Japan’s Top 5 Cities To Visit

A long, volcanic island nation, Japan conjures up images of elegant cherry-blossom gardens, curved-roof temples and mountainous national parks. This diverse archipelago is also well-known for its dynamic and densely populated cities, characterized by towering skyscrapers, round-the-clock nightlife, fashion-forward shops and artistic hubs.

These cityscapes have a ceaseless buzz to them, where time-honoured traditions blend seamlessly with modern life. Here’s the lowdown on Japan’s top 5 cities to visit:


As any Osaka travel guide will tell you, Japan’s second city is having a real moment in the limelight. A major global business centre, the city is known for its sleek buildings, lively nightlife scene and backstreet stalls, without the chaotic feeling that comes with mega-cities like Tokyo.

There are some intriguing landmarks here too, including the 16th-century Osaka Castle, which is surrounded by an elegant cherry and plum-tree park, as well as Sumiyoshi-taisha – one of Japan’s most ancient Shinto shrines. Meanwhile, the buzzing Nakanoshima district is a hub of cutting-edge developments, with modern museums, skyline-caressing hotels and rooftop bars that offer spectacular city views.


If Osaka is Japan’s commercial powerhouse, Kyoto is its spiritual soul. The city offers a taste of old-world Japan, with its atmospheric Buddhist temples, tranquil gardens, thatched-roofed tea houses and Shinto shrines. Dotted among trendy cafés and neon-lit bars are around 200 religious buildings, including the famous Kinkaku-ji Zen and Higashi Hongan-ji temples.

Kyoto is the place to really immerse yourself in Japanese culture. You can watch monks chanting prayers in incense-infused temples, spend the night in an authentic ryokan inn and eat side by side with strangers as part of a traditional kaiseki dining experience. Also high on the must-experience list is to wander the historic geisha district of Gion. Here you’ll find classic Japanese houses wedged between art and craft shops selling everything from green tea to textiles.


Another of Japan’s most visited cities is Hiroshima. Ideal for those with a passion for history, the city is known, worldwide, as the site of the heartbreaking atomic bombing during World War II, which destroyed most of the buildings and inhabitants. After the war ended, there was a great effort to rebuild the city, but there are still visible ruins at the central Peace Memorial Park, which commemorates the devastating 1945 event.

Historical monuments, such as Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden, were rebuilt and provide visitors with a fascinating insight into the city’s former glory and heritage. Now a designated City of Peace, Hiroshima is also home to a selection of museums, temples and shrines.


Japan’s vibrant capital, Tokyo, is where bustling street scenes sit side by side with ancient Japanese history. The city’s futuristic architecture resembles something out of a sci-fi film, while age-old temples and palaces stand proudly among serene forests and lush gardens. Chief among them are the palatial Meiji Shinto Shrine and the picturesque Imperial Palace.

Lantern-lit markets, traditional festivals and cobblestoned alleyways exist in the shadow of the ever-growing cityscape, which offers a seemingly endless selection of super-size malls, Michelin-star restaurants and record-breaking architecture, such as the Tokyo Sky Tree – the world’s tallest tower.


Nara hosts several UNESCO World Heritage sites and was the first permanent capital city of Japan. In a nod to its rich history, the city is brimming with time-worn treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest temples and shrines, dating back to the 8th century.

Visitors make a beeline for Nara Park, where deer roam freely and some of the city’s most popular attractions are housed. The atmospheric Todai-ji temple, the Kasuga Taisha shrine and the nearby Kasugayama Primeval Forest are all designated sites of cultural and natural importance. Nara is less than an hour’s journey from Osaka and Kyoto, meaning it’s well within day-trip distance from either of these cities.

With so many eclectic and diverse urban areas to explore, it can be difficult to choose just one. Luckily, Japan’s fast and efficient bullet trains make travelling a breeze, allowing you to hop from one city to the next and enjoy a range of wonderful sights and experiences.