Shinjuku is a bustling and vibrant neighbourhood in Tokyo, known for its iconic skyscrapers, neon lights, and bustling streets. With so many things to do in Shinjuku, it's no surprise that it's a popular destination on every Tokyo itinerary.
Located in the heart of the city, Shinjuku is also a convenient base for exploring other popular districts like Shibuya and Chiyoda. In this article, we'll highlight the top things to do in Shinjuku, including must-see landmarks, cultural experiences, and popular attractions for travellers of all interests.
During my trip to Shinjuku, I was very impressed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which provides breathtaking views of the city from its observation decks. For a taste of nature in the city, visit the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This beautiful park is a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and is home to a variety of flowers and plants that change with the seasons. And it has a glasshouse!
For nightlife, the Kabukicho District is the place to be, with its bars, clubs, and restaurants, a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Or, if you are after a cool shopping experience, check out the NEWoMan Shinjuku.
The Golden Gai is a great place to grab a drink and socialize with the locals in its intimate bars, and the Memory Lane is ideal for late night yakitori and grilled BBQ flavours.
No trip to Shinjuku would be complete without trying some traditional Japanese food. There are a wide range of restaurants offering everything from spicy ramen at Ichiran to the Michelin shoyu noodles Konjiki Hototogisu.
Shinjuku is also one of the best areas to stay in Tokyo. There are many affordable hotels suitable for tourists. And since you are on the famous Yamanote Line, you can access all the rest of the attractions in the city, just a few subway stops away.
Let's dive in! Here are all the best things to do in Shinjuku I wholeheartedly recommend.
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Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a skyscraper in Shinjuku, Tokyo that serves as the headquarters for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and it features observation decks located on the 45th floor of each of its towers. The observation decks are a popular tourist destination and offer a unique opportunity to see Tokyo from above.
From this high point, you can take in the breathtaking cityscape of Tokyo, including iconic landmarks like the Tokyo Tower and Skytree. You can even catch a glimpse of the tip of Mount Fuji on a clear day.
You'll be amazed by the seemingly endless sea of beautifully arranged and organized buildings that make up this urban landscape. For the best views, visit the observation deck at sunset or after dark, when Tokyo transforms into an ocean of colour.
The best part? It's free to visit the observation deck, which is open daily from 9:30am to 10pm (last entry at 9:30pm). It is worth mentioning that the north observatory is closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, and the south observatory is closed on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
If you're looking for other ways to see Shinjuku from above, consider heading to the New York Bar in Park Hyatt Tokyo. Located on the 52nd floor of the Shinjuku Park Tower, this spectacular venue offers live music, great cocktails, and stunning views. It's also well-known as one of the top filming locations for the film Lost in Translation. Just keep in mind that there is a cover charge of 2,750 yen per person, and drinks can be pricey, with cocktails costing around 2600 yen.
Explore Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a peaceful oasis that offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. With its landscaped gardens, beautiful lake, and tranquil atmosphere, it's the perfect place to spend a couple of hours relaxing and taking in the beauty of nature.
Shinjuku Gyoen is especially popular with cherry blossom lovers, as it boasts over 400 cherry trees in the English Garden that bloom each spring. The park remains peaceful and serene even during peak cherry blossom season, making it a great escape from the crowds. It's also a beautiful spot to visit in the autumn, when the park is awash with colourful hues.
One of the oldest areas within Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a traditional Japanese landscape garden featuring large ponds with islands and bridges, surrounded by well-manicured shrubs and trees. This garden also includes several pavilions, such as the Kyu Goryotei (also known as the Taiwan Pavilion), which was built for the wedding of the Showa Emperor.
Shinjuku Gyoen has a long history, having been created in the Edo Period and rebuilt after being destroyed during World War II. It opened to the public in 1949 and has been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
To fully enjoy your visit, allocate at least 2-3 hours to explore the park. Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, take pictures, and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.
Please note that there is a small entry fee of 500 yen to access the park, and it closes at 16:30 (last entry at 16:00). If you have the chance, we highly recommend visiting Shinjuku Gyoen during the cherry blossom festival or in the autumn to fully experience the beauty of this Japanese garden in Tokyo.
Walk around tropical plants at Shinjuku Gyo-en Greenhouse
The Shinjuku Gyo-en Greenhouse, located within the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, is one of my favourite places in Shinjuku. Built in 1950 and located near the Okido Gate, the glasshouse is a popular attraction within the park that houses over 1700 tropical and subtropical plant species.
You can spend around 30 minutes strolling through the greenhouse, which has a well-defined path and features an observation bridge to see the tropical plants from above, as well as a waterfall that helps maintain the correct level of humidity.
You'll see an array of plants including Carnivorous plants such as the venus fly trap, cobra lily, and pitcher plants. There is no separate charge to enter the Greenhouse.
Explore the bustling streets of Shinjuku's Golden Gai
Golden Gai is one of the most famous backstreet alleys in Shinjuku and Tokyo, in general. Located in the Kabukicho district, Golden Gai consists of six narrow alleys and is home to around 200 tiny bars packed into a small area. These establishments are quite different from your typical bars, as they are small and intimate, with only a few seats available. This makes them perfect for an after-work drink with locals or other tourists, especially since many of the bars in Golden Gai are friendly to foreigners.
Visiting the Golden Gai is one of the best things to do in Shinjuku in the evening.
While prices in Golden Gai may be slightly higher due to its popularity with tourists, the narrow, winding alleys and authentic Japanese taverns make it well worth a visit. Keep an eye out for English signs outside the bars, as these indicate that travellers are welcome.
One unique aspect of Golden Gai is that many of the bars in the area have their own distinct themes and personalities. Some bars may specialize in a particular type of drink, such as craft beer or cocktails, while others may have a more laid-back atmosphere or feature live music. This means that no two bars in Golden Gai are the same.
Golden Gai is known for its rich history, dating back to the post-World War II period, when it was a gathering place for artists and intellectuals. Today, the area still maintains a Bohemian atmosphere and many of the bars have a unique, artistic vibe.
Here are some suggestions for foreign-friendly bars to try: Bar Darling (female-friendly), Kenzo's Bar, Albatross, Happy, and Asyl. Just be aware that most bars in Golden Gai have a cover charge per person, and photography is strictly prohibited without permission from the area's business promotion association.
If you're searching for a unique way to experience Tokyo's nightlife, Golden Gai is the perfect destination. With its intimate atmosphere and wide variety of bars to choose from, it's an essential stop on any trip to Shinjuku.
Walk around Piss Alley (Omoide Yokocho)
Omoide Yokocho, also known as Memory Lane, is a small and charming network of streets located in the heart of Shinjuku. Filled with cosy bars and restaurants serving delicious food, it's a popular spot for locals to eat, drink, and socialize. Despite its name, it's not a place filled with drunken people, but rather a lively and colourful destination that captures the spirit of Shinjuku.
The street got its name from its history as a hub for black market traders after WWII. In 1999, a fire destroyed the area, but it was later rebuilt and is now a major tourist attraction. Even on a rainy day, you can explore the partially covered streets and enjoy the atmospheric ambiance of the area, which is great for photography.
The street is known for its delicious yakitori, a type of skewered and grilled chicken that is a popular snack in Japan. Definitely dig in and enjoy a wide variety of yakitori dishes at the local bars and restaurants.
Omoide Yokocho is a must-see if you want to experience the authentic culture and local flavours of Shinjuku.
Try ramen, sushi, tempura and more
When people ask us what to do in Shinjuku we always say: go eat lots and lots of food. Shinjuku is home to many great restaurants, offering a wide variety of local and international cuisines. Some popular options include ramen, sushi, tempura, and udon noodles.
It's hard to beat Japan when it comes to street food. Be brave, as you will find a lot of weird-looking food at first, but once you start trying things, you will understand why eating is the number one thing to do in Shinjuku. In fact, let's be honest, eating is one of the best things to do in Tokyo in general.
Start by trying Octopus Balls, a brilliant Japanese street dish which is composed of octopus mixed in the savoury batter. Try it with shredded nori sheet, green onion and ginger, alongside Japanese mayo.
When it comes to food, Shinjuku is pretty impressive. Not only does it have heaps of street food options, but it's home to 36 Michelin star restaurants. But you don't need to go all fancy with fine dining as Shinjuku has plenty of izakayas with delicious yakitori (meat skewers), udon and okonomiyaki.
Hunt for bargains in Don Quijote Discount Store
Shopping at Don Quijote is definitely a fun activity to do in Shinjuku. The store, one of the best places to go for souvenirs, Halloween costumes and other novelty items. It can be a bit overwhelming due to its size and the sheer number of items available, so it's a good idea to set aside some time to explore and take your time looking through everything.
With over 160 branches throughout the country, this discount chain mall is very popular among visitors. In Shinjuku, be sure to check out the massive 5-floor branch, which is open 24 hours a day and even has a tax-free counter for international shoppers.
Most first time visitors (including us) found Don Quijote a lot of fun to visit, so this activity ranks high on the best things to do in Shinjuku list.
Don Quijote is a great place to find souvenirs and other unique items to take home with you, and you might even discover some unexpected treasures while you're there. Buy fridge magnets, cool Japanese masks and lots of sweets. I recommend trying the matcha snd sakura kit kat, banana mochi and don't miss the dried squid snacks.
Just be prepared for the shop's size and the abundance of interesting items - you might end up spending more time there than you planned!
Apart from a cool crab plush hat, I also purchased a talking penguin. You place it in your fridge and talks to you when you open the door. If you leave the fridge door open for too long, your little penguin will start moaning that it's getting too hot, or it can't sleep because of the light.
Shop at the bustling Shinjuku Station
Shinjuku is home to the world's busiest train station in the entire world, with over 3.5 million daily passengers. It has now been officially recognised as the busiest station by the Guinness Book of Records.
After a long day of exploring, the best things to do in Shinjuku is to go shoping! What else? This bustling hub is a must-visit destination for travellers in Tokyo, and there's plenty to do and see.
Grab a coffee from the Blue Bottle Coffee, located at the ground floor of NEWoMan Shinjuku. This cafe shop focused on shingle-origin beans so you know you're going to get a fantastic cup of coffee.
For shopping, I recommend spending time in NEWoMan Shinjuku shopping mall. Located close to the south exit of Shinjuku station, this modern mall is home to a wide range of high-end retailers, offering everything from designer clothing and accessories to home decor and beauty products.
It's not just about the shopping at NEWoMan – the mall also boasts great views of the surrounding area from its upper floors. From here, get a bird's eye view of the bustling streets and train station below, making it a perfect spot for photography and taking in the sights and sounds of Shinjuku.
I also recommend BICQLO. This store combines two popular Japanese brands, Bic Camera and UNIQLO, under one roof. Bic Camera is a well-known electronics retailer, while Uniqlo offers casual fashion at affordable prices. Uniqlo Japan is a great place to shop for tax-free items, as prices here are often significantly lower than those found abroad.
Top Tip: Avoiding travelling on the subway in peak hours if at all possible. It can get pretty crazy otherwise. Always make sure you respect the signs and allow the people rushing to work to be on their way.
Take a stroll through Kabukicho
When you're visiting Shinjuku and want to experience the best of what the city has to offer, you absolutely have to check out Kabukicho. As a former Tokyo local, I can tell you that this entertainment district is the hub of activity in Shinjuku, especially after dark. There's always something going on here, and you'll never be bored.
The streets of Kabukicho are packed with neon lights, towering buildings, and all sorts of other interesting sights. Trust me, you'll want to snap a few photos while you're here. And make sure to get a shot of the giant Godzilla head that towers above the Toho Building - it's a must-see!
Kabukicho is known for its lively bar scene, and there are plenty of places to grab a drink and mingle with locals. Just be aware that some of the bars in the area may be hostess bars or connected to the Yakuza. If you're not familiar with the area, it's a good idea to have a Japanese guide with you.
Kabukicho is home to a number of love hotels, which are establishments that you can rent by the hour. These hotels are known for their quirky interiors and focus on privacy, and they can be a fun and unique experience.
In Kabukicho, you'll find a wide variety of karaoke bars, ranging from intimate and cozy establishments with private rooms to larger, more flashy bars with stage performances. Many of the karaoke bars in Kabukicho are open late into the night, making them a popular destination for after-work drinks or late-night parties.
Some would argue that singing karaoke is a must do when you visit Tokyo. I definately recommend you add karaoke to your things to do in Shinjuku list for one of the evenings.
Good to know: Unfortunately, the colourful and vibrant Robot restaurant is now permanently closed since 2020. The Robot Restaurant was a popular tourist attraction in Shinjuku, known for its colourful and over-the-top performances featuring robots and other electronic devices. The Robot Restaurant featured a variety of elaborate stage shows, including laser light displays, neon-lit dancers, and giant robots.
Just keep in mind that Kabukicho is a red light district, so you will encounter adult-only establishments or activities. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Kabukicho, it's important to use caution and common sense and to respect local customs. While Japan is generally a very safe country, it's always a good idea to be vigilant.
Go around Omoide Nukemichi
Visit the lesser known Omoide Nukemichi which means Secret Passage of Memories.
I think it's a great and accurate name for this small backstreet alley in Shinjuku. Unlike Golden Gai and Memory lane, Omoide Nukemichi feels a lot more authentic. It really does feel like it's been trapped in a time capsule. According to locals, nothing much has changed here since the second world war.
As with any other yokocho (backstreet alley), Omoide Nukemichi has several bars crammed here. The area is a lot more gritty and perhaps even a little intimidating if you don't speak Japan. It's definitely an off the beaten path experience. If you're not confident going there alone, I 100% recommend that you hire a Japanese guide for the day and you ask them to take you here.
How to get there: 1-3 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Eat at Ichiran Shinjuku
Ichiran Shinjuku is a must-try for any fan of ramen, as it is a popular spot among both locals and travellers.
Located in Shinjuku, Ichiran is well-known for its delicious Tonkotsu ramen, which features a rich, milky pork-based broth and is served with smooth, thin noodles, sliced pork, spicy red sauce, and green onions.
Ichiran is so popular, there is almost always a long queue of people waiting to try the delicious signature ramen. Once you are in the restaurant, order it at a vending machine, give the ticket to one of the staff members and wait for your ramen. The restaurant layout is also a little unusual. You will sit down in a single booth, and you can't really socialise with your party, but I say this is part of the charm.
Top tip: Don't fancy waiting in the queue? Go to Dom Quijote and purchase some of the new Ichiran instant ramen, which still comes with the delicious spicy red sauce everybody loves.
Visit the Yayoi Kusama museum
If you're an art lover or a fan of Yayoi Kusama, you have to visit the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Shinjuku. Located in a three-story building with a polka-dot exterior, the museum features a rotating selection of Kusama's surrealist and abstract paintings, sculptures, and installations, as well as special exhibitions and events.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist known for her extensive use of polka dots and for her viral infinity mirror installations.
Explore the permanent collection and the latest temporary exhibitions, visit the research centre and library, and shop for Kusama-themed merchandise. I bought a really cool postcard in the shape of Kusama's famous yellow pumpkin!
Just be sure to purchase tickets in advance online, as the museum has a limited capacity to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors. This museum is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art or Kusama's work. Make sure to grab your camera, you'll want to take lots of fun pictures here.
Price: Adults, ¥1,000; children aged 6 to 18, ¥600; children under 6 years old, free.
Walk around Shinjuku Central park
If you're looking for a calm and relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku, then Shinjuku Central Park is a great place to visit.
Located in the heart of the city, this park is a popular spot for local workers to take a break and enjoy the greenery.
The park features the Shinjuku Niagara Falls, a shrine, and cherry blossom trees, making it a beautiful and peaceful place to relax and unwind.
During cherry blossom season, you'll see locals enjoying picnics and other outdoor activities under the trees. While it's smaller than Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Shinjuku Central Park is still a great place to spend an hour or so relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty of the city.
How to get there: 2 Chome-11 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
See the Kumano Shrine
Amid the bustling streets of Shinjuku, the Kumano Shrine offers a tranquil respite for when you're looking to experience the peace and serenity of a traditional Japanese shrine.
The shrine, which is dedicated to the god Kumano Miyama, is surrounded by beautiful ponds, waterfalls, and views of the nearby fields. Though it was rebuilt in a modern style after World War II, the Kumano Shrine is still an important cultural site that is worth visiting to learn more about Japanese religion and tradition.
To find the shrine, head to the north-west corner of Shinjuku Central Park. Address: 2 Chome-11-2 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Pay your respects at Hanazono Jinja Shrine
Hanazono Jinja Shrine is a small but significant Shinto shrine located in the heart of Shinjuku, just next to the Golden Gai.
Dedicated to the god Inari, the shrine is a popular destination for businessmen looking to pray for success in their endeavours.
Though it was originally built in the Edo period, the shrine was later moved to its present location to make way for a villa belonging to a vassal of the shogun.
Experience a sense of peace and calm amidst the busy surroundings of Shinjuku. Top tip: the shrine is particularly worth visiting during the Obon matsuri festival in August. If you're looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, Hanazono Jinja Shrine is a great place to visit and pay your respects to the gods.
Address: 5 Chome-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Stay in Shinjuku Capsule Hotel
Unless you can afford to be in Park Hyatt and relive Lost in Translation, then I recommend trying something rather different: a Japanese capsule hotel. This is a unique experience and perfect for the budget traveller. The capsule hotels are cheap, reliable and very clean.
If you're open to trying something new and don't mind sacrificing some privacy and space in exchange for a more affordable and convenient stay, a capsule hotel might be a good option to consider in Shinjuku.
Capsule hotels can be a unique and interesting accommodation option for travellers on a budget who want to experience a different side of Japanese culture. These hotels originated in Tokyo as a solution to the high cost of real estate and the need for affordable, clean, and convenient overnight accommodation for business travellers. Capsule hotels offer private capsules for sleeping and shared bathroom facilities, making them a more private alternative to hostels
Unique Places to see in Shinjuku
If you're looking for a hidden gem, then Shinjuku is not short on them. Beyond local bars and hostess bars, towering skyscrapers and neon lights at night time, there is a modern and funky Shinjuku with crazy cool architecture, fancy shopping opportunities and upscale locations.
- Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower - Located in nishi shinjuku area which is the sky scrapper district in Shinjuku, this is a 204 metres, 50-story building. This modern building is an icon in Shinjuku and it houses three educational institutions. In 2008 it won the Skyscraper of the Year.
Address: 1-7-3 Nishi-Shinjuku
- Yasuyo Building - This is by far one of my favourite buildings in the whole of Shinjuku and I know that architecture lovers are going to love this one too. This is a commercial building located next to the eastern entrance of Shinjuku station. It's especially cool because it resembles a stack of twisted bolts.
Address: Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−37−11, Yasuyo Bldg.,7
- Reaction of Mineral - Atelier Tekuto is an incredible building that looks out of this world. It is a small 44m2 corner plot that looks abstract but so great. From certain angles, it looks like a piece of diamond. The building is a residential house with a kitchen and bathroom. There is even space for a car underneath.
Address:1-5-1 Minamidai, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
- Shinjuku Rurikoin Byakurengedo - A Buddhist temple like no other, this looks like a squared spaceship in the heart of Shinjuku. The temple was completed in 2014 and received a Good Design Award in 2015.
Address: 2 Chome-4-3 Yoyogi, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-0053, Japan
Best hotels to stay in Shinjuku
Apart from love and capsule hotels, there are plenty of great accommodation options in the heart of Tokyo. If you want to enjoy proximity to most of the city's main attraction, finding a hotel in Shinjuku might be a great choice. Whether you are a budget, mid-range or luxury traveller, we curated our favourite accommodation in Tokyo to make sure you are comfortable and enjoy your stay. Please check where to stay in Tokyo for more options in other, quieter neighbourhoods.
Luxury: Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo
Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo is a 5 star hotel located in Shinjuku Skyscraper district. This can only mean one thing: amazing views over Tokyo. The comfortable rooms all come with free wifi and 21 dining options. You can enjoy a fitness centre, swimming pools, convenience stores and even a business centre. The hotel also provides a free shuttle to Tokyo Disney Resort. Unlike other luxury Tokyo hotels, Keio Plaza is actually really well priced, with rooms starting from just £150 per night.
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Mid-range: Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo
Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo is located right in downtown Kabukicho with super easy access to all transport links. It features large and clean rooms with free internet and a coin-operated laundrette. This is a 4-star hotel which is very well priced for Tokyo and couples particularly enjoy this location and hotel.As a tip, you should try and ask for the rooms on the top floors as they have amazing views over the city
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Budget: Nine hours Shinjuku-North
The Nine Hours Capsule hotel is a perfect budget choice due to its location. Shinjuku is one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in Tokyo and this hotel is located right in the middle of it all. You will be situated just 2 minute walk away from the JR Shin Okubo Station. The capsule are comfortable and the staff is very friendly. It’s a great choice for budget traveller who want clean bathrooms, lounge areas and working spaces. Prices start from £20 per night
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More travel tips for Japan
If you're looking for more tips and recommendations for your trip to Japan, check out the following articles. They provide a wealth of information on a variety of topics, including things to do, itineraries, places to visit, and local etiquette. As someone who had lived in Japan a while, I have a few recommendations that I think will help make your trip even more memorable.