Tokyo is one of those living, breathing, sprawling cities that feels a little intimidating at first, similar to Jakarta, Paris or Los Angeles. There is simply too much to see with just three or four days in Tokyo. So, when deciding what to do in Tokyo during your first visit, it’s important to choose a handful of sights and leave the rest for your return. We spent 4 days in Tokyo. While there is still so much for us to see in Japan’s capital, this curated Tokyo travel itinerary gave us a satisfying introduction to the world’s largest city.
How to Spend 4 Days in Tokyo
Creating a well-rounded Tokyo itinerary is easy. The city is brimming with cultural attractions, must-see sights and delicious food. Whether you have 2 days in Tokyo or 4 days in Tokyo, unfortunately you simply won’t be able to cover it all on your first visit. When narrowing down what to do in Tokyo, we simply chose our top sights and built up our days around those neighbourhoods, leaving plenty of room for coffee stops and time for relaxation. We also needed to use our time in the elements wisely as we were travelling in winter with a toddler in tow.
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How to Get from Narita to Tokyo
- The train from Narita to Tokyo is the most economical option. A Narita Express ticket from Narita to Tokyo costs about 3,020 yen (about $AUD40). Buy your Jrail pass for Japan here.
- If you are grabbing your Tokyo train ticket or subway ticket on the go, make sure you have cash for the machines. We found many wouldn’t accept cards, despite saying they could.
- The taxi from Narita to Tokyo could cost upwards of $AUD300. An Uber is a similar price.
- We also found the Airport Limousine to be a comfortable way to get to Tokyo from Narita and back, particularly as we were travelling with a toddler. It takes about 90 minutes, each way.
Tokyo Luggage Service
- If you are spending a few days in Tokyo and plan to travel on from Tokyo to Hakuba. Or even if you are spending 1 or 2 weeks in Japan and don’t want to carry everything with you, there are convenient luggage services available to send your bags ahead of you. This will save you having to lug them on and off trains. However, you will need to allow at least two days in Tokyo before you travel. Prices start at about 1500 yen.
- If you are simply passing through and spending a day in Tokyo during a stopover, there are lockers at the airport and train stations that cost anywhere from about 300 yen per day, depending on the size you need.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to Tokyo hotels. We stayed at the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo, a five-star Ark Hills hotel. We absolutely loved it with the service and facilities exactly what we expect from an Intercontinental. The hotel is located in one of the best districts to stay in Tokyo. The area is quiet, nice and clean, walking distance to Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace gardens and Roppongi Hills with plenty of restaurants nearby. There is also shopping centre just next door which is home to a Starbucks, deli a pharmacy and cute izakaya for a casual ramen or sushi dinner. We found the centre a lifesaver on cold nights. It is ideal for families who need a convenient dinner option without the room service price tag.
Some of the other best districts to stay in Tokyo if you like bright lights, late nights, shopping, cheaper eats and colourful characters are Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi. Those looking for a quieter stay still in a central part of Tokyo with wide streets, lovely architecture, upmarket shops and restaurants should book a Tokyo Station or Ginza hotel.
Tokyo Itinerary: Four Days in Tokyo
The Imperial Palace
Even in winter, walking around the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station and Ginza was a pleasant way to spend a day in Tokyo. Catch a train to Ginza or Tokyo Station and walk to the Imperial Palace main gates for a sneak peek first, then make your way to the historic East Gardens. We stopped in for breakfast at Buvette in Ginza on the walk. It was a french-style breakfast in the lovely atmosphere which only set us back about $10 instead of $50 for the hotel buffet.
Entry to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace is via the Ōte-mon Gate. It is free; you just need to take a token on entry and return it upon leaving so the guards can monitor visitor numbers. The garden are very easy to navigate. However, there is a guide app you can download for detailed directions and information about each of the historic sights and parts of the gardens.
Once the site of the 15th Century Edo Castle, the gardens feature historic ruins, perfectly manicured gardens and sprawling lawns where we found many locals, including school groups gathered for lunch to take in the view of the skyline back towards Ginza. We spent about an hour, snaking our way around the footpaths that carry you around the Imperial Palace East Gardens and exited via to same gate.
A ten minute stroll from the gardens is Tokyo Station. A Busy central station and historic landmark in one, Tokyo Station must be on your list for things to see in Tokyo. The iconic rich red brick facade with white accents means that despite its low profile, it holds its own, juxtaposed against the harsh towering blue skyscrapers surrounding it.
It’s likely you’ll use the station at least once during your stay in Tokyo, particularly if you are taking any of the famous shinkansen bullet trains. However, take your time to wander around the building itself. Built in likeness to the Amsterdam Central Station back in 1914, the station has undergone numerous renovations and upgrades since but is beautifully cared for and an interesting destination for visitors.
The station really is a city unto itself featuring restaurants, ramen bars, sweets and coffee shops and plenty of shopping to do while you admire the architecture of the building.
Shopping in Ginza
You’ll probably find it’s time for a coffee or lunch at this stage as you start to walk towards Ginza. We needed a break from the cold winds and went underground for a coffee before walking on through gorgeous Ginza boulevards where familiar designer names pop up on every corner. Generally, stores open at around 11am so it’s a good time to have a break before the crowds pick up too.
Stop in at Marunouchi Brick Square on the way past. Grab a pastry or a coffee from Le Cafe La Boutique de Joel Robuchon and enjoy it while sitting in the lovely little courtyard with its decidedly European feel. It’s a gorgeous protected oasis away from the streets and the wind.
Then, make your way to Tokyu Plaza Ginza for lunch. We ate lunch at Ginza Torisuki in Tokyu Plaza. The service was friendly and the fresh soba and sides were good. It had great views of the surrounding streets too. Make sure you go up to the centre’s rooftop too for even more expansive views.
The other must-visit shopping centres and department stores in Ginza are Ginza Six (don’t miss the rooftop garden) and Wako department store, where you’ll see the much-loved pre-World War II clock tower. It is conveniently located right next to Ginza station. For the kids, don’t forget to stop in at Sanrio World Ginza (if you need to stock up on everything Hello Kitty) and the famous Hakuhinkan Toy Park.
If you need a little more culture in your afternoon, the Kabuki-za Theatre and museum is just another block or so from Ginza station. Take a few minutes to stop and admire the charming building’s facade and take a few photos. Better yet, pre-book a ticket and meal for their evening Kabuki show (starting at 4.30pm), before heading back to your hotel for the night.
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We made two crucial mistakes when we visited the Sensoji Temple; we went on a weekend and we slept in. Both impacted our visit significantly. Tokyo’s oldest buddhist temple and also one of the top things to do in Tokyo for most new visitors, the Sensoji Temple gets crowded. Which makes a visit during the peak hours a little rushed and unpleasant, especially when you have a toddler in a stroller.
The Sensoji Temple is in the Asakusa area, easily accessible by train (use exit 1 from Asakusa station) and a 5-minute walk from the station. You can’t miss the Kaminarimon Gate with its 700-kilogram lantern boldly marking the entrance. Walk through the gate to the Nakimise shopping street that carries you into the courtyard of the temple itself. We stopped very briefly to grab a snack from one of the vendors on our way through the crush of people. These stalls date back to the 17th century, with each passed down within families, generation to generation. The Hubby tried something resembling a donut and assured me it was delicious.
Walking the 250 metre gauntlet that is the Nakimise Shopping Street is an assault to all the senses; sights, smells and swells of visitors, there’s a sense of relief when it spits you out the end near the gateway to the temple. Soon, a five-storey pagoda rises up to your left with smoke from the joroko hitting you in the face and drawing your focus back to the central courtyard. The joroko incense it thought to heal the body’s ailments. As I filtered through the crowds, I watched as hands repeatedly swept across the huge burner, scooping up the smoke to bathe themselves. They then ceremoniously made their way on to climb the temple steps. The temple is a reproduction of the original which dates back to the 7th century, but it is very ornate and beautiful both inside and out.
Try to allow a couple of hours to visit the temple and explore the grounds and the markets, as there is a lot to see. Most importantly, make sure you arrive first thing in the morning (at 6am). Alternatively, join the crowds that come to see the Sensoji Temple at night when it is all lit up.
Sensoji Temple opening hours: The grounds are always open. The main hall is open from 6am to 5pm (October – March the temple opens at 630). The stalls in Nakimise Shopping Street open at about 9am.
You can’t miss the Tokyo Skytree towering in the distance when you are at the temple. You can either get a taxi, walk (about 30 minutes) or catch the subway and train to get to the flashy monument. We took the train (accessible on the Tobu Skytree Line and the Hanzomon Line). Buying tickets was easy and we didn’t have to wait, which was great.
The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world at 643 metres. For visitors, that means it offers panoramic views of the Tokyo city sprawl with interactive maps to help you get oriented. There are also a couple of fun Instagram-worthy photo opportunities; thanks to a glass floor and a backdrop.
If you are hungry after snapping all of those photos, there are a number of restaurants in Skytree Town, venture into the quiet backstreets of Mukojima for something less touristy and more traditional, or do as we did and wait til you are back near your hotel to find a late lunch before spending the evening relaxing.
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Put on your walking shoes and start your day with a visit to the Meiji Shrine and explore the surrounding Yoyogi Park, before the crowds build. Originally constructed in 1920 in honour of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shokan, the shrine was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in the late 1950s. Two Torii gates mark the Shinto temple entrance, a short walk from Harajuku station. It is important to get to the shrine early in the morning, particularly on weekends as it is considered one of the best shrines in Tokyo for visitors.
Head back into busy Harajuku for some breakfast and people watching. If you have your heart set on spotting the Harajuku girls made famous through a very well known Gwen Stefani song, you may be disappointed. While the trend still exists, it isn’t as it once was, so don’t plan to wander around camera in hand, snapping photos of the women in their colourful outfits. However, there is still plenty of people watching to be done in Harajuku, a part of Tokyo that gets particularly crowded on weekends.
When it comes to shopping in Harajuku, you will find plenty of common fast fashion brands on Omotesando and Takeshita streets, it’s also known for it’s vintage, second hand clothing stores and small boutiques. So, head to the backstreets and shop stores like Pin Nap, Kinsella and Taramake. It’s in those backstreets you will also find quieter izakaya and coffee shops if you need a moment away from the intensity of the crowds.
Harajuku is also the place you’ll find colourful, photos for the ‘gram. The famous Takeshita Street is the first place to go if you are looking for some fun, out-of-the-box photos. Of course, you’ll probably want to do what the other influencers are doing and buy a prop or snack from a well-known Harajuku food spot. Head to the Insta-famous Totti Candy Factory for an oversized rainbow fairy floss, extra long sweets from Long! Longer!! Longest!!!, cute animal-themed ice creams from The Zoo and super fluffy pancakes at Gram Cafe.
Samurai Museum Tokyo
Take the train from Harajuku to Shinjuku for a little culture and chaos in the afternoon. The Samurai Museum may not initially be on yourj list, but it was one of my favourite things we did in Tokyo.
It is such a wonderful little museum which is beautifully maintained. It’s clear the guides are passionate about what they do and care and sharing the history and the stories of the samurai. We learnt a lot of really enjoyed the experience. Visitors are taken around in intimate groups, stepping into small exhibit rooms where the Samurai armour is displayed and the evolution of the armour and war stories are told. You can also don some costumes if you want to get right into the spirit of the visit.
On your walk from the station to the museum it will soon become clear you are walking through the red light district, Kabukicho. The good news is, that means there are plenty of izakaya and bars close by. So, if you aren’t ready to call it a day yet, take the short walk over to the very busy Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley) for some street fare and cheap drinks.
If you are energetic and around late enough (after 9pm), join the crowds that frequent the bundle of small alleyway bars in Golden Gai. Or for something very unique book a table at the crazy Robot Restaurant nearby.
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Toyosu Fish Market
We set the alarm and woke in the dark to tick off something on our Tokyo must-see list, the Toyosu Fish Market. A visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market (dating back to 1935) has long been considered one of the best things to do in Tokyo. It is now called the Toyosu Fish Market since its controversial relocation. While the market is less interactive than it used to be it is still considered a must-do in Tokyo.
We took a taxi from our hotel given the early hour. When we arrived, we climbed the stairs of the very industrial looking building towards the entryway. Entry to the Toyosu market is free, but they limit visitor numbers. So, make sure you get there very early. Another reason to arrive early is to get a spot behind the glass and also so you don’t miss the famed morning auction.
As you arrive on the observation deck the floor of the warehouse below is covered in giant tuna, shrinking the auctioneer and buyers walking around them. You have to watch keenly to catch the auction happening. It’s nothing like a real estate auction. Buyers repeatedly use tools to test the freshness of the tuna and proceed to make almost indistinct signals towards the auctioneer. It’s somewhat ironic as the prices paid for these fish could buy a number of houses back home. One tuna sold for a record ¥333.6 million ($AUD4,438,752) at the market’s New Year auction.
Once you have finished observing and trying to take photos through the finger-marked glass, make your way to the rooftop garden to see the rest of the city waking or make our way to the few tiny restaurants open for business, serving fresh sashimi for breakfast.
Visit the Busiest Intersection in Japan
You’ve seen the pictures, now snap some yourself. The Shibuya Crossing is one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo. Start by walking (or in my case running) the Shibuya Crossing itself. Then, join the spectators in the surrounding towers for a change of perspective.
Starbucks and Hoshino Coffee offer good views of the Shibuya scramble from above while you sip on a morning latte. However, we went up to the rooftop at Mag’s Park in the Magnet by Shibuya 109 building which has to be the best place to see the Shibuya crossing for those quintessential Shibuya photos. You simply catch the lift up, walk out the end of the bar, up the stairs to Mag’s Park. There are signs to the observation deck. There is glass that wraps around the viewing area so you get a great view directly over the crossing. There are food and drink vendors back downstairs if you need somewhere convenient to take a break.
After you grab those Instagram worthy photos, spend the afternoon discovering all of the other fun things to see in Shibuya like shopping in quirky stores like Tokyo Hands, Don Quijote (perfect place to buy gifts to take home) and Shibuya 109 or stopping in for a late lunch at one of the many Shibuya restaurants.
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Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.