Shibuya Crossing – watch the organised madness of this crossing on Day 3 of this 3 Day Visit to Tokyo
Kon’nichiwa! Hello Tokyo. Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and it is the most densely populated city in the world. That’s right, it is home to some 40 million people all living in some 850 square miles (2,200 square kms). The Tokyo Metropolis, as the city is officially known, has a rich cultural history, as it has been the seat of government of Japan since 1603. Within the city is 23 wards. Each ward operating as an individual city, within the Tokyo Metropolis. And now, you are going to visit Tokyo. To make the most of you time in Tokyo, here is a 3 day Tokyo itinerary. It only scratches the surface of Tokyo, which means, it will wet your appetite to return or to extend your stay to discover more. So let’s get started.
How to Get around Tokyo
There are a number of ways to get around Tokyo. From walking, riding a bike and catching public transport. But the trains in particular are a great way to travel to get you to the places you will want to see. If you have purchased a Japan Rail (JR) Pass, it is valid for travel around Tokyo, however, check this. Otherwise, on your arrival, buy a Suica or Pasmo IC card. These credit card size cards allow you to credit the card for use on the train network. Having one of these will help you save and also not have the hassle of having to buy a ticket for each trip. The easiest way to buy a Suit card is from a JR ticket office at a station – possibly at Narita on your arrival.
I usually jump on the Hop on Hop Off buses in every major city I have been to, and Tokyo is no different. I love how the Hop on Hop off Tokyo bus takes me to all the places I need to see and tells me why. And if I want to spend time at one place, I can. They are great for when you have limited time in a city and need to make the most of your visit. You can book your ticket on Tokyo’s Hop on Hop off Bus here.
Where to stay in Tokyo
Although there is accommodation everywhere in Tokyo, for your first time in Tokyo it is best to stay in one of the city’s main urban hubs. Such as Shinjuku, the Tokyo Station Area, Ginza or Marunouchi. Or as close to the JR Yamanote subway line as possible so you have easy access to the main tourist sites of Tokyo.
READ MORE: Holiday Accommodation in Japan
To find a place to stay on this 3 day itinerary to Tokyo, check out HostelWorld for a budget hostel. Or Booking.com for more options. I actually stayed at the Maranouchi Hotel on my first visit to Tokyo. I chose this hotel as I was travelling on my own and hadn’t stayed in a hostel before. It had everything I needed and is a western-style hotel. That suited me because it was nice to have a little ‘western life’ still because there is so much Japanese culture everywhere else to experience! Now you have somewhere to stay, let’s sort out what to see and do during your 3 day holiday in Tokyo.
Skytree dominates the Tokyo skyline
After you set out from your hotel, grab a quick breakfast and hop onto the nearest train or subway. Head to Asakusa Station to start your morning at the Sensō-ji Temple. This temple is a stunning example of Japanese architecture and Buddhist tradition. Leading up to the temple gates is a shopping street where you can purchase fans, yukata, snacks, plus a heap of other souvenirs to cart home.
Get back to Asakusa Station and take a train to Ueno-Hirokoji. From there, you can walk the few blocks to Ueno Park. Here you’ll find a diverse array of attractions including museums, shrines, fountains, and even a zoo. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants in the park before taking your pick of things to do. If you have an interest in Japanese history, then visit the Tokyo National Museum that sits in the park.
Make your way back to Ueno-Hirokoji Station and take the subway to Tokyo Skytree Station. Note: you’ll have to transfer trains at Asakusa. Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world and a great place to see the city from. You can take a tour of the shops around Skytree Town and eat dinner in one of the many restaurants. Of special note are Skytree Café 340 and 634 Musashi Sky Restaurants (you’ll need a reservation for the latter). Both are high up in Skytree and will give you a fantastic view while you enjoy your dinner. They’re a little pricier than the restaurants on the bottom floors. Considering that they offer arguably the best scenery in the city, the extra cost is worth it.
When you’re ready, head up to Floor 350 (or the higher-up 450, if you’re willing to pay a little more) to see Tokyo’s evening landscape. As it gets dark, find a nice spot for the “Round Theatre”. This is a fun, fifteen-minute show projected onto the windows all around Flour 350. Since there are 3-4 shows every evening, you can be pretty flexible with timing. Once you’ve had your fill, take the elevator down before heading back to your hotel.
Wake up early and pop out of Tokyo Station for a ten-minute walk to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. There’s a unique majesty to the old, Edo-era castle and palace grounds. I loved how it is surrounded by a moat. You can book a free 90-minute tour to get an insider’s look at the historical and cultural significance.
Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat – here is one of the Watch Towers
Gate of Tokyo Imperial Palace
After your visit to the Tokyo Imperial Palace head to Ginza where you can shop till you drop or Kabuki till you can’t stop! If you go through Tokyo Station and head a few blocks south, you’ll quickly find yourself in the heart of Ginza. Among the many stores stands the Kabukiza Theatre, where you can watch 400 years of tradition play out in a kabuki show. You can book in advance, buy a no-reservation ticket the day of, or just admire the impressive figure the traditional building cuts amongst the skyscrapers and city streets. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants and get ready for your next destination.
For the next stop, you can either take the train from Shimbashi to Odaiba-Kaihinkoen or walk down to Hinode Pier where you can take a cruise to Odaiba Seaside Park. Either way, you’ll end up in Palette Town, a pier chock full of some hidden gems.
Kick off at teamLab Borderless. This is a one-of-a-kind interactive art gallery and has some mind-blowing exhibits that make full use of light, space, and optical illusions for an experience unlike any other. Or, if your interests lean more towards the sciences, you can instead check out the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It has an out-of-this-world display of scientific discoveries, from space exploration to the latest in robotic technology.
Afterward, eat dinner and end the evening with a ride on the largest Ferris wheel in Japan. Board a train at Odaiba-Kaihinkoen Station back to your hotel.
Catch a morning train to Harajuku Station. A minute’s walk away you’ll find the gardens for Meiji Jingu Shrine. Take a leisurely walk through the paths laid out in traditional Japanese fashion. Admire the solemn façade of the Shinto shrine, rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed during the war.
Meiji Shrine Hanging Ornament
Before heading out, you can also check out the Ota Memorial Museum of Art. Here there is some classic Japanese art by the famous Ota Seizo. The collection also includes some art by Hokusai, who painted the iconic white-crested blue wave entitled Under the Wave off Kanagawa.
Return to Harajuku Station and off-board at Shibuya Station. Take a picture with Hachiko, the loyal dog statue standing guard at one of the station’s exits, and emerge onto Shibuya Crossing. The crossing is a diagonal crossing or ‘scramble’. People wait for all the intersection lights to turn red to stop the traffic then people cross from all directions. Shibuya is constantly abuzz with people and pop culture. There is a ton to see and do here. Be sure to take a lunch break at one of the restaurants or cafés in the surrounding buildings for a chance to marvel at the organized chaos of the city.
If you take the train from Shibuya to Shinjuku, you’ll find Omoide Yokocho. This is a classic shopping street brimming with an “old Japan” feel amidst neon lights and modern convenience. Here, you can find restaurants squeezed into close quarters with mouth-watering smells. As well as outlet stores with high quality items right alongside cheap plastic trinkets. It’s a great place to get a taste of a Japan from past decades.
When you’ve had your fill of the sights and sounds, take a moment to relax in Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. This beautiful slice of nature lies hidden amidst the skyscrapers and city streets and offers the perfect chance to get away from the noise and bustle. After, stop at one of the many restaurants for dinner.
For the final night on this 3 day Tokyo itinerary, take a trip to the observation deck of Tokyo Metropolitan Building. This tall structure splits into two in its higher floors and offers a spectacular view of Tokyo. Take a peek at the gift shops for some last-minute memorabilia and return to Shinjuku station for a ride back to your hotel – or your next destination.
Tokyo at Night from the Metropolitan Building
Final Words on this 3 day Tokyo Itinerary
Tokyo is such an interesting and buzzing place to visit and I must admit, 3 days in Tokyo is nowhere near enough to truly discover it. If you can, extend your stay. One way to do that is on a working holiday. If you have been to Tokyo or are planning to visit I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments following.