It’s no secret that Tokyo is an extremely big city. Not only is it Japan’s capital, but it’s also the most populated city in the world. So if you only have a few days to explore Tokyo, it can seem overwhelming. It would quite literally take an entire lifetime to explore every inch of Tokyo, so don’t give yourself any unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, you won’t see it all in one go.
If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, my advice is to do some research and write a list of the things you would like to see and do. Then narrow down that list. Put a star next to the things that you really want to see. The things that you don’t want to leave Japan without experiencing. Doing this will make it a lot easier to plan your time in such a large city, and you won’t leave with any regrets!
My partner Russell and I had quite a long list of things we wanted to do and see. We knew that even though we had 12 days to explore the city, we wouldn’t see it all. We didn’t mind too much, though. It just means we have an excuse to go back and see the things we missed!
Today I’m sharing our itinerary from the 12 days we spent in Tokyo. We crammed quite a lot into a small amount of time, so our itinerary may not suit your style of travel. That being said, we did have a couple of rest days, where we didn’t catch any trains or travel too far. So hopefully our itinerary can be a source of inspiration for anyone planning a trip to Tokyo!
A Tokyo Itinerary: 12 Day Guide to Exploring Japan’s Capital City
Day 1: Arriving in Tokyo from Nagano
Like our previous commutes between cities across Japan, we arrived in Tokyo on the Shinkansen Bullet Train. It took roughly 2 and a half hours to travel from Nagano to Shinjuku New City Hotel, which would be our home for the next 12 days!
Something you should know about Japan’s hotel policies, is check-in times are quite strict. Generally, if you arrive before 3pm, you will not be able to check-in to your room. We arrived a little too early, but one of the best things about Japan’s hotels, is they will hold your luggage for free while you wait! So we dropped off our suitcases and headed down the street for some lunch.
After indulging in yet another McDonalds meal, it was almost 3pm – time to check in! If you’d like to read all about our experience staying at Tokyo’s Shinjuku New City Hotel, you can do that here!
We didn’t do much the day we arrived in Tokyo. It had been over a week since we were last able to do some washing, so that was priority for the afternoon. After loading up a machine, we walked to the Family Mart convenience store down the road, and stocked up on snacks and alcohol! We party hard.
Day 2: Harajuku + Shibuya Crossing
For our first full day in Tokyo, we decided to catch the train to Harajuku and Shibuya! Harajuku is Tokyo’s teenage and tourist hub. The main attraction of Harajuku is Takeshita Street. If you’ve visited Osaka before, or have read my suggested itinerary, you would know all about Dotonbori. Well, Harajuku is Tokyo’s version of Dotonbori, but aimed more towards the younger generation. There are dozens of cute clothing shops, souvenir stores and fast food options to keep everyone entertained for hours.
Tip: Harajuku is busy at the best of times, but I wouldn’t suggest visiting on a Saturday. You’ll find that it is a lot busier on weekends than during the week (as are most places!) so plan to spend a weekday exploring Haajuku and Takeshita Street. We didn’t plan ahead, and spent a Sunday dodging selfie sticks and winding our way through Harajuku’s weekend crowds. It was still an awesome experience though!
Takeshita Street has a ton of awesome second-hand clothing stores, where both Russell and I scored some incredible bargains. Take the time to browse each store, even if you don’t think you’ll find anything you want to purchase. Tokyo is a very unique city, so giving yourself the full experience is the best way to go!
HARAJUKU QUICK FACTS:
Address: 1-chome Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Access: Take the JR Tamanote Line and get off at JR Harajuku Station. Take the Takeshita Exit into Harajuku!
Shibuya Crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, with thousands of people crossing to the other side of the road every 2 minutes. For one of the best views of Shibuya Crossing, head up to the Starbucks – you can’t miss it! You will more than likely have to push your way through for a good spot, but if you’re patient, you’ll get great photos and footage of the Shibuya Crossing scramble!
SHIBUYA QUICK FACTS:
Access: Get off at Shibuya Station, leave via the Hachiko exit and you’ll be right amongst the action!
Best time to visit: It’s been said that Shibuya Crossing is best between 7pm and 8pm each night. This must be because there are far more people using the crossing, and therefore a much more amazing sight! We visited during the afternoon, but it was still impressive to watch!
Another cool place to visit while you’re in the Harajuku area, is the Meiji Shrine. It was under construction the day we visited, so we didn’t get a great sighting of it. But the scenic walk up to the shrine itself is well worth it.
Day 3: Akihabara + Shinjuku Batting Centre
Akihabara is the anime, video game and electronics hub of Tokyo. If you’re a fan of old school video game consoles, or the endless amount of anime that Japan is known for, you’ll have a blast exploring Akihabara. Even if video games and anime aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty to see in the bright and colourful district. There are also a ton of food options (even a Carl’s Jr!) so you won’t be limited for choice.
After exploring Akihabara, we headed back towards our hotel in Shinjuku. The night before, we made a list of things we wanted to see and do in Tokyo for the rest of our stay. While researching, we came across the Shinjuku Batting Centre. I have absolutely no coordination when it comes to sport, so we decided to swing by (see what I did there?) the batting centre on our way back from Akihabara.
SHINJUKU BATTING CENTRE QUICK FACTS:
Address: 2-21-13 Kabukicho, Shinjuku 160-0021
Access: Take the east exit at Shinjuku Station
Cost: 300 yen (28 balls)
As long as you keep paying the 300 yen (there will be a machine inside the batting cage), you can stay for as long as you like. Just make sure to rotate turns, so the people waiting behind you don’t miss out!
Day 4: Rest, Relaxation and Epic Free Views!
Russell and I stayed in Shinjuku for entire 12 day duration of our stay in Tokyo, which put us centrally located to a lot of the best things to do in the city. Directly across the road from our hotel, on the other side of Shinjuku Chuo Park, is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. There are two towers (Northern and Southern), and both have FREE observatories at the 202 metre mark! Each tower reaches a total height of 243 metres, so you’re extremely close to the top!
If you visit on a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of famous Tokyo attractions like Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Dome and Tokyo Skytree. Each observatory has a cafe and souvenir shop, plus restrooms and seats if the amazing panoramic views are tiring you out. Did you sense my sarcasm there?
If you choose to head up to the observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for sunset, be prepared to wait in line for quite a while. The lines can get extremely long, which isn’t surprising since you’re getting an incredible free view of the busiest city in the world! We went up twice – once during the day and again once it had gotten dark on our last night in Japan!
TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING QUICK FACTS:
Address: 2 Chome-8-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo 163-8001
Access: Take the east exit out of Shinjuku Station. OR the Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line is located in the basement of the building! How convenient.
Cost: 100% free! (unless of course, you decide to buy some snacks or souvenirs once you’re at the top. Just a heads up, it’s WAY overpriced!)
Note: Before entering the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, you’ll be required to have a bag check. Make sure you’re not taking anything dodgy up to the top, and you’ll breeze through!
The rest of our 4th day in Tokyo was pretty relaxing. We wandered around the area near our hotel, had some lunch, restocked our snacks and alcohol supply and headed back to the hotel. Remember, it’s a good idea to have some ‘rest days’ while traveling. Especially if you’ve crammed in a lot, into a short amount of time!
Day 5: Tokyo Mega Pokemon Centre + Shopping
Like most of the world, I hopped on the Pokemon Go bandwagon when it was a huge craze. Also like most of the world, I stopped playing after a month or so. Russell has been a lifelong Pokemon fan, so obviously the biggest Pokemon Centre in Japan had to be on our itinerary.
The Mega Pokemon Centre is located in Sunshine City shopping mall, where you’ll find a ton of cool things to do even if you’re not a Pokemon fan. No matter which Pokemon is your favourite, or what type of souvenir you hope to return home with, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll be honest – I don’t know much about the Pokemon world. All I do know is that Squirtle is my favourite, and Pikachu is yellow. But even I was impressed by the sheer size and awesomeness of the place.
You’ll find an endless amount of cool stuff to buy: badges, Pokemon cards, backpacks, notebooks, stationery, clothes, socks, books, plastic and cuddly Pokeballs, stuffed Pokemon toys, food and much more. I recommend setting aside at least a couple of hours to explore the Mega Pokemon Centre, especially if you’re a die hard fan. You’ll need as much time (and money) as possible!
MEGA POKEMON CENTRE QUICK FACTS:
Address: 3-1-2 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-6002 (Sunshine City shopping mall)
Access: Take the east exit out of Ikebukuro Station. From there, it’s roughly a 10 minute walk!
Opening Hours: 10am – 8pm
More Information: Mega Pokemon Centre website
After spending a decent amount of time doing laps around the Mega Pokemon Centre, we explored the rest of Sunshine City shopping mall. Sadly, we were running fairly low on money, so we weren’t able to shop up a storm. But it was still fun walking around and seeing some familiar and not so familiar stores!
Day 6 and 7: Tokyo DisneySea + Tokyo Disneyland
While in Shibuya, Russell and I bought our 2 day Tokyo Disney Park tickets at the Disney Store. I’ve written an entire post about both of the Disney parks in Tokyo, because I had far too much to say! Click here to read all about our amazing experience at Tokyo’s Disneyland and DisneySea. I’ve included a ton of super helpful tips on everything from food, ticket prices, fast passes, wait times and much more.
Day 8: Odaiba
Odaiba is a popular entertainment and shopping district in Tokyo. It’s located on the man made island in Tokyo Bay, which is pretty cool if you ask me. There’s a surprising amount of stuff to see and do in Odaiba, it just depends on what you’re into!
We originally planned our Odaiba visit to see the giant Gundam robot outside of the DiverPlaza Tokyo Plaza shopping mall. But because we have such wonderful luck, it was taken down just before we arrived in Tokyo, to be replaced later in 2017. This was truly devastating, because I was excited to take a selfie with the giant robot I didn’t know anything about. Oh well. Next time!
There’s also a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty, plus a ton of shopping malls with various stores and restaurants. Not to mention, the 5th floor of the AquaCity mall, has a ramen food court. Yeah, that’s a thing. Our broke asses couldn’t afford to eat there. But still, that’s pretty darn cool.
Tip: Hit up the Italian chain restaurant, Saizeriya for a quick bite to eat. There is a huge variety of super, duper cheap food, and 200 yen glasses of wine (which I took full advantage of). Unlimited drink refills and a double mozzarella pizza for under 5 bucks is also another reason to eat at Saizeriya. We ended up eating at various Saizeriya locations all over Japan, once we discovered how delicious and cheap it was!
Day 9: Tokyo Giants Baseball Game, Golden Gai + Kabuchiko
As soon as we discovered there was a Tokyo Giants home game scheduled during our stay in Tokyo, getting tickets was a priority. You can purchase tickets to sporting games online or at some convenience stores, but we decided to take the train to Tokyo Dome itself! Right next to Tokyo Dome is Tokyo Dome City, which is an awesome theme park, in the heart of Tokyo. So if you’re keen to hit up a baseball game while in Tokyo, I recommend buying your tickets from Tokyo Dome a few days beforehand.
In true Rhiannon fashion, I decided I wanted to get drunk before heading to the game. So after I smashed out half a bottle of wine in under 10 minutes, and Russell had a glass of Suntory Whisky, we headed to the train station. Let me just tell you: drunkenly catching a train in the busiest city in Japan, is quite an experience. Not that I encourage excessive consumption of alcohol, but it did make the experience a lot more fun!
The Tokyo Giants baseball game was a lot of fun. The atmosphere at a Japanese baseball game is something I’ve never experienced before. The fans of the away team get extremely into it, and almost every single one of them stand up and sing, dance and even jump up and down in support of their team. It’s very cool to watch!
If you decide not to eat beforehand, you may be a bit disappointed in the selection of food. You can, however, purchase a Bento box to enjoy while you watch the game. Prices aren’t great, but that’s to be expected. I suggest bringing your own snacks and bottle of water. We didn’t think to do this, and ended up spending 400 yen EACH on two airplane sized bottles of water.
TOKYO DOME QUICK FACTS:
Address: 1 Chome-3-61 Koraku, Bunkyo, Tokyo 112-0004
Access: Suidobashi Station on the JR Chuo Line (use your Japan Rail Pass if you have one!)
Japan’s baseball season: March to October
After the baseball we headed back to the hotel, drank some more alcohol and ate some food. Then we headed out to experience Shinjuku’s night life!
The Robot Restaurant in Kabuchiko was on our list of things to do. However, due to the flashing, colourful, robot experience costing a devastating $80, we settled for a photo of the sign outside instead. But if you aren’t broke and want to be part of something that will literally blow your mind, definitely budget better than us, and do the Robot Restaurant.
Golden Gai is Shinjuku’s well known street of super tiny bars. To be honest though, they look more like household kitchens. Most of the bars cost 1,000 yen to even walk through the door, not to mention the 500 yen or higher drink prices. So naturally, we didn’t actually go into any of the bars.The street itself was fairly disappointing, especially after all the rave reviews we read about the place. But I guess if you’ve got some money to blow, the experience itself would be pretty cool. Instead, we bought cheap booze from convenience stores and wandered the streets of Shinjuku’s Red Light District.
Day 10 and 11: Explore Shinjuku
It was bound to happen – horrid weather. Our last few days in Japan was spent with almost 48 hours of non stop rain. Of course this was highly inconvenient a bit disappointing, but we didn’t want to waste the rest of our time in Japan. So despite the constant rain, we headed out to explore more of Shinjuku!
If you’re at the end of your time in Tokyo, I suggest simply exploring. Whether that’s shopping, wandering the streets or visiting some shrines, take a day to relax and appreciate the wonder that Tokyo has to offer. There’s no denying that Tokyo is the busiest city in the world, but it doesn’t have to feel like that the whole time!
Day 12: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden + Packing
This was our last day in Japan. It was a nice sunny day, so we took advantage of that and walked to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. For 200 yen, you get entry and access to the beautiful and relaxing park. There’s a ton of places to have a picnic with family, or simply walk the paths and enjoy the serenity.
We visited at the beginning of spring, so Cherry Blossoms were blooming and petals were starting to fall. Every man and his dog was snapping away on their cameras. It’s a cool sight, seeing so many people standing less than a centimetre from a single blossom petal, taking photos from dozens of different angles. But a couple photos while walking through the crowd was good enough for me! (I did take the opportunity for a close up when I came across an unpopular blossom tree, though).
So there you have it. A suggested itinerary for the biggest, busiest and craziest city in the world – Tokyo, Japan! Like I said, you’ll need a lot more than 12 days. 12 years isn’t enough to explore the entire city. But this is a good start! Whatever you do, definitely don’t skip the Disney Parks!
Have you been to Tokyo before? What was your favourite part? Tell me in the comments below!
I’m also happy to answer as many questions that you have, so if I’ve missed anything, ask me below!
Like this post? Pin it for later!