24 Hours in Tokyo: The Ultimate 1-Day Travel Itinerary for First-timers Looking to Sightsee, Shop, and More!
Only have 24 hours to spend in Tokyo? It's impossible to see everything, but this full 1-day guide will help you explore the city's highlights to the max, going from Tsukiji Market and Asakusa all the way to Shibuya and Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku. If that wasn't enough, there are even tips on traveling around Tokyo on a budget, the best way to access a specific tourist spot, choosing the perfect accommodation, what foods you absolutely can't miss out on, and so much more. Read on to see how you can fit Tokyo's major sights all into one day!
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9 AM: Tsukiji Market
This is one tourist attraction that you can't miss if you've never been to Tokyo before. Also known as Tsukiji Outer Market, this spot is renowned as one of the world's largest wholesale seafood markets. Needless to say, this makes it one of the best places in the world to taste fresh, top-quality seafood.
Most shops open and close really early, so it should definitely be the first place you head to in the morning. When we go to the market, we usually aim to arrive by 9 AM. Apart from hearty seafood meals, you'll find plenty of street food on offer in the alleys of the market. Below are some of our personal must-eats:
Tamagoyaki (rolled omelette) on a stick! At Tsukiji Market, the most common type of tamagoyaki you'll find is dashi-maki, where Japanese stock is mixed in with the other ingredients to give the egg roll a mild yet delicious flavor. Some of us actually prefer this over the typical sweet or salty versions, but you be the judge!
Sushi. Or to be more precise, our favorite kind of sushi: seafood inari-zushi (pictured above). This delicious tofu-wrapped treat, just like most of the other sushi at Tsukiji Market, is made with super fresh, high-quality seafood procured directly from the wholesale section of the market in Toyosu. You're unlikely to find this outside of Tsukiji Market, so you can't miss out on trying it! Just note that even just one piece can be incredibly filling, so make sure to show up with an empty stomach.
Known as "kaisen-don" in Japanese, seafood bowls are a staple meal at Tsukiji Market. Different shops will have their own variations of this dish, and some will even let you customize it to your liking. While most shops will have fairly normal bowls like the one pictured above, if you have the stomach to spare, we recommend challenging Sushikuni's kaisen-don overflowing with sea urchin and/or salmon roe! Instagrammable, delicious, and something you definitely won't find elsewhere.
If you're more interested in souvenirs, try picking up a Japanese chef's knife at one of the many kitchenware shops in the market. As long-time residents of Japan, we can attest to the incredible sharpness, durability, and gorgeous appearance of good Japanese knives. They're a definite must-have for anyone who's often in the kitchen! The only downsides are that they may be difficult to bring back and can cost a pretty penny.
Tip: We strongly believe that the best way to explore any foreign country is with a local guide who can speak your language and show you the best spots and foods. One of the cheapest (and in our opinion, one of the best in general) options for Tsukiji Market is Magicaltrip's Tsukiji Fish Market Walking Food Tour. Click on the link to learn more and make a reservation!
12 PM: Asakusa
Nakamise Shopping Street
This shopping arcade leads you straight to Senso-ji, one of Japan's most famous temples. Throngs of people visit it for its traditional scenery, amazing street food, and shops stuffed to the brim with souvenirs like swords, masks, and more! Of course, whenever we take newbies to Japan around Tokyo, this is one place we make sure to visit so that they can shop and learn more about Japanese culture.
There are so many must-eats in this shopping street, but here are the two that we feel are most iconic:
Melon bread! Sure, you can easily buy them from any Japanese convenience store, but what makes Asakusa's melon bread stand out is its size. It is easily double the size of a regular melon bread, and coupled with the enticing scent it lets out when freshly baked, it always has us scrambling for a bite at the first sniff!
Known as ningyo-yaki (人形焼), these little cakes are shaped into tiny symbols of Japan. For example, the one in the picture above looks exactly like the giant red lantern in front of Nakamise Shopping Street! It makes for an awesome comparison photo, so we like purchasing a few every now and then. As an iconic treat, it's definitely worth at least one taste.
Nakamise Shopping Street is also one of the best places in all of Tokyo for traditional Japanese goods. Here are two options you can't leave without:
Kimono! It's actually not easy to find shops in Japan that sell traditional Japanese garments at decent prices, but Asakusa is an exception. Sure, the prices wildly differ depending on the material, quality, and maker, but you can generally find something to match your budget. That's why lots of locals, including us, tend to head to Nakamise Shopping Street when looking for affordable traditional garb!
For a cheaper option, check out the fans. There are specialty shops on the shopping street that sell all kinds of folding fans, including some with unique designs like Mt. Fuji that will have you remembering your trip to Japan every time you look at it! We often see Japanese locals at these shops when summer rolls around.
Why bother visiting Nakamise Shopping Street if you're not going to pay a visit to this iconic temple? Shop for protection charms, get your fortune for the year checked, or pray to the deities for a successful year. The way you worship is actually different from a shrine: you bow once instead of twice and you quietly put your hands together instead of clapping them loudly. Make sure not to get them mixed up!
Tip: From first-hand experience, we know that it can take a lot of time to explore both of these spots. If you've really only got one day to spend in Tokyo, join a tour to halve that time! Magicaltrip's Asakusa Cultural & Street Food Walking Tour is our top recommendation in terms of price and number of places you'll get to visit. And, to add onto it, the tour guides are super friendly!
Click the link above if you want to see the details and/or book the tour. If you'd prefer to read our honest review on it first, check out this article.
4 PM: Tokyo Skytree
Built in 2011, Tokyo Skytree is not just the tallest tower in Japan, but the tallest in the world at 634m. It was built for both broadcasting and observation purposes, and there is a gigantic observation deck near the very top on the 350th and 450th floors that anyone can visit to get a sweeping view of the Tokyo cityscape.
Right next to it is an enormous shopping center called Tokyo Solamachi. With over 300 shops and restaurants, as well as a planetarium and museum, there's enough fun here to last a full day. When we went, our main goal was going to the top of Tokyo Skytree, so we didn't spend a lot of time here. However, it's still worth some of your time as it has many famous stores like UNIQLO, Disney, Loft, and the Pokemon Center!
Once you're actually in the tower, make sure to take pictures of the gorgeous cityscape of Tokyo! We feel that sunset and night are when you can get the best views, and you'll get to see one or possibly both in one go if you follow our itinerary during spring or winter. Just make sure you don't lose track of time, because the rest of your Tokyo trip awaits!
6:30 PM: Shibuya
No trip to Tokyo, especially for first-timers, is complete without a visit to Shibuya! In fact, it is such a popular spot that all our friends and family members go there whenever they come to Japan. Shibuya Scramble is the highlight of this area. It is one of the busiest intersections in the world and makes for a particularly stunning sight at night. Join the crowd and take some pictures, but make sure to do it safely and without violating any traffic laws!
Another must-see in the Shibuya area is Hachiko, the statue of a beloved dog that waited for its owner to return until its last breath. While it is free to touch the statue and take photos with it, please be mindful of your manners and wait in line to do so. Depending on the time of day, there will sometimes be lines of people waiting to take photos with Hachiko!
8:00 PM: Kabuki-cho
In the past, Kabuki-cho was one of the seediest parts of Japan. While you still shouldn't casually wander around the area late at night, it has turned into a tourist attraction of sorts, with plenty of good eats, entertainment, and other fun to be had. It's the ultimate nightlife location in Tokyo!
If you're lucky and arrive just right before 8 PM, you'll actually get to see the giant Godzilla peeking out of a corner of the local Toho Cinemas let out a mighty roar for a few seconds before going back to sleep. Godzilla does this every day in one hour intervals between 12 PM and 8 PM, but very few people have actually seen it do so before, so it's quite a rare sight. Time your arrival perfectly so that you don't miss it!
By the way, did you know that you can actually touch Godzilla? All you have to do is get something to eat or drink at Cafe Terrace Bonjour, a cafe situated on the 8th floor of the Toho building. The last order is at 8:30 PM, so if you follow this itinerary exactly, you should have more than enough time to pay a quick visit to the cafe! As a bonus, they have plenty of Godzilla figures within the cafe as well.
Last but not least in your Kabuki-cho exploration is a quick visit to the local Don Quijote. The Kabuki-cho branch is one of the largest and busiest branches in all of Japan, with tons of tourists visiting it daily for souvenir shopping or simply to look at all the interesting Japanese goods. Don Quijote is considered one of the most affordable places to shop at in all of Japan, so make sure to fit one in your itinerary!
9 PM: Robot Restaurant
This is sure to be the highlight of your night in Tokyo: the Robot Restaurant! Watch as robots and humans work together to serve and entertain patrons. They guarantee a night of excitement with music that'll get your heart pumping and performances far beyond what any normal cabaret can give you. This is the only place in the world where you can experience this type of entertainment, so it's a must-see for any visitor to Japan!
The Robot Restaurant is definitely worth a visit, but it is a bit pricy, with an entrance fee of a whopping 8,000 yen, and a single meal going from 1,000 yen to 1,500 yen. We're all about saving your cash for better things, which is why we highly suggest you get your entrance tickets from Voyagin. Doing this can get you 34% off the daytime ticket price and 18% off the nighttime price! Click here to learn more or book your ticket.
Tip: We also suggest getting your dinner before or after the show. You can get great food at restaurants nearby for just around 1,000 yen!
11 PM: Bar Hopping in Shinjuku
Since you're in Shinjuku, why not go bar hopping after finishing up at the Robot Restaurant? There are two famous bar hopping areas in Shinjuku that everyone tends to go for, and Golden Gai (pictured above) is one of them. Drink away and be merry in their myriad of tiny bars and restaurants, all of them squished along alleyways that have retained their old Japan charm.
For a slightly brighter yet equally as atmospheric option, visit Omoide Yokocho (pictured above). Fans of classic Japanese fast food like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), yakiniku (Japanese BBQ), and ramen gather at this street to feast on cheap eats and Japanese booze. Since all the shops are fairly small, you might feel a bit squished, but also don't be surprised if you end up becoming best friends with your drunken seat neighbors!
Tip: The locals always know best, so we suggest booking some kind of bar hopping tour led by an English-speaking local for the best drinks and eats. For Shinjuku, we recommend Magicaltrip's Tokyo Bar Hopping Night Tour in Shinjuku. You'll get to visit several bars, chat up the locals and shop owners, and eat tons of recommended foods! Click on the link to read more or book it for yourself.
Useful Resources to Help You Prepare for Your Japan Trip
→ Tokyo actually has two airports, and one of them (Narita) is surprisingly far from the city center. Learn how to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo with our handy beginner's guide.
→ Save time and money by booking your tickets from the airport to downtown Tokyo in advance! Get 27% off the Narita to Tokyo bus through this website and check this site out to book your Haneda to Tokyo bus tickets ahead of time.
→ We've listed the best ways to get to each spot in our itinerary, but if you aren't entirely sure about how Tokyo's transportation system works or how to use it, make sure you read our full guide on traveling by train in Tokyo, Japan.
→ Nowadays, most of us rely on the Internet to help us get around when travelling. Japan is no different, so make this ultimate guide to connecting to the Internet in Japan an essential read before coming to Japan.
Convenient Places to Stay in Tokyo
If you plan to follow this itinerary, we highly recommend booking a hotel close to Shinjuku Station. That way, even if you're outside past train closing times, you'll have no trouble going back to your hotel. Plus, Shinjuku Station is a major transportation hub that's connected to multiple train lines, so it's easy to get to other parts of Tokyo from it.
With that said and done, here are some highly reputed hotels near Shinjuku Station for you to consider:
Booth Net Cafe & Capsule
If you're on a budget or you're looking to stay somewhere unique, consider this capsule hotel! You have to pay extra to use the showers and there are no individual lockers, but the price and the location - just 5 minutes from JR Shinjuku Station - really can't be beat!
This hotel also happens to be attached to an internet cafe, so you can make use of the desktops they have in their cafe lounge space or peruse their manga library in your spare time. These facilities aren't free, but they are surprisingly affordable and an easy way to pass the time.HotelAffiliate
APA Hotel Shinjuku-Kabukicho Tower
Like many other hotels in Japan, this hotel's rooms are rather small. That said, it has a couple of other things going for it, such as its extremely soft pillows, amazing location, and public bath on the 28th floor. From the bath, you can actually get a panoramic view of Kabuki-cho at night.
The downside to its brilliant location, apart from the small rooms, is the fact that it faces a disco bar, so it can get a bit noisy at night. However, few patrons complain about the noise, so this shouldn't be a big issue if you decide to stay here.HotelAffiliate
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
This hotel was mentioned earlier in this article for having a cafe where you can actually touch and take photos with Godzilla. What we didn't mention was that staying at this hotel gives you an automatic pass to Godzilla, cafe or no cafe! Also, with a location just 5 minutes away from JR Shinjuku Station's East Exit, you'll have no problems traveling anywhere in Tokyo.
Guests rave about the great amenities and facilities, clean rooms, friendly customer service, and delicious breakfasts. Compared to other hotels in the area, it has relatively few negative reviews, which is why we believe it'd be a great experience for many!HotelAffiliate
To Sum It Up
Even if you've only got a single day to explore Tokyo, you can still have a lot of fun and see most of the main tourist sights! We emphasize "most" because the metropolis has so much more to offer than what we've introduced above.
For example, we unfortunately weren't able to fit in Harajuku because you need over an hour to explore it and our itinerary was already pretty packed. You can fit it into the schedule if you don't spend as much time as what we allotted for each spot, or if you stay up all night and go to Harajuku around 9 AM in the morning! In case you do end up doing just that, you might find this guide on things to do in Harajuku useful.
All in all, this itinerary is perfect for first-timers who simply want to explore as much as possible within a realistic timeframe. If you decide to follow this travel itinerary, we hope you enjoy your Tokyo trip just as much as we did!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.