Last Updated on October 22, 2023 by Jerardo Gomez
The first time I stepped into the bustling heart of Tokyo, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the sheer energy. What made my trip so much better was planning out my trip using this Shinjuku Itinerary.
This dynamic district is a must-visit for first-timers and seasoned travelers alike.
In this travel guide to Shinjuku, you will be able to do the following:
- Personalize your own itinerary
- Follow the exact same itinerary I used
- Find things to do in Shinjuku
- Find Accommodation
This itinerary is designed to be customizable. I understand that every traveler has unique preferences, and that’s why I put together a flexible plan that allows you to pick and choose the experiences that resonate most with you.
This article is up-to-date by including new places that have opened and excludes places that have shut down since the pandemic.
If you have more time and are interested in sightseeing shrines and temples around Tokyo check out this 4-days in Tokyo article.
*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
What To Expect In Shinjuku
As you step off the train at Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest railway station, you’ll be greeted by a skyline of towering skyscrapers and dazzling neon lights.
Coming from a small town, it was a moment I will never forget and neither will you.
The city’s skyscraper district is home to Tokyo’s tallest buildings, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which offers jaw-dropping views of the city from its observation decks, free of charge!
One of the most iconic sights in Shinjuku is the Godzilla Head, a massive sculpture looming over the famous red-light district of Kabukicho.
Stroll along the vibrant streets, and you may stumble upon hidden gems like the Hanazono Shrine. This tranquil Edo-period Shinto shrine, dedicated to Ukanomitama, the god of agriculture, is a favorite spot for businessmen to pray for successful ventures.
The Park Hyatt Hotel, featured in the movie “Lost in Translation” is located here.
Places to Eat in Shinjuku
There are thousands of different options in this city. If you are looking for some fancy dining then I recommend checking out on how to book reservations in Japan, where you can find high-end restaurants with easy reservation methods.
When it comes to sushi, Shinjuku does not disappoint. Some great options include:
- Sushi Zanmai Shinjuku Higashiguchi: offers delicious sushi at a wallet-friendly price
- Ganso Zushi: a kaiten sushi spot that offers a fun conveyor belt dining experience
- Himawari Zushi Shintoshin: another kaiten sushi spot with a wide variety of sushi options
While not applying to everyone, some people who want to travel to Japan on a budget may find the Capsule Hotels in Toyko the best option for them.
Where to Stay in Shinjuku
Everyone has different budgets and needs but there are things to know before booking your hotel.
Japan is experiencing a surge of tourism as it grapples to keep up with demand. Hotels are no exception.
The cost of hotels is increasing as the number of tourists booking rooms to full capacity is increasing.
Booking in Advance!
Book 2-5 months out
Here is how I can help you find accommodation in Shinjuku.
- Book nearby train stations (12-minute walk at most)
- Book with free cancelation
- Spending a bit more can make a big difference in hotel comfortability
- Get Travel Insurance (Really Important)
Where I stayed: Shinjuku Washington Hotel
I really enjoyed my stay here and would go back again! Here are some of the highlights and reasons why I would go back:
- Family Mart and Lawsons are in the same building!
- Bar connects to Lawsons!
- The basement floor connects underground walkways to the Tokyo Government Building (free views) and Shinjuku Station
- Karaoke Bar in the basement floor
- Free TV (I watched anime)
- Full Amenities and views
The most surprising thing I found was that there was an up-scale-looking bar connected to Lawsons! Apparently, it is a collaboration called BarXLawsons.
They had a sign saying that you can bring in food such as chips or spicy nuggets and they would smoke them. Additionally, the bar was fully stocked and made great cocktails for cheap! (500 yen!).
I’m not sure if the bar is permanent but the bartender was nice, spoke English, and I saw locals come in. One of my highlights of the stay for sure!
1-Day Shinjuku Itinerary Example
If you are short in time in Japan or are splitting your time across different wards in Tokyo then I made a 1-day itinerary to squeeze in the main highlights to Shinjuku.
I strategically made this itinerary to get the most bang for your time.
*NOTE* Many commercial shops, attractions, and restaurants do not open until around 11:00 am
8:30 AM Shinjuku Central Park
Kickstart your day in the heart of Tokyo by visiting Shinjuku Central Park.
The park is conveniently nestled between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the Shinjuku Washington Hotel, making it a perfect first stop if you’re staying at the latter.
Shinjuku Central Park is a breath of fresh air amidst the city’s bustling pace. It offers a peaceful atmosphere with lush greenery, a beautiful shrine, and even a waterfall. The park is also home to various species of birds, adding a touch of nature to the urban setting.
If you’re visiting in spring, you’re in for a treat as the park becomes a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing. Meanwhile, autumn turns the park into a canvas of vibrant colors, with the changing leaves creating a picturesque scenery.
Apart from the relaxing environment, the park also has a children’s playground and an outdoor stage where various events are held throughout the year. It’s a great place to have a picnic or play soccer with the locals.
After your visit, you can conveniently head to your next destination. The park’s central location makes it an excellent starting point for exploring Shinjuku’s attractions.
Next stop, is breakfast located at the park! If you want Japanese fluffy pancakes, they have them there!
5 Minute Walk
9:30 AM Musashino Mori Diner Shinjuku Central Park
When I was planning for Japan I made it my mission to include my must-have Japanese souffle pancakes! Luckily I found this amazing spot while I was at Shinjuku’s Park.
This is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner place but I went for breakfast! When I went there was a mix of locals and tourists with a 15-minute wait for a table(worth it).
7 Minute Walk
10:30 AM Tokyo Metropolitan Government Observatory (FREE)
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Observatory consists of two observatories: the North Tower (currently closed) and the South Tower (open to the public). If you’re a tourist, head to the South Tower which has clear directions and signs to guide you. Best of all, admission is free!
The South Tower of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Observatory is open every day from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM (or 9:00 to 22:00). However, please keep in mind that these hours may be subject to change, especially during holidays. It’s always a good idea to double-check the official website or contact the observatory directly for the most up-to-date information.
Visiting this observatory is highly recommended if you’re in Tokyo. The views from both the day and night time are breathtaking! Since my hotel was nearby, I had the opportunity to visit during both times. Additionally, they have a variety of unique and affordable souvenirs available for purchase. I personally bought small toys, stylish handkerchiefs, postcards, and more. Don’t forget to stop by the on-site café for a refreshing break!
If you’re a stamp collector, you’ll find something special here. Japan has stamps located throughout the country at various tourist spots, and the observatory has a designated stamp area where you can mark your stamp book. It’s a wonderful way to collect memories of your trip.
Walk 15-25 Minutes
11:00 AM Shopping
Options: Takashiyama, NEWoMan Shinjuku Station, etc.
*For this, decide on 1-2 shopping complexes to go to, there is a variety of things to do there*
The store boasts an extensive range of high-quality products, from fashion and cosmetics to homeware and gourmet food. With its elegant design and meticulously curated merchandise, Takashimaya provides a refined and luxurious shopping environment that caters to the discerning tastes of its clientele.
This renowned department store offers a blend of luxury fashion, beauty products, gourmet dining, and cultural experiences. It stands out for its curated selection of high-end brands, exceptional service, and a prime location near Shinjuku Station. From fashion enthusiasts to culinary connoisseurs, visitors can indulge in a diverse range of offerings, making Newoman Shinjuku a must-visit destination for those seeking a taste of Tokyo’s cosmopolitan charm.
*Anime Enthusiast* You probably already know that Japan has pop-up exhibitions, shops, restaurants, etc. of anime all the time, now would be a good time to look up if there is any events happening during your visit in Shinjuku during your trip.
I’ve been gate-keeping collabo-cafe. In this site, you can see all the anime events happening in Japan, just make sure to translate it to English and filter by Genre Tab on top.
5:00 PM Rest
This is optional but for me, it was tiring doing many things at once, and having a mid-day break will make the rest of your experience at night much funnier and better.
Once you are done with shopping, eating, and doing anything else like going to a themed cafe, I recommend heading back to your hotel.
This is your time to freshen up for the evening, take a break from walking, and unpack your bags from the shopping.
I recommend only taking your wallet, phone, small purse/bag, and small camera. I do not recommend taking large items like a backpack, or a large camera. This is because it is a hassle to carry it at izakayas, but also you don’t want to be a target for theft.
Head to Hanazono Shrine
7:00 PM Hanazono Shrine next to Golden Gai
I accidentally ran into this shrine while walking Kabukicho area to explore and it was not until after my trip that I looked it up and found out it was a famous shrine.
Finding it felt like I found a hidden gem! It’s beautiful at night.
Dedicated to Ukanomitama, the god of agriculture and commerce, it’s a favorite spot for businessmen praying for success. The shrine boasts beautifully crafted statues that narrate tales of Japanese mythology.
1 Minute Walk
Golden Gai, a district in Shinjuku, is often depicted as a bustling area filled with tiny bars and izakayas. However, I must admit, my experience was slightly different and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must-visit spot in Shinjuku.
Firstly, the area is smaller than you might imagine, consisting of only a few short alleys (6 total). It’s a bit out of the way and there are fewer tourists around, which can be a downside if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere.
Secondly, the cost can be quite high. Most places have a cover charge of around 1,000 yen, which can add up quickly if you’re planning to barhop. I was aware of this before my visit but decided to check it out anyway.
I ended up at a small whisky bar with only 4 seats. The atmosphere was very intimate and despite the 1,000 yen cover charge, I enjoyed my time there. However, I must say, some of the stalls were sketchy and I don’t think I would go back since it feels like a tourist trap.
8:00 PM Kubikicho
Kabukicho, located in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo, is a bustling neighborhood renowned for its electrifying nightlife and vibrant atmosphere. This district, often referred to as a “red-light district,” offers a plethora of entertainment options that cater to various interests. From iconic landmarks to unique experiences, Kabukicho has something for everyone. Here are some highlights and things to do when venturing into this captivating district:
- Kabukicho Tower: Dominating the skyline, the Kabukicho Tower stands tall as a symbol of the district. This towering structure offers breathtaking panoramic views of Tokyo from its observation deck, providing a perfect opportunity to capture stunning photographs.
- Godzilla Head: One of Kabukicho’s most recognizable sights is the Godzilla Head, peering out from the top of the Toho Cinema building. This iconic landmark lights up at night, adding a touch of whimsical charm to the district’s bustling streets.
- Explore Izakayas and Restaurants: Indulge in the culinary delights that Kabukicho has to offer. From traditional izakayas serving up delicious Japanese pub fare to international cuisines, you’ll find a diverse selection of dining options to satisfy any craving.
- Experience-Themed Bars: Kabukicho boasts a variety of themed bars that provide memorable experiences. Whether you prefer retro gaming, anime, or animal cafes, there are plenty of unique establishments to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of themed entertainment.
- Enjoy Live Performances: Experience the thrill of live entertainment by catching a show in one of Kabukicho’s renowned theaters. From kabuki and musicals to comedy performances, there’s no shortage of captivating performances to enjoy.
I recommend taking pictures of the street view, and Godzilla, grabbing food, and drinks, and then hanging out at Kabukicho tower.
Kabukicho Tower has a hangout stop right outside where a lot of people like to sit on the concrete steps, people watch, see live performances, or just get a great view of Godzilla and hang out with friends.
Once you enter Kabkukicho Tower, you see a lot of restaurants packed together, but honestly skip it. The menus were difficult to read, service was slow, and the food was bad. Just go in, take pictures, and head to the second floor.
The second floor of Kabukicho Tower is where I spent about 2 hours of time and I had fun there. There was a lot of gachapon relating to anime, claw machines that are actually winnable as the claws have grips. (My brother won a prize on two tries).
There was also VR, multiplayer games like Mario Kart, a music area, small bar/food area. During my visit, it was One Punch themed, so there was an exhibition to show the new One Piece Card game, as well as One Piece-themed drinks with stickers of the date.
Be wary of touts on the streets who may try to lure you into bars or clubs with promises of cheap drinks or great deals. These places may end up charging exorbitant prices or hidden fees. It’s always a good idea to research beforehand and stick to reputable establishments.
Despite these precautions, don’t let this deter you from experiencing Kabukicho. With a bit of street smarts and common sense, you can safely enjoy the rich and diverse experiences this district has to offer.
Godzilla has a roar performance with lights at these times: Every hour from 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Note: Please remember to respect local customs, laws, and regulations while visiting Kabukicho.
Day 2 Shinjuku Itinerary
9:20 AM Soba House Konjiki
Soba House Konjiki Hototogisu is a Michelin Star Restaurant that is reasonably priced and one that I recommend if you want to try a Michelin-rated restaurant while in Japan.
The other good thing is that it’s located right next to Shinjuku Goyen Garden which is next on our itinerary.
*Pay Attention* There is no reservations and there is usually a line so here is how you can get in without the line.
The restaurant gives out numbered tickets to customers starting at 9:30 AM. The ticket tells the customer what time to return for lunch so that you do not have to wait, and your spot is reserved.
Lunch is between 11:00 AM- 3:00 PM (15:00)
(Lunch is cheaper than Dinner)
Once you get your ticket, head to the Shinjuku National Garden and explore while you wait for the time on the numbered ticket.
9:45 AM Shunjuku Goyen National Garden (1hr – 2hr)
If you choose to go to Soba House, don’t worry because there is plenty to see and do here while you wait for your reserved time.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a spot to get away from the city. Going in the mornings is a good time because not many places are open until around 11:00 AM.
Admission for adults is 500 yen currently.
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden features:
- An information center
- Shinjuku Gyoen Museum
- A Greenhouse
- Old Imperial resthouse
- 2 Tea rooms
- 2 Restaurants
- 2 cafes and a Starbucks
The garden is home to more than 20,000 trees, including approximately 1,500 cherry trees which bloom from late March to early April, making it one of Tokyo’s most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing.
12:30 AM Isetan Shinjuku Shopping Experience (2-3 hrs)
Isetan Shinjuku is not just a shopping destination, it’s an experience in itself if you have never been to an Asian Mall. This upscale department store, established in 1886, is a landmark in Shinjuku.
The store is renowned for its selection of both international and Japanese brands, ranging from luxury labels to emerging designers.
The food hall located in the basement, known as the depachika, is a food hall. Here, you’ll find everything from sushi and bento boxes to French pastries and ramen.
They also have tax-free shopping for tourists. All you need to do is take your passport, receipt, as well as items for you to get a cash tax refund in a matter of moments.
3:00 PM Meji Shrine (Free)
To get to Meiji Shrine from Shinjuku Station, you can follow these directions:
To reach Meiji Jingu from Shinjuku station, it will take approximately 20 minutes on foot. If you exit the station through the main entrance or South Exit, there should be signs for directions.
However, for a quicker journey, I recommend taking the Yamanote Line towards Shibuya and alighting at Harajuku Station, which is only 2 stops away and will save you some time.
There is no admission fee to enter the Meiji Shrine. However, voluntary donations are welcome and there may be additional fees for certain exhibitions or events held within the shrine grounds.
4:00 PM Head Back to Hotel to Rest / Freshen Up
6:00 PM Omoide Yokocho (~1hr)
Omoide Yokocho, also known as Memory Lane or “Piss Alley,” is a popular destination in Tokyo for food lovers. However, it’s important to know the facts before deciding to visit.
Located in Shinjuku, Omoide Yokocho is often advertised online as an authentic Japanese experience. But truth be told, it has become quite touristy over the years. The narrow alleyways are packed with izakayas (Japanese pubs) emitting a lot of smoke, which can be overwhelming for some.
One thing to note is that most shops in Omoide Yokocho require customers to pay a cover charge. The amount varies from shop to shop, but it tends to be higher compared to other izakayas or yokochos in Tokyo. This has led some visitors to feel that Omoide Yokocho is becoming more of a “tourist trap.”
However, there are mixed reviews about the experience. Some visitors have had a great time and enjoyed delicious food at the izakayas in Omoide Yokocho. On the other hand, others have encountered issues. For example, some customers have complained about poor service, long waiting times, or being pressured to pay a cover charge even if they didn’t receive any service.
Considering these mixed reviews, it’s important to approach Omoide Yokocho cautiously. If you’re a tourist looking for a unique dining experience in Tokyo, it might be worth a visit at least once. Just be aware that it can be crowded, and smoky, and there might be unexpected cover charges. Plan ahead, read reviews, and choose your izakayas wisely to have the best possible experience.
So, before deciding to visit Omoide Yokocho, weigh the pros and cons, and make an informed decision. Happy exploring!
7:15 PM Tokyo Metropolitan Building (Night View)
On Day 1 the observational viewing platform is done in the morning which gives you a different experience and a chance to see Mount Fuji if there is a clear sky.
At Night, you get one of the best views (the best view in my opinion) of Shinjuku/Tokyo for free! I recommend coming here at night if you have already not checked it out during the day.
8:30 PM Kubikicho or Ni-chome
Kubikicho (red-light district) where the Godzilla head is at is great to go again and check out places you did not get to see the first day.
Optionally there is also the Shinjuku Ni-Chome neighborhood, which is Tokyo’s Gay neighborhood with the world’s largest concentration of gay bars.
Located in the bustling Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Nichome (also known as Shinjuku Ni-chome or simply Ni-chome) is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that has been recognized as one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the world.
Here are some things to do and see in Shinjuku Ni-chrome:
- Explore the Bars and Clubs: Nichome is renowned for its wide array of bars, clubs, and entertainment venues catering to the LGBTQ+ community. From cozy and intimate bars to lively nightclubs with pulsating music, fetish bars, and dark rooms.
- Visit Rainbow Square: Located at the heart of Nichome, Rainbow Square is a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and inclusivity. It’s a great spot to take photos and soak up the positive energy of the area.
- Experience Karaoke: Karaoke is an integral part of Japanese culture, and Nichome offers plenty of karaoke venues where you can sing your heart out with friends, strangers, or alone.
- Discover LGBTQ+ Shops: Nichome is also home to a wide range of LGBTQ+ specialty shops. Explore boutique stores offering themed clothing, accessories, LGBTQ+ literature, and more.
- Enjoy Dining Experiences: Nichome boasts a diverse culinary scene, with numerous restaurants offering a range of cuisines. From cozy cafes to trendy eateries, you can savor delicious food while immersing yourself in the welcoming atmosphere of the neighborhood.
- Attend LGBTQ+ Events: Throughout the year, Nichome hosts various LGBTQ+ events and festivals, celebrating diversity and providing a platform for the community to come together. Keep an eye out for events like Pride parades, drag shows, and art exhibitions, which showcase the creative spirit of the LGBTQ+ community.
Additional Things to Do in Shinjuku
- Visit Yoyogi Park, next to Meiji Shrine
- Watch a movie at TOHO Cinemas
- Shop at Takashiyama or NEWoMan
- Shop for souvenirs at Don Quixote
- Go to a Japanese Bakery
Shinjuku truly has it all – iconic attractions, diverse cuisine, vibrant nightlife, unique accommodations, and tranquil green spaces. With our one-day and two-day itinerary and recommendations, you’ll be well-equipped to explore the best of what Shinjuku has to offer.
If you are ready to make the next step of your travel to Japan journey, book your trip using links on this post to support this content at no cost to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is definitely a lot to see and do in Shinjuku from my experience but you can see the top attractions in 1-2 days if you plan accordingly.
Shinjuku is a great place to stay while exploring Tokyo; it’s the main hub with plenty of entertainment districts and accessible metro transportation. Staying in Shinjuku is definitely worth it! Shinjuku is a close second.
Shibuya and Shinjuku offer amazing experiences depending on what you need! If you’re looking for a night out, Shinjuku is the place to be. For shoppers, Shibuya is ideal! Both locations have many train station entrances but I think Shibuya station s is more complicated. Either way, they are very close together by train.
Shinjuku is safe day and night, just like the rest of Japan! There are specific establishments to stay away from but you should review it on Google beforehand. Additionally, you should stay away from people enticing you to enter a restaurant or bar, especially the Nigerian men between Kabukicho and Golden Gai area. The only way you can get into trouble is if you’re looking for it and don’t use common sense intuition.
Experience Tokyo’s iconic Godzilla Head, the Wild Ni-Chome neighborhood, the peaceful Hanazono Shrine, and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – some of the must-visit attractions in Shinjuku!