Best Things to Do in Tokyo
Tokyo is the capital of Japan and also one of the best citiies in the world where you can experience history, culture, tradition and bustling modern day life all mixed in.
There are world famous tourist sights, and also lesser known unusual and unique places to visit. You could spend days or weeks exploring this city.
Before we get started, here are some essential things to know before you arrive:
Getting to Tokyo
Unless you live in Asia, Japan is a long way from almost anywhere. Airlines who fly direct to Tokyo from the UK include: British Airways, Japan Airlines and ANA (All Nippon Airways).
Other airlines flying to Tokyo from international destinations include: Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Asiana Airlines, Jet Airways, Emirates, China Eastern, China Southern, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, Air India, United, Qantas, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, EVA Air, LOT, Air France, Etihad Airways flights Aeromexico, KLM, China Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, PIA, Thai Airways, Aeroflot, Garuda Indonesia, Delta, SAS, SriLankan Airlines, Air Canada, Philippine Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Air China, Alitalia, EgyptAir, Finnair, Iberia, Tianjin Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Vietnam Airlines.
Book in advance and use a website like Skyscanner to get the best deals.
Japan has really modern infrastructure for tourists and there are lots of hotels, hostels and guest houses throughout the country. Prices aren't the cheapest in Asia so be sure to reserve well in advance of your departure date to secure the best deals. Use booking.com for the best rates.
Learn some basic Japanese phrases before visiting Japan, not many local people speak English and it will make your experience more fun. If you are worried about the language barrier you might want to search tours of Japan where you will travel with an English speaking guide and get to see the highlights of the country.
The metro is one of the quickest ways to navigate Tokyo. After you get a hang of the metro system, you will be able to take advantage of all the city has to offer!
The Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan. Prices aren't cheap in Japan, especially compared to other destinations in Asia. If you want to save money check out this guide with tips how to visit Japan on a budget.
Best Experiences & Places to Visit in Toko
Tokyo is a electric city full of history, cultural and technology. Here are some of the top places you need to check out and things worth experiencing.
1. Sensōji Temple
The oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, the Sensōji Temple is an absolute must-see. The famous Kaminarimon Gate with the huge red lantern and the Nakamise-dori shopping street filled with traditional wares and souvenirs lead up to the Main Hall with its gold-plated Gokuden Shrine. The main shrine is surrounded by a five-storey pagoda (the 2nd highest in Japan), the Dembo-in Garden for a tranquil stroll, a huge incense burner, the Hōzō-mon Gate, and the Nade Botokesan Buddha.
2. Meiji Jingu Shrine
Although there are numerous seasonal festivals in Tokyo, the most extravagant ones are during the spring. However, there is a year-round opportunity to see Japanese wedding processions Sundays at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. In addition to the beautiful and serene traditional atmosphere, there are hundreds of different picture opportunities and chances to participate in Japanese tradition whether it is writing a wish on Ema (a wooden tablet) and hanging it up, or buying a lucky charm.
On the way to the main shrine through the first Torii Gate is a path with lush greenery and stone lanterns. To the side is a trail to the Meiji Shrine Garden (carp and water lilies and iris garden), Kiyomasa’s Well, and the Treasure Museum. You might expect to find young girls on Sundays dressed up in cosplay nearby at the Harajuku Station, but unfortunately there aren’t as many as there were in the early 2000s.
3. Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands in the Shibuya district of Tokyo is a huge department store that carries every possible household product you will ever need. Filled with inventive every-day Japanese goods, you will find items that you never thought you would need or knew that even existed. With 25 different sections, this unique branch holds a plethora of products as you can see above.
4. Oedo Antique Market
The Oedo Antique Market has a fantastic array of kimonos, obi sashes, lacquer boxes, and other Japanese antiques at very reasonable prices. Gorgeous kimonos in particular are available at about 1,000 Yen ($10). With about 250 dealers, it is the largest outdoor antique market in Japan and takes place every 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at the International Forum courtyard. There are good small restaurants in the area and the inside atrium of the forum building is gorgeous, so make sure to make a visit along the way to admire the modern architecture.
5. Tea Ceremony at the New Otani
Taking part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony is truly an experience not to be missed when in Japan. It is the ceremonial preparation and enjoyment of matcha and a Japanese sweet, and is the ultimate way to appreciate tea. The calm simplicity and beauty of the ceremony itself is a feast for the eyes. Although there are many different places to witness a Tea Ceremony in Tokyo, the very private and inviting Tatami Tea Room at the New Otani is the ideal setting. The New Otani also has a magnificent traditional garden with vibrant red bridges, koi fish, and a small rock garden. Make sure to also take a stroll.
6. Sushi SEIZAN at Roppongi Hills
Although the Roppongi Hills Mall has about 200 stores and restaurants (and even a multiplex), the authentic Sushi SEIZAN is a standout in terms of unbelievably fresh and delicious sushi. The fish is brought every day from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Although Sushi SEIZAN has two western options – one of which is the California Roll – try to opt for the more traditional Nigiri-style sushi. (the Salmon and Japanese Shrimp are especially good) Although there are tables available, make sure to sit at the bar to be able to order à la carte and watch them make your sushi skillfully.
7. Walk in Gyoen Park
Tokyo is a great city because there is such a great balance of concrete jungle and real nature. Gyoen Park in Shinjuku has a variety of outdoor gardens including a traditional Japanese garden It is a must see if you want to get a real feel for bonsai trees and Japanese scenery. Spend a couple hours wondering the grounds and enjoying this park. It is almost as if you are not in one of the biggest cities in the world.
8. Eat Sushi
An obvious one for most, you need to eat sushi while you are in Tokyo. There are an infinite amount of sushi establishments to choose from. Whether you choose a budget friendly conveyer belt to grab a quick bite, a place where you can order on a touch screen and have it zoom out on a track (so cool!) or sit down sushi restaurants that may please the foodie with no price limit, you should experience sushi in Japan.
9. Watch Sumo
If you are fortunate enough to be in Tokyo when there are Sumo competitions going on you should consider adding this experience to your list. The traditions are still very much intact with no jumbo trons, show girls or people in the seats selling snacks. While at a match, you may have the opportunity to meet with a sumo wrestler and try out their staple diet food, Sumo Stew.
10. Order Via Vending Machine
Tokyo is jam packed full of innovative technology. There are vending machines on every corner selling anything you can imagine. Many of the fast food resturants use them for their customers to place their orders and pay before sitting down. With all those people, we don’t blame them for wanting to make things run a little smoother and faster. You may not know exactly what you order, but don't worry, it will most likely be delicious.
11. Have a Drink in Golden Gai
Golden Gai is a very unique place in the area of Shinjuku. It is made up of 6 alley ways with over 400 teeny tiny bars that fit 4-10 people in them. It is a very fun and unique experience to stop into a few of these bars (often themed) and have a drink (or two!).
12. Taste the Ramen
No. I am not talking about Mr. Noodle. With tons of different ways to eat it, you should try Japanese ramen a few times!
13. Take in a Free View
Considering that Tokyo is an expensive place to visit, finding ways to bring costs down is always a bonus! The government building in Shinjuku has a free viewing floor. The fantastic views are an amazing way to see just how big the city is!
14. Explore a 7/11
If you think this is an odd one, you are probably right. You can stop in at the 7/11 for snacks, beers and even meals! Tokyo 7/11’s are amazing. Full of (sometimes strange) meals, sandwiches, desserts at your finger tips. Walk down the aisles for a little insight on what the every day person in Tokyo may eat when stopping in for a quick bite.
15. Experience Pachinko
You will see and hear these buildings everywhere. The distinct sounds of bells, whistles and hard little balls dropping into buckets. Pachinko is a very popular game played by many. It has been said that it is not gambling, but people find ways around this and often make money off of the game. You sense will likely be over simulated as you enter the front doors of a Pachinko place.
16. Stroll Down Takeshita Street
Love people watching? You could probably do it for hours in Harajuku. Awesome stores to window shop, awesome people to see, awesome food to have. Take a walk down Takeshita street to see for yourself!
17. Yokohama Day Trip
Although Tokyo is a wonderfully fast paced city, Yokohama is the perfect getaway destination to enjoy a relaxing day trip. A prefecture of Tokyo, Japan’s second largest city and its largest port, there is an abundance of entertaining places to visit/things to do such as Yokohama’s Cosmoworld amusement park with 27 rides in total, purikura photo booths and one of the largest Ferris Wheels in the world, the CupNoodles Museum, boat/ferry rides, and the biggest Chinatown in Japan. About 40 minutes by train and 15 minutes by Bullet train (Shinkansen), Yokohama is an easily accessible and charming port-city. The train station doubles as a huge mall, and the seaside is only a short walk away.
Other Things to Do/See if Time-Permitting
- Shop at Kiddyland
- Find Japanese souvenirs at the Oriental Bazaar
- Travel with the Bullet Train/Shinkansen
- Stay overnight at a Capsule Hotel
- See the Pachinko Parlors
- Take a stroll or visit the museums in Ueno Park
- See a performance at the NHK Theater
- Take the Tokyo Subway (safe, clean, quiet, and you can find your way by numbers and colors of the subway lines)
- Visit the Imperial Gardens
- Take a small trip to the Ghibli Museum (buy your ticket at a Lawson convenience store)
Tokyo really is an amazing city and somewhere you must visit once in your life. Hopefully our recommendations have given you ideas for where to go. If you have more time available you might like to check out this 1 month itinerary for Japan.
By Lisa Welsh and Aimée Auguin