Seeing Tokyo in just 48 hours is a sort of Japanese version of Mission: Impossible. But it can be done as long as you know where to go and don’t waste your precious time running in circles. Are you overwhelmed by too many options? Don’t worry: just follow our recommendations and you will have a blast.
Though Tokyo is by no means a green city, it has its share of beautiful parks and gardens, and Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the most elegant and charming. Originally built on the site of a private mansion owned by an important feudal lord, it is an oasis of peace in the middle of the bustling metropolis.
The 58.3-hectare-wide park is divided into three distinct styles, and whilst the French Formal and English Landscape areas have their own merits, the quiet and romantic Japanese traditional garden is by far the most fascinating.
This park has a lot to offer to nature lovers. There are more than 20,000 trees, including 1,500 cherry trees that in late March never fail to attract thousands of people, while in autumn, Maple Hill explodes in a riot of reds and yellows leaves. On the other side of the garden, there is also a beautifully designed greenhouse with 2,400 different tropical and subtropical plants on display. But if you don’t have enough time to explore the whole place, head directly to the Japanese garden.
Shinjuku Gyoen, 11 Naito-machi, Shinjuku-ku
Asakusa is touristy, overcrowded, and chaotic. Still, every first-time Tokyo visitor makes a point to check it out, and with a good reason: because it’s worth it. Starting with Sensoji—arguably Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple—and its iconic gate-cum-giant-red-lantern, this district exemplifies traditional working-class Edo-period Japan at its best.
Take your time to explore Nakamise-dori (the charming shopping street leading to the temple) and marvel at the five-story pagoda. And when your stomach starts to grumble, you have an endless choice of typical Japanese dishes, from Asakusa’s famous soba noodles joint Namikiya Soba to tempura at Masaru and unagi (eel) at Unagi Irokawa. Don’t miss nearby Kappabashi, a street full of kitchenware shops where you can buy those cute plastic replicas of food.
Sensoji, 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Namikiya Soba, 2-11-9 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku
Masaru, 1-32-2 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Unagi Irokawa, 2-6-11 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku
The world otaku capital is where people go looking for retro manga and the latest video games and figures, but even if you are not into those things you should experience Akihabara’s electric atmosphere. You may even be tempted to visit one of the district’s popular maid cafes, like @home café. Otherwise just stroll around the area, try your hand at one of the many game arcades, and when night comes, marvel at all those huge neon billboards.
@home café, 3F 1-11-4 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda-ku
We begin the second day with a relaxing stroll around one of Tokyo’s best-preserved old-style neighbourhoods—Yanaka. Start at Yanaka Ginza, the area’s most popular shopping alley, where the locals still do their daily shopping and you can taste Niku no Suzuki’s famous meat croquettes or Yanaka Shippoya’s cat tail-shaped grilled doughnuts. The rest of the district is a maze of narrow winding streets dotted with shrines, temples, and shops selling ceramics and other traditional wares. But the best thing about Yanaka is that particular atmosphere that reminds us of Japan during the 1950s and 1960s.
Yanaka Ginza, 3-13-1 Yanaka, Taito-ku
Niku no Suzuki, 3-15-5 Nishi Nippori, Arakawa-ku
Yanaka Shippoya, 3-11-12 Yanaka, Tato-ku
Shimo-Kitazawa is a laidback bohemian district is just a three-minute train ride from Shibuya and absolutely worth a detour. This neighbourhood, after all, is regularly voted by local youth as one of the top three places where they would like to live in Tokyo.
Full of narrow streets where only pedestrians are allowed, Shimo-Kitazawa belongs to an older counter-cultural era when students and intellectuals were more interested in stage theatre and live music. Indie music is still big, as can be seen by the many live houses (small concert halls) and second-hand record shops dotting the area. And if you happen to visit in July, you will be able to enjoy the local music festival, with most of the action happening in the streets. Last but not least, the district is famous for its many thrift and vintage clothes stores. Get off at the Keio Inokashira Line Shimo-Kitazawa and start exploring!
To end our visit with a bang, let’s go to Shinjuku, one of the city’s main sub-centres. This area has a lot to offer, starting with excellent views of Tokyo’s cityscape from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on the west side of the station. Then it’s time for shopping and dining. Shinjuku has some of the best department stores, including trend-setting Isetan. As for eating, the backstreets close to the station’s east side are chockfull of any kind of cuisine. However, what really sets the place apart from the competition is the sheer number of bars and cafés. In particular, if booze is what you are after, head to the sleazy-but-safe Kabukicho district or, better yet, to the atmospheric Golden Gai cluster of ramshackle tiny bars where you can mingle with the locals at such joints as Kokkome and Chi-Kitchen.
Isetan, 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku.
Kokkome, Maneki-dori, 1-1-5 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku
Chi-Kitchen, Hanazono 5-ban gai, 1-1-6 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku