It’s hard to overstate how massive Tokyo is – roughly four times the size of London and almost 400 square miles larger than LA. So squeezing everything to do in Tokyo into the equivalent of a long weekend is a tall order. Even if your primary interest is eating and wandering around, you may find yourself running out of time, but some of the top sites and cool neighborhoods are doable. Here is everything you can possibly squeeze into Tokyo in 4 days.
The most visually striking of the religious sites in Tokyo is the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. It’s one of the most popular things to visit in Tokyo, so it does get crowded. Nakamise-dori, the street between the temple’s main gate and the main temple complex is lined with shops and food stalls, which can get especially congested. So this best visited early in the morning. At the temple, you can participate in traditional rituals like saying a prayer in the main hall or getting a fortune. Though the main temple building is often crowded, there are some parts of the temple complex where you can enjoy the serenity of the place.
One of the most interesting things about the Senso-ji Temple is that you can see the Tokyo Skytree from it, contrasting the incredibly old temple with the modernity that characterizes most of the city.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
The Meiji Jingu Shrine is the other main religious site to visit in Tokyo. If you’re wondering why some are called temples and some are called shrines, it’s because the shrines are part of the Shinto religion, an indigenous Japanese religion, and temples are Buddhist, imported to Japan but still heavily and sometimes concurrently practiced with Shinto.
Shrines like Meiji Jingu are characterized by the traditional torii gate at the entrance. Though Meiji Jingu is located in the heart of one of the craziest areas of Tokyo, it’s an absolute oasis from the madness outside. The main shrine and accompanying sites like the garden are located in a forested area that is completely secluded from the rest of the city. The shrine was built in honor of Emperor Meiji and the sake and (less notably) wine barrels displayed at the shrine are consecrated as an offering to the late emperor and his wife.
If your schedule allows and you want to spend more time away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the adjacent Yoyogi Park is another green escape that is great for cherry blossoms sightings in the spring.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Though this was once a Lord’s private mansion, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is now a massive public park that showcases different styles from the Meiji era. There is a small entrance fee, but inside the park you’ll be wowed by the traditional Japanese gardens and a large pond with fish swimming around. You can also enjoy traditional tea in one of the garden’s tea houses.
Tokyo Skytree/Tokyo Tower/Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
When it comes to observation decks, Tokyo has plenty. But some specific ones come to mind as the most popular. The first is the Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest tower. It’s located across the Sumida River, opposite to where you’ll spend the majority of your time, so it will give you a sweeping view of the rest of Tokyo. Another popular peak in Tokyo is the Tokyo Tower, the Eiffel Tower-like red and white giant in Minato. It’s the second tallest structure in Japan, making it a popular sight for the observation deck.
Of course, the downside of being atop the tallest structures in Tokyo is that you can’t see the tallest structures in Tokyo from there. Another popular observation deck, which is free to visit, is in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The observatories are located at a height of over 200 meters and allow you to see the full Tokyo skyline. On a clear day, you can see also Mount Fuji from above.
Tsukiji Outer Market
A lot of people complain about the Tsukiji Outer Market because the original wholesale fish auctions have moved to Toyosu. But be honest with yourselves – getting up at 5 am to watch local restauranteurs buy raw fish would probably not be that interesting to you anyway. The remaining market which surrounds the buildings of the former fish market, known as the Tsukiji Outer Market, is a great place to indulge in many local delicacies from sushi to kobe beef to snacks like seaweed chips.
I don’t normally recommend group tours, but we took a guided tour of the market, and I feel like it allowed us to try more things and see more of the inner workings of the market than we would have otherwise. It included a pretty incredible sushi lunch complete with sake and tea along with a guided walk of some of the nearby sights like the Tsukiji Honganji-Temple.
Outside of established sightseeing spots, the best way to enjoy Tokyo in 4 days is to wander around its many different neighborhoods and districts. You’ll probably find things you never knew you needed to see.
Shinjuku is one of the city’s liveliest entertainment districts. With both bars and food open round-the-clock, it’s a great place to stay when you’re jet-lagged because you can wake up at 3 am and enjoy the nightlife or a 5-star sushi dinner. Golden Gai is one of the neighborhood’s highlights, a tiny self-contained village of tiny bars. Omoide Yokocho is another must-see in Shinjuku. The narrow alleys of the area feature plenty of great food and an awesome drinking atmosphere beloved by locals and tourists like.
Also located in the area: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and Shinjuku Ni-Chome, the city’s LGBT district
The home of the Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa is slightly more traditional than the rest of Tokyo. From the temple, the neighborhood sprawls out with a massive offering of small restaurants, shops, and food stalls. Hoppy Street is well known as the place to eat and drink in Asakusa. And if you’re less into anime figurines and more into home goods, Kappabashi Street is a must visit – this is where restaurants buy everything from knives to tableware. It’s a great place to get a really cool and useful souvenir if you’re the kind of person that gets excited about kitchen gadgets.
Shibuya is one of the busiest areas of Tokyo with everything from nightlife and shopping in addition to massive crowds. This area is known for the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, a massive crosswalk that gets inundated with people coming from all directions every few minutes. If you’re less inclined to experience the crossing and prefer to see it from afar, you can go up to Shibuya Sky, which provides great views of the city from the 47th floor.
In Shibuya, you’ll also find the main and largest Don Quijote store, which is one of the most popular department stores in Japan and great for souvenirs. You’ll even see a Tower Records – who would have thought those still existed? Its nightlife strip, Nonbei Yokocho, offers cold drinks with a vintage feel. Whether you want to play games in an acade or have an exciting romp in a love hotel, Shibuya has a little bit of everything.
Akihabara is the heart of manga, anime, and gaming in Tokyo. It’s also a popular place to shop if you’re on the hunt for electronics. Though arcades are kind of everywhere in Tokyo, Akihabara draws in gamers with floors upon floors of DDR and other arcade games, anime collectibles, and cosplay cafes like the ever-popular maid cafes. Whether you are into 8-bit gaming or the latest Nintendo platform, Akihabara has something for you.
Also located in the area: Kanda Myojin Shrine
Roppongi is a nightlife hub that also offers shopping and artsy museums. Roppongi Hills is like a city within a city of impressive architectural design. Featuring stylish skyscrapers, this is another popular place to see the Tokyo skyline from Tokyo City View. The Azabu-Juban shopping area has stores that have been in business for hundreds of years, taking you back to old Tokyo.
If you can’t get a coveted seat at Sukuyabashi Jiro’s restaurant featured in the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you might have better luck at his son’s restaurant in Rappongi, Sukuyabashi Jiro Rappongi.
Ginza is Tokyo’s answer to Paris’s Champs-Elysees. With blocks and blocks of luxury shopping and high-rises, it’s a beautiful place to take a stroll, even if you’re just window shopping. There are even some good options for regular budgets, like the largest Uniqlo store in the world. It’s a good area to go if you’re feeling fabulous or if you want to see a traditional kabuki play at Kabuki-za Theatre.
Odaiba is a man-made island on Tokyo Bay connected by the Rainbow Bridge to mainland Tokyo. It’s a shopping and entertainment district that has some attractions like the larger-than-life Gundam robot that sits outside the DiverCity entertainment complex.
Also located in the area: A small replica of the Statue of Liberty
Harajuku is a fashionable and youthful area – Tokyo’s center of cute. From elaborate costume stores to cafes where you can turn your pet or favorite cartoon into a 3D latte, Harajuku and its popular Takeshita Street offer a little bit of everything adorable and sweet. Stop by for dessert or to play with hedgehogs while you have a coffee.
With so many places to see, you can never get bored, whether you’re in Tokyo for 4 days or 40.
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