To be clear: I've never spent 24 hours top in Tokyo. In fact, I wouldn't want to.
There are endless things to do in Tokyo, the busy bustling capital city of Japan, and 24 hours is never enough to get to know the city. The last time I visited Tokyo, I spent three days in total and still longing for more. But just a day after my trip to Japan, my editor at work challenged me to do a 24-hour Tokyo itinerary for the newspaper's weekend column. After doing a little adjustments on my original 3-day itinerary, turns out it's possible to maximize your first 24 hours in Tokyo by experiencing the top recommended things to do in the city. So much that I wish I had this itinerary with me when I flew to Tokyo back on April 2017 for the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 media junket trip.
While making this itinerary, I was surprised with how much of Tokyo can offer, even with only a day or less in hand. And I bet you'll be surprised too! So if you’ve only got a limited amount of time in Tokyo — like what I've experienced back then — just make sure you make the most of it!
Before Arriving in Japan
At first impression, Tokyo can be a bit overwhelming. Bear in mind to read or learn a little bit about the city: that includes your accommodation, budget, and options for getting around Tokyo. It's important to know where you stay OR pick the best place to stay beforehand so that you can make the best itinerary that fits your preference and schedule. To get around, walking is a real budget-saver. But trains and monorails would be more efficient for a one-day trip. I'd suggest you to have a one-day rail pass (and by all means please Google it) and get all the paperwork down (check this post for applying Japan visa from Indonesia). Don't forget to study the maps and keep one handy with you.
What to Do in Tokyo for 24 Hours
Assuming to arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport in the morning, take the Tokyo Monorail (free with JR Pass) to Hamamatsucho Station. From the station, take around 15 minutes walk to Tokyo Tower in Minato. Tokyo Tower is the iconic landmark of Japan, designed and inspired by Paris's Eiffel Tower. The top observation deck of Tokyo Tower will give you a great 360-degree view of the city, but sometimes it can be time consuming to go up and down. Also, you'll have to pay for a quite pricey yen (you can get nice aerial view from hotel buildings or Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for free). Get the best photo and spend more time by collecting photos on the ground and capturing the tower from the bottom looking up.
If you're already satisfied with the tower, walk back to Hamamatsucho Station and take the Japan Railway (JR) train to Tokyo Station. From the station, take around 20 minutes walk to the Tokyo Imperial Palace in Chiyoda, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. I suggest you to see the iconic Nijubashi bridges and visit the East Gardens. Don't forget to visit the Chidori-ga-fuchi Park, which is really beautiful and picturesque when it's cherry blossom season.
From Takebashi Station, take the Tokyo Metro to Kayabacho Station, then continue the trip to Tsukiji Station. Walk on your feet to the famous Tsukiji Market in Chuo. In the Tokyo's most popular fish market, you can have the best and authentic Japanese sushi or seafood for brunch or lunch. Don't forget to check out the fish auctions (mostly tuna) there.
Back to the Tsukiji Station, take the metro to Akihabara Station. Akihabara is a shopping district, a home to lots of electronic shopping centers, anime and gaming stores, and maid cafés. If you're a fan or probably just familiar with the idol girl group AKB48 (while in Indonesia it's represented by JKT48), Akihabara is their home base. Visit Don Quijote Akihabara for affordable tax-free souvenirs.
Just before afternoon, from Akihabara Station, take the train to Harajuku Station. Walk around 5 minutes to Meiji Jingu in Shibuya. It's a Shinto shrine, famous for its gigantic torii gates and nihonshu (sake barrels). This place is a peaceful escape from the busy Harajuku life. If you're lucky, you'll be able to witness a Japanese wedding procession during your visit (usually on Saturdays). Make sure to spend time and have a nice walk around the Yoyogi Park.
If you're ready to hustle and bustle again, walk back in the direction of the Harajuku Station but cross the street to the nearby Takeshita Street, the world-famous shopping district in Tokyo. The street is widely-known as the mecca of Japanese fashion trend, called the "Harajuku style". You'll find so many fashion boutiques, food shops, cute collectible stores, cosplay and lolita girls... but mostly people.
It's already night, but you'll notice the city's even more alive in the dark. It's time to enjoy the glimmering nightlife of Tokyo! From Harajuku Station, take a short train trip to Shibuya Station. Exit the Hachiko Exit and find Hachiko Square right outside the station. The featured statue is dedicated to Hachiko, an Akita dog whose life story is widely-known and honored for his faithfulness to his master. It’s been one of most popular meeting spots in Japan.
Then, try to blend in with the busy people of Tokyo and join the scramble at the Shibuya Crossing, the most famous and busiest crossing area for pedestrians in Tokyo. Every 3,5 minutes, all the traffic lights turn red and thousands of people cross the road at the same time. The crossing experience is amazing, with all the neon lights and advertising music adds up to the bustling atmosphere. Shibuya Crossing is often being called as the "Times Square of Tokyo". Shibuya is another well-known shopping district in the city, famous for its busy nightlife and neon lights. Don't forget to spend the rest of the night capturing the beauty of the city lights, giving the ramen shop a try, and taking purikura photos!