Shinjuku is busy, busy, busy. This Shinjuku one day itinerary will take you to the top sights in this bustling neighbourhood of Tokyo.
Shinjuku is exactly how I pictured Tokyo would be. The sheer amount of people and the scale of the buildings made me feel tiny. It’s busy from morning until night, and it’s worth a full-day visit. This is the perfect Shinjuku one day itinerary to hit the major sights.
Over 3 million people a day pass through Shinjuku station. That’s where you’ll likely start your day. The station itself is like its own mini city. Like many major train stations in Japan, it has a world of eating and shopping inside. Grab a snack and wander through the station, then surface into the real world to explore Shinjuku.
First time in Tokyo? Here’s the perfect one day Shinjuku itinerary:
Tokyo Metropolitan Building
The Tokyo Metropolitan Building is the headquarters of the Tokyo government. It’s grey and stern looking. At first glance, it looks very much like a government building. But the exciting part is on the 45th floor.
The 45th floor of the building has a free observation deck where you can see a sprawling view of Tokyo. On a sunny day, you can even see as far as Mount Fuji.
There’s usually a lineup to get in – it’s free after all. I’d recommend visiting during the day.
I’m a sucker for a good sunset, so we went in the evening. In the middle of the observation deck, there’s a cute gift shop. With bright lights. The lights of the shop interrupt the night-time view – there was a major glare reflected off the window. It was still really pretty and I’m glad we went. But next time, I would stick it earlier in my Shinjuku itinerary!
Shop & Eat
The most exciting parts of Shinjuku come alive at night, but during the day, it’s a bustling spot for shopping and eating. There’s at least one of every famous Japanese store or chain restaurant in Shinjuku. It’s a great spot to grab souvenirs or try something new to eat – you’ll find anything you want here.
Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Avenue
Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Avenue is a must-visit if you’re visiting Tokyo in the fall. Every year, tourists and locals flock here in mid-late November to admire the ginkgo trees.
The trees line the entire 300-meter street and turn a surreal bright yellow in autumn. Even if you miss the peak season, it’s still a beautiful walk. Right after the trees shed their leaves, the path is blanketed with the warm, bright yellow foliage.
It’s an easy pit-stop to squeeze into your Shinjuku itinerary. There’s a yearly Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival that coincides with the leaves turning. The area fills with stalls selling food and other goodies. If the festival is on when you visit, you can grab some tasty goodies and head over to the next spot for a fall picnic.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a lovely public park near Shinjuku station. In the busyness of the area, it’s a calm oasis.
In the spring and fall, the trees go into full bloom. It’s a popular spot for cherry blossoms in the spring and orange leaves in the fall. In general, Japan has stunning foliage – you can’t go wrong with visiting a park in either of these seasons. There’s a small greenhouse at the north end of the park, which is fun to walk through.
It costs 500 yen to enter the park. After shopping and walking around, I’d recommend sitting here for a little break and a picnic. You’ll be joining tons of locals that use the park to have a little space to relax and hang out with friends.
Shinjuku comes alive at night (even more, if that’s possible). Start your night in Omoide Yokocho, before the crowds arrive. This narrow alley is lined by izakayas, and the smoke is heavy. It’s dimly lit by red lanterns, and there’s a warm glow to the place.
When we visited, there were tendrils of fall leaves wrapped around the lanterns. There’s a reason why tourists like me are drawn here! It has such a cool and mysterious ambience, and you feel like you’ve stepped into a different decade of Japan.
It’s such a cool Tokyo experience to cram yourself into one of these little stalls, drink a beer, and eat skewered meats.
Going early (around dinner-time) had its perks. We stumbled into the Albatross Bar and it was totally empty when we arrived. It’s a narrow bar with sharp, winding staircases that go up 3 floors to a rooftop patio. We ended up with the patio completely to ourselves. We could see the smoke drifting up from the alley, and peer down to the oblivious tourists below. It was my favourite moment from our time in Tokyo!
Kabukicho is the largest red light district in Tokyo. Thousands of bars, pubs, and clubs are located here. Many of the tall buildings have a bar on each floor, and flashing neon lights plaster the outside of these buildings.
Wandering through here was pretty funny and odd at times. I’ve never seen so many drunk businessmen in suits. There are all kinds of fun and freaky spots (depending on your definition of fun). Including some that cater to ahem niche interests (I did say red light district).
You’ll wander past plenty of pachinko parlours here. You’ll be able to recognize them right away. They’re lit up with machines that look like slot machines. The wafting smell of cigarette smoke and the cacophony of sounds is also a dead giveaway. I have no clue how pachinko works – but I’m glad I went once. I’ve never been anywhere so loud and overwhelming. Here’s a quick guide on pachinko.
There are touts outside some of these spots, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for if you follow one through. And have your wits about you if you do – there are some scams and hustles that take place here.
There’s love hotels all over Japan, but Kabukicho has a concentration of them. Might as well check it out, right? Here’s a guide to love hotels in the area.
Just a hop and a skip away is Golden Gai. This area has the same atmosphere as Omoide Yokocho, but amplified. Instead of appies and chicken skewers, Golden Gai is the spot for cocktails and drinks.
Each building holds multiple establishments. Some have steep, colourful staircases leading up to themed watering holes. Local businessmen or tourists cram into each one, loudly drinking and eating. Pay attention to signage, some spots are “locals only”. I’m sure these owners have seen their fair share of drunk tourists. You’re probably best off just listening to these signs and finding another spot to sit.
Golden Gai is made up of only a few city blocks, but over 200 bars are packed into this tiny area of Tokyo. Walking through was an experience like no other. It was so cool to see all these cramped bars packed into a small space. We walked past bars that could fit no more than 4 people. They were definitely cosy!
This Shinjuku one day itinerary includes some of the best spots for your next trip to Tokyo.
When I think mega-city, Shinjuku is what comes to mind. It’s big and busy, and makes you feel so small. It’s one of the top spots in Tokyo to spend a day exploring.