Tokyo is a city on the bucket list of many travelers today. Known for its massive population, awesome food scene, high-end technology, and colorful temples, there is little wander why. There are a few things that fascinated me when I visited Tokyo. First, it is the one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited – an impressive feat for a city of of 14 million people! It is also one of the quietest large cities I’ve ever been to – there is hardly ever a horn beeping anywhere. Japanese people are incredibly respectful and kind, and the food scene there is just top tier. If this has at least peaked your interest, keep reading for the ultimate Tokyo itinerary: 4 days of exploring this incredible city.
Brief City History | Tokyo, Japan
The history of Tokyo began around 400 years ago, when the Tokugawa Shogunate was established there. The city was known as Edo during this time, and became the center of poltics and culture for the country while the shogunate held true power. In 1868, the Imperial army seized the city and exiled the shogunate. The capital of Japan was then moved from Kyoto to Edo, and the city was renamed Tokyo the “eastern capital”.
This began what was known as the “Meiji Era”, named after the the 16-year old emperor who came to power in the city. Emperor Meiji was focused on modernizing and westernizing the country, and because of his efforts, Japan changed from an isolated feudal country to an emerging world power. This era lasted until the early 1900’s, and is marked by education reform, dedicated city planning, and the construction of museums and parks. The Kanto earthquake that hit in 1923 marks the end of this period, with the city facing great destruction and civil strife.
The Showa Period (1926 – 1989), really begins with the start of WWII. Tokyo was the first city to be bombed in Japan during the war, and was bombed repeatedly over the course of the war. At the end of the war, Tokyo went through a major reconstruction, and actually was supported by some relocated US citizens. Something that I found interesting about this is that the relocated Americans built a whole area in the city called “Washington Park” which featured American-style homes and cars. (Why they could live as locals is beyond me – but, of course, not completely surprising).
Tokyo was the home of the 1964 Olympics, which helped the country shed the negative image received during WWII. Since that time the city has gone through periods of growth and stagnation, but today is known as the largest metropolitan economy in the world. In addition, it is the largest metropolitan area by population – with a staggering number of 38 million people living in the area. It is known as a major global financial center, and is renowned for its contributions to the electronics and transportation industries.
For more on the history of Tokyo, click this link.
RELATED: Kyoto in Two Days
Know Before You Go | Tokyo
Lodging & Logistics
Getting There: Tokyo is a major transportation hub and if you’re visiting from outside of the country, you’re likely to visit via one of the following airports:
- Narita International Airport (NRT) – This is the main international airport in the country, servicing 50% of all flights into and out of the country. It’s located roughly 37 miles outside of the city, and is accessible via metro from the city center.
- Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport) (HND) – This is the older of the two airports in Tokyo, serving both international and domestic flights. While it primarily services international flights in the Asia Pacific region, but depending on your airport, your journey into Tokyo could start here. This airport is located in Ota, Tokyo, about 14 miles from the center of the city.
Interesting Fact: Since WWII, flights have been prohibited from flying over the city. This is the reason why the airports are all located outside of the city.
If your journey to Japan does not start with Tokyo, you may also get to the city via train. Japan has an extensive railway network with numerous stations – if you’re entering from outside the city, you may start at one of the following stations:
- Shinjuku Station
- Ikebukuru Station
- Tokyo Station
Depending on how long you are staying in the country / how many destinations you plan to visit, you may want to consider purchasing the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). The JR Trains come into the city frequently, so if you are visiting Tokyo from another city, like Kyoto, getting in at your preferred time will not be a problem.
Click here to learn more about traveling by train in Japan.
Where to Stay: If you haven’t been able to tell from what I’ve written so far, Japan is HUGE! To help you narrow it down, there are a few areas you may consider staying in during your visit:
- Shinjuku – This area is known for having great dining and nightlife options, as well as a plethora of available hotels. The image you have a neon lights at night in the city of Tokyo likely comes from this district. This is the area where I stayed on my visit, and it was pretty much perfect. I will call out, this neighborhood does house the city’s Red Light District as well, but you really can’t tell when walking through the city.
If you have a big party, check out the Airbnb linked in the image below. We stayed here during our visit, and you really couldn’t beat the price or location.
Also, if you are new to Airbnb, you can use my link to get $40 off your first stay!
For an affordable stay option for a smaller group, the Shinjuku Grabell Hotel is another great choice.
- Shibuya – This neighborhood is known for having the largest crosswalk in the world. It is also a major hub for fashionistas and creatives. You can shop your heart out here! The Shibuya Stream Excel is a great hotel option in this neighborhood.
- Asakusa – This is the neighborhood where you’ll find the popular tourist destination: Senso-Ji Temple. There are lots of restaurant and shopping options here too. Note that the shopping you’ll find here is catered towards tourists, so you can buy all the souvenirs that you need here. For a stay in a traditional Japanese home in this district, check out the The Edo Sakura for your stay.
Getting Around: Tokyo has a very extensive subway system, and you just need to buy the IC Card in order to travel this network of trains as well as any metro in the whole country! You can purchase your IC Card at nearly any subway station that you use in the city. If you get overwhelmed by the scale of the subway system, you can also access google maps to identify where to start your metro trip based on your current location.
When to Go: If you are from the Northern Hemisphere, you are likely very familiar with the seasons in Tokyo. I recommend visiting the city during the season that you like the most. One season that it pretty popular is the spring, for viewing of the Japanese cherry blossums. If you want to avoid extreme heat or cold, consider traveling from March – May or from September – November.
Language Considerations: The official language of Japan is – you guessed it – Japanese. English is not as widely spoken here as in some other tourist-friendly countries, so it is helpful to learn a few basic phrases while visiting. Click here for a list of Japanese phrases to know before your trip!
Money Situation: At the time of writing this post, the exchange rate from USD to Japanese yen was $1 = 109.95¥. For the latest exchange rates, click here.
Health: You are pretty unlikely to get the dreaded “Traveler’s Tummy” while here as Tokyo is an extremely clean city, and that fact applies to the water cleanliness as well. You should have no fear in drinking the local tap water.
The Itinerary | 4 Days in Tokyo
Note, this itinerary is broken up be neighborhood due to the sprawl of the city. To help you navigate your surroundings best, check out the map right below day 4 of the itinerary.
Day 1 | Shibuya / Harajuku / Roppongi
Morning / Afternoon – Shibuya / Harajuku
I’ve mentioned in several of my travel guides that taking a walking tour of the city is a great way to get a feel for things. Since Tokyo is so big, it’s kinda impossible to do one of the whole city, but you can do them across a neighborhood or two.
For your first day in Tokyo, I recommend starting by seeing the Shibuya neighborhood. We took the Meiji Jingu & Harajuku Free Walking Tour on our first day in the city and had a great time. This tour will take you to the following sites:
Meiji Shrine(明治神宮)- This Shinto shrine, surrounded by beautiful forest, is extremely significant as it marks the re-emergence of imperial power to the city (see the history at the start of this post). The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. It was built in 1920 to commemorate Emperor Meiji, who is credited with the modernization of Japan during the Meiji period. The shrine complex is surrounded by a forest of over 100,000 trees, creating a peaceful oasis in the middle of the bustling city.
You can approach the shrine through two massive torii gates and a long path lined with sake barrels donated by sake brewers from all over Japan. The main hall of the shrine is an impressive wooden structure with a thatched roof. Inside, visitors can see the massive bronze statue of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. The Meiji Shrine is not only a popular tourist attraction but also an important place of worship for the Japanese people, who come here to offer prayers and wishes for good fortune.
Harajuku (原宿), Takeshita Street (竹下通り)–
Harajuku Takeshita Street is a vibrant and bustling shopping street located in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, Japan. The street is known for its colorful and unique fashion, which attracts many young people and tourists alike. Here you can find a variety of shops selling everything from clothing and accessories to cosmetics and sweets. The street is lined with small boutiques and independent stores, offering a diverse range of fashion styles, from gothic to kawaii (cute) fashion.
One of the must-try treats on Takeshita Street is the famous Harajuku crepes, which come in a variety of flavors and toppings. The street is always busy with crowds of people, making it a great place for people watching and soaking up the lively atmosphere. Takeshita Street is an iconic destination in Tokyo and is a must-visit for anyone looking for a unique and colorful shopping experience.
Ota Memorial Museum – The Ota Memorial Museum of Art is a small but impressive museum located in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Japan. The museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the works of ukiyo-e, a popular art form during the Edo period in Japan. The museum was founded by Seizo Ota, a prominent collector of ukiyo-e art, and contains over 12,000 pieces in its collection.
While there, you can enjoy a variety of exhibitions that feature works by famous ukiyo-e artists, such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. The museum also has a beautiful garden with a traditional tea house, where visitors can relax and enjoy a cup of tea after viewing the exhibitions.
Tokyo Olympic Stadium – The Tokyo Olympic Stadium is a newly constructed stadium located in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Japan. The stadium was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and was built specifically for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The stadium has a seating capacity of 68,000 and features a distinctive wooden lattice roof that is meant to resemble traditional Japanese architecture.
The stadium is the centerpiece of the Olympic Park, which also includes several other sports facilities and a plaza for visitors to enjoy. The Tokyo Olympic Stadium was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Summer Olympics, as well as several other sporting events, including track and field, soccer, and rugby. The stadium is now open to the public and is a popular attraction for visitors to Tokyo.
Yoyogi Park – Yoyogi Park is a large public park located in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Japan. The park is known for its spacious lawns, wooded areas, and walking paths, which offer a peaceful escape from the bustling city. The park is also home to several popular attractions, including the Meiji Shrine, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and the NHK Broadcasting Center. On weekends, the park is a popular spot for picnics, live performances, and street festivals, and it is a hub for people-watching and socializing. The park is also a great place to see cherry blossoms in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall.
Once the tour ends, I recommend spending some additional time in the Yoyogi Park for a nice stroll or going through the Ota Memorial Museum.
After this, you need to check out the well-known Shibuya Crossing. Shibuya Crossing is one of the most famous landmarks in Tokyo, Japan. The intersection is surrounded by bright neon lights, billboards, and tall buildings, creating a colorful and lively atmosphere.
Eat / Drink: As your energy starts to wane, head over to the Reissue Cafe. This cafe is known for cool 3D foam art, and is really worth a visit, if nothing for some delicious coffee and tea. There are plenty of old records and music in the cafe too, making for a really unique vibe.
Subway Stop: You can access both the Shibuya and Harajuku neighborhoods from the Meiji Jingumae Station.
Night – Shibuya / Roppongi
Eat/Drink: For some excellent sushi for dinner, I recommend visiting Sushizanmai in Shibuya (it’s a chain so there are several destinations throughout the city). Despite being a chain, I had some of the best sushi EVER here. If you do stop here, try the Anchovy sushi – it may not sound like much, but it was my favorite!
After dinner, head over to the Roppongi district for Karaoke! (What’s a trip to Japan without at least one round? :)) We spent our evening at the SHiDAX Roppongi Club, but there are plenty of options to choose from in the area!
Subway Stop: You can access both the Roppongi neighborhood from the Roppongi Station.
Day 2 | Chiyoda & Asakusa
Start your morning off in Chiyoda with a visit to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, the main residence of Japan’s Emperor and family. Once the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it became the home of the imperial family during the Meiji Era. The Palace Complex is located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. It is surrounded by a moat and beautiful gardens, which are open to the public on select days. The palace itself is not open to the public except for two days a year, January 2nd for the New Year’s Greeting and December 23rd for the Emperor’s birthday. However, visitors can explore the nearby East Gardens, which are full of history, artifacts, and architectural marvels. The site is very tranquil and serene, and totally free to enter!
Access the Imperial Palace via Tokyo Station subway stop.
Next, head over to the Senso-Ji Temple in the Asakusa district – probably the most famous shrine in the city.
This temple is a historic Buddhist temple located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, Japan. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The temple was built in the 7th century and has undergone several renovations over the centuries. The temple complex features a five-story pagoda, a large main hall, and several smaller buildings and shrines.
You can enter the temple through the Kaminarimon, or “Thunder Gate,” which is adorned with a large red lantern. The Nakamise-dori street leading up to the temple is filled with shops selling traditional souvenirs, street food, and snacks.There are plenty of souvenir shops that line the entryway to the temple, making it the perfect place to purchase souvenirs for friends and family.
Access the Temple via the Asakusa Station subway stop.
You should hang around the Asakusa district for a bit after your temple visit to grab some food / shop a bit at the stores that are scattered throughout Askausa. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the restuarant we visited there (the title was in Japanese characters), but the image below gives you an idea of what to expect for the quality of food in the area. Happy food hunting :).
Depending on how early you started your day, you may want to check out the Mario Street Kart experience. This allows you to dress as your favorite video game character and drive through the city streets in a little cart.
Note: As of 2023, costumes are no longer permitted, due to lack of rights from Nintendo. Nevertheless, you can still go-cart through the streets for a uniquely Japanese experience!
Access the Go-Karting experience via the Akihabara Station.
For sweeping views of the city, check out Tokyo Skytree. Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower and observation deck located in the Sumida ward of Tokyo, Japan. It is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest tower in the world, standing at a height of 634 meters. The tower was completed in 2012 and offers visitors stunning panoramic views of Tokyo from its two observation decks, located at 350 meters and 450 meters above the ground. The tower also features a restaurant, a shopping center, and a planetarium.
The Tokyo Skytree was built to replace the older Tokyo Tower as the primary television and radio broadcasting tower in Tokyo.
I recommend doing all that you can to avoid the long lines, and you can purchase a Skip-The-Line tour here, so you don’t have to worry about anything but enjoying the city views. Head over to this attraction in the evening for fabulous views of the sunset.
Access Tokyo Skytree via the Tokyo Skytree Station or the Oshiage Station.
Day 3 | Odaiba
For your third day in the city, I recommended heading down to the Odaiba district. It’s probably a ways out from where you’ll be staying, but it’s the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon. Attractions in this area of town include the following:
The teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum is a must see in Tokyo! It is honestly the coolest interactive museum I’ve ever visited. The museum features a series of immersive digital art installations that use cutting-edge technology to create unique, multi-sensory experiences. Visitors can wander through a maze of rooms, each featuring a different theme, and interact with the digital art through touch, sound, and movement.
The museum’s most famous exhibit is the Crystal World, a room filled with mirrors and thousands of LED lights that create a mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic effect. The teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum is a must-visit destination in Tokyo and offers visitors a chance to experience art in a completely new and exciting way. It is essentially an adult playground 🙂.
Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari: If you’d like to visit hot springs for a bit while in Tokyo, here’s your chance to do it! This is a hot spring them park set in the Edo period. In addition to indoor and outdoor pools, you’ll also find restaurants, games, and even the option for a hotel stay.
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation: Also known as Miraikan, this museum is dedicated to promoting scientific and technological innovation and features a wide range of interactive exhibits and displays. You can explore a variety of scientific topics, including robotics, space exploration, the environment, and the human body. The museum’s most famous exhibit is the ASIMO robot, developed by Honda, which can walk, talk, and interact with visitors.
DiverCity Tokyo Plaza: This is an entertainment complex that also features shopping and dining options. The main attraction here is a giant station of Gundam (think life-sized Transformer), which performs shows throughout the day.
There are a few ways to get out to Odaiba, but I recommend traveling via the elevated Yurikamome train. This train brings you into Odaiba over the Rainbow Bridge, and provides great views of the city.
For a unique dining experience, Ninja Akasaka Experience may be something that you want to check out. Entry requires using a secret entrance (don’t worry a ninja will lead you in), and you’ll then be seated in a private area. The food here is wonderful, despite the accompanying magic show being just a little cheesy :).
Access this restaurant via the Akasaka-Mitsuke or Nagatacho Stations.
Day 4 | Shinjuku / Shopping / Karaoke
For a delicious and fast breakfast, I recommend starting your day at Mr. Donut in Shinjuku. I’m not a donut person, but I found the ones here to be perfect – great variety of flavors and not too sweet.
Afternoon / Evening
Head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the afternoon for a free observation deck of Tokyo and beyond. Also known as Tokyo City Hall, this striking landmark is located in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Japan. The building consists of two towers, each standing at a height of 243 meters, and is one of the tallest government buildings in the world. The building serves as the headquarters for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and features several observation decks on the 45th floor of each tower, which offer stunning panoramic views of Tokyo.
Here you can access the observation decks for free and can see many of Tokyo’s famous landmarks, including the Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji on a clear day (although you may get better views in Hakone Green Plaza hotel in Hakone.
Access the Shinjuku neighborhood via the Tocho-mae or Shinjuku subway stations.
Once done with visiting the tower, I recommend spending the rest of your last day in the city on shopping! A few of the best areas in the city to make this happen include:
- Ginza – High-end shopping at boutiques and department stores. You can find several craft shops in this area as well.
- Asakusa – As mentioned above, this is the perfect place for souvenir shopping.
- Shibuya – More for the younger shoppers out there, you’ll find trendy options here.
- Harajuku – Unique and sometimes outlandish shopping options. Plenty of items for the cosplayers out there too!
Map of Tokyo City Districts
To help you get your bearings in the city, here is a map of all the neighborhoods in Tokyo. As you can see, there are many neighborhoods shown here that are not covered in this itinerary. If you find yourself having a few additional days in the city, I highly recommend that you check them out!
What to Do if You Have More Time in Tokyo
There are SO many things to do in this massive city! And there are a variety of Day Trip options as well. If you opt to stay in Tokyo longer here are some ideas:
- Tokyo Disneyland: Tokyo Disneyland is a theme park located in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, just east of Tokyo, Japan. The park is owned and operated by the Oriental Land Company and was opened in 1983. It is modeled after the original Disneyland Park in California and features many of the same attractions, including Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and It’s a Small World. The park also has unique attractions, such as the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt ride and the Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek! Visitors can also enjoy live shows, parades, and character meet-and-greets throughout the day. If you are a fan of Disney parks in the US and want to see how it changes outside of the country, this should be at the top of your list.
- Tokyo DisneySea: Part of the larger Disney theme park area, this park is designed around the concept of exploring the world’s oceans and features seven themed areas, including Mediterranean Harbor, Mysterious Island, and Arabian Coast. Tokyo DisneySea has many unique attractions, including Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Venetian gondola ride, as well as popular Disney favorites such as Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror. This Disney park is unique to Japan, so if you have to choose between this and Tokyo Disneyland, this may be your best bet.
- The Samurai Museum: This museum is a small but fascinating museum located in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Japan. The museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the samurai, Japan’s legendary warrior class. Visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits, including authentic samurai armor, swords, and other weapons. The museum also features live demonstrations of swordsmanship and other samurai techniques, allowing visitors to experience firsthand the skill and expertise of these legendary warriors. The Samurai Museum offers visitors a chance to learn about Japan’s rich cultural heritage and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese history and martial arts. Note, you may have to head to Kyoto for a more immersive Samurai Experience.
- Toyosu Fish Market: This is a wholesale fish and seafood market located in the Toyosu district of Tokyo, Japan. It replaced the famed Tsukiji Fish Market in 2018 as the main wholesale seafood market in Tokyo. The market spans over 40 hectares and consists of three main buildings, with the largest one being dedicated to the auction of tuna, one of the market’s most valuable commodities. Here, you can observe the auctions from a designated viewing area and also explore the surrounding stalls and restaurants that sell a variety of fresh seafood
In Summary | Tokyo Itinerary 4 Days
That wraps this Tokyo Itinerary: 4 Days in the world’s largest metro. In summary, I’d like to close with a few final tips for visiting Tokyo / Japan:
- Learn some basic Japanese words, especially Thank You (Arigato), which is said ALL the time. Check out my Japanese language guide for more information.
- Be polite. The Japanese people are some of the most polite that I have ever met, so you should do your best to be the same. Making a slight bow when greeting or saying goodbye to someone is always appropriate.
- Try all the foods. Japanese street food, restaurants, deserts, even McDonalds – it’s all good!
- Get an IC Card. Buy one of these things as soon as you arrive to Japan. It is the most valuable thing you’ll hold as you travel throughout the Tokyo and throughout Japan.
- Uber. Uber does exist in Tokyo, but be aware that it is quite pricey compared to many other cities (same goes with the taxis).
- Metro. Take some time to read a metro map before you venture onto the train. It will help ease any stress you have with figuring out which lines to take / where to go. The metro is not overly complicated, but it is extensive, so a little research helps.
Note, if you’re looking for places to explore nearby, check out this post on the Best Day Trips from Tokyo!