The biggest city in the world has enough sights and sounds to fill a lifetime, but if you’re only here for a day, you can still hit the best bits!
If you’re on a long layover or Tokyo is just a small part of your travel plans, it can be daunting to think about what to prioritize in the great metropolis. No one is saying it’s possible to see it all, but you can definitely hit up the top spots if you plan ahead, and luckily that’s exactly what we’ve done! Depending on when you arrive, you can jump into the schedule wherever you like and can switch it around too, although some places are best at a certain time of day. We’ve kept in mind the top activities for Tokyo visitors, added some alternatives and worked out the best route so you waste minimal times on trains—all with the best cheapo options to save you some yen. So if you’re ready, hop on our fantastically fictitious sightseeing bus, don our top-of-the-range imaginary headphones and enjoy the 24-hour Tokyo tour of a lifetime.
P.s. There’s a mini-version at the bottom, if you don’t want to read it all.
3am – Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction
If you’re an early bird, just landed or are just a really dedicated sightseer, the early-morning Tuna Auction at Tsukiji is a must-see, especially since the market’s future is still undecided. There are two auctions, one starts at 5:25am and one at 5:50am, both lasting just 20 minutes. The earlier you arrive, however, the better your chances of getting in: during peak season, this can be as early as 1am. There are limitations to the number of guests, so entry is not guaranteed, but with our guide here, you stand a good chance of getting in!
5am – Tsukiji inner and outer market for an early breakfast
If you couldn’t make 3am or you did and you’re still alive, then a wander around the market is a great way to wake up in the morning (if you like the smell of fish that is). The outer market has small shops and chains serving fresh fish, and the inner market is a chaotic mix of wholesalers and stalls. You may be told this area is closed to tourists before 9am, but if purchasing you can enter—but be careful, it’s a very busy functioning market. This is your opportunity to try some of the freshest and best-quality sushi in the world, so take your pick from the restaurants, all of which will be open nice and early. We recommend Katsura!
[6:30am – Train to Ryogoku – 1 or 2 changes, ¥280 – ¥310 – 20 minutes]
7am – Ryogoku to watch sumo practice in the stables
Practices generally start from 6:30am until 10pm, but to avoid disappointment it is best to call ahead the day before, details are here. You can view from the windows or book a tour to go in. If you would like to visit the museum which opens at 10am, this is a great chance to get some much-needed coffee and breakfast! The Edo Tokyo Museum is also nearby! Otherwise:
[8am -Train to Asakusa – 1 change, ¥280/ ¥310 – 9 /16 minutes]
8:30am – Explore Sensoji without the crowds
This is the perfect chance to see the most-visited spot in Tokyo without the busloads of tourists, although you still won’t be completely alone! Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and the most recognizable landmark by far, with the Kanimarimon gate looming at the entrance, as well as on every guidebook for miles.
9:30am – Try a Japanese breakfast or bento
If you’re peckish, take a break and enjoy some traditional Japanese food. You could try stand-up soba at Soba Monju which is open from 6:30am on weekdays and 7am on weekends and holidays. Alternatively you could pick up a bento box from Delica PakuPaku—where prices start at 250 yen for a set box, and cheaper for individual pieces. If you pick this up as you leave the station you can enjoy it later too. If you’re keen to rest your legs, try Tomorrow—an old-style coffee shop with a simple but cheap breakfast menu, open from 6:30am. Of course there’s always Denny’s for the more Western breakfast too!
Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!
Soba Monju – Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa 1-1-12, by exit 6 of Asakusa Station (Ginza Line)
Delica PakuPaku – Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa, 1-43-8
Tomorrow Cafe – Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa, 1-29-3, 2F
10am – Explore the shops of Nakamise-dori
The decorated shutters will open at 10 to offer a huge variety of souvenirs, samples, snacks and sweets! This is a great place for any gifts you may need and is also the perfect place to try out some local specialties, with plenty of sweet treats to try out too.
[10:30am – Walk to Kappabashi Street – 10 minutes]
10:45am – Kappabashi Street
A short walk from Sensoji, this is the home of the plastic food models that you’ll see all over Japan. Looking so good you could eat them, this is a great place for souvenirs and gifts and is a more unusual stop-off in the city! We have a handy guide to the best buys on the street here. You can also get high-quality kitchen utensils and is a great location if you wanted to get a Japanese knife on your travels. Shops are closed Sundays and open generally between 9am-5pm.
11:30am – Ueno or Akihabara
Here, you can choose from two options, either Ueno or Akihabara. If you just can’t pick, you could head off early from Sensoji instead of waiting for the shops of Nakamise-dori to open—giving you some more time. Kappabashi shops open at 9am, if you want to head there sooner.
[11:15am – Walk to Ueno – 20 minutes]
[Walk to Iriya Station (10 mins), train to Akihabara – direct – ¥170 – 5 minutes]
Ueno: History and pandas
Ueno certainly has plenty to choose from, and some of it may already be on your hit-list. If you wanted to see a panda, there’s one in Ueno Zoo, and if you’re keen on history, the Tokyo National Museum is here too, not to mention Ameya-Yokocho—a great market under the tracks to stroll around and explore.
Akihabara: Geek central
If you’re into the geeky side of Japan, this is a must-visit spot, with more tech/gadget/anime and manga shops than you can shake a stick at, as well as plenty of free things to do. If you are keen to try a maid cafe this is the best spot, same for arcade games and themed cafes! On Sundays the main area is pedestrianized.
[1pm – Train to Tokyo Station – ¥140 or ¥160 – 4 or 5 minutes from Akihabara or Ueno]
1:10pm – Tokyo Station for the Imperial Palace and lunch
Although you cannot visit the actual palace unless it’s December 23rd or January 2nd, you can admire it from a short distance and explore the East Gardens. This makes for a lovely walk if the weather suits, and can give you a chance to enjoy a peaceful break if you feel you’ve been rushing a bit! For lunch, why not try Tokyo Ramen Street—with 8 cherry-picked restaurants to choose from including vegan options, it’s a great way to try some of the best ramen from across Japan without the traveling. Queues can be long around lunch time, so if you take a stroll first and work up an appetite they may be shorter! You can also explore the station which has plenty to do from themed streets to galleries.
[2:30pm – Train to Harajuku – Direct – ¥200 – 22 minutes]
3pm – Harajuku and Meiji Jingu: Polar opposites
Now this is a double-whammy when it comes to sightseeing (who says we aren’t time efficient?). On one side of the station is the stunning, peaceful Meiji Jingu—a combination of Western knowledge and Japanese spirit with beautiful gardens and cool cedar forests. On the other is the eccentric and glaringly glamorous Harajuku: packed with busy shops on Takeshita-dori and backstreet fashion boutiques nearby, you’ll need time to browse. Try a famous crepe and any of the strange snacks available, from rainbow candy floss to freshly baked Calbee chips! There’s also a decently sized Daiso on the main street—a great chance for some 100-yen bargains. Meiji Jingu closes at sunset, so check times out if you’re hitting the shops first.
[5:30pm – Train to Shibuya: Direct – ¥140 – 3 minutes]
5:40pm – Shibuya Crossing, Hachiko and dinner
As soon as you step out of the station you’ll be greeted with one of the most famous sights in Tokyo: the Shibuya Crossing. We’ve saved this one for now on purpose—at the start of rush hour and with evening approaching, the busy crowds and bright lights make this the most impressive time to see (and experience) it. Take your selfies and if you want to get the best shots, you can try these spots nearby. Just next to it is Hachiko, the statue of a loyal dog now a busy meeting place—one of the many free things to see and do in Shibuya.
For dinner, Shibuya is your oyster, especially when it’s sushi. For the classic pick-what you-like-from-the-conveyor-belt option head for Ganso Sushi. For the fresh-orders-delivered-by-conveyor-belt option head to Genki Sushi over the crossing, Katsu Midori or Uobei. Or check out Sushizanmai if you have a fear of conveyor belts completely. Alternatively you can try the Kansai favorite okonomiyaki at Suzume no Oyado, nabe (hot pot) at Tajimaya or explore Niku Yokocho—the meat-skewer-filled back-alley bar strip a few minutes from Hachiko’s unsuspecting gaze.
[7:40pm – Train to Shinjuku – direct – ¥160 – 5 minutes ]
7:50pm – Shinjuku: Drinks in Golden Gai and Kabukicho
After a long day, a drink (or five) may be needed, and Shinjuku is one of the best places in Tokyo, with everything from cozy 5-seater bars to the red-light district to robots. Depending on what you fancy, you can pick your area or glide through them all, stopping off here and there, as all are fun to explore. There’s Golden Gai—narrow alleys filled with tiny bars, each with a distinct style and apparently the inspiration for Blade Runner. For the sketchy side of Tokyo try Kabukicho – it has some risks though so keep your wits about you! The Robot Restaurant is here, and although pricey, there are ways to save and it’s definitely a memorable experience. Shinjuku Ni-chome is home to hundreds of gay bars as well as clubs and cafes, and is only a short walk from Kabukicho and Golden Gai.
10pm – Sing or soak?
By this point, you can go one of two ways: hit a second wind or head back for some relaxation, so take your pick from two very Japanese evening activities:
Sing your heart out at karaoke
It’s not a night out in Tokyo unless you’ve done some heartfelt screeching in a dark booth to familiar songs with unfamiliar videos, aka the national number #1 drunken pastime: karaoke. There are plenty of places to go, as you might suspect—check out our lists here for the cheaper options. Also if you’re worried about song selection, don’t be. There are plenty of English songs old and new, with all the major chains updating regularly—so whether it’s a bit of Bieber you’re after or some old-school rock, you’ll be fine. Depending on your package you will have access to a soft drinks bar or an all-you-can-drink deal, which is the main decider on the price per hour, so keep that in mind!
Soak in an onsen
If a hot soak is more your idea of relaxing, then you could head to a local onsen or sento to relax. Some hotels and hostels have them, but there are plenty you can visit as a guest too. Here’s a guide for some good options in Tokyo (including some tattoo-friendly ones), and a guide on what to do once you’re there! For a full evening, you can head to Oedo Onsen Monogatari—an Edo-themed onsen with yukata, a festival hall and mixed outdoor foot baths. Luckily, this place is open overnight, so you could have a couple of drinks and then head over—but be careful, dehydration is a serious issue in an onsen, and anyone even slightly drunk will not be allowed in.
11pm – Sleep, clubs or a final song?
Considering most trains in Tokyo stop at around midnight—this is the time to start heading to your home for the night or deciding where to go next. You can explore Shinjuku, grab some late-night ramen or gyoza if you’re peckish, or head to Omoide Yokocho for some meat-on-a-stick and plenty of beer.
If you’re in need of rest and are reading this in advance—why not make your sleep part of the experience with one of the more unusual hostels in Tokyo? If you’ve not booked anywhere, you can try a love hotel, a manga cafe or a capsule hotel—all of which offer a unique slice of Tokyo life!
If you’re powering through or jetlag is an unshakeable companion, there’s always the clubs! Whether you want to stick to Shibuya with Womb, Trump Room and Club Asia to choose from or head out to the superclub that is AgeHa, or risk it in Roppongi—you’ll have enough to do to see you through the night!
And there we have it—you can dance/nap your way to 3am in time for the fish market and make it full circle. Whatever options you choose, you’ll be living Tokyo-style for 24 hours, so you can’t go wrong!
TL;DR – 24 Hours in Tokyo:
3am – Tsukiji Auction (2 hours)
5am – 6:30am – Tsukiji Wholesale Market and fish breakfast (1.5 hours)
7am – 8am – Sumo stables in Ryogoku (1.5 hours)
8:30am – 10am – Sensoji and breakfast (1.5 hours)
10am – 10:35am – Nakamise-dori (35 mins)
10:45am – 11:15am – Kappabashi Kitchen Street (35 mins)
11:30am – 1pm – Ueno or Akihabara (1.5 hours)
1:10pm – 2:40pm – Tokyo Station ramen and Imperial Palace (1.5 hours)
3pm – 5:30pm – Harajuku and Meiji Jingu (2.5 hours)
5:40pm – 7:40pm – Shibuya and dnner (2 hours)
7:50pm – 10pm – Shinjuku, Golden Gai and Kabukicho (2 hours)
10pm – 11pm – Karaoke or onsen (1 hour+)
11pm – 3am – Last trains/hotels/clubs
Pro tip: Unless you’re extremely fleet of foot, it’s best to navigate Tokyo by train or by bus. If you want to combine transport with sightseeing, a 24-hour ticket for the Hop on, Hop Off Tokyo Sky Bus is a good way to maximize your experience.
Our guide to prepay SIM cards, wifi routers, cafe wifi and other places to quickly find wifi whilst visiting Japan.