Top 25 Things to do in Tokyo
Tokyo is Japan’s capital city, and when it comes to things to do, it doesn’t disappoint. For the first timer, it can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what to see when visiting the city when you can be there a week and only scratch the surface.
Tokyo offers a diverse snapshot of what you can expect from Japan; grand cities, quirky characters, tranquil gardens, bizarre novelties, cats galore and so much more!
So let’s break down the top 25 things to do when visiting Tokyo.
1. Visit the busiest crossing in the world and experience a side of local history – Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko Square
One of the most iconic sights of Tokyo is Shibuya Crossing. Named the busiest intersection in the world, you too can be a part of the insane crowds of people that cross this path every day. Once experiencing it from the street, make sure to dine at one of the neighbouring restaurants that overlook the square so you can watch people pass as you eat. There are also many other restaurants and side alleys worth exploring in the surrounding area.
On your way back to the station, you will be greeted by an adorable and heartbreaking part of local history. The Hachiko statue located at the entrance to Shibuya Station pays homage to the faithful dog of Professor Ueno Hidesaburo; who waited patiently for his owner at the entrance of Shibuya station every day for 9 years following his master’s death.
As Hachiko’s story spread amongst the locals, he fast became a local hero and was honoured with a commemorative statue one year before his own death in 1935. A memorial festival for Hachiko is held in Hachiko Square each year on April 8th.
2. Enjoy the stunning views of Tokyo – Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
For a fantastic bird’s eye view of Tokyo, look no further than the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Their two observation decks on the 45th floor allow you to see buildings upon buildings as far as the eye can see, and if you’re lucky, you might just see Mount Fuji poking its head in the far distance.
The building also provides resources for tourists, including more information on travel, sites and tours.
The best part about it? Entrance to both the building and the observation deck is absolutely free.
3. Visit the happiest place on earth at Tokyo Disney
Tokyo has two Disney parks located in the Chiba prefecture, located just 20 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. While Disneyland includes famous rides and franchises such as Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Star Wars, Monster’s Inc, and the iconic Disney Castle, Disney Sea is perhaps the more adult-friendly of the two, housing more of their water-related properties and their must-see Fantasmic! water show.
Like with any Disney Park, make sure to go on weekdays in the off-peak season to avoid the crowds. The parks usually celebrate big events like the cherry blossom season, Halloween and Christmas for a couple of months before and after the occasion, so you will have plenty of time to join in on the festivities.
4. Visit Toyosu Market (formerly Tsukiji Fish Market)
Toyosu Market (formerly Tsukiji Fish Market) is one of the world’s largest fish markets, most famous for its tuna auctions. Visitors are able to view the tuna auction, browse the stalls of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables and dine in the various restaurants serving fresh seafood.
The popularity of the fish markets prompted a move from Tsukiji to Toyosu in October 2018. Although the market and auctions have relocated, the restaurants remain, so it’s definitely worthwhile visiting Toyosu in the morning and then stopping by Tsukiji for lunch.
5. Meet and drink with the locals at Golden Gai Shinjuku
If you’re looking for a way to meet some of the locals, then head down to Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Made up of over 200 bars in 6 lanes, the area is characterised by its dim lighting, casual atmosphere, quirky shop fronts and general scruffiness. Each bar usually holds between 5 – 30 people, with most being on the smaller side. With your fellow bar-goers so close, you will have no choice other than to strike up a conversation after a few drinks.
While most bars cater to locals and tourists, there are some that only serve regular customers. If you’re concerned about seeming like a clueless gaijin, just look for an English menu and a friendly bartender with a welcoming smile.
6. Experience Mario Cart in real life
What is actually a guided tour of Tokyo, drivers get to dress up as their favourite Mario character or superhero and drive the streets of Tokyo in a go-cart. All you need is an international drivers licence and you’re good to go!
Recently, the tour has garnered a lot of attention in the local media for being a general nuisance to the public. Having small go-carts on the main roads of Tokyo is questionable, and so far the company seems to get by on technicalities on what kind of vehicles are determined “roadworthy” in Japan. Then there’s also the slight copyright predicament since they are referencing Nintendo’s characters, but hey, they’ve gotten away with it so far, right?
So if you’re going to do it, have fun, but make sure to respect the locals and drive responsibly. And yes, that includes refraining from throwing any bananas or shells at your fellow drivers!
7. Visit Japan’s cute and colourful home, Harajuku
Japan’s kawaii culture has a quirky and colourful home in Harajuku. It’s main strip, Takeshita street, is lined with shops selling all kinds of cute and nerdy items, including gothic outfits, lolita dresses, anime figurines, colourful socks and lingerie, novelty candy and branded merchandise. If you visit on a Saturday, you are sure to see some of the famous “Harajuku Girls”, dressed in their over the top, colourful outfits.
While you are here, make sure to visit one of the tantalising dessert restaurants or street vendors you will pass. Harajuku is the perfect place to pick up one of Japan’s famous crepes, or their deep-dish fluffy pancakes! Yum!
8. Grab a tonne of souvenirs at a ¥100 store
While you are in Takeshita Street, make sure you stop off at the ¥100 store, Daiso. This huge variety store houses everything from candy, cosmetics, and accessories to gardening items, kitchen utensils and dinnerware, and kick-knacks for souvenirs. The best part is that every item is 100 yen!
If you run out of time to visit in Tokyo, don’t stress! Daiso has 2,800 stores in Japan alone, so you will have plenty of chances to visit in other cities throughout your trip.
9. Shop till you drop in Ginza
Ginza is the shopping hub of Tokyo. Home to countless department stores and every designer brand worth noting, Ginza is an upmarket, luxurious modern marvel. You will be able to shop to your heart’s content while also enjoying the area’s restaurants, cafes and entertainment.
Make sure to check out the world’s biggest Uniqlo while you are there! At 12 floors, it holds their biggest range of clothing and accessories for men, women and children.
Tip: make sure you bring your passport for a tax deduction on your purchase!
Your Japan trip would not be complete without a night out at karaoke! The pastime is extremely popular amongst locals, young and old alike, so what better way to experience the culture than to let your hair down like the Japanese do!
If you’re looking for a tourist-friendly place, then Karaoke Kan Shibuya of Lost in Translation fame is a great option. Alternatively, there is Big Echo Shibuya, Pasela Resorts, Karaoke47 or Lovenet.
11. Take some kawaii pictures at Purikura no Mecca
What better way to commemorate your trip to Tokyo than with an uber-kawaii photo of you and your friends? Purikura no Mecca is an arcade unlike the rest; every machine is a kawaii photo booth that will allow you to choose from endless filters and stickers to make the cutest souvenir for you to enjoy.
Frequently visited by teenage girls, these booths transform you into a beautiful anime character with big doe eyes, flawless skin and rosy pink cheeks, and allow you to decorate your photos with all sorts of cute stickers, such as bubbles, hearts, stars and cartoon animals.
Each booth costs ¥400, so make sure to try out a few until you get a hang of the customisations and try out the range of different options each booth has to offer.
Please note, solo men and groups of men will not be allowed entry.
12. Visit the amusement park/arcade, Tokyo Joypolis
Tokyo Joypolis is one of Japan’s biggest indoor amusement parks, with over 20 different attractions for you to enjoy, including thrill rides, arcade games, prize machines and purikura booths. Start the day with a hit of adrenaline by riding the Gekion Live Coaster. This rollercoaster combines thrills and skills by allowing you to control the speed of the coaster with your ability to keep to the rhythm of the music. Next, battle your friends for the best score in the Halfpipe Tokyo before trying your luck at the prizes corner.
On level 2 you can enjoy classic arcade games from Transformers and Sonic, and take a spin in their high-speed rollercoaster. If you’re not too queasy from the thrill rides, there is also a food court for you to stop for lunch.
The thrills continue on the third floor with the wild wing virtual rollercoaster and three different horror rides, before you can finally relax and take a peek into your future at Fortune Forest.
On your way out, make sure to grab a delicious crepe and purikura picture from level 1!
13. Step into the world of Studio Ghibli
Known as the Disney of Japan, Studio Ghibli’s movies are beloved worldwide, making their museum both a must see and an extremely popular tourist destination. Only a select number of tickets are released to travel agents worldwide, so if you are unable to get one before your trip, you will have to try your luck at booking your place at one of the booths at Lawson’s convenience store.
Your booking will give you entry to the museum for two hours, allowing you to meet a Laputan robot in the grounds, before exploring exhibits filled with your favourite characters, rooms built to look exactly like Hayao Miyazaki’s studio, theatre rooms playing short films and educational rooms that teach you of the magic of animation.
Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the venue, so make sure you spend your time there soaking in the incredible visuals each exhibit has to offer, before picking up mementos of your visit at the gift shop.
14. Be waited on at a maid/butler cafe
If you’re a fan of anime (especially Maid Sama!), then going to a maid or butler cafe is something you cannot miss. Characterised by their cute food, themed decor and over the top outfits, staff will welcome their “master/mistress” into the store, play games with you while you wait for your food, and talk to you while you dine.
The cafes are a little bit pricey for what they are, especially considering the ordinary food options, so you pay for the experience. Staff will often write cute messages on your food with the sauce, including your name, a cute drawing or both.
You are also able to take photos with the maids/butlers at an additional cost. Other than this, it is strictly banned to take photos or videos of the staff during your visit.
15. Experience art, culture and nature at Ueno Park
Ueno Park is a large western style park located next to Ueno station. A popular tourist destination, the park is home to a shrine, three temples, five museums, a zoo and a large pond.
The museums found on the grounds include the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Western Art and the Shitamachi Museum. For the animal and nature lovers, there is also the Ueno Zoo and Shinobazu Pond, where you are able to rent either a rowboat or a swan-shaped paddleboat to take a relaxing ride around the pond.
The park is also a popular destination for hanami parties (cherry blossom viewing parties), due to the 1,000 cherry blossom trees that line its paths. During late March and early April, locals can be seen enjoying picnics under the cherry trees, eating and drinking with friends all day and sometimes all night to the early hours of the morning.
16. Visit Senso-ji, Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple
A popular tourist destination, Senso-ji is one of the most highly visited temples in all of Japan, seeing over 30 million travellers per year.
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, originating in 628 AD, however, despite its age, most of the buildings are modern restorations of previous buildings that were destroyed during World War II.
Leading up to the temple is Nakamise-dori, a shopping street made up of about 100 stalls selling souvenirs and Japanese snacks. If you’re feeling peckish, you have to try the Kaminari-Okoshis (rice cracker sweets) and Ningyo-yaki (sweets made of cake batter and bean paste), and pick up a yukata to lounge in when you’re back at the hotel.
17. Take a break from the city at Yoyogi Park
Located right next to Harajuku, Yoyogi Park is a large city park, characterised by its large forested areas, making it the perfect place to go for a run, have a picnic, or to escape the city and take a stroll through towering trees. Although there are not many cherry trees in the park, Yoyogi Park puts on quite a show in autumn, when its ginko trees turn stunning shades of yellow and orange, lighting up both the sky and the grounds with its bright foliage.
18. Enjoy the peace and serenity of Meiji Shrine
Located inside Yoyogi Park, Meiji Jingu Shrine was built to honour Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. The entrance of the shrine is marked by a giant torii gate, followed by a path lined with murals illustrating the history of the Emperor, as well as a large sake wall.
The shrine itself is a hugely popular place for locals and tourists alike, attracting over three million visitors in the first few days of the new year alone. It is also a hugely popular place for traditional Shinto weddings, so you might be lucky to see one in action when you visit (like I did!)
The inner garden next to the shrine is a stunning addition to the grounds, and holds Kiyomasa’s Well, known as a spiritual “power spot”. In spring, the gardens light up with irises and azalea blossoms in bloom, while in autumn the koyo (autumn leaves) brighten the area with stunning orange and red leaves.
19. Attend a sumo match at Ryogoku Kokugikan
A visit to the district of Ryogoku is a must for the traveller keen on witnessing a sumo tournament during their stay. The sumo stadium, Kokugikan hosts three sumo tournaments per year in January, May and September.
The stadium is open to visitors on days where no tournaments are scheduled, so you can tour the space and visit the sumo museum located in the building. In the surrounding areas, you will find many other sumo related attractions, such as sumo stables (Beya in Japanese, where sumo wrestlers train), and restaurants serving chanko nabe, or sumo stew, a common food eaten by sumo wrestlers in order to gain weight.
20. Relax and unwind at an onsen
Bathing in a communal hot spring, or onsen, is one of Japan’s oldest and most popular pastimes, and something well worth experiencing during your trip. Nothing quite relaxes you like soaking away your troubles in comfortable silence, emerging a few hours later clean and refreshed. Tokyo alone has over 700 bathhouses to choose from, including indoor and outdoor options, male/female only onsens, traditional onsens, more western, spa-like sentos and many more.
When searching for a place to go, make sure you confirm whether you are visiting an onsen or a sento. While onsens are operated using natural spring water, sentos use water that is heated from boilers. Japan has strict rules in regards to what can be called an onsen. The water must have a certain amount of natural minerals in order to earn the name.
Some of the most popular onsens in Tokyo include Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Somei Onsen Sakura, and Yama no yu Onsen.
Side note: If the thought of stripping naked in front of strangers deters you, try to seek out an onsen that offers private bathing areas, or plan ahead and visit during their quieter hours. A lot of onsens and bathhouses are open 24 hours, so there will be chances for you to enjoy the freedom and privacy of having the place to yourself.
21. Enjoy a night out on the town in Roppongi
If you’re looking to enjoy a night out on the town, then Roppongi is the place to be. As with most entertainment in Japan, Roppongi has a vast variety of clubs to suit all tastes, ranging from high-energy dance clubs to chill, artistic bars. The area has a large international patronage, mostly visited by tourists and expats out to have fun until the wee hours of the morning.
Start your night in Roppongi Hills with dinner and pre-drinks, then make your way down Gaien Higashi Dori to check out the clubs on offer. This is the main strip of Roppongi, which houses the best nightclubs in the area, so make sure you explore your options before heading inside.
22. Explore the streets of Shimokitazawa
Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s bohemian hub, filled with quirky cafes, hip vintage clothing stores, laid back acoustic bars and old school music stores. The best way to explore the area is by foot. Starting at the north exit at Shimokitazawa Station, the main road – lined with shops and cafes as far as the eye can see – will greet you. From here, follow your eyes and your nose to explore the many delights the area has to offer.
Make sure to stop in at one of the cafes and grab a coffee for your walk, and take a peek in one of the many, many vintage clothing stores on your path. There are countless treasures waiting to be discovered in Shimokitazawa’s labyrinth of narrow, fashionably modern alleyways.
23. Enjoy a high energy cabaret show at the Robot Restaurant
A list of things to do in Tokyo would not be complete without the Robot Restaurant! As one of the most quirky and famous tourist attractions in Tokyo, the Robot Restaurant is a high-energy, high-impact show that will have you reeling with sensory overload.
If you only do one thing to experience the weird side of Tokyo’s pop culture, then let this be it. The crazy costumes, intense strobe lights, wacky robots and high-energy music will keep you at the edge of your seat through the whole show, and leave you thinking, “What the hell did I just watch??”
Side note; eat before the show if you can. While the show is spectacular, the food is something to be desired.
24. Explore the streets of Kabukicho, Shinjuku (Tokyo’s Red Light District)
Kabukicho is the entertainment district that never sleeps, offering visitors a chance to relax and enjoy the many movie theatres, restaurants, clubs, karaoke bars, pachinko parlours, love hotels, and host/hostess bars in the area. With its tall buildings, blinding bright lights and neon signs, Kabukicho assaults your senses, but leaves you in wonder of its dystopian beauty.
While Kabukicho is a fantastic place to explore, it’s important to remember to be careful. A lot of the clubs in the area are owned by members of the yakuza, meaning that they have a large presence in the area. There are also a lot of shady establishments in the area that will rip you off and take advantage of your status as a tourist. As a general rule, if you do not understand what the shop fronts say, then don’t go in, and if a club promoter trying to sell their venue approaches you, don’t go in. If you avoid trouble, then trouble will avoid you.
25. Eat all the ramen at Tokyo Station Ramen Street
Japan is all about efficiency, so when it comes to their food, the best kinds can be found right next to their main avenue of transport. Tokyo Station Ramen Street not only houses 8 of the best ramen restaurants in Japan, but also has a huge variety to choose from. Whether you are looking to enjoy the standard pork and miso combo, or specialties from all around the country, you will be able to find it here.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, these restaurants are notoriously busy, so don’t get scared off by the lines of people waiting to be served. If you can, try to arrive just before or after the lunch rush, and make sure you have plenty of cash on you to cover your meal. To order, simply choose which ramen you would like on their vending machines, pay for the meal and accept your ticket. You will then need to wait in line for a table to be free. Within about 10 minutes of being seated, you will have a delicious hot bowl of ramen to enjoy!
What are your favourite things to do in Tokyo? Have you visited any of the places I’ve mentioned? Make sure you let me know in the comments below!
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