Tokyo is a fascinating metropolitan city to discover as there is a unique blend of modern and traditional Japanese culture. The capital has many districts or wards to explore, each with its character and charm.
Since 2018, there have been direct flights from Montreal to Tokyo on Air Canada, making it easier for Quebecers to travel to this exciting destination as all other major Canadian hubs were already linked to Tokyo. It was amazing news for me as I have strong connections with Japan since I had the opportunity to live in Tokyo and visit countless times; there is always something new to discover and enjoy in this fantastic city.
Here are my tips to make the most of your time in Tokyo.
Tokyo: A 4-Day Stay
Tokyo is huge and it is recommended if you plan your trip to be the most efficient; there are many different neighbourhoods to explore, and they are not that close to one another. I think the best things about Tokyo are wandering around the various areas and eating. You can also do a lot of shopping and visit museums if that interests you.
Travelling around Tokyo can get expensive; to save on that aspect, check out our post about Transportation in Japan and choose the right passes for your stay!
Tokyo - Day one
On your first day in Tokyo, I recommend taking this vibrant city full on by wandering around Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku.
Those areas are in the same neighbourhood in western Tokyo; technically, you could walk from one to another, but I don’t think it’s worth it since the train runs every two minutes. All these districts should be visited during the day and evening.
Tokyo - Shibuya
Shibuya is mind-blowing and represents the essence of contemporary Tokyo. While it is primarily an after-dark place to be with the neon signs all lit up and the restaurants and bars, I recommend going during the day as well.
If you get off at Shibuya JR station, take the Hachiko Exit for the best first impression.
A few steps further, you’ll encounter the famous Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing; find a spot, settle in, and just people-watch as they cross from all directions. You won’t encounter this kind of organized chaos anywhere else in the world.
There is a Starbucks on the second floor of the Shibuya Tsutaya building, where you can have lovely views of the area. Another one of my favourite spots is from Shibuya Sky with a 360-Observation Deck; you can even see further in Tokyo on a clear day.
Here are the best viewpoints in Shibuya.
- Starbucks in Shibuya Tsutaya
- Hikarie Building
- Shibuya Sky Observation Deck
- Magnet by Shibuya 109.
- Gusto Shibuya Station Restaurant
- Shibuya Mark City
Tokyo - Harajuku
Then, there is Harajuku where you will walk on the most crowded piece of street at Takeshita Dori; getting through quickly is nearly impossible. You can find a lot of accessories stores as well as very nice dessert places which are ideal for a snack while you are shopping.
Clothes stores are swarmed with students as this Tokyo area is most famous for its youthful fashion. Another one of my stops while in Harajuku and Tokyo is Daiso, a Japanese dollar store or ¥100-shop; I usually buy most of my household supplies there as they are of great quality and very cheap.
To escape the crowds, you can wander around Yoyogi-Koen, a park, and Meiji-Jingu shrine for some calm and serenity.
Then, you have Omotesando Hills, a complex of high-end designer boutiques and restaurants. The contrast is impressive with Harajuku next door.
Tokyo - Shinjuku
Shinjuku is HUGE and one of the central districts in Tokyo; being a business, entertainment and shopping, there is always something going on here. The Shinjuku station (bus, train and metro) is enormous and is a gateway to several other places in Japan, as most lines will go through this neighbourhood.
Shinjuku is divided into sections (east, west, north and south) covering a large area. You can visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to get the best view, and it’s free! The landscape of Tokyo at night is impressive from here.
For more stunning panoramas, the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel Tokyo is another famous tourist destination for movie buffs since it is where the main characters meet in Lost in Translation.
As you are in Tokyo, you can try singing Karaoke with your friends in a private booth! There are many in Shinjuku, with many different packages, from basic access to unlimited drinks.
One of the most popular Sakura viewing spots in Tokyo is at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It is also a wonderful place to retreat from the hectic city.
Shinjuku is also a great area to shop in Tokyo and the main stores are right next to the station. You can pretty much everything here but what I love the most are the lower levels of Isetan and Takashimaya department stores; the food halls are filled with delicious treats. While there are very expensive items such as high-grade perfect fruits, you can easily eat a lot in these food courts without busting your budget.
Even if there are Uniqlo stores worldwide, the ones in Japan are somewhat different and cheaper. Uniqlo specializes in basic clothing items, but the quality is very good for its price. As for electronics, check out Bic Camera, and you’ll most likely be able to find any model of camera, headphones, phones, SIM cards, hair curlers, shavers, tablets, etc. Then, you have BicQlo, which is a merger of the two. You can buy tax-free here if you are a foreigner on a tourist visa.
Tokyu Hands and Don Quijote (or Donki as the locals call it) are stores where you can find affordable household items, stationery, toys, original souvenirs, etc. I also stop by them to refill my craft supplies whenever I am in Tokyo.
Since you might be doing a lot of shopping in Shinjuku or Shibuya, make sure you have a credit card that waives the currency exchange fee, such as the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®. Indeed, most other cards add a 2.5% fee to the exchange rate, which can add up quickly.
Another of my favourite things to do in Tokyo is strolling down Memory Lane or Omoide Yokocho, which is conveniently located 5 minutes away from Shinjuku West Exit.
This area is great to visit at night as there are lots of small yakitori (skewered meat) restaurants and bars along the narrow alleyways; the feel and atmosphere are amazing with the paper lantern decorations. The restaurants are open from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Some will refer to Omoide Yokocho as Piss Alley, which might make you want to avoid it, but it’s a clean and charming place with so much history and the heart of Shinjuku.
Similarly, Golden Gai is another area with narrow alleyways with a terrific ambiance that is open up to the early morning. Golden Gai is more about bars and drinking as opposed to Omoide Yokocho. Look out for English signs, as many of them do not welcome foreigners. Also, there may be cover charges.
To end your night, try spotting Godzilla in Kabuchiko while walking back to the station.
Tokyo - Day two
If you rise early, it’s your opportunity to explore Tsukiji Fish Market. While it is not the same since it moved to Toyosu to accommodate the Tokyo Olympics, the Tokyo Outer Market is still fantastic. There are lots of stalls where you can taste delicious and fresh food. This part is beautiful to wander through, but it is pretty touristic.
Most stalls and shops open around 6 a.m. and close around noon.
Nearby, there is also a three-storey building where locals shop for fresh seafood produce. While I love to explore the Tokyo Outer Market, I will end my walk here, and purchase my ōtoro slices and uni boxes before going on the roof to eat, as there are picnic tables available.
With a belly full of tasty seafood, go to Ueno for a stroll. During the Sakura season, it can be very crowded. If you are travelling with children, there is a great zoo here.
Then, move on to Asakusa, where you can see the blend of traditional and modern Tokyo with its market and Tokyo Sky Tree in the back. Along Nakamise Street, you can shop for traditional souvenirs and local snacks before finding yourself in front of Sensōji Temple.
As Asakusa embodies old Tokyo, there are often festivals or matsuri held here. The summer festival is the one I prefer as I have fond memories of my youth with the spectacular fireworks over the Sumida River with my friends. It is very common to see people dressed in traditional costumes in Asakusa.
Tokyo Sky Tree is about a 20 minutes walk from Asakusa, where you can find a giant shopping centre with various themed stores such as a Pokémon Centre, a Harry Potter, a Marvel shop, etc.
The 6th and 7th floors have many very delicious restaurants; I recommend getting there a bit before 11 a.m. if you want to have lunch as lines can be very long. If you wish to go up Tokyo Sky Tree, try booking your ticket online don’t do it from the central entrance, where it can be the most crowded.
Another notable district to visit is Akihabara which is an anime or manga dreamland. As you exit the station, you will likely see girls dressed as maids handing out flyers for their Maid Cafes.
There are a lot of stores and arcades in the area where you can find anything anime or game related. Check out the Square Enix Café for Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts-themed drinks and snacks!
If you are looking for figurines or Gundam, the Donki in Akihabara has a great selection.
While you can Mario Kart in a few places in Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, you can also do so in Akihabara, the ‘’gaming’’ district. Make sure you have your international driving license and go with a reputable company; I recommend booking your activity on Viator.
Tokyo - Day three
On your third day, I would spend it in Odaiba, an artificial island around Tokyo. If you get there early enough, you can benefit from a discounted rate at Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a hot spring park that will take you back to Edo, Tokyo.
There is a hall with food, games and a lovely garden where you can enjoy the time as a couple or family but note that the baths are separated by gender since you have to go naked.
Odaiba is perfect for entertaining little ones as there are many giant shopping malls, a huge Ferris wheel, museums and exhibitions ; the business operators has annonced, in addition to the Odaiba island redevelopment project, a new shopping and entertainment center by 2025.
The MORI Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Planet is also not to be missed. It is near Yurakucho Station in Toyosu. As the name suggests, the art is digitally created, and you can interact with it too! You can quickly lose yourself in these museums even if you are not travelling with kids.
In the afternoon, you can take a stroll around Ginza, known for its high-end stores and restaurants. The Uniqlo Ginza is also one of the biggest and the most impressive!
Then, you can make your way to Tokyo Tower, an icon of the city; while it looks just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it is an integral part of the Tokyo landscape. You can go up for the views, but since Tokyo Sky Tree was built, the panorama is better from the latter, in my opinion, as you are higher up.
End your evening in Roppongi, the heart of Tokyo nightlife: bars, restaurants, clubs; you name it! It is a trendy place to go out, both for locals and tourists alike. Be wary of cover charges; some establishments might lure you in with appealing all-you-can-drink deals, but the final check might be very different.
Tokyo - Day four
On your last day in Tokyo, here are a few recommendations of things to do so you can choose based on your interests.
Among the Disney theme parks worldwide, the ones in Tokyo easily slide to the top. Tokyo Disney Sea is unique as there is nothing like it anywhere else.
There is also Sanrio Puroland, located on the outskirts of Tokyo, which is another themed park; this one focuses on Japanese personas such as Helly Kitty, Keroppi, Bazdt-Maru, etc. Alternatively, I really enjoyed the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, which celebrates classic Japanese animated characters like Totoro.
Yokohama is another big city near Tokyo and its Chinatown is quite impressive; if you wish to explore more of the metropolitan area, it makes a nice day trip.
Otherwise, I would hop on the train to Fuji-Yoshida to admire Mount Fuji more closely, get some fresh air and take a break from the skyscrapers. This location is incredibly amazing if you can catch the Sakura in full bloom which happens a bit later than in Tokyo.
As you can see, all I’ve described on this 4-day itinerary can physically be done within that timeframe (I have recently done the first three days myself). But you could also spend a day in each district to get a better feel and enjoy the place thoroughly.
Having lived in Tokyo, I can’t say I’ve yet explored the whole of Shibuya. So, while four days is feasible, try to make it 7 days so you’re not rushing it too much or do everything I’ve mentioned on day 4.
Tokyo - Where to eat?
There is no shortage of places to eat in Tokyo, and eating is one of the things to do in the city! Whenever I am back in Tokyo, I try out new restaurants!
Here are a few recommendations, but don’t be afraid to wander around and get in line with locals at a random restaurant; if locals are lining up, chances are that it will be super tasty!
You can find full meals for ¥1000 while you can easily eat for ¥35,000 in one sitting; Tokyo is for all kinds of budgets.
Ootoya: this is a chain serving tasty homey Japanese food such as tonkatsu. There are a lot of set meals and quite affordable at ¥1000 per person; while children can be picky eaters, Ootoya has kid-friendly food.
Sukiya: another chain that serves Japanese fast-food dishes such as curry, ramen and donburi (rice bowls). The food is comforting and great for a quick and filling meal.
Lower levels of department stores: Isetan, IOIO, Takashimaya, etc., have great food halls
Sushi no Midori: there are a few of these in Tokyo, and this sushi place is amazing and affordable. Lines can be quite long, so you’d better get here as soon as it opens or before peak mealtime; they give out limited seating tickets every day.
Tsukiji Outer Market: there are plenty of fantastic restaurants in the area, and the seafood is as fresh as it can be. Restaurants open around 5 a.m. and close around noon.
Narisawa: this is a fine dining restaurant or kaiseki where they serve a tasting menu based on the season. The whole meal is an experience in itself, from the deliciousness to the culinary voyage you are taking with their presentation. Reservations are required and it can be hard to get a table.
Tokyo - Where to stay?
As Tokyo is a huge city, choosing a place to stay will mostly depend on your interests and what you plan to do while in town. I recommend staying close to a central station or one that is well-connected.
The major stations in Tokyo are:
- Tokyo Station
- Shinagawa Station
- Shibuya Station
- Shinjuku Station
- Ikebukuro Station
- Ueno Station
While Asakusa is not one of the major stations, it is very well connected to the rest of Tokyo. In addition, it is conveniently located on the Keikyu Airport Line so it is the perfect area to stay if you have an overnight layover with an airport change.
My favourite hotel here is Sakura Hostel Asakusa, which offers both dorms and private budget rooms; I always pay with my HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® to avoid foreign exchange fees, earn more points as this is a travel expense and be able to redeem them to cover the charge when I get home.
Alternatively, Akasaka (not to be confused with Asakusa) and Ginza are good places to use as a base to explore as it is centrally located and close to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo Tower, Tsukiji Market, etc.
If you are travelling on your own or need a quick pit stop, you can try out Nine Hours, a Capsule Hotel; this kind of ‘’capsule“ originated in Japan even though you can find it elsewhere in the world nowadays. It’s quite a unique experience to do in Tokyo.
Nine Hours is a chain, and the one in Hamamatsucho is the most convenient for airport transfers as it is located on the Keikyu Airport Line. Should you be flying out of Narita, there is a branch in terminal 2. You can also find many other independent Capsule Hotels in Tokyo.
Then, there are several Marriott Hotels to choose from in Tokyo, and they offer tremendous value. For example, I can book the Aloft Tokyo Ginza, located on the Keikyu Airport Line for convenience, for 33,000 points per night instead of paying the standard fare of ¥41,500.
I wouldn’t usually elect to stay in Ginza because it is a pricey neighbourhood, but it becomes much more accessible with points. With the current exchange rate, which translates to $420!
If we calculate how much our Marriot Bonvoy points are worth for this stay in Tokyo, we come up with this:
$420 ÷ 33,000 points x 100 = 1.27 ¢
This is superior to Milesopedia’s target of 0.9 ¢ per point, so this is a good use of Marriott Bonvoy points.
Where it gets better is that you can also book the Aloft Tokyo Ginza by redeeming your annual free night award certificate, as shown here.
You will receive an amazing value in return since those certificates are gifted to Marriott Bonvoy® American Express®* Card and Marriott Bonvoy® Business American Express®* Card holders as you renew your cards.
Respectively, the cards’ fees cost $120 and $150, so for a family or a couple, each adult could subscribe to both cards and you’d earn four annual free night’s awards to redeem for your trip to Tokyo.
If you do the math and follow the itinerary suggested in this article, your 4 nights will come to $570 instead of $1680. Employing them will help you travel to Tokyo at a fraction of the cost; in this case, it’s a third of the price!
Tokyo - How to get there with points and miles?
I’ll be honest with you: flying to Tokyo with points will not be easy in the coming months as it is one of the top destinations of the year since it just reopened last October after being closed down by the pandemic. Even before, Tokyo and Japan were already very trendy.
You will either have to book far in advance or last minute with the hopes that partner airlines will release more award seats at a fixed price. See our complete guide here for a thorough explanation of how to travel to Japan with points and miles.
Tokyo - How to get around?
Tokyo has two airports: Narita and Haneda, which are considered sister airports, so you might encounter airport changes if you are connecting.
While there are many ways to transfer from one to another, the easiest and most affordable way is to hop on the Keikyu Airport Line, which links the two in 90 minutes. The cost will be around ¥1,700. I want to reassure you again; you stay on the same train until the terminal, so there is no need to worry about getting lost in translation.
Both airports are well served by public transportation; while the NEX (Narita Express) is the most practical, taking the Keisei Line can get you to Tokyo for a third of the price.
As for sightseeing in Tokyo, your best bet is to purchase a day pass to hop around public transportation. For more information about transport and details on the different passes, check out our complete guide here.
It is also worth mentioning that Google Maps is your best friend when navigating the Tokyo public transportation map. In all honesty, even locals don’t really know the optimal way or how to travel from point A to point B before pulling their phone out.
Google Maps will list all the available routes as well as the cost, platform number, which car to be in to get out faster and which exit to take to reach your destination!
You can plan your day and take screenshots of how to get from one place to another and back to where you are staying.
In order to stay connected and utilize Google Maps in Tokyo, it is recommended to buy an eSIM with Airalo. For a long time, I kept off that path and relied on the offline version on my phone and Wi-Fi, but getting lost in a random station in Tokyo can be overwhelming and frustrating.
I now use Airalo as the cost to relieve me of a few headaches is just a few dollars to have data on the road. Please refer to our guide here for a full tutorial and how to receive a 3$ credit upon opening your Airalo account.
Tokyo will likely be your entry point into Japan; I highly recommend spending at least four days in the area as it is a fascinating and vibrant city.
Furthermore, with direct flights from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, it is also the perfect destination for a week’s holiday. Some might argue that it is far for just a week, but I speak from experience; you will have a wonderful time in Tokyo no matter the length of your stay.