Tokyo Travel Guide
Tokyo is a place to discover the diverse facets of Japanese culture, both traditional and modern. From Japanese gardens, Shinto and Buddhist temples, and Edo-period delights to futuristic skyscrapers and vibrant anime and manga culture, Japan’s capital is a stage for wonderful pictures and often ranks among travellers’ favourite cities in Asia. Still, the sheer size of the city alone makes it a challenge to know where to go, especially if it’s your first time visiting. Just as always, we’re here to help; below, see our picks of the 10 best things to do in Tokyo. 🇯🇵
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- Witness the Shibuya Crossing: The world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk.
- Climb the Tokyo Tower: Catch a bird’s-eye view of the city, even better at sunset!
- Immerse yourself in art: Tokyo is an art wonderland with something for everyone.
- Visit Senso-ji temple: The city’s oldest Buddhist temple.
- Find Zen at the Meiji Shrine: A centenary Shinto shrine with a serene atmosphere surrounded by forest.
- Relax at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden: One of the best places to see the cherry blossoms!
- Fashion hunt at Harajuku: The streets are lined with vintage boutiques, second-hand shops and street art.
- Indulge in Japanese cuisine: From cheap street food to Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s food for everyone
- Watch Sumo wrestling: Deeply rooted in the country’s history, Sumo tournaments take place three times a year.
- Go on a day trip: Tokyo is close to several other amazing destinations that can be explored through day trips!
1. Witness the Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya is Tokyo’s beating heart, an area that attracts the cool crowd for its trendy boutiques, department stores, restaurants and nightlife options. Still, the real showstopper is the world-famous Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. 🚦🚶♂️
Joining the crowds crossing the streets is an exciting experience. Some rush across, while others pause in the middle to take pics. This sounds a bit ludicrous, but trust us: once you cross the street once, you’ll probably want to go back and do it again and again… It’s just so fun! 😁
It’s also fun to see everything from a different viewpoint. One option is the glass-walled walkway at Shibuya Station that leads to the Shibuya Mark City complex, and there’s also Shibuya Sky, one of Tokyo’s newest and most Instagrammable observation decks, another excellent spot to admire the Shibuya Crossing and mind-blowing views of Tokyo.
2. Climb the Tokyo Tower
The Tokyo Tower is another icon of the city. Admiring it from afar is already nice, but getting up close is just fantastic, especially when you see it from the Zojoji Temple that sits almost at its base. 🗼 The contrast of old and new makes for a quintessential Tokyo pic!
The tower’s observation decks are a total hit. The main deck features a glass floor, while the top offers an impressive bird’s-eye view of the city. On clear days, you can even spot Mount Fuji on the horizon. Sunsets are highly suggested. 🗻
After soaking up the great vistas, stop by the Tokyo Tower Highball Garden, a terrace at the base of the tower where you can try some highballs and beer with Japanese snacks.
3. Immerse yourself in art
Tokyo is an art wonderland. From museums dedicated to traditional fine art to those celebrating anime culture and superstar artists, there’s something for everyone. 🎨
Although not large, The Yayoi Kusama Art Museum is a must-see. You can literally immerse yourself in the artist’s polka-dot world and learn her amazing story as an avant-garde artist that’s unlike any other.
Speaking of immersive experiences, teamLab Planets takes digital art to a whole new level, transporting you to a fantastical world of light and movement. Some works even react to your presence, making you feel part of the magical scenario. 😮
Anime lovers will marvel at the delightful world of the Ghibli Museum, which presents some of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic creations. The museum itself is a whimsical work of art, resembling a storybook come to life.
For fine art, head to Roppongi Hills, where you’ll find some of the best art galleries in town, as well as museums like The National Art Center Tokyo and Mori Art Museum.
4. Visit Senso-ji Temple
The traditional Asakusa neighbourhood is home to one of Tokyo’s prime sightseeing spots, the stunning Senso-ji Temple, the city’s oldest Buddhist temple. It’s a layered experience: before reaching the temple, you cross the majestic Kaminarimon Gate with its giant red lantern and then stroll through Nakamise Dori, a charming shopping street with souvenirs and street food options, to reach the imposing main hall with all its ancient grandeur, teeming with activity. 🏮
If you want to escape overwhelming crowds, a great tip is to visit the temple in the evening; the main hall and the pagoda right next to it look extra beautiful when illuminated.
While in Asakusa, you can stroll along the Sumida River and admire fantastic views of the Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest structure. That’s also a great spot to try some kimono fitting (can you imagine the pics?) and jump on a boat tour to Odaiba in the Tokyo Bay area. 👍
5. Find Zen at the Meiji Shrine
Are you seeking to experience the Zen essence of Japan in the heart of Tokyo? Meiji Shrine, also known as Meiji Jingu, is a centenary Shinto shrine with a serene atmosphere and is just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Harajuku and Shibuya.
Make your way through a lush forest adorned with beautiful Torii gates and colourful sake barrels (those are offerings to the gods) to reach the main hall — a perfect example of Shinto architecture framed by two massive camphor trees. 🌳
On the shrine’s grounds, there are also secondary Shinto shrines and Japanese gardens for you to explore. The Inner Garden, for one, was commissioned by Emperor Meiji and filled with delicate iris flowers.
Pro tip: a day trip from Tokyo, the seaside town of Kamakura is also a wonderful place and home to several Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. ⛩️
6. Relax at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
A 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a perfect spot to take a break from your city exploration. The park boasts pristine Japanese and Western-style gardens, including French and English gardens, vast lawns, meandering paths and picturesque ponds. 😍
Are you visiting during the cherry blossom season? You’re in for a spectacle! Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of the best places in Tokyo to see the sakura in full bloom — the park becomes the stage for a true pink extravaganza. 🌸
Another urban park worth visiting is Ueno Park, home to the Tokyo National Museum, the Ueno Zoo, beautiful historical monuments, and more Japanese temples and shrines.
7. Fashion hunt at Harajuku
Trendy, vibrant and filled with contemporary Japanese culture, Harajuku is a must-visit for anyone eager to witness outlandish Japanese fashion. The streets are lined with vintage boutiques, second-hand shops and street art, and they become a daily stage for teenage culture to flourish.
Did we mention some things get outlandish? Harajuku food and snacks elevate dessert to a whole other level; think rainbow grilled cheese, giant anime cotton candies and animal-shaped ice creams. 🍦🍬🍭
For a more upscale feel, head to stylish Omotesando Avenue. Known as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo, this tree-lined avenue is home to chic boutiques and charming cafes. Don’t forget to stop by Tokyu Plaza Omotesando and capture a photo at its kaleidoscopic mirrored escalator, one of Tokyo’s biggest Instagram sensations! Need some rest? Don’t skip a visit to the beautiful Yoyogi Park.
Pro tip: if you only have a short time in Tokyo, it’s easy to combine your visit to Harajuku with Meiji Shrine and Shibuya — all are within walking distance from Harajuku. 👌
8. Indulge in Japanese cuisine
All this urban exploration is bound to work up your appetite! From cheap street food to Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s something in store for every foodie in Tokyo. 😋
If you want to combine a great atmosphere with Japanese flavours, visit one of Tokyo’s “yokochos,” alleyways where you’ll find hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving amazing ramen, udon, soba and yakitori. And that’s also where you’ll find the traditional izakayas — the Japanese version of a pub. Omoide Yokocho is one of the city’s most famous.
We can’t speak of Japanese food without mentioning sushi, right? If you’re on a budget, you can have a sushi feast at conveyor belt sushi restaurants around the city — keep your eyes peeled for Kura, Sushiro, and Uobei. For something more fancy, Ginza is home to countless upscale sushi bars. 🍣
Pro tip: have you heard of sea-to-table sushi? Visit either Tsukiji Fish Market or Toyosu Market, both of which feature restaurants where you can savour the freshest sushi in town. The latter is renowned as the world’s largest fish market and as the stage for the famous tuna auction.
9. Watch sumo wrestling
Sumo is not just a sport in Japan; it’s deeply rooted in the country’s history. If you find yourself in Tokyo during the sumo tournaments, it’s a great idea to witness these heavyweight huggers in action. Sumo tournaments take place three times a year in Tokyo — January, May and September — at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the national sumo stadium. 📆
If you are not in Tokyo during the tournament season, you can still see sumo wrestlers in action by booking a visit to a morning sumo practice at one of the city’s sumo stables or by catching a glimpse for free through a window at Arashio-beya. However, the latter option has limited dates, so plan accordingly by checking their website.
10. Go on a day trip
Japan is extremely well-connected, and Tokyo is close to several other amazing destinations that can be explored through day trips — some just a few train stations away from your hotel. Here are some ideas:
- 📍Nikko: less than a two-hour train ride from Tokyo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the mountains, offering great hiking opportunities and home to Toshogu, one of Japan’s most impressive Shinto shrines.
- 📍Hakone: this scenic mountain town, about an hour and a half train ride from Tokyo, is famous for its hot spring resorts (onsen) and offers nothing short of spectacular vistas of Mount Fuji.
- 📍Mount Takao: about an hour away from central Tokyo, offers more scenic hiking options, including walking up to the top of the mountain for breathtaking views of Fuji the Great.
- 📍Lake Kawaguchiko: another hot spring resort town and the most accessible Fuji Lake, boasting some of the best views of Mount Fuji. The train ride varies from one and a half to two and a half hours, depending on the train you take.
Extra Tips for a First Trip to Tokyo
The world’s biggest city is truly an urban playground of unending exploration. Here are some extra tips from our community of world travellers:
- Akihabara is a paradise for every otaku, featuring massive thematic stores that offer everything related to video games, manga and anime. 🎮
- Go up to the free observatory deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku for a breathtaking view of the city twinkling at night, and then get a drink at a cosy local bar in Golden Gai. 🍶
- Learn more about the intricacies of Japanese culture with a traditional tea ceremony.
- Pick a theme park for a day of fun; Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are all-time favs.
- Admire the grandeur of Tokyo Station, explore its modern surroundings, and then go back in time with a visit to the Imperial Palace nearby. 🏯
- Sing your heart out at a karaoke. 🧑🎤
Capturing Memories in Tokyo
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