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The Golden Route

By Venetia Cook
Asia travel expert for Alfred& Asia

Take a shortcut to the heart of Japanese culture with a streamlined itinerary that carries you effortlessly through the country’s essential highlights in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone and Nara, with a few pauses to dive deeper into your destination thanks to some memorable hands-on experiences.

Places

Length
9 days
Best months to go
March, April, October, November
Guide price range
£3,575 - £4,555pp
excluding international flights.

Top Experiences
Itinerary Highlights

Tokyo

Going backstage at Tokyo’s fish market

Plunging into the hustle and bustle of the world’s largest fish market makes you appreciate just how important seafood is in Japan...

Kyoto

A glimpse into the life of a Kyoto geisha

Of all the symbols of Japan, one of the most recognised is that of a geisha but what it actually means to be a geisha is rather less well-kn...

Hakone

Susukinohara Ichinoyu, a hot-spring hideaway in Hakone

If you want a relaxing introduction to Japanese bathing culture in a beautiful setting, Susukinohara Ichinoyu is the place to come...

Day by day
Itinerary in details

1

Arrive in Tokyo

On your arrival in Tokyo, you’ll be met at the airport for a shared transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day will be at leisure. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel Tokyo.

Things to do:

2

Tokyo

You’ll spend the day exploring the Japanese capital with a local guide, starting in one of its most atmospheric districts, Asakusa, which retains the feel of an older Tokyo. Its main sight is Sensoji, an ancient Buddhist temple dating from the seventh century. From here, you’ll hop on the Tokyo Water Bus, a memorable way to reach Hamarikyu garden, an oasis of calm in the midst of gleaming skyscrapers, for matcha and sweets in its charming teahouse. After lunch, your day continues with a tour of Meiji shrine, followed by window shopping on glitzy Omotesando avenue on the way back to your hotel. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel Tokyo.

Things to do:

3

Tokyo

Get privileged behind-the-scenes access to Tokyo’s famous wholesale fish market, the largest in the world. Since it moved to new premises in 2018 most visitors have had to stay behind glass viewing screens, but you’ll get into the thick of the action with your guide, who’s also a licence holder. From there, you’ll head to the old Tsukiji market to learn more about preparing fish before travelling to a sushi restaurant to make your own fresher-than-fresh nigiri and – best of all – eat them for lunch. Spend the afternoon how you choose, whether that’s visiting an ancient shrine or shopping for souvenirs at a glossy department store. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel Tokyo.

Things to do:

4

Tokyo & Hakone

Today you’ll use your Japan Rail Pass to take the bullet train from Tokyo to Hakone, which takes two hours. Hakone is known for mountains, lakes and hot springs, and on clear days there are superb views of Mount Fuji as well. Explore at your own pace armed with a Hakone Free Pass that covers the area’s varied transport network – from cable cars to pirate ships – before checking in to a traditional inn such as Susukinohara Ichinoyu, where you can enjoy a restorative soak in a thermal bath and an authentic Japanese evening meal. Overnight in a Japanese Style Room at Susukinohara Ichinoyu.

Things to do:

5

Hakone & Kyoto

Using your transport passes, you’ll head to Kyoto on the bullet train, a journey of around two hours. This was once the imperial capital, and its abundance of temples, shrines and palaces makes it an essential stop on any trip around Japan. It’s also a perfect place to gain an insight into Japan’s traditions with, for instance, an afternoon visit to the city’s geisha districts with a leading expert in geisha culture which includes a stop at a private teahouse for songs, dance, games and, of course, tea. Overnight in a Standard Double Room at Kyoto Toku.

Things to do:

6

Kyoto

The former imperial capital has such a wealth of impressive sites that it helps to have a local guide to steer you toward the highlights. One of those is Kinkaku-ji temple, whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf – it’s quite a sight, even on a cloudy day. Another must-see is 400-year-old Nijo-jo, one of the best-preserved castles from this era, which is surrounded by beautiful Japanese-style gardens. For a complete change of pace, you then head to lively Nishiki market, where you’ll discover local foodie specialities, before rounding off the day with a choice of temples. It’s a full day, so if you want to treat yourself it’s worth doing the trip by private car rather than public transport. Overnight in a Standard Room at Hotel Granvia Kyoto.

Things to do:

7

Kyoto & Nara

Your guide will meet you at your hotel for the 45-minute train journey to Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital in the eighth century. Many of the shrines and temples built at that time still exist, including the magnificent wooden Todai-ji, which houses a vast bronze statue of Buddha, and Kasuga Taisha, known for its array of bronze and stone lanterns. There’ll be time to wander through Nara park to see the semi-tame sika deer that live there before pausing at a sake brewery to learn how it’s made and, of course, have a taste. On the way back to Kyoto, stop at Fushimi Inari shrine with its spectacular tunnel of red torii gates. Overnight in a Standard Room at Hotel Granvia Kyoto.

Things to do:

8

Kyoto & Tokyo

From Kyoto you take the two-and-a-half-hour journey by bullet train back to Tokyo, where you have the rest of the day to explore by yourself or take an optional guided experience – an evening tour of the Shinjuku nightlife district, perhaps – or just enjoy a last leisurely Japanese evening meal. Overnight in a City Queen Room at the Park Hotel Tokyo.

Things to do:

9

Tokyo & Departure

Enjoy a final few hours at leisure in Tokyo until your scheduled shared transfer to Narita International Airport in time for your return flight.

Holiday Budget
Guide price information

Low Season

4 Jan – 28 Feb, 21 May – 30 Jun & 21 Nov – 10 Dec

£3,575

Mid Season

1 Mar – 19 Mar, 7 May – 20 May, 1 Jul - 22 Jul, 11 Aug – 30 Sep & 11 Dec – 28 Dec

£3,889

High Season

20 Mar – 19 Apr & 1 Oct – 20 Nov

£4,555

Alfred & Venetia Cook

Venetia has been to every continent other than Antarctica and travels to meet people and learn about their way of looking at the world. She has a background in film and is due to star in two new horror films (but isn’t scary in real life!) She recently spent a month travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto whilst making an independent travel film, going onto Hakone, Osaka and finally Seoul. Her favourite destination was the Golden Gai bar street in Tokyo for its niche and intimate form and she recommends buying a beer in there to everyone!

Alfred & our Japan holiday experts

Freephone an expert

01306 744 656