You’ve booked the flight, found the perfect hotel, the money has left the credit card and now your Japan trip is officially set in stone!
This is where the fun part (for me) or the ever so daunting part (some of you out there) begins. In the following series of blog posts, I will be giving some sample itineraries for various lengths and locations in Japan. Based on the rigorous planning of my own trip and experiences I had in Japan, I aim to make life a little easier for those of you who pull out hair over trip planning. I get it, you don’t have time. LEAVE IT TO ME!
*Note: The itinerary can be slightly altered based on season or time of the month. It is baseline guide to get you inspired. Feel free to change things around based on your interests, your own research and timing.
1-Week Itinerary in Tokyo, Japan
The streets of Shibuya at night time.
Your first day is always going to be a day of travel. If you can, try to add an extra day or so to accommodate travel time.
- Arrive in Tokyo (Haneda or Narita) from your city of origin. (If you are from Canada or the USA, you’ve likely been travelling for 10-25 hours.) Go through customs and catch the express train to Tokyo Station (Average 30-60 mins) to your hotel. For first-timers, I recommend staying around Akasaka or Shinjuku; aka the middle of the action. If you are into the anime scene, Akihabara or neighbouring Kanda are perfect — I stayed at Hotel My Stays Ochanamizu — it was clean, affordable and a block away from Electric Town. Airbnb is an awesome choice too. I stayed near Otsuka Station, the Airbnb was in a quiet neighbourhood and gave a cool local vibe.
- No matter where you stay, there will always be easy transportation within reach.
- Check-in to your accommodation and freshen up, it has been a long flight after all.
- You’re probably going to be hangry after that long leg of travel. If so, grab a meal at the closest restaurant to you; ramen, sushi, curry, soba….no matter where you go, it’ll be good!
- If you are feeling extremely pooped, I would call it a night and get plenty of rest for tomorrow’s early morning.
- Some of us have a little bit of energy left to start our sightseeing! For those that can’t wait to start their Tokyo adventure, take to the streets of your area and start exploring. If you’re staying in a busier area like Shinjuku or Shibuya, the nightlife is vibrant and exciting, no matter the hour; and it is totally safe for you solo travellers!
- Pop into random shops, check-out some street eats and start practicing those Arigato Gozaimasu’s (ありがとう).
Spend all night in Akihabara’s Electric Town.
- You have to start off your first official full-day in Tokyo right by heading to the major areas.
- Leave your hotel and find a place to eat. If you are out and about before 11am, odds are you’ll find it a little tough. Don’t fret, they have 24/hour Family Marts and 7-11s on most street corners — their food is unreal and dirt cheap!
- Take the subway or JR over to Asakusa. Asakusa is home to the famous Buddhist temple — Senso-Ji — bringing in thousands of tourists and locals every day. Make sure you have your wallet handy as there is a huge market at the entrance stocked with traditional Japanese wears, treats and clothing.
- There are plenty of options to eat around here. Some options are Kamiya, Nakasei, Hyotan, Ogiya or Tsukamen Kobo.
- If you are anime fan or video game lover in any respect, Akihabara’s Electric Town is a MUST visit. Even if you aren’t, Akihabara will give you a graceful lesson in Japanese otaku culture. Take the Ginza line straight from Asakusa to Suehirochō Station. From there, it is a 4-minute walk until you hit the hard to miss vibrancy that is Akiba!
- Spend your time in arcades, sifting through walls of vintage video games, eating at a themed restaurant and adventuring through the massive electronic department stores.
- If you’re brave enough (I wasn’t) experience one of the many maid cafe experiences offered in the heart of Electric Town!
- If you are enjoying yourself, stick with Akihabara for a little longer, if you’ve had your fair share, make your way to…
Evening & Night
- Known for the largest street crossing in the entire world, Shibuya is home to countless shops, restaurants, bars and businesses. Just walking through the crowded streets is a sight to behold. Coming here at night is something beautiful. The neon lights and the youthful energy will keep you going until the final train.
- For some good eats try Genki Sushi, Ichiran Ramen, Sushi-no-Midori, Nagi Ramen, Bistro 35-steps.
- Aside from these restaurants, there are plenty of small Izakaya’s and street stalls to behold, don’t shy away from trying something new!
- There are so many shops in Shibuya, it’ll make you want to come back. Hit up the 109 Building (Fashion), Tower Records (Music, Blu Rays, Merch), Loft (Stationary) and Can Do (Japanese Dollar Store).
- After a long night, it is time to head back to your hotel and sleep off the some of that jetlag.
Let the animated Harajuku take you on a wild shopping adventure.
- Rise and Shine, it is time to take a morning stroll through Yoyogi park!
- Enjoy the lush greenery of Yoyogi and get a peaceful break from yesterday’s immense city tour. When you’ve had the perfect amount of oxygen, head over to Meiji Jingu within the park and take in the Shinto shrine in all of its glory.
- If you didn’t get your 7-11 breakfast fix, some restaurants should be opening now. Head north to CoCo Ichibanya for some amazing Japanese curry. Don’t let this chain restaurant fool you, their extensive menu, will have you coming back at least twice while you are on this trip.
- It is Harajuku time! Get ready for the cool, the trendy and the darn right weird. From the really cheap to the uber expensive, spend hours looking at vintage fashion starting at Takeshita Street.
- Step into some cool cafe’s, traverse through many side alleys and check out some of the unique cosplay!
- If this is not your thing, check out Watari Museum of Contemporary Art for innovative exhibitions.
- Check out the Minato area for a vibrant nightlife. Stroll through the many alleys and if the budget allows it, try some Omakase sushi for dinner. This is an experience of a lifetime. Omakase is generally a multi-course sushi dinner in an intimate setting. The chef will serve his special creations using the freshest fish in the country. The prices can range from $75 CAD to $200 CAD, but it is well worth it. Do some thorough research and make sure you book well ahead of time.
- Whether you enjoyed the best sushi you ever had or opted for a tiny Yakisoba joint on the corner, head back to your hotel and freshen up, it’s ROPPONGI TIME!
- Roppongi is the epicentre where locals, expats and tourists come to party. If the club is not your thing, there are plenty of bars to choose from. I recommend Tokyo Pub Crawl. Book a tour with them and they will take you the hottest bars and clubs in the area. Best part, it is super cheap, solo traveller friendly and they even pour you shots all night…have fun! 😉
Gaze up at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s free to ride up too!
Sleep in. You deserve it.
- If you can power through your wicked hangover, head over to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in the AM. It is the most stunning scape of greenery Tokyo has to offer. The minute you enter the gates, you’ll feel far removed from the bustling city. Enjoy the lush garden in all of its peaceful glory. To cap it off, pack a meal the night before and enjoy a picnic in the park (Budget Picnic Hack: 7-11 and Family Mart has all your picnic essentials, hit them up.)
- Explore Shinjuku, it is HUGE!
- Book your Robot Restaurant Show in advance, and get ready to be taken to crazy town. Famous in Shinjuku, Robot Restaurants serve a delicious Japanese style dinner and put on one of the craziest shows you’ll ever see, words can’t describe it.
- If you can still fit a little extra snack in your tummy, head over to Piss Alley (Memory Lane). Home to yakitori, deep fried salamander and horse sashimi, (yes you read that right; salamander and horse sashimi.) Piss Alley has a cool grungy vibe and is a local hotspot for good eats and good beer — no fancy cocktails here! Even if you are not brave enough to eat the horse sashimi, there are plenty of safe eats at most stalls — even walking up and down the alley is a sight to behold in of itself.
- Continue your night at a string of bars and izakayas in the historic Golden Gai. Traverse through the narrow and winding alleys of over 200 bars. This block of old school buildings in Shinjuku should not be missed! There are plenty of spots to choose from — so take a seat, order a drink and spark up some conversations with the locals, they will love trying to practice their English with you!
Inner Alleys of Tsukiji Fish Market.
- Stay out late in the Golden Gai and then taxi yourself over to the Tsukiji Fish Market to line up for the 4am tuna auction (I didn’t get around to it, but I heard it is a can’t miss experience.) They only let a certain amount of tourists in, so you have to get there for 4am to guarantee a spot.
- After the auction, head over to the market stalls and indulge in a fresh sushi breakfast. There are hundreds of options offering sashimi, oysters, scallops, crab, etc.
- Go back to your hotel to get some shut-eye.
- If 4am is not your thing, don’t fret…you can get a good night’s sleep and head over to Tsukiji’s market stalls and enjoy the fresh fish all the same. Not a fish fan? They have so many other treats to choose from!
- Head over to Tokyo’s luxury shopping area, Ginza.
- Take in the sights of the towering buildings and if you like to shop until you drop, you’ll hit the ground in minutes. Even for those on a budget, Ginza provides a great afternoon of street wandering and building wandering. Go to Ginza on the weekend and wander the main street with no cars allowed. If you skipped out on the Omakase before, now is your chance as Ginza is home to a plethora of great sushi joints just a short skip away (Tip: Omakase lunches can be more than half the price as their dinner counterparts.)
- Your trip is coming to an end, so why not reflect on your adventure with the best view of the city — Tokyo Tower. From Ginza, take the Asakusa line to Daimon Station, just a 6-minute walk to the tower. Some of the observation decks offer free admission while other observation decks cost a humble 900yen ($10 CAD).
- Take an evening stroll through Shiba park and get a worm’s eye view of the colossal tower.You may even pass by this cool Buddhist temple called, Zōjō-ji.
- You can’t leave Tokyo without a few souvenirs for yourself, family and friends. Head over to any one of Tokyo’s Don Quijote‘s. Enjoy up to 12 stories of Japanese goods for a fraction of the price anywhere else in the city. I guarantee you’ll drop at least 2 hours here. (Tip: If you spend over 5000yen [$56 CAD] you get your goods tax-free). Most of the locations are open until 5am or even24-hours. Check out their website for more details.
Exploring the Kanda area of Tokyo — loving the gritty textures.
- This is your FREE day.
- The best days in Tokyo are those that go unplanned. Wake up, grab an onigiri and vending machine ice coffee, take the subway to a random station stop, get off and just explore! Take as many breaks as you want, walk into any food spot and just let the streets of Tokyo whisp you away. Hell, even if you liked a particular area from before, revisit it and dive deeper, there is nothing short of things to do in Tokyo — who knows what you’ll find!
Tokyo’s iconic Tower.
This will either be the day you fly home or if you took my advice earlier, you will give your self an extra day or two to accommodate your flight. If you are flying out today, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack-up, have one last meal, get to the airport and check-in. There is a chance that you will be flying out of a different airport then you arrived in. If so, make sure you get on the right express train. Haneda will take about 30 mins to get to and Narita will be double that!
If you’re still in Tokyo for one more day…
Take a Day Trip outside of Tokyo!
Tokyo will only give you a small glimpse into authentic Japanese culture. Open your mind and soul to all of Japan with a historic day trip. Wake up early and take the JR to your destination. Both Hakone and Nikko make great day trips!
- If you want to see (or even hike) Mt. Fuji, this day trip will be more for you. There are many small towns surrounding the mountain, but Hakone has arguably the most to offer.
- To get here, take the “Romance Car” on the Odakyu Railway from Shinjuku Station. This will cost you only 2080yen ($23 CAD) and takes 85 minutes to get there. You can take the same train back as it runs until midnight.
- If you want to experience historic Japan, head over to Nikko and enjoy the old Edo period city. If you are in Tokyo during October and November, I’ve heard the autumn foliage is a can’t miss!
- Take the Tobu line from Asakusa Sation straight to Nikko Tobu Station. The journey is about 2 hours and costs about 1360yen ($15 CAD). Alternatively, there are limited express trains that cost about double the price and take almost half the time.
- You don’t have to stick to this itinerary to a T — have fun, mix it up and do some additional research, at the end of the day we all have different interests — lucky enough Tokyo has it all.
- For all of your museum and gallery lovers, there are plenty of paid and free options around Tokyo, you’ll find them in almost any district.
- You can trust Tokyo’s transit system with your life, they are punctual to the exact second.
- Don’t feel pressured to spend money, the best parts of Tokyo is traversing through all the neighbourhoods and people watching. There are also plenty of free things to do in Tokyo!
- 7-11 & Family Mart are your best friends. Use them.
- Learn some basic Japanese phrases before you go, it will help ALOT and it is super fun, trust me, even a simple Konnichiwa (hello) will get you a long way.
- Don’t be afraid to enter any establishment, whether it be a bar, restaurant, shop, etc. — the worst that will happen is you’ll be kindly turned away (this is very rare, most welcome tourists with the utmost hospitality.)
- Relax and have fun!
Just because we have different budgets, doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy the same destination. Check out How Much Will it Cost to Visit Japan in 2018? for my guide on different Japan travel budgets.
I’d love to hear your suggestions on must-see places in Tokyo. Comment below or hit up my Facebook page to get more personalized travel posts and entries!