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Tokyo Itinerary: What to Do With 48 Hours in Tokyo!

Tokyo Itinerary: What to Do With 48 Hours in Tokyo!

Update: 31 August 2018

So you have found yourself in Tokyo with a very limited amount of time to spend. Maybe you’re here on an extended layover while passing through to another destination. Perhaps Tokyo is just one small part of your vacation to Japan. Regardless of the reason, one fact remains clear - you have stepped off the plane and the clock is ticking.

Tackling Tokyo in just two days is no small feat; it’s one of the biggest cities in the world after all. Follow the winding streets through its wildly varying neighborhoods and you will quickly realize how easy it is to become overwhelmed here. In order to make the best use of your time, a well-thought-out itinerary is a must. For those seeking the “quintessential Tokyo experience”, look no further.

The 48 Hour Tokyo Itinerary

The 48 Hour Tokyo Itinerary

While you will undoubtedly want to see and do as much as possible over the next two days, it’s important not to rush through everything and skimp on the overall experience. Therefore, the following guide has been laid out in a way that if followed in order, will maximize the amount of places you can see while still allowing time to enjoy the moment at your own pace.

Day One

1. Shinjuku Gyoen - 9:00 AM

1. Shinjuku Gyoen - 9:00 AM

What better way to begin your Tokyo adventure than by getting into a zen-like state of mind with a walk through an authentic Japanese garden? Despite its location in the heart of the city, Shinjuku Gyoen’s massive public green space feels far removed from the non-stop pace of its urban surroundings. This is a great first stop on your 48 hour Tokyo adventure as it opens earlier than most local attractions and provides a glimpse into a quieter, more traditional side of Japan without leaving the city.

The park opens at 9:00 AM, so I recommend leaving your hotel by 8:30 and coming here early to enjoy the morning serenity and start your day with a traditional cup of matcha at one of the park’s two teahouses.
Hours: 09:00 - 16:00 Tuesday through Sunday. The park is closed on Mondays.
Price: Admission to the park is \200.
How Much Time to Spend Here: Assuming you arrive at 9:00 AM for the opening, aim to spend 1.5 hours in the park - 15-30 minutes for tea and 1 hour for walking through the gardens and enjoying the scenery. As Tokyo is a city that tends to get started on the later side, you can take your time here before heading off to your next destination.

2. Akihabara - 11:00 AM

2. Akihabara - 11:00 AM

As the global hub of otaku culture, there is an inexplicable sense of wonder about Akihabara shared by self-proclaimed manga nerds and curious outside observers alike. Whether or not you find the prospect of hunting for scale replicas of your favorite anime character thrilling, the fact remains that Akihabara truly has something for everyone. If you are following the guide, you should arrive in Akihabara around 11:00 AM. This is a great window of time, as most stores will be open by this point, but it is still early enough to beat the majority of the crowd.

Start your experience at one of the many arcades scattered throughout the neighborhood. Challenge your friends to the seemingly endless array of games, or if you’re on your own, try your hand at winning a plushy new friend from one of the many UFO Catcher machines. Afterwards, grab a tapioca (the Japanese term for bubble tea) at a nearby maid cafe. These iconic cafes have become a staple in otaku culture and are often recognizable to fans of anime and Japanese media around the world. Not sure where to find one? Don’t worry. It will find you. Walk for more than 30 seconds in Akihabara and you are bound to come across girls in maid cosplays encouraging you to visit their cafe.

Lastly, no trip to Akihabara is complete without a little souvenir shopping. Affectionately dubbed “the world’s largest electronics store”, if you can’t find what you’re looking for amongst the dense sea of back-alley shops, it very well may not exist. From appliances, to action figures, to vintage video games and beyond; there is a store for just about everything you can imagine here. Shop around for the perfect Tokyo souvenir, but set a time limit. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend an entire day browsing these stores.

How to Get Here From Shinjuku Gyoen: From Shinjuku-Sanchome station, take the Marunouchi line towards Ikebukuro to Yotsuya. From here, change to the Chuo-Sobu line towards Tsudanuma and get off at Akihabara station.
Travel Time: Approximately 30 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: It’s easy to get overwhelmed here with how much there is to see and do, but aim to keep your visit under two hours. This should still leave you plenty of time to play a few arcade games, browse some shops, grab a snack, and be on your way to your next destination by 1:00 PM.

3. Visit Senso-ji Temple - Around 1:30 PM

3. Visit Senso-ji Temple - Around 1:30 PM

While it’s not uncommon to think of Tokyo only in regards to its modern aspects, it’s important to note that this city contains a great deal of history as well. One of the most visited historical spots in Tokyo is Senso-ji temple in Asakusa. Built in 645 A.D., it is the oldest temple in the city. Famous for its large red lantern (chochin in Japanese), five-storied pagoda, and shopping stalls on Nakamise Street; Senso-ji is a rite of passage for any Tokyo visitor.

There’s not necessarily a “good time” to get here; it’s almost always crowded, but getting here around lunchtime is in your best interest. With all the shops and food vendors on Nakamise Street, you’ll be able to try a sampling of classic Japanese street foods such as yakisoba, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. If you’re in the mood for a more substantial sit-down lunch, there are plenty of nearby restaurants to choose from.

Asakusa is highly regarded for its soba noodles, which can be found at many local shops including the highly rated Sobamae Tsurugi, where you can get soba served alongside delicious, crispy tempura. For something a bit different and more interactive, head to nearby Tsurujiro, where you can try cooking your own okonomiyaki at a traditional horigotatsu; a low table with a sunken floor beneath.

Once you’ve eaten, it’s time to head into the temple. For the authentic experience, first stop by the large incense burner outside and fan some of the smoke onto yourself. Incense smoke is believed to have healing powers, so people typically cleanse themselves with it before entering. Next, visit the purification fountain just outside the entrance. There will be several large ladles laid out for you to use. Fill a ladle with water and rinse one hand, then the other. Depending on how strictly you want to adhere to traditional customs, the final step of the purification is to rinse your mouth with the water. However, most people tend to skip this step nowadays.

Upon entering the temple, you will find a large box with a slotted wooden top. This is a saisen, or offering box. Toss a few coins into the box, bow twice, silently say a prayer or wish, clap twice, bow once more, and that’s it; you’ve officially completed your traditional Japanese temple visit! That process can be a bit confusing the first couple times you do it, and understandably so. Just keep an eye on the people around you and do what they’re doing and you’ll be fine.
Afterwards, explore the surrounding area for some souvenir shopping. There are many unique gifts to be found along Nakamise street. Be sure to stop and grab a drink at a nearby standing bar as well; a classic Japanese experience.

How to Get Here from Akihabara: From Akihabara station, take the Ginza line and get off at Asakusa station.
Travel Time: Approximately 20 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: Given the regular crowds, Senso-ji is not an area that can be seen quickly. If stopping for lunch, shopping, etc. as well, plan to spend 3 to 4 hours here. However, don’t feel the need to rush. There is a great deal of culture in this area, and it should be thoroughly enjoyed.

  • Senso-ji Temple
    • Address 2-3-1, Asakusa, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 111-0032
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Toei Asakusa Line / Tobu Isesaki Line (Tobu Sky Tree Line) / Tsukuba Express)
      5 minutes on foot
    • Phone Number 03-3842-0181

4. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - Around 6:00 PM

4. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - Around 6:00 PM

As the sun starts to set, make your way back to Shinjuku for an unbeatable view of the city. At the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, there is a 360° observatory deck. While the observation deck at the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree may give you a view from higher up, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is completely free and the view is just as nice. Be sure to check online for what time the sun will set that day, as it is a view you will not want to miss.

There are separate north and south towers, both of which house observatory decks, but the south deck closes at 5:30 P.M. If you are here to watch the sunset, head to the north tower, which is open until 11:00 P.M. Try to arrive a little while before the sun goes down, as on clear days you can even spot Mount Fuji in the distance. If you are so inclined, there is also a cocktail bar in the north observatory deck where you can enjoy drinks will overlooking one of the best views of the city..

How to Get Here From Senso-ji Temple: From Asakusa station, take the Ginza line to Akasaka-Mitsuke station. From here, change to the Marunouchi line towards Ogikubo and get off at Nishi-Shinjuku station.
Travel Time: Approximately 50 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: Feel free to take your time here, marvelling over the view and taking photos. However, if you are eager to get back out and explore, visiting the observatory should take no more than 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on if there is a line for the elevator.

5. Explore Shinjuku’s Kabukicho Area - Around 7:00 PM

5. Explore Shinjuku’s Kabukicho Area - Around 7:00 PM

While not exactly the most family-friendly neighborhood in Tokyo, Kabukicho is certainly one of the most iconic. Its streets, densely packed with foot traffic and neon signs as far as the eye can see, is a familiar sight to anyone who has ever searched for pictures of the city online. The area is active all day, but it is best visited at night for the full visual effect.

Though it is largely known as Tokyo’s red light district, the area is also home to an impressive amount of bars, restaurants, shopping, arcades and more. At the center of Kabukicho is the Toho movie theater, atop which you will find the massive, looming head of the legendary Godzilla. If for nothing else other than this, come to Kabukicho to snap the perfect Tokyo vacation photo.

When you’re ready to eat, you’ll find there is no shortage of establishments to choose from. Two popular options with the late night crowds of Tokyo are yakitori and kushiage. Yakitori translates to “grilled chicken”, and it is typically ordered by the skewer. Nearby Wasurenbou serves up a range of options from western-palette-friendly options like breast and thigh meat, to more adventurous choices such as heart, liver, and gizzards. For a slightly less carnivorous option, kushiage is essentially fried food on a stick. For instance, at Kushiya Monogatari, you’ll find everything from vegetables, to cheeses, to fish fried up to crispy perfection and served on a skewer. Both are fantastic options to prepare yourself for our next stop. Itadakimasu!

How to Get Here From The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: From Tochomae station, take the Oedo line to Shinjuku-Nishiguchi station. Alternatively, the walk to Kabukicho only takes roughly 15 minutes.
Travel Time: Approximately 10-15 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: Between eating, shopping, and taking photos, plan to spend around 3 hours in Kabukicho.

  • Kabukicho
    • Address Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Shinjuku Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Chuo Main Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line / Toei Shinjuku Line / Toei Oedo Line / Keio Line / Keio New Line / Odakyu Odawara Line)

6. Bar Hop in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai - 10:00 PM

6. Bar Hop in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai - 10:00 PM

Spend a little time exploring the Tokyo nightlife and you will quickly come to find that drinking is a big part of Japanese late night culture. There is perhaps no better way to mingle with the locals than by bar hopping in Golden Gai, a winding maze of eclectic little bars. Behind every doorway is an entirely unique experience. One moment you’re in a tiny dive bar with vinyl records plastered on the walls, the next you are tucked away in an attic crawl space lit by Christmas lights; cocktail in hand.

What really adds to the charm of this place is that most bars contain no more than ten seats at most, so it’s almost impossible not to interact with other patrons. In the Tokyo bar scene, alcohol plus close quarters equals great new friends. Keep an eye on signs posted outside the bars however, as some will have a cover or minimum drink charge to keep seats from being taken by those just there for the scenery.

How to Get Here From Kabukicho: Golden Gai is right next door; just a five minute walk away.
How Much Time to Spend Here: That is completely up to you! Bars in Tokyo are open till the sun comes up (and sometimes a bit beyond that as well), so feel free to spend as much time bar hopping as you like. That being said, there is a big day ahead tomorrow, so you might want to get some sleep.

Day Two

1. Tsukiji Fish Market

1. Tsukiji Fish Market

The name may not immediately jump out at you, but Tsukiji Fish Market is a legendary Tokyo locale that should not be missed by any visitor. In a place known for its fresh seafood, Tsukiji Market is the hub where it all begins. Every day, fisherman haul in their catch to the market in order to sell to local restaurants. The sheer scale of the operation is a sight to be seen; the choicest fish being sold to the highest bidders at an almost incomprehensible speed.

Unfortunately, if you would like to watch the daily auction take place, you will need to arrive very early. Only 120 visitors are allowed into the auction each day, starting around 5 A.M. As this is a very popular attraction, it is not uncommon to see people lining up to reserve their place in line as early as 1 A.M. If you’d rather not spend the time waiting in line, the good news is that fresh fish can still be enjoyed throughout the day at the many Tsukiji Market restaurants.

If you are interested in seeing the fish vendors, it is best to come early; around 7:00 or 8:00 AM. Understandably, fresh fish cannot sit out for too long, so most activity ceases by 2:00PM, and the majority of fish will have been sold by then. For those looking to eat like the locals, many restaurants open early for you to indulge in a sushi breakfast. One spot in particular, Sushizanmai, is well-known for being Japan’s first 24 hour sushi restaurant.

How Much Time to Spend Here: Unless you are coming early to watch the auction, plan to arrive by 8:00 AM and spend around 2 to 3 hours if eating breakfast here. Those interested in street photography may want to spend a bit more time at Tsukiji capturing the early morning action.

2. Relax at Odaiba

2. Relax at Odaiba

Assuming you started your morning early at the fish market, a leisurely waterfront afternoon will be the perfect thing to ease you into the rest of the day. Located in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba is a manmade island that is quickly becoming one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist hotspots. With its wide variety of shopping, restaurants and city views, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s best to visit Odaiba in the early afternoon before the large shopping crowds take over. After visiting Tsukiji, you should arrive in Odaiba around 10:00 or 11:00 AM.

For those looking for the ultimate relaxation experience, visitors to Odaiba can also spend some time at an Edo-themed onsen; a natural hot spring bath that is a quintessential part of Japanese culture. Slip on a yukata, sip some tea, and let the stress melt away.

As lunch time approaches, visit Yottekoya in Odaiba for another must-try Japanese classic; tonkotsu ramen. This hearty soup with thick slices of roasted pork in your choice of soy or miso broth is just the thing to carry you through to dinner.

How to Get Here from Tsukiji Fish Market: From Tsukijishijo station, take the Oedo line towards Roppongi and get off at Shiodome station. From here, change to the Yurikamome line towards Toyosu and get off at Daiba station.
Travel Time: Approximately 35 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: On average, you can plan to spend roughly 3 hours in Odaiba shopping and eating. If you would like to visit the onsen as well, add on at least another 2 hours.

3. Visit Meiji Shrine

3. Visit Meiji Shrine

No trip to Tokyo is complete without a trip to Meiji Shrine. Not only is it Tokyo’s most popular shrine, but at 170 acres, it is easily the largest as well. Located in a forested area containing over 120,000 trees, Meiji Shrine is a beautiful green space escape from the the neighboring area of Shibuya. While exploring the grounds, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the wall of hand-painted sake barrels, all of which were donated by various sake brewers around Japan as an offering to the shrine’s deities.

Much like at Senso-ji, you will find a purification fountain and offering box in the shrine, so take the opportunity to practice what you learned the day before. Depending on the time of year you are visiting, you also have the chance to witness part of a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular wedding spots in the country, so they are a fairly common occurrence. Feel free to take pictures, put please be respectful and pay attention to the guards who will guide traffic so as not to disrupt the ceremony.

The shrine is open every day from sunrise to sunset, so late afternoon/early evening is the perfect time to visit. The natural golden hour lighting will add a beautiful ambiance to your vacation photos.

How to Get Here From Odaiba:
From Tokyo Teleport station, take the Rinkai line to Osaki station. There, take the Yamanote line towards Shibuya and get off at Yoyogi station.
Travel Time: Approximately 45 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: If you are visiting only the main grounds of Meiji Shrine, 1 hour should be enough time to explore. If you would like to see the additional gardens on site as well, add another 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Walk Takeshita Street

4. Walk Takeshita Street

Long known for being the birthplace of kawaii culture in Japan, Harajuku also stands as the hub of avant garde youth fashion. Along its famous Takeshita street, you’ll see clothes ranging from cute, to cutting-edge, to downright bizarre. On weekends, it’s not uncommon to see groups of cosplayers out sporting the latest ahead-of-the-times styles. Takeshita street is typically packed with curious onlookers, but the benefit of being stuck in a slow-moving crowd is that it gives you plenty of time to window shop and take photos. Takeshita street is generally busy throughout the day, but arriving in the early evening will help to keep you a little cooler in the crowds of people.

How to Get There From Meiji Shrine: Takeshita street is just across the street from the entrance to Meiji Shrine. Follow the crowds and it should lead you there.

How Much Time to Spend Here: Even with the throngs of visitors, it does not take long to see Takeshita street. For simply walking through and people watching, 20 minutes should suffice. If you would like to visit some stores, plan to take 1 to 1.5 hours here.

5. Cross the Shibuya Scramble

5. Cross the Shibuya Scramble

Known as the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing more than lives up to its reputation once the sun goes down. Located just outside of the Shibuya station Hachiko exit, approximately 2,500 pedestrians walk across this intersection with each change of the traffic lights. This repeated mass migration has earned it the nickname of the Shibuya Scramble . In order to experience the full effect of the scramble, visit in the evening, when the crowds are at their biggest.

Before joining the sea of people, stop by the statue of Hachiko; a Japanese akita dog that became famous for his loyalty to his owner, for luck. Once you’re ready, pick a direction, wait for the crosswalk sign to change, and cement your place in a world record statistic. Afterwards, head upstairs to one of the several cafes located in the crossing and enjoy people watching from above. For the best view of the scramble, check out Magnet by Shibuya 109. There is a ¥500 admission fee, but the spectacular view is well worth the price.

How to Get There From Takeshita Street: From Takeshita Street, take the Yamanote line to Shibuya station. Alternatively, after walking through Takeshita Street from the Meiji shrine side entrance, turn right and walk roughly 15 minutes.
Travel Time: Approximately 10-15 minutes.
How Much Time to Spend Here: As the last stop on your 48 hour Tokyo itinerary, take all the time here you would like! It is not uncommon to see tourists crossing the scramble many times in order to capture the perfect travel photo. Feel free to do the same. You’ll be in good company.

  • Shibuya Crossing
    • Address Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo bottom, 150-0043
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Shibuya Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line / Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line / Tokyu Toyoko Line / Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line / Keio Inokashira Line)
      1 minute on foot

Once the Tokyo sightseeing has come to a close, there is perhaps no better finale than to dine at an authentic izakaya; an informal Japanese version of a pub. A favorite after hours stop for droves of Japanese working professionals, izakayas are great way to unwind after a long day and socialize with the locals over cold drinks and delicious small plate dishes. With a drink in hand, join your neighbors for a hearty “kanpai” to celebrate the end of your Tokyo adventure.

How to get to Tokyo from Narita and Haneda Airports

How to get to Tokyo from Narita and Haneda Airports

If you have flown into Tokyo from somewhere outside of Japan, you will most likely find yourself in Narita or Haneda airport. There are many options available to ferry you into the city, but the biggest factors to consider are time and money. Whether it’s more important to you to reach the city as quick as possible or within a tight budget, your best options are as follows.

From Narita

Fast: One of the fastest way to get to Tokyo from Narita is via the Narita Express. This express train can get you from the airport to the city in just over an hour for as little as ¥3,020 (about $27 USD). The train stops at several major hubs including Tokyo Station, Shibuya, and Shinjuku; from which you can easily access all points of the city. You can also buy discounted round trip tickets online starting at ¥4,000 for adults and ¥2,000 for children. The express train departs from Narita for Tokyo roughly every 30 minutes.

Cheap: As a less expensive alternative to the Narita Express, take the JR Sobu Line. Though the trip takes slightly longer at approximately 90 minutes one way, it is less than half the price of the express train; costing ¥1,320. The Sobu Line departs from Narita for Tokyo Station once every hour.

From Haneda

Fast AND Cheap: Coming from Haneda, your best bet in the interest of time and money is the Keikyu Airport Line. Take this train to Shinagawa Station, at which point you can transfer to the Yamanote Line to reach your destination in the city. Based on where you are going, the trip takes about 30-40 minutes and costs roughly ¥600 (about $5.50 USD).

Easy: For those who don’t want to bother with changing trains, there is the Limousine Bus. The buses depart from the airport every half hour, with routes servicing many of Tokyo’s major areas. The ticket prices vary based on where you are going, but you can expect to pay between ¥1,000-¥1,500. While certainly more convenient, you will have to contend with the added variable of traffic. Depending on the time of day you are traveling, your one hour drive time could easily double.

Where to Stay

Where to Stay

When it comes to deciding on an area in which to stay, people are often tempted to choose a location right next to one or two of the major tourist attractions. However, your time could be better spent by instead choosing a place that is centrally located along several train lines. By doing so, you’ll be able to reach different parts of the city with relative ease, ultimately allowing you to see and do more during your stay. There are several locations that fit the bill, but for most situations, Shinjuku or Ueno serve as ideal hubs for traveling throughout Tokyo. While Shinjuku is more central in terms of location, both stations are located along the Yamanote Line, which connects Tokyo’s major metropolitan areas. Both also serve as access points to several other train lines. Of course, these are by no means your only options. There are many areas to choose from when deciding where to stay in Tokyo.

In addition to choosing a location, you should also consider what style of lodging is most appropriate for your stay. With countless hotels, hostels and apartment rentals to choose from, narrowing down your search can prove difficult. The decision will ultimately come down to your own personal preferences and budget, but I would recommend one of Tokyo’s numerous business hotels. The rooms are by no means spacious or luxurious, but for a for a fraction of the price of a standard hotel home, you’ll have four walls, a bed, and your own private bathroom. After all, with such little time to spend in Tokyo, this room will function mainly as a place to store your baggage and take the occasional nap.

Written by:

Matt Vachon

Matt Vachon

Matt Vachon is a writer, photographer, and recent Tokyo transplant. When he's not working, he can be found taking in the local culture and getting lost with his camera at the ready. Follow along on his adventures on Instagram @mattvachonphoto.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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