For some, 3 days in Tokyo won’t sound like enough, however, I think it’s the perfect amount of time for an introduction to the city. Of course, Tokyo is enormous and has a never-ending list of things to see and do but I felt like I was ready for some peace and quiet after 3 days of hustle and bustle!
Tokyo is a huge city, so you need to be smart with your plans for each day. Try to dedicate a day/morning/afternoon to a region/area of the city rather than random attractions dotted across the city.
When planning your itinerary, look at what activities you need to pre-book before your arrival – these may dictate which areas you decide to tackle on which days (in our case, the only pre-booked activity we had was the Pokemon Cafe!)
Something we learnt the hard way is that you should always double-check opening times of attractions – don’t make the same mistake as us (more on that later!)
Although this all sounds very regimented, you also need to maintain a degree of flexibility. You will get lost (this is good, don’t worry) and you will get distracted by something that wasn’t planned along the way!
There’s a strong chance that Tokyo is your first stop in Japan, given the city’s fantastic international flight connections. There are two main airports in Tokyo – Tokyo International Airport Haneda (HND) and Narita International Airport (NRT).
We flew into HND and opted to take the Airport Limousine Bus Transfer (which is available from both HND and NRT). The bus stops at a number of popular hotels in Tokyo, including the Hilton Tokyo Hotel (which we were staying at, using our Hilton Honours points). This is an extremely convenient, affordable and efficient option. While taxis (including Uber) are available, you may need a small mortgage to afford them!
YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN: We visited Tokyo as the first stop on our 2.5 week trip to Japan. While there are tonnes of different itineraries you could follow, I think I’ve nailed a pretty perfect itinerary for first timers in Japan, which you can read here!
Alternatively, if you’re coming from another Japanese city, you may opt to travel by train. If you’re planning a multi-city trip, the JR Rail Pass may be the best option for you. You can read my top tips on how to use the JR Rail Pass within my article on planning a trip to Japan.
If you’re accustomed to jumping in a taxi to get around cities easily, you may want to forget that idea while in Tokyo! Taxis are expensive and traffic can cause delays.
Instead, the best way to get around Tokyo is to use the super-efficient Subway system. Tickets can be purchased for 24, 48 or 72 hours which allow you to travel on the Metro for an unlimited number of journeys within the given period.
Alternatively, you can pick up a Suica IC Card, which is effectively a pre-paid card that allows you to use Tokyo’s Subway and also pay for goods in some popular convenience stores such as 7/11 (and some vending machines!) without needing to find the right cash.
Google Maps will become your best friend while trying to navigate Tokyo’s subway trains. You can click on any subway station to see a full timetable of the next trains which will depart from that station. Plus, clicking on each train will show you all of the upcoming stops. This is extremely helpful when you’re a bit lost and confused (which will inevitably happen – let’s face it)!
We should have had 3.5 – 4 days to spend in Tokyo, but our connecting flight was delayed meaning we spent a day sitting in Beijing Airport rather than exploring…
In the end, this ended up being great for us. It meant we arrived in Tokyo at night (I always find that arriving at a destination when it’s dark is exciting. You catch a few sneaky glimpses of your new surroundings and the excitement for the next day increases!) and we were exhausted, so went to sleep immediately and suffered almost no jet-lag. If we had arrived during the day and then tried to explore immediately, we definitely would have crashed and burned from exhaustion!
So that you can get a full 3 days of exploring, try to arrive the night before, so you are well rested for a jam-packed 3 days!
We had racked up a huge number of Hilton Honours points via Callum’s work, so we decided to treat ourselves to a stay at the Tokyo Hilton. We were extremely spoilt by this hotel! Hotel rooms in Tokyo are usually extremely small but our booking was upgraded to a huuuuuge suite which was far bigger than we’d ever need (although a real treat).
We spent our evening reading blog posts on the best things to do in Japan (obviously, none are as good as this one!), planning the 3 days up ahead and squealing/laughing as we pressed every button on the fancy Japanese toilet.
As we travelled to Japan during the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Tokyo was extremely busy and we weren’t able to stay at Tokyo Hilton for the entirety of our stay. We later moved to the Rose Garden Hotel which was clean and safe but the room definitely lacked the space of that of the Hilton!
Both hotels are conveniently located in Shinjuku, just a short walk from many attractions and the well-connected Shinkuju train station.
Let’s start this itinerary off with potentially my favourite area of Tokyo. When you’re extremely jet-lagged, there’s nothing better than sugar-filled treats to give you some energy. It also helps when said treats are extremely cute (or kawaii, in Japanese terms).
We settled on the famous HUGE rainbow candy floss from Totti Candy Factory and two adorable animal-shaped ice creams from Eiswelt Gelato.
Aside from street food, Takeshita St is filled with plenty of other shops and activities to keep you busy. From Daiso Dreams (a 100 JPY shop filled with goodies) to tonnes of independent shops/stalls (a large number of which sold socks?!), there’s no end of things you can buy.
Sadly, there are some less “cutesy” commodities in Harajuku. We spotted a large number of “animal cafes” in the area – if you are interested in participating in any form of animal tourism, please do sufficient research on the ethical considerations. While there are animal cafes in Tokyo which comply with the regulations imposed by the Japanese government, there are a large number of animal cafes which do not.
On a slightly happier note, Harajuku is also home to a large number of Purikura photo booths. These photo booths are slightly different as filters are applied to play into the somewhat concerning Japanese standards of beauty, whitening skin and women having childlike facial features. While the underlying premise is dubious, these photo booths can be extremely fun for tourists – you can tone down the filters and decorate the photos to your heart’s content with kawaii electronic stickers and layout options!
After the buzz and excitement of Takeshita Street, head to the nearby Meiji-Jingu Temple and the surrounding gardens for some peace and quiet. The treelined path walk to the temple is absolutely beautiful and such a juxtaposition to that of the bright and bustling Takeshita Street. The effortless mix of city and nature is one of my favourite things about Tokyo.
If this is your first day in Japan after a long international travel day (as was the case for us), you’re probably going to be flagging a little bit now. Thankfully, Yoyogi park (located next to/around Meiji-Jingu Temple) is the perfect place to relax (maybe with a picnic if you aren’t still full from all the streetfood earlier in the day)!
Shibuya Crossing is one of those destinations that you have to visit in Tokyo – both because it’s so iconic and also because you’re more than likely to just stumble across it anyway, even if you weren’t trying to actively go there. After experiencing the rush of people on the crossing, head into Starbucks for an ariel view of the activity.
But, let’s bring your expectations down a notch. It’s just a series of pedestrian crossings. We originally visited Shibuya in the morning which was extremely underwhelming as there were barely any people. I’d suggest visiting Shibuya later in the day, particularly in the evening. I’m not 100% sure that I understand the hype surrounding Shibuya Crossing but am glad that I’ve ticked it off my list.
While you’re in Shibuya, you have to pay a visit to Hachiko, a statue of the most loyal dog the world’s ever seen. You can read the heartbreaking story of how Hachiko returned to Shibuya station every evening for 9 years hoping that his owner (who had passed away at work) would come home here.
If you visit Tokyo during various events, you may see that he is dressed up for the occasion. In our case, he was loyally supporting his team in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Luckily, I’d dressed up for him too – yes, I am wearing a t-shirt that says “I just want to hang out with my dog”.
Shibuya is the perfect place to get lost in shops filled with fun, unique items. From gifts to clothing to homewares to beauty/skincare, there isn’t much you won’t find in the streets of Shibuya. If we had a larger luggage allowance, I’m sure Callum would have done some serious damage in these shops! Instead, we settled for plenty of Japanese sweet treats to eat throughout our trip and some Pokémon-themed skincare facemasks (an obvious necessity).
We got extremely lucky on our first night in Tokyo by stumbling across Shin. We were starving and simply wandered into the first place we found. It’s safe to say that the tiny restaurant and unassuming shop-front, gave us no indication that Shin was listed by Trip Advisor as the “2020 Travelers Choice” and Time Out as the “Best Udon in Tokyo”.
The udon noodles are made fresh (you’ll be able to see the chefs working their magic from your table) and are served with a variety of delicious broths and tempuras.
With jet lag still plaguing us, we were hungry earlier than normal which definitely worked in our favour as Shin only has a few small tables (serving a maximum of 10-12 people at one time) and the queue to enter was extremely long as we were leaving. So, if you’re considering eating at Shin, consider avoiding traditional meal times.
There’s nothing more thrilling than finding a spot to watch the sunset in a city and then learning that the experience is FREE. Many guidebooks will tell you to watch the sunset from Tokyo Skytree; while I can’t comment on the experience at the Skytree as I didn’t visit, the 3,100 – 3,400 JPY (approx £20) entry price is steep when there’s a free alternative!
Sadly, we didn’t visit the Tokyo Government Buildings on the right day – while we caught glimpses of the beautiful sunset, we mostly saw ominous black clouds. In any case, we still enjoyed our visit and suggest getting to the towers slightly before sunset, so you can enjoy the near-360° views in both the daytime and nighttime.
Omoide Yokocho translates to “Memory Lane”, a decidedly more pleasant name than the name given by the locals of Shouben Yokochou or “Piss Alley”. However, don’t be put off by the name as this originates from many years ago when the area was known as a place for criminals to drink and, given the lack of facilities at the time, merrymakers would relieve themselves on the street.
Nowadays, you shouldn’t see anyone peeing on the street… instead, you’ll find many restaurants, bars and shops which are only big enough for one person to pass through at a time. The local government is making an effort to keep the area’s authentic look and feel, so it’s definitely worth taking time to walk through the area even if you don’t intend to eat/drink there.
And here’s where our itinerary went a bit wrong and my previous advice of “make sure you check the opening dates and times of attractions” comes into play. We made our way over to the Imperial Palace, excited to explore the beautiful palace and gardens.
Sadly, the palace and gardens are closed on Mondays, so we were rejected at the gate. We walked around the outside wall, trying to catch as many glimpses of the treasures inside as possible. Sadly, we didn’t have a chance to return later in our trip, but it looked beautiful from what we could see!
Now for the part that Callum (a HUGE Pokemon fan) was looking forward to… eating at the Pokemon Cafe! While the food is fine, it was definitely one of the lowest quality (and one of the more expensive) meals we ate. However, a trip to the Pokemon Cafe is more about the experience than the actual food!
The menu is filled with all sorts of themed options – I opted for a Pikachu curry followed by a Jigglypuff cheesecake! Pikachu made a special appearance mid-way through our meal, dancing his way around the cafe – I’ve never seen so many adults completely enthralled by the arrival of a dress-up character, so that was definitely entertaining! Between the loud music and atmosphere in the room, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement, even if you aren’t a Pokemon fan!
If you want to visit the Pokemon Cafe, make sure you book before your trip! Bookings can be made up to 30 days before your intended visit and availability is limited. This is the only thing we had pre-booked before our trip to Tokyo! Reservations can be made in English here. Your booking only lasts for 90 minutes, so arrive slightly early to make sure you are seated in good time.
If you arrive too early, the Cafe is situated next to a Pokemon Store (there are a few of these within Tokyo and other major cities in Japan) where you can pass the time.
One of the most iconic attractions in Tokyo has to be Tokyo Tower. Given that we’d already enjoyed a free view of the city the day prior at Metropolitan Government Buildings, we didn’t feel the need to visit the Tokyo Tower observation deck (I’m also terrified of heights and would have definitely freaked myself out while waiting in the long queue for the elevator)! Luckily, the view from the ground is pretty damn good!
Right next to Tokyo Tower are Prince Shiba Park (Japan’s oldest designated park) and Zojoi Temple. When we wandered toward Tokyo Tower, we weren’t expecting to find such a serene and relaxing park to walk through. The park is definitely worth exploring, particularly as you can continue to admire Tokyo Tower above the trees.
No trip to Japan would be complete without a nighttime visit to Akihabara, sometimes referred to as the “Electric Town”, the ultimate place for all Japanese pop-culture pastimes. You can easily spend an evening taking in the bright lights, playing in the arcades and browsing the many shops.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, Akihabara is where you’ll find a number of the famous Maid Cafes (where you are served by a woman in a frilly maid outfit who will call you “Master” and wait on your every need) or maybe take a trip to Studio Crown for a cosplay photoshoot.
Everyone warned us that Tokyo would be busy, especially as we were travelling during the 2019 Rugby World Cup (held in Japan), but we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tokyo didn’t feel any busier than other big cities we have visited. That was, until we reached Senso-Ji Temple! Senso-Ji Temple is an absolute must-see in Tokyo and was extremely busy during our visit!
Not only is Senso-Ji Tokyo’s oldest temple, it’s also one of the most impressive. The grounds are huge and you could spend quite a while wandering around (especially if you’re battling through huge crowds like we were)!
After visiting Senso-Ji Temple, make sure you spend some time exploring the surrounding streets which are filled with market stalls selling all kinds of food and souvenirs. Again, the area was extremely busy during our visit, but definitely worthwhile!
While there are plenty of street-food stalls to try from (and believe me, we tried many of them), the one place which was recommended to us countless times was Kagetsudo Asakusa. Kagetsudo Asakusa is famous for it’s melonpan (“melon bread”), a large bread roll with a crisp outside, melt-in-your-mouth fluffy inside and a slightly sweet taste. Sadly, the “melon” element of the name only refers to the shape of the bread. However, if you’re in Tokyo at the right time of year, you can try ice cream melon bread (which we did)! A serving of ice cream in the middle of your bread roll sounds like an odd combo but it works!
After the hustle and bustle of Senso-Ji Temple and the surrounding areas, we walked for 10 minutes or so towards the Sumiada river which is lined by a beautiful park. After filling ourselves up with street food, we took a slow stroll through the park.
Just across the river is the Tokyo Skytree, one of the world’s tallest towers. If you want to take a trip up the tower, be sure to pre-book your tickets online as “advanced” tickets are cheaper and bookings may be full if you turn up on the day (which is what happened to us)!
While we couldn’t go up to the observation deck of the Skytree (which my fear of heights was secretly glad of), it’s still impressive to see this incredibly tall building from the ground!
Rest assured, all was not lost on our trip to the Skytree as there is another Pokemon Store just below the tower. Callum was delighted (I expect he knew the store was here all along and hence why he was so keen to visit the Skytree) while I was more interested in a beautiful nearby stationary shop!
We then headed to Ueno Toshogu Shrine, a popular place to come and pray for good fortunes or to just marvel in the beautiful architecture – particularly the gold leaf trimmings and intricate carvings. It was here that Callum made friends with a whole bunch of locals by playing Pokemon Go (the Japanese take Pokemon Go very seriously – we wondered why there were so many people crowded in one area of the shrine, it turns out there was a Pokemon Go raid about to begin…).
The surrounding area is all beautiful parkland, which is supposedly even more beautiful in the Spring cherry blossom season – there are over 1,000 blossom trees lining the main pathway!
Within the park are various temples (we enjoyed visiting the Shinobazunoike Bentendo Temple), museums (of which, if we had the time, I’d choose to visit the National Museum of Nature and Science which apparently has tonnes of interactive/tech features to keep kids entertained, or maybe those of us find traditional museums a tad tedious!) and even a zoo!
If you’re an avid Instagram user, you will have undoubtedly seen multiple photos taken at TeamLab Borderless over the past few years. TeamLab Borderless is a museum filled with 3D immersive artwork. It’s not located in central Tokyo, so we didn’t have a chance to visit, but would definitely consider it on a return trip.
Another activity which has been wildly popular on the internet in recent years is the “Mario Kart” style go-karts available in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. While the company has changed names and is no longer allowed to use certain costumes due to various lawsuits from Nintendo, the go-karting still exists! If you are planning to go go-karting, you’ll need to obtain an International Drivers Permit before you arrive in Japan and perhaps do your research on which city and timing you choose as locals are reportedly annoyed at tourists clogging up their roads.
We chose to incorporate a night in Hakone into our overall itinerary (which you can read here) but if you’re short on time, you could opt to visit Hakone was a daytrip from Japan. You could organise the day-trip yourself using public transport or book an organised trip like this one.
Given we have both taken a few trips to Disneyland Paris and Disneyworld Florida, we didn’t feel the need to spend time at Disney during a 2.5 week trip in which were already struggling to fit in all of the places we wanted to see in Japan! However, Tokyo DisneySea looks different to the “usual” Disney theme parks and like a lot of fun!
Unfortunately, Super Nintendo World was still being built when we visited, so we will definitely need to make a return visit!
There are tonnes of cooking classes to choose from in Tokyo which sound like a lot of fun, use Klook to find a tour which suits you!
Are you planning a trip to Tokyo? What are you most looking forward to?
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