How to See Tokyo On a Long Layover

06/04/2015 07:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan via quatro.sinko on Flickr
Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan via quatro.sinko on Flickr

One of the best ways to quickly see a city is en route to another one. Long layovers provide travelers with the opportunity to leave the airport and experience a new city without the cost of lodging. Some cities make this easier than others. For visitors hoping to take advantage of a long layover in Tokyo, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Tokyo is jam-packed with attractions clustered close together so you can see a lot in a little bit of time. The bad news is that Tokyo's international airport is an hour away from the city. Here's how to see Tokyo on a long layover.

Getting into the City

Almost all international flights will land at Narita International Airport. The airport is about an hour by public transportation from Tokyo. When you factor in up to an hour for customs and immigration and 90 minutes to two hours for check-in for your next flight, a long layover significantly shrinks. Even with 5-6 hours remaining in your layover after these considerations, it may be worth it to get out and explore. The Narita Express train leaves from the airport and takes passengers to Tokyo Station. The routes ease and central drop-off location is attractive.

Make a Plan

With such a limited time frame, we recommend making a plan for your layover, instead of winging it. Pick a few of Tokyo's hottest spots, optimally ones that are close together. Scheduling a private or group half-day tour in Tokyo may be a great option to maximize your time.

In addition to making a sightseeing plan, we recommend studying the subway network before you get to the city. This will ensure that you spend your time enjoying the city, rather than learning to navigate it. To get through the subways as quickly as possible, purchase a stored-value transit card at any station vending machine. There is typically an English option. Put 2,000-3,000Yen ($20-$30) on the card, depending on how much you plan to use the subway. You'll be able to quickly scan the card at any station to fly through the stations.

Sample Itinerary

Tokyo Station is in Ginza and is considered the old city center. While it is central, there isn't a lot right by the station to see. One of the best ways to spend a layover is to explore the Asakusa neighborhood, particularly if you are interested in Tokyo's traditional culture. Take the subway from Tokyo Station two stops to Asakusa. A Tokyo Asakusa Rickshaw tour would only take an hour two and would allow you to see the sights with a guide. After your short tour, make sure to explore the famous Sensoji Temple. After, wander down Nakamise Dori, a traditional Japanese-style shopping street in the heart of the district. Neighboring Kappabashi District, another famous street in the neighborhood, is a great place to pick up traditional cookware souvenirs. Either of these streets will offer plenty of delicious options for food, as well.

Some other options for sightseeing include the historic Imperial Palace; chaotic and iconic Shibuya Crossing,; stunning Meiji Shrine; shopping on Omotesando and Takeshita-dori streets; or relaxing in any of Tokyo's many parks.

Experience Tokyo Like a Local

Sometimes the most fun way to experience a city is by living like a local. To experience Tokyo like a local, plan to eat your way through the city. Some of the best Japanese cuisine is in Tokyo. Favorite dishes include sushi and sashimi (raw fish), of course. Some others include okonomiyaki, a grilled cabbage pancake with various savory fillings, and sukiyaki, a Japanese hot pot style soup dish. Other activities that locals love include shopping and visiting shrines and temples. There's no shortage of any of those in this city.

Exploring Tokyo on a long layover will undoubtedly leave you exhausted, but a day in Tokyo is worth it, we think.

-Contributed by Cyndi Waite for Viator