With so many things to do in Shinjuku, it's easy to see why so many travellers add this vibrant district it to their Tokyo itinerary.
It was a cold day in December when we first visited Shinjuku. Having just arrived in Tokyo a night before, we barely had any time to explore the Japanese capital, hence we had no idea what to expect from this district.
When we got out of the subway, something incredible happened. It was the first time when we got to see Tokyo’s true colours. Shinjuku Station - which is the world’s busiest train station - has so many locals and tourists passing through that it can be a disorienting experience for first-timers. Finding the exits of the station is an art form.
Shinjuku City - yes, Shinjuku is a city within Tokyo - is massive. You can spend days exploring all the things to do in this epic neighbourhood.
From the South, Shinjuku is neighbouring Shibuya, another amazing area in Tokyo with the famous Harajuku. On the East, you will find Chiyoda, the central area of Tokyo with the Imperial Palace.
Shinjuku is also one of the best areas to stay in Tokyo. There are many affordable hotels suitable for tourists.
Let's dive in! Here are all the best things to do in Shinjuku.
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To help you make the most of your time in Tokyo, check out our other articles
- The Ultimate Guide to Tokyo
- Best Places to visit in Tokyo
- Tokyo Restaurants Guide
- Best Tokyo Street Food
- Best Day Trips from Tokyo
Best thing to do in Shinjuku? Enjoy Japanese Street Food
When people ask us what to do in Shinjuku we always say: go eat lots and lots of food. 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 bits mixed in the savoury batter. Try it with shredded nori sheet, green onion and ginger, alongside Japanese mayo.
Look for the famed yakitori which is usually chicken meat on a skewer. Grab one on the go at most street markets. Move onto matcha sweets, dango, mochi and red bean paste cakes. Eat as much as you can, sleep, come back the next day and repeat. Excited to try them all? We have collected the top 18 street foods you must try in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Train Station
Shinjuku is home to the world’s busiest train station in the whole world, with over two million daily passengers. Yes, you read this correctly, there are over 2 million people using this train station on a daily basis.
It's most likely that you will arrive here in the morning. If you fancy a coffee, grab one at Blue Bottle Coffee. In the station - as always, you will find many shops and restaurants. However, we recommend that you find the nearest exit and depending on what you want to do in Shinjuku today head to your next destination.
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.
Don Quixote Shinjuku
Don Quixote shops are everywhere in Tokyo selling everything from food to Halloween costumes. If you are looking for souvenirs to take home with you, this shop has great and cheap options.
Here is a fair warning: do not enter this shop unless you have a few hours set aside for it. I am not kidding, this place is enormous and full of so many weird items, that you will really need to take your time with it.
I think I spent an hour just meandering around the sweet section. There was an abnormal variety of crazy cool stuff which we wanted to try. If I could, I would live in one of these Don Quixote shops. It’s cheap and full of awesome Japanese stuff.
Apart from the ridiculous amount of sweets we purchased from this shop, I also got tonnes of heat patches (gosh, those are amazing for winter!) and a talking penguin. A talking penguin, you might ask? Yes, a talking penguin which you put 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.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a huge green space with landscaped gardens and a beautiful lake. Because it’s so quiet and zen, it’s really difficult to grasp the idea that this soothing park is located right in the heart of vibrant Shinjuku. If you have a few hours and looking for things to do in Shinjuku during the day, visiting the parks is a great way to spend your time.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a wonderful place for cherry blossom lovers too. It can get rather busy during the cherry blossom season in Tokyo, but somehow, Shinjuku Gyoen remains a tranquil place despite a large number of locals and tourists meandering through the park. It’s a bit like magic.
Shinjuku Gyoen was created in the Edo Period, almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, then eventually rebuilt and open to the public in 1949.
Allocate at least 2-3 hours for your trip to walk around this park. You will find such a relaxing oasis in the middle of one of Tokyo's busiest districts. Take pictures, stroll around the gardens and listen to its silence. We recommend visiting during the cherry blossom festival if you can.
There is a small entry fee to access the Shinjuku Gyoen (200 yen) and note that it closes at 16:30 (last entry at 16:00).
Shinjuku Central Park
Shinjuku Central Park is another green corner in the middle of one of Tokyo’s busiest districts. Shinjuku Central Park tends to be used as a lunch spot by many salarymen and career women who work in the nearby skyscrapers.
This park has some waterfalls, a shrine and cherry blossom trees as well. During the sakura season, you will find many locals enjoying picnics under the tree. Enjoying the green space and relaxing is definitely one of the best things to do in Shinjuku.
Allocate maybe an hour for this park. It is much smaller than Shinjuku Gyoen but it's still worth a visit.
Tokyo is famous for it's hidden temples and shrines which serve as tranquil islands of peace and relaxation in the busy city. Visit one of these shrines and follow the rituals to pay your respect to the many gods.
Erected for the Japanese god of Kumano Miyama the Kumano Shrine featured many ponds and waterfalls with views to the nearby fields. Rebuilt after the World Wars in modern style, the shrine is not as important culturally as it used to be. If you visit the Shinjuku Central Park, the shrine can be found in the North-West corner.
Hanazono Jinja Shrine
Right next to the Shinjuku Golden Gai, Hanazono Jinja Shrine is a small Shinto shrine built in the Edo period. It is dedicated to the god Inari, the god of fertility and success and is often visited by businessmen to pray for the success of their business.
Shinjuku Golden Gai
When salarymen and career women finish work, they love to indulge themselves in an after office hours drinking session. You will find many of them scattered around Golden Gai, an epic place for beer and food lovers. If you are looking for things to do in Shinjuku at night, Golden Gai is the perfect place to be.
The establishments in Golden Gai are somewhat different than the ordinary bars you may be used to. These places are small, with only a few seats. They are very intimate and you really can’t escape a chat with a local (providing they know English or you know Japanese).
Sometimes you will find that the owner might not allow you to go in even if there are a couple of empty seats. Don’t take this to heart, as usually, it means they have regulars which they need to reserve the seats for. Keep an eye on English signs outside these establishments as that is clear indication travellers are more than welcome and the owner has some English skills.
Golden Gai has great narrow, winding alleys with Japanese taverns so you will have plenty to pick from. Some say that prices are a little higher here since it's become a tourist attraction, but we still find it incredibly interesting and exciting. It's a unique way to experience an authentic Tokyo nightlife.
Piss Alley (Omoide Yokocho)
Also known as the Memory Lane, is a really small and cosy network of small streets dotted with bars and restaurants where you can sit down, grab a beer and some delicious yakitori. Although the name otherwise suggests, this is not a place full of drunken people who use the alley when nature calls.
It’s a colourful place where locals go to eat and drink. I’m going to admit it that I didn’t actually sit down for food here, as the name put me off a little, but I definitely recommend this place for a stroll if nothing else. It’s something about it which makes it quite unique.
Even on a rainy day, you can walk around in this area as most streets are partially covered.
Red District - Kabukicho
No trip to Shinjuku is complete without a stroll through Asia’s largest entertainment district: Kabukicho. There is a lot to do here, especially at night, depending on what you are after. You can have dinner in a Robot Restaurant, enjoy some cocktails in a hostess bar, take a new lover to a love hotel or get a relaxing (or erotic) massage.
You can find the perfect karaoke bar for you and your friends, eat tonnes of good street food, shop for cheap trainers or just walk around to capture some really great photo shots.
As with most areas, Kabukicho comes to life after dark, but be aware, as more places are said to be run by the Yakuza. Don’t be afraid to walk around as Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but common sense is always required, so stay vigilant and out of trouble. You can read more about adult-only activities in Tokyo.
Shinjuku is also known to have the love hotel hill. It's a conglomerate of hotels which offer rooms that are rented by the hour. These hotels have quirky interiors and value privacy above all.
See Shinjuku from above
One of the best things to do in Shinjuku, is to head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building? Why? Because you can’t visit Tokyo without seeing this incredible city from above. The funny thing is that Tokyo stretches for so many miles, that you can’t actually see its borderlines from any observatory tower. There is a sea of beautifully arranged and organised buildings.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Tokyo is not a concrete jungle, but an urban landscape. It’s really spectacular and beautiful. You can check out this article about the best spots to see Tokyo from above, but if you are in Shinjuku, you might as well go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building which has a FREE entry observational deck. Yep, you read this correctly: it is free for all. You pay nothing to go in, climb at the top and admire the city in all its splendour. I strongly recommend you do this either at sunset or after it gets dark as Tokyo looks best during night time. It transforms into an ocean of colour.
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.
They are used by salarymen who got a bit too drunk and don't want to go home, as well as by travellers eager to experience something highly unusual. Like many others, you probably imagine the capsule rooms to be claustrophobic, but in reality, they are spacious enough and equipped with all amenities for a good night sleep.
Accommodation 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.
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