Our 1-day Tokyo, Japan itinerary provides an efficient step-by-step touring plan for visiting the best of the city’s best districts, museums, parks, and other things to do. It’s a jam-packed day that covering tons of Tokyo’s highlights, all in a time-saving manner.
However, with that bold claim made, we will caution you against spending only a single day in Tokyo. This is a sprawling megacity, and you could spend a full day in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Harajuku, and Akihabara. Not a collective day–a day in each of them.
While we don’t think you need as much time in Tokyo as you do in Kyoto (in fairness, we’re biased towards the latter), a day is simply not enough time. You’ll have a rushed experience that does Tokyo injustice. If you can, add a second day to the city, and do our 2-Day Tokyo, Japan Highlights Itinerary to see more of this mesmerizing city…
With only one day in Tokyo come some tough choices since you can’t possibly see it all, and can barely scratch the surface. Accordingly, we’re cutting everything on the outskirts of Tokyo, including Odaiba. We’re eliminating Ueno Park, which is Tokyo’s most popular (and best) museum district.
There are also zero temples & shrines that you’ll normally see listed as the highlights of Tokyo. Most notably, this means no Meiji Shrine or Sensoji Temple. For that matter, we’re skipping all of Asakusa. This is because Tokyo’s temples and shrines don’t hold a candle to those in Kyoto or elsewhere in Japan, and we’re assuming that if you only have a day in Tokyo, it’s because you’re bouncing around Japan.
That may sound like a lot of ommissions, but this itinerary still starts you really early in the morning and helps you see a lot of Tokyo…
Tsukiji or Toyosu Market – You’ve probably heard that Tokyo has an iconic fish market complete with a daily tuna auction that is an absolute must-do. What you might not have heard is that this market is now two markets, with Tsukiji being the old option where a bunch of stalls are still located. Toyosu is the new market where there’s a marketplace of vendors, wholesale operation, and tuna auction, which opened in early 2019.
Toyosu Fish Market is housed in three modern, interconnected buildings. Two are for wholesale seafood and one for wholesale fruit and vegetables. There’s a lot to see, do, and eat at Toyosu Market, and it’s well-equipped to handle heavier crowds. Plus, the buildings are connected directly to Shijomae Station via an overhead roofed passage. If you’re up early, definitely go to Toyosu Market.
If you’re not an early riser but still want to get a flavor of the market, we’d recommend Tsukiji Market instead. It’s the gritter O.G., and while much of the wholesale components of the fish market have moved to Toyosu, the observation areas are more isolated from the action. Plus, it’s way easier to go from Tsukiji Market to our next destination–you just hop aboard the Hibiya Line at Tsukiji Station. Commuting from Toyosu Market is much more time-consuming and requires a transfer.
Akihabara – While the bright neon marquees of Akihabara are best experienced at night, that’s not so much an option with only a day in Tokyo. Famed for its toys, electronics, manga, anime, and video games, Akihabara is a geek’s paradise–with truly something for everyone.
Among the highlights are Yodobashi, Laox Main Store, Sofmap, Don Quijote, Super Potato, Mandarake, and Radio Kaikan. The last one is an iconic Akihabara landmarks, with dozens of smaller shops selling everything from electronics to anime, manga, models, and more. Spend some time wandering Akihabara and browsing some of these shops before taking the train or subway to Tokyo Station.
Imperial Palace – From Tokyo Station, it’s a short walk to the eastern gate of Tokyo Imperial Palace Park. You could spend an entire day here, as this sprawling urban park is home to gardens, the main palace, private residences of the Imperial Family, archive, and museums.
Much of the park is inaccessible to the public, and we’d recommend skipping most of it in favor of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace Park, including the Sannomaru Shozokan Museum, which is a serviceable alternative to the exceptional Edo-Tokyo Museum that isn’t included in this itinerary due to time constraints.
After spending a bit of time walking through Tokyo Imperial Palace Park, you can exit to the north and walk to Kudanshita Station where you’ll take the Hanzomon Line to Shibuya Station. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend as much time in Imperial Palace Park, leave the way you came, and take the Yamanote Line from Tokyo Station to Shibuya Station.
Shibuya – “Walk through a busy intersection” may not be on your radar as a must-do, but it will be once you experience Shibuya Crossing. The world’s busiest intersection, this is a quintessential Tokyo experience. When the lights turn red, the organized chaos of pedestrians flow into the street. With skyscrapers towering overhead, neon advertisements pulsating all around, lines of salarymen walking briskly like ants marching, and tourists looking on, this is a microcosm of Tokyo.
Shibuya itself is one of Tokyo’s busiest districts, with a surplus of restaurants and retail aimed at locals and tourists alike. Over a dozen major department store branches can be found around the area, most of which are convenient to Shibuya Station. Personally, I like Shibuya but don’t love it. Of Tokyo’s major districts, it seems (to me, at least) to have the least distinct personality. In any case, it’s a pleasant walk from Shibuya to your next stop.
Harajuku – The district of Tokyo famous for its street styles–kawaii, wamono, loligoth, futuristic cyberpunk–and subculture of youth rebellion to conformity, Harajuku has a reputation that precedes it. While the street scene is a shadow of its former self, you’ll still see the eclectic and elaborate outfits that define Harajuku.
After walking from Shibuya, we recommend walking down Omotesando, which is often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees, to window shop those posh retailers (well, and Kiddy Land) before strolling up towards Takeshita Dori, which is considered the heart of Harajuku.
Along the way, if you want a truly bizarre Harajuku experience, make a stop at Kawaii Monster Cafe for desserts (but probably not a full meal). For something quicker, grab a crepe from Angel’s Heart, Marion Crepes, or Santa Monica Crepes. Following that, you can either walk north through Yoyogi Park towards Shinjuku, or take the Yamanote Line from Harajuku Station to Yoyogi Station.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – Another sprawling green space amidst Tokyo’s concrete jungle, Shinjuku Gyoen is a great spot for cherry blossoms in spring or fall colors in autumn. Among the beautifully-themed gardens are plenty of tea houses and cafes where you can grab some matcha, and slow down while enjoying the scenery.
While there are numerous landscape gardens in Tokyo, the appeal of Shinjuku Gyoen is its size and exceptional interpretations of formal French and English gardens, plus the traditional Japanese gardens you’d expect. There are a number of wonderful gardens we recommend in Kyoto, but Shinjuku Gyoen is distinct from all of them, so there’s no redundancy.
Specialized Shinjuku – This area of Tokyo offers a ton to see and do. We usually just wander around Shinjuku, but we are also big fans of Tokyo’s many corporate or niche interest museums that can be found in and around Shinjuku.
If you have time to kill, consider the coffee, toy, paper, costumes, music sumo, beer, swords, transportation, cameras, and so on…museums in Tokyo. In this area, our favorites are the Fire Museum and Samurai Museum. If you want to find the right museum for you, simply Google “Tokyo Museum + [insert your interest].” You’re sure to find something!
Robot Restaurant – Follow up your afternoon in Shinjuku with an early seating at Robot Restaurant. This bizarre show is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Robot Restaurant is truly everything you’ve heard and so much more…well, except an actual restaurant.
We have multiple posts about Robot Restaurant, including our original (and regularly-updated) Robot Restaurant Review, so we’re not going to rehash all of the praises we’ve sang for it here. Suffice to say, we’ve done Robot Restaurant countless times and we still enjoy it. Yes, it’s kitschy and touristy, but it’s also a masterpiece of “Weird Japan.”
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – You’re probably going to read elsewhere that the Tokyo SkyTree is an essential must-do. While we don’t dislike the SkyTree, the problem with it is the commute from Shinjuku–it’s 45 minutes away with a transfer, and honestly, isn’t that much better than the free observation deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Moreover, its location in the heart of Shinjuku offers some really interesting views while you’re immersed in the heart of downtown Tokyo. From here, you’re in the midst of skyscrapers, rather than towering above the city on the outskirts, as is the case with the Tokyo SkyTree.
Dinner & Roppongi – Comprehensive dining recommendations are beyond the scope of this itinerary, but we do have a list of the Our Favorite Ramen in Tokyo. (Ramen is by far our favorite thing to eat in Japan!) On that list, you’ll find Fuunji Ramen, which is a short walk from the Tokyo Metro Gov’t Building.
After dinner, if you haven’t been hit too hard by a ramen coma, you should head to Roppongi, one of the last major tourist districts in Tokyo that you’ve hit to experience. Roppongi is has some enormous malls, and is one of Tokyo’s most popular areas for nightlife. It’s also the city’s expats epicenter, so if you want some straightforward American food, you have no shortage of options–even delicious burgers!
For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.
Have you visited Tokyo? Did you visit any of these districts or do these things? What would make your ‘best of’ itinerary? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? If you haven’t been to Tokyo, what interests you most about the city? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!