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DAY 1-2: TOKYO
How to Get There
Tokyo has two airports – Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. Narita is for international flights and Haneda is for domestic flights and a few international flights.
The JR Narita Express train is the fastest option for getting to the city center. It goes to JR Shinjuku Station, JR Tokyo Station, JR Ikebukuro Station, JR Shinagawa, and JR Yokohama Station. Follow the signs in the terminal to the train.
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can use it for this train. If you don’t, you can purchase a ticket for around 3310 yen. The journeys are about 50 minutes to get to Tokyo station. From there, you can buy another ticket to take one of the inner city lines to your hotel.
The Airport Limousine Bus is another option, and probably the most convenient. The ticket desk is straight ahead as you leave the arrivals area. The bus stops are just outside the terminal building. You can go to Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Disneyland, and major hotels, and they leave every fifteen minutes. A ticket costs 3000 yen, and the journey is 1.5 hours.
Once you arrive, you’ll want to use HyperDia to figure out your train travel within Tokyo. It displays a detailed timetable and compares routes and prices. It’s available for both iPhone and Android.
What To Do in Tokyo
While you could easily spend 7 or more days just in Tokyo, you’ll have to do the abbreviated version in order to see more of the country. We recommend following this 3-day Tokyo itinerary. You can mix and match what you do, to suit your interests.
Top things to see in Tokyo include:
Tokyo Sky Tower
Tsukiji Fish Market (read more about it here)
Shibuya Crossing at Shibuya Station
Meiji Jingu Shrine
The Imperial Palace East Gardens
Senso-Ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple
We also recommend participating in a tea ceremony, going on an Izakaya food tour, and taking a cooking class. You’ll definitely want to indulge in some ramen, which can be found in abundance at Tokyo Station Ramen Street.
Where to Stay in Tokyo: We recommend the Intercontinental The Strings Tokyo Hotel. It’s a really large hotel with nice rooms, located in Shinagawa, which is really close to shopping, eating, and transportation. You can catch the bullet train to your next location at Shinagawa station, which is just a quick walk away. ⇒ Read reviews on Trip Advisor.
DAY 3: HAKONE/MT. FUJI
How to Get There
Hakone and Mt. Fuji are very close together, and they are on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, so it’s a stop that most travelers make. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, hop on the Shinkansen – on the Tokaido line – from Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Odawara. Be sure to check the stops on the train you’re getting on to make sure they stop in Odawara.
If you’re not using a rail pass, the quickest direct route to Hakone from Tokyo is on the Odakyu Electric Railway Romancecar. You will depart from Shinjuku Station and arrive at Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours. A ticket costs 2,080 yen, including the limited express surcharge. Be sure you only get on the romance cards, as the others require a transfer.
If you’re going to be using transportation in and around Hakone for at least 2 days, the Hakone Freepass is a good idea. You buy it at Shinjuku for the train ride, and it also can be used on the Hakone Tozan Line trains, the Hakone Tozan Cable Car, the Hakone Tozan Ropeway, and buses. It’s valid for two days and costs 5,140 yen for adults and 1,500 yen for children.
What to Do in Hakone
The major reason people come to this area is for Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi, two very beautiful natural highlights of the area. Hakone is also famous for its traditional hot springs (onsen) and Ryokan. This is the place to go if you want to experience these hot baths. The onsens are separated by gender and are a “no bathing suit” style traditional bath.
Here are a few things you’ll want to do in Hakone:
Take the cable car to see Mt. Fuji
Hakone open-air museum
Hakone Yumoto hot springs
Owakudani – an active volcano
Where to Stay in Hakone:
Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort and Spa is within walking distance of the cable car that takes you toward Mt. Fuji. The hotel has very nice, classy rooms, with great views. ⇒ Read reviews on Trip Advisor.
We also recommend Hakone Mount View for a traditional Japanese ryokan experience with nice accommodations and good food. They have a rare volcanic hot spring called Nigori-you – a fun and unique experience, especially for couples. ⇒ Read reviews on Trip Advisor.
DAY 4: KYOTO
How to Get There
You will leave from Odawara Station and continue on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line to Kyoto Station. This is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. It takes about 3:15 to get there.
The best way to get around Kyoto is by using public transportation, You can get an Icoca card, which is accepted on most trains and buses around the city. If you’re going to be traveling around a lot in a day, consider getting a 1-day pass that will save you money. Most tourists won’t travel around enough to make this worth it, however.
What to See in Kyoto
Kyoto is known for its temples, kaiseki cuisine, and even tofu, so this is an excellent place to spend a few days immersed in a fascinating culture.
You’ll want to see the temples of Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Golden Temple, visit Nishiki Market, see the geishas walking around the city center, and go to a traditional kaiseki dinner.
Another way to experience the cuisine is to take a cooking class. AirKitchen matches you with dozens of locals who will show you the ins and outs of Japanese cooking in their own kitchen
Here’s a 3-day Kyoto itinerary that will get you to all the major sights in the city. If you have more time to spend, expand your trip with these day trips from Kyoto.
Where to Stay in Kyoto:
We recommend the Hyatt Regency because it has a reliable standard for Western accommodations, however, it’s not as close to the main sights as we’d like to be. We found it more convenient to stay near Kyoto Station since everywhere we visited we needed to go in and out of there. Our preferred hotel is the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. Have a look at all Kyoto hotels for comparison.
DAY 5: KYOTO
If you’re happy to keep hanging out in Kyoto, you can spend the full day there following our 3-day itinerary. Another option is to take a JR train to Nara Park to feed the roaming deer, see the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, and one of the tallest pagodas in Japan. You can easily spend a full day in the Nara area, or split the time between the two.
In the evening, take the JR train onward to Osaka, so you can get an early start in Osaka.
DAY 6: OSAKA
How to Get There
There are many routes you can take on the train to get from Kyoto to Osaka. Take a look at this article for more guidance on your particular situation. If you have a JR pass, you’ll want to take the super fast Shinkansen train from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka. It takes just 12 minutes. If you don’t have a JR Pass, you can take the Special Rapid Service on the JR Kyoto Line to Shin-Osaka for a third of the price in 23 minutes.
Since it doesn’t take long to make this transfer, we recommend doing the transfer in the evening and staying overnight in Osaka, so you can get an early start on your sightseeing in Osaka.
What to Do in Osaka
Osaka is a lively port city packed with interesting architecture, an incredible street food scene, buzzing nightlife, and cherry-blossom trees that bring color to the city in the spring. We have a 2-day Osaka itinerary that you’ll want to follow to be sure you see it all.
Here are some top sights to see in Osaka:
• Osaka Castle and Park
• Shopping in Shinsaibashi
• Osaka Aquarium
• Tempozan Ferris Wheel
• Umeda Sky Building
• Universal Studios Osaka
• Shinsekai shopping area
Be sure to visit Dotonbori Street to try all the Japanese specialties, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. It’s best after 8 pm when the street gets packed with people and becomes exciting. If you have time, also visit the food-focused Kuromon Ichiba Market.
Where to Stay in Osaka: One of my favorite hotels is the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel. It is conveniently located for transportation, so you can easily get around to the top sights in Osaka and beyond. It’s got an insane view and really comfortable rooms. ⇒ Read reviews of the Osaka Marriott on Trip Advisor.
You may have to fly or take the train back to Tokyo on your 7th day in order to fly back home, but if you have one more day to spend, we recommend taking the 30-minute train ride to Kobe.
DAY 7: KOBE
The beef was served with salt, pepper, and fried garlic slices