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3 Days in Tokyo: The Ultimate Weekend Itinerary

There's so much to see, eat and do in Tokyo (temples! cosplay culture! sushi!), it's hard to fit it all in a weekend. But we've come up with a damn good 3-day itinerary (IOHO), which gives you the best the city has to offer. Get packing.

See recent posts by Carl Unger

Day 1

There’s a reason they call Tokyo the “city of the future.” At first glance, Japan’s capital looks like an endless ocean of skyscrapers, candy-colored neon, and 10-story mega-malls—but dive beneath its sci-fi surface and you’ll discover a city still rich in culture and tradition. Make your base the Mandarin Oriental, ideally located in the center of Tokyo with breathtaking views from all 179 rooms. From here, you can walk to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and the Imperial Palace, which was home of the Emperor of Japan for more than 400 years. The only way to explore the grounds is to book a tour in advance, or you can head to the southwest corner of the Imperial Palace Plaza to view the two bridges—the iron Nijū-bashi and the stone Megane-bashi. Afterwards, explore the main Imperial Palace East Garden, which is open to the public without reservations.

Tatsumi Yagura, a defense tower at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo
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Day 2

Get an early start and head to the popular Tsukiji fish market to check out the seafood stalls, watch the famous tuna auction, and eat a traditional sushi breakfast. Two buzz-worthy stands for fresh fish: Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. Next, go for a morning stroll in Meiji-jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to a late 19th-century emperor and his wife. You’ll pass through a 40-foot-high traditional torii gate and into 200 acres of sun-dappled parklands and cypress wood temples. Walk from Meiji to the Harajuku district, Japan’s pop-culture center and a stomping ground for Tokyo’s cool kids, where you can check out the cosplay kids dressed as sugar plum fairies, purple-haired punk rockers, and kick-ass anime characters while stuffing yourself with the popular rainbow-bright cream-filled crepes sold on street corners. Leave enough time to get to Shibuya in time for sundown, when swarms of locals surge across the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing as vast walls of neon flicker in the background. For dinner, we love the Michelin-starred Daigo, which specializes in “shojin” food (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). Among the plates to try: sweet potato and butternut squash tempura, fried bean curd with mushroom and mixed vegetables, and classic Soba noodles.

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Day 3

Most visitors whizz through Asakusa, the oldest part of Tokyo, in a couple of hours in order to tick off Senso-ji Temple and the kitsch-filled street market. Take more time to meander around the area’s atmospheric backstreets, however, and you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of kimono-clad women, cycling grandpas, and smoky shrines. You’ll also find some of the best soba (buckwheat noodles) in the city – try Owariya for bowls of velvety noodles topped with crisp prawn tempura. It’s worth walking across the Sumida River and ascending the 2,080-foot-high Tokyo Skytree for an eye-popping 360-degree sweep of the city and—if the weather is clear—a glimpse of Mount Fuji. Afterwards, you can spend the rest of your afternoon soaking up the sights and sounds of Shinjuku. Tokyo in microcosm, it’s packed with everything from themed sushi restaurants to gigantic karaoke bars and mind-blowing department stores like Tokyu Hands, which is perfect for stocking up on distinctly Japanese souvenirs like dainty stationary, neon light sticks, and Kabuki theatre face masks. For more on traditional Japanese culture, swing by the Samurai Museum to learn about the 800-year history of the country’s famous warrior clans. Dinner at Shima may cost a pretty penny, but it’s worth it for chef Manabu Oshima’s Wagyu beef sourced from his native Kyoto. Once you’ve had your fill of steak, head to the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt (made famous in the movie Lost in Translation) for a cocktail and gorgeous views of the twinkling city.

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