There are so many things to do in Shibuya beyond the famed pedestrian scramble. Having been featured in so many movies, it's only natural that many of us automatically associate Tokyo with Shibuya Crossing. Experiencing Shibuya crossing at night is something straight out of a sci-fi film, with its own vibe, colours and precise movement. Everyone knows exactly how to cross and where to go to avoid a collision. It's like this incredible unspoken teamwork between strangers.
I am certain Shibuya is an excellent place for travellers to Japan, who want an introduction to the capital's energetic side and some of the best things to do in Tokyo.
When I first visited Tokyo, in 2015, I had two places on the list, I really wanted to visit. One of them was Shinjuku, and the second was Shibuya Crossing.
I've marvelled at it in Lost in Translation, Fast and Furious and Resident Evil. When I finally got to cross the Shibuya Scramble (and not just once, but several times) I realised how cool it really is to finally be able to feel the Tokyo spirit at one single square.
Of course, Tokyo is an enormous place and I soon realised that each neighbourhood is unique and have a crazy amount of great attractions. But there was something incredible about the Shibuya nightlife that mesmerised me. The neon lights, the lively locals, the coolest stores. Shibuya was definitely one of the best places to stay in Tokyo and experience over and over again. Here are our favourite things to do in Shibuya.
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As I already mentioned, the Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble is the star attraction in Shibuya but also in the whole of Tokyo. You have several options here.
You can either visit Shibuya Crossing late night when there is virtually nobody crossing these roads. That gives you a pretty cool, post-apocalyptic feel to Tokyo. You can also take your time and really enjoy the huge space between the buildings and capture some unique pictures which would be otherwise impossible with the crowds around you.
Another option is to visit Shibuya during peak hours, to really experience the Shibuya Crossing vibe. Don't worry, it's less hectic than you would expect as everyone sticks to their own path. The Japanese are known to be efficient and crossing a road with hundreds of other people seems to be just part of their daily routine.
Peak hours are early morning from around 7 am to 9.30 am and just after work, starting around 5 pm until very late. As the crossing is a popular meeting point, expect to see an incredible amount of people rushing around up until midnight or even later.
Fun Fact: During rush hours, it's not uncommon that 2500 people are crossing every time the lights turn green. That's about a quarter of a million people every day.
When someone asks me about things to do in Shibuya I automatically suggest taking pictures and videos. The best place in Shibuya to take pictures of the crossing is in one of the many nearby tower hotels.
The top floors offer epic views over the Shibuya Crossing and its hectic life. Alternatively, you can hunt for a window seat at the Starbucks located right opposite Shibuya Station. Now, remember that this is only available for customers, so you might want to buy a coffee and wait for your perfect spot.
The video below was taken from the Starbucks window and it's the perfect example of what Shibuya nightlife really is about: organised chaos right in the heart of Tokyo.
Getting to Shibuya
If you arrive by train or subway to Shibuya Station, getting out of the station building might be a challenge, especially if you just arrived in Tokyo. Take your time and enjoy the seemingly chaotic train station and look for the signs leading you towards the exits.
Be mindful that this is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo and many of the passengers are commuters. Please always take care to not block their path as even small delays can cause them to miss their next train.
Fun fact: There is a full-sized football field on the top of the train station. At night, you can see the light-up field from taller buildings around. It's quite surreal.
You will find the Shibuya crossing on the Northside of the Shibuya Station. The Hachikō Memorial Statue is also at the North entrance.
At the South entrance, you will see the not so well known Moyai Statue and this is where you will also find the Shibuya Bus Terminal (Shibuya Eki Mae).
Trains and Subway Lines that stop at Shibuya:
- Ginza Line
- Fukutoshin Line
- Hanzomon Line
- Keio-Inokashira Line
- Narita Express (JR)
- Saikyo Line
- Shonan-Shinjuku Line
- Tokyu-Den-entoshi Line
- Tokyu-Toyoko Line
- Yamanote Line
If you have a JR Pass, you can use the trains on the Yamanote Line for free, included in the price of your pass.
Shopping in Shibuya
With so many malls, shopping streets and department stores, it's no wonder Shibuya really is a shopper's paradise. I found that Ginza is for the high-end shopper, Harajuku is the place to go for Takeshita Street with all its latest pop culture crazes, and Shibuya sits somewhere right in the middle.
You will find expensive items, fun stores and also cheap funky shops. I honestly believe that shopping is one of the best things to do in Shibuya at night because a lot of stores lit up and add to the atmosphere. If you fancy some contemporary shopping in Shibuya, make your way to the Shibuya market known as Omotesando Plaza. It's a multi-story shopping mall with kawaii clothes and all sort of accessories. It feels modern and fun. For a more sophisticated shopping experience walk to Omotesando Hills and check out all the world-known posh brands like Bulgari, Apple, Tiffanys and more.
Don't worry if you get stuck in the myriad of stores and small shops within the train station. We spent at least 2 hours walking around, looking at the endless new and exciting merchandise.
If you get hungry or just want to get something to drink, you will find hundreds of restaurants, eateries, bars and pubs to satisfy your every craving. Believe me, you can't go wrong wherever you go.
Shibuya is vibrant not just because of the countless daily commuters and the sheer amount of shops, but because Tokyo's youth finds it a great place for an epic party.
There are tonnes of cool things to do in Shibuya from having a beer in a Japanese pub, through enjoying Karaoke with your friends, to ending up in an explosively awesome club in Tokyo (such as Womb - one of the best Shibuya attractions for nightlife seekers). The Tokyo kids really know how to party so if you are inexperienced, take it easy until you get used to Japan's spectacular nightlife.
Train services operate from 5 am in the morning until around midnight, sometimes even later. If your accommodation is not around Shibuya, make sure to check the timetables as it might take several hours to walk to other parts of Tokyo if you miss your last trains.
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The statue of Hachiko is a popular meeting place in Shibuya, located right in front of the train station. Of course, for those who are aware of Hachiko's sad story, this is a great place to take a photo and commemorate man's best friend.
I wrote about Hachiko in a previous article, 24 hours in Tokyo. To sum it up, Hachiko used to wait daily for his owner in front of the Shibuya train station and walk home together. One day, Hachiko's owner died whilst at university and never made it back to Hachiko.
Every night for the next 7 years, Hachiko came back to the Shibuya station and waited for his owner. Eventually, other commuters started noticing him. His statue is a reminder of the importance of the relationship between man and dog.
If you enjoyed the Golden Gai in Shinjuku or the Memory Lane, I am sure you will love Nonbei Yokocho as well. This is a small neighbourhood dotted with bars, cafes and restaurants which have a very Japanese atmosphere. It's a brilliant place to grab a bite or to relax with a beer before heading out to a Japanese nightclub.
If you are after pictures, these tiny alleyways are perfect for capturing the "Tokyo mood". Most places have red lanterns outside which are illuminated during the night.
If you don't like going on your own, sign up for one of the guided tours around Shibuya. They are great fun and your guide will show you a lot of interesting things which tourists otherwise miss.
Are you in search of places to visit in Shibuya? If drinking is not your thing, don't worry, you will find plenty of geeky things to do in Shibuya. In fact, Shibuya has tonnes of manga cafes where you can rent a booth and have access to an entire collection of manga and anime books.
As Manga Cafes are very popular some introduced membership programs. Members can enjoy lower prices and stay overnight with sleeping and showering facilities provided. Seems like a pretty cool place to spend the night, definitely much cheaper than in a hotel.
Be aware that you will need Japanese skills for most hotels as they don't have English books.
Shibuya, just like Shinjuku has plenty of love hotels, especially in a spot called "Love Hotel Hill". A love hotel is a place where you can rent a room for a few hours or the whole night.
This is not your ordinary hotel as it's used by men and women who want a bit of privacy for a short period of time. There are strict policies in these hotels and confidentiality is guaranteed.
I tried entering a pachinko parlour whilst in Akihabara and boy, I went back out in a matter of minutes. Why? Because it was louder than a nightclub and the haze of cigarette smoke was beyond anything I ever experienced. Pachinko is a Japanese arcade where people go to play games and slot machines. It's definitely an experience hence I recommend you giving it a try, but I totally understand if you need a breath of fresh air after a couple of minutes.
As gambling is generally illegal in Japan so Pachinko places had to be crafty. Pachinkos are not considered gambling as you win no money. Your winnings are small pachinko balls which can be exchanged for special tokens. These tokens can be 'sold' in the shops next door for cash or other items. Because you did not receive any cash in the parlour no laws were broken.
One of the best things to do in Shibuya? Stay in a capsule hotel. After a crazy night out, it's understandable if you can't afford to get a cab back home and you might live too far to walk. Capsule hotels are a great compromise, as you get a space to shower, chill and get the night sleep you totally deserve.
As the name suggests, you sleep in a capsule. The hotels are normally male-only, but some cater to females and couples too. Each capsule is equipped with an alarm and TV. In newer hotels, the capsules are much larger and come with extras like a small table large bed, etc.
Capsule hotels are a fun experience and I recommend sleeping in one for at least one night, just to do something totally different whilst in Shibuya.
Ever wanted to see the world-famous Nakagin Capsule Tower which was the first capsule hotel built in the '70s? There is a 1-hour tour which takes you to the tower and shows you inside while you learn about the history and impact of these hotels on the Japanese society.
Ohara Matsuri Parade in Shibuya
If it happens to visit Tokyo during summer and wondering what to see in Shibuya, then definitely attend the Ohara Matsuri, a dance festival which takes place in mid-May.
The festival originates from Kagoshima where it's still held every year in November. Participants dance together in unison to traditional music such as Ohara-bushi.
Everybody is dressed in traditional Yukata (summer style Kimono) or Happi (colourful overcoat worn during festivities). People also wear masks and other handmade costumes. You are welcome to join in if you like and enjoy the music and dance.
In 2020, the Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Matsuri event is going to be held in May. (Saturday, May 16 — Sunday, May 17)
Once you had enough of Shibuya's agitation, it's time to chill in Sakuragaoka-Cho, a quiet street dotted with cherry trees, eateries and cafes. It tends to get a bit busy during the sakura season.
I would recommend going there to people watch for an entire afternoon, whilst enjoying matcha drinks and desserts.
Sushi bars & Conveyor belt sushi
No trip to a Tokyo neighbourhood is complete without enjoying the classic sushi. There are lots of sushi bars in Shibuya but look out for the sushi train restaurants (kaiten-zushi) as they are fun, fresh and cheap.
For a more intimate experience head over to a posh sushi place and order handmade, delicious sushi directly from the itamae (sushi chef).
Pay as you go restaurants
Another brilliant thing I loved doing in Shibuya, was going to the sheer number of vending machine restaurants. At the entrance, there is a vending machine displaying all items from the menu.
You select what you want to eat and drink, and pay for your meal in advance. You get a ticket with the order on it which you need to hand over to the waitress.
Take a seat and the food will follow shortly. This is another great example of how efficient the Japanese are. You go in, order, pay, eat and go. No waiting around, no wasting time ordering, paying, asking for dessert menus and so on. Simple and to the point.
It's worth noting that these restaurants are quick, cheap and still delicious. You normally get a glass of water and hot tea for free with unlimited refills. Rice refills are also normally free, look for the rice cooker and help yourself.
The Shibuya Station
As mentioned above, the Shibuya Train Station is one of the biggest and busiest in Tokyo. This doesn't mean that you can not enjoy the station and get lost in this huge, multi-story shopping centre.
If you are not very good around massive crowds, maybe avoid the rush hour, but it's great fun to navigate the station by using the Tokyo subway map.
Relax in Shibuya
It sounds impossible, given the large crowds and noise at the Shibuya Crossing but sometimes it's good to just be in a new place, sit down and take it all in.
Just chill by the Shibuya Crossing and take notes in your journal. Have a wander around the place and walk aimlessly, I personally find this to be one of the greatest ways to enjoy a new destination.
Shibuya really comes to life after dark, when you have the chance to see tonnes of neon lights and lit up jumbo adverts.
You will also find that once you hit the small streets around the station, the crowds thin out and a completely new Shibuya reveals itself to you.
There are three shrines right around the Shibuya station (Miyamasumitake Shrine, Chiyoda Inari Shrine, Oyamainari Shrine), which you should visit for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Where to go from Shibuya
Shibuya is great fun but it's only one of the best neighbourhoods in Tokyo. Shinjuku, Chiyoda, Ginza are just a short train ride away.
The good thing about Tokyo is that by the time you finished with one area, it probably changed already so you can start over. That's the beauty of Tokyo: it's never static, never boring.
And if you don't like going on your own, you can even rent a local friend for a few hours to show you around and introduce you to the secrets of the city.
Where to stay in Shibuya
Apart from love and capsule hotels, there are plenty of great accommodation options in Shibuya. If you want to be in the heart of Tokyo and enjoy proximity to most of the city's main attraction, finding a hotel in Shibuya might be a great choice.
Whether you are a budget, midrange or luxury traveller, we curated our favourite accommodations in Shibuya to make sure you are comfortable and enjoy your stay.
Also, don't forget to check more article below relevant to your upcoming trip to Tokyo.
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What is your favourite thing to do in Shibuya and why? Let us know in the comments section below.