Whether you're hungering for a fresh seafood dining experience or hope to explore historical temples, luxury holidays to Japan provide the ultimate escape – even outside the capital city, Tokyo. Not only can you learn about the fascinating Japanese culture, but you also get to see beautiful castles, gardens, beaches and native wildlife.

So, when is cherry blossom season in Japan? Where are the best restaurants in Kobe? And what is the architecture in Kyoto like?

Discover all of this and more with our Japan Travel Specialist Nick Upperton's guide for the best places to visit in Japan besides Tokyo.

Mount Fuji

When I travelled in March 2020, the most popular attraction in Japan I dreamed of seeing was Mount Fuji. However, it's notoriously difficult because of the weather. As the skies cleared and the sun began to shine though, the iconic active volcano presented itself in all its glory – a special memory I'll always hold onto.

If you're feeling more adventurous, the official climbing season opens from early July to mid September. Climbing Mount Fuji is no easy task, but the panoramic views of the surrounding lakes, parks and towns are well worth the challenge. Not only that, but you can visit the soothing hot springs around Mount Fuji and enjoy a much-needed soak after walking through the winding trails and paths.

So, why not discover the Best of Japan while trying to photograph Mount Fuji on a boat ride of Lake Ashi?

Fujikawaguchiko

Just a short journey from Tokyo via car, you'll discover the lovely town of Fujikawaguchiko. Home to historical monuments like the Kawaguchiko Sengen Shrine and an excellent attraction in the Panoramic Ropeway, I absolutely fell in love with the area when I stayed. In particular, Chureito Pagoda is an amazing location with stunning views of Mount Fuji and an iconic spot for taking photos of the surrounding area.

Take a boat ride out onto Lake Kawaguchiko and, if you're as lucky as I were, admire the spectacular view of Fuji and its nearby landscapes. Additionally, a spot featuring the beloved cherry blossoms can be found at the seaside promenade near Kawaguchiko Music Forest, which is magical in the autumn time.

Hakone

In the Kanagawa Prefecture, you can also marvel at exceptional Mount Fuji views during a peaceful Hakone getaway. Hakone is a more rural location famous for its hot springs, with over a dozen providing fresh hot water to the onsen and ryokan houses. Furthermore, the town is home to the excellent Hakone Open Air Museum where you can see various outdoor sculptures and art pieces in the main gallery.

During my visit, one of the best things to do in Japan that I got to experience was visiting Owakudani. While here, I tried the area's famous black eggs cooked in a hot spring pool which were simply divine. There's even a short walking trail towards various steam vents and bubbling pools you can see as well.

Afterwards, return to the luxurious Hakone Kowakien Tenyu for a quiet night's rest.

Nara

A perfect destination for nature lovers, the Japanese city of Nara is far removed from the bustling Tokyo. It's notable for its beautiful temples and historical sites as well as the Isuien Garden – a picturesque symbol of the area's tranquillity. You can also visit the deer park in Nara, Japan's home for thousands of wild deer. Here, you'll find the impressive Todaiji, which houses the country's largest Bronze Buddha.

Nara Park's cherry blossoms are in full bloom during spring. But by heading to the area during its secret shoulder season, the fiery red, orange and gold autumn colours takeover. I'd recommend taking a relaxing walk and simply admire the gorgeous foliage decorating the environment. There's nothing quite like it.

Kobe

Japanese food is divine, my favourite street food being takoyaki (octopus balls in atter takoyaki sauce and topped with mayonnaise, aonori seaweed and katsuobushi bonito fish flakes.) However, there may be no better foodie destination than the port city of Kobe. From the freshest seafood at Kako Usui to mouth-watering steak at Misono, the best restaurants in Kobe leave you fully satisfied but always craving more.

TOP TIP: Check out our Japanese Food Guide for Travellers in preparation for your next visit.

Nearby, you can go on the perfect day trip to see both Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple. Himeji Castle is a perfectly preserved relic untouched by war, earthquakes and fire disasters while Shoshazan Engyoji Temple is an atmospheric complex spread over a spacious, densely forested area.

Takayama

In the mountainous Gifu Prefecture, discover the rural towns of Takayama. There are major attractions such as the Kyozo (Scripture House), which is a national treasure, and Buddhist temples like Unryuuji, Daiouji and Sogenji. On top of this, Takayama Festival is held in spring and autumn every year.

TOP TIP: Take the train line from Nagoya to Takayama and enjoy breathtaking views of beautiful scenery.

Everything about this place is incredible. The morning markets are the ideal way to start your day while the serene Old Town and Hida Folk Village are perfect for learning about the local area's steeped past. Similarly, Matsuri no Mori is an impressive museum that showcases the key aspects of Takayama Festival. Lifesize replica floats are displayed along with karakuri dolls for demonstration performances.

Hakuba

Wonderfully located at the eastern foothills of the Northern Alps, Hakuba is a prime destination for hiking adventures. The quiet Japanese village, just three hours via car from downtown Tokyo, features a host of scenic spots for you to discover. From the white snow powdering the top of the mountain to the lush greenery growing at the bottom, it's a remarkable destination full of surprises everywhere you turn.

Whether it's trekking from Tsugaike to Mount Shirouma or around the mesmerising Jiigatake in autumn, there are many routes for you to explore. Alternatively, there are over 200 skiing runs for you to tackle. During your journeys, be sure to stop and soak in the spectacular views, especially over Azumino.

Kyoto

For something more akin to Tokyo, Kyoto city breaks provide a more relaxed experience. The major city boasts ancient cliffside temples like Kiyomizu-dera, Japanese gardens at Ryoan-ji Temple and maybe the best place for onsen in Japan – Kurama. When visiting, I adored Gion and its lovely teahouses. And while shrine hopping, I found Kinkakuji golden temple to be the pinnacle of architecture in Kyoto.

A 20-minute train ride from Kyoto Station, you'll discover Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The home of around 120 snow monkeys, this lush grove is a world in and of itself. Observing and snapping pictures of the wild monkeys surrounded by towering bamboo stalks is one of the most unique things to do in Japan.

During your visit, I'd recommend a trip to Fushimi Inari. I found this place absolutely amazing with its thousands of vermilion torii gates and a trail leading to a wooded forest area at the sacred Mount Inari. And, if you're feeling adventurous, you can hike to the top of the mountain for lovely views over Kyoto.

Then, when you're finished, retire to the luxurious Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, located in the heart of the city.

Osaka

Sumptuous local Japanese food, marvellous ancient temples, lively nightlife with fantastic karaoke; Osaka is brimming with excitement. After taking the bullet train from Kyoto, I ended up in the port city and exploring famous locations like Shinsaibashi shopping street. My favourite area, though, was Dotonbori. The iconic neon lights, charming restaurants and delicious street food make it a fabulous evening visit.

Once you're done roaming around the coastal city and enjoying a bite of the amazing seafood, take a trip to the phenomenal Osaka Castle. Built over the remains of the former Ishiyama Honganji Temple, the modern monument now houses an informative museum about its history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Nikko

Popular among nature enthusiasts due to the stunning Lake Chuzenji and its vast national park, Nikko is a fantastic Tokyo alternative. Not only is the bustling city ideal for learning about Shinto and Buddhist cultural traditions, but you can even add Nikko's Toshogu shrine to your list of Shinto shrine hopping.

Nikko National Park is a wonderland where famous attractions like the rushing Kegon Waterfall, steep Ryuokyo Gorge and peaceful Lake Chuzenji all naturally occur. Enjoy spectacular views of the most scenic spots, including Senjogahara Plateau, Yukawa River and Odashirogahara Plateau at Okunikko. Located centrally beyond the Irohazaka Slope, you'll be dazzled by the plethora of unique natural beauty on display.

Alternatively, why not discover an enchanting display of Japanese Gardens, Scenery and Culture?

Discover the Best Places to Visit in Japan Outside Tokyo

From remarkable Japanese cities to delightful towns and quaint villages, there are thousands of incredible discoveries beyond the city of Tokyo. Whether you'd like to visit for the delectable cuisine or hope to expand your knowledge of the country, speak with our Travel Specialists to tailor your next adventure.

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