If you read our Japan on a budget post, you know we absolutely LOVED Japan. For first time visitors, 2 weeks in Japan is the perfect amount of time to explore the country. Japan is a huge country and obviously needs a lot of time to really explore the whole country, but 2 weeks in Japan will give you be a good feel of how wonderful of a place Japan really is. However, because there is so much to see, It can be very challenging to set up your Japan itinerary. I think I spent 3 months trying to plan it all out. So hopefully this itinerary will give you some guidance for planning your 2 weeks in Japan. Keep in mind, this itinerary is pretty jam-packed. If you like to travel a little bit more relaxed and at a slower pace, we recommend you remove a few things or spend more nights in one place to accommodate your style. This 2 week itinerary is a good mixture of main cities and some that are a little bit more low-key, but definitely worth a visit for first-time visitors. While we understand not everyone can take as long off work, 14 days in Japan seems to be the perfect amount of time for first-time visitors to Japan. It’s enough time to explore lots of cities, but it’s not too long away from home.
What You'll Find in This Post
- 1 Best Time to Visit Japan
- 2 Helpful Things to Have for Japan
- 3 Tips for First Time Visitors
- 4 2 Weeks in Japan Itinerary
- 5 Transportation around Japan
- 6 Packing for Japan
- 7 2 weeks in Japan Budget
Best Time to Visit Japan
There is no bad time to visit Japan. Each season has its perks, and it also depends on what area you will be visiting. Spring and fall tend to be milder, making them the best time to visit Japan due to weather. Here are some perks of traveling in different seasons in Japan.
- The spring is a popular time as the cherry blossoms are blooming, which also makes it a bit more expensive and harder to find accommodations.
- The summer can be very hot and its the peak for typhoon season. If you want to climb Mt. Fuji this is the time to do it.
- The fall brings beautiful fall colors and mild temperatures.
- The winter usually means cooler weather, fewer people, and possibly snow. The prices are generally the cheapest during this time too. If you want to go to the mountain or visit the snow monkeys, the winter is best.
Helpful Things to Have for Japan
JR rail pass- A Japan Rail pass is a good option if you will be traveling as mcuh we did. The JR rail pass is expensive, but it’s worth it if you have lots of long train rides. The rail pass is only available in 7, 14, or 21-day increments, so make sure to do the calculations on if it is worth it or not. For our itinerary, we only used a 7-day rail pass, and then used the local buses and trains the other days.
The Japan Rail Pass is the best place to order your rail pass. You’ll typically receive the order between 24 and 48 hours. You MUST buy the pass BEFORE coming to Japan and only if you are on a tourist visa. Use this to purchase your JR rail pass online and it will be sent to your house. Then once you are in Japan, you will exchange the voucher for the actual rail pass and then activate when you are ready to use.
Prepaid IC card- The Suica/Pasmo card is a great addition to the rail pass or can be used without the rail pass The IC card can be used as tickets. You just load up the card and scan them when using a bus, train, or even at shops or vending machines.
Pocket Wifi– A pocket wifi is essential when traveling in Japan because it allows you to have a wireless connection anywhere! This saved us so much as we used our phones a lot for directions, transportation, and even translating. It’s easy to order before you go, pick it up at the airport, and drop off before you leave. We used ninja-wifi and loved it!
Tips for First Time Visitors
- Have a plan but don’t jam pack it too much. There is so much to see and do that it can be easy to fill up your days too much and then you’ll just get exhausted. We tried to balance our super busy days followed by a low-key relaxed day.
- If you have a Japan rail pass, use it as much as possible! The rail pass is so convenient because you just show your pass at the gate. This means you can essentially go wherever you want on the Japanese rail system, whenever you want. You will need to book tickets on the shinkansen though!
- Keep a bag with you for trash. When you’re walking around Japan, you may notice that there are no garbage cans. Which is so strange, because Japan is also EXTREMELY CLEAN! We found it was nice to keep a leftover 7-11 bag with us to put our trash in, and then dumped it all at once. We generally found train stations, convenience stores, and vending machines to have trash cans.
- On a few of our day trips, we found it easiest to use the luggage lockers. Most of the main train stations had places where you could lock your luggage for the day, which was super handy. Typically the lockers were 300 yen (small), 400 yen (medium), and 500-600 yen (large).
- If you plan to do a lot of traveling around, we suggest packing light. We packed everything in a backpack, which means we had less to haul around, it also meant we were able to fit in smaller luggage lockers!
2 Weeks in Japan Itinerary
Here is how we spent our 2 weeks in Japan:
- Days 1-4: Tokyo
- Days 4-5: Mt Fuji
- Days 5-7: Takayama
- Days 7-9: Kanazawa
- Days 9-13: Kyoto (Nara and Osaka)
- Days 13-14: Tokyo
4 Days in Tokyo
Most people will be arriving in Tokyo, so Tokyo is a good starting base for your 2 weeks in Japan itinerary. We recommend spending 4 days here, as you’ll probably be a little jet-lagged the first day, and there’s also plenty to see and do in Tokyo.
How to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport
Narita airport is not actually IN Tokyo, it’s actually 44 miles (70 km) east of Tokyo. But Narita International is the more popular airport, especially for international flights. Getting to Tokyo can be a little confusing because there are a lot of options. Getting into Tokyo can take anywhere from 53-90 minutes (after you’ve cleared customs and immigration), so keep that in mind when you are arriving in Tokyo.
The quickest way to get to Tokyo from the airport is the Narita Express. The Narita Express takes 53 minutes to Tokyo station. You can use your JR rail pass for the Narita Express, or you can book separately. The Narita Express is fast and easy. It will drop you off at Tokyo station, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and more. A one-way ticket on the Narita Express is 3190 yen ($29 USD). A roundtrip is definitely cheaper, at only 4000 yen. Or, if you’re ready to use your JR rail pass, activate the pass and use that for the Narita Express.
The cheapest way to get to Tokyo from Narita airport is the Keisei Bus. The Keisei bus may be the cheapest option from Narita but it’s also one of the longest routes. The bus is only $14USD/one way but it takes nearly 90 minutes to get to Tokyo or Ginza.
If you want to get into Tokyo as fast as possible, take the Keisei Skyliner. Keisei Skyliner goes from Narita to Ueno in 41 minutes. The price of a one-way ticket is only $23 USD.
Airport Shuttle Bus
If you don’t want to have to navigate the airport and transportation after a long travel day, book the airport shuttle bus. It’s a door-to-door service the main 23 wards of Tokyo city including hotels, apartments, and Airbnb. While it is pretty expensive, at $91/person, you won’t have to worry about a thing.
Best Things to do in Tokyo
- Harajuku- Harajuku is full of Japanese fashion, with hundreds of chic and stylish boutiques and trendy shopping malls. If you are looking for trendy and colorful fashion items, visit Harajuku. There are also a bunch of street food stands, with crepes, cotton candy, and more.
** visit Reissue in Harajuku for some awesome 2D and 3D coffee art
- Shibuya – Shibuya is known as Tokyo’s trendiest district, with tons of shopping malls, discount stores, bars, clubs, and restaurants. Shibuya is filled with bright lights and lots going on. And of course, the Shibuya crossing is a must-see. This crossing is used by half a million people DAILY! We suggest going to the Starbucks above Shibuya crossing for a cool view from above. (You must buy something at the Starbucks, and it is busy!)
- Roppongi nightlife – If you’re looking for some nightlife in Tokyo, Roppongi is where it’s at. You’ll find streets filled with bars, pubs, and different clubs.
- Tokyo Skytree – (Entrance fee: 1030 yen- 2060 yen) The Sky tree is the tallest building in Tokyo and has 2 observation decks. On a clear day, you can see most of Tokyo for the observation decks. Skip the lines for a faster experience.
- Super Mario Kart racing – (8000-9000 yen/person) Ride around Tokyo in a go-cart for a different view of the city. You’ll need an international driving license and then you can race through the streets of Tokyo, like the video game, Mario Kart.
- Imperial Palace – (Free entrance) The Imperial Palace is home to the emperor of Japan and is surrounded by parks and gardens. There are organized tours of the inside for free but it does require registration. We got lucky and were able to register the day of, but if you’re traveling during peak season, we suggest signing up earlier.
- Ginza district – The Ginza district is Tokyo’s most famous upscale shopping, dining, and entertainment district. If you’re looking for a little luxury, visit Ginza.
- Robot restaurant – (entrance fee is 8000 yen/person, with food additional 1000-1500 yen) The robot restaurant is one of the most popular attractions in Tokyo. While it can be a bit bizarre, the show combines robots, dancers, drums, and lots of loud music for an incredibly entertaining dinner. It’s incredibly high tech and definitely a completely unique experience.
- Sumo wrestling – Sumo is a national sport in Japan, and you can watch a sumo match or practice while you’re in Tokyo. While the tournaments are a good time to watch sumo, there are only 3 in Tokyo a year. If your time schedule doesn’t match up, you can book a time to watch them practice at a sumo stall near Asakusa.
** for a FREE view of Tokyo, visit the observation decks of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku**
Optional Day Trips from Tokyo
It is possible to visit Mt. Fuji and surrounding areas on a day trip from Tokyo, but we recommend staying overnight. Seeing Mt Fuji can be hit or miss due to the clouds covering the mountain. We found that the chances of seeing Mt Fuji tend to be better earlier in the morning, so we wanted to stay overnight. However, that doesn’t mean you will be able to see the mountain. Check the weather forecast and then go for it. Seeing Mt. Fuji was the best part of our trip!
Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are a must for Disney lovers. The parks are located in Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo, plus you’ll want to spend a good amount of time here so it deserves its own day trip. You’ll want to arrive early to avoid waiting in lines all day.
Nagano can be a long day trip from Tokyo but it’s worth it. The snow monkeys of Jigokudani are found in the north of Nagano. Getting to Nagano station takes about 90 minutes on the Shinkansen, but then you’ll need to change trains in Nagano to get to Yudanaka Station, which is another 50 minutes. This means you’ll need to plan for at least 2.5 hours to get to Nagano, and then another 2.5 to get back. It’s easy to get to Jigokudani on your own, or you can book a tour for a stressfree journey.
Where to stay in Tokyo
Because Tokyo is so big, it’s hard to pick exactly where you should stay as it depends on what you want to see. We recommend finding a hotel that is centrally located and close to the JR Yamanote line. Tokyo station, Shinjuku, and Shibuya are popular areas to stay because there is so much to see and do, and it’s easy to get to other areas in Tokyo.
- Shiba Park Hotel – close to the Tokyo Tower, great for families as they have rooms that sleep up to 4, close to the public transportation
- Park Hotel Tokyo – close to the Tokyo Tower, with large picture windows and great views of Tokyo, and close to the subway
- The Millennials Shibuya – located in Shibuya, affordable capsule rooms in a great location
- Hilton Tokyo – located in Shinjuku, in a high-rise neighborhood, with great views of the city.
1 Day in Mt. Fuji
On the morning of day 4, take the bus from Shibuya to Mt Fuji. While Mt Fuji can be done as a day trip from Tokyo, it deserves its own trip. Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and is a sight to see! Mt Fuji can be an easy day trip from Tokyo, but we recommend spending at least one night near Mt Fuji. We recommend staying in Kawaguchiko as it has good views of Mount Fuji and offers easy access to and from.
If you don’t want to spend the night near Mt Fuji, we recommend a day tour from Tokyo because Mt Fuji shouldn’t be missed.
Getting to Mt Fuji from Tokyo
There is a highway bus from Shinjuku and Shibuya to the Mt Fuji area, including Kawaguchiko and Fuji-Q Highland. From the Shinjuku Expressway Terminal, the bus takes 2 hours to get to Kawaguchiko station and costs 1950 yen for a one-way ticket.
Best Things to do near Mt. Fuji
- Climb Mt Fuji – The official climbing season of Mt Fuji is from July 1st to September 14th. It takes the average person 5-7 hours to climb Mt Fuji from the Subaru Fifth Station, and another 3-5 hours to descend.
- Visit Fuji five lakes – There are 5 lakes that surround Mount Fuji. All of the lakes offer good places to view Mt Fuji or good starting points if you plan to climb Mt. Fuji.
- Ide Sake Brewery – The one and only sake brewery in the area using Mt Fuji spring water since 1840. We stumbled upon the brewery after the tour already started but the owner was kind enough to give us our own private sake tasting.
- The sake tour takes place every day at 9:30 am and 3 pm for 500 yen
- The sake tasting is 300 yen
- Chureito Pagoda – Possibly the best spot for viewing Mt Fuji and has wonderful cherry blossoms in the spring. Its a 5 story pagoda, overlooking Fujiyoshida City and Mount Fuji. You’ll need to walk up nearly 400 steps to get to the top.
- From Kawaguchiko station, take the Mount Fuji World Heritage Loop bus. The bus takes only 15 minutes TO Chureito Pagoda but takes 45 minutes to get back to Kawaguchiko station. We just rented bikes and rode to the Pagoda.
- Fuji Q highland – (Admission is free, individual rides cost between 400-1500 yen) located near Mt Fuji is an amusement park, known for its elaborate anime-themed rides and record-breaking roller coasters. If you’re traveling to Mt Fuji with kids, this would be a great stop.
- Fuji Shibazakura festival – (entrance fee 600 yen for adults, 250 yen for children) The festival contains 800000 shibazakura, or moss phlox, that are blooming in the spring. The flowers are red, pink, white and purple in color and grow from the ground, which gives it the nickname “lawn cherry”. The dates vary but usually from April-May.
Where to stay in Kawaguchiko
- If you want to stay near Mount Fuji and are on a tight budget, check out K’s House backpackers hostel
- We stayed at Maruyaso, which has a great view of Mount Fuji from the room, separate onsens, and for a great price!
- If you’re looking to splurge, Fuji Lake Hotel is located right on Lake Kawaguchi with a gorgeous view of Fujisan
- If you’re looking for a traditional ryokan while you’re in Kawaguchiko try Fujikawaguchiko Onsen Konanso or Shuhokaku Kogetsu
2 Days in Takayama
We really wanted to make a visit up towards the Japanese Alps, and while there are tons of cities that crossed our minds a bunch, we ended up visiting Takayama and Kanazawa. This area is just far enough away from Tokyo and Kyoto, that many first time visitors don’t make time for it, but this is also our favorite area of Japan that we have visited!
Getting to Takayama from Mt. Fuji
- We took the Fujikyuko bus (5000 yen ($45 USD) one way) from Mt Fuji to Takayama. The bus leaves from Mt Fuji station and Kawaguchiko station. We bought our tickets inside Kawaguchiko station. Travel time takes 5 hours.
- If you are using the JR pass, we found the easiest route would be to go back to Tokyo, and then board the Shinkansen to Takayama with a transfer at Nagoya.
- Note: this route takes about 7 hours from Tokyo (you’ll want to include 2 more hours for the bus ride back from Mt. Fuji to Tokyo)
Best Things to do in Takayama
Takayama is in the mountainous region of Hida, an authentic traditional older Japanese village filled with charm. It’s in the Hida mountains, which makes the ride to Takayama very scenic. Most of the town is full of latticed wooden buildings. Takayama was one of our favorite towns to visit, mostly for its laid-back atmosphere and traditional Japanese charm. Even though we were in Japan in early April, which is usually the perfect time for the cherry blossoms, we missed them in Tokyo. Because Takayama is higher in the mountains, they bloomed later, so we were able to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Takayama, after missing Sakura in Tokyo.
- Miyagawa Morning Market – right along the river, with locals selling agricultural products along with snacks, flowers and more.
- Takayama Sanmachi (Takayama Old Town) – the old town is lined with rows of old wooden latticed buildings. We walked around old town early in the morning, which was perfect for photos as there was hardly anyone out.
- Takayama Matsuri festival – Held April 14-15 and October 9-10, this festival is one of the best in Japan. There are 11 gorgeous floats pulled throughout town. If you aren’t visiting Takayama during the festival dates, you can view the floats at the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition hall.
- Hida no Sato (Hida Folk Village) – (entrance fee 700 yen) 2km west of Takayama station is an open-air museum of traditional thatched houses taken from central Japan and reconstructed. The houses are own a gorgeous property, spread out around a pond. You can walk around and even enter some of the houses, which are kept in their original conditions. You’ll find various kinds of daily tools and articles on display inside each house, which makes it easy to imagine how life was in old days.
- Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine – This is the oldest shrine in Takayama, dating back to the 4th century.
- Sake brewery – sake is one of Takayama’s specialties. There are many sake breweries to sample local sake.
- Optional Day trip to Shirakawa-go – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses in the area
- Eat Hida-dyu beef – this is a type of Japanese beef from central Japan. Takayama is one of the best places for Hida beef. We choose to splurge on a nice Hida beef meal here, and we only paid 5000 yen ($45 USD) for the two of us.
- Try the Chuka soba- this is Takayama’s version of ramen – when visiting Japan you’ll learn that each prefecture has its own style of ramen, we recommend trying it all. This was one of our favorite styles of ramen that we tried in Japan. We loved Menya Shirakawa for the ramen.
Where to stay in Takayama
We decided to splurge on a ryokan while in Takayama. Because we tried to visit Japan on a budget, we actually split our time between a hostel and an upscale ryokan. There are lots of great hotel options located close to Takayama station.
- Relax Hostel Takayama Station – A clean, budget hotel in a great location. There is a nice shared lounge and bar, with small breakfast options. They have mixed dorms, same-sex dorms, and private room options. Although it is a hostel, it’s super clean, and we had no issues with noise even in a mixed dorm.
- Takayama Ouan – A Japanese style hotel looks like a hotel but the rooms are Japanese style, with beds, and rooftop private onsens. The onsens at the top of the hotel definitely make this hotel worth it. There are 3 private onsens, each with a view of the city. You can’t make reservations, it’s on a first-come basis. There are also public onsens in each locker room.
2 Days in Kanazawa
Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and is known as the little Kyoto. Kanazawa has adorable historic streets, beautiful gardens, and castles. Kanazawa is often missed by first-time visitors to Japan, but we think it deserves to be our your list. It’s worth the extra time away from the popular areas of Kyoto and Tokyo.
How to get from Takayama to Kanazawa
This is when we started using our 7 day Japan rail pass and used it through the rest of the trip. If you have the JR pass, you’ll want to take the limited express Hida train from Takayama to Toyama, then get on a Hokuriku Shinkansen from Toyama to Kanazawa. You’ll be traveling through the mountains and the views are gorgeous. Travel time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Best Things to do in Kanazawa
- Higashi Chaya area – this is Kanazawa’s biggest and most famous geisha districts. The area is full of charming geisha houses. Get there early as most things close by 5 pm. We recommend going early in the day, as it’s a popular area during the day.
- Omicho Market – (free admission) similar to Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. the Omicho market is packed with stalls of locally caught seafood, fruit, vegetables, and more.
- Kenroku-en Garden – (admission fee: adult 310 yen, child 100 yen) almost 29 acres, Kenroku-en Garden is thought to be one of Japan’s more beautiful gardens. It’s super peaceful and has gorgeous grounds, you can just walk around and find things to enjoy.
- Kanazawa castle – (free entrance) an impressive castle and grounds, where you can walk through gates and enjoy the views
- 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – a cool museum in the middle of Kanazawa, with underwater pool
- Gold leaf museum – Kanazawa is the largest producer of gold leaf in all of Japan. The museum shows all the intricacies of producing a gold leaf.
- try some gold leaf ice cream while you’re in Kanazawa
- Oriental Brewing – being from the Pacific Northwest, we love craft beer, so we were so excited when we stumbled upon a craft brewery in Kanazawa. We drank too many beers here, but it’s delicious! A good change of pace from the lighter, local beer.
Day Trip from Kanazawa to Shirakawago
Shirakawa-go is a scenic mountain village known for its traditional architecture. Shirakawago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and can be reached by bus from Kanazawa. Shirakawago is known for the traditional farmhouses with steep triangular framed roofs. The houses are built without any nails. When visiting Shirakawago, Ogimachi is the largest village, with an open-air museum which has 26 farmhouses, waterfall, shrines, and a temple. The buildings in the museum were all relocated to preserve them. Entry is 600 yen.
Take the Hokutetsu highway bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawa-go. You can plan to visit Shirakawago between Takayama or Kanazawa or do a day trip from either city, as it’s about an hour between the two.
Where to Stay in Kanazawa
Kanazawa is a fairly compact city, with everything relatively close together, so it doesn’t matter too much where you stay. We choose to stay between Kanazawa castle and Higashi Chaya district which was a great area to get around to a lot of attractions.
- Emblem Stay Kanazawa – This hostel is in a great location only a 5-minute walk from Kanazawa castle, with a shared lounge, bar, and restaurant. Has different room options including dorm rooms, rooms with shared bathrooms, or private rooms with a kitchen. Very clean and friendly staff!
- Hotel Nikko – If you’re looking for luxury, all the rooms at Hotel Nikko are located above the 17th floor, which means beautiful panoramic views. Rooms include air-conditioning, flat screen tv, and private bathroom.
4 days in Kyoto (including day trips to Nara and Osaka)
Kyoto used to be Japan’s capital, but it still deserves at least a couple of days during your first trip to Japan. Kyoto is full of cultural experiences, shrines, temples, geishas, and gardens. Kyoto and Osaka are so close, we recommend staying in one city and traveling to the other for the day.
How to get from Kanazawa to Kyoto
With your JR rail pass, you can take the limited express thunderbird from Kanazawa to Kyoto, which takes a little over 2 hours.
Things to do in Kyoto
- Kiyomizu-Dera Temple – (entrance fee 400 yen) this temple is known for his wooden stage that juts out from the side (this is currently under construction until 2020). To get to the temple, walk up Gojozaka, the main street that leads you to the temple. It is a busy street with lots of vendors along the way to stop and shop. The temple allows for a great view of the city.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine – (no entrance fee) this shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which follows a trail up to the sacred Mount Inari. The trails can be very busy, but keep walking up the path, and you’ll find yourself away from the crowds. The hike up to the top can take about 2-3 hours, but you don’t have to go all the way to the top.
- This is open 24 hours so go really early in the morning or late at night for fewer people
- Gion district at night – Kyoto’s entertainment district is best seen at night, you may be able to see a Geisha here too. You’ll find theaters, temples, and shrines around Gion.
- Kinkaku-Ji Temple – (entrance fee 400 yen) – Named the golden temple, the top two levels of the temple are completely covered in gold leaf. Kinkaku-Ji is built over a pond, so if the weather is good, you’ll see the reflection of the temple in the water.
- Nishiki Market – the best traditional food market in the city. Nishiki market is a 5 block long shopping street with more than 100 shops and restaurants. You’ll find fresh seafood, produce, pickles, Japanese sweets and more.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – (free) One of Kyoto’s most photographed attractions, Walking along the bamboo makes it feel like you’re in another world.
- Open 24 hours so come early if you want a photo without others in it.
- Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – (550 yen) After your done strolling through the bamboo grove, keep walking to visit the Monkeys. The monkeys are wild, and it’s strongly encouraged to NOT stare into the monkey’s eyes, but you’ll have a chance to feed them (you go into a cage, while the monkeys are still outside in the wild). You do need to walk up a pretty big hill to get to the monkey park, but you’ll have an incredible view at the top.
** Kyoto was one of the places we ended up taking the bus a lot. Be prepared to spend a little longer getting around from place to place because the bus will stop often as all of the locals take the bus, and there will most likely be a ton of people on the bus too!
Day trip to Nara
Nara is only 30 minutes away by train, so you could combine Nara with some other things in Kyoto if you want. Most people like to spend a whole day in Nara, as there are beautiful temples and shrines to explore. If nothing else, go to Nara to experience the deer!
Best Things to do in Nara
- Nara-Koen park – (free admission) even before you enter the park, you will see many semi-wild deer wandering the streets. There are over 1200 wild deer roaming freely. The deer are respected by the locals and treated as divine creatures. You can buy a pack of deer food to feed them (be aware they can be a little aggressive when you have food) or even take a selfie with them. The park is open 24 hours, and you’ll be able to see deer at all hours of the day.
- Todaiji temple- (600 yen entry fee) this temple is one of Japan’s must-see attractions. Todaiji’s main hall is the world’s largest wooden building, which houses a huge Buddha statue that stands 15 meters tall. You’ll also see some deer here because it’s so close to Nara-Koen park.
- Open 7:30am-5:30pm (8am-4:30pm in the winter)
- Kasuga-Taisha Shrine – (free admission) – the most important Shinto shrine in Nara.
- Open 6:00am-6:00pm (Apr-Sep), 6:30am-5:00pm (Oct-Mar)
How to get from Kyoto to Nara
Nara is a great day trip from Kyoto, as it’s only 45 minutes away. There are 2 ways to get from Kyoto to Nara. If you have the JR rail pass, take the JR Nara line, which takes 45 minutes. If you don’t have the JR rail pass, take the Kintetsu Nara Line, which takes 35 minutes.
Day trip to Osaka
Osaka is Japan’s 2nd biggest city, so it deserves a visit. Some people decide to stay in Osaka for a couple of days, but we planned just a day trip from Kyoto. You can choose to stay in Osaka if you want, but we choose to base ourselves in Kyoto and just spend a day in Osaka. Osaka is 14 minutes from Kyoto by Shinkansen, and 40 minutes by the private rail line. If you have the JR rail pass, you can get to Osaka from Kyoto in 14 minutes on the Shinkansen.
Best Things to do in Osaka
- Osaka castle – (free entrance) originally completed in 1597, the castle is the symbol of Osaka. While the park surrounding the castle is free to enter, there is a museum inside (with a fee) with great views of the city
- Dotonbori in the evening – Dotonbori is an eccentric mix of restaurants and bars. Visit the Dotonbori bridge, which epitomizes Osaka’s culture, to see the neon lights over the river.
- Shop – Osaka is a shopper’s paradise, the two largest shopping districts are Umeda and Namba.
- Eat good food – Osaka is known for the takoyaki (savory ball-shaped cakes), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables)
- Universal Studios – (general admission fee for 1 day 7315 yen) – if you’re a Universal Studios fan, you’ll have to visit the one in Osaka. The park features rides with new technology. Busy all year round, we recommend booking tickets early.
- Nakanoshima Park – this is Osaka’s first park and is actually on its own island between two rivers in Kitahama. A nice place to relax, try to catch the rose garden that blooms mid-May and mid-October.
- Umeda Sky Building – (entrance fee 1000 yen adults, 500 children) – The sky building is made of up two 40-story buildings connected at the top by a circular roof. There’s an inside observatory on the 39th floor, and an outside observatory on the 40th floor with 360-degree views.
Where to stay in Kyoto
Kyoto is so big it’s hard to really narrow down where you want to stay. I would recommend looking at some of the attractions and things you want to do, and see where they are located first. Once you see where things are on the map, you can decide what area to stay in. Downtown Kyoto seems to be the best place to stay because it’s central to a lot of attractions, although it can also be a little bit more expensive. It’s walking distance to a bunch of things, but also close to the subway and train station.
- Hearton Hotel – a budget hote with spacious rooms l in the middle of downtown Kyoto.
- Hotel Vista Premio – located right in heart of Kyoto near great restaturants and subway stations.
If you’re unsure where to stay in Kyoto, read more reviews and check more Kyoto hotel prices here.
1 night in Tokyo
We decided to head back to Tokyo the day before our flight left so we wouldn’t have to stress about taking the train the same day we would be flying out. We took a later Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo so we could still enjoy the day in Kyoto before traveling to Tokyo and flying out of Narita.
Transportation around Japan
Even though it can seem overwhelming, the Japanese transportation system is so easy to figure out. It is efficient and super clean. Between the local and highway buses, the train, renting a car or taking a ferry, getting around Japan is easy. We recommend using hyperdia and google maps for transportation help while in Japan. Between these two apps, we found it so easy to get around Japan.
JR rail pass
If you are in Japan long enough and will be doing a lot of traveling, we recommend getting the JR Rail pass. You can only get a rail pass if you are visiting Japan as a tourist. The rail pass allows unlimited travel on trains operated by Japan Railways. You will need to buy the rail pass BEFORE arriving in Japan
Prepaid IC cards
Getting a prepaid IC card, like SUICA or PASMO, was the second best thing we did (besides the JR rail pass). These cards are used as tickets, so you don’t have to wait in line to get tickets each time. These cards can be used on almost all trains, subways, and buses in most of Japan’s largest cities. IC cards are rechargeable that can be used for public transportation as well as vending machines, shops, and restaurants. You can buy an IC card at ticket machines and ticket counters. There is a refundable deposit of 500 yen when you purchase the card. Before you leave Japan, make sure to return your card for your deposit back.
Packing for Japan
We found it was best to pack light, since we traveled around Japan a lot, so we each brought a backpack. Try to bring clothes that can be mixed and matched. Also, you will most likely be doing some shopping while in Japan, so don’t pack those suitcases too much! Here are some things we recommend you bring:
- layers and breathable fabrics – the weather can be a little finicky, so layers work out well
- lightweight comfortable walking shoes – you will be walking A TON so make sure your feet don’t hate you!
- lightweight rain jacket – weather patterns vary across so it’s safe to bring a rain jacket just in case
- cash and credit card (yen is the easiest to use while in Japan, but have a credit card for emerency)
- powerbank – We always travel with our powerbank, so we can charge our phones while we’re out about. This is huge if you use your phones a lot.
- pocket wifi – Having a pocket wifi, or even a sim card, makes it so easy for directions and translation
- JR Rail Pass (remember to buy before you arrive in Japan)
If you have a long flight to Japan, make sure you bring these essential carry-on items for an easier long haul flight
2 weeks in Japan Budget
A lot of people assume that Japan is super expensive. And while it can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be! We traveled around Japan on a budget and were still able to do lots of things and visit lots of places. We splurged every now and then on things like a luxury hotel with a private onsen, a nice Hida beef meal, but we also ate at 7-11 and Lawson’s fairly often. For more tips on saving money while in Japan and exactly what we spent in 2 weeks in Japan, read our Japan on a budget post.
Here is a quick breakdown of our costs for 2 weeks in Japan for 2 people:
- Hotels – We spent $902.72 (13 nights), which comes out to $69.44/night
- This includes Airbnb, hostels, guesthouses and a traditional onsen
- Transportation – We spent $1016.40 for transportation for 2 weeks
- This includes our JR rail pass which was $540 for the two of us
- Food and Drink – We spent $722.96 on food and drinks in 2 weeks
- Random – We spent about $80 on random things, like entrance fees and such
Total we spent in Japan for 2 weeks (not including flights): $2722.08 Total for 14 days which comes out to $194.43/day, and only $97.22/person/day for hotels, transportation, and food and drink!
So there is our complete 2 weeks in Japan itinerary. We know it is a busy itinerary, but Japan is such an awesome country with so much to see, we felt that most first-time visitors are wanting to see a lot. If this itinerary is too much for you, we recommend taking out Takayama or Kanazawa, as you lose a bit of time with the travel, and spending more nights in Kyoto or Tokyo. Happy planning!
Are you planning a trip to Japan? We’d love to hear if you used this for your trip planning, or where your favorite spot in Japan is! Let us know if you need help planning your Japan itinerary!