Unmissable sights in the Japanese capital include Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and the grounds of the Imperial Palace. Save some time for casual exploring, since Tokyo’s neon dazzle and buzzing energy are attractions in themselves.
Arriving: Narita, 60 km (miles) northeast of the center, and Haneda, 20 km (miles) south, are Tokyo’s two international airports, both connected to the city by speedy train lines.
Moving on: The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto takes 2 hours and 15 minutes by the fastest Nozomi trains.
If you’re going to see the best of Tokyo in just two days, you’ll need to make an early start, and where better than at Tsukiji Fish Market. Spend a couple of hours exploring this famous market and enjoy a sushi breakfast before riding the subway 15 minutes north to reach Tokyo National Museum, next to Ueno Park. The museum hosts the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, supplemented by other Asian antiquities. Afterward, stroll around Ueno Park, home to a zoo, pagoda, Toshogu Shrine, Shinobazu Pond, and the Shitamachi Museum which gives a glimpse of Tokyo’s past. Also check out the bustling Ameyoko Market tretching beside and under the raised train tracks between Ueno and Okachimachi stations.
You can have lunch in either Ueno or Asakusa, just three subway stops east. This atmospheric area is home to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s most venerable Buddhist temple, which is best approached via the Nakamise-dori arcade of traditional craft and souvenir shops. Detour across the Sumida River for the bird’s-eye view from Tokyo Sky tree. Return to Asakusa to join the Sumida River Trip to Hama-rikyu Gardens. It’s a short walk from here to the Kabukiza Theater with its dramatic gabled facade.
Sign up for a free guided tour of the grounds of the Imperial Palace; you’ll need to register in advance but worth it for a close-up view of a fragment of this vast compound that has been home to the emperor and his family for nearly 150 years and, before that, was the location of Edo Castle. Explore the excellent collection at the National Museum of Modern Art, housed in a building across the moat that used to surround the castle.
Hop on the subway to reach Harajuku District, a good spot for lunch. From here, you can crunch down the gravel pathway to Meiji Shrine, the city’s main Shinto shrine. Check out teen fashions and trends on the shopping street Takeshita-dori, followed by more window shopping along tree-lined Omotesando, where you’ll find the Oriental Bazaar, perfect for souvenirs. The Nezu Museum is a lovely introduction to the arts of the region, and it also has a serene garden with a teahouse. Finish the day enjoying the bright lights and electric vibe of either Shibuya or Shinjuku, both easily accessed by subway or train.
To extend your trip…
Among the many day trips you can make are ones to Nikko, the mountainous home to the grand Tosho-gu Shrine and Kamakura, Japan’s ancient seaside capital, dotted with serene temples and shrines.