Make the most out of a 5-day Tokyo itinerary

Calming yet chaotic, embracing both its spiritual side and its freaky alternative one, Tokyo takes the biscuit as one of the world’s most intriguing capital cities. Emerge from Shinto shrine forests to find interactive museums and cosplay alleys, pausing to slurp soba noodles at sunken horigotatsu tables while dusk brings neon lights and Blade Runner vibes into play. If the futuristic styles of the centre grow tiresome, cross-train lines into slower neighbourhoods where lanterns mark traditional Ryokan homestays and time stands still. Read our 5 days in Tokyo itinerary below for tips on how to spend your short time, learning more with our extended Tokyo travel guide.

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Tokyo | Photo: Yu Kato

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In spring, the shade under Yoyogi’s cherry blossom trees is prime real estate for picnickers, while Meiji Shrine slightly north of the park can show you grandeur in nature along its forest walkway

Best time to visit Tokyo

Spring and autumn are ever-popular seasons for visitors to Japan, allowing you to dodge the intense heat of June to August and the brittle chill of December and January. What you’re left with is mild temperatures and blue skies for a big chunk of the year, with the added interest of spring’s cherry blossom season between March and April and fall’s rustic foliage around September and November. During these times, hotel and flight prices are bound to spike, with Japanese public holidays also seeing high costs – particularly Golden Week in early May.

Getting Around Tokyo

At first glance, the Tokyo subway system seems an impenetrable jumble of colours and lines, all marking the multitude of train companies that tram, light railway and underground services, but, take a little while to figure it out and you’ll actually find that Tokyo is in fact hiding one of the best public transport systems in the world. Pristine and ever-punctual, the city’s subway and trains connect each urban district, allowing you to see a completely new angle of Tokyo in just a few minutes flat.

The JR Yamanote Line loops around the city to connect major areas, including Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ueno, transferring just once for both Roppongi and Asakusa.

A prepaid Suica or Pasmo card can be topped up and used as and when needed and is considered the cheapest and best way to travel through the city. If you’re planning on investing in the Japan Rail Pass for cross-country travel, the best plan of action is to only activate it the day you leave Tokyo so as not to waste any value. Get a Suica card instead via the website for pickup at the airport. Taxis are another strong option for getting through the city outside of rush hour and for the added expense you’ll get a white-gloved driver and self-opening doors. As always however, walking in the city is not to be sniffed at, allowing the best access to hidden gems with less stress than navigating the subway.

Tokyo | Photo: Charmaine

Photo: Dan Asaki

Day 1: Akasaka and Senso-ji temple

A spiritual search on day one takes us into one of Tokyo’s most colourful neighbourhoods to end up at Senso-ji Temple. Before arriving, however, the journey through Akasaka should take precedence, where Tokyo of old can be glimpsed by way of low-slung wooden builds on commercial streets flanked by traditional Torii gates. In amongst it all lie craft stores, hidden temples, low-key cafes and peaceful green spaces, all a perfectly authentic vision of Tokyo living. Along the way, make sure to catch the Hanayashiki Amusement Park, Sumida Park and the Tokyo Skytree before finally reaching Senso-Ji Temple, resplendent in red and gold across the Kaminarimon, Asakusa Shrine and five-story pagoda, all built to honour the goddess of Kannon. The lead up to the temple along Nakamise-Dori road gives another good chance to do some light shopping, as souvenir stores tout traditional hats, fans and sandals alongside fine street food options like mochi balls, melon bread and Japanese-style dim sum.

Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo | Photo: Charles Postiaux

Photo: Yoav Aziz

Day 2: Ameyoko & Akihabara

Picking up the tempo for day two of our Tokyo itinerary, we move into a completely different part of the city for arcades and candied alleys. Come at Ameyoko from either Okachimachi or Ueno Station, following the sweet smells to your destination. Ameya Yokocho to give it its full name, once served as a black market for American products after WWII, selling candies and other goods, though now the alley has legitimized to offer clothes, accessories, fresh fish and sundries every day except Wednesdays between 10 am and 8 pm. Fill up on street food and dried snacks as you meander through 164,000 square feet of the open-air market, trying the electronic stores nearby for amazing deals on the latest tech.

If Ameyoko doesn’t have what you’re looking for then Akihabara may satisfy with its back-to-back electronics stores and endless selection of anime and manga. Known as Tokyo’s ‘manga headquarters’ or ‘electronic town’ depending on who you ask, Akihabara is most popular with Japan’s growing otaku culture, the diehard gamers and computer nerds from across the country. Come to Chuo Dori main street on Sunday when traffic is redirected elsewhere and eccentric pedestrians take over the road. Follow the wackiest characters into Mandarake Complex, the place to go for toys, collectables, comic books and beyond, heading outside for traditional street eats and herbal tea with scantily clad cosplayers and nerdy teenagers before moving to the edges of the district for a sit-down meal worth the wait.

Akihabara, Tokyo | Photo: Jezael Melgoza

Day 3: Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku

The middle point in your trip is also a high point, taking you first among the bustling commercial neighbourhood of Shibuya, home to the world’s most famous intersection, Shibuya Crossing. Flow with the crowd to leave Tokyo’s busiest station, elevating yourself in the department stores and coffee shops surrounding to see the ocean of people from above. Once you’re ready, re-immerse yourself at street level to shop for records and clothes, first petting the Hachikō memorial statue, to honour the country’s most famous (and most loyal) Akita dog.

Explore the area a while and you’ll wind up at any number of cool places, such as Harajuku where both manga and sweet treats come in equal measure, attracting teen cosplayers and street performers in their masses. Try a crepe and shop for vintage pieces on Takeshita Street, or for a more muted experience head over to the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art. From there we work off our sugary indulgences with a stroll to and through Yoyogi Park, a green haven at odds with the buzzing streets of Shinjuku. In spring, the shade under Yoyogi’s cherry blossom trees is prime real estate for picnickers, while Meiji Shrine slightly north of the park can show you grandeur in nature along its forest walkway ending in the city’s most majestic Shinto shrine and gardens.

Come evening, there’s one place you can rely on for entertainment, restaurants, bars and clubs all in one and that’s Shinjuku. The Golden Gai is perhaps the most famous part of Shinjuku, known for its never-ending stream of offbeat bars and glitzy nightclubs, but the unassuming karaoke bars and grubby food stalls of Omoide Yokocho (AKA ‘Piss Alley’) are equally worthy of the night.

Photo: Chris Yang

Tokyo | Photo: Yuri Yuhara

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Culture comes just a short walk from Ginza, at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, home of the emperor, fronted by the famous Seimon Stonebridge

Tokyo Imperial Palace | Photo: Julie Anne Garrido

Day 4: Ginza, Tsukiji Fish Market and TeamLab Borderless

To ensure day 3’s hangover doesn’t bother us too much, we start late and go upmarket to the air-conditioned district of Ginza where department stores, boutiques and galleries pay the big bucks (10,000,000¥ per square metre of land!) to set up shop. Though finding a cheap cup of coffee won’t be easy, it’s Ginza’s Chuo Dori street where you’ll find all the leading fashion and cosmetic brands, cut off from traffic on weekend afternoons to allow for an easy shopping experience. Culture comes a little later, just a short walk from Ginza, at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, home of the emperor, fronted by the famous Seimon Stonebridge. While the inside of the palace is only accessible through a package tour, the public gardens and grounds surrounding are certainly worth the time.

When lunchtime comes calling, Tsukiji Fish Market can help (open every day before 2 pm except Sundays); once the largest wholesale fish market in the world-famed for its tuna auctions, now smaller but no less awesome thanks to its abundance of fresh and live fish showcased by jovial vendors keen to make a sale. As well as seeing all the types and cuts of seafood, you can also get the fish grilled or sliced in front of you, ready to eat standing or squatting amongst the throngs of people. To wrap up the day, Tokyo invites you to rethink the way museums work with a visit to TeamLab Borderless. More than just a popular place to take reels of selfies, TeamLab Borderless offers immersive exhibitions of light and colour as part of a collab with the Digital Art Museum and Mori Building Company.

TeamLab Borderless | Photo: Kelvin Magtalas

Day 5: Ryogoku and Korakuen, or Kamakura day trip

It’s sumo wrestlers, bamboo forests and zen gardens for our last day in Tokyo, a trifecta of authentic Japan for your memories. The city’s Ryogoku area is where you might find sumo wrestlers, easily spotted going about their weekly supermarket run in traditional clothing and a topknot. These friendly giants are approachable for photographs if you ask nicely but otherwise, you can book tickets online to see a real sumo match or participate in a sumo experience at a working ‘sumo stable’. After learning of the lifestyle, indulge in a traditional sumo meal of Chanko Nabe, a variety hot pot served up in countless places around Ryogoku. The Edo Tokyo Museum is also in the neighbourhood just over Nihombashi bridge, covering much Japanese history across the ages with guides in a multitude of languages. After that, the Japanese tea house of Kantokutei Mitoya awaits within Korakuen gardens, where you can enjoy matcha tea served with refined wagashi desserts in view of the pond and zen architecture.

Last but not least, if you have a day to spare and want to get outside of Tokyo city centre, a day trip to Kamakura is an authentic option, reachable in just 90 minutes by train. Otherwise known as little Kyoto and once the cradle for Nichiren Buddhism in the 13th century, Kamakura offers insight into the history of Japan through its Great Buddha statue, the Hasa Dera Temple and gardens, as well as the bamboo forest adjacent to Hokokuji Temple. Another fine example of ancient Japanese architecture lies nearby at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, an important site founded in 1063 for warriors, around the time Kamakura was the capital of Japan. For an afternoon in nature, get lost in the bamboo forest or travel the one kilometre from the station to the beach, particularly in summer when the water warms and the beachside restaurants and bars come alive with action. Looking to extend your 5 day Tokyo itinerary? See our 10-day Japan itinerary for the best of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and beyond.

Photo: Ryan Miglinczy

Kamakura | Photo: Charles Deluvio

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Tokyo | Photo: Tim Grundtner

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