Tokyo is famous for its blinking lights, neon signs and fast paced city life. My sister and I went to the city for the first time in June (link to my thoughts here) this year and fell in love with it. Whilst a lot of travellers choose to tour Japan, we opted for 8 full days in Tokyo. Whilst this may sound excessive, we were never short of things to do! There are so many cool things to do in Tokyo that you would need a lifetime to see, do and eat it all. We had fairly intensive days, but I’ve boiled our activities down to a 6 day Tokyo itinerary to focus on the highlights. The itinerary ranges from your usual must-visit attractions to more off-the-beaten path. I’ve also included transport, our hotel and where to eat in Tokyo. Without further ado, enjoy this 6 days long Tokyo itinerary for first-time visitors!
Transport to and From Narita Airport
Most international passengers will arrive at Narita airport and whilst there are multiple transfer options, we went with the Narita Express Train. This train takes about 1,5 hours to Shinjuku station but also stops at Tokyo Station after approximately 1 hour. The reason we chose the Narita Express though, is the N’EX Round Trip Ticket available to passengers with foreign passports. These allow one round trip to the airport within 14 days for 4,000 yen, giving you a 33% discount. The advantage of these tickets is that you also get a reserved seat. Note that you have to reserve a seat at the train station ticket machines before you board the return train.
Where to buy N’EX Round Trip Tickets
JR East Travel Centre between 8.15- 19.00 (terminal 1) or 8.15 – 20.00 (terminal 2 and 3)
JR East Ticket Office between 6.30 – 8.15 and 19.00 – 21.45 (terminal 1) or 20.00 – 21.45 (terminal 2 and 3). In terminal 2, the ticket office is around the corner from the automatic ticket machines. Someone will take your order in the queue and hand you a form that you pass to the ticket seller.
For more info, check out the JR East website.
Where to Stay In Tokyo
We stayed at Shinjuku New City Hotel which was really good value for money and located in Nishi-Shinjuku. Nishi-Shinjuku lies to the west of Shinjuku train station and the hotel is within walking distance of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The area is partly residential and the hotel lies next to Shinjuku Chuo Park. A FamilyMart is 2 minutes down the road and your closest metro station is Tochomae, which is a 5 minute walk.
Hotels rooms are known to be small in Tokyo but we found our twin bed room a very decent size (which means we could spread the contents of our two suitcases all over the floor cause outfit choices). Japan is famous for its toilets and I have to mention that the toilet did come with a little remote control thing at the side. Way cooler than it should be.
Update November 2018: Shinjuku New City appears to have rebranded this year to THE KNOT. The lounge etc looks different to what we experienced (better!) but the room pictures look very similar to the room we stayed in. You can see details for THE KNOT here.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Metro station: Tsukijishijo
Opening hours: Wholesale area from 10.00 am. Tuna auction around 5.00 am but you need to queue up hours before as it’s first come, first serve. Other parts of the market are open from 5am.
Update November 2018: The wholesale as well as inner market at Tsukiji is now permanently closed and has moved to Toyosu Market. However, the outer market is still in operation at Tsukiji and will continue to offer amazing food for the time being. I enjoyed the outer market section a lot and would still consider a visit to Tsukiji worth it, although it would now be as a foodie destination rather than as a unique market.
Tsukiji fish market is the biggest wholesale fish market in the world and many tourists try to attend the famous morning tuna auction. I did not attend the auction as you have to queue from about 3 am, at which time there are no subway trains running. If you really want to attend, I found Japan Guide’s website a useful resource. In the inner market you can find restaurants and kitchenware for sale. Pick up some crockery, kitchen knives or chopsticks for souvenirs. The really famous sushi places, such as Sushi Daiwa and Sushi Dai require you to start queuing from nighttime. I’m not a fan of early hours or queues so winged it and only arrived at 8.30 am to explore the inner section.
My breakfast goal was kaisendon, which is a bowl of sushi rice topped with sashimi. Kaisendon Ooedo had a good looking menu (plastered all over the exterior) and the dishes tasted as good as they looked. Definitely recommend. Have a look at the wholesale area when it opens at 10.00 am but please, respect the no photography-rule as this is a working place. After the wholesale area, head to the outer market for more amazing street food. Try the torched scallops, mochi and fish snacks before you roll to your next destination.
Metro station: Daimon
Opening hours: 9.00 – 17.00
You can see the imposing gate in the distance almost immediately as you step out of the metro station. Zojoji temple is an important Buddhist temple but we saw surprisingly few tourists on our visit (compared to some of the other temples). This temple was a serene break from the city and you should go into the main building to simply observe in silence. To the Buddha statue’s left you can find a massive gong, which I had personally never seen before.To the right of the main temple building you’ll find the Unborn Children Garden, where stone statues represent guardians of unborn children. This is an incredibly somber area but worth a visit.
Metro station: Azabu Juban
Opening hours: Depends on individual restaurants
If you’ve regained your hunger, Azabu Juban should be your next stop. I did a ridiculous amount of research before our trip and found Azabu Juban through Internationally ME’s Youtube channel. Check her out, one of the best Tokyo resources I found! Azabu Juban is a cozy and laidback area with cute shops and great food options. I had a list of must-try foods before I went and one of them was taiyaki, a fish-shaped dessert filled with red bean paste. Naniwaya Souhonten dates from 1909 and, according to Time Out, are the original makers of taiyaki. Regardless, they tasted very nice, especially with a glass of milk (what grown up wouldn’t order milk?). After your snack, wander the streets and check out the stores.
Mori Art Museum
Metro station: Roppongi
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday – Sunday: 10.00 – 22.00. Tuesday: 10.00 – 17.00
Admission: 1,800 JPY (£12 / 16 USD)
Recognisable by the massive metal spider statue at the entrance, Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills showcases the latest in modern art. This was, hands down, one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Not only did it have amazing exhibitions but the museum is located on the 53rd floor so also offers spectacular views. Entrance is steep but most definitely worth it for the class of the art and the views. We went on a Saturday whilst there was a really popular Marvel Exhibition on so the place was packed. I’m assuming it would be more quiet on a weekday. Do not miss!
Metro station: Harajuku
Opening hours: Sunrise to sunset. Inner garden 9.00 – 16.30 (16.00 November to February)
Admission: Free. Inner garden 500 JPY (£3.50 / 4.50 USD)
Meiji Shrine with its surrounding area is one of the most famous Tokyo attractions. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, this shrine offers a very tranquil experience despite its central location. Go through the cleaning ritual before you enter the grounds and bow at the gates. Our favourite part were the gardens rather than the shrine itself. For a small fee you can enter these beautifully designed gardens including a pond and gorgeous iris patch.
Takeshita Street (Harajuku)
Metro station: Harajuku
Opening hours: Depends on individual stores, although don’t expect many to be open before 11.00 am
Traditionally the centre of Japanese youth culture, Takeshita Street seemed to attract more foreigners than Japanese teenagers on our visit. Regardless, this insanely packed street is worth a visit to check out all the shops. If you like pastels, cute and lolita, then you are in the right place. Whilst not my scene personally, you can find some really cute souvenirs and I would go for the make up alone. Also, try the famous crepes! Yes, they are expensive but when in Tokyo etc. Whilst you’re at it, you might as well go over the top with e.g. a slice of cheesecake in your crepe. If you haven’t had enough of shopping by the end of the street, continue to the Omotesando area for more (upmarket) stores.
Michelin Star Ramen at Tsuta
Metro station: Sugamo
Opening hours: 11.00 – 16.00 and 18.00 – 21.00 but you need to collect tickets in the morning
Admission: Most dishes between 1200 JPY to 1500 JPY (£8 – £10 / 11 USD – 13.50 USD)
Tsuta was the first noodle shop to ever receive a Michelin star and if you’re after a very affordable Michelin star meal, this is your place. I loved our meal and have dedicated a whole post to the experience. You say noodle, I say yum.
Ikebukuro Sunshine Mall
Metro station: Ikebukuro
Opening hours: 10.00 – 20.00
Because of Tsuta’s queue and ticket system, you need a place fairly close by to spend a few hours as you wait for your turn. Cue Ikebukuro Sunshine Mall. Ignore the slightly cheesy name, this mall has some really good shops. I made one of my favourite purchases ever here (the perfect backpack) and it’s a really enjoyable place to spend a couple of shopping hours. Ikebukuro Sunshine Mall is also home to the Pokémon Centre. The Pokémon centre is basically a Pokémon shop (but centre sounds cooler!). Even if you’re not a huge fan, this was a fun place to have a look around and pose with the massive Pokémon statues.
Metro station: Shin-Okubo
Opening hours: Depends on individual restaurants and stores
Admission: Free. Concert at Showbox 3,000 to 5,000 JPY (£20 – £35 / 27 USD – 45 USD)
Now, I know you’re in Japan but if you have any interest whatsoever in Korean make up, food and music you have to visit the area Shin Okubo. This is Tokyo’s Koreatown and has a huge array of idol merchandise. There are also a few Korean make up shops and, for example, we found the brand Nature Republic (lip and hand products are great!). The best part was the newly formed K-pop bands walking around with promotional flyers for concerts. You can watch new and upcoming bands perform at Showbox. We watched Elvin Crew and were 8 people in the audience as they debuted only a few weeks before, which made it a very personal concert.
Metro station: Maihama
Opening hours: Depends on day but generally 8.00/9.00 – 22.00
Admission: 7,400 JPY (£50 / 70 USD)
The Japanese take Disney very seriously. So much so, that they have two Disney parks. Disneyland is the more traditional one and will probably remind you of the Paris park (although I am by no means a Disney expert). DisneySea is unique to Tokyo and supposedly more grown up. We went to Disneyland, as a one-day ticket is only valid for one park and my sister picked Disneyland. It definitely takes a full day and the queues can be notorious. For shorter queues, you should definitely go on a weekday. We also ended up going on a rainy day (click here for the post!), which worked in our favour as we could try loads of rides and the longest queue was only 45 minutes. For extremely in-depth and useful information, you should have a look at the Disney Tourist Blog.
Metro station: Shinjuku-sanchome
Opening hours: 9.00 – 16.30. Closed Mondays except cherry blossom season and chrysanthemum season
Admission: 200 yen (£1.50 / 1.80 USD)
For a tranquil day head to Shinjuku Gyoen. This massive park offers a variety of gardens including a traditional Japanese Garden, an English Garden and a French Garden. Don’t forget to pay the greenhouse a visit too. With some luck, you’ll catch the locals attend yoga classes in the middle of the park which is fun to people watch. Have some ice cream too, the shop at the entrance offers matcha (green tea) flavoured soft serve ice cream.
Metro station: Shibuya
Opening hours: Depends on individual shops
Shibuya is the home of that iconic crossing you’ve probably seen pictures of. The crossing is right next to the station so will be very hard to miss. A lot of people head for Starbucks to get the best view of the crossing but for us budget travellers (aka those of use who’d rather buy Donald Duck merch from Disneyland ahem….) you can get a good view from the station. Head up the escalators to the walk bridge and you’ll get a birds eye view of the crossing below. Shibuya itself is the stereotypical image of Tokyo; neon signs and shops everywhere. Spend some time exploring the streets, it’s definitely an experience. For some extra novelty factor, check out Uobei Shute Sushi. Whilst not the best quality around, it’s rather entertaining to have your food delivered by automatic shutes.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Metro station: Tochomae
Opening hours: North Tower 9.00 – 23.00 and South Tower 9.30 – 17.30
You will already have seen the Tokyo skyline by day at the Mori Art Museum but for spectacular nighttime views, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This observatory is free of charge and with a location on the 45th floor offers some great views. If you visit in winter, you might want to consider heading up here during the day as you can supposedly see Mount Fuji in the distance.
Metro station: Various
Opening hours: Depends on individual establishments
Admission: Depends on individual establishments
You can’t visit Tokyo without singing karaoke. There are plenty of places where you can bless people with your singing voice. We chose Big Echo in Nishi-Shinjuku, which is one of the biggest chains in Japan. They offered a good selection of English songs but the actual programme and instructions were all in Japanese, which confused us greatly and we ended up singing Barbie Girl about 6 times in a row. Big Echo was convenient but I have since read that other places offer better value for money e.g. Cote D’Azur so do some shopping around before you go.
Metro station: Asakusa
Opening hours: Senso-ji Temple main hall 6.00 – 17.00 but the rest of the area is always accessible
The Asakusa area is home to one of the most popular temples in Tokyo; Senso-ji and its adjoining shopping street Nakamise Dori. This is a really pretty area but gets VERY crowded so get here early to minimise the crowds. Nakamise Dori has all sorts of great souvenirs and also a good selection of street food. I recommend getting some of the unique soft serve ice cream flavours (I collect ice cream flavours!) such as purple sweet potato. Obviously, you should also check out the temple and I found it quite entertaining to read my fortune (mostly because I seem to need life insurance based on it). Keep an eye open for a stand of boxes, which is where the fortunes are. You shake a box until a numbered stick falls out and match the number with a drawer. Inside the drawer lies your fortune. If it’s bad you should tie it up at the temple to leave your bad luck behind. I made sure my knot was very sturdy…
Metro station: Akihabara
Opening hours: Depends on individual shops
For all things manga and electronics, Akihabara is your one-stop destination. I will admit that this wasn’t my favourite area but if you are interested in manga, maid cafés and massive electronics shops, then this is a must. Even if you’re not, I think it is worth a visit as it is so different to any other area in Tokyo. That said, one must-do activity in this area is the game arcades. Pretend like you understand the initial instructions and then work out how to play these games, which are often quite interactive. Or simply admire the local pros that seem to move faster than light.
With its incredibly friendly locals, variety of activities to suit every taste and sensory overload, Tokyo is sure to leave a lasting impression. Personally I got it in the form of 13 mosquito bites. Joke aside, I hope this 6 day itinerary has inspired you to add Tokyo to your must-visit destinations, because the city sure deserves it!
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