Spending just 24 hours in Tokyo, you’ll see that Hollywood’s got it all wrong. If extraterrestrials invaded Earth, the first city that’d catch their eye would be Tokyo, the neon-bursting capital of Japan.
The list of amazing things to do in Tokyo is nearly endless. And despite the massive sprawl, with even a short layover in Tokyo, you can get a good primer.
Ready to sort out your Tokyo trip plan? Experience more in less time with this complete 1-day Tokyo itinerary and ideas on how to spend one day in Tokyo…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Tokyo in 24 hours: A 1-day itinerary
- Experience the tuna auction (and eat breakfast) at Tsukiji Fish Market
- Deep dive into traditional Tokyo at Asakusa
- Breathe in the massive city panorama at Tokyo Skytree
- Wear out your camera shutter with the classic views Tokyo Imperial Palace
- Feel the electricity of Shinjuku
- Live on the edge in Harajuku
- Dodge traffic in Shibuya
- Take in evening views over Tokyo at Roppongi Hills
- Eat yakitori in Yurakucho
- Where to stay: The best hotels for a Tokyo layover
- Recommended tours for one day in Tokyo
- Maximize your 1-day Tokyo itinerary: Tips, tweaks & more places to visit
- Beyond one day in Tokyo: Where to go next
What to do in Tokyo in 24 hours: A 1-day itinerary
You’ll be surprised with how much opens up even with only one day in Tokyo.
Before heading out on your first 24-hour Tokyo itinerary, 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 is sizeable.
It would be impractical to stick to walking for this whole Tokyo travel itinerary—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.
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Experience the tuna auction (and eat breakfast) at Tsukiji Fish Market
You’ll need to drag your jet-lagged butt out of bed during the wee hours of the morning if you want to catch a glimpse of one of Tokyo’s most interesting places: Tsukiji Fish Market.
Experiencing the famous daily tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market takes serious commitment on any Tokyo itinerary. You’ll need to set your alarm as early as 3am!
Public transportation won’t be running yet, so stay within short walking distance at a hotel like Tokyu Stay Ginza to nab a few extra minutes of shut-eye.
Plan on arriving at Tsukiji Fish Market before 4am to secure one of the 120 spots available for the public. (Line-ups get surprisingly long considering the ungodly hour!)
Tsukiji Inner and Outer Markets
Even if the extreme early morning wake up call for the tuna auction doesn’t work for you, still shoot to start your one day in Tokyo at the Tsukiji Inner and Outer Markets.
Although the official opening time is 9am, I arrived at about 8:30am. 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 Tsukiji Inner Market.
Tuna, sea urchins, salmon eggs, squid—they’re all there with all the colours 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 at the Inner Market of Tsukiji.
After working up an appetite walking around the inner 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!
Want to get more out of your visit to Tsukiji? Hop onto one of these recommended tours!
- Tsukiji Fish Market Food & Drink Walking Tour: Sample Tsukiji specialties like bonito, tuna, and sushi as you navigate through a confusing array of seafood vendors with a licensed guide on this 3.5-hour eating & drinking tour.
- Tokyo Fish Market Insider & Sushi Workshop: Discover some of the world’s freshest seafood while learning the delicate art of preparing sushi on this unique tour & workshop combination.
- Tsukiji Market Walking Tour & Rolled Sushi Class: Start the morning off with a tour of Tsukiji Fish Market before returning to one of Asia’s largest cooking schools to learn how to prepare Japanese specialities like sushi, temari sushi, egg omelet, and miso soup. Also includes a tasting of 5 different varieties of shochu, a popular Japanese liquor.
- Tsukiji Inner & Outer Market Tour: Not keen on learning to prep your own fish? Let the experts handle it as you make your way through Tsukiji’s inner & outer markets on this 3-hour walking tour. Includes a full sushi breakfast and tasting of 10-12 different dishes at 4 food stops.
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 neighbourhoods 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.
Want to discover the best of Asakusa without hassle? Book yourself onto one of these awesome hand-picked tours!
- Tokyo Asakusa Rickshaw Tour: See more of Asakusa in less time on this traditional rickshaw tour that wind through temples, parks & quirky neighbourhoods. Available as a 30-, 60-, 120-, or 180-minute ride.
- Asakusa & Ryogoku Walking Tour with Sumo Wrestler: Explore Asakusa and Ryogoku alongside a real-life sumo wrestler, who’ll answer all your burning questions about Japan’s most popular homegrown sport, on this unique insider sightseeing tour.
- Unforgettable Asakusa and Sensoji Tour with Lunch: Let your tastebuds lead the way on this combination food & walking tour through Tokyo’s most interesting historical district. Includes lunch and 5-7 tastings at 5 different food stops.
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 on your 1-day Tokyo itinerary.
After walking about Asakusa, cross the Sumida River to Tokyo Skytree where you can zip up to lay eyes on one of the best panoramas in Tokyo.
Tokyo Skytree’s Tembo Deck (¥2,060) soars at a whopping 350 metres (1,148 feet) above the city. The Tembo Galleria (+¥1,030) 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? :)
Not keen on queuing up? Save time by booking a Tokyo Skytree Skip-the-Line Ticket before you arrive! Available as a standard ticket for the Tembo Deck or as a combination that includes admission to the Tembo Galleria.
Wear out your camera shutter with the classic views 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 Mondays and Fridays) is a pleasant escape from an otherwise chaotic day.
Amid waterways, stone walls and bridges, cultivated bonsais and cherry blossoms (if you’re lucky enough to spend one day in Tokyo in the spring), you’ll glimpse some of the buildings of the Imperial Palace grounds. All where 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 tourists marvelling 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.
Shinjuku is the face of Tokyo to the outside world, representing the modernity and dynamism that we now associate with Japan.
And, truthfully, Shinjuku’s one hell of an experience to add to your first 24 hours in Tokyo. (In a good way, of course.)
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 1-day Tokyo itinerary 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 of the best 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 unsavoury.
- Golden Gai: A nostalgic collection of narrow alleyways hiding izakaya and hole-in-wall standing bars. Golden Gai offers a captivating glimpse at post-war Tokyo. It’s a complete contrast to the bustling modern façade of Shinjuku.
- Shin-Ōkubo: This historic Korean district is your best bet for 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 and a great escape from the insanity of Shinjuku. Time your Tokyo itinerary 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 5pm.
Ready to experience the magic of Shinjuku at its best? Check out some of these hand-picked Shinjuku tours!
- Shinjuku Golden Gai & Kabukicho Izakaya Experience: Fuse the spirit of post-war Tokyo with its most modern trappings as you move seamlessly between the bright lights of Shinjuku and its more nostalgic quarters. Enjoy 10 different treats & one drink at 4 food stops in Omoide Yokocho, Kabukicho, and Golden Gai.
- Shinjuku Night Walking Tour: Bring along a camera and a tripod to catch the most exciting district in Tokyo in action on this 4-hour evening walking tour. Highlights include the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Omoide Yokocho, Kabukicho, and Golden Gai.
- Tokyo Robot Show & Dinner at Samurai-Themed Restaurant: Experience the world-famous robot show in Shinjuku and a dinner in a samurai restaurant with this fun-filled combo ticket.
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 you only have 24 hours in Tokyo. 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.
Ready to experience the weird & wacky world of Harajuku? Experience all it has to offer with one of these recommended tours:
- Harajuku Fashion & Culture Guided Tour: Discover the trendy youthful fashions of Harajuku as you ply down Takeshita Street on this 2.5-hour walking tour.
- Harajuku Omotesando Architecture Tour: Get a deeper appreciation for Harajuku beyond its quirky reputation on this 3-hour walking tour that focuses on its modern history through the lens of its cutting-edge architecture.
- Shibuya to Harajuku Private Tour: A value-laden tour that pairs you up with a like-minded local who’ll take you through both the usual and unusual sites of Shibuya & Harajuku.
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 24 hours in Tokyo.
Like Shinjuku, Shibuya is modern Japanese culture in action and everything you’d expect from Tokyo.
Whether or not the boutiques and shopping malls of Shibuya interest you, in wandering around Shibuya during your Tokyo itinerary 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 favourite Japanese foods, at reasonable prices, proving 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.
Want to get the most out of your visit to Shibuya? Check out these recommended tours:
- Shibuya Walking Food Tour: Sample Japanese delicacies like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, sushi, and kobe beef skewers as you eat your way through Shibuya on this 3-hour walking tour. Includes 10 different dishes & one dessert at 5 food stops.
- Harajuku & Shibuya Evening Walking Tour: Discover two of Tokyo’s most fascinating areas on this 2.5-hour insider’s walking tour. Stops at an off-beat local restaurant or izakaya for an authentic food experience you won’t forget.
- Explore Shibuya Nightlife Walking Tour: Experience the thrill of Shibuya at night with this 1-hour guided walking tour.
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 Tokyo skyline.
Want to save money and skip the line at Mori Tower? Book your Tokyo City View & Mori Art Museum Ticket before you leave! Includes the entrance fee for both the 52nd-floor observation deck and Mori Tower’s art museum.
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 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 favourites like ramen if that’s more to your style.
Want to dig deeper into Tokyo’s culinary scene? Get your tastebuds roaring on your first day in Tokyo with one of these superb food tours including Yurakucho!
- Tokyo Culinary Adventure: Savour Tokyo’s most coveted local flavours on this 3-hour tasting tour. Highlights include yakitori in Yurakucho, monjayaki in Monja Town, and wagashi in Ginza.
- Yurakucho, Ginza, Shinbashi Food Tour: Sample 18-20 mouth-watering local dishes on this ultimate 3-hour walking food tour of three of Tokyo’s most irresistible areas for foodies.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 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 in Tokyo 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 Tokyo hotel picks…
- Khaosan World Asakusa: This love hotel turned ryokan is an excellent choice for private budget accommodations in Asakusa. All the rooms are colourful 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 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!
Recommended tours for one day in Tokyo
Want to squeeze more out your 1-day Tokyo itinerary? Here are a few of the best day tours in Tokyo…
- Tokyo Day Tour: A complete full-day Tokyo tour that brings together the best of the city. Stops include Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Asakusa, Ginza, and a 50-minute Tokyo Bay cruise.
- Tokyo By Night: Grab a taste of Tokyo on this 3-hour evening food tour that samples the best of the city’s most popular culinary offerings. Relish in succulent yakitori skewers at Yurakucho and savoury monjayaki pan-fried pancakes on Monja Street before ending the evening in a cozy Ginza izakaya.
- Tokyo Private Custom Walking Tour: An 8-hour private tour with a professional guide who’ll customize the tour to suit your interests and needs. Highlights may include Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, and Shibuya.
- Small-Group Tokyo Biking Tour: Get even more of Tokyo under your belt with this fun 6.5-hour bike tour through the city. Move between the modern urban delights of Shinjuku through the calm of Meiji Shrine & Yoyogi Park before pedalling through areas like Roppongi Hills and Ginza on your way back to Shinjuku.
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 kilometres from the city centre.
Looking for cheap flights for your Tokyo layover? I’d recommend searching for airfare deals on CheapOair! While planning my last couple trips I’ve been able to find fares on this lesser-known OTA that were unmatchable anywhere else.
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 travellers without a pass. Trains from Osaka to Tokyo are only slightly longer, covering the route in 2h30m to 3h. Fares start at ¥13,620.
Maximize your 1-day Tokyo itinerary: Tips, tweaks & more places to visit
Need more ideas for your first 24 hours in Tokyo? Try out some of these ideas for your Tokyo travel itinerary…
- Want to find all the latest gadgets? End your evening in Yurakucho early and check out some of the best 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 supply epic views of the Tokyo skyline framed by Rainbow Bridge.
- Craving more culture? Carve out time in your Tokyo itinerary to hit up some of Tokyo’s best museums including Edo-Tokyo Museum, National Museum of Modern Art or Ghibli Museum.
Beyond one day in Tokyo: Where to go next
- Kyoto: Hop onto a bullet train and tackle the former imperial capital of Japan, easily one of the best cities in Asia for travellers. 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 city 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 best day trips from Tokyo.