5 days in Tokyo itinerary
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
There’s an argument to be made that no matter how much time you have available to spend in Tokyo, it will never be quite enough.
One of the world’s great cities, Tokyo is a destination that can legitimately claim to be all things to all people.
Looking for culture? Centuries of history, shrines, temples or museums? Tokyo has you sorted.
Are you a city fan, after coffee shops and great cuisine, modern shopping and just mooching along soaking up the metropolitan vibe? Tokyo is your pal.
Or maybe you’re craving those only-in-Japan experiences, days packed with arcade games and karaoke bars, cyborg wars and J-pop bands, cat cafes or maid cafes? For that, there really is no place better than Tokyo!
Tokyo has something to offer every kind of tourist, and for every budget.
On the other hand, if like us you’re a first-timer to this world-class city, and you’d like an itinerary that samples a little bit of all that amazing Tokyo has to offer but have limited time, then here are some ideas to guide you in what to do during 5 days in one-of-a-kind Tokyo!
Tokyo 5 day itinerary
Arriving at Narita airport after our overnight flight from London, we headed straight for the JR Pass Service Center to activate our JR Passes, and from there we hopped on the next available Narita Express train. Less than an hour later we were in a taxi at Tokyo Station, arriving for around lunchtime at our hotel - the awesome-in-every-way Ritz-Carlton Tokyo.
In total we had set aside 5 days for Tokyo, and this is how we spent them -
Day 1 - Tired after the 12 hour flight, but buzzing from the excitement of finally being in Japan (!) we freshened up briefly before heading out to make the most of the half-day remaining to us. And what is the first thing that two hungry first time visitors to Tokyo want to do? Have ramen for lunch, of course! And what a bowl of noodles it was - the incredible ramen at Afuri in Roppongi, one of our favourite Japanese restaurants, would turn out to be both the first as well as the best ramen of our trip!
From there we spent the rest of the day exploring the districts of Minato and Shibuya on foot. Starting off at the Nezu Museum (worth it in our opinion more for its gorgeous gardens and the accompanying teahouse nestled amongst the trees), we followed that up with a quick (and free!) stop at the Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo, to check out the latest exhibition in their beautiful art presentation space, and views over the surrounding Omotesando area.
And finally, as the sun was starting to go down, the crazy gloriousness that is Tokyo’s Takeshita-dori! It being a Saturday, we spent a fun half hour jostling the street crowds, ogling the bonkers wares on display and the barmy way many of our fellow street-goers were dressed. An unmissable experience and a great way to finish our first day in this multifaceted city.
Day 2 - We dedicated the second day of our Tokyo itinerary to the northern neighbourhoods of Bunkyo and Taito. Beginning at the lovely Nezu shrine, we had our first experience of a row of red torii gates, shared with surprisingly few other visitors given it was high season in Japan. From there we wandered through Ueno park and the zoo (skipping the panda viewing once we saw the crazy weekend queues) and on to impressive and popular Senso-ji temple, followed by some riverside views of the Tokyo Skytree.
The afternoon was spent wandering down Kappabashi-dori, a street popularly known as 'Kitchen Town' and dedicated almost entirely to the restaurant trade. Queue shops selling the hyper-realistic plastic food so common in Japanese restaurant displays, as well as beautiful artisanal ceramics (check out the gorgeous stoneware and porcelain at Dengama).
And to finish we wandered around the Akihabara district - the neon Electric Town coming alight as night fell, anime and J-Pop bands everywhere. We shopped in the we-sell-literally-everything madness that is the Don Quijote chain store, and had our minds blown by the row after row of zombified gamers in the sensory overload gaming arcades.
Day 3 - Time for a day trip out of town. And to start getting some worth from those JR Passes!
We took the train into the mountains north of Tokyo, via some beautiful scenery on the way, where we spent an amazing day visiting historic UNESCO-listed Nikko, and a tour of the lovely Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls. If you have time for only 1 day trip from Tokyo, make it this day trip to Nikko!
Day 4 - The time had come for that most quintessential of Japanese activities: the traditional Tea Ceremony - and we thoroughly enjoyed our green tea exploration at the modern, stylish Sakurai Tea Experience in Omotesando.
From there we ambled down to the famous Shibuya crossing intersection, to see the crowds of lunchtime pedestrians waiting patiently for the lights to change, the masses converging and somehow effortlessly making their way from one side to the other, time and again without incident.
And then on to Yoyogi park and the Meiji Jingu shrine, built in veneration to the Emperor and Empress Meiji. Next, into the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden we went, to join the many other revelers taking photos of the ethereal cherry blossoms just beginning to reach their full bloom.
While evening saw us window shopping at Roppongi Hills and taking in gorgeous panoramic sunset night time views of the city from the Observation Deck at Tokyo City View.
Day 5 - The Shinjuku district was our destination for the last of our 5 days in Tokyo - another neon lit area of bars and restaurants, clubs and karaoke rooms, as well as upscale shopping. We wandered through Yakitori Alley (the so-called ‘Memory Lane’), then did a bit of window shopping at the Isetan department store, and grabbed some lunch from the basement food-hall - a paradise of food counters where everything looks mouthwatering! Grabbing a meal in one of these ritzy department store food-halls is the ultimate in food fun, and a must-do Japanese experience. We took our delectable purchases up to the top-floor outdoor rooftop garden to eat in semi-tranquility, surrounded by young Japanese mothers and their enthusiastic toddlers.
Next up was a tour of the Golden Gai district, an area of tiny seedy-looking bars with eccentric names, their doorways leading into buildings that didn't look like they would be passing any health and safety assessments. Most were closed when we were there during the afternoon, and all was peaceful. It would certainly be better to visit the Golden Gai during the evening in order to partake of the merriment, however we had other plans for our night…
After a bit of a shall-we-shan't-we discussion in the lead up to our trip to Japan, we eventually bit the bullet and booked tickets to the Robot Restaurant, one of those items that turns up on seemingly every 'Things To Do In Tokyo' list. And if there is one thing you can say about a visit to the Robot Restaurant, it is that it is mind-blowingly eye-poppingly nuts. And a great place for some crazy-Tokyo photography. What it is not though, is in any way authentic. You will be surrounded by other foreign tourists, the show itself in English, nary a local in sight.
Mind blown and still a bit dazed, we made our way from the bright lights of Shinjuku back to Roppongi, for a civilised dinner of delicious soba at the sophisticated Honmura An, one of the best traditional Japanese restaurants in Tokyo.
The following morning, having shipped our luggage ahead of us using the brilliant Takkyubin luggage forwarding service, we would reluctantly make our way to Tokyo Station (spending a bit of time on the way to see the Imperial Palace) to catch our Shinkansen bullet train.
Tokyo had been a revelation. A whirlwind jumble of the traditional, the city-slick, the authentic and the dazzlingly demented. And as expected, 5 days in this inimitable city had proved not to be enough. Then again, there was plenty more of Japan for us to discover, and limited time, so off we went to continue our Japanese adventure!
The next destination on our Japanese itinerary: 4 days in beautiful, authentic Kyoto...