My very first visit to Tokyo, Japan was at the age of 18. I stayed for six weeks to attend a language school. It gave me my first opportunity to get acquainted with this fantastic metropolis.
During my ten months study abroad in Osaka, I came back to Tokyo with my parents, to show them around because I knew what to do in Tokyo. And from 2015 for more than 3 years I lived right in the center of Tokyo.
You could say I know quite a bit about Tokyo.
I have put together this 5 days in Tokyo itinerary for first-time travelers to Japan. For people who want to get to know the modern but also the more traditional parts of this super modern city.
There is always more to explore and 5 days in Tokyo (or even one week in Tokyo) will never be enough to see it all. I am not sure I have seen it all in my more than 3 years there. But it is definitely long enough to find out what to do in Tokyo. No matter if it is culture, history, food or technology that you are after, this 5-day itinerary got you covered.
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Let’s start your first day with one of the craziest, young, “in” districts of Tokyo: Harajuku. I recommend you arrive at around 10 a.m. at Harajuku Station. Take the Takeshita Dori Street exit, and you will stand right in front of Takeshita Dori street. This street features many favorite shops with especially high school kids where they can buy clothing, accessories and make-up.
You will also find that they have many shops with the most amazing looking (and tasting) sweets in all of Japan. If you want to try the Harajuku Crepes or the rainbow colored cotton candy from the Totti Candy Factory, it is best to buy it early in the day because the lines can get quite long especially on weekends.
I know it is only day one of your 5 days in Tokyo but the 100 Yen Daiso shop is the biggest 100 Yen shop in Japan and the perfect place to get some cheap souvenirs.
If you want to learn more about the culture of Harajuku you can also do a walking tour with a guide. Book your tour on Get Your Guide now!
After you have seen your fill in Harajuku there are other Tokyo attractions close by. I recommend a visit to one of the most important Shinto Shrines in Tokyo. The Meiji Shrine.
From the massive wooden Torii gate, it is a beautiful walk to the main shrine through the park, and over little bridges. When you enter the shrine, don’t forget to wash your hands. This is to ceremonially purify your body.
On most weekends you will be able to see many wedding ceremonies taking place at the shrine, and if you are lucky, you will even manage to take a picture or two of the bride and groom dressed in their beautiful traditional Kimono.
When you want to make your wish, throw a coin (best is a 50 yen coin with the whole in the middle) into the collection box. In case there is a bell you should now ring it to wake the gods. Bow twice, make your wish, clap twice and bow once more to conclude.
It’s your first day in Tokyo, and it is time to see what the Japanese are up to in their free time. For this reason, a visit to Yoyogi Park is in order. Many Japanese spent their free time here, walking their dogs (or other pets) meeting to have a picknick or to practice all kinds of sports or other cultural activities like acting or dancing.
It is a great place to learn about Japanese culture and have some time to relax. How about buying a soft serve ice cream at the entrance to the park and sitting down on one of the benches for a couple of minutes.
From Yoyogi Park, the next activity of your 5 day Tokyo sample itinerary is a walk along Omotesando. Many brand shops like Louis Vuitton or Burberry line the streets of Omotesando, but also the side streets are fascinating and worth exploring.
I also recommend a visit to the little condom shop Condomania for some fun souvenirs and even a visit to the top of the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku building. From the deck, you will have a great view of Omotesando and the Harajuku area.
The last stop of the first day of your 5 days in Tokyo is Shibuya, one of the most popular Tokyo tourist attractions.
It is about 1 kilometer away from Harajuku and I have never walked the distance. If you don’t want to walk it might be a good idea to take the Yamanote Loop Line for one station between Harajuku and Shibuya. Or alternatively if you walked all the way to Omotesando Station take a Metro train on the Hanzomon Line to Shibuya Station.
Shibuya gets busy in the evenings, especially on the weekend. That is precisely the time you will want to be there if you want to see the famous scramble crossing of Shibuya.
While walking across is fun what you really want is to see it from above. One of the best places to do that is the Starbucks across the street from Shibuya station. Buy a Matcha Frappuccino on the ground floor and walk up to the first floor from which you will have a fantastic view of the crossing. You might have to wait a bit if you want to sit down and take some pictures or a video in front of the floor to ceiling windows.
Other activities in Shibuya include a picture with Hachiko, the famous loyal dog who waited for his owner at the station every day even after he died, and having a drink in one of the bars around the station. If you are into young fashion a visit to the Shibuya 109 might be of interest. This is where young girls go to buy their clothing and accessories.
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There are two sides to Ginza; one is the modern Ginza that many tourists come to see. Brand shops lining the street and many architectural masterpieces can be found just walking along the road (for example in a tour of Ginza which you can book via Get Your Guide).
But if you have the chance, I would recommend also to have a look at the more traditional part of Ginza, for example the famous Kabuki hall where traditional Kabuki plays can be enjoyed. Even if you don’t have a ticket (unfortunately I have never seen a Kabuki performance) the theater itself is a real sight not to be missed. If you want to see some real Kabuki you can get some tickets online.
From Ginza, it is only a short walk to the business districts of Tokyo, Marunouchi. Try to get a feel for the way the Japanese people live in the capital. The skyscrapers around Tokyo Station are mostly offices of important Japanese, but also foreign companies. You can see the Japanese salarymen and office ladies, as they are called, hurry on their way to or from work. I know this because I used to be one of them. My office was also in the Marunouchi district right next to the Tokyo Station on the 25th floor of one of the skyscrapers.
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The Tokyo Station building itself is also worth a short visit. The facade of this more than 100-year-old building has recently been renovated and is a great backdrop for pictures. I especially love the contrast between the old building and the very modern skyscrapers that surround it.
Tokyo Station is quite a big station and if you are on the wrong side you won’t be able to see any of the beauty of the old station building. So better check where you need to go in advance. If you head for the Tokyo Station Hotel you are in the right place.
If you happen to be hungry while at Tokyo Station, I recommend you try some delicious Tonkatsu at one of my favorite restaurants.
Another short walk and you are in the real heart of Japan. The Imperial Palace, the home of the Japanese emperor. Most of the time the general public is not allowed inside, but you can try to get access to the Imperial Palace through a tour, but many tourists visit the entrance to get a picture of the famous Seimon Stonebridge.
You can also take a stroll through some of the public gardens and walk around the premises but in my opinion, there are better things to do in Tokyo.
The official central point of Edo, Tokyo before it became Tokyo was the Nihonbashi Bridge. The name literally translates to Japan bridge, and while it is historically very significant, and in principle also a lovely sight, there is a highway running over the bridge with makes the whole affair a bit anticlimactic.
But no worries the Nihombashi district has more to offer than an unfortunately located bridge. There are many department stores in Nihonbashi. I suggest exploring the below-ground floors to find an assortment of delicious Japanese foods and sweets like you wouldn’t believe. One of the most exciting things here is probably the fruit for which Japan is so famous. At department stores in Nihonbashi you can buy white strawberries, square watermelons and Japanese melons that will cost you at least 100 USD.
Another district of Nihonbashi is Ningyocho, where I used to live. Ningyocho not only has an abundance of delicious restaurants, but also a rich history and many old shops. In Edo times Ningyocho was the home of many doll makers as well as puppeteers and is also known as one of the birthplaces of Kabuki, the traditional Japanese theater. While you are there, I recommend you have dinner at Taniya my favorite Udon restaurant in all of Tokyo.
If you want to buy the latest Japanese technology or are into Manga and Anime, Akihabara is the place to be. If you aren’t so much into either Akihabara is a place that you can skip without regrets.
There are two kinds of buildings around Akihabara. The biggest electronic stores in Tokyo where you can buy anything you can only imagine from cameras to headphones, computers and mobile phones, but also household goods like refrigerators and air-conditioners, and of course Japanese high-tech toilets. And on the other hand shops with all kinds of products of your favorite Anime. Figurines, stickers, stuffed animals you name it, everything can be found here.
For day 3 in Tokyo, it is time to head east. Asakusa should be your first stop as it gets quite crowded during the day and is best explored in the morning when the shops open around 10 a.m. The long shopping street lined with souvenir shops and food stalls leading from the Kaminari Mon (Kaminari Gate) to the main building of Sensoji Temple is a great place to do all your souvenir shopping.
If you want to learn more about Sensoji Temple and other Shrines and Temples in Tokyo you might be interested in a Temples & Shrines Morning Tour (book now!) or just tour Asakusa comfortably in a traditional Japanese Rickshaw. It is also an excellent chance to try some Japanese sweets and other foods like rice crackers or Japanese soft serve ice cream.
If you wanted to, you could take a train to the Tokyo Skytree from Asakusa. The 634 meter high Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Tokyo.
The lower floor of the Skytree building is a shopping mall, aquarium, planetarium and also office building.
At the height of 350 and 450 meters are the two observation decks from which you will have an unforgettable view of the city (or so I have been told, having never been to the decks myself). The reason I have never been to the top, although I have visited the Tokyo Skytree before is the price and the long lines. If you want to ride to the top, I suggest you get a ticket in advance via Get Your Guide.
Around noon it is time to make your way to Ueno. One of the most interesting and at the same time un-Japanese places in Tokyo is Ameyokocho. This shopping street in Ueno features many shops with cheap knock-offs of brands, and you will get cheap T-shirts, belts, and bags as well as perfumes. But there are also small stalls selling Japanese products such as sweets and crackers but also fresh fruit and fresh fish.
Every couple of steps you will stumble upon a dirty looking restaurant selling cheap Japanese beer and small dishes to compliment it. If you are still looking for a place to have lunch, this is a very authentic opportunity to experience Japan at it’s finest, or dirtiest, depending on how you want to look at it.
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After the hustle and bustle of Ameyokocho take a stroll through Ueno Park. This park houses many interesting art and science museums and also the Ueno Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in Japan and one of the only places to see a Panda in Japan.
Most of the places to visit in Tokyo are super modern. Tokyo is built and rebuilt at a pace faster than anywhere else. Old buildings are knocked down to make space for ever higher buildings. Sometimes it is tough to see the historical place that Tokyo is.
One of the places in Tokyo where you can at least get a glimpse at how Tokyo must have been 50 years ago in the quaint little area of Yanaka Ginza.
This laid-back little shopping street not far from Nippori Station has a real shitamachi (old town) charm that is lost in many of the more modern districts of Tokyo. You can shop for a kinds of cheap things like clothing, toys or food items or just watch the locals go about their daily business.
If you want to experience another aspect of Japanese culture, your last stop of the day should be Somei Onsen Sakura in Sugamo. After a long day of walking it is the perfect place to relax. The public bath fed with Onsen water features multiple indoor and outdoor pools of different temperatures.
It is especially beautiful in spring when the Sakura trees on the property are in blossom, but at any other time of the year, it is still a beautiful oasis in the middle of a hectic metropolis and in my opinion one of the most beautiful Onsen in Tokyo (but not the only one).
It is only a little walk from Sugamo Station which you can reach on the Yamanote Line. Find more information about Somein Onsen Sakura in the box below.
Since you only have 5 days in Tokyo the one day trip outside Tokyo I recommend is to Kamakura. Known as little Kyoto, it will give you a better glimpse into the culture and history of Japan.
There are many fantastic day trips out of Tokyo, and if you ever have a chance to come back to Tokyo, I highly recommend you do a couple of them. For example a day trip to view Mount Fuji is an unforgettable experience.
For now, let me tell you what to expect from a day trip to Kamakura. The below activities are only the highlights of Kamakura and I recommend you read the full blog post about Kamakura once you are done with this post.
The highlights of every visit to Kamakura are the Great Buddha and Hase Dera Temple. They are close to each other and can be reached from Hase Station. The big bronze Buddha statue was constructed many hundreds of years ago and is a sight to behold. You can even visit the inside and learn about the construction of the Buddha statue.
Name: Great Buddha (大仏) of Kotokuin (高徳院)
Admission: 200 Yen (2 USD) + 20 Yen (0.20 USD) for a visit to the interior of the Buddha statue
Opening hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Address: 4 Chome-2-28 Hase, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-0016
Hase Dera Temple has everything you might wish of a Temple in Japan. Beautiful gardens, a great view, traditional buildings and even some caves. If you only want to visit one Temple while you are in Japan, this is the Temple to see.
The picture was take 5 years ago when I was visiting Kamakura with my parents. This little bamboo forest is like a separate world, everything is cooler, noises don’t seem so loud and you can hear the birds singing. A stroll through the bamboo forest of Hokokuji Temple is a beautiful experience not to be missed when you are in Kamakura.
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There is a very famous bamboo forest in Kyoto, it is much bigger than the one in Kamakura, but in my opinion the one in Kamakura is nicer. The reason for this is that in Kyoto you follow a very wide road through a gigantic bamboo forest, in Kamakura you follow little trails through the considerably smaller forest which feels so much more intimate.
There is also a little tea house where you can sit down and enjoy some matcha green tea and some traditional Japanese sweets while marveling about the beauty of the bamboo grove.
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the most important shrine in Kamakura. I was founded in 1063 and stands at its current location cince 1180. It is an important shrine for warriors and especially the Minamoto family who founded it when Kamakura was the capital of Japan.
The complex is quite large with two ponds at the entrance, a long stone stairs in the center and the main buildings at the top of the stairs.
About 1 kilometer from Kamakura Station is Kamakura beach. During the summer months, you can lie on the fine sand or take a dip in the water. There are also many bars and restaurants where you can either enjoy a cold drink, or a Japanese style shaved ice.
Day 4 of your 5 days in Tokyo is the only one day trip outside Tokyo. From Tokyo Station take the Yokosuka Line to Kamakura Station. This will cost you 920 Yen (9 USD) and take just under one hour.
In Kamakura you can walk to many destinations. Alternatively you can also take the Enoshima Dentetsu Line called Enoden. I recommend this for your visit to the Great Buddha and Hase Dera. The station to get off is Hase Station.
To get directly to the bamboo forest of Hokokuji Temple it is best to take a bus form Kamakura Station. But my recommendation is to walk and explore all the little Shrines and Temples on the way.
The place where you are most likely to see a Sumo wrestler is in the Ryogoku area of Tokyo. Sumo wrestlers are easily spotted because even when they are out and about in private, they are required to wear traditional clothing, and their long hair is artfully draped on their heads.
Many Sumo wrestlers are very friendly and they won’t mind you taking a picture of them. But to be polite, please ask them before you take a photograph.
There are many interesting aspects of Sumo that you can experience. If you are keen to watch a real sumo match you can easily buy some tickets in advance online. But you can also have a more close up and hands-on experience by visiting a Sumo stable or participating in a Sumo training exercise (an experience you can book online via KLOOK).
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The Sumo wrestlers have to put on a lot of weight and muscles to become strong. One way they do this is by eating Chanko Nabe, a kind of hot pot with many ingredients. Around Ryogoku there are many restaurants where you can try this very delicious dish in a traditional setting.
But you can not only learn about Sumo in Ryogoku, but the famous Edo Tokyo Museum is also located there. The museum has been recently renovated, and if you are interested in Japanese history, the Edo Tokyo Museum is one of the most excellent places to learn.
You start your tour of Tokyo’s history by walking over a replica of the famous Nihombashi bridge, after which you get to see many interesting exhibits of history through the ages. There are volunteer guides who can give you a lot of additional information in a variety of languages. My parents and I got a private tour in German.
The last thing that might be missing from a perfect Tokyo itinerary is a visit to a Japanese garden and a visit to a Japanese tea house. You can kill those two birds with one stone in Korakuen. This Japanese garden features a pond and other parts of typical Japanese garden architecture.
After your stroll, take a rest at the tea house Kantokutei Mitoya right outside the gate of the garden. I recommend ordering a Japanese tea with sweets set. The Japanese tea, made from matcha green tea powder is quite bitter and tastes especially delicious if you enjoy it with the beautifully crafted Wagashi, a Japanese sweet made from sweet bean paste.
Map of Tokyo
with all activities from this post!
Once you get used to it, it is relatively easy to get around using Tokyo’s public transport system. Simply use the Metro and JR trains.
I recommend you buy a PASMO or SUICA card, similar to the top-up cards in London or other big cities. These cards are very convenient because you won’t need to buy a separate ticket everywhere you go. The card will cost you nothing, just 500 Yen (5 USD) deposit that you will get back once you return the card at the end of your 5 days in Japan. Using a PASMO or SUICA card is also a couple of yen cheaper than using a standard paper ticket.
I use Google Maps to find my way around Tokyo. It is super convenient as it includes all the information you might need: The road to the closest station, what time the next train leaves, where you have to change trains and also how much your ride will cost you. If you want to use your phone conveniently, you will need WIFI, and I recommend you get a WIFI router for your trip online via Get Your Guide.
Narita is the bigger of the two Tokyo airports. Unfortunately, it is also quite a distance away from the city center. It lies in the east of Tokyo about 70 kilometers in a smaller city called Narita, which incidentally makes for a nice day trip before your flight.
There are four primary ways to get into the city: Taking the Narita Express or Nippori Liner are the fastest but most expensive ways to get into the city.
There are also many shuttle service companies (which you can book online) that offer a ride to your hotel or a destination of your choice. A little bit pricy but very convenient.
Alternatively, you can take a bus to many destinations in Tokyo, which is a little bit cheaper but takes about an hours or more.
The slowest but cheapest way is to ride a standard train.
No matter what you do, don’t take a Taxi into Tokyo. The taxies in Japan aren’t cheap and you will have to pay around 30.000 Yen (300 USD) for your trip. Yes that’s right 300 Dollars, that’s not a typo.
In case you arrive in the middle of the night you will have trouble getting into the city, because busses and trains usually don’t operate between 12 a.m. and about 5 a.m. I suggest you wait it out at the airport.
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Haneda Airport is much more convenient for your Tokyo trip because it is much closer to the city than Narita Airport.
You can either take a bus or a regular train to get to your destination within the city in under 30 minutes. Since it is the smaller airport there are less international flights, but in recent years there has been an effort to have more flights come in through Haneda, and you might be lucky, so make sure to check.
If you are planning on venturing outside out Tokyo to destinations like Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka then you might want to consider buying a Japan Rail Pass. You can to buy your Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan or when you have already arrived in Japan and you can do it conveniently online by following the link in this paragraph. If you want to find out more about the Japan Rail Pass read my full post about it.
In case you only plan to visit Tokyo you don’t need a Rail Pass.
In Tokyo there are countless options for accommodations. And because it can sometimes be a little bit overwhelming let me just pick up some different and interesting ones.
I don’t get tired of saying this again and again, so here it is. If you have the chance stay with a local while you are in Japan take it. There are different options to stay with locals. You could try finding a Couchsurfing host.
There are also countless Airbnbs in Tokyo. Just be careful that the Airbnb is operated legally. To be safe always read the comments from previous guests and better not stay anywhere that doesn’t have any reviews yet. If it’s your first time using Airbnb you can get a discount on your first stay by signing up using this link. And I have also written a post that teaches you how to find real locals to stay with using Airbnb.
Another option is homestay.com a website that connects you with host families in Tokyo and everywhere else in the world. There are more than 20 hosts available in Tokyo and you will have an amazing, unique and unforgettable experience you cannot have if you stay at a hotel. Trust me.
If you are planning on staying at a hotel, I suggest you stay somewhere very central in Tokyo, because you won’t want to spend your trip to Tokyo, Japan sitting on a train. The area I recommend is Ningyocho, one of the best areas to stay in Tokyo (that’s just my opinion). Maybe I am biased because I use to live there, but hey, there is a reason I chose to live in that neighborhood, and it is not the low rental prices, trust me.
If you are looking for hotel recommendations, I have those as well. A very nice hostel I have stayed at previously is Sakura Hostel Asakusa. It lies very conveniently close to the attractions on day 3. Book your stay now via Booking.com.
If you are looking for something more traditionally Japanese, then a Ryokan I stayed at in Ikebukuro might be of interest to you. It is called Kimi Ryokan and is beautifully Japanese with Tatami mat rooms where you sleep in a Japanese Futon bed. Book your stay at Kimi Ryokan now!
I wont say I know everything there is to know about Tokyo but after 3 years of living here I know my way around. If you have any question whatsoever please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments or send my an email if you prefer that to firstname.lastname@example.org
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None of the experiences in this post are in any way sponsored and have all been payed for by myself. The opinions stated are all my own and have not been influenced in any way.
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Lena is the creator of the Social Travel Experiment. Planning her trip around the world took a lot of effort. To make it easier for future world travelers she has made it her mission to teach others how to have an unforgettable trip around the world, through short stays with locals, without wasting valuable time or money.