Tokyo has gained a lot of popularity in recent years as a travel destination and needless to say, you need a week to explore it properly. With over 13 million people living there, the metropolis offers a great juxtaposition of modern with an Asian vibe.
I only had 3 days in Tokyo when I visited the city for the first time. While most of my friends said that this was crazy and not nearly enough time to see much, you can totally rock your short visit if you’re visiting for the first time.
What To Do in 3 Days in Tokyo – Sample Itinerary
Tokyo is a huge city with so much to do, so it’s best to get yourself oriented and find out where to go beforehand. Addresses in Tokyo are pretty much non-existent and many people don’t know where things are located, so keep this in mind when visiting the city. I was lucky enough to arrive at Haneda Airport, which is located much closer to the city center than Narita Airport.
Public transportation had free maps available everywhere, so it wasn’t a problem to find my way to Shibuya Crossing – the busiest crossroad in the world.
Shibuya crossing is one of those spots you just have to see in Tokyo since it’s one of the busiest crossings in the city. It’s impressive to see how hundreds of people cross the road when the light turns green. I recommend getting to the first floor of Starbucks to see the whole scene from above. Also, see the statue of Hachikō, the world’s most loyal dog, while you’re out there.
There are plenty of bars and small restaurants in Shibuya and Shinjuku to go for a drink and try some Japanese sake. Don’t be afraid to try some even if you’re not a big fan of sake like me. Sparkling strawberry sake was actually pretty tasty.
If you want to do some shopping, go to either Ueno Market or/and Akihabara station. Ueno Market sells a lot of clothes and weird food, but without extensive knowledge of Japanese you might not know what they want to sell me there. Either way, it’s a great place to visit at least even if you don’t want to buy new gadgets.
Akihabara is famous for electronics and manga related shops (most of them are manga-gaming stations), but be prepared that unless you want to buy your new computer or camera in Japanese only you shouldn’t try to buy anything there. The lack of English electronics in Japan is due to a special export tax that must be put when they install non-Japanese languages on electronics.
It’s also a place where you can find weird cafes and restaurants. For instance, the Maid Restaurant has girls dressed in French Maid uniforms walk the streets trying to entice customers, where they serve you as if you are the master just returning to your home.
At the end of the day, pay a visit to one of the weird cafes, like the Ra.agf Rabbit Cafe. The concept of animal-themed cafes has become quite popular over the last few years, with some being more ethical than others. The rabbits appeared to be well cared for, not disturbed by humans all the time.
You pay an entrance fee, get a drink, and enjoy the presence of animals running around that you can pet and feed. There was no English speaking staff at the café when I went, but I was lucky to meet two Singaporean girls who spoke Japanese and explained me everything.
On your second day consider a morning tour to breakfast at the hub of worldwide sushi fish commerce the Tsukiji Fish Market. You may either love or hate having to eat raw fish for breakfast, but you should at least go and see how the REAL sushi is being prepared and what locals eat.
Visit the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, as it’s a must-see spot in Tokyo. Visting early in the morning will let you beat the crowds. To reach the temple, you need to pass via an iconic gate called Kaminarimon, recognized as the symbol of the city. You also must pass by a series of shops in a street called Nakamise where you can find souvenirs and cute handicrafts.
You may also want to visit the modern zone of Tokyo, next to the Tokyo beach. It’s a nice stylish area, but I wish I went there at night to see the city lights. From the bridge, you can even spot a miniature Japanese version of the Statue of Liberty.
End your day with a dinner at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku nightlife district. It features an array of dancers, special effects, and even robots dancing for you. It’s a unique and strange experience, but you’ll surely have a ton of photos from it.
Start your day by exploring Tokyo National Museum. It has the largest collection of Japanese art, starting from pottery, through sculptures and samurai swords, to kimonos. If you only want to visit one museum in Tokyo, this is the one to pick as it’s the ultimate Japanese experience.
Ueno Park is Tokyo’s first public park established in 1873 with the park structures date all the way back to the 17th century. So if there is anything like an ancient park, this is it. The park is huge and filled with many cafes, but there are many English maps all over it. The park is ideal for cherry blossom viewings if you are there in spring time
You can’t leave Tokyo without trying an awesome Shabu Shabu dinner. For less than 4000 JPY you can get stuffed with absolutely anything as it’s all you can eat pot. You’ll get raw meat, tofu, and vegetables to cook yourself in a boiling pot on your table. Even though it’s all you can eat, remember not to order a lot in the beginning because it’s a Japanese custom to finish everything that’s on your plate and it’s impolite if you don’t. When you order a shot of sake remember that a Japanese shot is actually a glass full of sake! 😉
Information for visiting Tokyo:
- Most metro stations in Tokyo have English signs, but the system can get confusing. Get a free map beforehand in order not to get lost. Also, remember that public transportation isn’t working 24/7 in Tokyo, so catch the last train before 11 pm.
- As many streets have no name and not everyone speaks English consider renting a wireless router. It will allow you to use Google Maps.
- It can be surprisingly difficult to find an ATM that accepts foreign cards, even in Tokyo. The easiest place to get money is an ATM at 7-Eleven.
- How to behave in Japan? Find out here!
- Trick for saving on water: If you want to save money on water get a LifeStraw Water Bottle. It’s a water bottle with a special filter that will allow you to drink tap water (or even some from the pond, puddle or waterfall) everywhere!
There are plenty of amazing hotels, hostels and even capsule hotels in the city! While you may need to book in advance, as when I went all the capsule hotels were fully booked, you can easily find a nice affordable place. Here are my suggestions:
- First Cabin Tsukiji – great capsule hotel in the center of the city.
- Oak Zen Hostel – hostel that feels like a hotel, moreover super close to the metro station.
- Tokyo Hikari Guesthouse – budget-friendly guesthouse with private rooms.
- Park Hyatt Hotel – have you seen ‘Lost in Translation‘? That’s the hotel!
Other Practical Information about Tokyo
Tokyo is actually affordable
After hearing a lot of opinions on how expensive is Japan, I was a bit afraid of destroying my budget. To my surprise, it turned out that Tokyo is not expensive at all. Well, if you compare it to other places in Asia like Vietnam, Thailand or India, it will be expensive for you.
However, Tokyo is less expensive than London and much cheaper than the Netherlands. For example, you can eat in a small restaurant for $4 euros and you’ll get a big portion. If you want to try an all-you-can-eat type of restaurant, with a hot pot, you’re going to spend $23.
Toilets are smart!
Talking about bathrooms… I loved Japanese toilet seats. You get to press some buttons and you’ll get a quick wash, bidet, massage and dryer for the end. This toilet knows what it’s doing. You can also adjust the temperature of the seat. Amazing! The women’s toilet also plays cicada sounds, so you can’t hear any noise coming from the toilet.
Tokyo is very safe
Tokyo is one of the safest places I’ve been and Japan has maintained its reputation as being the safest country in the world. You can put your phone next to you on the train and fall asleep, or leave your opened bag behind when shopping, and nothing will happen. It’s quite amazing actually!
Tokyo is missing trash bins
There’s one important thing that Tokyo is missing – trash bins. You can’t find any free-standing bins ANYWHERE in Tokyo, because the city wants you to carry your trash with you. The only place where you can find bins is next to 7-Eleven.
It isn’t easy to withdraw money from the bank and pay by card
It amazed me that in a place like Tokyo you can’t withdraw money from a regular bank ATM. Banks never accept foreign cards, and the only places where you can take money are 7-Eleven stores.
The idea of withdrawing money from an ATM located in a corner store seemed super sketchy to me, but in Japan that was my only choice.
Moreover, it’s quite hard to pay by card anywhere, unless you visit some 5-star hotels or exclusive restaurants. Most places accept cash only or Japanese cards. In various local restaurants, you have to place and pay for your order at a machine and bring your ticket to the waiter.
It’s not so easy to see the Mount Fuji
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Japan is the traditional cherry blossom trees. While Mount Fuji is a popular day trip offered from Tokyo, it’s rarely visible due to the mist and clouds. I guess you should just Google those beautiful photos because the chance of capturing those two together is no higher than 5%.
Let yourself be helped
Despite their lack of English skills and sense of direction, Japanese people are very willing to help you. However, they very often won’t actually be helpful. For example, I spent 20 minutes waiting for a policeman to point me in the right direction.
I also experienced a woman arguing with her husband about the best way for me to reach my stop. In any case, one should be polite even in situations like this because it’s nicer when people are trying to assist you instead of simply ignoring you.Patiently wait in line
Japanese people form queues all the time. It might seem funny or senseless sometimes because why would you queue to enter the metro or a restaurant when you can just stand around, but I taught myself to stand in line with them.
Suggested Guides for Tokyo:
ARRANGE YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Japan. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!