ghibli museum

A magical day in Tokyo

We conclude our series in Tokyo with two iconic Japanese cultural forces: Studio Ghibli and contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. If you haven’t watched any of the movies of Studio Ghibli you should change that immediately.  Both the movies of Studio Ghibli and the art of Yayoi Kusama explore the magical and surreal so it’s interesting to explore both museums and the same day even though they are quite different there are overlying themes to discover.

Visit Ghibli museum

A visit to the Ghibli museum has to be planned well in advance. There are no tickets available at the door since the museum works with advance reservations only. You can either buy them via the JTB group 3 months in advance or via Lawson on the 10th of the preceding month. Set your alarm clock and have ideally have a somewhat flexible scheduele to get tickets.

Stained-glass Totoro windows

The museum itself is a wonderful magial place for both adults and children alike. All your Ghibli favourites are there from Totoro to the Iron Giant, it’s a fun place to explore and to get an isight into the movie making process.

Yayoi Kusuma museum

The works of Yayoi Kusama can be seen in museums all over the world and in Japan even more. From the famous pumpkins on Naoshima to the modern art museum in her birthtown of Matsumoto. Tokyo was lacking a museum with her art, this changed in 2017 when a museum dedicated to her art opened.

As with the Ghibli museum, the Yayoi Kusuma museum doesn’t sell tickets at the door. The must be ordered in advance via their website.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

View from to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with Mount Fuji.

End the day with a view from the observation deck in the towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The observation deck on the 45th floor (202m) is freely accessible for everyone and gives you a great impression of the city. On clear days you can also see Mount Fuji in the distance.


Mito & Tokyo | Great garden of Japan and the history of Edo

Three Great Gardens of Japan

Japan is famous for many things, among which it’s highly stylized gardens. Traditionally there are three gardens seen as the best. These are Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito. The first two are too far away from Tokyo for a day trip, but the Kairaku-en in Mito is just one-and-a-half hours away by train, so if you don’t plan on visiting the other gardens make sure to visit this one.

Trip to Mito


Since Kairaku-en lies just one-and-a-half hours from Tokyo, it’s a perfect morning trip. You can either go to Kairaku-en station (only open during the plum blossom season) and walk to the garden or go to Mito station and take the bus. There are clear signs as you leave the station for the busses which bus will stop at the garden.

The garden is most famous for its plum blossoms, so a visit at the end of the winter (February or March) will treat you to a flowerly delight. There is also a large bamboo forest to explore and a host of different trees and plants.

Bamboo forrest

Kobuntei house

Kobuntei house now serves as a tea house and hosts poetry events. It’s the perfect place to relax and take in some of the stunning views.


During the Sakura season you should also visit Sakurayama which is part of the greater park area and which is full of cherry blossom trees.

Once you’re done in Mito take the train back to Tokyo for some culture and history.

Back in Tokyo

Edo Tokyo museum

The Edo Tokyo museum is housed in one of the most bizarre and huge modern buildings ever build. The museum tells the story of Tokyo from it’s origins as a small trading and fishing village to the capital of Japan and one of the largest cities in the world. The museum is full with replica buildings from the different ages, providing you the opportunity to travel through time back to the Shogunate, war time Tokyo and the post-war period.

Sumida Hokusai museum

Just a couple of streets behind the Edo Tokyo museum lies the Sumida Hokusai museum, housed in a stunning modern building in the shape of a huge letter M. Here you can watch some of the most famous and iconic works of Hokusai such as his Great wave off Kanagawa. If you love his work, try to also visit his museum in Obuse.

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Either take the subway directly to Tokyo Skytree and marvel at the huge building from below and go up to get some great views over Tokyo if you like. Another approach is to take the bus to the Kitajukken river and then take some pictures of the Skytree from a far. Afterwards you can walk towards the Skytree. Not sure if going up is worth the price, the free view from the Tokyo metropolitan building is as good or better. And if you want an alternative to the metropolitan building, we prefer the Tokyo city view in the Mori art building as it provides unhindered open-air views of Tokyo.

Previous articles about Tokyo and its surroundings


How to spend a fabulous week in dazzling Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world and with its ever-sprawling suburbs it feels like a city with no end. So, it can be hard to decide where to start and how to spend your limited time there.  We’ll try to help you on your way with our favourite places, great ideas for day trips, some tips and our Tokyo itinerary for a week.

Our favourite places in Tokyo

There are so many great places that it’s hard to come up with a top 5. But here are our favourite places in alphabetical order:  

Day trips from Tokyo

There are many greats sights within 1 or 2 hours of Tokyo. All places can be reached by taking a train from Tokyo station.

Daibatsu in Kamakura


It’s easy to come up with our favourite day trip from Tokyo, that has to be a visit to the stunning temples and shrines of Kamakura.


Not that far behind Kamakura comes Nikko. It lies in a beautiful pine forest and the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu is stunning. If you can’t make it to Nikko, visit the Tokugawa shrine in Ueno in Tokyo.


Traditionally listed as one of the top 3 gardens in Japan, we think it’s the least of the three but we visited the garden during the winter with no snow.


Go to Hakone for some better views of Mount Fuji and relax and take a bath in the many onsen there.


Where to stay in Tokyo

Since Tokyo is gigantic travelling from one place to another can take a lot of time. Therefor it’s best to stay close to a subway station and prefereably to a JR Circle line station. (circular Yamanote line) Especially if you have a JR railpass.

One-week Tokyo Itinerary

Tokyo by night

Day 1 Tokyo, parks, shopping, shrines and museums

We start our Tokyo itinerary with lots of parks, some shopping, a museum and a view. Read our Tokyo | Nature in the city park for more details.

  • Shinjuku Gyoen, a great place for a picknick and also for cherry blossom viewing.
  • Shopping
  • Meji Jingu shrine
  • Mori Art Museum
  • Tokyo city view

Day 2 Day trip to Kamakura

Escape the city for a day with the perfect day trip to beautiful Kamakura. In this ancient Japanese capital you’ll find plenty of temples, shrines and a gigantic Buddha in a tranquil environment.

  • Trip to Kamakura

Day 3 Tokyo, fish market, gardens, temples and museums

Once acclimatised and with your jet lag behind you, it’s time for an exciting full day in Tokyo.

  • Toyosu fish market
  • Hama-rikyu Gardens
  • Boat ride
  • Asakusa
  • Senso-ji
  • Ueno Kōen
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Tōshō-gū
Tōshō-gū in Ueno Kōen

Day 4 Day trip to Nikko

Unwind again by making a day trip to peaceful Nikko. This place is most famous for the shrines of Ieyasu and Iemitsu Tokugawa. But there are many more beautiful religious shrines and temples here. Read our article about Nikko for more information.

  • Trip to Nikko

Day 5 Tokyo, shrines, museums and war

Another full day in Tokyo lies ahead. We will explore the darker side of Japanese history and look at some modern and contemporary art. Go on a shopping bonanza and visit the heart of Tokyo. Read the complete article here.

  • Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni
  • Yūshūkan
  • Imperial Palace
  • Akihabara
  • Mitsui Memorial Museum

Day  6 Kairaku-en in Mito and more Tokyo

For a change of scenery we’ll go to Mito and one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Kairaku-en. In the afternoon we’ll visit the interesting Edo Tokyo museum to get an understanding of the history and development of Tokyo. Read our full guide here.

  • Trip to Mito
  • Edo Tokyo museum
  • Sumida Hokusai museum
  • Tokyo Skytree
Sumida Hokusai museum

Day 7 Magical Tokyo

End your visit of Tokyo with two magical museums. But since both museums are only accessible with advance tickets reserve tickets well in advance and be flexible to adjust your schedule.

  • Visit Ghibli museum
  • Yayoi Kusuma museum
  • Tokyo Metropolitan building
Also read our post on Kyoto

The other ancient Iran

Persepolis and its nearby sites are well known, but Iran has much more to offer for those who love history, culture and antique architecture. There are a couple of excellent sites relatively close together in the South Western part of Iran. They are of the beaten track, so most ordinary tours don’t go there, and it takes a bit of an effort to see them. But it’s certainly worth it. So let us guide you to these ‘hidden gems’ of ancient Iran.

The easiest way to get there is to fly to Ahvaz. Ahvaz Airport has a lot of domestic connections and some international flights. From here, you can arrange a tour or just rent a taxi for a day. We did the latter and were very satisfied with our choice. The taxi driver was friendly, had an airconditioned car and had gave some insightful information.

Something we should mention; every Iranian we told that we were going to this corner of the country was shaking their head, because even in Spring, temperatures can reach a whopping 50 degrees Celsius. And because it’s a river delta area, the heat is humid. It took some getting used to after the relative coolness of the desert.


Susa – The other Capital of the Persian Empire

Our first destination of the day was the ancient Elam capital of Susa, nowadays Shush. Susa is a truly ancient city. The first settlement dates from 4,395 BCE, more than 6,400 years ago. In the 4th millennium BCE, the city came under the influence of the Sumerian city of Uruk. From 3,100 to 2,700 BCE Susa became the centre of the Elam civilization and the Iranian history starts at this time. For 2,000 years Susa developed, sometimes as the centre of Elam, other times under the larger Akkadian empire. The Elam empire came to an end in 647BCE when the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal levelled the city.

Tile decoration

Susa came Persian Achaemenid control during the rule of Cyrus the Great around 540BCE. Darius the Great made Susa the winter capital of the Persian empire. The oldest surviving theatre play is situated in the city during this time (The Persians).

Susa would be conquered by Alexander the Great who held his mass wedding between his commanders and Persian nobility. It became a capital of the Parthian empire when it became independent and it was the furthest eastern expansion of the Roman Empire as Trajan briefly captured the city.

The city would be destroyed another two times. Once by the Arabs as they conquered Persia and later by the Mongols. However, the ruins and some preserved reliefs of the city can still be seen today.


At the entrance to the archaeological site of ancient Susa is a little museum with some beautiful finds and a lot of explanation about the history of the site. Much of the reliefs in the museum are copies, since the original were brought to France and can be seen in the Louvre museum.

Royal city

The old royal city was located on an artificial mount (tepe). So, climb the mount as you exit the museum. The major remains you can see here are the foundations of Darius his palace. Susa was his favourite capital. This palace was built at the same time as the palace in Persepolis. It would also have included a large hypostyle hall (apadana) as you can still partly see at Persepolis.


Towering over the archaeological site is the crusader-style castle built by the French archaeologists in 1885 to protect themselves. The castle is a strange anomaly in Iran, it reminds you of the castles in France and the crusader castles in the Middle East. But it is neither.

Tomb of David

Tomb of David

Another site is the tomb of the prophet David. He is said to be buried here, the church which used to house his remains was destroyed by the invading Arabs. But he is said to be reburied in the tomb.

Haft Tepe                   

On your way from Shush to the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil lies Haft Tepe (Seven Hills), which probably is the ancient town of Tikni. Here you’ll find several Royal Tombs, and other remains of what could be a palace and a ziggurat. The museum explains much about the site and its relation to both ancient Susa and Choga Zanbil.

Choga Zanbil

Choga Zanbil
Choga Zanbil

The ziggurat of Choga Zanbil is the best example of a ziggurat in Iran. Chogha Zanbil is an Elamite ziggurat built in the 13th century BCE. The Elamite king Untash-Napirisha founded it in honour of the god Inshushimah. Around the ziggurat are smaller temples dedicated to other Elamite gods. The ziggurat was made from mud bricks, stacks of unused baked bricks still stand next to the building. The original name of the site was Dur Untash, town of Untash. Choga Zanbil is the highlight of this trip and may even be one of the best things you’ll see in Iran period.


We end our trip in Shushtar and stay the night to continue northwards by bus to ancient Bisotun. You can also return to Ahvaz and continue your journey from there as it holds more options. However, you’ll not see something like Sushtar anywhere else in the world. Shushtar was one of the places where captured Roman legionnaires were set to work. The remains of their work can still be seen today.

Band-e Kaisar

Band-e Kaisar

The Romans built the bridge over the river Karun, it’s not in the best of states but many of its arches can still be seen on both sides of the riverbanks. You can go on a semi-refreshing little river cruise on one of the speedboats on offer by the locals.

Hydraulic system

The main site is the UNESCO world heritage site of the Hydraulic dam and water mills complex. The complex is Sassanid in origin and probably the Roman engineers also worked on this complex. Sadly, many of the original mills have been destroyed, but you can still see the overall structure and wander through it. We watched a carpet maker weave his carpet powered by water here.


The amazing highlights of Israel

Israel has unbelievable much to offer for its relatively small size. From the holy city of Jerusalem to the party city Tel Aviv. From dry deserts to Roman ruins, to coral reef and white beaches. Not to mention its cuisine: We cannot get enough of hummus and falafel. Because Israel is not exactly the cheapest country for travelling, we’ve packed the best stuff in just four days. Find out more below!

This itinerary for Israel starts in Eilat, but you can also choose Jerusalem or Tel Aviv as starting points.

Day 1 – Eastern Israel: Dead sea and Masada

Rent a car in Eilat and leave Eilat right away, driving towards Jerusalem. It is not difficult to come into a vacation vibe, crossing through the dry desert, passing tons of palm trees, date plantations, and beautiful mountain sceneries.

Dead Sea
Dead Sea

Dead Sea

You will pass the Dead Sea on the way, where you definitely should make a stopover. Being unable to dive, or even swim, in this lake, is an unforgettable and unique experience: You are only able to float on top of the water, and not in the water. There are free public beaches, but also somewhere you must pay a little like Kalia Beach, with natural (and healthy?) mud, Biankini Beach and Neve Midbar Beach. Good free swim spots are Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek. Just see what fits your schedule, as floating on the lowest point on earth is a very welcome change to the driving.


You will also pass by Masada, an ancient fortification on the top of a rock plateau. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels, and their families hiding there. If you have time, go here for sunrise or sunset.

You will arrive in Jerusalem in the evening. Go to bed on time – as the next day will be busy!

Day 2 – Jerusalem in one day

The Holy City of Jerusalem has a lot to offer. But it is possible to see its highlights in just one day. You will need to get up early to make it to the finish on time!

Temple Mount

Start at the Temple Mount, important for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount has remarkable opening hours: 7:30-10: 30 AM and 12:30-1:30 PM. Line up at 7 AM to avoid long lines and to make it in at 7:30 sharp. Then you will experience an almost empty Temple Mount. Great for taking pictures! The highlight of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock with its golden roof.

Dome of the Rock

Western Wall

Pay a visit to the Western Wall on your way to the Temple Mount. This is the holiest Jewish place as it’s a remain of the foundations of the second Jewish temple build by the Roman client king Herod the Great. The temple and the rest of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after the first Jewish Revolt. You have a good overview of the two gender separated prayer areas from the walkway to the mount itself.

Church of Saint Anne

Close to the Temple Mount North-exit, lies the Church of Saint Anne, a Roman Catholic church that is not on every Jerusalem-itinerary, but we advise you to go. It is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem and it has been said that it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Its courtyard creates a tranquillity that contrasts the bustling streets of the Muslim Quarter. There is also a large excavation area of the Pools of Bethesda.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Next, walk the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: The site where Jesus was crucified and Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. This holiness makes this church a major Christian pilgrimage destination. Fun fact: Control over the church is shared between several Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic and some others). The key is guarded by a Muslim family, as only they were trusted by all the Christian denominations.

Tower of David

We follow the Via Dolorosa back to the Tower of David, near the Jaffa Gate entrance in the West. You can visit the tower if you’re not too hungry yet. Just outside the old city are some cafés where you can have a lunch with falafel and hummus.

Israel Museum

Israel Museum

After lunch, take a bus to the Israel Museum. Don’t underestimate the time that you want to spend in Israel’s national museum, as it huge and it has a lot to offer. From a modern sculpture garden to an archaeology wing, fine arts, Jewish art, exhibitions, and, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Yad Vashem

Alternatively, you can visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in the western part of the city. The museum offers an extensive exhibition of the different stages and aspects of the Holocaust.

Olive Mountain

After all this culture, it is nice to end the day by walking the Olive Mountain and watching the sunset behind the holy city. You can see the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy: A closed gate, that, according to Jewish belief, only will be reopened when the Anointed One (Messiah) will come.

Day 3 – Ancient Northern Israel: Acre, Caesarea and Tel Aviv

It’s time to leave Jerusalem, and drive up North, to Acre.


Crusader Citadel

Crusader citadel

The main sights in Acre are all situated in its compact old Town behind the old city walls. These walls are the perfect point to start your tour of the city. They bring you back in time and give you an overview of the city. Make your way towards the Crusader citadel, here you can explore the remains of the heart of the Crusader Kingdom. Take the underground Templar tunnels, like the last crusaders did when they were chased out of the Holy land by the Mamaluks in 1291.

Old Port

Explore the old port and its remaining fortified towers. When you climb the southwestern bastion you can see the foundations of the old crusader castle now submerged under the Mediterranean sea. When we were there the Caravanserai Khan al-Umdan was closed due to being in disrepair. But its worth to try and get a peek at this old inn.


Get back on the road as we drive down south and go even further back in time to the Roman city of Caesarea. It was built by their client-king Herod the Great in the last decades BCE. Later it served as the Roman and Byzantine capital of Judea and Palestine.


Roman aqueduct

First head to the aqueduct on the beach just north of the city. This aqueduct used to provide water for the city, now it crumbles away and is used as a picknick spot for the beachgoers.

Caesarea Maritima

Most of the Roman remains and excavations can be found in the Caesarea National Park. Here you can find the remains of the Roman harbour, the huge hippodrome, a Roman theatre and houses and temples.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv seen from Jaffa

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps. Which is great if you want to maximize your time like us. The one thing you must see in this city is its excellent museum of art. It has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art and of Israeli Art. Tuesday and Thursday the museum is open until 21h.

Tel Aviv is filled with great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. So unwind a bit, but try to get up early the next day to beat the morning rush-hour.

If you have more time to spend here, go to the beach, get on a bike and cycle along the coastline to the old historic town of Jaffa.

Day 4 – Hot southern Israel: Avdat, Mitzpe Ramon Negev desert, snorkelling

Today is already our last day, so we have a lot of driving to go back south to Eilat.

Ein Avdat National Park

Our first stop will be in the Negev desert, in Ein Avdat National Park. If you head to the northern entrance of the park, you can descend into the Canyon and go for a nice hike here. If you just want to take in the sights and go for a short walk, take the western entrance for great views of the canyon.

Ein Avdat


Just a couple of minutes south of the western entrance lies the ancient hillside Nabataean city of Avdat. It was a major city on the Incense route, only passed in importance by Petra. The city was founded by the Nabataean in the 3rd century BCE and later inhabited by Romans and Byzantines. The city lies on top of a hill with marvellous views of the surrounding Negev desert. Just north of the city lies the archaeological remains of a Roman legionary camp.


Mitzpe Ramon

 A little bit further south lies the small town of Mitzpe Ramon. From the visitor’s centre, you have an awesome view of the Ramon Crater.  Although the Ramon crater isn’t really a crater but the worlds largest Makhtesh, a desert valley surrounded by steep walls. This is also an ideal site to spot some Nubian ibex.


Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city on the Red Sea and an ideal place to go snorkelling. Temperatures are pleasant throughout the winter and hot during the summer and the sun shines almost all days of the year. The main attraction are the coral reefs.

Snorkelling in the Red Sea

Israel – three airport options

We had return flights to the budget airport of Ovda, Eilat. You could also fly to Eilat directly or Ben Gurion International airport, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

When to go to Israel?

The best time to visit Israel is March-May and September – November: Not too hot, but nice weather to go out and about. Just watch out for the Jewish holidays Passover (April) and Rosh Hashana (September / October), as many families will go on trips; it will be busy, and hotels will be expensive.

We travelled at the beginning of February, to have a nice vitamin-D boost while it was dark and cold back home. We had great weather: ~25 degrees Celsius and sunny. However, we learned that we were quite lucky with the weather, as it also can be cold and wet in February. But it’s also quieter at the major sites.


Highlights of Shiraz

Most people come to Shiraz to visit the ancient sites of Persepolis and Pasargadae. But Shiraz itself holds many beautiful gems too. So, make sure to have at least one full day to spend in this lovely city. As with most Iranian cities, traffic can be a nightmare and pollution can be a hinder. Don’t let that dissuade you, leave early if you are going on a day trip to Persepolis to avoid the traffic. And take your time when going from one place to another. If the weather allows it, walking can be a faster mode of transport than a taxi.

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk
Morning sun in the Nasir al Molk mosque

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk is a beautiful mosque you’ve probably seen. Pictures of this magical mosque are everywhere on social media, travel guides and brochures for trips to Iran. Although the mosque itself is just over a hundred years old it’s hugely popular with tourists for its stained-glass windows. Go early in the morning when the light falls through the windows for the best sights and pictures.

Vakil Bazaar

Vakil Bazaar and the next-door Mosque were both build at the end of the 18th century by Karim Khan Zand, who was the regent (vakil) of this area. Hence the name. The bazaar is huge and it’s easy to veer off in the wrong direction, but help is always nearby, as are good shopping opportunities.

Vakil Mosque

Vakil mosque is as old as the bazaar. It probably replaced an earlier mosque which stood on the same spot. The mosque is decorated with lush coloured tiles with floral motives.

Citadel Karim Khan Zand

Citadel Karim Khan Zand
Citadel Karim Khan Zand

This citadel was again built by the productive Karim Khan, around 1763. The citadel is well preserved and gives a good insight into urban fortifications in 18th century Persia. It also has a nice courtyard and a bathing area you can visit.

Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh

Most visitors of Shiraz flock to the mausoleum of Shah Cheragh with its two shrines to brothers of the eighth imam Reza. This shrine, however, is dedicated to Ali Ibn Hamzeh, a nephew of the Imam. The shrine is much quieter and just as beautiful. The reception is also much more relaxed, we got invited into the tourist office and handed some cookies, water and tea. While we could cool down we take a look at some picture books and got some information about Shia islam. Afterwards, we were guided around and encouraged to take pictures. This still was a bit awkward as people next to you are kneeling on the ground, engaged in prayer.

Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh
Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh

Hafez Tomb

Just 5 minutes from the shrine Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh is the tomb of Hafez, one of the most popular poets of Iran. The mausoleum is always busy both with admirers of the poet, who will recite some poems there and ordinary people escaping the hot city and enjoying the surrounding garden. The present-day mausoleum is a 20th-century construction which replaced the earlier when build by Karim Khan.

Bagh-e Delgosha (Garden)

These extensive gardens are on the way to Saadi’s tomb. They date to the end of the 18th century and are a good example of a classical Persian garden.

Saadi Tomb

Also set in a nice garden is Saadi’s tomb. This is the quieter of the two poet’s tombs as its more on the outskirts of the town. It’s set in a nice relaxed area with beautiful cypress trees and hills.

Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh

Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh
Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh

The mausoleum of Shah Cheragh is one of the more important ones in Iran. It holds the shrines to two of the brothers of the eighth imam Reza. Therefor it is a very busy place. Tourists can only visit this place with a guide which will be provided at the entrance. Guards with green feather dusters will correct females if their clothing slips up.

Bagh-e Eram (garden)

Bagh-e Eram
Bagh-e Eram

The best garden in Shiraz, this classical Persian garden is one of the highlights of the city. It’s always busy with people searching for refreshment and shade. It has a beautiful little palace which now houses the law faculty but can still be admired from the outside. There are many different species of plants and trees here which all are named, also in English.

Himeiji castle

Best itinerary for 4 unforgettable weeks in Japan

Are you ready for Japan?

U-erukomu! Are you ready for a modern world in the eastern part of the globe spread out over 6,000 islands? Get ready for an unending journey of temples, pagodas, modern art and high tech. But also neighbourhoods of samurais and geishas, Japanese gardens and a highly organized society? A world of fresh fish, the finest sushi, steaming ramen, tea ceremonies and strong sake? Continue reading about our adventures while travelling the land of the rising sun: Japan!


We spend our honeymoon in Japan, which made this journey extra special for us. This meant: reading many books and watching tons of movies before we dared to visit the country. We wanted to be sure that we were prepared our trip in the best way possible. We hope you can use our information to your advantage!

So, we share our itinerary, made a list of 11 tips for travelling Japan, a blog about food, Tokyo and Kyoto, what to pack, how to prepare and much more…

When to go?

Japan is beautiful in all seasons. Just know that Cherry blossom season is somewhere in March or April depending on the weather and the location. But there are dedicated websites to forecasting when the blossoming will start. But be aware that it will be busier around this time. The same goes for Golden Week, which is a national holiday from the 29th of April to early May. Summers are hot and humid and August is also the time of another public holiday. Autumn colors will start to appear at the end of September in the north, slowly making their way south.

Our Japan itinerary

We had a hard time puzzling the best itinerary for our four weeks in Japan. We wanted to visit as much of Japan as possible. As you know, we love culture, history, art and nature and wanted a perfect combination of this. Since Japan has a lot to offer in all these categories, tough choices had to be made. We like to hear if you have a more efficient itinerary than this one.


Tokyo Asakusa
Tokyo Asakusa

We flew to Tokyo to start our trip and spend one long day in this big city, visiting museums of Japanese history and Western art, temples and pagodas. Also, we used Tokyo as our base for two-day trips: one to Kamakura, a coastal town packed with temples and Buddha’s and one to the shrines of Nikko.

Next, we explored and crossed the Japanese Alps. We had a pit-stop Nagano; spent a night in Matsumoto to visit its famous black castle and the birthplace of modern artist Yayoi Kusama. We hiked a day in Kamakochi, a popular resort with spectacular mountain scenery. Then, we crossed the Japanese Alps to the west coast. There, we stayed in Kanazawa, home to one of the best landscape gardens of Japan, an impressive modern art museum and a beautiful castle.


Okunoin cementry
Okunoin cementry

From there our trip continued southwards by bullet train, to visit Osaka a vibrant and modern city; Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan and Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital.
To learn more about the Japanese religion and the art of meditation, we did a tour in the mystical mountains in Koyasan, where we slept in a temple. From Kii-Tanabe we walked the Kumano Kodo, in the footsteps of the pilgrims.



From the heart of those misty Mountains, it was a substantial train ride back to the inhabited world. We joined civilization again in Okayama to visit its garden and castle. Took the boat across the inland sea to Naoshima, an island bursting with modern art. On the way, we also visited the beautiful, white Himeji castle and Hiroshima with its Atomic bomb museum, and the Miyajima shrine. You know that famous shrine that you see on every Japan brochure.


Blood Hell
Blood Hell

And from here, the always unpredictable nature of Japanese earth’s crust threw a spanner in the works of the last weeks of our trip. We planned to visit Kumamoto and its castle and from there Mount Aso with its active volcano before we would hit Beppu, the onsen heaven of Japan. However, because of an earthquake, Kumamoto’s castle was partially collapsed and the city was isolated from most train traffic. Also, the volcano of Aso was a bit too active, and therefore, tourists were not allowed nearby. That is why we choose to go to Beppu straight away and spent the two days that we saved on an extra Japanese garden in Takamatsu, a temple in Kyoto and a museum, all the way back in Kanazawa. Also, we visited Nagasaki, to another city hit by an atomic bomb, and also check out Dejima, the Dutch trading post from the 17th-19th century.

Okinawa beach

From Fukuoka, we planned to fly to Iriomote, one of Japan’s tropical islands to finish our trip on the soft and sandy bounty beaches, to snorkel and hike through the jungle of the remote island. However, because of a typhoon, flights and boats were cancelled, which got us stuck on the main island of Okinawa for three days. This gave us all the time to learn the secrets of healthy living from the oldest people in the world, living in Okinawa.

Just before we had to leave Japan, we spent two more days in Tokyo, to make sure we could check all the remaining highlights there and don’t feel too sad to head back to the other side of the world.


Isfahan a two day itinerary

According to a Persian saying, “Isfahan nesf-e jahan“, Isfahan is half the world. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful city in the world! In the same range as Rome, Paris and Saint Petersburg. So Isfahan is a must-visit city, even if you are on a tight schedule. We made you an two-day itinerary, covering all the highlights.

Day 1

Maydan-e Iman
Maydan-e Iman

Exploring Isfahan is best done starting at the grand public square Maydan-e Iman. It’s surrounded by some of the best sights of the city. Watching sunrise there, is truly magical.

Ali Qapu palace

Start the day at Ali Qapu palace, which opens the earliest of the sites (8:00). The palace was built around 1600. Its main feature is the balcony (Talar) from which you have the best views of the square and of the two mosques. Don’t forget to look up while there, to inspect the beautiful ceilings.

Masjed-e Imam

At the southern corner of the square lies the Masjed-e Imam. Building of the mosque started around the same time as the square. Shah Abbas I initiated both at the beginning of the 17th century. Right after entering the mosque you’ll notice that the mosque itself is built at a 45-degree angle in position to the square. The north south orientation of the square prevailed in the design of the area. Both the tiling and the inlay work of the mosque is of great quality and the domes of the buildings make for fine pictures.

Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah

On the eastern side of the square is the small Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah. This is the most beautiful mosque of the city, especially when the sun is low, and sunbeams penetrate the domed chamber. Have a sit and marvel at all the intricate geometrical shapes.



Now that you are relaxed and peaceful, it’s time to make your way to the northern side of the square and enter the bazar. Head in a north-eastern direction towards Masjed-e Jame. In the meantime, you’ll come across all the spices, scarfs, jewellery and tapestries you could ever need. Get a bite to eat while you’re there.

Masjed-e Jame

Almost a thousand years old, the Masjed-e Jame (Friday mosque) is a true gem. Marvel at the 11th century dome with a 17-meter diameter. Don’t forget to take a look at the Objeity mihrat, a plastered panel from 1310 in honour of the Illhamid ruler Onjeitu. Behind this room is the vaulted winter mosque. Guides will turn the lights on and off for a great scene. More arcades and a dome are at the northern end.

Day 2

Chetel Shotun

Start the day at Chetel Shotun. This 17th century palace was used to receive foreign envoys and dignitaries. The pavilion has some huge painted battle scenes depicting battles with the Turks, Afghans and Uzbeks.

Hasht Bekesht / Ablassi hotel

If you’re into modern art, pay a visit to the contemporary art museum next door for some Iranian art. Make your way south to the small and intimate Hasht Bekesht palace and the surrounding park. If you want an ice-cream or a cup of tea, head over to the Ablassi hotel. Indulge in some luxury in this converted caravanserai and its pleasant courtyard.

Vank Cathedral

Vank Cathedral
Vank Cathedral

Next, go to the Armenian quarter (New Jolfa) on the south side of the river. The main draw here is Vank cathedral. This 17th century cathedral has beautifully painted walls. On these walls you can see various biblical scenes and Armenian tales. The grounds of the cathedral also house a memorial to the Armenian genocide and a small museum.
A short walk to the east lies Bethlehem church. This smaller church is a couple of decades older than Vank Cathedral. It has similar nicely painted and decorated walls and ceilings.
For lunch or a drink, head over to Toranj traditional restaurant. This old restored merchant house has some nice rooms and a pleasant patio.

Thuhlte Foulad
Thuhlte Foulad

Thuhlte Foulad

A ten-minute taxi ride to the east brings you to Tauhlte Foulad. A cemetery dating from the 10th century. The different tombs give an interesting overview of Islamic architectural styles.

Zayandeh River


Take the northern exit and walk for some 10 minutes towards Zayandeh River. Get some food and join the hundreds of Iranians on an evening stroll and picnic alongside the river. We’ll start our walk at Khaju Bridge. Shah Abbas II built this bridge with its octagonal pavilions in 1650. Walk westwards along the river until you reach Si-o-se-pol. This bridge is also known as Allahverdi Khan Bridge and was built in 1599. Its 33 arches are a great site at night when the bridge is lit and mirrored in the water.

Don’t forget to read our two day itinerary for Tehran!

How to spend 2 days in Isfahan
Golestan Palace

How to spend two days in Tehran

It was difficult to decide whether to make a 2 or 3-day itinerary for Tehran. Not so much because of all the things to see but more because of the sheer size of the city and the difficulty navigating it. But two days should be enough for the highlights. And most of the time, the air in the city is so polluted that its detrimental to your health anyways.

As with many big cities, Tehran lacks a proper city centre. Most of its attractions are scattered around the city. To ease you into the city we’ll start our itinerary in what could be described as a sort of centre of Tehran.

Day 1

National Museum of Iran

Darius, King of Kings

We start the day with a visit to the national museum of Iran. The museum is a bit old fashioned but it’s a great place to learn the pre-Islamic history of Iran. Highlights are the Achaemenid statues and reliefs. Which are in better state here than at Persepolis.

Next door is the Islamic museum, which is part of the same complex, so you can buy a combi ticket if needed. It has great pieces from all the periods. We’ll go to the Reza Abbasi museum also covers this.

Golestan palace complex

Next, we head south and take a walk through Park-e Shahr (City Park) and exit at the south-eastern corner. This brings us to the Golestan palace. Most of what remains today is from the end of the 19th century. The Golestan palace complex is divided into separate museums for which you’ll have to pay separately. This is the case for all palace complexes in Tehran. Choose only what interest you and skip the rest. We suggest at least a visit to the art gallery (Neggar Khaneh).


Now its’s time to mingle with the locals by paying a visit to the bazar. Do some souvenir shopping and take in the sights. A good place for lunch is Sharaf Al-Eslami at the eastern end of the bazar, near the Imam mosque.

National jewel museum

After lunch time, the national jewel museum will open. If you like sparkling and glistering things, this is the place to go. Here you find the world’s largest pink diamond, various crowns and other outlandishly shiny objects.

Bagh-e Negarestan

Kamal al-Molk museum.
Kamal al-Molk museum

One metro stop away, near Baharestan Metro Station lies Bagh-e Negarestan (Negarestan garden). Nowadays its part of Tehran university and houses the Kamal al-Molk museum. The museum is dedicated to Iran’s most famous painter and his followers.

Day 2

Azadi Tower

We start at the Azadi Tower, built to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the birth of the Iranian nation. Nowadays it is rebranded as the freedom tower.

Milad Tower

Milad Tower
Milad Tower

Take the taxi to Milad tower, from where you’ll have great views of both the city and its mountainous backdrop.

Reza Abbasi museum

Head eastwards to the Reza Abbasi museum. This is the best museum in Tehran and you shouldn’t miss it. The museum has superb examples of Iranian miniature paintings, decorated Quran’s and archaeologic treasures.

Niavaran Palace complex

Depending on the time and your appetite for palaces, decide whether to visit the Niavaran palace complex. This is a mainly 20th century palace complex, it was the place from which the last Shah fled into exile. It consists of seven separate museums which all need a separate ticket. If you go here, at least visit the Niavaran palace itself. Completed in 1968, it looks very modern from the outside, but its interior is classic in design.

Saadabad Palace

Saadabad Palace
Saadabad Palace

When you only want to do one palace, go to the Saadabad Palace complex. It’s a 15-minute walk from Tajrish metro station. This large complex lies in the northern part of Tehran, set against the hillsides. It’s a great place to escape the madness of Tehran, relax and go for a walk. There are sixteen different museums in the complex all with sperate tickets. At least visit Mellat palace and the fine arts museum.


Take the northern exit from Saadabad palace towards Darband. Join the hundreds of Iranians going here for a walk, drink, smoke and a bite to eat. At the end of the road where the cars must turn back, take the elevator for some great views of the city. Continue back down alongside the stream. Pick a place and end your time in Tehran watching its people walk by and enjoy themselves.

Also read our review of Chogha Zanbil.

how to spend 2 days in Tehran

UNESCO World heritage site review: Chogha Zanbil, Iran


Chogha Zanbil is an Elamite ziggurat built in the 13th century BCE. The Elamite king Untash-Napirisha founded it in honour of the god Inshushimah. Smaller temples dedicated to other Elamite gods surround the ziggurat. The ziggurat is made from mud bricks, stacks of unused baked bricks still stand next to the building. The original name of the site was Dur Untash, town of Untash.

The site extents around one square kilometre and was originally surrounded by a four-kilometre wall. Building stopped after the death of Untash-Napirisha. There is discussion about the period of Untash-Napirisha’s rule, the most recent thought is that he reigned between 1275-1240 BCE. The site remained in use after the death of Untash-Napirisha until the Assyrian king Ashurbanipul destroyed it in 640 BCE.

In a month of days, I levelled the whole of Elam. I deprived its fields of the sound of human voices, the tread of cattle and sheep, the refrain of joyous harvest songs. I turned it into a pasture for wild asses, gazelles and all manner of wild animals.” This inscription from an Assyrian palace tells us about the destruction. Only decades later, the Medes would bring the same kind of destruction to the Assyrian civilization.


Read more about how we rated Chogha Zanbil and other World Heritage sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review page.

Beauty 4/5

The orange red bricks perfectly contrast the blue sky. As you walk around the ziggurat in the burning sun, the 3,500-year-old 53-meter-high building provides a passageway through time. Much of the ziggurat looks like it was built only yesterday. The site is even more magical at dawn or dusk, when the orange sky complements the warm colours of the ziggurat.

This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.

Uniqueness 5/5

Chogha Zanbil

Chogha Zanbil is one of the best-preserved ziggurats in the world. It’s also one of the few ziggurats built outside of Mesopotamia. And if the security situation in Iraq hasn’t improved, this is your best option anyway. All this results in an appreciation of 5 out of 5 for uniqueness.

Experience 3.5/5

The ziggurat itself doesn’t come with much explanation. There are some bilingual signs in English and Iranian, explaining the functions of the different buildings. You’re free to wander the area as long as you stay of the ziggurat itself.
To give your visit more context, visit the nearby museum at Haft Tepe. Here you’ll find a detailed history of the ziggurat and the Elamites. The museum also houses archaeological finds from the site.

Disability: The site is flat without any stairs making it easily accessible. Major climate warning, there is almost no shade at the site. The temperature averages around 40+ degree Celsius in the spring and 50+ degree Celsius in the summer. Bring some water, air-conditioning, sunscreen, parasols and sunglasses.

Value for money: The entry price is 200,000 Rial (€4.5/$5), this is the average price tourists must pay for historical sites and museums. So, the value for money is good.

Location 2.5/5

Foundations of surrounding temples

Located in the south-western part of Iran near the Iraqi border, the only way to get to Chogha Zanbil is by car. So there are only a couple of options. Rent a car and drive yourself. Hire a taxi for a day and additionally go to Shush (Susa) and Shushtar to make the most of your day. Or be part of an organised tour which includes Chogha Zanbil in its itinerary. Apart from Shush and Shushtar there isn’t much to see in this area. So you need to plan carefully and arrange for enough time. This all leads to a score of 2.5 out of 5 for location.

Overall rating 4

Chogha Zanbil is a beautiful and unique site in a far corner of Iran. There is room for improvement. It needs to be accessible by public transport and the site can be better explained. But at the same time, there is a big chance that you will be all by yourself with this 3,500-year-old building. That’s worth some effort. Considering everything, we’ll give Chogha Zanbil a light 4.


Some websites mix the date of destruction with the date of the end of construction. To be clear, construction of the site stopped somewhere around 1240BCE. The site stopped being used in 640BCE after the destruction by the Assyrians.

Chogha Zanbil Unesco entry

Also read our two day itinerary for Tehran.

Chogha Zanbil

Top 3 Japanese Gardens

Most list of Japanese gardens list the same three gardens in no particular order, the so-called three Great Japanese gardens. After visiting dozens of different Japanese gardens, we came to a different conclusion. Continue reading to broaden your horizon.

Nr. 3 Ritsurin-koen

Ritsurin-koen is not on many other lists, but undeservingly so. Maybe because the garden is in Takamatsu. Which is on the island of Shikoku and not part of most tourist itineraries. Yet, this garden is worth the detour. Ritsurin-koen is Japan’s largest garden with over 750,000 square meters.

Work on this garden started in 1625 by Ikoma Takatoshi, making this the oldest garden on the list. Takatoshi began with the development of Nan-ko, the southern lake and used the beautiful vegetation of Mount Shiun as a background. Further improvements and enlargement of the garden would take another 100 years. Construction of the garden finished in 1745. After the requisitioning by the Meiji government the garden opened to the public in 1875. The Japanese government designated Ritsurin-koen as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1953.

There are different ways to enjoy this garden: Take a boat ride on Nan-ko to take in the views from the water. Or go for a cup of tea in the teahouse which overlooks the lake. From the hill in the garden, you have a complete view of all its beauty. Japanese come to this garden to get a quintessential view of Japan, so did we and so should you.

If you decide to make the trip, also visit the nearby open-air museum of Shikoku village. Here, you can experience the way people used to live in this area and view some great art.

Nr. 2 Korakuen

Construction of Okayama Korakuen started in 1687 and finished in 1700. Apart from some small changes, the garden looks the same today as it did back then. We know this because there are many period paintings and records describing the garden. The garden opened to the public in 1884. It was heavily damaged during floods in 1934 and bombing in 1945. But has since been restored with the help of the before mentioned paintings and records. Korakuen garden was designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1952.


The garden has great open spaces which allows for these great views. Streams of water cut through those open spaces to add depth. Rice fields seemingly transfer into the grass and rows of trees line the paths. The garden has a different palette of colours every season because of all the different blossoms, foliage and flowers. The beautiful backdrop of Okayama castle enhances the scenic beauty of the garden. This is also the best way to view Okayama castle since it’s not so good looking up close. And as in any garden, there always is a teahouse nearby to relax and take in the views.

Okayama lies on the route from Kyoto to Hiroshima and the island of Kyusu. It also is an ideal base for visiting the islands of the inland sea, like Naoshima. Or the Ritsurin-koen in Takamatsu, which is just 1.5 hours away by train.

Nr. 1 Kenroku-en


This is our favourite Japanese Garden as it combines all the characteristics perfectly. Great views as far as the distant sea. Big and small streams of water. Hidden views, solitary trees and the famous bound pine trees that can handle the snow and provide the idyllic winter pictures. There is even scientific research done to explain why people like this garden so much.

Maeda Tsunanori developed the first garden on this site in the second half of the 17th century. The garden was called “Renchi-tei garden” and was used for banquets and moon viewing. It burned down in 1759, but Maeda Harunaga restored it. He added the Midori-taki waterfall and the tea houses and in 1776 the garden had its current form. Kenroku-en opened to the public in 1874.

Kanazawa lies along the shore of the Japanese Sea on the other side of the Japanese Alps. Therefore, it isn’t on everybody’s itinerary. But it should be, not only is this garden worth the trip, the city of Kanazawa has an outstanding modern art museum, geisha’s and old samurai houses to enjoy. If that’s not enough to convince you, let us tell you that the trip there crossing the Alps is a great adventure on its own.

Other gardens worth mentioning

Kairaku-en in Mito

Kairaku-en is usually included in the list of the three great gardens of Japan. We found it the least interesting of the three and prefer Ritsurin-koen to this garden. That said, it is famous for its plum blossoms and of all the gardens listed here it lies closest to Tokyo so it makes for an easy day trip. Read our article about a day trip to Mito for more information.

Adachi museum of art

The private Adachi museum of art has a stunning garden and the views from the museum are breath taking. Although you can’t really wander in this garden, viewing this garden is certainly rewarding. The museum itself also houses great works of art, so make the detour and stay in nearby Matsue and visit this beautiful museum and garden.

Top 3 Gardens
Food in Japan

Eating in Japan

Eating in Japan is a treat and an experience on its own. From the quality of the products to the love and work put into the preparation and presentation, it’s hard to have a bad meal. Furthermore, eating out is relatively inexpensive, even more so when you skip the alcoholic drinks. Japanese food is a major attraction when going to Japan. It is the one thing we miss the most and just thinking about all the meals we had, waters my mouth. Here is an overview of the eating options, from breakfast to dinner, you can find in Japan.



Breakfast is the staple meal of the day, certainly for travellers going places and walking around all day. It will give you the energy to do all that or provide you with a moment of Zen before rushing from A to B to C.

Fish markets

Kaisen bowl
Kaisen bowl

One of the best things to have for breakfast, is fresh fish from the market. It may sound a bit heavy on the stomach early in the morning, but once you have tried it, it will be hard to resist. So, take a walk to the nearest fish market (that can be found in almost every town close to the sea, which is luckily quite usual in Japan!), and taste the quality and freshness of the products.

The obvious place to go to is Tsukiji fish market. Here, you can sit down at one of the many bars for a quick and great meal. Tuna is great, but keep overfishing in mind. If you want to try something else in Tokyo, try and go to Adachi fish market. Fish markets in other Japanese towns that stand out are the Kanazawa fish market and the Osaka Central fish market.

What to try? Go for the Kaisen (mixed sea food) bowl

Convenience store

No time to sit down? Go to a convenience store. The food is cheap and there is a big range of different breakfast options of fairly good quality. Wherever you’re going you’ll always find a Lawson, Seven-Eleven or a FamilyMart along your way.

What to try? Onigiri (Japanese rice balls)

Breakfast chains

Do you want to sit down, but don’t spend too much money? Try one of the morning breakfast sets at a restaurant or coffee shop chain. There are numerous options available. Cheap options are Beck’s coffee operated by JR East which can be found at many railway stations in the Kanto region. Another is Doutor Coffee located in business districts around Japan which serves western style breakfast options. If you have a bigger appetite, try Cocos for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.


Bento box

Bento boxes

The bento box or boxed lunch is something typically Japanese which you should try at least once. But be aware, the quality and convenience can tempt you to always eat lunch on the go. There are many bento-options at almost every station. Convenient if you have to catch a train around lunch time!

What to try? Oshizushi (pressed sushi in a wooden box)

Kaiseki Ryori (Japanese haute cuisine)

This is the top end of the Japanese culinary experience. If you want to try this and don’t break your budget at the same time, lunch time is the best opportunity to do so. You usually pay between a third – two-thirds of the dinner price. This will still set you back somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 Yen.

fast food
Double hamburger

Fast food

You can’t be adventurous all the time. So if you’re looking for a fast and familiar fix for lunch, head over to a fast food restaurant. You’ll find all the big familiar chains in Japan but with some local specialities added to their menus. Alternatively, try one of the Japanese burger chains like Mos Burger or Freshness burger for burgers prepared with local products.


Starting to describe all the dinner options is an impossible mission. Whether you’re in Tokyo or a small provincial town, good affordable dinner options are never far away. So how to make a choice amidst this abundance? Use an app like Tripadvisor to point you in the right direction. Get a few options in an area and check them out. Most cities have areas with a higher concentration of restaurants. Food courts are also a great option. Head over there and use the best tip we can give you: “Follow the queue”. Whether you’re looking for breakfast at the fish market, picking up a bento box or choosing a place for dinner, this advice will help you every time. A long line equals a great dining experience. Lines are usually around 30 minutes long but can be longer for really popular places.



Try to eat something different every time to get as big a sample as possible of all Japan has to offer. Go for some Ramen, people have devoted their life to finding the best Ramen so let their quest be your guide. Try the different local specialties, so when you’re In Osaka try some Okonomoyaki. Go to a Buddhist temple and sample their vegetarian cuisine. And eat some sushi, whenever and wherever you want to.

Food in Japan