Winter may not be everyone’s favorite season, but Tokyo has so much to offer it would be a shame to miss out! With amazing food, great shows and no excuses for missing the onsen, ski slopes and stunning illuminations—three days in Tokyo’s winter wonderland will have you forgetting summer ever existed! We’ve created an easy Tokyo winter itinerary so you can make the most of what makes this city special in the coldest season.
Day 1 – Hearty meals and winter walks
Assuming you have a list of to-dos in Tokyo as is, we’ll start this day with an early lunch, so if you’re just arriving, having a lie-in or getting some shopping done, a nice 11am start won’t do anyone any harm.
There’s no better way to warm up than by settling down to cook your own food on a griddle—warming the hands and soul as well as your lunch. Okonomiyaki is a hearty dish that will keep you full for your afternoon stroll and is very customizable! Known as Japan’s pizza it is a pancake-like affair with cabbage and a myriad of extras to choose from; from bacon to mochi (glutinous rice cake) to cheese, and is covered in a sweet, dark sauce and mayo. Luckily you don’t have to look far, as the Osaka-famous Kiji has a restaurant right near Tokyo Station.
An afternoon stroll at the Imperial Palace
If you happen to be in Tokyo on the 23rd of December or the 2nd of January, you will be able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial family who make public appearances on these days. Otherwise you can explore the East Gardens which are the site of the Edo castle’s inner and outer defense circles. There is a lovely area with the Ninomaru Japanese Garden and it’s a lovely walk on a bright day. On Sundays, there is free bike rental in the park which will help speed up your tour if it’s chilly!
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Next, you can head to the National Museum of Modern Art to warm up and enjoy some of the greatest art Tokyo has to offer. The works include foreign and Japanese artists including Yayoi Kasuma and Ai-mitsu, with great featured exhibitions. Entry to the gallery is free on the first Sunday of the month, in case your timings coincide!
Early dinner: Ramen Alley or chazuke
Depending on how hungry you are, ramen is always a solid shout in Japan, and definitely warms you up from the inside out, as well as being cheap and speedy! (If you aren’t quite ready for dinner though, you can have some later at the final stop of the day!) Unlike many countries, train stations are the best places to find great food in Japan, and Tokyo Station is no exception. With its own Tokyo Ramen Street at the Yaesu Underground exit, you can choose from eight of the best ramen shops in Tokyo or head past the ticket barriers for a bowl of vegan ramen at T’s Tantan. Alternatively, you can walk around the corner from the station and try a little-known dish called Chazuke—a rice dish you pour dashi over and add toppings, this is a winter-warmer worth a try, and isn’t too heavy either.
Catch the lights and head to an onsen
Finally, as it gets dark and the temperatures drop, nothing is more appealing than sinking into a hot bath, surrounded by naked strangers—well, sort of. If you haven’t tried an onsen, this is the perfect time—and you can catch a bus to one of the biggest in the city from outside Tokyo Station. First though, enjoy a stroll to see the illuminations that surround the station, as they are really pretty. Then, you can catch the bus 100 meters from the Yaesu Central Exit, outside the 7-11 to Oedo Onsen Monogatori. This onsen complex has a multitude of different baths and saunas to be enjoyed as well as ‘outdoor’ areas with Edo-style shops and restaurants to enjoy. Wearing the yukata (light kimono) provided, you can enjoy strolling through Edo Japan, without braving the cold. When you’re all soaked out, you can either head home or stay—there are lounges to sleep in and you don’t have to leave until 9am.
Day 2 – Escape the city
While there’s certainly enough to see in Tokyo, sometimes some fresh air is needed to blow away the cobwebs and make you forget about those over-heated train carriages and busy streets. There are plenty of great trips out of Tokyo, but two suit this season perfectly:
Hitting the slopes
Nothing says winter like hurtling down a mountainside with sticks strapped to your feet—and Tokyo has plenty of resorts to choose from, all within a couple of hours of travel, if not less. With an early start you can be up on the slopes for a full day of action and still make it home with time to soak your weary muscles in a nearby sento or onsen (luckily they close quite late!) before a well-earned slumber.
Only 90 minutes from Tokyo, Gala Yuzawa has it’s own bullet train station, making travel super easy and meaning less time traveling, more time skiing. They have a good range of slopes, rental options and a reasonable all-inclusive day ticket, which covers trains, gondolas, ski lifts and a locker pass!
For families, Snowtown Yeti has lots of child-friendly perks like a snow-stadium with tubing and sledding, as well as slopes and a snowboarding park – all with views of Fuji in the background!
Soaking in Hakone
If skiing isn’t your thing, fear not—one alternative is a relaxing day in Hakone where you can explore the beautiful scenery and soak away the stresses in one of the many onsen dotted around the town. There are plenty of deals for reaching Hakone, and with some including hotels you can even stay overnight, but a day trip is perfectly manageable too.
There’s plenty to explore, with a cable car carrying you above steaming landscapes to try the famous onsen eggs and enjoy the stunning views. There’s also a pirate ship which crosses Lake Ashi—home to floating torii gates and amazing views of mount Fuji. Onsen are, however, the main attraction and after some exploring, there are plenty to choose from. If you would like to attend a more relaxed and novelty onsen—Yunessun has baths including green tea and red wine, and is a mixed onsen requiring bathing suits. Alternatively you can find plenty of traditional onsen and Tenzan accepts tattoos, so that’s a great option for anyone sporting some ink!
Day 3 – Shops, soups and singing (with nabe in between!)
Morning shopping adventures in Harajuku
Explore the busy streets of Harajuku and Omotesando for the morning, where you can pop into shops to avoid getting too cold and stock up on cute gloves and gifts if needed! There are so many lovely and quirky cafes hidden around corners and in alleyways, it’s a great place to explore when in need of a warming treat. The nearby Meiji Shrine is a great way to escape the crowds and is a breath of fresh air too!
Lunch: Soup Curry at Shanti
Soup curry is exactly what it says on the tin, but a lot better than you might expect. A warming, slightly spicy soup with fresh veg and rice on the side, it is perfect in winter since it originated from Hokkaido (and they know cold!). Shanti has a few branches, with one in Harajuku handily! There are plenty of different options including the level of spiciness, which comes with brilliant descriptions such as: “make no mistake, this is bad for your body”—so at least they’re honest.
Afternoon: Catch some cheapo Kabuki in Ginza
This is a great chance to escape the cold while enjoying some top-quality Japanese Kabuki theater. Full show prices have skyrocketed, but if you are willing to queue you can get tickets for each act for under 2,000 yen. Now queuing in the cold isn’t much fun, but oftentimes it means lines are shorter, and a nice coffee never hurt anyone. As a single act can last up to two hours, it’s a great way to see if you are a Kabukui fan, without paying the full show price, and with an English-language tablet to help you along, you can get a good understanding of what’s going on! Our guide explains how to find the shows and times, and depending on which you want to see, the day’s schedule may take some mixing up!)
The Caretta Shiodome is considered one of the best illuminations in Tokyo, and even has light and music displays in the evening. Its popularity means it has a long season: running from November 17th right up to Valentine’s Day (of course). The lights are a 15 minutes walk from the Kabukiza in Ginza, or you can hop on a train (but that actually takes longer with changes).
Dinner: Nabe time!
Nabe is the all-time best Japanese cure for winter nights: a mix of vegetables and meat all cooked in a communal hotpot, it’s great for groups as well as couples. There are plenty of places to try it, but there are a few chains that are reliably good quality and wallet-friendly! We have a handy guide and you can choose from the courses to find the best balance for you. Assuming the schedule is working out, we suggest you head to the Nabe-zo in Shibuya if you would like to see the famous crossing, Shinjuku if you would like to explore Golden-gai or Shimokitazawa if you want a quieter evening with quaint bars.
Evening: Round it off with karaoke!
While the three above-mentioned places all have a decidedly different style, they also have one thing in common: karaoke! After your dinner and your (possible) exploration of the bars nearby, it wouldn’t be Tokyo if you didn’t head to a booth, blare out some music and sing til your lungs hurt. While the whiskey-coat can get you so far, wandering the streets after last train in winter is a fool’s game, so book yourself in for some yodeling instead. There are countless karaoke bars, but some of the cheapo-friendly ones include Uta Hiroba Karaoke no Tetsujin and Karaoke-kan, all of which have multiple branches.
Bonus trips: festivals!
Although summer is traditionally the time for festivals in Japan, winter certainly has plenty—ranging from country-wide celebrations like Hatsumode and Setsubun (above), to small local fire festivals and traditional good luck rituals! Be sure to check our events page to find the best events during your stay!
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