Tokyo in Three Days: A Time-Saving Sightseeing Guide to Japan's Capital for Beginners
Tokyo has an endless abundance of places to visit and things to do, but not every traveler to Japan wants to dedicate their entire holiday to just this one city. In this article, we'll suggest a time-saving route you can follow to make the most of a shorter trip to Japan's capital. With parks, shrines and temples, shopping, and pop culture, this route really has something for everyone! Read on for our picks on what to do if you have three days to spend exploring Tokyo.
Mar 26 2020 (Sep 09 2020)
Morning, Day 1: Ueno
Ueno is a great way to start your trip in Tokyo due to its travel connections. It's one of the best connected stations in Tokyo, and is particularly convenient if your flight into Japan lands in Narita Airport thanks to the Keisei Skyliner Express.
The best way to experience the bustle of Japanese city culture is to dive right in, and the side streets of Ueno make a fitting place to start. One of Ueno's most beloved spots is Ameya Yokocho, often known by Ameyoko. This shopping street runs alongside and underneath the raised railway tracks of the JR Yamanote Line between Ueno and Okachimachi stations, so you're unlikely to lose your way here!
Ameya Yokocho means "candy-store alley", and is said to have got its name thanks to the low-priced candy stores that proliferated here. The "ame" in its name is also said to stand for "America", as this area developed as a black market selling American goods after World War II. Today, you'll find a range of shops selling everything from sweets to handbags, as well as an experience of the energy of Tokyo's busy city streets!
After you're done, head northwest from the train tracks towards Ueno Park.
While Ueno Park is especially pretty during the spring when it's lined with cherry trees in bloom, there is plenty to do here all year around.
In the north area of the park is the Tokyo National Museum, the oldest museum in Japan and home to a range of national treasures. In the west area of the park is the Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan and home to the much loved pandas Ri Ri, Shin Shin, and Xiang Xiang.
Here you'll also find Shinobazu Pond, a replica of Lake Biwako, the largest lake in Japan. In the middle of this pond, which is really closer to a small lake, lies Bentendo Temple. This temple is dedicated to Benten, the goddess of good fortune, and the path leading to it is often lined with food vendors, each selling a different classic example of Japanese street food.
Once you've finished a walk around Ueno Park, head back the way you came and you’ll easily spot a sign for the station. A short ride from here will take you to your next stop, Asakusa.
Quick Note: If you'd prefer to spend more time in Ueno and are looking for things to do, consider checking out these other articles:
Morning, Day 1: Asakusa
Nakamise Shopping Street
Asakusa is a Tokyo sightseeing hotspot. The old shops of this former entertainment district offer an insight into Edo period Tokyo.
The first thing you’ll want to do after arriving in Asakusa is to head along the main shopping street, Nakamise. This area can get busy with sightseers, but you’ll be fine so long as you stick to the sides where the vendors are. Hopefully you’ve saved room to indulge in many of the snacks on sale here! This area is famous for its "ningyo-yaki", small cakes that are molded in various shapes, including Japanese icons like Hello Kitty, kabuki theater masks, and lucky cats.
At the end of Nakamise, you’ll happen across a giant red entrance to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, also known as Sensoji. As you make your way through the gate, take a look back at the reverse of the gate and you’ll spot two giant sandals. These are said to be "kami" sized: that is, big enough to fit the two guardians of the gate whose statues you see when you pass through.
Next, look for the many small boxes resembling wooden drawers near the main entrance to get your fortune, or omikuji. Simply put 100 yen in the coin slot, take a random stick from one of the metal containers, and then match the symbols on the end of that stick with the ones on the wooden boxes. The paper inside the drawer will tell you your fortune. If you get a bad one, not to worry! Just tie it around one of the racks to dispel your bad luck.
If you'd like, you can head up to the main temple to offer incense and a prayer. Even if you'd rather not, take the time to appreciate the architecture and atmosphere of this incredible temple.
Quick Note: There's a lot more things to do in Asakusa than what we've mentioned. Check out the following articles for more ideas!
The Ultimate Travel Guide to Asakusa, Tokyo: Shopping, Events, Things to Do, and More!
Explore the Popular Spots of Asakusa in Half a Day with a Guided Cultural and Street Food Tour!
10 Photogenic Spots in Asakusa
Experience the Japanese Craft of Making Fake Food at Kappabashi, Asakusa
Afternoon, Day 1: Edo-Tokyo Museum
Once you’ve seen the older side of Tokyo in Asakusa, our next stop will be to get some insight into how the incredible metropolis that is modern day Tokyo actually developed.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum’s distinctive raised structure towers over the sumo district of Ryogoku. Inside you’ll encounter many interesting and interactive exhibits such as the town models, reproductions of Edo period houses, historical fire-fighting equipment, and a section covering Tokyo during World War II.
Evening, Day 1: Tokyo Skytree
You can stop by Tokyo Skytree during any day in our itinerary, so we recommend visiting whenever the weather is clearest for the best view.
Being easily the tallest building in Tokyo, the view from Tokyo Skytree's top gallery is unrivaled, and seeing the metropolis stretching out below you is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The view becomes even more special as you watch the city light up as the sun sets on. If you’re lucky enough to visit on an especially clear day, you may also be able to see Mt. Fuji in the distance.
It’s best to arrive an hour or two before sunset, as there is often a queue to enter, but this incredible sight is definitely worth the wait.
Morning, Day 2: Harajuku
Most people know the Harajuku area for its vibrant youth culture and stores that stock the latest in fashion and cosmetics. However, it actually has a more traditional side to it that clearly reflects the rest of Tokyo, what with the city's pockets of traditional townscapes nestled among gigantic, soaring skyscrapers.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Meiji Jingu Shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who ruled during the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This was one of the most important eras in Japanese history, during which which the country underwent a sweeping transformation.
The moment you step through the giant torii (shrine gate) at the entrance, you'll enter a tranquil forest that feels far removed from the crowded streets outside. The gate itself is one of the largest in Japan, and was created from an ancient tree more than 1,500 years old. The forest covers 70 hectares, making this an important green space for Tokyo's locals.
Follow the wide path that cuts through the forest and you'll eventually come to walls of Japanese sake barrels lining both sides of the path. These are called "kazaridaru", or decorative barrels, and are donated to the shrine from sake brewers around Japan.
Continue along the path further to the main shrine buildings. While the original buildings that were completed in 1921 were destroyed during air raids, the current reproductions date back to November 1958. You can explore the buildings here for free, but if you enjoy Japanese gardens, consider a stop in at the Meiji Jingu Inner Garden. Far outdating the present day shrine, these gardens were first created in the early Edo period (1603 - 1867), and are particularly famous for their irises. Home to around 150 varieties of iris, these beautiful flowers create a spectacular scene when they bloom from late May to late June.
Famous around the world for its youth fashion culture, the name "Harajuku" has become synonymous for the cute, pop-influenced street style that emerged here.
While parts of this area have begun to take on a more affluent sheen in recent years, Harajuku's main street, Takeshita, is still alive with the area's famous color and creativity.
You’ll find plenty of vibrant fashion goods and accessories in the stores that line the main street, and street fashion lovers will be richly rewarded for exploring the boutiques and secondhand stores in the side streets, too. Try your luck and get a cheap souvenir from a cute toy capsule machine, or fall in love with an adorable critter at Hedgehog Cafe HARRY.
The food being sold at the street is as colorful as the fashion, and you won’t want to miss out on trying one of the area’s famous snacks. Particularly Instagram-worthy options include Harajuku's legendary crepes, rainbow cheese toast from Le Shiner, or giant cotton candy from Momi & Toys.
Quick Note: For more things to do and snacks to eat in the Harajuku area, check out some of our other related articles below.
Afternoon, Day 2: Shibuya
The world-famous Shibuya Scramble is a must-see during a holiday in Tokyo. It's not just a photo opportunity; the thrill of navigating the crowds that meet at this four-way crossing is a real taste of Tokyo's bustling energy.
There are several noteworthy spots to watch the scramble unfold before you: facing the famous Tsutaya building from the front of Shibuya Station, from the Starbucks inside the Tsutaya building, or from the top of the newly opened Shibuya Scramble Square, a tower that overlooks the crossing and surrounding area.
While you're in the area, look for the statue of an Akita dog near the station's Hachiko Exit. This exit is named after the statue, which commemorates one of history’s most loyal dogs, Hachiko. This Akita dog met his owner outside Shibuya Station daily, and continued to visit every day for more than nine years after his owner's death in 1925. This dog is, with good reason, considered a national icon in Japan.
Quick Note: Shibuya is far more than just its crossing and Hachiko! To get a taste of all the amazing experiences it holds, check out some of the articles below.
Afternoon, Day 2: Zojoji Temple
The Buddhist Zojoji Temple offers visitors two particular treats to see, the first being the Sangedatsumon main gate. Unlike many historical structures in Japan, this gate has survived all manner of disasters since its construction all the way back in 1622.
The second highlight is its location just under one of Tokyo’s classic landmarks, the Tokyo Tower. The contrasting views of Japan's ancient and modern architecture here really makes this spot something special.
Behind the temple you’ll find the Taitoku-in Mausoleum that houses the tombs of six members of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Imperial Princess Kazunomiya, and other clan members. The Tokugawa shogunate, established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, was a feudal military government that ruled Japan during the Edo period, so a visit here will be of particular interest to any history buffs. This temple also features a museum in the basement of its main hall. Here you can find displays, video, and a scale model of the elaborate former mausoleum building that was damaged in World War II.
Evening, Day 2: Roppongi
You may be tempted to visit the top of Tokyo Tower while you're nearby at Zojoji Temple, but a short train ride to Roppongi will provide you with a much better view of the tower and surrounding city once the sun has gone down.
Roppongi has earned itself an international reputation for its nightlife scene, and its Roppongi Hills entertainment complex is worth a visit if shopping is on the cards during your visit. Located in this complex is the Mori Building, an over-50-floor skyscraper that houses the Tokyo City View lookout. The Tokyo City View center has both an indoor observation deck and a rooftop Sky Deck that stand 250 meters and 270 meters above sea level respectively, both of which offer panoramic views of the city, including the gorgeous red Tokyo Tower.
The center also is home to the contemporary art spaces Mori Art Museum and the Mori Arts Center Gallery, as well as a number cafes and gift shops. Tickets to the Tokyo City View center also includes access to the Mori Art Museum, so be sure to leave a little time to take in the exhibits if your schedule permits. You may even find some less crowded observation areas within the gallery spaces! You can check the official website linked below for details in English on what exhibitions are scheduled during your visit.
Quick Note: Roppongi is a great place to hang out at if you're looking for some night time entertainment or delicious eats. For more info, check out the articles below.
Morning, Day 3: Akihabara
When many people think of Tokyo, one of the images that comes to mind is that of the vibrant, electric city of the future. That’s not without reason, and Akihabara is one area of Tokyo where this facet of the city comes though most strongly. Appropriately dubbed Tokyo’s "electric town", this neighbourhood is known nationwide for two things. First, as its nickname would suggest, this area is full of both towering retail stores and independent back alley vendors that specialize in electronics. From up-to-the-minute cellphones to computers that may be better classified as antiques, Akihabara has it all when it comes to electronics.
Secondly, and evident from the moment you step out of the station, is that Akihabara is a pop cultural holy land. Whether you're into arcade games, collectables, anime and manga, or Japanese idol culture, Akihabara is the place in Tokyo to visit. In fact, AKB-48, Japan's most popular idol group, takes its name from the fact it the group originated in a dedicated theater here. Akihabara is also a great place for visiting a maid cafe, where servers in cute costumes will chat, play games, and generally treat you like the master or mistress of the house.
Quick Note: Akihabara is yet another area of Tokyo where one can spend a whole day exploring. If you want to dedicate more time to Akihabara, read the following articles.
Morning, Day 3: Imperial Palace Gardens
Take a short train ride to Tokyo Station to escape the crowds of Akihabara and find a change of pace within the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Construction on this palace finished in 1888 after the capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), and the current structure accurately resembles the original.
As you’d expect, the buildings of the actual palace are in use by the Imperial Family and are not open for visits. That said, you can reserve a spot on one of the guided tours held Tuesday to Saturday at 10 am and 1:30 pm. For more information and to apply for a spot, visit the Imperial Palace Agency website. You can also check out this article for some interesting info on the palace that you won't learn through a guided tour: Secrets of the Imperial Palace: What to See on the Tour and What Will Remain Hidden
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are also open to the public without a reservation, and offer visitors a look at a traditional Japanese garden as well as some of the remains of the old castle guard towers.
Afternoon, Day 3: Odaiba
To head back into futuristic Tokyo, take a train over to the artificial island in Tokyo Bay called "Odaiba". If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll spot the first attraction here on your way over: a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Originally intended to only temporarily commemorate Japan's relationship with France, this now permanent statue looks out over Tokyo Bay backdropped by the Rainbow Bridge.
A short walk away and you’ll find another giant figure: this time, a hulking 19.7m tall Unicorn Gundam statue. From here, head on over to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and take a couple of hours to appreciate Japan’s vision of the technology of the future (as well as an adorable dancing robot called ASIMO).
By this point, evening should be approaching, which leaves two more spots best saved for night-time viewing. The first is Palette Town (not to be mistaken with the town in the Pokémon games!). Here you’ll want to take a ride on the rainbow-colored Ferris wheel to fully appreciate the views of the surrounding area.
Finally, head back on over to the mock Statue of Liberty where the Rainbow Bridge will have begun its night-time illuminations, creating an iconic view of the Tokyo skyline.
Quick Note: Odaiba has many other interesting things to do and places to see. The articles below contain a more comprehensive list of ways to spend your time in this area.
Evening, Day 3: Shinjuku
After a busy few days of traveling, you’ll probably want to blow off some steam and immerse yourself in the Tokyo nightlife!
There’s plenty to choose from when it comes to nightlife entertainment in the Shinjuku area. Popular activities here include an evening at the famous Robot Restaurant, karaoke, all-you-can-drink (written as 飲み放題 outside of bars), or a bar crawl through the impossibly small 5-seater bars that make up the much loved Golden Gai.
You can find more nighttime entertainment options here: 10 Bars with Fantastic Night View in Shinjuku/Shibuya Area
As well as a guide to the ultimate nightlife district in Shinjuku, Kabuki-cho: Guide to Tokyo's Infamous Kabukicho: What to Do and What to Avoid
Quick Note: As one of the most popular tourist spots in not just Tokyo, but all of Japan, Shinjuku holds a lot of things to do and places to see regardless of the time of day. More options provided in the articles below, along with a useful Shinjuku Station guide.
Places to Stay Near Tokyo Station
If you plan to explore Tokyo and need a place to stay, consider looking around Tokyo Station. You'll have easy access to many of the top sightseeing spots in the city and it'll be a cinch to travel around neighboring prefectures. Below are some of our most recommended accommodations for travelers, separated by price point.
Prefer to stay elsewhere in Tokyo? Our other Tokyo hotel/inn recommendations can be found here.
Budget Accommodation: Tokyo Ginza BAY HOTEL
Tokyo is famous for its capsule hotels, but if you're looking to experience one for yourself, keep in mind that they're not all alike! Tokyo Ginza BAY HOTEL combines the affordability of capsule hotels with stylish design and a range of convenient features, including free WiFi and amenities, comfortable guest lounges, and even a foot bath! Female travelers can enjoy the peace of mind of knowing there is a women-only floor and lounge available only via keycard access here, too.
Standard Accommodation: APA Hotel Ginza Kyobashi
APA is one of Japan's largest budget hotel chains, and are ideal for anyone who doesn't need all the extra services of a luxury hotel, but also doesn't want to compromise on location, cleanliness, and comfort. Located just a 5-minute walk from Kyobashi Station, APA Hotel Ginza Kyobashi gives you an affordable base in the luxurious Ginza area. Why not put the money you save towards a little shopping or a meal at one of Ginza's world-class restaurants?
Luxury Accommodation: The Tokyo Station Hotel
You can't ask for a more convenient Tokyo location than a hotel literally within Tokyo Station! Decorated in plush, European styling, this hotel offers both classic elegance and legendary Japanese hospitality. For the ultimate Tokyo Station experience, choose the Dome Side Comfort King room overlooking the station's historic dome concourse.
Once you’ve appreciated the scale of Tokyo from atop one of the several sights on this list, you’ll understand that it’s impossible, even for those that live here, to see the whole of Tokyo in one lifetime. That said, by following the route on this list, you’ll maximize the places you can see during a short trip to Tokyo. For a gateway into Japanese culture, it has to be Tokyo!
(By the way, if you really want to challenge yourself, check out our 1-day Tokyo travel itinerary here: 24 Hours in Tokyo: The Ultimate 1-Day Travel Itinerary for First-timers Looking to Sightsee, Shop, and More!)
Please Read: In light of COVID-19, we urge all readers to take precautions when exploring not just Tokyo, but Japan in general. Please make sure to read the following two articles before embarking on any travel:
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.