Top Things To Do in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Japan’s cool capital has something for everyone – from ancient temples and historic neighbourhoods to maid cafes and a giant Godzilla head. Unlike many cities around the world it’s pretty light on actual landmarks but experiencing it is a highlight of any Japan itinerary. Not sure what to get up to on your visit? Here’s my list of top things to do in Tokyo.

Top Things To Do in Tokyo, Japan

 

Experience Shibuya

No visit to Tokyo would be complete without spending time in Shibuya. The district is akin to Tokyo’s beating heart – experiencing it goes a long way to understanding the city and modern Japanese culture. The shopping and entertainment area – full of malls, restaurants and clubs – can provide days’ worth of entertainment. The main highlight, of course, is the famous intersection in front of Shibuya Station. Standing at the crossing alongside hundreds of people and gazing up at the sea of neon signs and giant billboards all around you is pretty incredible. Then the lights go green and just like that you have one of the quintessential Tokyo experiences.

You will probably work this one out for yourself. Starbucks overlooks the intersection and the upstairs bit is a great vantage point for taking photos and videos of the intersection. You will need to buy a drink though and possibly wait for a decent spot by the window to open up.

Where: Map and Directions

Shibuya Crossing - Things To Do in Tokyo
The famous Shibuya Crossing

Visit the ancient Senso-ji

Built in 628, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of the city’s most visited sights. Legend has it that it was built in honour of the goddess Kannon, a statue of which appeared to two fishermen in a nearby river. Today the temple’s impressive main hall and five-storied pagoda are as close as Tokyo really gets to a proper landmark. There is plenty to see before you even get to the main complex, though! The Kaminarimon gate and its giant chochin (lantern) is the entrance to the 250m long shopping street packed with souvenir shops, traditional goods and delicious street food.

Arrive EARLY as the areas is very popular with tourists and Japanese alike. I stayed in a hostel just a few metres away and was able to arrive at 6:30 am where I could explore the grounds in peace and seeing locals go about their morning routines.

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: Main Hall: 06:00-17:00 (06:30 October to March)  Grounds: Always open

Price: Free

Hozomon Gate, Senso-ji - Things To Do in Tokyo
Hozomon Gate in the Senso-ji complex

Explore Ueno Park

Ueno Park is one of my favourite spots in Tokyo. The large public park is perfect for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It also acts as a sort of a museum quarter with five calling the park home. The Shinobazu Pond is another highlight with the Bentendo temple hall on a small island in the middle and a chance to hire swan-shaped boats. There are multiple temples and shrines, plenty of delicious street food and even a zoo! You can even watch an amateur baseball game on a field close to the main station. Oh and did I mention that’s a popular spot to see the famous cherry blossom with over a 1000 trees along the park’s main walkway.

Ueno Park is home to National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Science Museum and the Shitamachi Museum. The entrance by JR Ueno station has a number of kiosks where you can purchase museum passes giving you discounted entry if you are planning on visiting more than one!

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: all day but shrine, museum and zoo opening times vary.

Price: Park and temples are free but museums and zoo have entrance fees (around £4-5/$7-8)

Bentendo Temple, Ueno Park - Things To Do in Tokyo
Bentendo Temple, Ueno Park

Get a glimpse of the royals at Tokyo Imperial Palace

The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Japan’s Imperial Family. Built in 1888 it’s located on the site where Edo Castle – seat of the Japanese rulers during the Edo period (1603-1867) – once stood. The palace itself is not usually open to the public but you can see it from a plaza which has great views of the palace and the Nijubashi Bridge or take a tour of the outer grounds. However, if you time your visit really well – you could get access to the inner grounds. On the 23rd December (Emperor’s Birthday) and 2nd January (New Year’s Greeting), visitors can get closer to the palace and even glimpse the members of the Imperial Family on the palace’s balcony.

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: The plaza is open all day (map location above). The palace inner grounds only open on the 23rd December and 2nd January

Price: Free

Tokyo Imperial Palace/Nijubashi Bridge - Things To Do in Tokyo
The Tokyo Imperial Palace with the Nijubashi Bridge in the foreground

Release your inner geek in Akihabara

Akihabara is another Tokyo district that gives a great insight into a significant part of Japanese culture. The area is a mecca for anything otaku (sort of super fandom of popular culture, manga/anime and computers) and is full of electronic stores, arcades and themed cafes. Which doesn’t SOUND like everyone’s cup of tea, but believe me it’s an experience you won’t forget. Wander giant mega malls like Yodobashi Camera, rummage for retro video games and figurines and stop off for refreshments at maid and robot cafes. Come at night to drink in the atmosphere of this neon-lit world or on Sundays when the whole area becomes pedestrian-only. Trust me, this is one of the coolest areas to explore in Tokyo and if you are AT ALL into the culture Akihabara celebrates, you’ll be in heaven.

Where: Map and Directions

Akihabara - Things To Do in Tokyo
Akihabara

Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market

Checking out one of the world’s largest fish markets was one of my favourite experiences in Tokyo. Wandering along its many lanes, dodging the zippy turret trucks darting between gawping visitors and watching workers cut up the fresh morning catch samurai-style is fascinating. The bustling outer market is where you can sample all the so-fresh-some-of-it-is-still-alive seafood from the multitude of stalls and restaurants. Seafood lovers will be in their element and everyone else should still enjoy the organised chaos of the market. If you are really dedicated, you can visit the tuna auction taking place from 5am. Beware – places are strictly limited to 120 a day and many start queuing hours before!

The outer market gets ridiculously busy after everyone finished exploring the main wholesale area. My advice is to get to Tsukiji early (I arrived at 8am) to explore the outer market before the tourists arrive. Grab some cheap, tasty breakfast and wait for the inner market to open at 10am!

Where: Map and Directions – Tsukiji Fish Market will be moving to a new location in October 2018

Opening Times: Outer Market – 05:00-14:00 (times vary), Inner (Wholesale) Market – from 10:00am, Tuna Auction – 5:25-6:15am (restricted to 120 visitors per day.

Price: Free

Tsukiji Fish Market - Things To Do in Tokyo
A worker showing ninja-like precision in slicing a bluefin tuna at the Tsukiji Fish Market

Shinjuku

As you’ve probably gathered by now, checking out different Tokyo districts is one of the best way to sightsee in the Japanese capital. Shinjuku is a bustling business and entertainment area that’s full of things to see and do. It’s home to some of Tokyo’s best shopping, a skyscraper district, parks and even a red-light district. Pop culture fans would love the Gracery Hotel and its fire-breathing Godzilla head or the famous Robot Restaurant. Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest and is useful for day trips out of the city (just try not to get lost!).

The 240 metre tall Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has free observation decks on the 45th floors of its twin towers. It’s a great, wallet-friendly way to see the city from up high.

Where: Map and Directions

Shinjuku - Things To Do in Tokyo
A giant Godzilla head at the Gracery Hotel Shinjuku

Bar hop around Golden Gai

Shinjuku should be on any Tokyo itinerary in its own right, but it’s the small Golden Gai area that was one my highlights in the capital. Six narrow alleys, criss-crossed with even smaller passageways, house over 200 tiny bars and eateries in an area formerly known for prostitution. Some of the places have English signs and menus but the fun is in checking out random places and engaging with the locals. I sat in an American themed bar talking politics with patrons who didn’t speak a word of English – we did manage to agree Brexit was a bad thing! The area doesn’t really get going till later in the evening so come around 9-10pm for the atmosphere or earlier to explore in peace. Bear in mind that photography/video is technically prohibited.

Grab food at Nagi. It was the best ramen I have ever tasted. It was also endorsed by legendary ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky – and if it’s good enough for him, it’s definitely good enough for me! Then grab a beer at 5 Gallons or any of the bars dotted around the area!

Where: Map 

Golden Gai - Things To Do in Tokyo
One of the quirky bars in Golden Gai

Escape to Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)

Meiji Jingu and the forest that surrounds it are a welcome respite from the bustling city that surrounds them. It was built in 1920 in honour of Emperor Meiji who modernised Japan and was one of the influences of it becoming prominent on the world stage. One of Japan’s most visited shrines, it’s a pleasant stroll from Harajuku station. You’ll pass huge torii gates, colourful sake barrels and dense forest before arriving at the shrine. You can explore its grounds, make offerings or scribble your wishes on wooden ema tablets. I definitely recommend a visit, especially on a hot day when the cover of the trees is a blessing.

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: Meiji Shrine – Sunrise to sunset, Inner Garden – 09:00-16:30 (until 16:00 November to February), Treasure House – closed until autumn 2019

Price: Meiji Shrine – Free, Inner Gardens – ¥500 (£4/$5.50)

Meiji Shrine - Things To Do in Tokyo
Huge torii gate leads to the Meiji Shrine complex

Walk Takeshita Street, Harajuku

Once you’ve explored the tranquil Meiji Shrine, it’s time to dive straight back into the Tokyo craziness. Takeshita Dori, which starts across the road from Harajuku Station, is a 400 metre shopping street, primarily catering to young people. Shops, fast food joints and colourful crepe stalls line the street and this is where fashionable teenagers come to pick up the coolest threads. It’s fun to explore and some of the streets off Takeshita have some interesting spots but the crowds that are usually found here may put some off.

Where: Map – Takeshita Street is right opposite Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Opening Times: Shops tend to open 11:00-20:00 but café and bar opening times will vary

Price: Free

Takeshita Street - Things To Do in Tokyo
A crepe stand on Takeshita Dori

Get cultural at the National Art Center

If art is your thing, the National Art Center is a great option to while away a few hours. Japan’s largest art museum is unique in that it has no permanent collections. Instead it serves as a venue for smaller, temporary exhibitions.  It’s a great place to check out Japanese and Western artists. Check what’s on as you may stumble upon something unique. When I visited, an exhibition of Art Noveau painter Alfons Mucha’s pieces was the first of its kind outside his native Czech Republic.

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: These vary depending on day and exhibition. Check the latest information here.

Price: Differs by exhibition

National Art Center, Tokyo - Things To Do in Tokyo
An exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo

Try incredible Japanese food

I’ve talked about Japanese food on this blog before. It’s soooo delicious and I recommend trying as much as you can! Tokyo has earned its status as one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. It has the most Michelin stars out of any city in the world but is also perfect for eating on a budget. Try and visit an izakaya (Japanese pub) for tasty inexpensive small plates or look out for ordering machines outside of restaurants – these are fast food places where you order before you even come inside! Don’t be afraid to try stuff from the street food stalls either – such as delicious yakitori and takoyaki.

Japan Food Guide: 15 Top Things to Try in Japan

Street food - Things To Do in Tokyo
Street food is a tasty (and cheap) way to experience Japanese cuisine

Visit Tokyo’s themed cafes

If “quirky”, “unusual” and “novelty value” are among your requirements for a café, then visiting Tokyo is like hitting the jackpot. Twice. In a row. If you can think of any theme or concept, there is a very good chance that there is a Tokyo café out there for you.  From rabbit and owl cafes to robot restaurants and bars where you are served by girls in maid outfits, Tokyo has you covered. There are goat cafes, pop band cafes and video game character cafes. There is even a vampire café! You could even do a “café crawl” and experience a few of them in one go!

The way the cafes work is quite simple – you either pay a cover charge for admission or are required to purchase a drink or two. Make sure you check before you go in though – some charge hourly.

Themed cafe - Things To Do in Tokyo
Themed cafes like this one are ubiquitous in Tokyo. This one is for fans of a famous Japanese video game company that’s renowned for its Final Fantasy titles.

Get a bird’s eye view from the Tokyo Skytree

The Tokyo Skytree is a 634 metre broadcasting tower that became the world’s tallest freestanding comms tower in the world when it was completed in 2012. The impressive structure houses shops, cafes and restaurants as well as an observation deck. On a clear day there are impressive views of the city and beyond.

Where: Map and Directions

Opening Times: 08:00-22:00 daily

Price: From ¥2060 (£13/$18). For the detailed ticket information, click here.

Tokyo Skytree - Things To Do in Tokyo
Tokyo Skytree rises 634m above the ground and is now a familiar part of the city’s skyline

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37 thoughts on “Top Things To Do in Tokyo, Japan

  1. Jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    I would really like to visit Japan one day – we were actually just talking about it a few weeks ago! You post shows so many cool things about Tokyo. I think the themed cafes might be my favorite places. If they had dog cafes, I’d probably never go home.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Oh they have plenty of dog cafes Jenn – pretty much any breed of dog you can imagine! Are you booking your flights already?!

  2. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) says:

    Great list of Top Things to do in Tokyo. You have covered some great places to visit. I must visit Shibuya Crossing and take a seat at Starbucks for my photo. I Also must include all the other places plus the quirky bar the Golden Gai. Stunning photos, plus like you tips in blue! Pinned for later use when I make another trip to Japan. #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks! Yeah Tokyo is a big city but it’s actually easier than you think to find quiet pockets, tiny alleyways and green spaces!

  3. Upeksha says:

    Great post! I visited Tokyo a few months back and saw the Senso-ji temple, Shibuya and the Imperial Palace. I totally understand what you mean when you say the best way to see Tokyo is to visit the different neighbourhoods. #theweeklypostcard

    • Travel Lexx says:

      They are just so varied, aren’t they? Definitely plenty more for me to see and do there so I look forward to going back

  4. Anisa says:

    There is just so much to do in Tokyo and you came up with a great list. I love exploring the different neighborhoods. I guess the one thing I would add is to do some karaoke. That is one of my favorite experiences from the time I spent in Japan.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Ah I actually didn’t go on either of my visits so far but I may be going back later this year so will definitely have to check it out! Thanks!

  5. Paul and Carole says:

    We love a market and would find Tsukiji Fish Market really interesting, and can’t believe the size of that bluefin tuna! Goat, rabiit and owl themed cafes whatever will they think of next lol be fun to try some of these. Great post have pinned for future reference.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks guys – I am with you, I had no idea tuna was so big! Visiting the market definitely was an eye-opener and if you don’t mind the smell of fish, it’s a must-visit!

  6. Anda says:

    There is a lot to do a see in Tokyo, no doubt. Shibuya seems especially entertaining, full of malls, restaurants and clubs. My kind of place. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  7. Vicky (Spud on the Run) says:

    I really want to get to Japan, and of course visit Tokyo, one day! I’m pinning this for later and crossing my fingers that I will get to use it sooner rather than later! Thanks for sharing with #TheWeeklyPostcard #feetdotravel

  8. Ruth says:

    Oh, Tokyo! How I want to visit! I know I would love the sights and the vibes in the city but I think my husband and I are more more interested in the food. I know most dishes in there use fresh and prime ingredients. Every meal is a delight! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Oh the food! The food is truly great and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! There are just so many delicious things to try!

  9. Obligatory Traveler says:

    Great suggestions. I as a geeky fangirl, I can’t wait to visit Japan someday. I’d love to go to some theme cafes, especially a Hello Kitty one. I appreciate that you put some nice places to escape the crowds and to do some more cultural and calming activities too. #WeekendWanderlust

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thank you! Tokyo can be a pretty crazy city so it’s definitely a good idea to unwind once in a while and escape. Which is actually not as difficult as you would think in a city of this size!

  10. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    A great guide, this shows me how much there actually is to do in Tokyo! I would be happy to try most of your top 10 except the fish market, definitely not my thing lol. I remember you visiting the Owl Cafe and talking about the Vampire Cafe, and as there is a Cafe Crawl to sample a few, I would love to do that! Drinking and eating is a favourite past-time of mine 😀 Pinned for when I visit Japan (it’s the country top of my bucket list!) #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      You and fish, Angie! The Outer Market would be quite good for you as they have meat too and some great desserts! Yeah cafe hopping is definitely a possible pastime in Tokyo!

  11. Edith says:

    Ah! Wish we had made it to Japan during our travels through Asia but we’ll have to wait until another time. It’s one of those places I want to dedicate a whole month to. Tokyo in particular seems like such a fun place like your pictures show. So many cute, interesting, and different things to explore. Hope to make it there eventually! #weekendwanderlust

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah, Japan is a very special place and you definitely don’t want to rush it! There is so much to see and do in the cities alone and then there is the beautiful countryside and the less explored northern regions! I hope you guys make it over there soon!

  12. Kate and Kris says:

    Tokyo always looks so amazing, so much crazy and unique stuff to do and see. So…admit it, which cafes did you try out? There is a maid café in Bangkok which was always too scary to visit, but I’m quite tempted if we were in Japan….

    • Travel Lexx says:

      It’s an awesome city and it’s refreshing not to need to tick off sights and just wander around getting a feel for all the cool neighbourhoods! We tried out the Square Enix cafe (I am a big Final Fantasy fan)!

  13. tracy says:

    After NZ Japan is my next have to visit country! I can’t wait!! How long would you recommend for a decent chance to get a flavour of the country? We will definitely visit Tokyo – how can you not miss it! Pinning this one but will def contact you for more advice before we book!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Tracy and definitely happy to help with any advice on Japan! It really depends on how you travel – I managed to see a LOT in two weeks but that did involve quite a lot of train travel, early morning starts and not a lot of relaxation time – you know how I travel! Two weeks would still be a really good amount of time but you could definitely take your time in some places and not rush around from place to place.

  14. Shona says:

    This is such a great post covering so many different areas and interests, some I’ve heard of and many I haven’t. I used to be in the fashion industry and the Harajuku girls were always a fascination. Breakfast at Tsukiji would definitely top my list. I’ll pin all of your links too. I can see a Japan trip coming up!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Shona – Japan would be an incredible fit for your love of food! So many delicious things to try. Tokyo is fantastic to explore too!

  15. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) says:

    Great timing – We’re starting to plan for a Japan trip, so this is very helpful! Our youngest got back from Tokyo just recently and raved about Shinjuku and Harajuku, but we’re also looking forward to the temples. Especially Senso-ji – it looks absolutely stunning! As always, great photos and details, Lex. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard and #WeekendWanderlust, too.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thank you! Great thing about Tokyo is that there really is something for everyone here. A cliche, I know, but genuinely true for Tokyo! Let me know if you need any more advice on Japan!

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