Golden Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Two Week Itinerary to Japan with a Family

Here is our two week itinerary to Japan with some tips and recommendations. Japan is really great for families and there is so much to do. It is our favorite trip of all time!

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So many of you have been asking about our trip to Japan and what our itinerary was like. We were there for two weeks and planning the schedule for that time was both fun and exhausting. We had to figure out what to see there, where to stay and how to get around, and we quickly gained a lot of knowledge about Japan.

We started to build our trip around the things we absolutely didn’t want to miss while we were there. Those were Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. We slowly added things like Shinjuku and Akihabara in Tokyo, and Nara and Himeji (which happened to be along the way) into our itinerary.

There were also things that we wanted to do, but were unable to. For example, we were not able to get tickets to Ghibli Museum as it was already sold out months before. So our tip for everyone planning a trip to Japan is to make your reservations early!

We moved around Japan with bullet trains, local trains and the metro. With this itinerary it is definitely worth getting a JR Pass. JR Pass will give you access to most of the trains on one ticket.

What to do in Japan – our two week itinerary

Day 1; Arriving in Japan

We arrived in Japan in the late afternoon on an All Nippon Airways flight from California. After getting through immigration and customs at Narita Airport, we headed over to an ATM to get some local currency.

We also needed to activate our JR Passes at the JR Travel Service Center which was downstairs at the train station. That was also where our train to Shinjuku left. We took the Narita Express since the JR Pass was not valid at the fastest Keisei Skyliner train.

We stayed in the Shinjuku area which is the more modern side of Tokyo. It is said to be the entertainment center of the whole city. Shinjuku has both great restaurants and shopping, and it is easy to get all over Tokyo from there.

The Shinjuku train station is the biggest station in the world! And oh boy, it can be pretty confusing. We were totally lost there walking in circles until some friendly local asked us if we needed help. That is how we finally found our way to the metro and to our hotel.

I recommend leaving the first day program open because it takes time to sort out all the practical matters and to learn how to navigate around. Even just getting dinner the first night was both exciting and little confusing for us. It also takes time to get used to the new time zone.

Day 2; Cherry Blossom or Fall Foliage at Shinjuku Gyo-en and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck

On our first whole day in Japan we wanted to take it easy, so we could recover from traveling and the time difference. We decided to explore the Shinjuku area and visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck. We love to walk around because you can see so much and Japan is perfect for that. It is very safe at any time of the day there!

We first walked over to Shinjuku Gyo-en which is one of the best places to see either cherry blossoms or fall foliage in Tokyo. It is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo and has three separate gardens in it.

We were in Japan in November when the fall foliage is at its best. The park was so beautiful and they also had a chrysanthemum exhibit at the time. It is held every year in the first two weeks of November. The fall foliage colors typically appear from November to mid-December.

Cherry blossom (sakura) varies depending on the year. Most commonly the best bloom in this area is from late March to early April.

Our daughter in front of a huge, yellow chrysanthemum display at Shinjuku Gyo-en in Tokyo.
Beautiful chrysanthemum arrangements
Fall foliage at Shinjuku Gyo-en in Tokyo. A red tree behind a bridge.
Fall colours

We also walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to visit their observation deck. It is free and it has a great, panoramic view of the city. It is said that on a clear day you might even see all the way to Mount Fuji.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck to the city. Shinjuku Gyo-en park in the middle with green trees.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck offers great views of Tokyo. The green area in the middle is Shinjuku Gyo-en.

Are you looking for a hotel in Shinjuku area? We recommend this one.

Day 3; Ghibli Museum or Disneyland

For this day we had planned to visit the Ghibli Museum, but unfortunately it had already sold out when we started planning our trip. And that was several months before, so if you plan to go, make sure to book your tickets very early!

Since our kids have grown up reading Moomin books and watching Moomin cartoons, we wanted to visit the Moomin Cafe in Tokyo Dome City. We headed over there for lunch. Moomins are big in Japan and they have since also opened a theme park called Moominvalley Park.

Moomin Cafe is very cute! It offers food and baked goods themed with different Moomin characters. As a fun treat, stuffed Moomin characters circulate in the cafe from table to table so that no one ever has to sit alone.

We have visited the Moominworld park in Finland and on our next visit to Japan we will make sure to go to Moominvalley Park also.

Tokyo Dome City where the Moomin Cafe is located has a big stadium and many attractions surrounding it. They had an amusement park with a roller coaster, carousels and a ferris wheel, and many shops and restaurants. It is located in Bunkyo in Tokyo.

Very close to that was also Kanda Myojin Shrine which we visited after lunch. The history of this shrine goes back almost 1,300 years. People come there to pray for prosperity, good luck and a successful marriage.

Moomin Cafe entrance in Tokyo, Japan.
A big Snorkmaiden stuffy from the Moomin cartoon sitting in the Moomin Cafe table in Tokyo. A moomin themed cafe latte on the table.
Kanda Myojin Shrine in Kyoto in a beautiful sunny day.

This could also be a good day to visit Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea if that is on your list!

Day 4; Travel to Kyoto – Gion Geisha District and Yasaka Shrine

On our fourth day we took a Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. Just experiencing that alone was so exciting! It takes a little over two hours to get to Kyoto from Tokyo and it is covered by the JR Pass.

After checking in to our hotel, we went out for a little walk to see the neighbourhood and to get some snacks. We had chosen a hotel from close to Nijo Castle which we wanted to visit later. It turned out to be a pretty convenient place to also hop on the buses and the metro. We stayed at Hotel Canata Kyoto.

My big dream had always been to see a geisha, so after dinner we headed over to Gion Geisha District. We had so much fun walking in the small alleys and seeing all the traditional tea houses. It is such an adorable place and I definitely recommend visiting there. To my big surprise, we were also lucky enough to see some geishas there!

Seeing geishas is not guaranteed, but you can read from here how we were able to spot a geisha in Kyoto.

A bullet train arriving to a station in Japan.
A geisha walking in the street in her red kimono in Kyoto, Japan.

When we left Gion Geisha District we walked through the Higashiyama District and visited Yasaka Shrine. This area is one of the best places to see the old, traditional Kyoto with its wooden buildings and narrow alleys. There are a lot of restaurants and little shops there, and it’s a great place to find souvenirs.

Yasaka Shrine is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto and is over 1,350 years old. The paper lanterns in the dance stage next to the shrine are lit every evening and it is very pretty. And there are hundreds of them!

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto is beautifully lit in the dark.

Day 5; Nijo Castle

This was our second day in Kyoto, and we really wanted to visit Nijo Castle since we were staying right next to it. It was an interesting trip into Japanese history and we learned so much during our tour. The castle was completed in 1603 and it is one the Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

I would reserve at least two to three hours for this visit as they also have a lovely garden that you can stroll around. We were even lucky to see part of a Japanese wedding ceremony.

Nijo Castle entrance in Kyoto and people in front of it.
A Japanese wedding couple in their traditional costumes at Nijo Castle garden in Kyoto.

In the evening we headed out to a shopping area on Shijo Street. We walked around in the stores and had dinner. One great place to buy food or souvenirs in Kyoto is Nishiki Market. And even if you are not buying anything, it is fun to see local foods and delicacies.

We had originally thought about a visit to a Sake brewery in the evening, but most of them are not very kid friendly so we decided to skip it.

Day 6; Golden Pavilion, Fushimi-Inari Shrine and Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

A great way to see the sights in Kyoto is to purchase a day pass on Sky Hop-on Hop-off bus. That is what we did on our 3rd day in Kyoto. The bus circles around most of the city’s attractions and biggest hotels. When you are done visiting one place you just hop back into the bus and go to the next place.

We visited Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion) which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can see a picture of it in the main image of this post. Golden Pavilion was the most crowded of any of the sites we saw in Kyoto but totally worth a visit.

After that we went to visit Fushimi-Inari Shrine. Also a must see if you are in Kyoto! We had a plan to visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove too but we ended up hiking up quite a ways at Fushimi-Inari Shrine and therefore ran out of time.

With a Hop-on Hop-off bus there are so many attractions to choose from, not only these three! These were just the ones that we wanted to see.

Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto and the row of red shrines with a walkway under them.
Fushimi-Inari Shrine

If you want to stay close to Nijo Castle then we recommend this hotel.

Day 7; a day in Nara

Nara became one of our favourite destinations on our trip to Japan. A train ride from Kyoto over there is quick and there is so much to see and do there.

First we wanted to visit Nara-koen Park which is famous for its tame deer. We simply walked there from the train station but there is also a local bus that you can use. The walk was about 15 minutes, and the earlier you get there the less crowded the park will be.

Deer roam free there and you can sometimes see them blocking the traffic or following people around. They sell special crackers that you can feed to them, so don’t forget to bring some cash! Deer have been in this park for centuries and they are considered to be messengers of the gods.

Next to the Nara-Koen Park is Todai-ji Temple. It is one of the most famous temples in Japan and the world’s largest wooden structure. Inside you will see the Great Buddha which is 49 ft 2 inch tall (14.98 m). The temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A huge building of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan and people in front of it.
Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan and people in front looking at the statue.
Our daughter petting a deer that is laying down in a park in Nara, Japan.

If you have some extra time, there are several interesting museums in Nara. Or you can do what we did and visit the Isui-en Garden right by the Todai-ji Temple. It was quite nice and spacious after visiting the crowded temple.

Read more about our visit Nara from here.

If you decide to stay the night in Nara, this hotel has great family rooms!

Day 8; Himeji Castle and Hello Kitty Cafe

On the next day we hopped on thre train again and left Kyoto behind us. Our next stop was the city of Himeji where we wanted to visit Himeji Castle. Himeji Castle, built in 1333 is the best preserved castle showing classic Japanese castle architecture. It was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan.

They also have a fairly large garden and you can purchase a ticket to visit just the castle or both. You can read more about our visit to Himeji Castle from here.

Beautiful, white Himeji Castle in Japan against the cloudy sky.

On our way back to the hotel we found the Cafe de Miki with Hello Kitty. It was at Miyuki Dori, a shopping street between Himeji Station and Himeji Castle. The shopping area had many fun stores and we spent a long time there just walking around.

The pink entrance to Cafe de Miki with Hello Kitty Cafe in Himeji, Japan.
Hello Kitty themed coffees and pastries on a table at Hello Kitty Cafe in Himeji, Japan.

We stayed in this nice hotel close to railway station.

Day 9; Hiroshima

We ended up visiting Hiroshima and Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Thanksgiving day. It was a humbling experience and really made us think about what we are thankful for. We went through so many emotions while we were there.

In Hiroshima Peace Park you can see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Children’s Peace Monument and visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The memorial is one of the rare buildings that survived the bombing and is also known as the A-Bomb Dome as is was almost exactly at ground zero. The dome was registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996.

The museum was also very interesting and we spent a couple hours there alone. However, I do want to mention that there were a couple rooms that I decided to skip because the images were a little too graphic for children.

The rest of the day we spent exploring the city and looking at their great Christmas lights display. Hiroshima is also known for their own version of okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, so of course we had to try that out too! 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan which is a ruin of a building where the atomic bomb dropped.
Our daughter standing under a Holiday light display shaped like Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan.

We stayed in this hotel in Hiroshima close to the railway station.

Day 10; Back to Tokyo – Asakusa

After exploring so many places we had a day where our only program was to take a train back to Tokyo. This journey takes about four hours on the bullet train, so it already takes half your day just getting to the station and to your new accommodation.

We chose to stay in a different area of Tokyo just so we could see some new sights there. This time we stayed in Asakusa. After checking into our Airbnb, we went out to explore and got dinner.

This fun hotel in Asakusa has Panda themed family rooms!

Day 11; Sensoji Temple, Asakusa Shrine and Akihabara

The reason we chose to stay in Asakusa was to visit Sensoji Temple and to have easy access to Akihabara. Sensoji is the oldest and one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Tokyo. In the same area is Asakusa Shrine which was built in 1649.

If you are an anime or magna lover, then a visit to the Akihabara neighbourhood is a must for you! It is completely opposite from Shinjuku; it is colourful, loud and fun. Streets there are full of electronics and anime shops.

They also have a Don Quijote store in Akihabara and it is such a fun place to visit. It is a discount store that carries almost everything you can think of. Not only can you find all kinds of practical things (we bought an extra suitcase for example), but they also have a lot of little Japanese trinkets and souvenirs that kids love.

Akihabara is home to many theme cafes such as cat cafes, owl cafes and maid cafes. A Maid cafe is a certain type of cosplay restaurant where the waitresses are all dressed like French maids. As well as serve customers, the maids often also perform a show, sing or play card games with their guests. Maid cafes are not sexual in nature. You can often see some of the maids outside the cafes handing out fliers.

Colourful electronic shops covered with advertisements in Akihabara, Tokyo.
A girl dressed up as a French maid is inviting people into a maid cafe on a street of Akihabara, Tokyo.

Day 12; Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Shinku Shrine, Monster Cafe and Rockabillies at Yoyogi Park

Shibuya Crossing is the busiest pedestrian scramble crossing in the whole world and on our 12th day we decided to go see it. When the traffic light turns green thousands of people cross the intersection from multiple directions at the same time. And when the light turns red again, it all stops. It is so fascinating to watch and also fun to experience yourself.

Shibuya is also great for shopping, theatres and night clubs, but we headed over to Harajuku next. Harajuku is one of the Shibuya’s districts and it used to be famous for its street fashion. Although it is not as common as it once was, you might still see young people dressed in goth or colourful Decora kei outfits, or you may even run into some cosplayers.

People walking all over the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo where multiple crosswalks cross.
Shibuya crossing

We visited Meiji Shinku Shrine which is close to Harajuku station. It is a big and peaceful area with a lot of trees and multiple buildings. By the southern entrance, they also have a big row of colorful Sake barrels that make for a great photo op.

The shrine was built by the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken in 1920 and is dedicated to them. It is one of the best places to see a glimpse of a Japanese wedding. We were there on a Sunday and right when we walked in we saw a wedding couple with their entourage.

Rows of colourful Sake barrels with Japanese text at Meiji Shinku Shrine in Tokyo
A wedding couple with their party coming out from the temple at Meiji Shinku Shrine in Tokyo.

Every Sunday the Tokyo Rockabilly Club comes to Yoyogi Park in Harajuku to dance. There are actually several separate groups in the Rockabilly Club. They all dress up differently in denim and leather, and they show their moves while the music is playing in the park. It’s a fun little stop if you are already in the area on a Sunday.

A girl and a boy rockbilly dancing at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
Three rockabillies dancing in their denim outfits in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.

Since Harajuku is the center of Japan’s kawaii culture we decided to have lunch at Kawaii Monster Cafe. It was so over the top and we had so much fun but it was a little bit pricey. “Kawaii” means cute, and that is what this cafe certainly was. It was colourful and loud, and the Harajuku girls performed a show every hour.

A Harajuku girl dressed in over the top outfit at Kawaii Monster Cafe in Tokyo. She is standing in front of a colourful mushroom decoration.
Inside the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Tokyo. People are sitting in a row of tables with colourful decorations everywhere.

Day 13; Tokyo Legoland Discovery Center and Trick Art Museum

This was our last day in Tokyo and we had originally planned to go to Disneyland on this day. But two weeks of exploring Japan and traveling around had taken its toll on us and we felt really tired. We just didn’t have the strength to spend a whole day in an amusement park anymore.

Our tip: If Disneyland is a priority for you, don’t leave it for the last day! By now you are probably exhausted from traveling around and a day at Disneyland can be very long and hectic.

But we had promised our daughter that on the last day we woukld do something fun that she would like, so we decided to head over to the Legoland Discovery Center in Odaiba. It is a fun place, but a lot smaller than Disneyland. So we also had time to visit the Trick Art Museum in the same mall. We had so much fun there!

Read our review of Tokyo Legoland Discovery Center or Trick Art Museum from here.

Our daughter on top of a lego motorcycle in Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo.
Inside a trick art painting in Trick Art Museum Tokyo. Me inside a glass with Dracula behind me.

Day 14; Traveling back home

Give yourself plenty of time to pack your bags and get to the airport. We had to take two different local trains to get to the line that goes to Narita, so I recommend looking at the train connections beforehand so you know where to go.

Then just relax on your flight and let everything you experienced in the past two weeks sink in. We tried out the Nippon Airlines business class which was amazing! I highly recommend!

ANA aka Japan Nippon Airlines airplane at the airport getting ready for a flight.

❊❊❊

Our two weeks in Japan were quite busy but so, so much fun! It felt like a true adventure. We had to learn how to navigate around while we faced a big language barrier. There were times when the menus at restaurants were only in Japanese and we weren’t even sure what we ordered or we bought the wrong tickets from the ticket machine.

We had so many moments of confusion everyday, but we learned to laugh at them because the people of Japan were so helpful and friendly. And since Japan was so safe that getting lost there, or even forgetting your bag on the train, is absolutely not an issue! And yes, we did accidentally forget a bag on a local train and got it back later with everything in it.

Our tip for booking the hotels: If you are planning to get a JR Pass then choose hotels near the JR Stations or the metro. This will be a big help!

Japan is such a beautiful country and people there were very welcoming. We learned to respect their beautiful culture, customs and history and we definitely want to go back again.

I hope this helps you while building our own itinerary!

OUR JAPAN TRAVEL RESOURCES
🗝 We use this site to book hotels rooms when ever we travel.
🚂 If you are visiting multiple cities by train we recommend getting a JR Pass.
🚗 We use DiscoverCars for car rentals everywhere in the world.
🗺 When looking for tours we use either Viator or GetYourGuide. They are both great.
✈️ With Priority Pass membership you can access over 1300 airport lounges. Also in Japan.
📞 You will need a data package so you can navigate in Japan. Airalo works well for that.

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2 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to visit Japan! These places looks so beautiful ! Looks like you had a lot of fun!

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