Planning your first trip to Tokyo? With so many things to do and trains to ride, it can be overwhelming for first timers. New sites and new activities constantly sprout all over Tokyo and I have picked out the best activities for first-timers in this Tokyo itinerary based on my past visits.
Before we get into the bustle of Tokyo, do remember to wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking in Tokyo!
Overview of this Tokyo Itinerary
Day 1: Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya
Route: Shinjuku Gyoen National Park – Harajuku – Meiji Jingu – Shibuya Hachiko Statue- Shibuya Sky
Shinjuku Gyoen National Park
Take it slow the first morning and enjoy a leisurely stroll in the the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, located in the heart of Tokyo. The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a beautiful park with over 20,000 trees and flowers.
As we were in Japan during the sakura season, the park was painted pink with a vast number of Sakura trees in full bloom. We took an hour’s walk and still didn’t cover the entire park, so do plan accordingly if you want to see more of the park. This is also a popular spot with the locals for Hanami, which literally translates to ‘flower viewing’. If you’re up for it, bring a picnic mat and some food for a slow morning.
Note: Entrance to the garden may require prior reservations on some days, especially during the sakura season. Do check out this page for more information.
Opening hours: Generally, they open at 9am, but closing times vary, check official website for more information
Entrance fee: ¥500
Considered as one of the most famous shrines in Japan, Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. A large Tori gate marks the start of a tree-lined walk to the main hall, of which felt like a 400m long walk to me. As expected from a tourist location in a populous city like Tokyo, the place was pretty crowded by 12pm, which slightly ruined the tranquility for me. However, I would still definitely recommend giving this popular shrine a visit.
Shrine: opens at sunrise and closes at sunset, check this page for detailed hours.
Museum: 10am – 4.30pm (last admission at 4pm)
Entrance fee: Shrine: Free, Museum: ¥1,000
A short walk and a large contrast from Meiji Jingu, Takeshita Street is a colourful shopping street, very much catered to the younger crowd, in the heart of Harajuku. The street is filled with fashion stores, street food and animal cafes.
If Takeshita Street is not up your alley, you can also head over to Omotesandō, which is a 5 – 10 minute walk away, for more luxury and vintage shopping.
Check out an animal cafe
There are plentiful of animal cafes in Japan and quite a number of them are in the Harajuku area. Below are two that I’ve visited during my past trips.
Tokyo Snake Center
Whether you love snakes or are terrified of them, this a great opportunity for you to get up close and personal with these ‘danger noodles’. At this cafe, you can enjoy a drink in the company of a snake “attendant” — a tiny snake in a box. You can also pay an additional fee to carry some of the larger snakes in the cafe.
There are less than 10 tables in the cafe, so I would really recommend making a reservation if possible. However, they do not allow reservations on weekend afternoons, so you’ll have to try your luck or queue for a table.
Opening hours: 11am – 8pm, closed on Tuesdays
Cover charge: ¥1100, additional fees for handling snakes
Address: Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 6 Chome−5−6 サンポウ綜合ビル 8F
Harry Harajuku Terrace
If snakes are not your ideal snuggle buddies, check out Harry Harajuku Terrace, where otters, hedgehogs and chinchillas are the stars of the show.
I decided to pay an additional fee of ¥880 for a short play session with the otters. Note: the otters may bite. I got bitten, but it didn’t break the skin and I didn’t bleed.
Read also: 7 Animal Cafes in Japan You Should Check Out
Opening hours: Weekdays 1pm – 6pm, Weekends and holidays 12pm – 6pm
Cover charge: ¥1540 for 30 minutes, ¥3080 for 1 hour
Address: Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 4 Chome−26−5 ４２６ビル 3F
Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko Statue
I’m sure everyone has heard of the iconic Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. If you’re up for more shopping, the Shibuya Crossing is surrounded by tons of shopping malls such as Shibuya109 and Shibuya Scramble Square.
Remember to drop by the Hachiko statue as well; located right outside Shibuya Station. The bronze statue was built to honour the loyal and devoted Akita dog, Hachiko, who waited at Shibuya Station every day for his master.
Shibuya Sky is a 46 storeys, 360 degree observatory overlooking Shibuya and the Tokyo skyline. If you get lucky, you can even see Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
Tip: Prebook online as tickets get sold out quickly and chances of getting a ticket on site are very slim. Book a slot during golden hour and watch the sunset, you’ll also get to see the city skyline before and after dark. Remember to bring a jacket as well, as the winds get really cold up there.
The entrance to Shibuya Sky is located on the 14th floor of the Shibuya Scramble Square. You will have to queue to take the lift up to the observatory. Our reservation slot was for 5.40pm, but only managed to get to the observatory at 6pm due to all the waiting. You’ll also have to keep all your belongings except for your mobile phone and camera in the lockers (which requires a ¥100 coin, refundable when you take your belongings back).
In my honest opinion, we did not really enjoy the experience much as it was way too crowded. You’ll also have to queue for the photo spots. Some have commented that the queue can go up to 2 hours long.
Opening hours: 10am – 10.30pm
Entrance fee: Adults: ¥1,800, Children aged 3 – 5: ¥500, plus ¥200 if booked on site
Day 2: Tsukiji, Tokyo Station, Pokemon Center
Route: Tsukiji – Art Aquarium Museum – Tokyo Station – Pokemon Center Tokyo DX & Pokemon Cafe
Once comprising of 2 areas — the “inner market” which is the wholesale fish market and “outer market”, aligned with numerous food stalls. The inner market, famous for its tuna auctions, relocated to Toyosu Market in 2018, and only the outer market remains at Tsukiji, but is still popular for its seafood offerings.
A must-eat at Tsukiji outer market is sushi. Find a shop with a bunch of locals. We chanced upon a shop in an alleyway — Taneichi and decided to give it a try because this shop was slightly cheaper compared to many other overpriced shops serving dons.
One of my favourites I had at Tsukiji was a white strawberry daifuku from Tsukiji Iroha. The white strawberry daifuku (¥700) was a limited item and is similar to a regular strawberry daifuku, just topped with a white strawberry. The white strawberry was much sweeter and more juicy compared to a regular red strawberry, making it a great pairing with the dense red bean mochi.
Ginza is home to many of Tokyo’s upscale shopping and this is where you’ll be able to find all your luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior.
Art Aquarium Museum
Located in one of the malls, Mitsukoshi Ginza, Art Aquarium Museum is an innovative art exhibition that combines goldfish swimming in illuminated tanks with digital art projections. They often change up the exhibition based on the season or special events. When we were there, they had a sakura special, whereby the area and tanks were decorated with plenty of sakura flowers.
The exhibition is pretty small and can be easily covered in less than 30 minutes, not worth the entrance fee in my honest opinion. If you’re short on time, this is an exhibition that you might want to skip.
Opening hours: 10am – 7pm
Entrance fee: ¥2300
Besides being a major train station, there are also numerous shopping and food options to explore at Tokyo station.
If you’re a fan of any cartoons, like Miffy and Studio Ghibli, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find some merch at Tokyo Character Street. There are also tons of gift shops if you’re looking for Japanese souvenirs such as Tokyo Banana and Shiroi Koibito.
For those that are not a fan of shopping, you can also try out eki stamp collecting. Each JR station in Japan has its own unique stamp and since Tokyo station has JR lines, you can hunt down your first the eki stamp here! Hint: it’s at the Marunouchi South exit. This is a really fun free activity which can be done across Japan.
Also read: Guide to collecting eki stamps
Pokemon Center Tokyo DX & Pokemon Cafe
Pokemon Center Tokyo DX is the largest Pokemon Center in Japan. Visiting will surely make you feel 8 again; or if you’re 8, this will also be paradise for you!
This Pokemon Center also has a Pokemon Cafe attached to it. However, if you want to visit the cafe, you will have to plan in advance for it as reservations open up a month in advance. Check out our Pokemon Cafe Guide for more details on how to make a reservation.
Opening hours: Pokemon Center: 10.30am – 9 pm, Pokemon Cafe: 10.30pm – 8pm, last order 7.30pm
Address: Japan, 〒103-0027 Tokyo, Chuo City, Nihonbashi, 2 Chome−11−2 Takashimaya S.C. East Wing 5F
Day 3: Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea
Tokyo Disneyland is a must visit, especially if you’re a Disney fan! There are 2 Disney parks in Tokyo — Disneyland and DisneySea. The biggest difference between the 2 parks are the characters that appear in the park — characters that are related to the sea or water such as Ariel, appear in DisneySea. The rides at Disneyland are catered towards families, while those at DisneySea are more geared towards teens and adults.
We settled on Disneyland, but regardless of which park you choose, plan to arrive an hour before the official opening hours. We arrived at 9am and it was already extremely crowded. It was pretty disorderly and there were only 5 security counters, hence we took 40 minutes before managing to get pass the security checks.
Tip: Download the Disneyland app beforehand so you can book rides and shows the minute you enter the park. The app also has updated waiting time and they are pretty accurate.
If you’re unable to make any reservations for the shows, you can still try your luck by queueing for them.
Opening hours: 9am – 9pm
Entrance fee: Adult ¥8400, Child ¥5000
Day 4: Odaiba
teamLab Planet Tokyo
teamLab is well known for its interactive museums that feature immersive and multi-sensory installations. Odaiba used to house teamLab borderless, which has been relocated to make the redevelopment of the waterfront area. As such, teamLab Planet Tokyo is a temporary solution while teamLab borderless is being rebuilt in the Azabudai Hills area of central Tokyo.
teamLab Planets is one of the most popular exhibitions in Tokyo and of course, online reservations are needed. Tickets are available on the website about 2.5months in advance, do check the website for announcements for ticket release and updates of upgrading works if any.
Having visited teamLab borderless before it shuttered, I strongly recommend giving teamLab Planets a go, especially since it will only be around until the end of 2023, or when teamLab borderless is done with its relocation work.
Opening hours: 9am – 9pm
Entrance fee: Adult ¥3200, Child: ¥1000, Children under 3 enter for free
Diver City Tokyo
The star of the show at Diver City Tokyo is the 19.7m tall RX-0 Unicorn Gundam, second largest behind the one at Gundam Factory Yokohama.
There are also four daily shows, at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, and there are also special night performances depending on seasons. Keep a lookout on the official website for updates on performance schedule. Aside from the Unicorn Gundam, you can also visit the Gundam Base inside Diver City Tokyo, which comprises of a merchandise shop and cafe.
Diver City Tokyo is also a huge mall that houses many popular International and Japanese brands such as Adidas, Hollister and H&M. There are a number of food options in the mall as well, which will make this a good lunch stop.
Opening hours: 10am – 10pm
Statue of Liberty & Rainbow Bridge
Once you exit Diver City Tokyo, walk towards the west promenade for a great view of the bay.
Head to the waterfront to see the iconic replica of the Statue of Liberty, which is a symbol of the friendship between Japan and the United States.
You will also be able to see the Rainbow bridge in the distance. Although the Rainbow Bridge is painted white, it lights up during the night in rainbow colours — a great view to end your day with. It is also possible to cross the bridge, but do note it will take at least 25 – 30 minutes one way by foot.
Day 5: Akihabara, Asakusa, Ueno
Everyone has heard of Akihabara, especially if you’re an anime lover. The electric town of Akihabara is home to all things manga, anime, video games and also electronic goods stores. Even if you’re not an anime fan, it’s still quite an interesting stop to witness a side that is so distinctive to the Japanese culture.
Just a 3-minute walk from Akihabara is an outlet of Gyukatsu Motomura, arguably one of the most famous Gyukatsu shop in Tokyo.
There’s only 1 thing on the menu here — the tender, juicy and thinly breaded beef that comes medium rare with a grill for you to cook the beef to your preference. Rice was free flow and the beef comes in 3 sizes — 130g, 195g and 260g.
This restaurant does not allow reservations and queues during peak hours can go up to 3 hours long. We got there an hour before closing for late dinner and did not have to queue at all. They have many outlets across Tokyo so go to an outlet with more tables as that will reduce the wait time. The Akihabara one was pretty spacious.
However, I believe that each outlet differs slightly. For example, our set meal at the Ikebukuro outlet did not come with mochi, whereas the Akihabara one did. Prices also differ depending on outlet, but as a rough guide, the smallest portion was roughly around ¥1600.
Opening hours: 11am – 11pm (closing time differs for outlets, the Ikebukuro outlet closes at 10pm, last order at 9.30pm)
Asakusa is known for its traditional architecture, bustling streets and most famously — Sensō-ji Temple, the main attraction in Asakusa. Leading up to the temple is Nakamise Shopping Street, a colourful and lively street lined with traditional souvenir shops and food stalls.
After visiting the temple, take a stroll through along Sumida River and to Sumida Park, which offers stunning views of Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan.
Best known for Ueno Zoo, Ueno Park and a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in spring, the park also houses a number of temples and shrines.
Ueno Park is particularly popular in the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the park is transformed into a sea of pink and white flowers. There are also street stalls to explore and plenty of tables for you to enjoy the food, which is a great opportunity to try street food if you haven’t already.
Getting Around Tokyo
The easiest and most cost effective way of getting around will be via public trains. You can ride the trains with a Suica or Pasmo card (also known as IC cards). The train system is well developed and you can ride on the trains by tapping on the gantries with your IC cards.
Suica cards can be bought at JR stations in Tokyo or at both airport (Narita/Haneda) train stations. Pasmo cards can be bought at ticketing machines in train stations in Tokyo or at both airport (Narita/Haneda) train stations.
Besides using for public transport, you can use the cards at convenience stores, vending machines and even some restaurants.
Important note: Although the train system is convenient is accessible, they stop slightly after midnight. Cabs can get pretty expensive and it costed about ¥2000 for a 10 minute ride from Asakusa to Akihabara.
Virtual IC cards
IPhone users — you can now add the Suica/Pasmo card to your Apple wallet. This does not require a physical card, you can follow these instructions to purchase a virtual Suica/Pasmo card or link your existing physical card. This way, you can tap your phone at the gantry instead of the physical card and top up your card balance via your phone.
What About JR Pass?
Japan Rail (JR) Passes allow you to unlimited rides on JR trains (including some Shinkansen) for a set period of time, depending on the type of JR Pass you buy. As a general rule of thumb, they are only worth it if you plan to travel to multiple cities. For example, a return trip between Tokyo and Osaka will allow you to breakeven the cost of the pass.
However, with the recent announcement of the massive increase in price of JR passes starting October 2023, it will likely not be worth it to buy a JR pass, unless the Shinkansen see a price hike as well.