Planning a trip to Japan? Not sure how long to spend in Tokyo? Worried about how expensive Japan is? Whether you have a weekend in Tokyo or 3 days in Tokyo, this itinerary tells you exactly how to spend 72 hours in Tokyo and should reassure any worries you have and confirm why Japan is an unmissable country to experience in your lifetime!
I visited Japan for two months in 2017, I travelled through the cities and the countryside and it’s also where I met my partner, so we have plenty of plans to return to Japan too!
I visited Tokyo during the spring and while a couple of the parks I mention in this guide are particularly beautiful with the cherry blossom in bloom, the parks are so beautiful any time of year.
In 2017, I was also recently out of university and travelling on a budget. So this guide is very budget focused, all these Tokyo activities are free or require just a small fee, so if you’re planning to visit Tokyo on a budget then this guide is for you!
If you’re visiting Japan, make sure you know about these tips and travel etiquette for first time visitors.
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Where to Stay in Tokyo
Tokyo is huge and the options for places to stay can be overwhelming. I stayed in some great budget options in Japan, especially the capsule hostels, which were a lot of fun! I found being based in Shinjuku/Shibuya was easiest for everything I wanted to do.
Capsule hostel - Nine Hours Shinjuku-North
Quirky Hostel - Book and Bed Tokyo Shinjuku (sleep in bookshelf capsules, a book lovers dream!)
Japanese Style Hostel with private rooms - Imano Tokyo Hostel
Budget hotel - Hotel Keihan Tokyo Yotsuya
Mid-range Hotel - Daiwa Royet Hotel Nishi-Shinjuku
How to spend 72 hours in Tokyo: Day 1
Shinjuku Gyoen National Park
These beautiful gardens are found in the popular Shinjuku and Shibuya district of Tokyo and they are a real oasis in the centre of the city. Entry to the park and gardens is free.
The gardens were originally the grounds for the Naito Family residence in the Edo period, but today the park is managed by the government and is open for all the public to enjoy.
If you’re visiting during spring, there are a large number of cherry blossom trees to enjoy and photograph, although during this period the park does get busy, so head there early if you want to photograph the trees without large groups of people.
Alternatively, head to the opposite side of the lake to capture a landscape shot of the park with the reflections of the blossom in the water.
If you are thinking of visiting during spring, you can track the progress of the blossom and when sakura season is predicted to peak here.
Next, head to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, also located in Shibuya. As well as being a beautiful shrine and grounds, I enjoyed this shrine because of the nice, peaceful walk down the long track to reach it. On the walk you will also see the stacks of Sake barrels which make for great photos as well as the majestic torii gates.
Similarly to Shinjuku Gyoen National Park, the Meiji shrine also feels like a peaceful oasis in the middle of the busy city.
Entry to the shrine is free.
Please be respectful in the shrine and follow signs and instructions inside the complex.
Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck
The Metropolitan Government Building is also in Shinjuku and is recognisable by its twin tower structure. This is still active government offices so you are required to have your bags screened prior to entry for security reasons.
Although there are lots of observation decks and opportunities for great views in Tokyo, I’ve listed the Metropolitan Government Building because it is free entry.
The deck is popular because it stays open late, so you can enjoy night views of the city. If you visit just before sunset, this is peak time and be prepared for a 40 minute wait for the elevators. However, the line moved very quickly and I wasn’t waiting that long at all, more like 25 minutes.
I was able to get to the observation deck and enjoy the views across the city. On a clear day you can see Mount Fuji.
Another option for great views over the city is the recently opened Shibuya Sky observation deck. I’ve not been as it’s only opened recently, apparently the views are incredible but the tickets are 2000yen. You can save money and avoid the queue if you book online.
After seeing sunset over the city, head back to Shinjuku and spend your evening in Golden Gai.
Golden Gai is made up of six narrow alleyways with tiny bars which can often only accommodate up to 6 people at a time! So you might need to search a bit to find one with space.
Golden Gai is such a unique city experience and architecturally fascinating, be sure to snap lots of photos of the tiny alleyways and traditional storefronts. I met so many people in these tiny bars and we later went out to karaoke together!
Don’t be afraid to chat to people, Japanese people are very friendly and interested in you, even if there is a language barrier.
If you tire of Golden Gai, head out to the lights and sounds of Kabuchiko. The streets with their neon signs are dazzling and it feels like this part of the city never sleeps!
This is also the red light district, full of all night bars and restaurants, plus home to the famous Robot Restaurant. There are live theatre performances, band karaoke, bizarrely themed bars, all-night shopping. You name it, you can find it here and all through the night. Either research what’s on before your visit or wander around and see what takes your fancy!
72 hours in Tokyo: Day 2
The Sensoji Shrine is located in Asakusa, so it’s a little bit of a futher trip if you’ve been based in Shinjuku like me!
This was my favourite shrine, decorated in vivid red, this is Tokyo’s oldest temple, finished in year 645! It is also the most visited spiritual site in the world with over 30 million visitors every year. Because of this, I would recommend visiting early if you want to avoid the crowds!
Tokyo National Museum
After the Sensoji Shrine head over to the Tokyo National Museum. There is a small entry fee for this museum but it is only 620yen which is £4.60/$5.75 and considering how interesting and informative this museum is, the ticket price is extremely good value.
I’m not always a fan of visiting museums but this museum was engaging and interesting and I spent a long time there!
An alternative museum is the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku. It is more expensive (1900yen) and I have not visited but it does come highly recommended and there are daily samurai demonstrations.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is a great stop to check out quickly on your way from the museum.
The Imperial Palace is home to the Emperor and the Japanese Imperial Family, it also covers a huge area in the Chiyoda City, the centre of Tokyo.
You can only go inside the grounds on certain days of the year such as the Emperor’s birthday and New Year’s Day. There are guided tours of the gardens twice daily in Japanese and English if you would like to go in but since I was on a budget, I explored the outer Imperial Palace East Gardens.
Nearby the Imperial Palace is this lesser known shrine in Tokyo. The reason I like the Hie Shrine is because it has the continuous walkways of torii gates, similar to the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.
If you have time to stop here, I really recommend it.
Shibuya Crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and I was determined to see and experience it!
You will find it easily as it’s labelled on Google Maps. The Starbucks on the corner of the crossing also has a great view from the upstairs window if you’d like to watch the hustle and bustle from above.
Harajuku and Japanese Karaoke
In the evening, head back to Harajuku and experience the fun and colour of the Harajuku district.
This is also the area where I met up with some Golden Gai friends and we went to a Japanese Karaoke. If you have the chance to do some karaoke I can’t recommend enough, it’s all part of the Japanese city experience!
72 hours in Tokyo: Day 3
Tsukiji fish market
For sushi lovers, this one is for you. This huge fish market is famous for its tuna auctions, the atmosphere is amazing and I cannot recommend buying some of the freshest sushi you’ll ever have.
Tokyo TeamLab Borderless
The Tokyo teamLab Borderless museum is not an attraction I visited on my trip as it wasn’t yet open in 2017. However I’ve heard so many great recommendations and seen incredible photos that I would be more than happy to spend £18/$21 on a ticket to see this exhibition.
This modern art museum uses light, mirrors, projections and colour to create interactive exhibits. This museum is popular so buy your tickets in advance to skip the queues and allow 3+ hours to explore it all.
In case you hadn’t gathered, I love aerial viewpoints and this one was my favourite!
Tokyo Tower is a distinctive orange tower in the city which has 360 degree views of Tokyo and I was lucky enough to have a clear day so I could see Mount Fuji too (see the photo below).
Tickets are only 1200yen, £9/$11, so I could definitely justify it, plus there was no time limit for how long I could spend up there. I went late afternoon and watched the sunset.
Be sure to take some photographs from the outside of this unique building too!
I hope this 72 hour itinerary gives you some inspiration for your trip to Tokyo, whether you’re there for 3 days or longer!
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Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: For all my longer trips and for the entire year I’ve spent in Australia, my partner and I have always used World Nomads. They cover everything I need and I can buy coverage for a year at a time, they also allow you to purchase cover when you’re already outside your home country. Plus my camera gear and equipment is covered and they also have special cover for when I’m scuba diving too.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.