Tokyo, the urban capital of Japan and a very popular tourist destination. In fact, it’s one of the most populated metropolitan area in the world, with more than 38 million people. Being a city so popular, Tokyo definitely has a lot to offer.
We’ve gathered some of the best things to do in Tokyo and organized it into easy to understand groups. Every district in Tokyo has its own features, so we’ve also included some insight into these different districts. If it’s going to be your first time Tokyo, we highly recommend checking out the full guide to Tokyo for tips on how to prepare a trip to Tokyo.
Shibuya Crossing, the Busiest Crossing in the World
Just like visiting the Times Square in New York, the Shibuya Crossing will make you realize that you are finally in Tokyo. At the crossing, up to over 3,000 people cross the intersection per light, from all directions. Once you’ve experienced the crossing first hand, step away and watch from a distance to really feel the magic!
Sensoji Temple, the Oldest Temple in Japan
Built in the mid 7th century, Sensoji temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan. It was built to honor the god of mercy, Kannon. The temple is located in Asakusa, where there are lots of shops and traditional Japanese buildings still remaining. Once you pass the iconic Kaminarimon gates, there is a long row of food stands and souvenir shops before reaching the temple itself.
Tokyo Skytree, the Tallest Building in Tokyo
Located right across the Sumida river from Sensoji Temple is Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan. Standing at 634m tall, you can get the highest view of Tokyo from the observation deck. There’s also a shopping mall on the bottom floors full of various restaurants and shops.
Tokyo Tower, the Tallest Steel Structure in the World
Despite being shorter than the Skytree, Tokyo Tower is actually the tallest standing steel structure in the world. Both have an observation deck and are radio towers, but they’re quite different in many ways.
Tokyo Tower is located on the opposite side of Tokyo, in the Hamamatsu-cho area. Near the tower is the Hamarikyu gardens and the entertainment district, Roppongi.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building, the Cheapest Viewpoint of Tokyo
Most viewpoints in Tokyo require money to access the observation deck, but there’s a free one near Shinjuku Station. On a good day, you can see all of Tokyo’s famous landmarks, as well as Mt. Fuji in the distance. The observation deck itself is free to access and there are souvenir shops at the top, to help finance the deck.
Ueno Zoo, the Oldest Zoo in Japan
If you love animals, you should check out Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan. This zoo is home to over 400 different species and even has a monorail to connect the two parts. The zoo is most famous for its pandas, which is the reason for the panda statues all over Ueno station.
Tokyo Disneyland Theme Park
Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, the Disneyland Theme Park is worth a visit! There are two parks: Tokyo Disney and Disney Sea. While Tokyo Disney is also great, Disney Sea is a unique experience and we highly recommend checking it out first if you’re short on time.
If you love classic Ghibli films such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, you’d definitely want to check out the Ghibli museum in Mitaka. There are various exhibitions centered around each classic movie and you can tell that each part of the interior design has been carefully thought out, just like the films. Photography is not allowed inside and tickets are quite hard to come by so make sure to secure them months before your visit!
teamLab Borderless Exhibition
The teamLab Borderless exhibition in Odaiba is one of the most popular art exhibitions in Japan. The teamLab group of artists are known for creating visually aesthetic artwork that seem to extend beyond the walls and defy any concept of space. This exhibition is highly recommended for anyone visiting Tokyo.
Sunshine Sky Circus
The top floor of Sunshine City started off as an observation deck, but has evolved into so much more. There is now a VR theme park, planetarium, and various other interactive displays. There are also restaurants, smaller amusement parks, and many anime themed shops on the bottom floors of Sunshine City and this place is highly recommended for families and anime-lovers!
Tokyo Dome City
Tokyo Dome City is a city within a city. Not just an amusement park, the area also has a hotel, sports stadium, restaurants, shopping mall, spa, and an event hall. Start your day off at the amusement park, explore the shopping mall area throughout the day, and finish it off by relaxing at the spa.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji is home to one of the world’s most famous fish auctions and is one of the most distinct experiences in Tokyo. Here, you can try fresh seafood, experience the fish market culture, and buy authentic Japanese ingredients for souvenirs. To get the full experience, take a tour with a local guide that’s familiar with the Tsukiji culture and history.
For a complete onsen (hot spring) experience, head over to Tokyo’s most famous Oedo Onsen Monogatari. Located in Odaiba, Oedo Onsen has various types of baths including open air, steam, and foot. After washing up, you can change into a Yugata and enter the mix-gender amusement area, decorated as a mini Edo town, where you can eat, relax, and participate in various Japanese activities.
Watch the Sumo Morning Practice
Sumo tournaments are hard to come by and can be really expensive. A better way to experience the 2000 year old Japanese sport is to watch their practice in the morning. In Tokyo, there are several sumo practice spots where sumo wrestlers practice in the morning. Once you’re at the sumo dojo, they have several rules in place so it doesn’t disturb the athletes’ training.
Watching the sumo practice itself is free, but if you’d like re-arrangements for practice schedule changes or would like assistance with the language barrier, there are several tours available that can arrange everything for you.
Drink at an Izakaya
One of the best ways to experience the local culture in Tokyo is to step inside an izakaya. It’s the gathering spot for many people from college kids to full-time salarymen. An izakaya is the halfway point between a restaurant and a bar where drinks are served with small dishes meant to complement the alcohol. There are many different izakaya ranging from chains like Torikizoku and Kuranokuniya to hidden local spots, some even without a name!
The Robot Restaurant can either feel like a unique experience or a tourist trap. Inside, there are stadium-style seats in a dark room. Once the show starts, robot floats and exotic costumes parade through the stadium with neon lights and dances. The show lasts about 90 minutes and whether you walk away satisfied or weirded out, you’re definitely in for a surprise!
If you’re open to new experiences, check out a maid cafe. These are themed cafes where the “maid” staff treat the customers as if they are princes and princesses. You can order cute menu items and there are traditions set for when you call for the maid. The maids also perform shows and you’re given a souvenir to take back home.
Kawaii Monster Cafe
The Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku is another unique cafe experience. The whole interior is decorated with colorful yet spooky creatures and the staff are dressed up in exotic costumes. There are different zones of seating and the food also comes in a colorful yet spooky theme.
Michelin Star Restaurants
For the foodie travelers who want to taste the best, check out some of the Michelin Star restaurants in Tokyo. Tokyo has a full list of Michelin Star restaurants and they range anywhere from a small ramen shop to high-end luxury restaurants.
Gardens & Nature
Shinjuku Gyoen Park
Shinjuku Gyoen Park is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo. The park is divided into three different types of garden and also has a greenhouse. This is also one of the most popular spots to see the cherry blossom and you can see many locals and travelers gather around to take pictures and enjoy a picnic.
Ueno Park is another popular park in Tokyo, located right next to Ueno station. Ueno is one of the first Western style parks in Tokyo and was built in 1873. The park has a pond, where you can ride boats, and there are various art museums within the park as well.
Meiji Shrine is one of the biggest shrines in Tokyo. What’s cool about this shrine is that there are Japanese weddings held often and you can watch the traditional ceremonies happen from a distance. Despite being in the urban area of Harajuku, the entrance to Meiji Shrine is surrounded by tall trees, and can be a nice, calm place to take a breather from your busy travels.
If you really want to immerse yourself in nature while in Tokyo, Mt. Takao is the perfect place. Mt. Takao is located at the western end of the Chuo line and is a relatively small mountain. It takes about 1-2 hours to hike to the top but there’s also a cable car that you can take halfway. At the foot of the mountain, there’s a nice, relaxing onsen which we recommend stepping into after your hike.
The Hamarikyu Garden is a great place to catch a breather in the middle of the day. Hamarikyu Garden is located in the Tokyo bay and is surrounded by a seawater moat. The garden was designed in a traditional Japanese style and you can see that every small detail has been thought out, as it used to be a private garden for the shogunate. The scenery of a peaceful garden with skyscrapers in the background makes this garden quite unique.
Main Districts of Tokyo
Shinjuku is the world’s busiest station. There are over 12 train lines that are used by over 3.5 million people per day. You can also find all kinds of shopping malls from low to high end. Shinjuku is home to the famous Golden Gai, the Tokyo Metropolitan building, and the notorious Kabukicho district.
Shibuya is the city that never sleeps. There are lots of entertainments here from karaoke to clubs and bars. It’s also the home to Japan’s Time Square, the Shibuya Crossing, and the famous Hachiko statue. Shibuya is continuously growing with more and more skyscrapers appearing in the skyline every year and will soon be the corporate hub of Tokyo.
Harajuku is the station just before Shibuya and it’s the fashion central of Tokyo. It’s most famous for Takeshita Street, filled with lots of colorful fashion and street food. The main street that runs parallel to Takeshita is Omotesando, where it’s lined up with all the high-end fashion.
Akihabara is famously known as the electronics, anime, and manga town. You can find all of Japan’s biggest electronics retailers competing to give you the lowest price and there are also rare figurines and anime goods that you can only find in Akihabara. Other than shopping, you can find lots of arcades and themed cafes.
Asakusa is the city of Tokyo’s past. You can see lots of older style buildings and restaurants serving Japanese style. In the streets, you can see people riding the Jinrikisha, a man powered cart used as a cheap form of transportation in the late 19th century. Asakusa is also home to the famous Sensoji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree.
If Asakusa is the city of Tokyo’s past, Odaiba is the city of Tokyo’s future. Odaiba is a big shopping and entertainment district built on man-made land. It’s easily recognizable by the Gundam statue and the Statue of Liberty replica. It’s also home to the popular teamLab Borderless exhibition and the Oedo Onsen Monogatari.
The Marunouchi area is bordered by three big stations: Tokyo station, Otemachi station, and Yurakucho station. This is known as the business area and it’s filled with skyscrapers. You can find lots of good quality restaurants and izakaya around the station. This area is also a main transportation hub with Otemachi station serving the metro lines and Tokyo station serving the JR lines, along with the Shinkansen
Ginza is Tokyo’s luxury district. The area is packed with brand name shops and high end dining. There is also a thriving nightlife in Ginza and you can also find some of the most exquisite lounges and nightclubs. Regardless of whether you’re into the luxury life or not, window-shopping is always free!
Kagurazaka preserves the elegance of traditional Japan. The sloped street between Iidabashi and Kagurazaka station is lined up with lots of unique restaurants and izakaya and you don’t see too many chain restaurants here. The area used to be famous for being the geisha district during the Edo period and is now home to a considerable French community. If you branch off into the side streets, you can find traditional walkways and restaurants mixed in with some French restaurants as well.
Daikanyama is a small, decorative neighborhood near Shibuya. There are various high-end individual brand shops everywhere, each standing with their own unique architecture. In the heart of Daikanyama is the Daikanyama T-site, one of the most popular book stores in Japan. Daikanyama is also known to have some of the best brunch spots in Tokyo, as well has lots of hip cafes and craft beer breweries.
Shimokitazawa is one of the most popular places for the younger crowd. The streets are decorated with murals and the area is known for having lots of thrift and vintage shops. You can also find home decor stores, live houses, and trendy cafes in this area as well.
At Kichijoji, you can get the local experience of one of the most popular residential areas in Tokyo. Kichijoji was named the most desired place to live in Kanto for several consecutive years and it’s not hard to see why. Kichijoji is quite separated from central Tokyo, yet very well connected, having easy transportation to Shibuya and Shinjuku. Right next to the station is Inokashira Park, where you can fully experience nature in the middle of the city. There are also a considerable amount of stylish cafes, thrift shops, and local izakaya.