You arrive in futuristic Tokyo - vibrant, dazzling, and one of the best and biggest cities in the world - with 48 hours to see as much as you can.
This is the premise. You’re travelling across Japan using the Japan Rail Pass and arrive in Tokyo - one of the biggest, most futuristic, and dazzling cities in the world. You have 48 hours to see as much as you can. What should you do? Where should you go? We’re here to tell you. Welcome to 48 hours in Tokyo, the latest in a series of new blog posts focussed on getting the best out of your time in Japan’s most special locations. The latest? Tokyo! We’ll give you our recommendations for the most unmissable things to see and do, the best activities and attractions, cultural highlights, and more, as well as how to get there with the JR Pass. Okay, let’s get started. We’ve got 48 hours so we better move quickly.
Top Activities and Attractions in Tokyo
1. Cross the Shibuya Scramble
The famous Shibuya Crossing. Also known as the Shibuya Scramble! A 48 hour visit to Tokyo simply wouldn’t be complete without ducking and weaving through its oncoming foot traffic at least a few times. As one of the world’s busiest intersections, it transports thousands of people in all directions at a time in a wonderful, chaotic pulse. Shibuya is a great place to visit during your time in Tokyo generally too. Futuristic and dazzling, Shibuya is a city within a city. A special ward in Tokyo and a major commercial and business centre, Shibuya is known as one of the contemporary fashion centres of Japan, as well as a booming nightlife area. Shibuya is home to world famous landmarks, Shibuya Station, and one of the city’s new icons – Shibuya Sky, a 229 metre tall and full 360 degree observatory overlooking Shibuya and the greater Tokyo skyline, which offers some of the most spectacular views in Japan. Shibuya is also a fantastic district generally for shopping, dining, local attractions, futuristic architecture, and more. Read our Ultimate Guide to Shibuya, Tokyo, for everything you need to know about this bustling city ward.
2. Experience Harajuku style
The quirky capital of contemporary Japan, Harajuku is world-famous for its teenage street fashion, cute ‘kawaii’ style food and shopping, cosplay culture. Harajuku is the quirky, colourful capital of 21st Century Japanese fashion. It’s much more than a place, it’s an entire culture. From hip-hop Harajuku teens to street-style fashionistas, Japanese schoolgirls to pink-haired princesses, this famous district is the place to go to experience contemporary Japan’s creative, theatrical, and sometimes outrageous youth culture and unique street fashions. A visit to Tokyo – one of the world’s biggest and greatest cities – just wouldn’t be the same without walking along Harajuku’s famous Takeshita Dori (street) – the spiritual home of its world-famous fashion and street style. And it’s not just clothes, but music, food, shopping, accessories and more. Harajuku is vibrant, dazzling, and unforgettable. Find out more in our Travellers Guide to Harajuku.
3. Discover Golden Gai: Tokyo’s mythical nightspot
Tokyo’s legendary Golden Gai bars offer a chance to step back in time to the city’s vibrant post-war nightlife. When it comes to experiencing Tokyo at night, there’s one location above all others that offers visitors a taste of Japan’s past. Welcome to Golden Gai in Shinjuku – a legendary quarter of the city filled with narrow alleyways, hidden, hole-in-the-wall drinking establishments, and colourful nightlife that has remained untouched by modernisation. It really is like going for drinks in post-war 1950s Tokyo, and the area is famous for its ‘Showa retro’ atmosphere.
4. Relax in Yoyogi Park
From picnics to performers, street food to music festivals, rockabilly dancers to cycling, Yoyogi Park in Tokyo has something for everyone – trees, lakes, greenery, and a reputation for being fun, vibrant, and quirky. Yoyogi is well known for staging events and festivals almost every other weekend, which makes it one of Tokyo’s liveliest city parks. Events like Tokyo Rainbow Pride, Outdoor Day, Earth Day, St Patrick’s Day and a whole host of music and food festivals take place in Yoyogi. Tokyo’s fourth biggest park (and it’s largest green space when combined with neighbouring Meiji Shrine), Yoyogi has a reputation for attracting colourful people from all walks of life, as well as for legendary street food stalls, family friendly activities, relaxing outdoor fun like cycling and bike hire, and it’s a great spot for hanami (flower gazing), especially during Cherry Blossom season. Find out everything you need to know about this beautiful and lively green space in the heart of Tokyo in our Guide to Yoyogi Park: A Green Getaway in the Metropolis.
5. Find serenity at Meiji Shrine
Located next to Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine is arguably Tokyo’s best known shrine and is definitely worth a visit. Built in 1920 and surrounded by 100,000 trees that form a vast forest in the centre of the city, the Shinto shrine celebrates the life of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. You will find a large and impressive Torii at the entrance to the grounds of the shrine, which features a large and tranquil forest that offers a leafy haven from the surrounding city. Meiji Jingu Museum is also worth a look and was designed by superstar architect Kengo Kuma. Also close to Harajuku is Togo Shrine. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Admiral Togo who defeated the Russians in 1905. For more on Tokyo’s shrines read our Spiritual Guide to Japan.
6. Enjoy the view from Tokyo Skytree
With a height of 634 metres, Tokyo Skytree is one of the tallest structures in Japan, and has an amazing 360° observation deck. Go up and see a full panoramic view of Tokyo, Kanto and even the iconic Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
7. Visit the Toyosu fish Market
Seafood is a major part of Japanese cuisine which is why so many travellers are interested in going straight to the source on their trip. In Tokyo that used to mean heading for the famous Tsukiji Fish Market where you could see seafood sold at its wholesale market and eat fresh seafood at its many stalls. Now though, you’ll need to visit Toyosu Market near Odaiba in the Kōtō ward for all that. Within this large market complex, tourists are able to witness lively auctions, see all manner of produce being sold and treat themselves to some delicious seafood. A unique and wonderful experience and high on the list for your 48 hours in Tokyo if you’re a foodie who loves seafood.
8. Explore Tokyo's Imperial Palace and Garden
The Imperial Palace and Garden is in the centre of Tokyo. If you look at any map of Tokyo, you’ll see a large green area around which the rest of the city seems to extend - that’s the Imperial Palace and Garden.
9. Have a soak in the best onsen in Tokyo
An onsen is a Japanese hot spring or bath house. The term sometimes extends out to encompass bathing facilities as well as hotels/inns, traditional ryokan, and spas that are built surrounding the landmark. Besides being a fun activity for the family, onsen have deep ties within Japanese culture. Since Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries, onsen are everywhere! Tokyo specifically has a surplus of opportunities to visit genuine and traditional bathhouses. If you are looking to get the full experience of Japan by diving deep into cultural norms, onsen should be included. Aside from the cultural ties, the geothermally heated springs offer potential benefits such as pain alleviation, clearing up skin, reduced fatigue, and overall stress reduction. Read our guide to The Best 5 Onsen in Tokyo for our recommendations.
10. Enjoy the food of Japan in Tokyo’s restaurants
Alongside its extraordinary street food, local produce, and regional dishes, Tokyo, Japan is also world-famous as a centre of fine-dining with one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants anywhere in the world. In fact, Tokyo is the No.1 city in the world when it comes to having the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Remarkably, many of these restaurants are incredibly affordable too. Two great examples are Sushi Masuda, Tokyo and Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, Tokyo. The former was awarded two Michelin Stars and is a high-class sushi restaurant and exclusive dining experience with just six seats and exceptional food. If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation, look out for specialities such as shirako with white truffles, sayori (needlefish), hirame (flounder), and surume ika (Pacific squid). Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, Tokyo is another exclusive experience. Thanks to a visit from President Obama and the successful documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this exclusive and high-end Tokyo sushi restaurant, run by 93-year-old three Michelin star chef Jiro Ono, has become even more exclusive.
For a more laid back experience, how about dining at a robot restaurant? Tokyo’s world-famous Robot Restaurant brings all of that together in one place with dancing robots, cosplay, J-Pop, and neon lights, to create a unique and unforgettable night out that’s half meal and half entertainment extravaganza. The restaurant is located in the vibrant area of Shinjuku - one of Tokyo’s most famous districts.
11. Shop until you drop on Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue
Omotesando is a tree-lined avenue located between Shibuya and Harajuku, and best known for luxury goods store’s and high quality products. It is considered one of the most beautiful streets in Tokyo, because of stunning architectural buildings on both sides of the avenue. The area is also home to Omotesando Hills, a large and luxurious shopping complex with about 130 shops. Unlike larger brand shops close by, shops in Omotesando hills are smaller and sell a wider range of brands and items. The complex is also special in that it has 12 stories but six of them are built below ground. You can find out much more about this high-end street, and how to get there, in our comprehensive guide to Omotesando: Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue.
For more old-school shopping, try Nakamise-dōri in Asakusa. One of Japan’s oldest shopping streets, dating back to the 17th century runs up to Senjo-ji temple. Many shops in this arcade have been run by the same families for several generations, on sale are a variety of novelties, local street food and souvenirs. Also nearby is Shin-Nakamise (or New Nakamise), a shopping street arcade that is filled with small restaurants and stores. Unlike Nakamise, it caters more to locals than tourists and retains the feel of older Tokyo. As such the experience is more authentic and a great price to have lunch or dinner.
12. Explore Tokyo’s Coolest Neighbourhoods
We’ve mentioned Harajuku and Shibuya, but Tokyo has so many more amazing and super cool neighbourhoods for you to explore during your 48 hours in the city. Here are a few ideas.
Vibrant and lively, Shinjuku is considered one of the must-see areas of Tokyo and also boasts the world’s busiest railway station with more than 3.5 million passengers each and every day. From glowing neon to lively nightlife, world-famous restaurants to the city’s biggest red light district, Shinjuku has a bit of everything, and is known as a vibrant, bustling entertainment hub. Highlights and landmarks include Golden Gai, the Robot Restaurant, the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen park, the Samurai museum, the aforementioned Kabukicho red light district, countless ramen restaurants and Izakaya, and much more. It’s also one of Tokyo’s biggest shopping districts. In other words, there’s a lot to see and do in Shinjuku!
Roppongi has gone through several transformations, including huge investment and the construction of affluent developments such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, but one thing has been consistent – it remains enormously popular with tourists and international visitors living in Japan. Why? Well, Roppongi has lots to offer, from its famously lively nightlife to a wide range of shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, and galleries – many of which are known to be especially friendly and welcoming to overseas visitors.
Ikebukuro is a commercial and entertainment district in Tokyo, located on the north-west corner of the Yamanote line. In the evenings, Ikebukuro turns into one of the busiest entertainment districts in Tokyo, with lots of dining opportunities that are not that well known by visitors. The area is a great place to meet Japanese friends or colleagues. In addition, there’s a wide range of bars, clubs, karaoke places and anything else that is part of nightlife in Japan.
Then there’s Akihabara. Sometimes shortened to Akiba, this area is famous for the many electronic and Otaku culture shops. From tiny hobby shops to massive department stores specialising in a wide variety of anime, manga, digital entertainment, gadgets, home electronics, general hardware and anything closely related. Additionally, entertainment cafés styled after popular manga and video games serve themed food and drinks. Then there are the iconic maid cafés. Akihabara is a unique part of modern Japanese culture and should be included in any visit to Chiyoda, Tokyo.
13. Weird and Wonderful Tokyo
Drive the streets of Tokyo, spend the night sleeping between the shelves in a bookshop, take a trip into virtual reality at Sega Joypolis, or visit Tokyo’s parasite museum (yes really!), and more. There’s no end to the weird and wonderful attractions you can pack into your 48 hours in Tokyo! Find out more in our full guide to Weird and Wonderful Japan.
14. Tokyo DisneyLand
Tokyo Disney resort is home to the twin theme parks of Disneyland, and unique to Japan – DisneySea. Visit for an unforgettable experience and enjoy the entertainment, shopping, attractions and hotels. If you’re a Disney fan then it’s well worth a look during your 48 hours in Tokyo.
15. Tokyo’s temples and shrines
Would 48 hours in Tokyo be complete without visiting some of the city’s beautiful temples and shrines? Here are a few of the best to consider.
Sensoji Temple - also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple - is the oldest temple in Tokyo, dating back to 645. It was founded by a Buddhist sect to honour the god of mercy. Today Sensoji is well-loved by both locals and tourists. It is one of the most popular spots in Asakusa and crowds can be massive during the weekends.
As one of the biggest cities in the world, Tokyo has a mind blowing amount to see and do, and with a limited time frame, you’ll need to be super organised. Here are a few additional tips and recommendations:
- Once in Tokyo, the easiest way to get around the city is using public transportation, so you’ll want to invest in a prepaid travel card such as an ICOCA, PASMO or Suica card, as well as a Japan Rail Pass for getting around the rest of the country. Check out our Top 30 Tips for Using Japan’s Metros for advice and guidance on using the city’s subway network.
- Tokyo is BIG!! As such, it’s a smart idea to invest in PocketWifi to stay connected and avoid any unwanted data charges if you happen to need directions or language advice while you’re on the move during your 48 hours in the city.