Tokyo Itinerary: The Perfect 5-Day Trip

geisha at temple tokyo japan

Tokyo is, without question, one of the most unique cities in the world—and it’s a place that every traveler should experience at least once in their lives. However, planning your trip can seem overwhelming, particularly for people who are visiting Japan for the first time.

My Tokyo itinerary is the perfect schedule to follow if you’re looking to get a taste of everything that makes the city so special: incredible food, rich history, and wildly modern culture.

Whether you have three days in Tokyo or five full days to explore, this itinerary can work for just about any trip length—it really just depends on your preferred pace.

– Day 1: Tsukiji Fish Market & exploring Akihabara

– Day 2: Temples and the famed “kitchen street” 

– Day 3: Shibuya Crossing & Harajuku girls

– Day 4: Shopping in hip Omotesando, Cat Street, and Robot Restaurant

– Day 5: Imperial Palace & the city’s best ramen

Before we dive in to the full detailed Tokyo itinerary, a few important things to note are below.


When to Visit Tokyo

Truth be told, there’s no bad time to visit Tokyo. It’s a destination that thrives year-round, and has different selling points for each season.

March – May: Spring is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Tokyo. You’ll be treated to mild temperatures ranging from 48°F to 64°F, gorgeous sunny days, and (if you plan accordingly) you can even experience the blooming of Tokyo’s famed cherry blossoms, which occurs in early Spring.

The timing is hard to estimate since it varies from year to year, but many websites (like this one) have accurate predictions that can help with your planning. It’s worth noting that cherry blossom season is extremely popular, and thus, rates for flights and hotels will be somewhat inflated.

best time to visit tokyo cherry blossom season

Photo via Neophoto

The same goes for “Golden Week,” which is Japan’s annual celebration of imperial succession. A series of four bank holidays from the end of April to the beginning of May make this an extra busy time to visit, as Japanese people get this time off.  

June – August: This time of year is peak season and can be particularly hot and humid with temperatures ranging from 71°F to 80°F. June and July are also the rainiest months of the year, so make sure you have a look at what you want to do during your visit and plan accordingly.

autumn in japan

Photo via my amazingly talented friend @ofleatherandlace

October – December: The fall/early winter is a great time to visit—temperatures this time of year range from around 62°F in October to 45°F in December. If you go in late November, try and plan your trip around the fall foliage, when the entire city is covered in vibrant, autumnal leaves. 

Jan/Feb: As long as you don’t mind dressing warm, January and February are a fine time to go to Tokyo. Temperatures are around 40°F —Tokyo’s winter certainly doesn’t compare to winters in Europe.


How to Get Around Tokyo

Tokyo is notorious for its exorbitantly expensive taxis—they even put New York City and London to shame. Ubers are equally (if not more) pricey, but they’re a safer bet if you’re nervous about being able to communicate with a taxi driver.

For the most part, though, the metro is your best option to get from Point A to Point B. Unlimited multi-day passes are around 600 yen ($5.50) per day, or if you prefer paying for each ride individually, a ticket is between 170 – 310 yen.

The Best Way to Get From the Airport to Your Hotel in Tokyo

You can take the metro from both Tokyo airports (Narita and Haneda) into the city, but after exhaustive research, I found that the “Airport Limo Bus” was a better option if you’d rather not worry about navigating trains after a long flight.

You can locate the limousine bus service on the first floor of either Terminal 1 or 2 of both Narita and Haneda International Airport. Tickets can be purchased upon arrival after you’ve collected your bags, and just before you exit.

Look for the “Airport Limo Bus” kiosk, tell the ticket agent where your hotel is, and they’ll direct you to the appropriate bus.

3 days in tokyo itinerary

Image via Go Tokyo


Where to Stay in Tokyo

If you’re only planning on having three to five days in Tokyo, it’s crucial to choose a central location so that you can make the most of your time.

I’ve included my recommendations for the best areas to stay, in addition to the best hotels in Tokyo—whether you’re doing Japan on a budget or looking to splurge.

Central Business District: This neighborhood is close to all of Tokyo’s major areas and nearby Tokyo Station offers easy access to the rest of Japan.

Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo

Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo

The view from the Shangri-La, which is where I’ve stayed twice.


Shibuya:
Popular with young people for the many nightlife options and home to two of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations, this area is a big shopping district, known as one of Japan’s fashion centers.

Ginza: Another great shopping area, this neighborhood  has several upmarket boutiques and fancy cocktail and sushi bars.

Shinjuku / Harajuku: Vibrant street life, buzzing karaoke rooms, colorful signs and upscale hotels make these areas popular districts to stay in.

Like most major metropolitan cities, hotel rooms are pricey and generally small in size, unless you splurge on a luxury property. I absolutely love the Shangri-La (I’ve stayed there twice) and I’ve heard incredible things about The Andaz and the Ritz, which are great options for those looking to cash in on credit card points

However, since you’ll be spending most of your time running around the city, you might not feel that a swanky hotel is worthwhile.

The most important thing is making sure that you’re close to a metro station, so you’ll have flexibility in getting to/from your hotel each day.


Tokyo Private Tour Guide

Pro Tip: While everything in the below itinerary can definitely be done on your own, I always recommend hiring a guide for your first day in a major city. It helps you to get your bearings and takes the pressure off of everyone in terms of navigating—especially if you’re traveling as a family or doing this as a girl’s trip.

I found an amazing (and relatively inexpensive) private guide named Yukio through the website Voyagin, which I would highly recommend. who worked with me on a custom itinerary via email in the weeks leading up to my trip. I can’t recommend him enough—he was patient, had a fun sense of humor, and spoke great English.

The price for our full-day private tour (8 hours) was $47 per person for 6 people, not including tip. (That did not include a metro card, meals, or entrance fees to temples.)

You can also add on an optional hotel pick-up for $24, which we found was well worth it.


The Perfect Tokyo Itinerary for First-Timers

Pro tip: We booked a TON of experiences and activities through the website Voyagin, which had been recommended to me by a friend. I can’t say enough good things about it. Many things in Japan are difficult to book directly with vendors or restaurants due to language barriers, so using an English website made it so much easier. I also found that the prices for tours and activities were better than everywhere else I checked. It also provided a lot of good ideas that I hadn’t previously considered.

Day 1 – 2: Exploring Tsukiji, Akihabara and Asakusa

Start at Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world. Since you’ll presumably be jet lagged, indulging in sushi and pork buns at 9am might not seem like the craziest idea.

Be sure to have cash on hand as most vendors don’t accept credit cards. Beyond sushi and buns, the best food items to try at Tsukiji are:   

  • Fat tuna bowl from Maguroya Kurogin
  • Menchi Katsu from Yoshizawa Shoten
  • Uniman (squid ink flavored bun, filled with sea urchin cream) from Hamada Shoten
  • Crab fish cake stick from Nigiwai Honpo
  • Strawberry mochi (pictured below)

If you’d rather have the experience as a guided tour (which we did) there are a number of them available here. I liked having a guide to help point out the best stalls—he also introduced us to a lot of unique Japanese foods that we probably would have passed by if we were on our own.

Tsukiji fish market tokyo itinerary 3 days in tokyo best things to eat in tokyo Tsukiji fish market
Head to Akihabara,
also known as the “Electric Town.” This is the epicenter of all things tech, and a place that will make you feel like you’re living in the middle of a real life video game.

  • The train lets out at Yodabashi Camera, which is the biggest electronics store in the world.
  • Stop in to Super Potato, a video game store known for its collection of retro games.
  • Lunch Suggestion: Henry’s Burger!

3 days in tokyo

Yodabashi Camera

Yodabashi Camera is like a Best Buy on steroids.

Super Potato

Expect a ton of cool vintage finds at Super Potato.

Optional: Visit a maid café. It’s a quirky cultural experience where waitresses dress up in maid costumes, complete with frilly dresses, knee socks and cat ears. If you want to know what it would be like to dine inside a manga animation, this is your place.Maid cafe Maid cafe

Asakusa, Sensoji temple: Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s old downtown areas with its oldest Buddhist temple. Its history dates back 1,400 years and is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion and is now one of Tokyo’s most popular temples.5 days in tokyo itinerary

Optional: Check out Kappabashi street, also known as “Kitchen Town,” which is home to the best knife shops in Tokyo—and arguably the world. (You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the giant chef statue on top of a low-rise building.)  Here, you’ll find a seemingly infinite number of boutiques dedicated to cookware, kitchen tools, and restaurant supplies.

Keep an eye out for a shop called Kama-Asa—it’s been around since 1908, and the staffers are well-versed in helping customers narrow down the perfect knife to bring home or give as a gift. Ask to have yours engraved with something special.

Kama-AsaReturn to your hotel to rest.

Have dinner near your hotel, or in a lively area like Ginza, Shinjuku or Roppongi.


MORE: The Best Carry-On Luggage for Every Type of Traveler


Day 3 – 4: Shibuya Crossing, Harajuku and Omotesando

Take the train to Shibuya to see the famous “Shibuya Crossing.”

3 days in tokyo

  • Best views of Shibuya Crossing:
    • Go to Starbucks on the second floor of Shibuya’s Q-Front building for a cool vantage point of the crossing.
    • Magnet by Shibuya 109 is a shopping mall with an observation deck at the top floor for the perfect bird’s-eye view.
    • One of the best views of not only the Shibuya Crossing but all of Tokyo can be found at Shibuya Sky, a 360° open-air observation deck at the rooftop of Shibuya Scramble Square, complete with hammocks.

Head to Harajuku (via the Ginza subway line)

  • Explore the neighborhood – have a stroll through the colorful and vibrant streets while browsing traditional boutiques and and dessert shops.
  • Optional: Check out the Kawaii Monster Cafe.

This was one of the more “unique” things I did while in Tokyo. I had seen several celebrities post photos from here (including the Kardashians, Katy Perry, and Gigi Hadid) so it piqued my curiosity enough to make a reservation.kawaii monster cafe tokyo

    • “Kawaii” is something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan. The literal translation is “cute,” but “cute” hardly scratches the surface of what you’ll see here. I’m not really sure how to describe this place other than to say the restaurant is like an Alice in Wonderland acid trip.
    • We made the mistake of going for lunch (the food is absolutely atrocious.) If I were to do it again, I would recommend just buying a ticket for admission, which is only $5. It’s definitely worth checking out for an hour.
    • We got our tickets on Voyagin.
  • Meiji-jingu Shrine – surrounded by forests and beautiful gardens, this shrine was dedicated to the first emperor of modern Japan. The entrance fee is about $4.
Meiji-jingu Shrine tokyo

Photo via @eh_2095

  • Cat Street – this street is the center of hip culture dedicated to youth fashion, connecting Tokyo’s biggest shopping districts, Harajuku and Shibuya.
     

Walk through Omotesando, Tokyo’s hip (and pricey) neighborhood that’s a haven for luxury shopping. Handbag lovers will lose their minds over Amore Vintage, a boutique that stocks vintage Chanel, rare Birkins, and a seemingly endless amount of Louis Vuitton.

amore tokyo vintage designer chanel

The store is packed, floor-to-ceiling, with thousands of pieces—ranging from jewelry to handbags and accessories—that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Eat brunch or lunch in/around Omotesando

  • Harajuku Gyoza – popular gyoza spot for very cheap, be prepared to wait
  • Other lunch/brunch options:
    • Flippers Tokyo – hotspot for the typical jiggly Japanese pancakes, prepare to wait in line
    • Mugigoya – tasty homemade sauce and chewy hand-pulled pasta
    • Obanzai Hachiya – simple yet delicious Japanese cuisine at affordable prices

Go back to your hotel to shower and rest.

harajuku gyoza tokyo best things to eat in tokyo

harajuku gyoza tokyo

Photos via @harajukugyoza

Optional: Grab a drink at Park Hyatt Bar, the place made famous thanks to the film Lost in Translation. It has gorgeous views overlooking the city.

Head to Robot Restaurant (20 minute metro ride from Park Hyatt)

  • One of the questions I had prior to my first trip to Japan: “Is the Robot Restaurant worth it?” I can now confirm, that yes, 1000%, going to the Robot Restaurant is an absolute must.
  • I won’t say much because I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, but I recommend buying tickets to the evening show (I got ours on Voyagin) and then planning to have dinner in nearby Golden Gai afterward.
  • Despite its name, the Robot Restaurant is not, in fact, a restaurant. They do serve snacks before the show, but you won’t want to eat here.

robot restaurant tokyo japan

Bar hopping & dinner in Golden Gai.

    • This is an area that’s known for its super tiny little bars—we’re talking 6 seats, sometimes less!
    • You’ll want to have dinner in Piss Alley (yes, I’m serious.) It’s a famous izakaya street where you can pop in to various bars and grab skewers of meat and drinks.
    • While there are plenty of websites with recommendations for the “best bars in Golden Gai,” my advice is to simply wander around, see what looks interesting, and explore on your own. Each bar is its own unique experience. You really can’t go wrong here.

Day 5: Tradition vs. Future

Tokyo can be very traditional and futuristic all at once. Luckily, there are many options for both:

TRADITION

For an hour long walk, begin at Tokyo Station and walk east to the Imperial Palace East Garden to explore Kitanomaru-koen Park. Then head toward nearby Yasukuni-jinja Shrine (free admission).

  • If you’re hungry, head back to Tokyo Station and grab a bowl of ramen at one of the many tiny shops in Ramen Street. (Despite the name, it’s not actually a street—it’s almost like an alleyway inside of Tokyo station with 8 ramen restaurants.)
    • Dip your cold noodles into a hot, thick broth and then have a stroll around to look at all of the crazy fruit.
    • Ramen Street can be a bit difficult to find. It’s located in an area call Gransta that connects the Yaesu and Marunouchi sides of the station. 

Ramen Alley

  • Take the train to Shinjuku: This is the largest station in Tokyo. Explore the “food floor” at Isetan department store – it will blow your mind.

5 Days in Tokyo itinerary

FUTURE

Go to teamLAB Borderless Museum (be sure to buy tickets in advance) and immerse yourself in a group of artwork in a vast, three-dimensional world. Tickets cost around $30 per person.

Depending on where your hotel is, you might want to plan on this being a full day activity, since it’s located on the outskirts of the city.

  • The Best Spots in teamLAB Borderless:
    • Forest of Resonating Lamps (first photo below)
    • Crystal World (second photo below)
    • Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather

teamlab bordless japan tokyo lamps

teamlab bordless japan tokyo crystal room

 

Tip: if you’re traveling with a group, I’d recommend agreeing on a time to meet at the exit once everyone is done exploring. The museum is dark and can be tricky to navigate—once you lose your group, it’ll be challenging to find them.

My group of 7 had only planned on walking around for 1.5 hours, but I think we ended up staying for 3. 

Stop at a Japanese drugstore to shop for amazing local beauty products. One more thing you might consider doing en route back to your hotel is checking out one of Japan’s famed drugstores, where you can stock up on amazing Japanese beauty products for relatively cheap.

I highly recommend Don Quijote—there are a ton of them throughout Tokyo, so just google which is the closest to your hotel. 

The best Japanese beauty products to buy while you’re in Tokyo:

  • Shiseido Lash Curler (these are the unrivaled favorite among beauty gurus, and they’re half the price in Japan)
  • Kiss Me Heroine Make Long & Curl Mascara in Super Black (this has been dubbed “the blackest mascara in the world” and it is amazing)
  • Lululun Balance Moisture Masks
  • Heroine Make Smooth Liquid Eyeliner in Jet Black
  • SKII (the sheets masks and essence are the best; slightly cheaper in Japan than in the US)

japanese beauty products don quijote drug store

Head back to your hotel and get a good night’s rest.


Have questions about something that I didn’t address above? Leave them below and I’ll try to help!

I hope you found this activity-packed Tokyo itinerary helpful! Have you visited before? Comment with your own hotel, activity, and restaurant recommendations below!

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2 Comments

  1. Jessica Lee
    January 19, 2020 / 1:55 am

    Did you fly business class? If so did you use points and if so which card would you recommend to be the best for points to Japan?

    • January 19, 2020 / 6:39 pm

      Nope! I actually used miles to fly United econ because we didn’t have enough for round-trip biz sadly. It was direct so not terrible. We usually transfer our points from Chase Sapphire Reserve to United!

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