Tokyo, Japan's capital city and a sprawling metropolis, is a feast for your senses. With sights like historic temples, lush gardens, kitschy shops, anime galore, and delicious food - there's something for every type of traveler. Although you cannot possibly see it all in four days, I'll share some of my favorite activities (and meals) from my 4-day itinerary in Tokyo. Hopefully this will give you an idea of the variety of things to do in Tokyo to help you plan your trip.
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Getting to Tokyo
How you get to Tokyo will be determined by the location from which you're coming. Starting out my trip to Tokyo in Hong Kong, I flew on a direct 5-hour flight which arrived at Narita International Airport.
Tokyo has two main airports which service the city:
If you're flying into Tokyo from an international location, you'll most likely fly into Narita International Airport. However, some international flights do land at Haneda, so be sure to check your itinerary at which airport you'll arrive.
Both airports have many transportation options available for getting into downtown Tokyo.
Important Things to Know about Tokyo
Despite the fact that it was my first time in Tokyo, I knew the basics of what I needed to do when I arrived at Narita:
In theory, this list sounds easy to accomplish. In practice, it seemed more complicated and took me a bit longer than I expected since I was flying solo for this part of the trip.
As a result of my experience, here are some things I think are important to note on your first trip to Tokyo and steps you should follow at the airport for a smooth trip.
Cash is Essential in Tokyo
Like in Hong Kong, cash is a necessity in Tokyo. Many restaurants do not accept credit cards and you must purchase your metro ticket with cash. I recommend getting money out at an ATM in the arrival hall as soon as you exit customs.
Tokyo Has A LOT of Trains
After getting cash out of the ATM in the airport, I headed down the escalators towards the trains. There are A LOT of options. Luckily signs are printed in both Japanese and English pointing out the different trains' ticket counters.
Getting from Narita to Tokyo on KEISEI Skyliner
Since I'd planned to take the KEISEI Skyliner before arriving at Narita International Airport, I followed those signs to follow to my ticket counter. The KEISEI Skyliner ticket cost me ¥2470 (~US$22) and took ~40 minutes from Narita to downtown Tokyo.
Arrival Tip: Research which train or method of transportation you want to take from the airport into downtown Tokyo before arriving. There are a variety of ways you can get into the city that vary in trip duration and price. If you plan ahead of time, it will be easier for you to navigate the airport.
The KEISEI Skyliner is an express train so it only makes 2 stops - both at the end of the journey. The train car is set up like a normal train with forward-facing seats and tray tables so you can eat a meal while riding it without fear of being rude.
Tokyo Metro & Railway Systems are Complicated
Tokyo's downtown metro and railway systems are incredible. Trains run all over the city which is great for getting around.
But, not all the Tokyo Metro lines are run by the same company.
As a result, you have to be careful when purchasing a ticket to select exactly where you want to go ahead of time. Also, if you purchase a 24-hour ticket, you may be limited on which lines you can use the ticket.
Purchase a PASMO or SUICA Card
The best option for getting around on the Tokyo Metro is to purchase a PASMO or a Suica card. Though sold by different companies, the cards function the same way and can be used on all the metro lines.
To "purchase" one of these cards, you'll put down a small deposit - ¥500 - then choose the amount to load onto the card. I recommend putting ¥1,000 - ¥2,000 on the card to start.
Then, you'll be able to use this card for your entire stay, adding more money as necessary. When you leave Tokyo, return the card at the airport and you'll receive a refund for whatever money is left on the card.
Since I was planning to transfer to the metro from the Skyliner at Ueno Station, I bought my PASMO card at the airport. Plus, a very helpful attendant walked me through the steps to purchase my card on the machine!
Tokyo Metro Stations are Huge!
Be prepared to WALK while in Tokyo. Just taking public transportation alone, I think I got my steps in walking around the metro stations.
Also, not every metro exit has an escalator and there are a lot of stairs throughout the stations. Basically, you're going to exercise getting around Tokyo so you'll work off all the ramen!
Tokyo Travel Tip: Overwhelmed by all the metro lines and don't know which route to take? Use Google Maps to plan your route. It works very well in Tokyo and tells you which:
Occasionally it would take me longer than Google's estimated time though as I tended to take wrong turns!
Planning a trip to Asia? Check out these 28 Memorable Activities for your Asia Bucket List!
In the four days I visited Tokyo, I feel like I barely scratched its surface. It's a massive city with so much to see and do! To really get to know it, I think you'd have to live there or travel there frequently. And it wouldn't hurt to speak Japanese either!
Plus, when I'm exploring a new place, I tend to be fairly laid-back about it. Especially when I'm traveling solo. I walk through neighborhoods, stop and (literally) smell the flowers in parks. And frequent coffee stops are a must!
As a result, you'll see my itinerary is fairly relaxed. With a more rigorously-scheduled itinerary, you could see more in four days than I did. But hopefully this list will inspire some ideas for your Tokyo itinerary.
Day 1 - Akasaka and Harajuku
Akasaka State Guest House
This Tokyo itinerary kicks off in the Akasaka neighborhood. On my first day, I started my explorations with the Akasaka State Guest House. Built in the early 1900s, it was meant to be the Crown Prince's Palace, though it was rarely used.
After WWII, the Japanese Government took over managing the building, using it as offices at first. Eventually they remodeled and restored the building, opening it in 1974 as the State Guest House to host foreign dignitaries.
Although it's still used today, as long as no one important is visiting, you can tour the building. The entrance fee was ¥1,500 for the main building. The rooms are beautifully decorated, but you cannot take photos inside for security reasons.
I enjoyed seeing where foreign leaders meet during their visits to Tokyo. If you don't want to go inside, you can visit only the garden for ¥300.
Lunch and Coffee
After leaving the gardens at the Akasaka State Guest House, I wandered south in search of lunch. The Akasaka neighborhood has lots of little noodle shops, cafes, and coffee places. I chose one of the noodle shops and ordered a White Sesame Dan Dan Noodle dish which was quite tasty. And of course, I found coffee shortly afterwards!
Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi Park
After caffeinating, I jumped on the metro and headed to Yoyogi Park to see the Meiji Jingu Shrine - a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The forest in the park is amazingly dense and being a warm, sunny day, I welcomed that!
When I got to the shrine, the main building was being renovated, but a new shrine sat in front of it as a temporary house for the spirits.
As I walked through Yoyogi Park, I came across the Meiji Jingu Garden (¥500 entrance fee). This garden has a beautiful pond and iris garden which was in bloom during my visit (in mid-June). I also visited the azalea garden but the azaleas bloom in April, so by June only a few flowers remained.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Cat Street in Harajuku. It's full of trendy boutique shops, Taiwanese tea shops, and a number of other small shops and restaurants. It was fun to walk down it, despite not stopping to shop anywhere.
Donburi and Craft Beer
For anyone who loves salmon sushi and/or salmon nigiri, I found the perfect spot for you! Kumada, a tiny shop in Harajuku, specializes in delicious salmon donburi or rice bowls. Even though I waited ~20 minutes for a seat, I think it was worth it.
I tried the bowl with 3 types of salmon, though one type was actually whitefish. It was very tasty. Although it's not a large portion, afterwards they give you some soup which makes the meal more filling.
Next I headed to Baird Beer Taproom Harajuku for some local craft beer. The flight I ordered had an IPA, imperial IPA, and a saison - all delicious! Plus, if you like baseball, the taproom is a good place to watch it.
If you enjoy craft beer, you might like these 16 Best Bars for Craft Beer in Hong Kong.
Day 2 - Shinjuku, Shibuya
My second day in Tokyo didn't start out as the most productive. Jeremy was in Tokyo for work so I had been staying with him at a hotel which was located close to his meetings. But on Friday morning, I had to move our big suitcase to our next hotel in central Shinjuku.
To make things interesting, I took the metro. What a workout! Remember how I mentioned lots of walking + stairs in the metro? Plus, I have terrible navigational skills, so I walked out of the wrong exit at first. Eventually I made it and checked into the hotel.
Sushi and Coffee
My day improved significantly with a sushi lunch at Sushimaru in Shinjuku. The staff were welcoming and one of them even spoke English! I ordered a nigiri lunch special for ¥1080 which I thought was great for the quality. (Disclaimer: I'm not a sushi expert or anything, but in my humble opinion, this was delicious!)
Obviously coffee was the next priority. I stopped at Sarutahiko Beams and ordered a mocha. The barista asked me something about how I wanted it made but I didn't really understand what he was asking me. As a result, I think I ended up with a lot of cream in my mocha. I'm sure the calorie count was high, but it was richly DELICIOUS!
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
After exploring on my own for a couple days, my solo explorations of Tokyo ended when I met up with Jeremy after his meetings ended. Then, we wandered the Shinjuku neighborhood together.
We ended up in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (¥500 entrance fee). I'll say this - Tokyo knows how to do city gardens.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is another beautiful park to explore with a rose garden, several ponds, a greenhouse, as well as many paths to stroll.
Although we only spent an hour or so here, you could easily wander for an afternoon or have a picnic!
Favorite Ramen - AFURI
After strolling through the garden, we continued down to Harajuku to a ramen shop a friend recommended to me. It's called AFURI and they specialize in Yuzu ramen.
This place was amazing and my favorite ramen that I ate in Tokyo! I ordered the spicy Yuzu ramen and the combination of citrus and spice in the broth was amazing! It also felt very light when I was eating it, which I think was due to the citrus.
Craft Beer and Crossing the Street in Shibuya
After feasting on ramen, we set out for Far Yeast Tokyo Craft Beer & Bao in Shibuya. We'd had some beers from Far Yeast in Hong Kong so we were excited to visit them in Tokyo. The taproom was small but cozy and had a decent number of their beers on tap.
On our way back to the Shibuya metro, we visited the famous Shibuya intersection and walked across it to experience the madness.
Personally I think it's overrated, but if you're in the neighborhood, you may as well check it out. It would probably be more fun to watch from above. When I was in the intersection, it just felt like a lot of people crossing a street. Coming from Hong Kong, the crowds seemed fairly normal.
Thinking of a trip to Hong Kong? Check out these 16 Incredible Things to do in HK!
Japanese Dinner in Shinjuku
Back near our hotel in Shinjuku, we ate dinner at a tiny restaurant where no one spoke English... and we don't speak Japanese. Most of our communication happened through hand gestures and laughter as we attempted to make sense of what each other meant. I love it when that happens.
Since we managed to order food and sake, I'd say it was a successful meal!
Later, we explored Golden Gai - the small section of old 2-story houses/shops. It's full of tiny bars and restaurants (most of which seem to charge cover). It was an interesting experience to cram ourselves into the tiny bar area and order a plate of noodles and beer.
Generally it's unusual to find bars smaller than those you find in Hong Kong, but we found that in Golden Gai!
Day 3 - Asakusa, Akihabara, and Sake Tasting
Verve Coffee - Try the Waffles!
We started out our day at Verve Coffee in Shinjuku Station. I loved this place! They make savory waffles with delicious toppings like prosciutto and cheese - YUM! Plus, the coffee is strong which helps to get the day started!
After getting caffeine-drunk on cold brew, we dove into the confusing Shinjuku station to find our way to Asakusa. This was the most confusing time we had with the train system and trying to figure out the route.
The route we were taking seemed to have 2 lines running on the same track - an express and a local maybe? - I still don't know. It took a while to figure it out (we hopped on and off a train or two), but we got on the correct one in the end.
Upon arriving in Asakusa, it was pouring! Luckily, many of the shopping areas around the temple have covered walkways so we didn't need our umbrella too much.
We made our way towards the Senso-ji Temple - the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo - and admired the Five-Storied Pagoda. It's free to wander the complex, but there are a ton of shops around it willing to help you part with your money!
Asakusa has a ton of eating and drinking options. Many bars were full of people hanging out and having a relaxing Saturday with friends. We opted for a sushi lunch at a cozy, family-run restaurant. The younger man (I'm guessing the son of the sushi chef) spoke English, welcomed us warmly, and helped us understand the menu.
Jeremy and I both got the "high-quality" (as translated to us) nigiri lunch platter for ¥2,200. Another delicious sushi experience! I wish I could remember the name of this place.
Akihabara - Gaming District
After lunch, we hopped back on the metro down to Akihabara - a big gaming and "weird stuff" neighborhood in Tokyo. It was interesting to walk through and see all of the things happening on this street - from anime to maid cafes, sex shops to hedgehog cafes.
If you want to be over-stimulated, this one of the places to visit in Tokyo!
I'll be honest, this is not my scene. But if you enjoy anime, you could probably while away the afternoon here.
The reason I wanted to visit Akihabara was on the other side of the river from the craziness - the Hitachino Nest Brewing Lab. Yes, more craft beer. Their gose really hit the spot.
Meishu Center - Sake Tasting
Since I don't know a lot about sake, I wanted to find a place to do a sake tasting so I could find out what I like. Many reviews pointed us to Meishu Center in Minato City and I heartily agree!
Meishu Center is a sake store, but they seem to specialize in sake tastings as well.
All the bottles in the refrigerator have a tag around them that tells you (in English) a few facts about the bottle so you have an idea of what you're tasting. You can definitely get into trouble here because there are a lot to try!
After loading up on sake, dinner was necessary. Just down the street from Meishu Center is a little place that specializes in gyukatsu - a breaded steak. It comes out fairly rare, but you can cook it to your taste on the little fire plate on your table, then season it to your taste. Delicious and also fun!
And why not end the night with a whisky tasting? Japan has some excellent whiskies and Zoetrope in Shinjuku is a great place to try them. It's a tiny whisky "shot" bar that plays old films while you sip your whisky. Be prepared, there is a cover charge.
Day 4 - A Bird's Eye View of Tokyo
Since we were leaving Tokyo, our fourth day was a short one. If we'd had a full fourth day, we might have been able to make it to the Imperial Palace. That's on my list for the next trip!
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
After checking out of the hotel, we walked over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It's free entry up to their observation deck, but depending when you go, there might be a long line.
We got lucky at ~10:30 am on Sunday morning and barely had to wait. By the time we left ~20 minutes later, there was a long line.
Wandering in Harajuku
Since Jeremy hadn't been to the Meiji Jingu Shrine or Yoyogi Park, we walked down through the neighborhoods and into the park. Unsurprisingly, I got us a bit lost in the park. But we did manage to see parts of the park I missed on the first go-round!
Ramen in Harajuku - Oreryu
Our ultimate goal was ramen for lunch in Harajuku. We went to a place called Oreryu that specializes in fried chicken ramen. It sounded interesting but Jeremy pushed the wrong button on the vending machine where you order so he ended up not getting it. (Tokyo fail.) I'm not a big chicken fan so I got the Oreryu Miso Ramen and it was lovely.
After walking through Takeshita Street (another stimulation for your senses), we headed back to our hotel to leave for the airport.
Returning to Narita International Airport
We took the metro and then the KEISEI Skyliner back to Narita International Airport. If you're taking this train, be sure to allow plenty of time since the Skyliner trains only comes every 20 minutes or so. We made it with lots of time to spare.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Deciding where to stay in Tokyo is a tough. It's a sprawling metropolis with many great neighborhoods and tons of hotels from which to choose. From capsule hotels to large luxury hotels, you should be able to find what's right for you.
Start Searching for a Place to Stay in Tokyo
Trying to find the perfect hotel in Tokyo or to get idea of what to budget for accommodations? Use the map below to start your search!
Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are.
As I mentioned previously, we stayed in two hotels during our visit to Tokyo. Both were excellent choices and I'd highly recommend them.
Hotel New Otani Tokyo
The first Tokyo hotel in which we stayed was the Hotel New Otani Tokyo. This five-star hotel is what you want if you're searching for a luxury hotel. It's a massive property with a stunning garden attached that includes a beautiful waterfall.
The rooms are incredibly spacious and comfortable with city or garden views, depending upon your booking.
It's steps from the Akasaka Station, though the first building you'll come to is the Garden Tower, so it's still a bit of a walk if you stay in the main building.
Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo
After a couple days, we moved over to the Shinjuku neighborhood to the Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo. This four-star hotel was perfectly located next to the Golden Gai - an area with tiny bars and restaurants that's a great spot for nightlife.
Although a much smaller room than we had at the New Otani, for a Tokyo hotel, I'd say it was still quite spacious! We had a small couch and even a desk in our room.
This hotel is a wonderful option for a couple who enjoys being close to some nightlife options. Since it's a short walk to Shinjuku Station - a major railway station in Tokyo - it's also a good jumping off place to other areas of Tokyo.
After a four day trip in Tokyo, I can see how it would take weeks to see everything. But even with a short trip, you can have a vast array of experiences - from sensory overload to peaceful parks. Plus, eat a variety of tasty ramens and delicious sushi meals!
Have you visited Tokyo? How many days would you recommend to see all the sights?