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12 Best Historical Sites of Japan

Temples, castles, and parks – Japan has it all. Check out the top 12 Japan historical sites.

Japan is known for its blend of the ancient and modern. It’s the embodiment of modern technology with the advent of robot cafes, electric cars, and so on. But the historical sites and attractions that can be found in Japan provide something to marvel at for those who are into history and culture. 

Japan has a long and complex history, which is undeniably fascinating. The ancient customs and traditions of Japan are still very present in the society and the mind of its locals despite the country’s advancements in the field of technology. One of the best ways to get to know the country is to visit these historical attractions in Japan so you can learn more about the history and culture of the nation and its people. 


Meiji Jingu (Tokyo)

Also known as the Meiji Shrine, this historical monument is located in Shibuya, Tokyo. This shrine was built as a dedication to the spirits of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The Emperor was best known for opening Japan to the West and is now known as one of the most important Shinto shrines in Tokyo. This shrine is built on a quiet and rustic land with a park that spans 200 acres in size behind a 12-meter torii gate that you must pass through to get to the shrine.

Admission to the Meiji Shrine is free and it’s open from sunrise to sunset. To get here, you can take the JR Yamanote line and get down at Harajuku station. 

Sensoji Temple (Tokyo)

Sensoji Temple is known as the oldest temple in Tokyo. In a city filled with so many temples, this one has been around for one and a half millennia and is home to the biggest souvenir market in Tokyo and other must-see points of interests such as the Kaminarimon Gate. This temple is a must-visit because of its historical and cultural significance, but also for the sightseeing opportunities. When you visit, don’t miss out on the Nakamise Shopping Street that is filled with tourists!

To get to Sensoji Temple, it’s a 17-minute train ride away from Tokyo Station. 


Kamakura is a seaside city that is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture about an hour away from Tokyo. During the late 12th century, this city was the political center of Japan. And when the Kamakura government fell in the 14th century, it continued to function as the political center for Eastern Japan. It’s a dark contrast to what the city now is – small and flocked by tourists, full of an abundance of temples, historical monuments, and shrines. The sand beaches in Kamakura are also a crowd favorite during the summer months.

Some of the top attractions worth seeing in Kamakura are the Great Buddha, Hokokuji Temple, Hachimangu Shrine, Kenchoji Temple, and the Zeniarai Benten, among others. 


Shinjuku is a futuristic neighborhood that is probably what most people would imagine Tokyo to be like. Tokyo is a large city with many eclectic neighborhoods and Shinjuku is one of them. This area is one of the best areas to stay in Tokyo. If you go for a hotel in Tokyo Shinjuku you’ll always be located close to metro and train stations so it’s easy to get around. Transport link is the number one factor to consider when you are deciding where to stay in Tokyo.

Another reason to stay in Shinjuku is that it looks like classic Tokyo. It’s what you would picture modern Tokyo to look like – neon lights, electronic stores, busy train stations, and towering skyscrapers. You can see a great mix of all kinds of businesses and it’s always very active. It’s quite crowded and there are plenty of things going on – but that is part of its appeal!

If you are looking for historical attractions, this area is also unique because this is where you can find both modern and ancient blended into one. Memory Lane, in Shinjuku, is one of the must-visit streets in Tokyo. Walking through this street feels like you are stepping back in time; so, it’s accurately named. There are also plenty of traditional restaurants you can find (and must try) here.


Kyoto Golden Pavilion

This zen temple in Northern Kyoto is one of the most photographed temples in Japan. It’s also one of the most historically significant temples, making it a worthy addition to this list. As the name implies, this temple is covered in gold leaf and is made up of three floors. This pavilion used to be the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death in 1408, it was transformed into a Zen temple. 

Overlooking a beautiful pond, the temple’s  structure went through numerous rebuilding processes and its current state was built quite recently, in 1955. To visit this temple, you can take Bus number 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station or take the Karasuma line to Kitaoji Station. 

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the home of the Japanese Imperial Family until 1868. After that year, the capital of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is part of the Kyoto Imperial Park, right at the heart of the city. Another attraction worth visiting within the park is the Sento Imperial Palace.

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was most recently restored in 1855 after it was burnt down. The entire complex counts with halls, gardens, and numerous gates. Today, the palace grounds are open for tourists who want to explore without any prior tour arrangements. Unfortunately, getting inside of the buildings is not allowed. 

Kiyomizudera, Kyoto

The Kiyomizudera Temple, also known as Pure Water Temple, is one of the top historical landmarks in Japan. Known for its large wooden terrace, the temple was founded in 780 and it was named like that because it was built on the site of the Otowa Waterfall. It used to be previously connected with the Hosso sect, which is known as the most ancient Buddhist school in Japan. This site was also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The wooden stage that rises out from the main hall of the temple is the building’s most prominent feature. Standing there, you can enjoy an incredible view of the surrounding cherry and maple trees, and even the view of the city of Kyoto at a distance. Some other notable features of the temple include the Okunoin Hall and the Koyasu Pagoda. 

To get here, you must take the Keihan Railway line and get off at the Kiyomizu-Gojo station. 


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is another one of the top historical places of Japan. In fact, this is one of the most sought after tourist attractions in the city. This is a massive park that spans a total land area of 120,000 square meters. It’s filled with walking paths, trees, and lawns, which provide a green oasis to the chaotic downtown area that surrounds it.

Prior to the nuclear bombing, this area used to be a political and commercial district. After the bombing, it was transformed into a park for peace memorial facilities. The Peace Memorial Museum is also located within the park and the A-Bomb Dome is the most striking figure here (also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial). 

Temples of Nara

Nara is one of the best historical cities in Japan. It’s home to many great temples; in fact, you kinda need to tick off the “Seven Great Temples of Nara” in your travel bucket list. These temples are the Todaiji Temple, Saidaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Horyuji Temple, Daianji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and the Gangoji Temple. Most of these temples have remained largely intact until today. 

Each temple has its own peculiarity:

  • Yakushi-ji was built in the 7th century and is home to a fine collection of Buddhist art objects.
  • Todai-ji Temple is known as the largest wooden structure in the world.
  • Saidai-ji Temple is known for its Hasedera-style Kannon Bosatsu carving.
  • Kofuku-ji Temple served as the clan temple of the Fujiwara clan.
  • Horyu-ji is a large temple home to the oldest wooden buildings in the world.
  • Gango-ji is among the oldest temples in Japan. A
  • nd Daian-ji Temple is the final stop in the Yamato Jusan Butsu pilgrimage. 


Nikko is a town in Japan that is famous for Toshogu – the most lavishly decorated shrine in Japan which houses the mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu. For many centuries since the 1600s, Nikko served as the center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship. The Nikko National Park is one of the most visited attractions in town in which you can find a charming array of natural formations such as hot springs, mountainous landscapes, waterfalls, lakes, hiking trails, and wild monkeys.

The Okunikko area of Nikko, in particular, is popularly visited by tourists during the fall season because of the beautiful autumn colors. This town is located within the Romantic Road of Japan.

Osaka Castle

The Osaka Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. It was first constructed in 1583 at the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple. When that temple was destroyed, this castle was built and Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended for it to become the new center of Japan under his rule. During that time, the Osaka Castle was the largest of its type in Japan.

The castle tower is one of the most prominent features of this castle. It’s made with secondary citadels, turrets (small towers on top of a larger tower), gates, stone walls, and moats. The castle also has the Nishinomaru Garden, which is filled with more than 600 cherry trees, a guest house, tea house, and more. The entire park in the castle spans 2 square kilometers with plenty of green spaces and sports facilities. It’s also a popular spot to visit during the cherry blossom season. 

Nagasaki Peace Park

Nagasaki Peace Park is another notable tourist attraction in Japan. Built to commemorate the atomic bombing in the city of Nagasaki in August 1945, the peace park is actually part of a complex that consists of a memorial museum and two parks. The Hydrocenter Park is at the heart of this complex which also marks the epicenter of the bombing explosion. When you visit the park today, you can still find remains of the bombing on the site.

The memorial park is a few kilometers north of Urakami. You can take the tram line 1 or 3 and get off the JR Nagasaki Station. 

Fukuoka Castle 

Fukuoka Castle is right at the heart of the city’s Maizuru Park. Despite the name, only the ruins are left of the castle. It was once a large castle but it was completely demolished during the Meiji Restoration because it was considered an unwanted symbol of the past. When you visit the site today, you will only find the ruined walls and the turrets. All the same, the park still draws tourists because it has plenty of walking paths to explore and lookout points. The Fukuoka Castle was built at the start of the 17th century. 

Since this is a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing, the best time to visit Fukuoka Castle and its ruins is during the cherry blossom season in late March to early April. A few other surviving structures of the castle that are worth visiting are the guard towers and gates. 

  • Stefania Guglielmi

    Stefania Guglielmi is the founder of Every Steph. Originally from Bologna, Italy, she's been traveling full-time since 2016 and has visited over 50 countries across 6 continents. She believes sustainable travel and luxury travel can go hand in hand and has been advocating for responsible tourism since 2014. Stefania's advice and travel experiences have been featured in important publications such as Business Insider, Refinery29, and Yahoo Money.

Tip Boonperm-Weniger

Friday 17th of March 2023

Very helpful information thank you!


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

thank you for the information