So, you bought your plane tickets to Japan and have decided to spend five days in the bustling city of Tokyo… Now you are wondering what the heck to see first and how to plan your trip to Tokyo. With its tranquil temples, bustling streets, picturesque gardens, and technicolored manga culture you certainly won’t run out of things to do and places to see in Tokyo in 5 days.
Tokyo’s sheer scale however can have even the most experienced traveller flummoxed. You might not know where to start. Don’t worry we are here to help. We have now visited the capital of Japan several times over both Spring, late Summer, and Autumn. So, we feel like we have a good grip on the megapolis’ many districts, the best things to do in Tokyo, the greatest day-trips from Tokyo , and some insider tips to boot. So, whether you are here for the first time or a regular visitor, we have you covered!
The following is a detailed 5-day Tokyo Itinerary, as well as a general guide to the city. We have left certain aspects slightly flexible, so you should hopefully be able to plan your own Tokyo itinerary and still be able to include your personal favourite sites. We have also suggested some ways to extend the trip to a 7-day Tokyo Itinerary for those who have some additional spare time. If you need to limit your trip to under five days, then feel free to cherry-pick your favorite days from the suggested 5 days in Tokyo to create your own 2 or 3 day Tokyo itinerary.
This in-depth Tokyo Guide, is part of our larger Japan travel series. It goes hand in hand with our popular 2 week Japan itinerary, which was specifically written for the first-time visitor to the country. So, make sure to check it out, if you are planning to stay in Japan longer than a week.
WHY YOU SHOULD SPEND ALMOST ONE WEEK IN TOKYO
First let me answer probably one of your most pressing questions – why should you spend almost a whole week in Tokyo?
Japan is a big country, with some amazing cities and a whole range of different experiences to be had. So, it is tempting only to spend a handful of days in Tokyo before you move on. I am told that some people only briefly stay in Tokyo with the sole purpose of visiting Disneyland.
But we would urge you to spend at least five days if not an entire week in Tokyo, especially if it is you first time travelling to Japan.
Here are the advantages in spending around one week in Tokyo rather than just a couple of days:
- It’s cheaper. Perhaps not one of the most glamorous of reasons but spending five days in Tokyo or more will cut down the overall cost of a longer trip to Japan. Booking a hotel over a longer period (especially on Expedia) often saves a lot of money. Furthermore, if you are planning to travel to Japan for two weeks, but stay in Tokyo for one of those weeks, then you only need to buy one JR pass and that should make things a lot cheaper
- Tokyo is a great place to explore both the ancient traditions of Nikon, as well as Japan’s futuristic side. You truly won’t be able to experience these two aspects of Japanese culture, as well as in Tokyo. Kyoto is a beautiful traditional city, whilst Osaka and Hiroshima are both very modern.
- In 5 to 8 days you will be able to cover a large section of the city, without feeling rushed. You will even have time to take a side trip or two to some of the fantastic locations near Tokyo. Five days are the perfect amount of time to visit Tokyo in a relaxed and enjoyable manner.
Although our original decision to spend a whole week in Tokyo was mainly reached for monetary reasons (we found a really good deal on Expedia), we didn’t end up regretting it at all. In fact, Tokyo swiftly became our favourite destination in Japan, and we have returned to the capital repeatedly. There wasn’t a single moment in Tokyo that we felt bored or like we were wasting time.
ABOUT THIS ITINERARY
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE SUGGESTED 5 -DAY TOKYO ITINERARY
The following is a very brief summary of the 5-day Tokyo Itinerary, outlined in far more detail further down the post. The itinerary is 5 days long if you do not include the flights and 7 days long if you do. We have also included a bonus itinerary for your arrival day, in case your plane lands early in the afternoon. And we have added a mini-itinerary for a bonus side-trip that you can take from Tokyo, if you want to extend your trip. The rough outline is as follows:
Bonus Arrival Day – Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, Piss Alley, Golden Gai
Day 1 – Ginza, Yurakucho, Maranouchi and the Imperial Garden
Day 2 –Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku (including the Robot Restaurant)
Day 3 –Sumida Aquarium, Tokyo Skytree and Ryoguku (including a Sumo Match)
Day 4 – Ueno Park, Asakusa and Odaiba
Day 5 – Tsukiji Fish Market, Akihabara, and Roppongi Hills
Bonus Day – Day Trip to Hakone
IS THIS TOKYO ITINERARY SUITABLE FOR YOU?
This Tokyo itinerary is perfect for travellers who are planning to spend five to seven days in Tokyo and want to leave this destination knowing they have experienced all the best things it has to offer.
It is aimed at travellers who have a mid-range budget. Follow the link to find out how much we spent on our full trip to Japan.
We have structured each day as a mini itinerary, describing exactly what to see in that area of Tokyo. So, if you are only spending two days, three days or four days in Tokyo, you could still cherry-pick your favourite days from the detailed post below, to create your own 2- or 3-day Tokyo itinerary.
On the flip side, if you are fortunate enough to have a little more time on your hands, this Tokyo itinerary can easily be stretched with a couple of additional side trips near Tokyo or by including some more unusual things to do in Tokyo. Alternatively, you could simply spend a little more time at each site.
As with most of our itineraries, the suggested journey is something of a whirlwind trip that will introduce you to all the main sites that Tokyo has to offer. So, it is perfect if you are a Tokyo first time Tokyo visitor. And it guarantees you won’t suffer from FOMO when you return home.
WHY YOU SHOULD USE THIS ITINERARY TO ORGANISE YOUR OWN TRIP TO TOKYO?
Why plan ahead at all? You could simply book a flight to Tokyo and then take each day as it comes. We certainly agree that it isn’t a bad idea to leave your itinerary somewhat open-ended. Indeed, the magic of travel often happens in the moments we don’t plan.
But at the same time you don’t want to be too light on the details or you risk wasting or woefully underusing your days in Tokyo. Because is there really a point in travelling half way around the globe, if you aren’t going to do something amazing every day.
So, we would recommend that you have at least a skeletal itinerary in mind. Choose one destination or experience for every morning, afternoon and evening. And if you are foodie, then you might also want to pick out ahead of time a couple places for lunch and dinner that make sense with your movement. We have written a detailed guide on planning your own itinerary for any destination if you need a helping hand.
Booking an all-inclusive package tour can be a very reasonable option if you don’t have the time or patience to plan your own journey. However, it certainly is a lot cheaper to plan and book everything yourself.
Of course, if you are reading this post, then it’s likely that you enjoy a thoughtfully planned trip. However, if you feel you might need help planning your Tokyo Itinerary, then commission a personalised itinerary from me.
HOW THIS TOKYO ITINERARY IS STRUCTURED
Tokyo is an excessively big city. However, it is actually made up of individual neighbourhoods that each have their own charm and character. Once you get your head around this fact and focus on exploring each Tokyo neighbourhood one at a time, planning an itinerary for a holiday in Tokyo becomes a lot more manageable.
Tokyo, I’m fond of saying, is not so much one huge city as it is several relatively large ones that all happen to exist in the same place. It really is true that the more you get to know Tokyo, the less intimidating this megapolis will become.
To make the most out of your trip to Tokyo you will want to reduce the amount of time you spend travelling between sites and increase the amount of time you actually spend visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites and sampling the local cuisine.
To do this, our Tokyo itinerary suggests that you visit several adjacent neighbourhoods in the same day. Not only will this save you time, it will also save you money. Because in Tokyo the price of your tube fair depends on the length of travel. Plus, it is much more pleasant to wander from one location to another, rather then to spend have of the day in Tokyo’s underground system.
This itinerary for Tokyo also includes a day-trip to Hakone. We would really recommend that you go on at least one side-trip whilst in Tokyo if you can. Whilst there is a lot to see in the city centre, there are also some amazing places to visit near Tokyo.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT TOKYO
Honestly, there is not really a bad or unsuitable time of year to visit Japan.
The weather in Tokyo is temperate. That means that is summer (late June to August) Tokyo can get a bit hot and humid. And in Winter (December to February) temperatures drop but not enough to put you of traveling to Tokyo. The rainy season usually last from mid-June to July, mind you it doesn’t rain every day.
Our recommendation on when to visit Tokyo, really depends on your personal preferences and what you want to see.
For instance, if you really want to see the famous cherry blossom season in Japan, then you have to visit Tokyo in spring, somewhere between the end of March and the first week in April.
However, if you dislike crowds or are on a tight budget, then you should really avoid the peak season and definitely the Golden Week, Japan’s biggest holiday. Japanese love exploring their own country and at the end of April, Tokyo’s main attractions are usually mobbed with domestic travellers. On top of that, hotel prices are massively inflated and flights are also usually more expensive.
Our favourite season to travel to Tokyo is fall (September to November). In fact, we almost always visit Tokyo in September, which is referred to as “the shoulder season” and have always been lucky with that choice. In September Tokyo experiences barely any rainy days, tourist attractions aren’t crowded and the trees are just starting to show their autumn colours.
TRANSPORTATION IN TOKYO
HOW TO GET TO TOKYO FROM INSIDE JAPAN
We always recommend starting any trip to Japan in Tokyo. But if you are planning to travel to Tokyo from within Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kamakura, etc) then your best is to take a Shinkansen train (bullet train).
Driving to Tokyo in a rental car or long-distance express bus is an option but will take you considerably longer.
There are also other slower trainlines that can take to Tokyo, but they aren’t as direct.
Alternatively, you could hop on a domestic flight from Kansai International Airport, Chubu International Airport or other local airports dotted about the country, but this might be more expensive.
HOW TO GET TO TOKYO FROM OUTSIDE JAPAN
Tokyo was once completely shut to foreigners, but these days it could not be more accessible. Tokyo now receives about 15 million tourists in a year!
Flights to Tokyo from the UK take around 14 to 16 hours and you should expect a lay-over. Where that layover happens, depends on the airline you pick. Our favourite lay-over thus far has been Istanbul when we flew with Turkish Airlines.
If you are flying from Europe, then you might be able to shave 1 or 2 hours off that flight. And if you are flying from within Asia, you should be able to get to Tokyo within a couple of hours.
So where will you land? Tokyo has two international airports. Narita International Airport (NRT) (成田空港), formerly also known as New Toyo International Airport, is located 60km North-East of Tokyo. Haneda Airport (HND) is located to the South of Tokyo and is a little easier to reach from the city.
Most international flights are handled by Narita Airport, however, when departing from the UK you can find flights to both airports.
Once you have landed at one of Tokyo’s two airports, getting into the city centre isn’t all too difficult.
HOW TO GET INTO TOKYO FROM THE AIRPORTS
HOW TO GET INTO TOKYO FROM NARITA AIRPORT
Once you have landed at one of Tokyo’s two airports, getting into the city center isn’t all too difficult. Your options for travelling into Tokyo from Narita Airport are as follows:
- JR Narita (N’EX Line) : 60 minutes (2 per hour), approx. 3000 yen (all seats are reserved)
- JR Sobu Line: 90 minutes (1 per hour), approx. 1300 yen
- Keisei Skyliner: 36 minutes (2 per hour) to Nippori Station, approx. 1200 yen
- Airport Limousine Bus: under 2 hours (1 per hour), approx. 1400 yen
- Private Taxi: approx. 50 minutes, approx. 30000 yen
Our favourite option to travel from Narita Airport to Tokyo is by train, specifically the JR Sobu line. Although booking an Airport Limousine Bus is a close second. You can do so right now, if you want to be organised.
HOW TO GET INTO TOKYO FROM HANEDA AIRPORT
Travelling into Tokyo from Haneda Airport is even easier. If your flight has landed in Haneda Airport, it should only take you an average 30 minutes to get to your hotel. You can choose to travel between four transportation options:
- Monorail: 20 minutes (every 3-5 minutes) to Hamamatsucho Station, approx. 500yen
- Keikyu Airport Train: 15 minutes to Shinagawa Station, approx. 300 yen
- Airport limousine Bus: 60 minutes (1 per hour), approx. 1150 yen
- Private Taxi: approx. 15 minutes, approx. 10000 yen
If you have landed at Haneda Airport, we would highly recommend you jump on the Monorail.
HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND TOKYO?
The best way to travel around Tokyo is either by foot or on public transport. Your best bet is to take the subway or Japan railway to the closest station near your destination and then walk the rest. Prepare to spend a lot of time on Tokyo’s Metro and JR Trains!
TRAVEL AROUND TOKYO BY RAIL OR IN THE UNDERGROUND
Tokyo has about eight railway systems and two underground systems. Whilst Tokyo’s public transport system looks complicated at first glance, you will soon get used to it and find it fairly simple to get around. We also noticed that there is generally a friendly local willing to help in every station.
A good point of reference is the JR Yamanote Lines, which forms a loop around the city. Most of Tokyo’s main attractions are located near or inside this loop. And it connects Tokyo’s major city centres Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Ueno and Ikebukuro.
Note that the underground in Tokyo is run by two different companies, who require separate fares. So swapping between requires a new ticket, unless you have a SUICA or PASMO card.
Try to avoid the morning and evening rush. Locals aren’t scared to cram themselves into the carriages but you mind find this very uncomfortable.
Some of Tokyo’s train and tube stations are really big. A transfer between lines sometimes means a bit of a hike. It is also easy to get lost in the underground stations. So look out for yellow signs. These will tell which exits are closest to certain attractions and streets.
TRAVEL AROUND TOKYO BY FOOT
One of the difficulties in finding your way around Tokyo, is the fact that most of Tokyo’s streets, do not have names. Tokyo’s address system is mainly based on a complicated number system. Although some of the main streets were named after World War II because the American troops insisted on it.
There are notice boards dotted around the city (generally beside the pavement) that can help you figure out where you are. Your current location is generally indicated on these maps and main tourist attractions are highlighted. Finding a more specific location however can be difficult, since reading these maps is a bit of an artform.
Another thing to look out for is Tokyo’s police boxes (Koban). You will find them in all of Tokyo’s major neighbourhoods, generally beside train or subway stations. These are equipped with maps and police officers are happy to help you find the right way.
You can also simply ask a local for direction. Japanese are almost always very friendly. Do note however that when asked for direction, most locals would rather give you an approximation of the right direction, than tell you that they do not know the answer. So, our advice is to ask a few different people and follow the instructions that the majority agree on.
WHERE TO STAY IN TOKYO?
Tokyo is the largest city in the world. So, where you decide to stay for your one week in Tokyo, will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your holiday. If you spend the entire week in Tokyo’s underground, you will feel a bit deflated.
To maximise your experience in Tokyo, we would therefore recommend that you stay in a centrally located hotel that is fairly close to a tube station. This should reduce the amount of time you spend each morning travelling to your next destination.
The variety of accommodation available in Tokyo, is as vast as the city itself. You can stay at some of the most famous and luxurious hotels, curl up in your private nook in a pod hotel, enjoy some intimate time with your partner in a themed love hotel, have a homestay in an Airbnb, rest your vary eyes in a business hotel or opt to sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese Inn and everything in-between. There truly is an option here for everyone, no-matter your budget.
We have personally stayed at six different hotels in Tokyo, in various price brackets. We would be more than happy to recommend them all and have written an in-depth review about several of them.
- The first hotel we ever stayed at in Japan and therefore a firm favourite is the Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon. You don’t need to take our word for it, read other traveller’s reviews here. This is a business hotel, with a superb location. It is strategically placed between three different underground stations (Hanzomon, Kojimachi and Nagatacho), which should give you a head-start each morning. Although the rooms are fairly small (not unusual in Japan), the view across the imperial palace and its park, more than make up for the lack of space. The room was clean, the Wifi fast and the staff spoke English fluently. The hotel has four restaurants, so you won’t go hungry. Although we would usually grab our breakfast at the nearby 7/11. You can check out the current price of the hotel via our links.
- Shiba Park Hotel is a great choice if you are travelling to Tokyo with kids. The rooms are very generous in size and the staff very friendly. The interior of the hotel is very aesthetically pleasing and has a focus on art. The hotel is located in Minato City and only 2 minutes away from a tube station. You can read our review of Shiba Park Hotel, or check out other travellers opinions and the current price of the hotel via our links.
- The Gate Hotel Kaminarimon is a very modern hotel near one of Tokyo’s top attractions – the Senso-ji Temple. It has a roof terrace with an amazing view across Asakusa. You can read our review of the Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, or check out other travellers opinions and the current price of the hotel via our links.
- If you want to live in the lap of luxury for a week, then only one hotel comes to mind – the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. Read our review to help make up your mind. All rooms enjoy a panoramic view across Tokyo and the hotel is located in the energetic district of Roppongi. You can read our review of the Ritz Carlton Tokyo, or check out other travellers opinions and the current price of the hotel via our links.
- Another place we would recommend is the Hotel The Celestine Shiba in Minato City. It is located in a quiet business district of Tokyo, so you are sure to get a good night’s sleep. There are two underground stations nearby, as well as a street filled with restaurants. You can check out other travellers reviews and the current price of the hotel via our links.
- Last but not least, [email protected] hotel is a great hotel near Tokyo Skytree. It is a very modern hotel, designed by the famous architect Kengo Kuma. It features industrial-style rooms for a range of budgets. Each room has its own smartphone that you can take with you around Tokyo, to make local and international calls. You can check out other travellers reviews and the current price of the hotel via our links.
Check out this post about the best places to stay in Tokyo, if all of the above hotels are fully booked or don’t suit your budget.
Note that the following Tokyo Itinerary is loosely based on the first time we visited Japan. During that trip, we stayed at the Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon in Chiyoda. However, you can still follow the suggested itinerary if you plan to stay in a different area.
THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO – OUR VERY DETAILED 5-DAY TOKYO ITINERARY FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO JAPAN
This in-depth Tokyo guide, is part of our larger Japan travel series. It goes hand in hand with our popular two week itinerary for Japan, which was specifically written for the first-time visitor to the country. So, make sure to check it out, if you are planning to stay in Japan longer than a week.
And now let’s get to the meaty part of this article… This is a day-by-day guide to Tokyo, which covers the best things to do in the city, what things will cost, where you should stay, what you should eat and how to get around.
Feel free to switch the individual days of our proposed itinerary around whichever way suits you best. We would in fact suggest that you start your first day exploring Tokyo, in the area that is closest to you. In our case that was the Imperial Palace (we were staying at the Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon).
You can also re-arrange the activities suggested for the day in the order that is most convenient for you. For instance, you could start your day in Shinjuku and end it in Shibuya, rather than the other way around. Especially if this reduces your travel time.
You could even chop and change the whole thing to create an itinerary that is tailored to your specific interests. We have included a few alternative activities, neighbourhoods and side trips at the bottom of this page for that purpose.
Here is a brief overview of the daily mini-itineraries, detailed in more depth below:
8am – Tokyo Skytree
10am -Sumida Aquarium
12pm – Tokyo Solomachi
1.15pm – Edo Tokyo Museum
3.15pm -Sumo Match
7 pm -Ryogoku
Tokyo National Museum
BONUS DAY – TRIP
9.30am – Hakone Yomote
10.55am – Jinja Shrine
11.55am – Hakone Checkpoint
1.10pm – Pirate Ship
2pm – Owakudani
4.00pm – Open Air Museum
5.45 – Onsen
BONUS ARRIVAL DAY – SHINJUKU GYOEN NATIONAL PARK, MEMORY LANE AND THE GOLDEN GAI
The following itinerary assumes that you land in Tokyo late in the afternoon or in the evening. We have however included this bonus day, just in case you have arrived in the morning or early in the afternoon. Just pick the activities that you have time for from the mini itinerary below.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE – EXPLORE YOUR LOCAL SURROUNDINGS
By the time that you have gone through passport control, picked up your luggage, checked in to your hotel and freshened up, there will not be much of the day left.
But we still suggest you spend a little time exploring your local surroundings to find your bearings. Walk around the laneways and streets within your hotel’s vicinity. Find your local 7/11 or family mart. This will definitely come in handy! You might even want to grab a quick bite to eat. Some of our favourites include the sushi sets and
If you haven’t bought a SUICA or PASMO card yet, we suggest you do so now.
4.50PM – SPOT THE CHERRY BLOSSOM IN SHINJUKU GYOEN NATIONAL PARK
About 15 minutes by foot from Shinjuku Station (New South Exit)
If it isn’t all to late yet, head to Shinjuku Gyoen Park, one of Tokyo’s most scenic green lungs. You will probably end up taking the underground to Shinjuku Station, from there it’s about a 15 minute walk to the park.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a slice of tranquillity in the bustling ward of Shinjuku. It is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks. It is particularly famous for its variety of cherry blossom and therefore extremely popular in spring (mid-March to late April).
The park was created during the Edo Period (1603-1867) but it didn’t become a public park until 1949.
Shinjuku Gyoen park is split up into three gardens. The Japanese garden is the oldest part of the park. It is covered in ponds crossed by wooden bridges. It’s main feature however is the Taiwan Pavilion (Kyu Goryotei) which was built for the wedding of the Showa Emperor. The French garden is full of symmetry and immaculately maintained. And the English landscape Garden features wide-open lawns surrounded by cherry blossom trees.
There is also a greenhouse which houses tropical and subtropical plants, an art gallery and an information centre. The rest of the park consists of lawns and forested areas.
OPENING TIMES: 9am to 4.30pm/6pm/7pm (depending on the season)
CLOSED ON: Mondays, New Year
ENTRANCE FEE: 500 yen
7.00PM – HAVE DINNER IN PISS ALLEY
About ten minutes by foot from the previous location
Once you are sufficiently hungry to have dinner, walk to Piss Alley. Although this does not sound particularly appetizing, you just have to trust us on this one.
Piss Alley also known as Memory lane, is a rabbit warren of small laneways in Omoide Yokocho. The area is packed with little eateries, that serve everything from ramen, soba, sushi and yakitori. A foodie’s paradise!
To enter Piss Alley you need to go through a tunnel underneath the train tracks, which is what gave the area its name.
The little eateries are very convivial. Note however that each individual restaurant often only has room for a handful of people. Furthermore, smoking is allowed, so not one to go to if you are bringing your kids.
9.00PM – ENJOY A COUPLE OF DRINKS IN THE GOLDEN GAI
About ten minutes by foot from the previous location
Next continue to the Golden Gai neighbourhood (新宿ゴールデン街). Have a drink or if that isn’t your thing simply stroll down the lanes and take in the atmosphere.
The Golden Gai is located in Kabukicho, a famous entertainment district in Tokyo, and has barely been touched in time. In fact, it probably hasn’t changed since the post-war era. The network of 6 narrow streets is home to over 200 tiny shanty-style bars, each one with its unique character. The alleyways are joined up by even narrower passages.
Beware that some of the Golden Gai bars will not cater to foreigners or are reserved for regular customers. There is usually a sign at the door and the presence of an English menu is also a good clue. If you see neither, just step inside and you will be promptly informed whether you can take a seat. Be warned that some bars have a steep cover charge. But again this is usually clearly sign-posted.
If in doubt, simply head to the Albatross bar. This is a somewhat larger bar, with a rooftop terrace that enjoys great views of the Tokyo night sky.
If you feel timid, but still want to experience the Golden Gai, you can hire a local guide who will ensure you see the best spots and have an amazing time with no worries about getting lost.
DAY 1 – GINZA, YURAKUCHO, MARUNOUCHI AND THE TOKYO IMPERIAL GARDEN
You might be very jet-lagged when you wake up the next morning. We certainly were! The time difference between the UK and Tokyo is 9 hours after all. But do not worry, you have plenty of time to recover in Tokyo. We have kept this in mind however and filled your first full day in Tokyo with gentle activities. We promise that the second day of your 7-day Tokyo itinerary will be a wonderful blend of traditional and modern Japan.
Grab breakfast in your hotel or in a pinch from the local familymart, then head to the underground. Unless you are staying in Chiyoda, in which case your first stop of the day can be reached in about ten minutes by foot.
9.00 AM – VISIT THE TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE AND EAST IMPERIAL GARDENS
1 minute walk from Otemachi Station
The current Tokyo Imperial Palace (皇居) is located on the former site of the Edo Castle in the 17th and 18th century. It is surrounded by a large park, moat and impressive stone wall.
In its time the Edo Palace was the largest castle in Japan, measuring over 8km in diameter on the inside. However, it burned down in 1657 and the Imperial Palace was built instead.
The Imperial Palace was once the home of the Tokugawa Shogan and is still the residence of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. But the inner grounds of the palace are generally closed to the public.
Visitors do however have access to the public Imperial East Garden and Outer Park on a daily basis. Entrance is free, which surprisingly isn’t the case for most public gardens in Japan.
This is another great place to see cherry blossoms in spring. You can book a tour with a local guide if you want all the intel. Also make sure to visit the entrance to take a picture of the famous Seimon Stonebridge.
OPENING TIMES: 9am to 4.00pm/4.30pm/6pm/6pm (depending on the season)
CLOSED ON: Mondays, Fridays, New Year
ENTRANCE FEE: Free
11.00AM – STROLL DOWN THE STREETS OF MARANOUCHI
10 minute walk from the last location
Exit through the Eastern gate of the Imperial garden and head into Maranouchi (丸の内), one of Japan’s most prestigious business districts. Together with Otemachi, Maranouchi is now home to the headquarters of many of Japan’s most powerful companies.
Many older buildings have recently been replaced by large skyscrapers, with shops and entertainment on the lower floors, while offices are located on the floors above.
Ascend to the rooftop of Kitte mall for a panoramic view of Tokyo, then stroll down Maranouchi’s Naka-dōri, a picturesque shopping street lined with luxury stores.
12.30PM – POP INTO TOKYO STATION
Whilst you are exploring Maranouchi make sure to pop into Tokyo Station for a few minutes.
This is a massive train station and the busiest one in all of Japan. Over 500 000 people use this Station every day. And most Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) depart from this terminal.
But the reason we are suggesting you pop into the station is the building itself. It is a beautiful broad brick building that is surprisingly Western in style. The main building was designed by Tatsuno Kingo, built in 1908 and opened in 1914. It was almost entirely destroyed during WWII but completely rebuilt. The fact that the original domes weren’t included in the reconstruction, however, was a great shame and led to the rumours that the station resembles Amsterdam Central Station. Tokyo Station was renovated in 2012 and brought back to its former glory, including the original domes.
1.00PM – GO WINDOW SHOPPING IN GINZA
10 minute walk from the last location
From Maranouchi walk towards Ginza (銀座), Tokyo’s most famous upmarket, dining and entertainment district.
Ginza is Tokyo’s answer to Bond Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York. This is where Tokyo’s most prestigious businessmen come to play. And a cup of coffee can cost up to 10£. It is this area that has given rise to Tokyo’s unjustified reputation as one of the most expensive destinations in the world.
Ginza was home to the first department store in Tokyo and was also one of the first areas to get modernised with streetlights. It is filled with western style brick buildings and you might not feel like you are in Tokyo at all.
The area features numerous up-market department stores, designer stores, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and night clubs. The center of Ginza is the crossing where Chuodori and Harumidori intersect.
Grab lunch in one of the malls. Then go window shopping and take in the funky architecture. Make sure to check out the Ginza Massif, a collection of 200 art galleries near Tokyo Station.
Note that the best time to visit Ginza is on the weekend when the central Chuo Dori is closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a large pedestrian zone.
4.30PM – ATTEND A HITOMAKUMI IN TOKYO’S KABUKI-ZA THEATRE
Another building we simply had to include in this Tokyo Itinerary and highlight on the suggested walk through Ginza is Tokyo’s Kabuzi-ka Theatre. This is a stunning building mixing traditional Japanese architecture with the baroque style. It’s white, black and red facade evokes Edo-style temples as well as traditional Japanese castles.
Three different theatres were built on this site. The most recent one, dates back to 1924. It’s predecessor was the largest theatre every built in Japan and featured a 16m wide revolving stage. But it burnt down in 1921.
Kabuki shows are held on a daily basis in the theatre and we would highly recommend you attend one (if you can get your hands on a ticket). Kabuki is a very Japanese experience and entirely bizarre. Whilst you probably won’t understand what is being said, the flamboyant costumes and bizarre vocal style will certainly keep you entertained.
7.00PM – HAVE DINNER UNDER THE TRACKS IN YURAKUCHO
10 minute walk from the last location
Once the shops close in Ginza or your belly starts grumbling walk towards Yurakucho (有楽町). Here you will find a wealth of shopping and dining opportunities, but with a more relaxed and approachable atmosphere than adjacent Ginza.
Make sure to walk past the Tokyo International Forum, if you are interested in modern architecture.
Yurakucho is particularly well known for its lively restaurant district built up under the brick arches of the train track. Known as Gad-Shita (below the Girder), this is one of Tokyo’s best watering holes. The Japanese-style yattai (outdoor food stands), drinking bars, izakayas and restaurants extend for hundreds of meters, nearly all the way to Tokyo Station. On weekdays this area gets crowded with salarymen, but there is always an empty table somewhere.
The endless dining option make Yurakucho the perfect spot to enjoy your second evening in Tokyo. Make sure to order pint or two of Japanese beer with your meal.
DAY 2 – SHIBUYA CROSSING, TAKESHITA DORI, MEJI-SHRINE AND ROBOT RESTAURANT
This is probably one of our favourite days in this Tokyo Itinerary. We would however recommend that you wait until your second day in Tokyo before attempting to follow this mini-itinerary, as it is jam-packed with activities. Hopefully, by this point, your jetlag will have subsided, and you will be able to fully take in Japan’s crazy Kawaii culture.
9.00AM – TAKE THE UNDERGROUND TO SHIBUYA STATION
Start the day by travelling to Shibuya Station, the busiest train station in the world. This should take about 20 minutes, depending on the location of your hotel.
9.15AM – TAKE A SELFIE WITH THE FAMOUS HACHIKO STATUE
About 5 minutes by foot from Shibuya Station (East Gate Exit B12B)
Leave Shibuya Station through the East Gate Exit B12B and locate the famous Hachiko Statue on the square right beside it. It is pretty hard to miss him. The statue is usually surrounded by crowds of tourists snapping selfies with the famous dog.
You might wonder why a bronze statue of a dog attracts so many people. Well, it all comes down to a touching story from the 1920s. Hachiko was a very loyal little Akita dog. He used to wait outside Shibuya Station every day until his owner returned from work. Sadly, one day his owner suffered a fatal cerebral haemorrhage. But Hachiko nonetheless returned to Shibuya Station every day for nine years, until he passed away himself.
A statue was therefore created to commemorate the little dog, who became a nationwide symbol of enduring loyalty. More recently a colourful mural of Hachiko was added to the local meeting point. Fun fact, the movie Hachi: A dog’s tale is also based on this story.
9.30AM – WALK THROUGH SHIBUYA
Next spend a little time in Shibuya (渋谷), a lively and colourful district in the western part of Tokyo’s city centre. It is the epitome of every stereotypical description of Tokyo. The area is filled with modern towers and crowded with people. There are bold bright billboards everywhere. And you are very likely to see a Mario Cart tour whizz by.
Shibuya is Tokyo’s primary shopping and entertainment district. And its main claim to fame is being the birthplace of many worldwide fashion trends. In fact, when it comes to clothes shopping, this neighbourhood has everything from high-end brands to local designers, to weird and wonderful costumes, and everything in between. You name it, they have it.
Shibuya also comes into its own at night-time, when the young and trendy flock into the neighbourhood to party. This is the place to dance the night away or sing your heart out in a Karaoke Booth.
9.35AM – POP INTO SHIBUYA 109
About 5 minutes by foot from the Hachiko Statue
If you are interested in fashion trends pop into Shibuya 109, Tokyo’s hot spot for young fashionistas. Usually there are store assistants outside its doors yelling about the current sale to attract shoppers walking down the street.
The department store has eight above ground floors and two basements. You could easily spend an entire day in Shibuya 109.
We would suggest you head to floor 3, where you will find lots of accessories. A pair of cute socks could be a nice gift for a loved one back at home. On the 7th floor, you will find cake shops and Purikura photobooths. And the 8th floor is a heaven for Hello Kitty and make-up fans.
10.15AM – WALK ACROSS THE SCRAMBLE
About 10 minutes by foot from the previous location
You will definitely have seen pictures of your next stop on this Tokyo itinerary: Shibuya Crossing, the most famous intersection in the world. The Scramble is made up of four pedestrian crossings that zigzag along the many traffic joints.
Observing the enormous crowd of people crossing this big intersection in an orderly calm manner, is truly one of the most authentic Japanese experiences you can have in Tokyo.
During peak hours (in the evening when people return home from work) there can be up to 3000 people crossing the street at the same time. It is astonishing how skilful the Japanese are at dodging each other.
10.35AM – FIND SOUVENIRS IN SHIBUYA HIKARIE
About 5 minutes by foot from the previous location
Whilst you are out and about in Tokyo’s main shopping district you might as well buy some souvenirs.
To that end, make sure to pop into Shibuya Hikarie before you leave Shibuya. This is the perfect place to buy a refined gift for picky friends and relatives that will not like more tacky items.
The 16-floor department store was completed in 2012. It has food halls in its three basement floors and a theatre orb on levels 11 to 16. On the 8th floor you will also find d47 eatery, a restaurant that serves up 47 dishes from each prefecture in Japan. And at 183 metres above sea level, the 16th floor has amazing views across Shibuya.
TAKE A PANORAMIC SELFIE AT SHIBUYA SKY (OPTIONAL)
About 5 minutes by foot from the previous location
Another great place to catch panoramic views of the Shibuya is the recently completed Shibuya Sky – a 360° open-air observation deck at the rooftop of Shibuya Scramble Square. It has the largest viewing platform in all of Japan and is said to rival the Tokyo City View observation deck in the Mori Tower.
At 230 metres above ground, Shibuya sky is currently the highest location in the district of Shibuya. On a clear day, you might be able to see as far as Mount Fuji. The elevator that transports you to the viewing platform has a futuristic digital ceiling that displays a variety of animations. At the top you will find an indoor lookout area for those who suffer from vertigo. The outdoor roof terrace features an almost invisible glass balustrade. The so called “sky-edge” is an incredibly Instagram-worthy photo-op. And once it gets dark, the hammocks on the roof top are the perfect spot to watch the “Crossing light” lightshow.
We would suggest you book your ticket in advance to avoid long queues
OPENING TIMES: 9am-11pm daily (last entry 10pm)
CLOSED ON: open all year round, except for maintenance
ENTRANCE FEE: 2000 yen
11.25AM – GO WINDOW SHOPPING IN OMOTESANDO
About 20 minutes by foot from the previous location
Take a leisurely stroll from Shibuya to Omotesando, one of Tokyo’s most high-end shopping streets. The wide tree lined avenue, running southeast from Harajuku Station toward Aoyama, is home to many exclusive retailers – Apple, Dior, Burberry, Prada and Louis Vuitton, just to name a few. Originally built in the 1920s as an entrance to Meiji-jingu Shrine, this is Tokyo’s equivalent to the Champs Elysée in Paris.
We especially enjoyed browsing the aisles of the four floor Kiddiland – a veritable toy bonanza and every kid’s dream. If you are a Star Wars fan, Studio Ghibli addict, Hello Kitty, Gudetama or Rilakkuma collector, then this is the destination for you.
Even if designer labels are not your thing, we would still recommend spending a little time on Omotesando Avenue. The architecture of some of these flagship stores alone is worth a visit. Definitely pop inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. The mirror-lined kaleidoscope-like entrance is a must-see!
Omotesando also has a strong café culture. Beside the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlour, there are many independent coffee shops. Admire the layered cakes that look like pieces of art or delight at the fluffy texture of the soufflé pancakes from Happy Pancake.
11.55AM – WALK THROUGH HARAJUKU
Make your way from Omotesando into the adjascent neighbourhood of Harajuku (原宿). This is one of Tokyo’s most trendy districts and a favourite among fashionable teenagers. It is where millennials come to shop for and show off their latest outfits. In recent years, the area has become particularly famous as the center of one of Japan’s most extreme cultures and fashion styles, known as Cosplay. Which makes Harajuku a great place to go people-watching.
Beside this, Harajuku is a great place to visit for those who have a sweet-tooth and enjoy alternative foodie-experiences. There are plenty of sweet goods on offer to satisfy those sugary cravings – sugary crêpes, giant pastel-coloured candyfloss, bubble tea, decadent doughnuts and many other delights.
12.00PM – LUNCH AT CAFÉ RON-RON
About 5 minutes by foot from Omotesando
The above paragraph probably got you salivating and at this point in the itinerary it really is time for lunch. So, we would suggest you pop into Maison Able Café RonRon for a bite to eat.
Most of you will have heard of and probably experienced eating sushi from a conveyor belt. But Café Ron Ron turns this concept on its head. Instead of a sushi train, customers can choose from a never-ending selection of desserts and sweets gliding past on the conveyor belt. We love an afternoon tea, so this is right up our street.
Most of the 35 dishes are miniature versions of the most popular treats found in the neighbourhood of Harajuku. Those of you who would have found it difficult to pick, will be happy to know that here you won’t have to. The dishes are immaculately presented on little pastel-coloured plates which should delight Instagrammers. The café takes its name from the French sound of a cat purring, and thus some of the dishes are cat themed.
Note that Café Ron Ron operates on an eat as much as you can basis. So come with a big appetite. The entrance ticket is valid for 40 minutes and includes a hot or cold drink of your choice. I managed to eat about 10 plates and my husband a little less. However, a couple beside us wolfed down almost every dish available.
OPENING TIMES: 9am-7pm (Mondays-Fridays), 11am-6pm (Saturday & Sundays)
CLOSED ON: open all year round
ENTRANCE FEE: 2100 yen for all you can eat in 40 minutes
12.55PM – BROWSE THROUGH THE VINTAGE SHOPS ON CAT STREET IN URA-HARAJUKU
About 15 minutes by foot from the previous location
It is time to venture away from the touristy areas for a bit. Once you have had your fill, stroll through Ura-Harajuku, a network of side-streets that spread out from Omotesando.
A peaceful respite from the busy shopping streets, the quieter pedestrianised alleys of Ura-Harajuku are the place to go to browse through vintage clothes and small independent designer boutiques.
Cat Street is the principal route through this district. It follows the course of the Shibuya River, which was made into a culvert in 1964 to create this promenade. The only remnants of the river is a stone post engraved Sando-bashi (bridge) at the entrance to Cat Street from Omotesando.
1.35PM – POP INTO A PURIKURA PHOTO BOOTH ON TAKESHITA-DORI
About 10 minutes by foot from the previous location
No visit to Harajuku – or in fact, Tokyo – would be complete with a strut down Takeshita Dori, one of the quirkiest streets we have ever seen. Takeshita Dori is Tokyo’s Catwalk for the young and fashion-conscious. It is Harajuku’s focal point and thus suitably busy. You won’t miss it, there is a big entrance sign covered in balloon sculptures at each end of the street.
Watch teenagers in outrageous outfits parade down the street. If you see a trendy teenage girl, dressed in colourful alternative clothing, with bright clips in her hair and a handful of statement accessories, then you have spotted one of the famous Harajuku Girls.
Look out for Kawaii (cute) items in the many boutiques to bring back home. If you decided not to have lunch at Café Ron Ron, grab a crepe instead from the almost infinite selection at Santa Monica Crepes. Or if you prefer something savoury head down one of the side-streets to Le Shiner for a rainbow-coloured grilled cheese sandwich.
2.25PM – PARTICIPATE IN SHINTO RITUALS AT MEJI-SHRINE
About 20 minutes by foot from the previous location
After a busy morning in bustling Shibuya and Harajuku, you probably need a bit of a break. We therefore suggest that you head to the nearby Yoyogi Park and Meji-Shrine (明治神宮), for a little bit of traditional Japanese culture. It’s a beautiful peaceful place and a welcome expanse of greenery in a crowded city.
Simply follow the main flow of tourists from Harajuku Station to the red Tori Gate at the entrance of Yoyogi Park. The park itself was opened in 1920 and the 100,000 trees were donated from all across Japan.
A wide path leads through the forest through a 12m high wooden Torii gate to Meji-Jingu, Tokyo’s most famous Shinto Shrine. Fun fact, the Gate was made from 1500 cypress trees!
Meji-Jingu is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his Empress Shoken, who ruled Japan from 1867 to 1912. Built in 1920, the shrine was sadly bombed during World War II and then rebuilt in 1958. Although this might not even occur to you, since the shrine appears just as ancient as any other temple. Although it is a little less colourful perhaps.
All visitors no matter their faith can participate in typical Shinto Rituals. Make an offering at the main hall, buy charms and amulets or write your wish on an ema. If you are lucky, you might even be able to witness a traditional Shinto Wedding.
OPENING TIMES: dawn to dusk
CLOSED ON: weekends
ENTRANCE FEE: free
5.00PM – GET A BIRDS EYE VIEW AT TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING
About 35 minutes by foot from the previous location
Your next stop is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁) in Shinjuku’s Skyscraper District, to the West of Shinjuku Station.
This part of Shinjuku has some of Tokyo’s tallest buildings. The Tochō, as the Metropolitan Government Building is also known in short, is one of them.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has two observation decks, that provide panoramic views across Tokyo and beyond. You might even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on a good day. That is if she decides to peep out of her usual blanket of clouds. The North Observatory remains open late at night and is an excellent spot to watch the sunset in Japan. And the best bit? Access to both observatories is completely free!
The building itself is the headquarter for Tokyo’s metropolis. This is where all decisions about Tokyo’s wards, cities, towns and villages are made. There is a tourist information centre on the 2nd floor and the observation decks are located on the 45th floor, 202 meters above the ground. They can be reached through dedicated elevators from the 1st floor of Building 1. Note that for security reasons you will need to undergo a bag check before you head to the top. There might also be a 20 to 30 minute queue.
OPENING TIMES: 9:30am-11pm (last entry 10:30pm)
CLOSED ON: the first and third Tuesday of every month (south observatory), the second and fourth Monday of every month (north observatory) and during new year celebrations
ENTRANCE FEE: free
7.00PM – WALK THROUGH SHINJUKU
From the Tochō walk towards the centre of Shinjuku (新宿), where you will spend the rest of the afternoon. Shinjuku is a large entertainment, business and shopping district. If you were awed by Shibuya, you will be blown away by Shinjuku. Again, expect plenty of skyscrapers, shopping arcades and people. Make sure to look up, so you don’t miss the giant Godzilla head.
If you want to add new gear to your camera collection, you are in the right place. Shinjuku has some of Tokyo’s largest electronics stores – Big Camera and Yodabashi to name a few. Pop inside to inspect the newest gadgets on display, even if you don’t intend to buy anything.
Then have a browse at the Shinjuku branch of Don Quijote, a Japanese discount store, where there is an eclectic range of products ranging from the luxurious to the ridiculous!
The area is also home to the busiest railway station in the world. Shinjuku Station handles over 3.6million passengers each day. If you ever use this station, let me warn you now, it’s very easy to get lost in this subterranean maze. The station has 200 exits!
7.20PM – DINNER IN KABUKICHO, SHINJUKU’S RED LIGHT DISRICT
About 20 minutes by foot from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
At this point we suggest you go and have dinner. Shinjuku is neighbourhood to find a place to eat. In fact, over a third of Tokyo’s Michelin Star restaurant are located in Shinjuku.
Originally, we would have recommended you book a table at the wacky Kawaii Monster Café to end your day in style. Sadly, however, this unique restaurant recently closed its doors.
Instead, you might want to return to Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district. Both Memory Lane and Golden Gai (mentioned on Day 1 of this Tokyo Itinerary) are part of Kabukicho – Tokyo’s famous red light entertainment district. The name of the area comes from the original plans to erect a Kabuki theatre here after the war. These plans however never came to fruition.
Kabukicho is fascinating to visit after dark, with its neon lights, noisy pachinko parlours, nightclubs, themed restaurants and love hotels. And it’s a great place to find a cheap but delicious bite to eat. Despite its shady reputation, it is safe to visit, if you know where you are going and what to be careful of.
If there is enough room in the 18-seat establishment, we suggest you head to Hajimeya and try its speciality Toriwasa. This chicken yakitori is grilled on the outside but raw on the inside. It is perfectly safe to eat though, as the chef uses extraordinarily fresh chicken. The chicken is grilled over binchotan charcoal and its internal rawness adds an entire new textural dimension to the dish.
Another great option is the late night ramen joint -Takahashi. Make sure to buy your ticket at the machine before joining the line. Choosing what you want to eat is easy, as there is a poster next to the machine with photos of all the dishes.
Or, if you prefer fresh sushi and wagyu beef you could book this night foodie tour of Shinjuku.
9.00PM – BE MESMERISED AT THE ROBOT RESTAURANT
About 10 minutes by foot from the Monstercafe
Once your belly is filled, end the day at the Robot Restaurant (ロボットレストラン), one of Tokyo’s most famous attractions. Although it is aimed at tourists, there aren’t many experiences that are more Japanese than this one!
We decided not to go to the Robot Restaurant, the first time we visited Tokyo, and hugely regretted this when we returned home. So, we made sure to book tickets to the show the second time we visited Tokyo and hugely enjoyed the evening. We have therefore included the Robot Restaurant in our Tokyo itinerary, so you don’t make the same mistake. Even though the show is fairly expensive, it is definitely worth it. So grab your discounted ticket to the Robot Restaurant right now!
The show starts in a blingy waiting room, then moves to the dance floor. Here you will see a futuristic cabaret show that features robots dancing to techno music, battles between dragons, singing ninjas, cow-riding pandas, maids serving beer from their backpacks, fire breathing dinosaurs, boxing jungle animals and plenty of flashing lights.
At first your senses might be a bit overloaded but everything that is happening around you. But you grow accustomed to the oddity pretty quickly and start to enjoy it. You might even sing and dance along. One thing is sure, you will leave the restaurant slightly dazed and unsure about what just happened to you. But in a good way.
OPENING TIMES: shows from 3.00pm to 9.00pm (each show lasts 90 minutes)
CLOSED ON: always open
ENTRANCE FEE: from 8000 yen
DAY 3 – TOKYO SKYTREE, SUMIDA AQUARIUM, EDO TOKYO MUSEUM AND A SUMO MATCH
On day 3 you will really get to know Tokyo by exploring it from different angles. You will start the day with the best birds-eye view in the city, then educate yourself about Tokyo’s past before diving deep into its culture at a Sumo match.
Start the day with breakfast at your hotel, at a nearby café or from the local corner shop and then make your way to Tokyo Skytree Station, Oshiage Station or Asakusa Station. From here it’s a 1 to 15-minute (maximum) walk to the Tokyo Skytree. If you are walking to the Skytree from Asakusa, make sure to take the route along the new Sumida River Walk, to enjoy views of the river and browse through shops on your way.
You can also take a direct shuttle to the Tokyo Skytree from Ueno, Odaiba or Tokyo Station if you wish.
8.00 AM – GET A BIRDS-EYE VIEW AT TOKYO SKYTREE
There are plenty of places in the city to get a birds-eye-view of Tokyo. In fact, we already suggested you visit two of them on Day 2. Ok we admit that we are a bit addicted to aerial city views, it is one of our favourite activities in Tokyo. But there really isn’t anywhere quite as iconic as the Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) to see Tokyo from above and appreciate the immense scale of this city. So, if you don’t particularly like heights and are trying to pick just one place to climb to the top, then make it this one.
The Tokyo Skytree is a 634-meter tall television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo that offers spectacular panoramic views of the city. This Tower is the tallest building in Japan, the tallest communication tower in the world and the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is actually fairly new attractions to Tokyo, as it was only built in 2012.
The Tokyo Skytree’s enclosed observation platform is split over two decks – the Tembo Deck at 350 m (50 meters higher than The Shard) and the Tembo Galleria at 450 m. Access to the lower observation deck costs 2060yen. Tickets to the top observation deck are sold separately and will set you back an additional 1030 yen. Judge how clear the view will be to help you decide which tickets to buy. If the weather is overcast, you won’t see much more at 450 meters, so it’s not worth paying the extra fee.
The ride up to the lower deck is amazingly fast but also very smooth. You will barely feel like you are moving. In fact, the only indication that you are at a new height is the feeling of your ears popping. It is probably a good thing that you can’t see outside from the elevator, because at this speed you are likely to puke.
The Tembo Deck actually spans over three floors. The top floor is completely glazed and the deck’s main viewing platform. On a clear day, you might even spot Mt. Fuji – the holy grail of all views from Tokyo. The view is impressive no matter the weather, but on a sunny bright day the buildings below truly pop. The middle floor houses the souvenir shop and a restaurant. A cup of coffee here will set you back 450 yen, but what a view to enjoy it with! The lower floor features a vertigo-inducing glass floor, which is great for social media shots.
The lower observation deck is connected to its 100 meters higher brother, the Tembo Gallery, by a separate set of elevators. You will need to present your ticket to an attendant who will scan it before walking you to the elevator. The ride only takes 30 seconds but this time the elevator has glass doors, which makes the ride a lot scarier. There is also a glass panel in the ceiling, which allows you to see the structure of the Skytree as you woosh up it.
The Tembo Gallery consists of a sloping ramp that spirals its way up to a height of 451.2 meters and promises dizzying views of the Kanto Region. It is known as the World Highest Skywalk.
OPENING TIMES: 8.00am to 10.00pm
CLOSED ON: always open
ENTRANCE FEE: 2060 yen for the tembo deck, an additional 1030 yen for the tembo galleria. Or 2600 yen to book in advance via Klook
10.00 AM – GET ACQUAINTED WITH JAPAN’S MARINE LIFE AT SUMIDA AQUARIUM
Every great itinerary needs to include some wildlife. And when you are visiting a metropolis that means it should either include an aquarium or a zoo. Tokyo has both but the aquarium at the base of the Skytree is particularly unique. Although it is only moderately sized, in our opinion it is one of the most beautifully designed aquariums in the world. It is also one of the most overlooked Tokyo attractions.
The Sumida Aquarium (すみだ水族館) is located on the fifth and sixth floor of the Tokyo Solomachi Shopping Center, at the base of the Skytree. It houses over 10 000 Sea Creatures and 260 different species. The aquarium’s underwater displays represent the various underwater habitats around Tokyo Bay, the Isu Island and the Ogasawara Island.
One of the highlights of the aquarium in Tokyo has to be its excellent jellyfish display and research laboratory. It features a seven-meter wide tank known as the Big Petri Dish, which houses over 500 jellyfish. A transparent floor lets you hover over the luminescent tank.
But the centerpiece of this aquarium is its 350 thousand litre penguin and fur seal enclosure. Not only is this the largest open indoor tank in Japan, but its design ensures that you get a clear unobstructed view of the animals from every angle. The structure alone of this tank is incredibly impressive since its thick clear glass walls have almost no visible supports.
Even more uniquely, Sumida Aquarium celebrates Japan’s obsession with goldfish. The aquarium’s Endorium area features nearly 1,000 goldfish from 20 different species and thus proudly celebrates the role goldfish play in Japanese summer festivals.
OPENING TIMES: 9.00am to 9.00pm (last entry 8.00pm)
CLOSED ON: always open
ENTRANCE FEE: 2300 yen
12.00 PM – LUNCH AT TOKYO SOLOMACHI
Leave the aquarium and find a place to have lunch. You don’t have to go far! At the base of the Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo Solomachi (Tokyo Skytown), a huge shopping mall with lots of restaurants and shops. You could grab some snacks from the food market, have a takeaway in the food hall or sit-down for a proper meal on one of the four floors dedicated to restaurants. There is even a 120 meter long shopping street, that aims to imitate the vibrancy of Tokyo’s downtown areas.
If you like themed cafes, then you might want to check out the Moomin House Café. And if you have a craving for western food, then a burger at the Hawaiian inspired KUA’AINA might just be perfect for you. Beef lovers should head to Rikyu. If on the other hand you have a hankering for traditional Japanese ramen then you should pay Rokurinsha a visit. You can find some of the freshest seafood in Hokkaido at Kaitenzushi Toriton and if you have never had Japanese Eel before, then you should consider having lunch at Hitsumabushi Nagoya Bincho. Lunchtime is also a great time to eat at Jojoen, the famous high-class barbecue restaurant, because the prices are significantly reduced. If on the other hand, you have a sweet tooth then Milk & Parfait Yotsuba White Cosy is the place for you.
Perhaps you still have enough time for a spot of shopping after lunch. In this case we would suggest you head to the floor dedicated to souvenirs and snacks. Tokyo Solomachi houses over 300 commercial businesses, some of which are particularly unique. For instance, there is a shop that specialises in salts from across Japan. Tabio is a shop that solely sells socks and Niki no Kashiis one of Tokyo’s most famous sweetshops. You can buy some Japanese green tea to take back with you at Gion Tsujiri.
OPENING TIMES: 10.00am to 9.00pm (shops), 11.00am to 11.00pm (restaurants)
CLOSED ON: Small number of irregular closing days
1.15 PM – LEARN ABOUT TOKYO’S PAST AT THE EDO TOKYO MUSEUM
30 minute walk from the Tokyo Skytree
From the Tokyo Skytree, you can either walk or take the bus to your next destination. Taking the bus is a little faster, but you always run the risk of getting stuck in traffic. If you do want to take the bus, then look out for Nr.33 to Toyomi-Suisan-Futo, ride for 6 stops and get out at Toei-Ryogoku-Eki-Mae. We decided to walk the short stretch.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館) is housed in a crassly modern and very unique building. It is a must-see for those who are interested in architecture. Although it is very modern in appearance the inspiration for the building is actually a traditional Edo raised storehouse.
Inside of the museum you will find a permanent exhibition and several special exhibitions that change on a monthly basis. We highly recommend you see the permanent exhibition. Tickets to the permanent exhibition are fairly cheap and it is honestly one of the most immersive exhibitions we have ever seen. Even if you don’t typically like going to the museum, you might just find that you enjoy this one. It isn’t your typical museum with tiny exhibits behind glass, pictures and information plaques. Instead there are plenty of hands on exhibits and full scale models. If you are interested in Japanese history, then the Edo Tokyo Museum is the perfect place to learn all about it.
The permanent exhibition features beautifully crafted models, life-sized figures and vehicles that illustrate how Tokyo has developed since 1869. Overall, there are over 2500 items on display, including old maps, a replica penny farthing, Edo toilets, swords and meticulously detailed dioramas. It is a wonderful introduction to the culture and life in Tokyo.
The permanent exhibition has two zones spread over two floors. The first zone showcases life in Edo, while the second zone focuses on the Evolution of Tokyo from its early days to more recent times.
As you enter the exhibition you cross a life-sized scale replica of the Nihombashi Bridge. From here you can look down on a full reconstruction of the Nakamura-za Theater (one of the three main kabuki theatres of Edo) and a large reconstruction of a newspaper office. Next up is one of our favourite parts of the exhibition – a model of the chonin (townspeople) areas around Nihonbashi and a model of the daimyo’s residence. From here you move on to a whole set of dioramas, that showcase everything from childbirth in Edo, to woodworking and going to school. We preferred the first section of the permanent exhibition but there is still plenty to learn about in the Tokyo section. Again there are some great models, some of which have been automated. In this area, you will learn everything about the age of enlightenment in Tokyo, its industrialisation, how the city was destroyed during World War II then reconstructed and even some facts about modern Tokyo. In fact, a highlight in the second zone in our opinion, is the life-sized room of a post-war apartment.
OPENING TIMES: 9:30 am- 5:30 pm (7:30 pm on Saturdays)
CLOSED ON: Mondays
ENTRANCE FEE: 600 yen for adults, 480 yen for students, 300 yen for seniors and free for pre-school and elementary school children
3.15 PM – ATTEND A SUMO MATCH AT THE KOKUGIKAN
7 minutes walk from the Tokyo Skytree
In our opinion attending a Sumo match is a must do in Tokyo, yet it is not often included in other itineraries. If you do happen to be in town when a tournament is being held, you should definitely check it out.
Sumo – a Japanese style of wrestling and originally a performance aimed to entertain Shinto Deities – is Japan’s National Sport. The rules of the sport are easy, even I could understand them. The first sumo wrestler who exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet loses. The dohyo, where the match takes place, is an elevated ring made of clay and covered in sand. Each contests usually lasts only a few seconds. Although on rare occasions it can happen that the contestants are very equally matched and take a few minutes to beat each other. Fun fact, in sumo wrestling there is no such things as weight classes, so a short skinny sumo can find himself fighting a tall particularly fat one. This is why it is so important for sumo wrestlers to gain as much weight as they can.
The best way to fully grasp the beauty of Sumo is to attend a Sumo Tournament at the Kokugikan. The Kokugikan, Tokyo’s Sumo Stadium, seats over 10 000 visitors and hosts three of the six sumo tournaments in Japan, usually around January, May and September. So if you do want to watch a Sumo Match live, you will need to plan your trip to Tokyo at the right time of the year. You can check if a sumo match is being held when you are visiting Tokyo, by heading to the English-language sumo schedule from the Japanese Sumo Federation.
There are a few ways to acquire tickets to a Sumo Match:
- You can get them at a Ticket Pia Store
- If you are lucky you can find same-day tickets at the stadium
- Or if you are organised you can book them online from the official vendor buysumotickets.com or Ticket Oosumo
We have written a detailed Blogpost about buying Sumo Tickets and attending the match if you want to know more. Tickets to a sumo-match include a reserved seat. As in other stadiums there are different seating categories and the closer you are to the action, the more expensive the ticket gets. The best seats in the stadium come with the real risk that a sumo wrestler will fall on top of you.
Each ticket is valid for one re-entry. So technically you could go watch the low-ranking sumo wrestlers in the morning (from 8.30am onwards), leave the stadium and then return later in the afternoon (after 2.15pm), when most of the real action starts.
DAY 4 – UENO PARK, SENSO-JI TEMPLE AND A RIVER CRUISE
STROLL THROUGH UENO PARK
Ueno Park (上野公園) is a large Public Park and the location of some of Tokyo’s main Shrines and Museums. The park grounds originally belonged to the Kaneiji Temple, one of Tokyo’s largest and wealthiest temples. In 1868, Kaneiji was almost completely destroyed and the grounds converted into one of Japan’s first western-style parks. Many Museums can be found in Ueno Park including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. It is also home to Japan’s first zoological garden, Ueno Zoo.
SPEND A FEW HOURS IN THE TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM
The Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is Japan oldest and largest national museum. Its permanent exhibition features a very large and beautiful collection of Japanese art and archeological artifacts. In addition, the museum holds regular special exhibitions. The Tokyo National Museum is a large museum complex with six different buildings, each one large enough to be considered a museum by itself. If you are following my suggested itinerary, you will probably only have time to visit the main exhibition in the Honkan Building.
TAKE THE UNDERGROUND TO ASAKUSA
Asakusa (浅草) has an amazing atmosphere and will transport you back to old Tokyo. The main attraction of the area has to be Sensoji, an incredibly famous Buddhist Temple. The temple is approached via Nakamise, a popular shopping district, which provides temple visitors with a wide selection of traditional snacks and souvenirs. Although Asakusa is easy to explore by foot, you might consider hitching a ride on one of the local rickshaws (jinrikisha). A 30-minute tour for two will set you back 9000 yen (currently 48£)
HOP ON A SIGHTSEEING BOAT TO ODAIBA
When you have had your fill of Asakusa head to the river and board one of the sightseeing boats. Located in a bay and crisscrossed by rivers, Tokyo has several ferry companies. A ride on a water bus always makes an enjoyable alternative to the crowded underground. Most of the water buses are operated by Tokyo Cruise Ship Company. The most popular route has to be the Asakusa-Odaiba Direct Line, a 50-minute ride from Asakusa to Odaiba in a very boldly designed Himiko Boat with panoramic windows (1560 yen, currently 8£).
SPEND THE EVENING IN ODAIBA
Odaiba (お台場) is a popular highly modern shopping and entertainment district on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Modern city planning provides Odaiba with plenty of green space and a very pleasant division between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. All pedestrian walkways are elevated above the traffic below. Odaiba boasts some of Tokyo’s boldest architectural creations such as the Fuji Tv Building, Telecom Center and Big Sight. All the man-made islands in the Bay are connected with the elevated Yurikamome Train Line, not dissimilar to the DLR in Canary Wharf. I would suggest you head to Palette Town for some fun on the Ferris Wheel and the massive Arcade, before sitting down for Dinner in Aquacity.
DAY 5 – TSUKIJI FISH MARKET, MANGA MADNESS AND TOKYO TOWER
BREAKFAST AT TSUKIJI MARKET
Tsukiji Market (築地市場) is Tokyo’s main and largest wholesale market for fish fruits and vegetables. It is one of the World’s largest Fishmarkets, handling over 2000 tons of marine products per day. I promise you will be amazed by the variety of fish and seafood on display and completely engrossed in the very busy atmosphere of the markets, a mayhem of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers. The famous Tuna auction is held in the inner market. In the outer market, retail shops and restaurants cater to the Public. The number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day. If you wish to see the auction, you will need to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center. You then need to turn up very early in the morning. Entry is on a first come, first served basis and entry through the Kachidoki Gate starts at 5:00 am. A visit to Tsukiji Market should definitely be combined with a fresh Sushi breakfast or Kaisen Don (1000 yen, currently 5£)
MANGA MADNESS IN AKIHABARA
Akihabara (秋葉原) is a district of Tokyo famous for its plethora of electronic shops, arcades, manga and maid cafes. Hundreds of electronic shops, from tiny stalls to giant shopping malls, line the main street Chuo Dori. You can buy anything from the newest computers and cameras to second-hand PlayStations, hugely expensive retro memorabilia and electronic junk. In recent times, Akihabara has gained a reputation as the center of Japan’s Otaku culture. Head to Akihabara if you seek stores that specialize in anime, manga, retro video games, figurines, card games and other collectible. The most surreal experience we had in Japan must have been lunch at a Maids Cafe – hugely popular establishments, where waitresses dress up and act like anime maids and you are turned into their master.
I bet you are now in dire need for some culture and traditions. Kanda (神田), although not typically a tourist destination, used to be the site of a Confucian School and still an academic center for young and old. The district offers several interesting neighborhoods, such as the Ochanomizu Music Instrument Area and the Jimbocho Book-District. Kanda is also speckled with some delightful shrines, such as the Myojin Shrine and the Yushima Seido Shrine.