No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the capital and largest city in the country – Tokyo. It’s colorful, it’s welcoming, and it consistently ranks #1 as the safest city in the world. Tokyo is a global economic, cultural, and social powerhouse and while three days may not seem like enough time to cover such a place, you can do a lot if you know where to go.
It can be difficult to go-go-go every day, especially on a whirlwind trip, so feel free to edit whatever doesn’t appeal to you. Rest assured, you’ll have plenty to do on your next 3-day trip, and the next trip after that, since the city is full of hidden gems and you’ll want to come back again and again.
Morning/Afternoon – Hit up Harajuku
There’s no place in the world quite like Harajuku and the entire neighborhood is a great induction into Japanese culture. Takeshita Street is the heart of Harajuku — an eclectic alley that feels akin to an anime comic book. There’s street vendors selling kawaii foods (Japan’s word for their culture of cuteness) such as animal-shaped ice-cream cones, rainbow spaghetti, and giant, sherbert-colored cotton candy. The Monster Cafe is famous for kawaii food and is a trippy and hilarious experience.
Shopping is the big draw here, and you can find vintage fashion, eclectic tees, and big-name brands. Be sure to hit up the ¥100 shop Daiso, (Japan’s version of the dollar store), which spans three floors and is the cheapest place to buy candy and souvenirs. Harajuku is definitely the most Instagrammable spot in Tokyo, and easy to get to with the public transit system.
Before you leave, hit up the dive restaurant Harajuku Gyozaro. It’s cheap, greasy, and delicious!
Evening – Make Your Way to Shinjuku
Often called the Times Square of Tokyo, Shinjuku is an amazing place just to sit and people-watch, but has a lot to offer visitors including shopping, food, and big screens. Definitely visit at night, where the place comes alive with lights and people. Fast fashion abounds here with American and Japanese brands alike along with fun street performers and Japanese favorites like Mr. Donut. If you can snag a reservation, visit the Hyatt Regency’s Teppanyaki Grill for dinner and drinks. Teppanyaki is different in Japan than in the states and is worth seeing for yourself. The manager Asako Izumida attributes the changes to cultural differences. “Japanese people value aesthetics of simplicity: Japanese people tend to seek the richness and beauty in simplicity and imperfection.”
Morning – Return to Shinjuku
You thought you saw Shinjuku at night, but it’s worth a second look during the day. For a more tranquil experience, visit Shinjuku Gyoen, a gorgeous (and massive!) park in the center of the district with three main gardens including French, English, and Japanese landscapes. Give yourself at least three hours to explore the park, and if you’re there during cherry blossom season (from late March to early April) you’ll get the very best views here.
Afternoon – Sensoji Temple
Depending on where you’re staying, you may opt to visit the Sensoji Temple in the morning and Shinjuku Gyoen in the afternoon, as they’re about a 40-minute train ride apart. Either way, Sensoji is worth a visit. If you’re visiting other cities in Japan (such as Kyoto) you’ll have seen your fair share of temples. But this Buddhist temple is worth a visit. The temple’s main hall and five storied pagoda are beautiful, and the Asakusa shrine is also interesting to see. The Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) is the outer of two large entrances and is a great place for pictures. The area outside the temple has a huge shopping street where you can buy souvenirs and also great street food. Don’t leave without trying the mochi and soft-serve melon ice cream. Consider renting electric street bikes rather than taking public transportation if possible. Ask your hotel if they have their own electric bikes, and if they don’t they’ll be more than happy to help you purchase an electric bike card. The card will allow you to rent the red electric street bikes throughout the city (which makes getting up Tokyo’s hills much easier!).
Evening – Shibuya Crossing
If there’s one iconic sight that’s worth the price of airline tickets to Tokyo, it’s what many claim to be the world’s busiest intersection — Shibuya Crossing. Visit at night if you can because the city lights brighten the space and it is even busier than the day time. If you haven’t yet been to Ichiran for the “best ramen in the world”, there’s a restaurant located near Shibuya Crossing. Yes, the ramen is amazing but the experience ordering and receiving your food is even better. Shibuya is famous for some of the best nightlife in the city. Hit up one of their famous bars like Goodbeer Faucets if you’ve been missing your beer while abroad.
Morning – Daikanyama
This district is regularly referred to as “the Brooklyn of Tokyo.” It’s cool, it’s hip, it doesn’t feel as touristy as other districts, and it’s nice for people who want a change from Japanese food and want to try something different. Definitely visit the Tsutaya T-Site Bookstore. With gorgeous architecture and a cool ambiance, it feels a little like Powell’s Books in a Japanese setting. There are amazing souvenirs to be had, with an eclectic mix of cards, stationary, fabric, and books, of course. You won’t find fast fashion shops in Daikanyama, but you will find independent brands mixed with high-end shops. Get a healthy breakfast at Chanoma, partly because you get to eat on a bed, and because they have a fresh, healthy menu.
Afternoon – Ginza
Tokyo’s premier shopping district is the place to go to experience the glamorous, high-society side of Tokyo. With some of the most expensive real-estate in the world, Ginza is infamous for its $15 cups of coffee and $80 melons. Even if you’re on a budget, don’t let the reputation scare you away from visiting though! There’s so much fun to be had window shopping here in places like the Tokyu Plaza, Ginza Six, and the Ginza Wako building. Grab some yakitori and watch the fashionistas and Japanese “influencers” schlep their designer bags around the district.
Evening – Tokyo DisneySea
End your trip with a bang (literally, with fireworks!) and visit Tokyo DisneySea before you go. This location is Disneyland’s sister park and is such a good time. The rides are very Japanese, the design of the park is beautiful (almost like an Italian city), and they have fantastic theme park food. Their popcorn is especially famous with flavors like cappuccino and curry. There’s no need to spend all day here, unless you’re going with children. 4-5 hours is plenty of time, and it’s usually less crowded in the evening. Just be sure to schedule fast passes in advance for their most popular rides (“Journey to the Center of the Earth” is a fan favorite). Keep in mind that tickets are much cheaper than they are in the United States, so you may be able to justify stopping by just for the evening.
There’s a lot to see and do and eat in Tokyo. The city is massive and sleek and truly one of the coolest places you will ever go. Three days is not much time, but plenty of time to see the city if you have a plan and an empty belly.