A sample 13 day Japan itinerary for first-time visitors

One of the trickiest things for do-it-yourself travel planners to work out, especially when visiting a destination for the first time, is how to arrange the itinerary so that you make the most of your time on the ground, without trying to pack too much in. So in this post I have outlined a sample 13 day Japan itinerary (which just happens to be the very itinerary we followed!).

A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan: www.feetonforeignlands.com

In a country as rich in diverse experiences as Japan, there is a real temptation to race around, trying to hit as many of the ‘top’ sights as possible. But in doing so, you may miss some of the quieter experiences. We like to pace ourselves so that we get an opportunity to scrape a little below the surface of a destination.

With just 13 days to spend in Japan, I knew we’d have to limit our cities/destinations. So we narrowed it down to Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto and included a side day-trip from Hakone to Nara.

  • 3 nights in Tokyo (Shimbashi)
  • 2 nights Hakone
  • 5 nights Kyoto
  • 2 nights in Tokyo (Bunkyo-ku)

Read on for the full list of what we did within this time. Suggested activities or things to see are in dot points under each day. We bought 7-day JR Rail Passes which we used for days 6-12. Outside those days we purchased individual tickets for each trip, which worked out to be a cheaper option than having a 14-day JR Pass.

I’ll add the post links as I write about individual items. You may also like to read:

Sample 13 day Japan itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo – Take the Narita Express train (N’Ex) from the airport to Tokyo Station, then taxi to the hotel. (Our hotel was in Shimbashi, which is near Ginza)

  • Hit the shopping streets of Ginza – walk along Chuo-dori Street from Shimbashi to Kyobashi stations.

Day 2: Tokyo

  • Meiji-Jingu Shrine
  • Yoyogi Park
  • Harajuku –  explore Takeshita Dori
  • Walk along Cat Street
  • Shibuya: Hachiko statue, Scramble Crossing, Shibuya 109, Hepineko Cat Cafe

A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan www.feetonforeignlands.comDay 3: Tokyo

Day 4: Train from Shinagawa Station to Hakone, via Odawara (buy a 3-day Hakone Freepass in Odawara)

  • Hakone Open Air Museum
  • Hakone Tozan train – very picturesque mountain switchback train
  • Explore Gora including Gora Park
  • Take a ride on the Hakone Cable Car
  • Stay in a ryokan: the one we chose was Fukuzumiro Ryokan
  • Try out an onsen (the linked post tells you all you need to know about onsen etiquette)

Day 5 – Hakone

  • Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Spa Resort
  • Use the Hakone Free Pass to take the Hakone Tozan bus to Lake Ashi
  • Hakone sightseeing cruise on a pirate ship across the lake (glimpse Mt Fuji if you are lucky!) to Togendai-ko
  • Look longingly at the Hakone Ropeway (currently closed due to volcanic activity)
  • Take ropeway replacement bus to Sounzan at the top of the Hakone cable car
  • Cable car back down to Gora
  • Squeeze in some Japanese geocache finds

A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan: www.feetonforeignlands.comDay 6 – Hakone to Kyoto (via  Hakone Tozan rail to Hakone-Yumato, Odakyu train to Odawara, Shinkansen to Kyoto)

  • Sanjusangendo Hall
  • Walk through the Gion district
  • Visit the Pontocho area for dinner. It’s a narrow alley running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of Kamogawa River. We went to Wabiya Rakuchu-tei for yakitori skewers.

Day 7 – Kyoto

Day 8 – Kyoto

A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan: www.feetonforeignlands.comDay 9 – Kyoto

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Day 10 – Kyoto

A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan: www.feetonforeignlands.comDay 11 – Kyoto to Tokyo (via Shinkansen to Tokyo Station, then taxi to our hotel in Bunkyo-ku)

All our plans for this day went out the window when our relatively quick train trip turned into a 6 hour marathon due to an incident on the line.

Day 12 – Tokyo

  • Asakusa area: Senso-ji Temple, Nakamise-dori, Five Storey Pagoda
  • More soaking time in an onsen
  • Dinner in Kagurazaka – we chose Torijaya Restaurant
  • Visit another karaoke bar for a swansong performance – we went to Karaoke Big Echo in Kagurazaka

Day 13 – depart Tokyo (take Skyliner Access Express train from Nippori Station to Narita)

What items interest you most? What do you want me to write about next?

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A sample 13 day itinerary for Japan: www.feetonforeignlands.com

Creating an itinerary packed full of memorable moments is no accident. If you would like to know my method for doing it, download your free copy of my e-guide: Memorable Moments: How to pack your travel itinerary full of opportunities to create those memories.

Click here to download the 29-page FREE e-guide:
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