48 hours in Tokyo

28 February 2017

48 hours in Tokyo

Before you arrive in Tokyo, you'll need to get some sleep. Because if you only have 48 hours in this incredible metropolis, you'll want to see a LOT.

It's a non-stop city of 13 million people; a city that never sleeps. From the crazy neon-lit, Hello Kitty pop culture to the quiet, ancient, thoughtful traditions, you'll love every part of Tokyo.

If you've only got 48 hours to spare, take a look at our two-day Tokyo itinerary – it will give you a taste of everything this brilliant city has to offer. But brace yourself – it's going to be busy!

Day One – Around Shinjuku

Head to the west Tokyo neighbourhood of Shinjuku for your first day of exploring. You'll get a glimpse of Tokyo's busy streets and shopping districts, as well as quiet gardens and fascinating culture. Everything is within a couple of kilometres of Shinjuku Train Station, so if you're wearing comfy shoes, you can walk it all.

Start with a traditional Japanese breakfast

Tokyo is the capital of cuisine, so you'll definitely eat well while you're here. Find yourself a place serving a traditional Japanese breakfast – steamed rice, grilled fish, miso soup and other accompaniments provide the perfect blend of protein and carbs to get you energised for a big day out.

Check out the view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government building

A high-rise view is a great way to get your bearings in a city. Head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and take the elevator the the 45th floor to the free observation deck. There are sprawling views across Tokyo and on a clear day you can even see Mt Fuji on the horizon.

Explore the Samurai Museum

This a little museum, filled with traditional Samurai armour and swords, that tells the story of the Samurai tradition. It's small and it's focussed on just one thing which makes it an approachable outing for an hour or so. And it's fascinating – you'll definitely learn a lot about the Samurai.

Make a wish for good fortune at Hanazono Shrine

This ancient Shinto shrine is dwarfed by the surrounding high rise of Shinjuku. It's quiet, clean and well maintained – a peaceful oasis in a busy city. Throw a coin in the contribution box and make a wish for good fortune.

Shop at Isetan Department Store

This is one of Tokyo's biggest and most glamorous department stores. If you're not into shopping, at least

head down to the basement level to discover the mind-boggling array of food and sake on offer. You can sit at a bench and order some sushi or grab a few treats to take to the park for a picnic.

Take a break in Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens

For some afternoon respite from the busy city, head to the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. It features expansive lawns, forested areas, English and French gardens and a traditional Japanese garden with ponds, bridges, pavilions and manicured plants. If you're there in March or April, you'll see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and in November or December you'll enjoy the colours of autumn leaves.

Dinner and a drink crowded laneway or elegant charm?

After the sun sinks, it's time to consider your evening options. Head to the narrow laneway of Omoide Yokocho, or 'Memory Lane' for a taste of old style Tokyo. In the 1940s and 50s, the lane used to be home to black market vendors and drinking dens – these days it's crammed with yakitori vendors and small bars.

Another great option is Golden Gai – an old low-rise structure of six tiny alley ways. The alleys are lined with over 200 tiny bars, some seating as few as four people. Some bars only accept existing clientele, but others welcome newcomers – sit down for a drink and rub shoulders (literally) with the locals, or just wander the busy alleys and soak up the atmosphere.

For something more urbane, the Park Hyatt offers high-rise sophistication. This hotel bar was the setting for much of the 2003 movie 'Lost in Translation' and the glittering views over Tokyo provide the perfect backdrop for some elegant drinks in a five-star venue.

Day Two – out and about in Tokyo

Today you're going to cover a bit more ground, hopping between some of Tokyo's highlights. It's a packed itinerary, so drop out anything that doesn't appeal to you to allow yourself enough time at other highlights.

Start the day at Tsukiji Market...

It's a pretty big effort to get up at 4am to queue up for the famous tuna auctions at Tsukiji market – and only 120 people are allowed in each morning, so you need to be on time. Tsukiji market is the world's largest fish market and there is a clamour of huge fish, seafood, trucks, trolleys, vendors and buyers. Even if you don't make the tuna auctions, it's worth a visit for a fresh sushi breakfast to set you up for another big Tokyo day.

...Or Shibuya Crossing

If the fish market isn't for you, head to the famous Shibuya Crossing. This intersection outside Shibuya Station is said to be the busiest street crossing in the world. All lights turn red at once and up to 1000 pedestrians spill into the intersection en masse. It's high-density living on display.

Wander through Meiji Jingu shrine and Yoyogi Park

Meiji Jingu is one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo – it's a must-visit site with a fascinating history. The shrine is set next to Yoyogi Park, a sprawling space of over 50 hectares and 120,000 trees.  Yoyogi Park is perfect for a session of people watching. There are food stalls, sports clubs, buskers and performing rockabillies – it's the most hip and happening park in Tokyo.

People watch at Harajuku

Head to nearby Takeshita Street in Harajuku to get amongst the teenage fashionistas of Tokyo. The area is bustling with fashion boutiques, second hand stores and food stalls and the streets are swarming with teenagers dressed to impress – you'll see goths, french maids, baby dolls, anime characters – anything goes and the more extreme the better.

Get cultural at Tokyo National Museum

For a splash of culture, head to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. It houses Japan's largest collection of art and artefacts. Ceramics, masks, armour, weapons, painted scrolls – an array of Japan's cultural art forms are represented here so there's plenty to keep you busy.

Walk with the crowds to Senso Ji Temple

The imposing Buddhist Senso Ji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple and one of its most visited sites. Street stalls line the entrance path to the temple selling food, trinkets and handcrafts – be prepared for a crowd as you browse your way down the street to the impressive red temple and five story pagoda. 

Stroll in Rikugi-en Garden

This is a beautiful Edo-period 'strolling garden' – it's a little out of the way, but worth the detour as it is perhaps Tokyo's most picturesque garden. Walk amongst manicured flowering shrubs and take in the 18 'views' that were designed to replicate landscapes from Japanese poetry. Then take a seat in the tea house overlooking the lake for a bowl of green matcha tea.

Fine dine and then hit the streets

Tokyo has the most Michelin-three-star restaurants in the world – it's the undisputed foodie capital. If you're into fine dining, book well ahead to secure a seat in a top restaurant. But you don't have to break the bank to eat well in Tokyo – a delicious bowl of ramen in Tokyo Station's Ramen Street will set you back around $10. Noodle heaven.

For your final night in Tokyo, head to the slightly seedy red-light district of Kabukicho, where the glaring neon will have you reaching for your sunglasses. Love hotels, hostess clubs, underground malls, a robot cabaret show – it's the perfect place for people watching, shopping for weird stuff and buying things from vending machines. A great ending to a perfect 48 hours in Tokyo.