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Tokyo, Japan, offers the energy of New York City with the refinement of Paris. Though first time visitors can be intimidated planing a trip to Tokyo, I know I was. With an extensive subway system to see sights scattered across the metropolitan area and the airport an hour away, a trip requires research. Use TravelingMom’s 3 day itinerary for the top things to do in Tokyo.
What You’ll See on This 3 Day Itinerary for Tokyo
- Tsukiji Market
- Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien
- Imperial Palace
- Japanese Food Tour
- Shibuya Station
- Hachiko Statue
- Shibuya Crossing
- Robot Restaurant
- Tokyo National Museum
- Tokyo Sky Tree Observation Deck
Most flights from North America arrive in the afternoon or evening the day after you left since you cross the international date line. Once you arrive, grab your checked luggage at Narita International Airport. Then board a Japan Rail Express Train from the airport to either the Tokyo Station or Shibuyu Station.
Head to your hotel, grab a quick dinner and don’t try to sight see your first day. Trust me, try to get on Tokyo time and rest up for this 3 day itinerary for Tokyo. It starts early and explores all day long.
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Day 1—Traditional Tokyo Day
First learn about Tokyo by sampling some Japanese food and walking through Tokyo’s best gardens. Then follow up by enjoying some contemporary Japanese art, located close-by.
For the first destination arrive hungry and have lots of Japanese yen on hand. Take Marunouchi Line (Red) to Kasumigaseki Station (M15). Then transfer Hibiya Line (Silver) to Tsukiji stop (H10).
Tsukiji Outer Market (Food Market)
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ju
Open 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Free to walk
Tokyo’s culinary tradition is driven by seafood, so head to the former home of the Tsukiji Fish Market. Walk the pedestrian alleys lined with food stalls on both sides surrounding the former auction area. Find everything from Wagu Beef to mochi desserts to matcha ice cream and spices. Most merchants prefer cash and most Japanese save credit cards for larger purchases.
If you didn’t eat breakfast at your hotel, then grab a Japanese egg omelette at Tsukiji Outer Market. Another go-to is a bowl of ramen. Everything I sampled was amazing though traditional Japanese people frown on eating while walking.
Note: The actual fish market closed and relocated to Toyosu. Its also got a new name, Toyosu Fish Market and is not a tourist destination.
Put the next destination into your maps app and walk .7 miles.
Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien (Garden) and Naajima no Ochaya (teahouse)
1-1 Hama-rikyu teien, Chuo-ku
Open 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission for adults, free for kids
Tea service additional
Walk through one of the best gardens in all of Tokyo. It features lots of trees along with seasonal blooming gardens. Then see the tidal pond and the bridges that cross it. And don’t miss the 300-year pine tree.
The shogunate used this garden to hunt duck. The picturesque tea house is open for a cup of matcha, or green tea.
From this area, get a good view of the Tokyo Tower. The communications tower is painted orange and white and looks kinda like the Eiffel Tower. It has an observation area, though the Tokyo Sky Tree offers a better facility, found later in the itinerary.
Then head out for the next destination. Take Oedo (magenta) Line at Shiodome to Monsen-naacho Station (E15). Transfer to the Tozai (Light blue) Line to Otemachi Station (T09).
1 Chiyoda, Chiyodao-ku
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cross the impressive moat surrounding the Imperial Palace (think medieval castle). Then tour the Imperial Palace East Garden to find lots of trees. And don’t miss a walk through the Kokyo Higashi Gyoen to find a small waterfall and pond for a perfect picture backdrop.
Exit through the Hirakawamon Gate of the Imperial Palace East and walk to the next destination. If you need a drink or snack, duck into 1 Chrome-1 Hitosubashi, across from the north gate of the Imperial Palace East Garden for a convenience store and a sandwich shop.
National Museum of Modern Art—MOMAT
3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyodao-ku
Walking distance from Imperial Palace (on northern boundary)
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday
Admission for adults, free for kids under 18.
Tokyo offers several top art museums. Start in the fourth floor highlights gallery for the best of Japanese modern and contemporary art. During the early part of the 20th century, Japanese artists studied and worked in Paris.
Work your way down through the galleries. If you have time, walk to the Crafts Gallery to see kimonos, lacquerware and glassware. Located close-by at 1 Kitanomaru-koen. Additional admission.
For the next destination, take the Tokyo Metro’s Tozai Line (light blue) at the Takebashi Station (T08) to Otemachi Station (T09). Then transfer to the Chiyoda Line (green) to Hibiya Station (C09) and walk the JR Yurakucho Station, connected to the Hibiya Station for the next adventure.
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After 5 Food Tour by Urban Adventures
Meet outside JR Yurakucho Station
Tour from 5 p.m. to at least 8 p.m.
Admission based on age, not for kids under 12
It’s your first full day in Tokyo, so learn about its rich culinary heritage from a local. I recommend a guided food tour, like After 5 by Urban Adventures.
My English-speaking guide offered insights into Japanese dining customs. Our tour started with a favorite for locals after work, Yakitori.
After ducking down Yakitori Alley, part of it under railway lines, we sampled several bamboo-skewered meat and vegetable appetizers. Then we munched on mochi, a sweet Japanese rice cake, in Ginza before hopping a Tokyo Metro for the next stop, Tsukishima, an island close to Tokyo.
We walked the quieter streets to our next culinary treat, Monja-yaki. It’s a traditional pancake made with cabbage, mochi and pork on a griddle in the middle of the table.
Day 2—Tokyo Pop Culture Day
After spending the first day getting acquainted with Tokyo’s traditional culture, head to the heartbeat of pop culture. Board the Ginza Line (orange line) to Shibuyu Station.
At the intersection of the Hanzomon, Fukutoshin and Ginza Lines
2-24-1 in the basement of Shibuya Station
If you’re hungry, head downstairs for a grocery store with a food hall attached. Find bento boxes, sushi, Japanese gyoza and lots of French pastries and breads. All is reasonably priced and a good option for families or budget travelers.
Then head upstairs and outside for the next destinations.
Shibuya Station at Hachiko Exit
A national symbol of loyalty is Akita; the dog walked to Shibuya Station everyday to meet its master, even years after his master’s death. “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” is a 2009 tear-jerker movie starring Richard Gere that was based on Akita’s story.
Myth of Tomorrow Mural
Shibuya Station at Hachiko Exit
Mural depicting the Hiroshima bombing. The mural went missing in the 1960s but was found in Mexico in the early 2000s and returned to Japan to be restored and installed at Shibuya Station.
Outside Shibuya Station
As the busiest intersection in Japan, this is the place to take a few moments and people watch. Then take a time-lapse video at the corner of the intersection while the pedestrians cross in all directions. I also saw the Mario Carts Tour near Shibuya, the carts from the Mario Carts game.
Shibuya Center-gai (Shopping Street)
Udagawacho, near Shibuya Station
Walk down the main pedestrian-only drag in Shibuya for a lesson in Japan’s pop culture. Find a mix of Japanese and North American shopping along with fast food dining. Pop into a Purikura Photo booth for a strip of pics as a souvenir, a must for teens and young adults.
After exploring Shibuya and doing a bit of souvenir shopping, head back to Shibuya Station for the next destination. Then take the Ginza Line (Orange) from Shibuyu Station to Omate-Sando Station (G2).
Omote-Sando (Shopping District)
Exit Omote-Sando Station and walk in either direction.
While the Ginza area is for traditional luxury shopping, Omote-Sando offers edgier boutiques. With designers like Commes des Garcons, Stella McCarthey and Prada, also find contemporary architecture in Omote-Sando.
Then walk west along Omote-Sando, ducking down Cat Street for more window shopping.
Yoygi Kamizono-cho, Shibuya-ku
Open dawn to dusk
As Toyko’s grandest Shinto Shrine, it’s a must. Along with a picturesque shrine, it offers a wooded escape from the buzz of Harajuku that wedding parties use for portraits. Find the largest torii, or traditional shrine gate, at the Meiji Shrine. And during my summer trip, I found matcha ice cream in the shadow of the torii.
Emperor Meiji (1868-1912) designed the garden for his empress. Built in 1920, the original Meiji Shrine burned down during WWII and was later rebuilt.
Before entering, rinse your hands and mouth at the font, then walk through the Shrine and pay respects. Amulets and wooden plaques are available for purchase. I bought some for unique souvenirs.
Then pay admission to walk through the Meiji-Jingu Inner Garden for a teahouse, the iris garden, Kiyomasa’s Well and the azalea garden.
If it’s April, a visit to Yoyogi Park is a must for Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. Located east of Meiji Shrine and free to enter.
Note on Japanese: Hanami is the act of viewing the cherry blossoms and sakura are the actual flowers.
After exploring Shibuya and Harajuku neighborhoods, head north for the rest of the day. Walk north out of Meiji-Jingu to the Kita-Sando Station (F14) and take the Fukutoshin Line (brown) to Shinjuku-Sanchome (F13). Then transfer to the Marunouchi Line (red) to the Shinjuku Station (M8).
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; later in the spring and summer
The Naito family lived in this area during the Edo period, it’s now a national garden with an English garden, cherry trees and greenhouse. It also offers three different gates.
Now change gears. Since this entertainment district is more family-friendly in the early evening, walk around now to get a taste of Tokyo nightlife. Then head to an early show that embodies Tokyo’s pop culture.
Shows at 4 5:55, 7:50 and 9:45 p.m.
Admission based on age
Take in Tokyo’s pop culture in a temple of light, sound and action. Start with lady-eating monsters, pyrotechnics and lasers, a show at Robot Restaurant is an experience you see and feel with a pounding soundtrack. Then find samurai-sword wielding characters, Pokemon-like players even an homage to Hello Kitty in a fast-paced show.
Arrive early; the lounge looks like a Japanese version of Liberace’s mansion. Drinks and snacks available with live entertainment before the real show downstairs.
Since the earlier shows offer a family-friendly vibe, tweens and teens will enjoy the show that feels like walking into a video game. It may be too much stimulation for younger kids, and I would advise bringing ear protection.
If you’re traveling without the kids, then head to Golden Gai, an entertainment district within walking distance. It’s a peek into how locals unwind. Find tiny bars for izakaya, or bars that serve snacks and drinks, down alleyways. Some offer quirky themes or play karaoke tunes. Another area famous for izakaya is Omoide Yokocho.
Day 3—Japanese Culture Day
After enjoying a traditional Tokyo Day and the pop culture of Tokyo, learn more about the arts and culture of Tokyo. Since it’s a popular destination head out early. First take the Ginza Line (orange) to the Asakusa Station (A18).
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Open 24 hours
Tokyo’s most visited temple for Kannon—the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. First walk through red Kaminari-mon (thunder gate) to appreciate the scale of the structure.
Then take a moment to light some incense and pay your respects at the temple. And don’t miss the Five-Story Pagoda that stands next to Senso-ji. Finally walk around the grounds for smaller structures and gardens with koi ponds.
Walk through the Nakamise-dori on your way to the temple. Find souvenirs and food stalls. Arrive early in the morning for fewer crowds.
After visiting Senso-ji head to the next destination for several museums. Take the Asakusa Station (A18) for the Ginza Line (orange) to the Ueno Station (G16).
Ueno-koen (City park with museums)
Open dawn to dusk
Ueno Park is a large city park with lots of space to explore along with the Ueno Zoo, several museums and a large pond with lotus.
National Museum of Western Art
Admission for adults, free for kids and seniors
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Monday
Designed by famed architect Le Corbusier, the modern building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So at least walk by. Head inside if you’re an art lover, like myself.
The National Museum of Western Art offers a study in western art from the renaissance through the modern periods. There’s an extensive collection of Roudin, Delacroix and Monet. Along with masters Renoir, Van Gogh and Gaugin, this museum offers all the thrills of New York City museums.
For those pining for Western food, the café offers a French-inspired menu with views of the garden.
Ryogoku Kokugikan–Sumo Hall
1 Chome-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida City
Instead of visiting Ueno-Koen, take in some Sumo wresting. With tournaments in January, March, May, July, September and November, find lots of opportunities. Along with wrestling, learn about the sumo culture, that includes sumo stables, where wrestlers live and train. With an organized tour, find out what and were the wrestlers like to eat.
1 Chome-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida City
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Learn about the Edo Period of Japanese History from 1603 to 1868. Known as a prosperous period celebrating art and culture, this museum showcases the art and history of this period along with special exhibitions.
Tokyo National Museum
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday
Admission for adults, free for kids and seniors
With the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, find wood prints and silk screens, samurai swords and kimonos. First focus on Honkan Galley and Galley of Horyu-ji Treasures for labeled Japanese national treasures. If only visiting one museum in Tokyo, this one offers a lot to see.
End your three full days exploring Tokyo with a nighttime view over the largest city in the world. Take the Ginza line (orange) from the Ueno Station (G16) to the Asakusa Station (G19) and transfer to the Asakusa line (rose) to Osiage Station.
Tokyo Sky Tree Observation Deck
1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku
Admission depends on how high up you go
Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Want to see the view from tallest tower in the world? My daughter, a Japanese exchange student, recommended Tokyo Sky Tree since it offers two different observation decks. Along with observation decks, find restaurants and a glass tube connecting the different levels. On a clear day see Mt. Fuji.
Day Trips from Tokyo
Located south of Tokyo, this artificial island is in Tokyo Bay. Accessed via the Rainbow Bridge, find Tokyo highlights like Toyota Mega Web, a Toyota showroom with indoor test driving along with teamLab Borderless, celebrating digital art. Finally find an onsen, or hot springs, at Odaiba Oedo Onsen, that’s got a kinda-authentic Eno feel.
Located east of Tokyo, a day trip to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea is a must for Disney fans.
Tips on Traveling to Japan
If it’s your first trip to Japan use this prep-and-pack guide. Get information about the Shinkansen trains (hi-speed), the Tokyo Metro, advice on where to stay and more.