It would be hard to experience all of Tokyo in just a few days.
From wondrous sites like the Tokyo Tower and Shibuya Crossing to historical landmarks such as the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace, Tokyo is a city full of amazement, entertainment, and historical Japanese culture, not to mention a melting pot for hundreds of other cultural influences as well.
As the world's most populated city, Tokyo boasts inhabitants from all over the world, making its overall population more than 14 million people.
And just as startling is that more than 14 million people visit this city every year as well!
Six years ago, I was one of those people.
As someone who loves to travel and to try new things, I had gone to Tokyo on holiday to visit a close friend who had promised me an unforgettable experience.
And - after a week of touring shrines and quaint garden spots, discovering the best of Tokyo nightlife, spending long afternoons wandering back streets and finding hidden gems in obscure storefronts, and going on more Tokyo food tours than I care to admit - I was hooked.
When my friend asked me what time my plane was leaving the next day, I told her I had extended my trip. And now, six years later, I still am not ready to leave!
- Tokyo is a city for everyone.
- Tokyo and Beyond: 2 Days with a Private Tour Guide
- Day 2 - Relaxing in Hakone and Return to Tokyo
- Ready to Embark on an Exclusive Private Tour? Book with City Unscripted!
Tokyo is a city for everyone.
Whether it's finding the best food tours or learning sushi making on your own, foodies everywhere will fall in love with the food scene in this city.
Whether it's shopping for some of the world's most high-end fashion brands or browsing for hours through racks of vintage clothes, fashionistas will find Tokyo a shopper's paradise.
And whether you love modern architecture or are more drawn to places that promote the past, you will have so much fun visiting everything from modern buildings like the Tokyo Skytree to historical sites like the Imperial Palace and the Sensoji Temple.
Tokyo is a city that can be gobbled up quickly or taken in slowly, each new experience like a different taste in your mouth.
But regardless of how you decide to experience it, no one comes to Tokyo and later regrets it.
Having worked as a tour guide for many years now, I never tire of taking a private tour group to experience whatever side of Tokyo they are most anxious to get to know. Though I love the quiet haunts and hidden gems that lurk in each different neighborhood, I also love the wild side of Tokyo too.
But there is another experience outside of the city. For those travelers who have the time and/or the desire to see what is waiting outside of the hustle and bustle of this glorious city, there is another private tour that is by far one of the best for anyone who wants to know more about Japan than just what Tokyo offers.
Are you intrigued? Then join me on a three-day journey to experience a little of what Tokyo holds on its outskirts, in the areas not always as traveled but just as intriguing and unforgettable as the city itself.
Tokyo and Beyond: 2 Days with a Private Tour Guide
Day #1: Trip to Hakone and Views of Mount Fuji
When it comes to taking an overnight trip to somewhere outside of Tokyo, Hakone is one of my top choices for any of my tour groups who are looking for something special to do.
With its tranquil Lake Ashi, atmospheric shrines and temples, historical walking trails, and a concentration of some of the best art museums in Japan, this mountainous hot spring town has a lot going for it.
The itinerary I've laid out for us will help make the most of your time here.
Stop #1: Departure from Tokyo
Our fun tour will start early in the morning with a departure from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station and the journey will take us a little less than an hour and a half.
One of my favorite parts about living in Japan is the unparalleled efficiency of this country. An example of this is the luggage service at the train station. Since we will be staying overnight in Hakone, we can leave our bags at the station, and they will be delivered for us by 3 pm to the place we decide to stay.
Stop #2: Hakone Open Air Museum
Nestled amidst the picturesque mountains of Hakone, the Hakone Open Air Museum is a haven for art enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Every time I visit this vast expanse of outdoor art paradise, I am immediately captivated by its unique blend of artistic expression and breathtaking natural beauty.
The museum's open-air concept allows visitors to explore an extensive collection of contemporary sculptures set against the backdrop of lush greenery and panoramic vistas.
Each piece of artwork here holds its own story, inviting contemplation and reflection as you wander through the expansive gardens and pathways.
From towering sculptures that dominate the landscape to delicate and thought-provoking installations, the diversity of artistic styles and mediums is truly awe-inspiring at this open-air museum.
One of the highlights of the museum is the symphony of art and nature that unfolds in front of you.
As the seasons change, so does the scenery, creating a dynamic and ever-evolving experience for the viewer.
From cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant foliage in autumn to the snow-capped peaks in the winter, Mother Nature helps to transform the outdoor exhibition into a living canvas, constantly shifting with the passage of time.
Beyond the visual splendor, the Hakone Open Air Museum offers a multi-sensory experience. With works ranging from the delightful and powerful to the eccentric and surprising, there’s a great deal to see. Some of my favorites are the stone head of the woman weeping a tear into the water below her (La Pleureuse by Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne), and the interactive Horiuchi MacAdam’s Knitted Wonder Space 2, a design created by using over 6oo kilos of braided nylon!
Whether we are admiring the art, taking in the serene beauty of the surroundings, or simply finding solace in the tranquil atmosphere, the Hakone Open Air Museum is a sanctuary for the soul. It's the perfect spot to begin our day in Hakone.
Stop #3: The Hakone Tozan Railway
Embarking on the Hakone Tozan Railway is embarking on a journey through stunning natural landscapes and breathtaking mountain vistas.
As we board the charming red train at Hakone-Yumoto Station, you will know already that you are in for a treat!
With a total climb of over 200 meters, the train slowly meanders its way up the mountains, following a zigzagging track that allows passengers to savor every moment of the picturesque journey.
Known as a "switchback" track, there are three places during our destination where the conductor and driver actually switch positions!
As the train chugs uphill, the landscape unfolds before our eyes, revealing panoramic views of rolling hills, dense forests, and cascading waterfalls. The windows of the train frame these scenic wonders, inviting you to immerse yourself in the beauty of Hakone's natural splendor and wonder how all this can be just outside of the world's busiest city.
Stop #4: Transfer to the Hakone Tozan Cable Car
After the train ride, we will transfer at Gora Station from the Hakone Tozan Railway to the cable car to continue our climb and witness even more splendor that Japan's mountains have to offer.
The Hakone Tozan Cable Car is a remarkable mode of transportation.
Even if you don't like heights, you will delight in seeing how easily the cable car is able to ascend the steep slopes of Hakone, offering us truly stunning views along the way.
From the lush greenery of the surrounding forests to the deep blue hues of Lake Ashi, it's a panoramic vista that captures this area's natural splendor.
Even Mount Fuji can be viewed in the distance when the weather is cooperating. It's truly a ride to be savored and always leaves me a bit speechless, no matter how many times I do it.
Stop #5: Visit the Owakudani volcanic valley
At the top of our climb, we will disembark at Sounzan Station and transfer to one of the ropeway gondolas headed for Owakudani.
Owakudani is one of the most popular places to visit in Hakone and one spot I would suggest never missing.
The ropeway to Owakudani is a thrilling and captivating adventure that will take us on yet another scenic journey, but this time through Hakone's volcanic landscape. As we step onto the ropeway and feel the gentle swaying of the gondola cars, you will know you're about to embark on another cool experience, this one even more unique than the last.
As the ropeway ascends, the panoramic views become increasingly dramatic. The lush greenery of the mountains will quickly give way to rugged volcanic terrain, with steam rising toward us from the volcanic vents below.
The landscape takes on an almost otherworldly charm, and the air is tinged with a faint scent of sulfur, reminding us of the powerful forces of nature at play in this region.
After we disembark from the gondola, we can join one of the tour operators for a chance to witness the Owakudani Volcanic Steam Zone up close. (This area had been closed to visitors for a few years but is reopened right now. There is always a chance it could be closed again when we visit, as it is always dependent on weather conditions and volcanic conditions).
The steaming vents that you will witness below us have been said to be a geological wonder and the black eggs cooked in the sulfur are a popular snack...it's even said that they add 7 years to your life for each one you eat!
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Stop #6: Continue on the Hakone Ropeway to Togendai on the shores of Lake Ashi
The Hakone Ropeway to Togendai is yet another beautiful journey and we will take it to begin our descent to the lake below.
Once again, the panoramic windows in the gondola provide unobstructed vistas of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and the glistening Lake Ashi below.
As I approach Togendai, the view becomes even more enchanting. The ropeway offers a bird's-eye perspective of the famous torii gate of Hakone Shrine, standing proudly at the edge of the lake. The sight is truly captivating, and you will undoubtedly be in awe of the harmonious blend of nature and spirituality that greets us here.
At this point, we will no doubt be ready for a quick meal and the Togendai View Restaurant is an easy place to find some Japanese food to enjoy. (If you haven't already participated in a food tour in Tokyo, this will be a good opportunity for me to introduce you a little to the Japanese food culture when we order.)
And, since this restaurant is situated inside the Togendai Station, we will be able to eat while we wait to board our boat cruise from this spot.
Stop #7: Enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Ashi
Embarking on a boat cruise on Lake Ashi is a magical experience that transports me to a world of serene beauty and tranquility every time I experience it.
As the boat gently glides across the crystal-clear waters, you will again see the torii gate of the Hakone Shrine standing proudly at the water's edge.
The boat gracefully maneuvers around the gate, offering all aboard a closer look at its intricate design and the striking contrast it creates against the backdrop of the lake and mountains.
Our trip around the lake should take about an hour and the sightseeing boats all offer observation platforms where a 360-degree unobstructed view is available while we sit back and comfortably cruise. On clear days, you will be able to see Mt Fuji from here as well.
Stop #8: Overnight stay in Hakone
Though some guests and private tours like to head back to Tokyo by nightfall, I'm always a big proponent of staying over for the evening when my guests ask.
Staying in a traditional Japanese inn (known as a ryokan) is a unique experience that you can't always find in the city.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn where guests can immerse themselves in Japanese hospitality, customs, and aesthetics.
Ryokans have a long history dating back to the Edo period and are known for their serene atmosphere.
Fukuzumiro in Hakone is one of my favorite ryokans as it serves as a hot spring inn as well. This ryokan's charming wooden structure, adorned with exquisite details, creates a nostalgic ambiance that harks back to Japan's rich cultural heritage.
The lush gardens surrounding the inn provide a picturesque backdrop, inviting guests to unwind and embrace the beauty of nature.
The hospitality at Fukuzumiro is nothing short of exceptional. The attentive staff greets you with warm smiles and ensures that your every need is met with utmost care and consideration. From the moment you arrive until the time of departure, you'll feel like a valued guest, receiving personalized service that leaves a lasting impression.
Fukuzumiro also offers access to its own private hot spring baths, where you can immerse yourself in the healing waters and let yourself relax and melt away. The onsen facilities provide a blissful retreat, while also enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the natural hot springs.
Day 2 - Relaxing in Hakone and Return to Tokyo
After a languid morning enjoying breakfast and perhaps the onsen (hot springs) again, we will begin our journey back to Tokyo in the same manner that we came.
Depending on what else you have planned for your stay in Japan, our tour can end here or I can tempt you to spend the day in the city with me upon our return.
Because a tour with me (or any City Unscripted guide) will be a fully customizable tour, we can talk about what things you've already seen in Tokyo and what things are left that you haven't been able to explore.
But if you want to leave the itinerary up to me...I have a few ideas that would be a perfect way to end our time together.
Stop #1: Explore Asakusa
After spending the day outside of the city, I often like to take guests to Asakusa, a quaint neighborhood known as Tokyo’s historic district.
Asakusa is - in my humble private tour guide's opinion - a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Japan.
This vibrant and bustling neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including Sensoji Temple and Tokyo Skytree.
With its rich cultural heritage, delicious food, and endless shopping opportunities, Asakusa has something to offer everyone.
At the heart of Asakusa lies the magnificent Sensoji Temple and this will be our first stop together.
Sensoji Temple is a revered Buddhist temple that draws visitors from near and far. The grand entrance gate with its towering red lantern and dramatic Thunder Gate, marks the beginning of our exploration. From exploring the temple grounds to admiring the impressive architecture, we could spend a good part of the day here.
As we pass through the gate, we'll enter Nakamise Shopping Street, a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare filled with a delightful array of shops and stalls.
This lively street is a treasure trove of traditional Japanese souvenirs, local crafts, and delectable snacks. If you haven't had a chance to fill your shopping bucket or are still in need of a good impromptu Tokyo food tour, this is a good place to get both.
The vibrant atmosphere and the aroma of freshly prepared street food will create an enticing sensory experience.
From beautifully crafted fans and colorful kimono fabrics to mouthwatering treats like freshly baked ningyoyaki (sweet bean-filled pastries), there is something to tempt every visitor.
After we get our fill of Nakamise Street, we will head toward the main hall of Sensoji Temple, where the scent of incense wafts through the air.
The legend has it that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue out of the Sumida River. This statue was of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, and even though the brothers eventually put the statue back into the water, it always returned to them.
Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon and is now considered Tokyo's oldest temple to date.
The temple's intricate architecture, adorned with vibrant colors and intricate carvings, is a sight to behold. Inside the temple, you can take part in some of the traditional rituals such as tossing a coin into the offering box, saying a prayer, and experiencing the cleansing power of the smoke from the giant incense cauldron.
Stop #2: Tokyo Skytree
The Tokyo Skytree is an architectural marvel and an iconic symbol of Tokyo's skyline.
At the time of its completion, this television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo was the second tallest in the world and is still the tallest in Japan at a height of 634 meters.
Ascending the tower is an exhilarating experience as you'll soon realize as we ride the high-speed elevators up to the observation levels.
From the glass windows, you can marvel at the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, with its endless skyscrapers, bustling streets, and winding rivers. On clear days, you can even catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji in the distance, adding to the awe-inspiring vista.
The Tokyo Skytree is not just a vantage point but also a hub of entertainment and dining. The lower levels house a variety of shops and restaurants. Even an aquarium can be found on the ground floor!
And, if we are lucky to be here at night, we will get to see the tower's exterior illuminated with all of its vibrant lights, adding to the enchantment of the surrounding area.
Stop #3: Dinner in Izakaya Nonki
Ending a day in Tokyo with an excellent meal is always my favorite way to say goodbye to my guests and a good place to do this is Izakaya Nonki.
In Japan, an izakaya is an informal bar, similar to a pub or tapas bar.At Izakaya Nonki we can dine on some excellent Japanese fare, have a beer or glass of sake, and talk about the last two days and what else you'd still like to experience while you are in my host city of Tokyo.
And most importantly? We can talk about when you're going to return!
Ready to Embark on an Exclusive Private Tour? Book with City Unscripted!
If you want to unlock more secrets of Tokyo, then plan to embark on this or one of our many other exclusive private tours that our host guides offer through City Unscripted. At City Unscripted, you'll find a new and unique approach to helping travelers customize their experiences. All of our tours are private and tailored to your wishes.
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