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2 Days In Tokyo, Japan: A Weekend Itinerary On A Budget

How To Spend 48 Hours & $480 On A Whirlwind Weekend Vacay In Tokyo

The perfect balance of Taylor Swift-approved sightseeing and grounding self-care.

When I learned that Tokyo, Japan, is the biggest city in the world, I don’t think I really conceptualized what that meant... until I started doing research to prepare for my trip there in early March. With more than 13 million people living there (and that’s only within the official city limits), it’s nearly twice the size of New York City, and as a first-time visitor, you can absolutely tell.

You can truly choose your own adventure, which is both exhilarating and overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. When I Googled “things to do in Tokyo” a few weeks before my trip, I was directed to list after list of hundreds of different museums, landmarks, and restaurants all over the city’s 23 (!) different districts. I quickly realized I needed to scale *way* down to maximize my experience during a short-term stay.

I was in Tokyo during a particularly exciting weekend in the city: the Tokyo Marathon. It’s one of the six Abbott World Marathon Major races, which in nonrunner lingo means it’s a bucket-list course that brings in participants from all over the world. Westin Hotels partnered with AbbottWWM to host runners and their supporters on marathon weekend, providing training support, recovery equipment, and post-race refueling. I got to attend and cheer on some new friends.

With Tokyo resident (and my new friend) Emi on race day.

Sarah Ellis

My trip also coincided with the beginning of peak tourism season in Japan. The country is famous for its cherry blossoms during spring, so much so that the sakura (the Japanese term for cherry blossom) is unofficially considered the national flower.

All this to say I managed to pack in a solid itinerary within a few days, filled with seasonal highlights and year-round faves, plus time to relax and take care of myself (a tricky thing to do while traveling). While I highly recommend customizing your trip — there’s literally something for everyone in Tokyo — here’s what I’d prioritize for 48 hours on a budget.


5 p.m.: Arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport

If you’re coming from the U.S., you’ll arrive in Tokyo a full day later than you left. Case in point: My 14-hour flight from Detroit left at 1 p.m. and got in at 5 p.m. the following day... a full 28 hours later than the time we took off (thank you, international date line).

I landed in Haneda airport, one of two major airports that serve the city. Both offer options for international flights — the main difference is that Narita sits about 30 miles farther outside the city center. If you choose that option, you’ll want to budget more time for travel into the city, and potentially more money if you plan to Uber (my personal recommendation because it’s easily accessible and takes zero brain power after you’ve gotten off a long-haul flight).

If you’re committed to public transit, Haneda and Narita are both connected to Tokyo’s rail system, which costs a few dollars depending on where you’re entering and exiting.

Uber to accommodations: ~$40 (30-minute ride)

7 p.m.: Have a chill dinner and go for a neighborhood walk

You’ll likely be exhausted by the time you get to your accommodations — thankfully, by the time I arrived at the Westin Tokyo in Shibuya, a central city district, I only had to make myself stay awake another hour or so.

To avoid crawling straight into bed, I’d recommend wandering the neighborhood and grabbing dinner at a casual local spot... or order room service if that’s your vibe. (TBH, it was mine and I regret nothing. The vegetable curry at the hotel was delicious.)

Dinner: $15

The first night walking around Shibuya.

Sarah Ellis

DAY 1 TOTAL: $55


8 a.m.: Do some yoga or a spa treatment

If you’re lucky (or maybe just extremely tired like I was), you’ll crash through the night and wake up feeling way more like a functioning person. Despite my best efforts, I found myself wide awake by 7 a.m. every morning and checking all my texts from friends from the hours I’d been asleep.

Not to sound like an over-the-top ~wellness girlie~, but I really recommend starting your first morning out with chill yoga or a massage, depending on how much money you want to spend. Japan is known for its cutting-edge beauty treatments like onsen baths and head spas. And after a long travel day and pretty brutal time change, prioritizing quiet mornings allowed me to recharge and set the tone for busy, fun days.

Yoga: $20

The view of Tokyo from my hotel room.

Sarah Ellis

9 a.m.: Pick up coffee or matcha

I can’t live without my morning coffee, but matcha lovers will also be in heaven in Japan. The drink is made unsweetened using freshly ground matcha powder, usually with a sweet treat or pastry alongside it to balance out the bitterness.

Coffee/matcha: $3

9:30 a.m.: Grab convenience store breakfast

Trust me on this: You need to get an egg sandwich from the nearest convenience store. It sounds random if you’re thinking of the vibes of an American gas station — but Japanese convenience stores are TikTok-worthy destinations in their own right.

Other items to try: onigiri (rice balls) and fruit sandwiches with strawberries and whipped cream.

Breakfast: $4

Yes, this is the ice cream section.

Sarah Ellis

10 a.m.: Walk around Asakusa and go to Senso-ji

I can’t stress enough that your itinerary (and the order in which you decide to do things) probably depends on where you’re staying because Tokyo is *huge.* My hotel in Shibuya made it relatively easy to get around the central districts — not to mention the Tokyo subway system is pretty easy to navigate thanks to English signage. Ubers are also quick and easy, but you’ll need to budget more like $15 to $20 per trip between neighborhoods.

If you’re planning on taking the subway, I have one extremely important pro tip: Add the Suica transit card to your phone wallet in advance. Think of it like Apple Pay for the Tokyo metro — you load money onto it (I added 1,000 yen or ~$6.60 at a time) and can tap in and out of the stations using contactless payment. The Tokyo subway charges by the length of your ride when you tap out at your destination, but each ride only costs a dollar or two.

Senso-ji Temple on a cloudy morning.

Sarah Ellis

Asakusa is a district in the northeastern part of central Tokyo known for its shopping, restaurants selling traditional Japanese snacks and dishes, and the Senso-ji Buddhist temple — which, IMO, is a must-see for anyone interested in ancient Japanese culture and history. Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo, built in 645 A.D. to honor Kannon, the goddess of compassion and mercy.

The temple grounds get crowded during the day, but there’s still room to roam around, take photos, and pick up an omikuji (written fortune) for 100 yen. Check out the Nakamise shopping street leading up to the temple where you can grab souvenirs and gifts to bring home.

Subway to Asakusa: $1

Fortune at Senso-ji: $1

Souvenirs: $15

1 p.m.: Have lunch at Tsukiji Outer Market

Hop on the subway from a quick 30-minute jaunt to Tsukiji Outer Market, accessible from Asakusa via a few different train lines. This massive food market is the definition of a choose-your-own-adventure lunch spot.

Grab a wagyu beef skewer, oysters, sashimi, sushi, Japanese omelet, pastries, fresh fruit, and a candied strawberry skewer with *the* most satisfying crunch. (Bachelor couple Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell did a roundup of their favorite eats here in January.)

The crunchy candied fruit skewer of my dreams.

Sarah Ellis

Prices vary depending on what you get, especially if you want to sample a bunch of meat and fish. But if you come hungry, expect to shell out a good amount of cash simply because of how many things you’ll want to try — some stalls take cards, but I’d recommend coming prepared with bills and coins. You can also book a guided tour if you want to know exactly what you’re spending going in.

Lunch: $45

4 p.m.: Go to a cat cafe

At this point, you’re probably hitting the afternoon slump from a combination of jet lag, a full stomach, and walking around all morning. Thankfully, there’s a very cute and cozy way to recharge if you’re an animal lover: at a cat cafe. This is exactly what it sounds like — an establishment that serves you tea and coffee while you play with cats. Even Ed Sheeran is a fan.

Cat Cafe Mocha is one of the most popular cat cafes in the city, with several locations scattered throughout the different districts. (It’s also located in a few other cities in Japan.) I’d recommend the Shinjuku branch since that will be a fun area to spend the rest of your evening. Pay 350 yen for a drink, then stay as long as you want; just be aware the cafe charges 200 yen for every 10 minutes. I also couldn’t resist buying a treat for the cats for an additional 500 yen.

I loved this little cat so much. I’ll never forget him.

Sarah Ellis

As for transportation, it’ll take you about 45 minutes by subway to get from the market to the cat cafe, and that’s a great option if you have the energy. I found myself wiped out in the afternoons and wanted to treat myself to Ubers. (The drive takes about 20 minutes.)

Uber: $15

Cat cafe: $15

7 p.m.: Refuel with a casual sushi dinner

In all likelihood, you’re not going to have the biggest appetite for dinner because of the massive all-you-can-eat lunch from earlier. To keep things light and easy, stop by a counter-serve sushi spot in the neighborhood. Shinjuku is a lively entertainment district filled with tons of restaurants and bars, and TBH, you can’t really go wrong with most of the options around here.

Dinner: $12

8 p.m.: Walk around Shinjuku at night

You can’t end your night without wandering the bright streets of Shinjuku — which, BTW, is the neighborhood in Tokyo where Taylor Swift filmed scenes from her “End Game” music video. I was lucky enough to get a tour from Andi Fachrul, a content creator who runs the IG account @swiftieintokyo.

Andi showing me Taylor Swift’s “End Game” filming locations.

Sarah Ellis

To cap things off, stop in a bar for some Japanese beer or sake and lively Saturday night vibes.

Nightcap (or two): $10

Uber home: $15

DAY 2 TOTAL: $156


9 a.m.: Participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony

After another (hopefully) solid night of sleep, start your Sunday with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony experience. You can book these all over the city, so I’d recommend searching your area and reserving a spot in advance — most places accommodate small groups, so you could do this with a friend or solo.

Whisking matcha with the help of our tea ceremony guide.

Sarah Ellis

You’ll learn about the history of tea culture in Japan and how traditional matcha is made and served, and you’ll get to take a turn grinding and whisking the drink yourself.

Tea ceremony: $35

10:30 a.m.: Explore Shibuya

Depending on which neighborhood you’re in, it should be pretty easy to access Shibuya via subway. Once you’re there, walk around the bustling streets, grab a coffee, and pop into a drugstore to pick up some TikTok-viral beauty products. I picked out items I had specifically seen on social media because (unsurprisingly) most of the packaging is in Japanese.

One can’t-miss spot in Shibuya is the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, the busiest street crossing in Tokyo and maybe the world. Wait until the walking lights turn on for pedestrians, and have your phone out to document the organized chaos.

The Shibuya scramble crossing before it got too crowded to film.

Sarah Ellis

Subway to Shibuya: $1

Coffee: $3

Drugstore beauty finds: $15

Noon: Grab lunch at a cafe

Stop by a cafe in Shibuya for a casual lunch — I had sushi, onigiri, or some type of sandwich every day I was in Tokyo. If you’re already craving convenience store food again, no judgment if you want to head back there for Round 2.

Lunch: $8

1 p.m.: Do some vintage shopping in Shimokitazawa

This one’s for the fashion girlies. I was determined to do some thrifting in Tokyo, and from my research I discovered that Shimokitazawa is an artsy district packed with secondhand clothing boutiques and antique shops. It’s a quick 15-minute car ride from Shibuya or accessible by subway in about a 40-minute trip.

I am not exaggerating when I say this was some of the best thrifting of my life. I wish I had time to budget three full days to scouring the vintage stores, because even in just a few hours, I snagged some all-time great finds, including a vintage houndstooth Versace vest that I will never be shutting up about (sorry in advance).

Uber to Shimokitazawa: $15

Vintage shopping: $150

4 p.m.: Grab an early dinner

It’s early, but since lunch was light and you’ve probably worked up an appetite from shopping, I highly encourage popping into a local spot in the neighborhood for a warm, hearty bowl of ramen to fuel up for your travels.

Dinner: $12

Vegan ramen from Afuri.

Sarah Ellis

5 p.m. Head to your next destination

It’s somehow (tragically) already been 48 hours, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what Tokyo has to offer. Since you’ll likely have bags with you from the day, Uber is the easiest bet to get to your next destination — be it the airport or train station to head to another city.

Uber to airport or train station: $30

DAY 3 TOTAL: $269

TOTAL: $480

Tokyo is perhaps the best city in the world for customizing a weekend exactly how you want it. For a massive metropolitan city, it’s surprisingly affordable, especially when in terms of food and transportation — even Ubers are easy to access and won’t set you too much over budget. Of course, I’d recommend spending a few more days in Tokyo if you can swing it, especially to take advantage of the parks and outdoor spaces during cherry blossom season.

Regardless of how much sightseeing you managed to squeeze in, there’s *always* going to be more in this magical city. I cured my FOMO by remembering that now I have the perfect incentive to book a trip back. Anyone want to come with me?