36 Hours in Tokyo You Won’t Forget… A Traveler’s Guide to High-Speed Tokyo Tour
5th March 2018
Tokyo is one hell of a city. According to various sources, the city’s 23 wards are inhabited by ca. 10 million people, the entire metropolis claims a population of over 13 million, while the Greater Tokyo area with 38 million people is the most populous metropolitan area in the world! No wonder that it’s also one of the tourists’ favorites!
According to some sources, in 2017, the number of visitors to Japan was 28.69 million, up by almost 20% as compared to the previous year. The capital claims about 20-25% of this staggering number.
You’d probably need weeks if not months to explore all the attractions Tokyo has to offer. But even if you’re here only for a little while, you can still get a taste of its otherworldly atmosphere.
Busan-Tokyo-Helsinki in 48 Hours
We arrived in Tokyo for two nights only on our way back from Korea. Japan and Tokyo rank in the top 5 of our travel bucket list, but this time we had to settle for 1,5 hectic days in the city. And we decided to squeeze it out to the very last second.
In 48 hours, we managed to leave Busan, arrive in Tokyo, see, taste and experience all of the places described below, and fly to Helsinki on an exquisite Japan Airlines plane.
While in Tokyo, we visited several attractions listed in various guides and blogs. We selected them according to our own interests.
Akihabara – otaku district
Roppongi Hills shopping center
Shibuya Station crossing
Tokyo Sky Tree tower
Imperial Palace gardens
Shinjuku (plus a delightful sushi restaurant serving pufferfish sake)
Golden Gai bars
Takeshita shopping street
Ginza fashion district
How did we make it and how best to plan your trip? Here are some tips.
The Ultimate Tokyo Tour in 36 Hours
Proper planning equals perfect execution. Use these tips to create your faultless plan for a high-speed city tour.
1. Determine how much time you have (count the sleep in).
First things first. To make an effective plan for your monster 1.5-day visit, you first need to know how much time you have on disposal.
Tip: Note down when you’re arriving and when you’ll have to leave on your way back. Allocate some time for sleep and subtract that from the total time for the trip. Put down the final digit. That’s how many (or few) hours you have left to enjoy this mind-blowing city.
2. Decide what you’d like to see (make a list).
Think about your traveling pattern. What kind of tourist are you? Laid-back, adventurous, a foodie? Do you enjoy exploring one’s culture, language, history, and lifestyle? Are museums your thing? Or do you prefer to keep away from them and immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of busy streets and real life? Maybe there’s even a specific attraction that you always visit, regardless of a place (for example, I’m always trying to go to a local zoo).
In my case, learning about different cultures, understanding one’s customs, religion, rituals, lifestyle, and language is my passion. Therefore while thinking about the itinerary for Tokyo, I was looking for places of cultural significance, and areas that seem to be typical of the Japanese culture.
Secondly, I love exploring international food, so whenever I have a chance, I either hunt for street food or look for simple local restaurants with regional cuisine. I always make sure to allocate some time to explore local food halls and markets. These are essential points of interest to me.
Tip: Discover your traveling pattern, write down the must-see places you can’t miss during your visit, and move on to the next step.
3. Plan your transport.
Do you prefer to walk, ride a bus, or use taxis when sightseeing? (The last option may cost you a fortune, though, as Tokyo’s taxis are supposedly one of the most expensive in the world; a good description of the local taxi services is provided in this post about Tokyo taxis)?
Whatever you choose, if you only have a day or two in this city to spare, figuring out your transport ahead is a good idea. Especially that Tokyo metro can be quite confusing, particularly for visitors who hadn’t had a chance to use a similar system too many times before. The network is enormous, several companies run it (together with the rail operators), and many stations are tre-men-dous, with dozens of exits.
Tip: Even for a day or two (or maybe especially then), consider buying a metro card or a discount ticket for multiple rides / 24 hours, etc. Check the official Tokyo Metro website for more details: https://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/index.html.
4. Book convenient accommodation.
Location is critical. I am a long-distance walker. I can walk 12-15 miles per day, and I will only get slightly weary. But not everyone enjoys strolls as much as I do, and when you just have several hours to experience a city as enormous as Tokyo, you may not want to waste your time walking around.
That’s why when looking for a place to stay, I’m always trying to book a place that: a) is close to the center b) has breakfast included in the booking price, so I don’t have to spend time on shopping and cooking.
In Tokyo, I found a fab, inexpensive hotel on Booking.com, APA Hotel Hanzomon Hirakawacho. It’s cuddled in-between residential buildings, close to the central Hanzomon station, a few minutes walk from the Imperial Garden.
Why I liked it so much (despite the tiniest room ever)? The location was central, the breakfast was a delicious mix of Japanese and continental (however, if you’re not bold with food, stay away from the local delicacy – yobu 🤔), and the room, albeit minuscule, had all amenities provided, with a super-comfortable, cozy bed and pillows.
It cost us ca. 50 euro for two people per night with breakfast. Not bad for central Tokyo, I think.
Tip: Calculate what makes more sense for you, an accommodation that’s close to top attractions, where you can access many places on foot, or a more remote and cheaper place to stay, but with an overhead on the transport.
5. Worry about food later.
Before I came to Tokyo, almost everyone warned me about its ridiculous prices. Actually, it wasn’t that bad at all. Sure, you can easily splurge a few hundred dollars on fugu here. Welcome to the world’s gourmet capital! Nevertheless, you can find some REALLY delicious food here, without a problem, that will be very affordable.
Wherever you go, there’s street food, canteens, cafes, ramen bars, sushi places, sushi fast food restaurants, maiden cafes, cat, dog, robot, and owl cafes (yes!), creperies, and whatever you can possibly imagine. The variety is enormous.
During our short stay, we tried an enormous amount of food. We ate all the time, and I couldn’t help but gobble everything I could see. The food in Tokyo is heavenly!
Depending on the meal and place, we were paying 400-1200 yen per dish, which is… 3-7 Euro. Hardly extravagant. But, the proof is in the pudding.
Hover over a photo to see the price.
What’s the best part? We hadn’t planned on visiting any particular place in advance. Apart from one rule, which was: “Don’t follow TripAdvisor or tourists,” we merely ate whenever and wherever we were hungry. I told you, food is everywhere in this place!
Tip: In a place such as Tokyo, you won’t be starving. Go to places attended by the locals. Try restaurants further away from the main streets. Enjoy!
Ready to Tame Tokyo in 36 Hours?
I hope your next visit to Tokyo will last longer than 36 hours (and mine too!). However, the above tips can be applied to any place, so keep them in mind.
Decide how much time you have, set a tentative plan, figure out how to get to each place, make sure you have an excellent place to stay in a strategic area and don’t get obsessed with finding food, focus on your itinerary.
Good luck on your next trip!