Teddy Bear Museum here: https://nerdnomads.com/takayama_teddy_bear_museum

9. Kyoto (H) – Day 10, 11 and 12 (3 nights)

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Kimono dressed girls in the bamboo forest in Kyoto

There are plenty to see and do in this amazing city, like going for a stroll through the magic bamboo forest and walk under thousands of bright red torii gates at Fushimi-Inari Shrine.

Trust me; time will fly in this big city, so if you have a few days more, spend them in Kyoto. Stay three nights in Kyoto.

Where to stay in Kyoto

We stayed at Century Hotel Kyoto, which is located right by the main train station making it easy to get around the city. Our floor had recently been refurbished, and we loved everything about this hotel, especially their comfortable beds and fast wifi.
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⇒ Read more about Kyoto Bamboo Forest here: https://nerdnomads.com/bamboo-grove-kyoto

⇒ Read more about Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto here: https://nerdnomads.com/fushimi-inari-shrine


10. Hiroshima and Miyajima Island (I) – Day 13

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Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

Take an early morning train from Kyoto to Hiroshima (2 hours) and spend the day visiting the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, and head out to Miyajima Island to see the floating torii gate.

In the evening, take a late train to Nara (3,5 hours). Spend the night in Nara.

⇒ Read more about Hiroshima here: https://nerdnomads.com/peace-memorial-ceremony-hiroshima

⇒ Read more about what to see in Miyajima Island here: https://nerdnomads.com/miyajima-island

11. Nara (J) – Day 14 (1 night)

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The amazing Todai-ji, Nara’s star attraction. It houses the great Buddha.

Nara is home to the greatest Buddha image in Japan and is Japans first permanent capital. Visit some of the oldest and biggest temples in Japan, and feed and cuddle the deer that walks freely around the city and temples.

Head back to Tokyo in the evening (4 hours) and enjoy the extraordinary cuisine that Tokyo has to offer on your last nights out in this great metropole.

Where to stay in Nara

Super Lohas JR Nara Eki
The chick budget hotel Super Lohas JR Nara Eki is great, located right at the JR Nara Train Station. Staying at this modern hotel puts you within walking distance to all the sights and temples in Nara. Breakfast is included, and there is a huge Supermall in the floor below the hotel. The hotel´s free Onsen/ hot spring is bliss. An extra plus is the hotel’s fast and reliable wifi.
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Nara Hotel
The beautiful wooden Nara Hotel was built in 1909. This famous hotel sits on top of a hill and offers a panoramic view of the city’s historic culture. It is located next to the lovely Nara Park with deer walking around freely. You can choose between staying in the old or new wing. The old wing feels like stepping back in time to the old Samurai period of Japan. The new wing gives you a renovated and bigger room with a bit more comfort. Some rooms even have a fireplace. The breakfast is great too.
Click here for latest prices.

The End

That`s it, our recommended 14 days itinerary to see the best of Japan. It is a quite busy itinerary. If you want to take things a bit slower, you can cut down on the temples and shrines and choose either Nikko or Nara and not both. You can also skip both of them as you will be able to see plenty of shrines and temples in Kyoto and Tokyo. Then you can put in an extra day or two in Kyoto or Tokyo.

If castles are more your thing rather than temples, then you should visit the beautiful bright white Himeji Castle on your way from Kyoto to Hiroshima/Miyajima Island. To be honest, we got a bit “templed out” in the end doing this itinerary, so skipping a few temples might be a good idea. 🙂

This itinerary can also easily be expanded to suit a three-week trip; that would give you more breaks from traveling, and more time to enjoy each place.

Japan is expensive compared to other Asian countries, but it is possible to travel this country cheaply. To cut down on your travel expenses, we highly recommend that you buy a Japan Rail pass. A Japan Rail Pass gives you almost unlimited use of Japans world class train network. You can purchase your JR Rail Pass online from official JR Pass vendors such as www.jrailpass.com.

We made this itinerary to help you explore Japan on your own, but if you would rather go with someone then G Adventures have several tours of Japan that look really cool. You can click here to see all of G Adventures upcoming Japan tours.

⇒ Read our tips and tricks on how to save money on your travels in Japan: https://nerdnomads.com/expensive-japan-travel-cheap

⇒ Check out our guide on what to eat in Japan: https://nerdnomads.com/japanese-food

BONUS: We have made a free printable PDF and ePUB version of this two week Japan travel itinerary. Perfect to print or carry on your iPad!

⇒ CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS FREE JAPAN PDF ITINERARY ⇐

What To Bring To Japan

Japan is a great place to shop so you don't need to bring much from home. There are however some essentials that you should have in your bag.

  • Japan Rail Pass Voucher - If you are planning on traveling around Japan by train, a Japan Rail Pass will most likely save you a lot of money.  It's available for unlimited train travel for either 7, 14 or 21 days.

Click here to check prices and order the Japan Rail Pass online

  • Travel Insurance - Many Japanese hospitals will refuse to treat you if you don’t have a valid travel insurance. With travel insurance costing just a few dollars a day and potentially saving you thousands of dollars if something happens, you really can't go wrong.  We've used World Nomads in the past, and they offer an excellent service for backpackers, vacationers and short-term travelers alike.

Click here to get a quote on travel insurance from World Nomads

  • Travel Power adapter - Make sure you can use your electronic devices in Japan by bringing a travel power adapter. Our favorite is the FosPower Fuse. It is small and light, can charge USB devices, and it works in more than 150 countries.
  • Hand sanitizer - Japanese restrooms are usually spotless but very often lack soap. Bring some hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
  • A small towel - A mini-towel in your bag for drying your hands is very useful. In most restrooms, in spite of their extreme cleanliness, there are no paper towels. Carrying a mini towel with you is a very typical Japanese thing to do.
  • Name and address of your hotel in Japanese - Many Japanese don't speak or read much English so be sure to bring the name and address of your hotel in both English and Japanese letters. Most hotels also have a taxi card that you can get at reception.
  • Camera - Don't forget a camera to document your adventures around Japan! Check out our article on what we pack in our camera bag.

Have you been to Japan? If so, do you agree that these are the highlights of Japan? What is your recommended two weeks itinerary for Japan? We would love to hear your opinion in the comment area below. Thanks! 🙂 

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Maria

Maria

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd, who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a masters degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. See our about page for more about Maria.
Maria

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