24 Best Things to Do in Tokyo

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Alicia Joy

Tokyo Writer

No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to its legendary capital city. Where else can travellers visit the most famous fish auction in the world, pray at a 1,000-year-old temple and eat out on the charmingly named Piss Alley all in one day? These are the top things you must do when you’re in Tokyo.

1. Eat the freshest sushi in town at Toyosu Fish Market


Sashimi sushi in kuramon market, Osaka, Japan
Helga Christina / Unsplash

In late 2018, the previously relatively unknown neighbourhood of Toyosu became the new location for Tokyo’s famous fish market. Although it may not have the historic legacy of Tsukiji, it’s still a one-stop location for all your sushi needs. If you get there around 5.30am to catch the tuna auction, be sure to head to the market’s Building 6 to watch the sunrise over Tokyo Bay. In this building, you’ll also find most of the market’s restaurants including the famous Sushi Dai, where people line up way before dawn to grab a table. If you’re not an early riser, don’t worry, as you’ll find a massive selection of other sushi restaurants as well as cafes, curry shops, and other ramen restaurants too.

2. Explore historic Asakusa and its ancient temple, Sensō-ji

Buddhist Temple

Sensō-ji, 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo, Japan
Nicholas Doherty / Unsplash
The well-worn neighbourhood of Asakusa and its main attraction, the sacred temple Sensō-ji, are must-visits – there’s nothing else quite like them in Tokyo. The classical temple, with its iconic red lantern and the charming Nakamise shopping street that lines its approach, will transport you to Japan of old. Nearby is Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in the country.

3. Strut your stuff in stylish Harajuku

Train Station

Stylish woman posing in Harajuku, Japan
Joshua Chun / Unsplash

Visitors can explore the fashionable Harajuku, Omotesandō and Aoyama neighbourhoods in a single day. But if you only go to one, make it Harajuku. The colourful area’s Takeshita-dōri (Takeshita Street) is the place to go for offbeat style, such as Lolita, a Japanese fashion inspired by Victorian and Rococo clothing. Continue your shopping trip at the high-end brands in Omotesandō, admiring the stunning architecture along the way, and finish up in the art galleries and cafes of cultured Aoyama.

4. Snap up anime films and collectables at Akihabara

Architectural Landmark

Akihabara, Taito City, Tokyo, Japan
Pat Krupa / Unsplash

Tokyo’s Electric Town wows visitors with its sheer volume of anime, manga and gaming paraphernalia. Discerning shoppers will be able to find everything they need to complete their collection – comics, DVDs, detailed figurines, trading and playing cards, costumes, magazines and an endless supply of knick-knacks. It’s also the place to check out the quirky maid cafes in Tokyo.

5. Take in old-fashioned Yanaka Ginza Shitamachi

Market, Architectural Landmark

Yanaka Ginza, 3 Chome-13-1 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo, Japan
P C / Unsplash
Historically, the shitamachi (low city) was where less-affluent Tokyo residents worked and lived. Today, few places remain in Tokyo where you can experience the old world, but with its ramshackle, frozen-in-time atmosphere, Yanaka Ginza shopping district is one of them. Head to the Yuyake Dandan staircase, which has been featured in TV series and films – it’s a picturesque spot to snap a few photos. There’s also a sizeable population of adorable stray cats in the area.

6. Wrestle with sumo culture in Ryōgoku


Sumo tournament in Ryōgoku, Sumida City, Tokyo, Japan
Alessio Roversi / Unsplash
Ryogōku is the capital of sumo culture in Tokyo, and the place to go for all things sumo. The district is home to a large number of sumo stables, some of which might let you watch their early-morning practices for free. You can also learn about the history of the sport at the Sumo Museum or eat at the sumo-themed restaurant. But for the ultimate experience, take in a match at the Ryogōku Kokugikan, where thousands of fans gather to watch the most popular sport in Japan.

7. While away a day in Ueno Park

Buddhist Temple, Park, Shop

Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan
Juan Broullon / Unsplash
You can easily spend an entire day at Tokyo’s largest park, Ueno. Originally the grounds of Kaneiji temple, the extensive, cherry-blossom-tree-filled park is also home to the Tokyo National Museum, the city’s most popular art museum, along with the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the underrated Shitamachi Museum, among others. Spend an afternoon museum hopping, and finish up with a picnic surrounded by Ueno’s gorgeous foliage.

8. Party all night in Shibuya


The nightlife in Shibuya is unrivalled. You can spend an entire evening sipping cocktails 30 floors up or rocking out at an underground DJ bar. Alternatively, why not sip a sake at the traditional Shōwa-era bars by the train tracks, before checking out the area’s clubs and live music venues? Whatever you’re looking for in a night out in Tokyo, you’re sure to find it in Shibuya.

9. Gaze out from Tokyo Skytree


View of Tokyo Skytree framed by cherry blossom petals
Ryoji Iwata / Unsplash
Spend an evening exploring the tallest tower in the world, the 634m-high (2,080ft) Tokyo Skytree. Check out the boutiques on your way up to the observation decks, where you’ll get unrivalled 360-degree views of the city – on clear days, you might even be able to see Mount Fuji. At the base of the tower, Skytree Town, also known as Solamachi, is where you’ll find many sleek shopping and dining options.

10. Take a wee stroll down Piss Alley

Architectural Landmark

Omoide Yokochō, 1 Chome-2 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo, Japan
Pema Lama / Unsplash

Although Omoide Yokocho translates literally to memory lane, this narrow, historic street – one of many yokocho in Tokyo – is better known as piss alley. Despite its somewhat off-putting moniker, this bustling, atmospheric collection of small bars and food stalls is a Tokyo favourite for eating and drinking. The main dish you’ll come across is yakitori – skewered meats that pair perfectly with Japanese beer and sake.

11. Nose around Nakameguro and Daikanyama

Architectural Landmark

The Meguro River lends Nakameguro a special charm. Here, you’ll find cool cafes, restaurants and the odd boutique selling handmade, eco-friendly handicrafts for the modern flower child. While there, it’s also worth popping by its classier neighbour, Daikanyama, which is characterised by winding lanes, one-of-a-kind speciality shops and superb dining.

12. Witness traditional dance dramas at Kabuki-za


Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance drama that has wowed audiences for hundreds of years with its elaborate costumes, makeup and spectacular sets. Originally opened in 1889, Kabuki-za has been rebuilt four times, most recently in 2013. It’s the chief kabuki theatre in the region and still retains its historic charm.

13. Stroll around the Imperial Palace and Gardens


Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan
Michael Heise / Unsplash

The Japanese royal family – the longest-running hereditary monarchy in the world – resides at this beautiful castle complex in Central Tokyo. Bookings must be made for tours of the Imperial Palace grounds, but the Imperial Palace East Garden is open to visitors year-round. On the other side of the moat, Chidori-ga-fuchi is a popular cherry-blossom spot.

14. Take a moment of reflection at the lush Meiji Shrine

Shinto Shrine

Kazaridaru - Sake barrels at the Meiji shrine, Tokyo, Japan
Thyla Jane / Unsplash
The construction of Meiji Shrine, which was built in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, was completed in 1920. With its thickly wooded grounds, sky-scraping torii gates and close proximity to tourist spots such as Harajuku, Omotesandō and Shibuya, it’s easy to see why it remains one of the city’s most popular Shinto shrines.

15. Join the scramble at Shibuya Crossing

Architectural Landmark

Hundreds of people crossing the roads in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
Jezael Melgoza / Unsplash
Shibuya Crossing, also known as the Shibuya Scramble, is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world in terms of foot traffic. The nearby Hachikō Statue, which immortalises the dog who waited for his owner every day at Shibuya station even after his master’s death, is a popular meeting spot.

16. Catch a baseball game at the Tokyo Dome

Sports Center

The Yomiuri Giants, the oldest professional baseball team in Japan, call the Tokyo Dome their home. Catch a game or spend some time browsing the nearby Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball arrived in Japan during the Meiji era, and it has swiftly become the most popularly played and supported sport in the country.

17. Soak it all up at a local onsen


Make your way to a traditional onsen bathouse to experience one of the most prevalent cultural aspects of traditional Japanese life. These spaces have a great importance in Japanese culture, be it as a place of communal gathering, or simply a way to relax, cleansing the body and the soul in the process. Be aware that onsen etiquette generally dictates that those with tattoos can’t enter – if you have one that’s small enough, try to cover it up.

18. Take part in a tea ceremony at Hamarikyu Onshi Teien


This traditional Japanese strolling garden was once the property of the Tokugawa clan, the local shoguns (rulers) that presided over the Tokyo area when it was known as Edo. A seawater moat surrounds Hamarikyu, and entry is possible via a water taxi from Akasaka. Be sure to visit the antique teahouse located within its walls, Nakajima no Ochaya, for the full tea ceremony experience.

19. Drink your way around Golden Gai

Architectural Landmark

Locals crammed into a bar in Golden Gai, Tokyo
Nate Kadlac / Unsplash
A maze of narrow alleys filled with two-storey bars, Golden Gai makes quite a contrast against its surroundings, the glitzy megalopolis of Shinjuku. Most of the bars here are so small that they can only accommodate a handful of customers, meaning that seating charges are hefty, but soaking up the local charm makes the extra yen worthwhile. Note that, while Golden Gai has become popular with visitors from abroad in recent years, every now and then you’ll still encounter the odd “locals only” sign or chilly reception to newcomers.

20. Scale sacred Mount Mitake


Head out of Tokyo city for a day-trip to Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. Here, you can embark on a hike to the summit of Mitake-san (Mount Mitake), where you can pay your respects at the ancient Shinto shrine along the way, perhaps stopping to shop and dine at the nearby village.

21. Stay in a ryokan


Interior of a dining room within a traditional ryokan inn, Japan
Susann Schuster / Unsplash
Ryokan are cozy guesthouses where Japanese hospitality (omotenashi) and traditional culture reign. Ryokan are usually small, family-owned and inexpensive, but there are ryokan-style resorts like Hoshinoya which can cost more than a luxury hotel. There are plenty to choose from, but we recommend Sawanoya Ryokan.

22. Cherry blossoms


Japanese cherry blossom sakura
AJ / Unsplash
Gazing at the cherry blossoms, otherwise known as hanami,is a tradition going back thousands of years. These days, it’s also Tokyo’s busiest tourist season, and after one look at the photos it’s easy to see why. Places like Chidori-ga-Fuchi and Naka-Meguro are great for strolling under the blossoms, while the city’s many public parks fill up with friends and families picnicking beneath a sea of pink.

23. Matsuri (festivals)

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Tokyo is always celebrating something. Local shrine festivals are your chance to experience part of the Shinto tradition and sample popular street foods. Most are held during summer and fall, but there are seasonal festivals all year round. One of our personal favourites is Sanno Matsuri at Hie Shrine.

24. Ghibli Museum


Robot statue at Ghibli Museum, Tokyo, Japan
Alex Rerh / Unsplash

Founded by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli created some of Japan’s most timeless films, including My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Spirited Away (2001). Nestled in the suitably lush surrounds of Inokashira Park, the museum built in honour of this creative powerhouse documents the studio’s creation, evolution and influence. The building itself is a mystical mansion, complete with spiral staircases, a small cinema room and the five-metre-tall (16-foot) Robot Soldier statue that stands on its rooftop; with so much to explore, it’s easy to lose half a day in this whimsical world. Tickets to the museum are limited, so you have to make a booking. Recommended by Lucy Dayman.

Brooke Larsen contributed additional reporting to this article.

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