Got a short layover in Japan’s capital? With even just 24 hours in Tokyo, you can get an excellent primer on one of the world’s most fascinating cities. From beautiful temples & shrines in historic neighborhoods to skyscraping towers in bustling modern districts, experience Japan’s capital to its fullest on a time crunch with this complete 1-day Tokyo itinerary for first-time visitors!
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What to do in Tokyo in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
You’ll be surprised with how much opens up even with only one day in Tokyo. Before heading out, I’d suggest grabbing a Tokyo Metro 1-Day Unlimited Ticket.
Even if you prefer walking (much like I do), the distances between some of these itinerary stops are sizeable. It would be impractical to stick to exploring on foot—you just won’t be able to fit it all in! Fortunately, the transportation system in Tokyo is fantastic and will do much of the heavy lifting for you.
Explore the outer markets and eat a fresh sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
In the past, you would have needed to drag your jet-lagged butt out of bed during the wee hours of the morning if you wanted to catch a glimpse of one of Tokyo’s most interesting places: Tsukiji Fish Market. The market, located just southeast of Ginza, once hosted one of Japan’s most coveted travel experiences, an early-morning tuna auction.
In October 2018, the world-famous tuna auction moved to Toyosu Market, about a 10-minute drive southeast of the old market. While the tradition lives on, it doesn’t quite have the same “authentic” appeal as the historic auction at Tsukiji.
If this experience is still on your bucket list, you’ll now need to apply for a lottery to attend the auction at Toyosu Market well ahead of time rather than simply show up earlier. You can fill out the application here and test your luck.
Since winning the ticket lottery isn’t assured, we’d recommend skipping the tuna auction at Toyosu Market and starting your day instead at the old Tsukiji Fish Market. Although the tuna auction is gone, this classic market is still bustling, with about 500 shops still operating in the old Tsukiji Outer Market.
Although the official opening time for the Tsukiju Outer Market was 9 am, I arrived at about 8:30 am. And the markets were already in full swing!
Nearly any type of fish or seafood you’ve ever seen on a Japanese menu you’ll find hanging to dry or flopped on ice in the shops of the market. Tuna, sea urchins, salmon eggs, squid—they’re all there with all the colors and (depending on your outlook) interesting smells you’d expect.
Throw in the fragrant scents of fresh herbs and ear-piercing metal clinking as expert knife sharpeners perfect their tools, and you’ll have an idea of what awaits here.
After working up an appetite walking around the market and watching merchants peddle their catches of the day, snag an ultra-fresh sushi breakfast at a restaurant along the outer market concourse. It’s one of Tokyo’s must-have dishes and might well be the most filling (and memorable) morning snack of your entire trip to Asia!
Deep dive into traditional Tokyo at Asakusa
From Tsukiji Fish Market, walk to nearby Higashi-ginza Station and give your Tokyo Metro pass a workout by taking the Toei Subway Asakusa Line to Asakusa Station.
Whereas Tokyo neighborhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku conjure images of the ultra-modern, Asakusa gives us just the opposite: a glimpse of Tokyo at its most traditional.
Not far from Asakusa Station, you’ll spot Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate), the gateway to Asakusa’s most popular attractions, including Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple that has become a symbol of Tokyo’s ancient past.
With Nakamise-dōri, the shopping street leading from Kaminarimon to Sensō-ji, as your anchor, browse around Asakusa to uncover Tokyo’s best-preserved traditional Japanese wooden architecture, temples & Shinto shrines, and Buddhist pagodas.
Breathe in the massive city panorama at Tokyo Skytree
Nothing will give you a perspective of Tokyo’s sheer size like viewing it from above. After walking about Asakusa, cross the Sumida River to Tokyo Skytree, where you can zip up to lay eyes on one of the finest panoramas in Tokyo.
Tokyo Skytree’s Tembo Deck (¥2,300) soars at a whopping 350 meters (1,148 feet) above the city. The Tembo Galleria (+¥1,100) is even more impressive, shooting up to the 450-metre level.
Even if you only have 24 hours in Tokyo, heading up the world’s tallest tower (and the second-largest structure in the world!) hardly seems optional, doesn’t it? :)
Wear out your camera shutter with the classic views of Tokyo Imperial Palace
From Oshiage Station at the Tokyo Skytree, it’s a short subway hop on the Tokyo Metro (Hanzomon Line) to Otemachi Station for another slice of traditional Japanese design: Tokyo Imperial Palace.
Although Tokyo Imperial Palace itself isn’t accessible to the public, the Imperial Palace East Garden (closed on Mondays and Fridays) is a pleasant escape from an otherwise chaotic day.
Amid waterways, stone walls, bridges, cultivated bonsais, and cherry blossoms (if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Tokyo in the spring), you’ll glimpse some of the buildings of the Imperial Palace grounds. All were rebuilt after World War II in classic Japanese architectural styles.
Relax in the East Garden before heading towards Sakuradamon Station. On the way, stop by Nijubashi Bridge to join the throng of tourists marveling at classic views of Tokyo Imperial Palace.
Feel the electricity of Shinjuku
When you dream of Tokyo—the neon lights, the chaos, the glass buildings splitting the clouds—what you’re imagining is Shinjuku. This bustling district is the face of Tokyo to the outside world, representing the modernity and dynamism that we now associate with Japan. And truthfully, Shinjuku is a must-have experience to add to your first day in Tokyo.
From Sakuradamon Station on the Yurakucho Line, navigate the Tokyo Metro to Shinjuku Station, where your modern Tokyo adventure begins.
By now, you’ll notice the streets of Tokyo flooding with a never-ending stream of pedestrians and cars, a far cry from the quiet early morning hours near Tsukiji. This is what the rest of your day in Tokyo will look like.
Getting lost is the best advice I can give for experiencing Shinjuku. Walking down a set path without distraction in Shinjuku is wholly impossible, with the overwhelming visual stimulation peeking around every corner.
While exploring the most famous ward in Tokyo, here are a few fun things to do in Shinjuku:
- Kabukichō: The most notorious district in Tokyo, northeast of Shinjuku Station. Kabukicho is full of restaurants, bars, and—ahem!—”pleasure palaces.” Mind your surroundings, as some of the bars and clientele here are, well, a bit unsavory.
- Golden Gai: A nostalgic collection of narrow alleyways hiding izakaya and hole-in-wall standing bars that’s among the coolest places to visit in Tokyo. Golden Gai offers a captivating glimpse at post-war Tokyo. It’s a complete contrast to the bustling modern façade of Shinjuku and a must-see for any Tokyo itinerary.
- Shin-Ōkubo: This historic Korean district is a fantastic option for getting a little taste of Seoul in Japan. Grab a snack at one of the Korean eateries or get your fill of K-pop in one of the weird and wonderful Korean-owned shops.
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden: One of the most pleasant parks in Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a great escape from the insanity of Shinjuku. Time your trip with cherry blossom season for the full effect.
- Nishi-Shinjuku: Shinjuku’s “Skyscraper City.” Climb up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for incredible panoramas of Tokyo and even as far as Mount Fuji on a clear day. Admission to the observation deck is free.
- Omoide Yokocho: Tokyo’s fondly-nicknamed “Piss Alley,” famous for its wide array of eateries serving up ramen, soba, and yakitori. Most restaurants on Omoide Yokocho open around 5 pm.
Live on the edge in Harajuku
If you ever happen to find yourself in Harajuku on a Sunday, you’ll finally understand what Gwen Stefani meant when she sang: “You Harajuku girls: damn, you’ve got some wicked style.”
Even if you don’t catch the edgy Japanese youth culture in action near the entrance of Yoyogi Park (unfortunately, I missed it), Harajuku is still a worthwhile stop on a walking tour between Shinjuku (25 minutes by foot) and Shibuya (15 minutes by foot).
Start by unwinding from Shinjuku’s madness in the shade of Yoyogi Park, home of the Meiji Shrine. You could wander here for hours among towering evergreens, ponds, and streams. But since you only have 24 hours, keep your visit short and march into Harajuku proper.
For souvenirs or cutting-edge fashion, you can’t beat Harajuku. Going through retail withdrawal? Treat it by scoping out Takeshita-dōri, Omotesando Hills, or the tourist-trap Oriental Bazaar before walking down to Shibuya.
Dodge traffic in Shibuya
Feeling the adrenaline rush of dodging passerbys while crossing the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing is an experience that you can’t leave out of your first visit to Tokyo. Like Shinjuku, Shibuya is modern Japanese culture in action and everything you’d expect from Tokyo.
Whether or not the area’s boutiques and shopping malls interest you, in wandering around Shibuya, you’re bound to run into something that catches your eye—or your tastebuds.
Restaurants around Shibuya are plentiful, ranging from presidentially-priced to budget-backpacker cheap.
Although it’s a chain, Ichiran at the Iwamoto Building serves up huge portions of delicious Tonkotsu ramen, one of my personal favorite Japanese foods. The reasonable prices at this chain prove that budget travel in Japan is possible.
For the experience of a self-serve ramen restaurant alone, I’d recommend stopping in for an afternoon ramen snack at Ichiran.
Take in evening views over Tokyo at Roppongi Hills
If you’ve got any time (or energy) left from your long day exploring Tokyo, hop on the Tokyo Metro at Shibuya Station to Roppongi Hills to gape at some of the coolest modern architecture in Tokyo.
Although the area around Roppongi Hills is one of the most popular nightlife spots in Tokyo, the real drawcard is to watch the evening suns sink below the Tokyo skyline.
Scuttle up to the observation deck at Mori Tower (¥2,000) to catch some fantastic panoramas of the Tokyo skyline.
Eat yakitori in Yurakucho
While most of Tokyo modernized heavily in the post-war period, the Yurakucho area somehow managed to retain some of its old-world charms.
The big drawcard is below the railway lines near Yurakucho Station. Below the train tracks to Tokyo Station, you’ll get a chance to check out some of the most interesting traditional izakaya in Tokyo.
Yurakucho is popular among Japanese salarymen, who pound down biiru (beer) to unwind after a long, stressful day.
Far more exciting than watching businessmen slip into varying depths of intoxication, though, is the chance to eat one of the traditional yakitori joints in Yurakucho.
It’s not a fancy sushi dinner, to be sure. But yakitori, essentially skewers of grilled meat, are one of the simplest Tokyo food pleasures. The area’s izakaya and restaurants also serve other Japanese favorites like ramen if that’s more to your style.
Where to stay on a Tokyo layover
There’s no surprise: choosing where to stay in Tokyo isn’t easy. Besides sorting through thousands of options in an ever-sprawling city, hotels in Tokyo peak among the world’s most expensive. What you’ll get here is probably far smaller than you’re used to at similar prices elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. With some smart searching, you can find some good deals for your Tokyo accommodations. Get started with these top hotel picks…
- Khaosan World Asakusa: This love hotel turned ryokan is an excellent choice for private budget accommodations in Asakusa. All the rooms are colorful with a ton of character. Both Japanese (tatami) and Western-style rooms are available. Senso-ji Temple is a quick 10-minute walk away.
- Hotel Rose Garden Shinjuku: A simple, no-frills hotel in the heart of Shinjuku. Rooms are cozy but spacious by Tokyo standards. Top attractions like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building are a short walk away.
- Hilton Tokyo: The best value for a 5-star luxury hotel in Tokyo. Elegant rooms offer incredible views of Shinjuku. Also includes free access to the indoor pool, sauna, and gym. Book directly on Hilton.com to get the best price and to make your stay eligible for Hilton Honor Points!
Getting to Tokyo
By air: Tokyo is serviced by two airports, Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). Most international flights originating outside of Asia fly into Narita, about 70 kilometers from the city center.
By train: The best way to travel around Japan is with the Japan Rail Pass. From Kyoto, the shinkansen (bullet train) takes between 2h20 and 2h40, with fares starting at ¥13,080 for travelers without a pass. Trains from Osaka to Tokyo are only slightly longer, covering the route in 2h30m to 3h. Fares start at ¥13,620.
More 1-day Tokyo itinerary ideas
- Want to find all the latest gadgets? End your evening in Yurakucho early and check out some of the fun things to do in Akihabara, Tokyo’s hi-tech shopping nirvana. If you left any electronics off your packing list for Japan, this is where to get ’em!
- Need more classic views of Tokyo? Spend the evening in Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo that supplies epic views of the Tokyo skyline framed by Rainbow Bridge.
- Craving more culture? Carve out time to hit up some of Tokyo’s best museums, including the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, and the Ghibli Museum.
More places to visit
- Kyoto: Hop onto a bullet train and tackle the former imperial capital of Japan, easily one of the best cities in Asia for travelers. Launch your trip with these ideas for what to do in 24 hours in Kyoto.
- Osaka: With Kyoto less than 30 minutes to its north, Japan’s second-biggest metro area gets glossed over too often. Experience the city’s kuidaore (eat till you’re broke) culture and dig into all of its goodies with this itinerary for one day in Osaka.
- Nikko: Let your jaw drop as you explore the spiritual treasures and natural scenery of this mystical small city, one of the must-do day trips from Tokyo.