Talk about bright lights, big city: Tokyo is a whirlwind of colors and flavors, sounds and scents. But this sprawling metropolis can be daunting for beginners. My advice: Plot out your days, neighborhood by neighborhood. You can easily see the city in as few as three days, but the more time you can spend, the better.
Day One: The first stop on any Tokyo itinerary should be Skytree, the tallest tower in the world. The views reach all the way to Mount Fuji and will help give you a good overview of the city. Check out the glass floor on the 340th level and look down if you dare. Next, head to Solamachi, an entertainment center with tons of fascinating shops and restaurants that’s located on the lower levels of Skytree. Some of my daughter Lucy's favorite spots included the Hello Kitty store with merchandise you can only find here; Toriton, a conveyor-belt sushi spot that is always packed; and the Sumida aquarium, with its eels, blowfish and penguins. You could easily spend a whole day exploring Skytree and Solamachi, but right across the river is Asakusa, Tokyo’s most historic district. It’s home to the ancient Sensoji shrine and Nakamise, a street lined with snack stands and souvenir shops.
Day Two: Start your day at Tsukiji, the legendary fish and food market. It’s best seen on a tour with Arigato Japan, which will guide you to the best stalls and help you sample everything from sushi to snails. After, wander to Ginza, known for its department store food halls, kabuki theatre and high rises. Later in the day, make reservations for the Mori Digital Art Museum (aka Teamlab Borderless), which is a must-do. Plan to spend a few hours wandering from room to room and taking in the magic of the digital art installations. Trust me: You and your kids will be blown away.
Day Three: Kids of all ages will go wild for Harajuku, which is ground zero for Tokyo’s youth culture. My family and I took the Crazy Kawaii food tour (kawaii means “cute” in Japanese), which gave a great introduction to the over-the-top food and culture in this too-cool-for-school neighborhood. Also, pay a visit to the wild and creepy Owl Café on Takeshita Street and don’t miss the stunning Meiji Shrine, nearby. If you have time, head to Shibuya to witness the famously crowded street crossing.
Day Four: Is your child a lover of Hello Kitty? Spend the day at Sanrio Puroland, a.k.a. Hello Kitty Land Tokyo, where Hello Kitty is the star of the show at a fanciful and fun indoor theme park that attracts over a million visitors a year. Located in the Tokyo suburb of Tama, Sanrio Puroland is just an hour by train from Shinjuku station.
Day Five: You’ve done the highlights. Now see what else you can squeeze in. Explore the stunning Imperial Palace East Gardens. Visit Shinjuku’s electronics superstores. Check out the views from the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which was featured in the movie Lost in Translation. Watch Sumo wrestling, if it’s happening while you’re in town. Take a river cruise in Nihonbashi. If you’re here during spring, have dinner along the Nakemeguro canal, which is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms.
Want to see some of the most amazing views in the world — and not pay a fortune? Stay at the Tobu Hotel Levant, a well-priced find that overlooks Skytree tower and the skyline of Tokyo. Be sure to ask for one of the chic, renovated rooms. The breakfast buffet at Tobu Hotel Levant is staggeringly huge and good. A little more expensive, but worth every penny, is the Shiba Park Hotel, where kids can spin the huge globe in the lobby and make origami with the staff, who gave Lucy a kit when we checked in. The rooms are sleek and modern. If money is no object, there’s the Hoshinoya Tokyo, which is modeled after a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan. You check your shoes when you arrive, change into a yukata, eat a multi-course dinner in your slippers and soak in an onsen bath fed by hot springs from deep under the ground.