Being the world's largest metropolis, it's easy to see why you could find so many things to do in Tokyo. The Japanese capital is one of the most interesting places, featuring vibrant districts, bizarre cafés, and wild establishments. Tokyo’s chill pill is within its temples, shrines and large green spaces. Spend a lifetime in Tokyo and you still won’t be able to discover it all. This is exactly why I’ve put together the ultimate list of the best 50 things to do during your travels to Tokyo. And you still need more things to do, you can totally find out how to spend 2 weeks in Japan.
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One of the best introductory things to do in Tokyo is to visit Sensō-ji, one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Japan. Especially busy during Sanja Matsuri in late spring, Sensō-ji attracts countless visitors throughout the year, all keen to get an introduction to Japan’s spiritual life. Sensō-ji offers free admission at all times and it’s always open. Click to check out the best tips for visiting Sensō-ji.
As a quick tip, we recommend visiting the temple either first thing in the morning or late at night. The grounds are always open and you can take some fantastic pictures during night time. Don't forget to draw an omikuji which is a fortune telling strip. If you get a good fortune, keep the paper with you. If you get a bad fortune, worry not! You can wrap the paper strip around the wooden poles at the temple grounds so the spirits will take care of it for you and protect you from all bad.
Japan is not religious but a deeply spiritual country which marries Shinto religion with Buddhist religion.
Eat On Nakamise Street
Dotted with almost 50 shops, this street leads right to the Sensō-ji Temple. An attraction on its own, this is the perfect place to get the taste of the Japanese street food culture. Nakamise Dori has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional snacks, dishes, and souvenirs for centuries. It is one of the oldest streets for vendors in Tokyo. In fact, Asakusa used to be a fantastic entertainment centre back in its days. We recommend trying some of the many sweets you can find on this very street. There are many souvenirs to be purchased, but prices are a little higher given that this became a major tourist attraction in the last few years.
You can find street food here ranging from ice cream and soy doughnuts to delicious noodles and ramen. All you have to do is show up willing to try a little bit of everything.
Meander Around Asakusa
Although mainly associated with Sensō-ji, there is more to Asakusa than meets the eye. A walk through its narrow streets will reveal independent markets, shops, and boutiques selling clothes, souvenirs, pots and pans. Asakusa is a great place for shopping household items including bamboo and miso bowls, chopsticks, and norens. In fact, Asakusa is known to have a dedicated street which has niche shops dedicated to the restaurant industry. One shop will sell all the pots you can imagine, the next will sell those beautiful lanterns you see in restaurants and the next will sell all the norens which welcome you at the door.
Asakusa has many household items too, which makes it the perfect place for those in need of local Japanese souvenirs.
Enjoy The Yoyogi Park
Mainly known for its Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu, Yoyogi park is a popular strolling destination especially during the summer months. Surrounded by 10,000 trees, the forested paths of Yoyogi park will lead to several zen gardens, perfect for a chill out afternoon or reading a book. In my opinion, Yoyogi Park is one of the greatest free things to do in Tokyo.
If you visit Yoyogi in the weekend, you will probably see a lot of locals performing in the park, doing yoga or just having a picnic together. Yoyogi's shrines have many weddings, so you can see a traditional Japanese wedding. Of course, make sure you don't intrude and if you take any pictures, don't do it obviously to disturb anyone. Japanese weddings are very beautiful and we had the privilege of seeing one during our time in Yoyogi Park.
Pay Your Respects At The Meiji Shrine
Located in the heart of Yoyogi Park, this incredible Shinto Shrine offers visitors the opportunity to dive deep into its rich history and learn about its uniqueness. You can see sake barrels around it and don't forget to leave an ema at the temple grounds with your wish. An ema is a Japanese wishing wooden plaque. You can purchase one at the temple, write your wishes on it and leave it behind so the spirits can take care of it on your behalf.
When visiting a Shinto shrine here is what you need to do: At the offering hall, you can throw a coin into the box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, bow once more and ring the bell or gong to get the God's attention. Say your prayer for a few seconds. Remember that you can take photos around the shrines or temple grounds, you just have to be polite and respectful and not take pictures of people when they pay their respects.
Love The Tsukiji Fish Market (now Toyosu Market)
Tsukiji Market is the world’s largest fish market, open to businesses and to the general public alike. Famed for its tuna auction and fresh produce, many come to Tokyo specifically for the Tsukiji Market, to enjoy the opportunity of tasting the amazing street food and some of the best seafood on the planet. To me, the famed Tsukiji Fish market is Tokyo's seafood nirvana.
Important: The inner market of Tsukiji Market closed on October 6, 2018 and moved to a new site in Toyosu where it reopened as Toyosu Market. Tsukiji's outer market is still in business so you can get fresh food at the local restaurants.
Relax at an onsen
One of the best things to do in Tokyo is to relax in an onsen. To experience an onsen is perhaps one of the most incredible experiences and here's why: nobody enters the hot spring dressed, so the whole idea is that you allow yourself to be one with nature around you. There is a ritual around entering an onen and, although hard to believe, it isn't awkward to be naked around others. By contrast, many Japanese consider the idea of a public bath or an onsen, the perfect time to socialise with one another. It's in a way quite similar to the Finish sauna.
Our most incredible onsen experience was at a hotel deep in the mountains in Nikko area.
Go Crazy In Harajuku
Many come to Harajuku to experience the famed Takeshita Street, a pedestrian shopping street dotted with malls and independent fashion boutiques featuring super colourful outfits. For the complete kawaii novice, Harajuku is also a great introduction to the Japanese latest cute crazes.
We recommend spending a whole day exploring Harajuku. This is the place where you can queue for half an hour or more to get the most colourful cotton candy there is. You can also enter the many colourful shops and get mermaid nails, or purchase the most bizarre fashion you can possibly imagine.
Special tip: from Takeshita street, go to Omotesando Plaza and head over to the top floor. There is a Starbucks there with a top floor garden with benches and beautiful views over Tokyo's street. It's a really beautiful space during summer and one which we visit every single time we go back to Tokyo.
Savour Harajuku Pancakes
A must do in Tokyo is ordering as many crazy Harajuku pancakes as you could possibly eat. These amazing desserts are cone-shaped pancakes filled with your idea of heaven: choose from the vanilla cheesecake, fruits, cream and matcha tea cakes. You can also get savoury crazy pancakes too. Delicious!
Harajuku pancakes became a huge craze in the last few years so do expect long queues for these. There is a special crazy pancake shop located in the Akihabara subway station as well. They have fewer flavours to pick from, but there is hardly any queue there. However, because of the recent demand, Harajuku has now more crazy pancakes stands. We recommend trying them all. We promise you won't regret it.
Harajuku is the well-known mecca for kawaii shops. After going in and out of stores displaying only cute merchandise, I can guarantee you will end up buying yourself a cactus shaped phone cover.
In fact, pretty much everything in Japan is kawaii. If you glance at their posters or signs at the subway station, you will realise that things are very cute. The characters depict manga and most posters have cute animals on them to appeal to the general public. This truly grabs one attention and makes us want to read the announcements properly. Shops are full of kawaii items and things as simple as a toothbrush stand is made to be cute and adorable. Stationery items, pillows and even mundane items such as paper clips are simply irresistible.
Shop In Ginza
Ginza is a shopping district, home to some of the world’s best-known fashion brands. For the luxury travellers, shopping in Ginza is one of the best things to do in Tokyo. The streets of Ginza really come to life during the evening, when all the shops put up a luminescent spectacle.
As a tip, we recommend visiting Ginza during the weekend because the traffic on the main boulevard gets diverted and the main Ginza street becomes a pedestrian paradise. This makes Ginza an amazing place for photos. During sunny days, you will see people chilling on chairs and tables put in the middle of the street. The whole place becomes really chill and awesome with a nice atmosphere.
Relax In Ueno Park
A Tokyo must do, Ueno Park is home to countless museums and several shrines. During the summer months, there are many street food vendors dotted throughout the park to help you satisfy your appetite for freshly prepared snacks. Ueno Park is a popular hanami spot, during which, many come to picnic and spend a relaxed afternoon, chilling and making new friends. For more information, you can read more about the amazing 15 things to do in Ueno Park.
Don't forget to take a boat ride on the pond or simply chill on the bench. In front of the park, there is a network of streets dotted with vendors selling some of the best street food I had in Tokyo.
Learn At The Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest Japanese national museum. Admission is 620 yen and you will be rewarded with a vast collection of cultural items and national treasures. We are not normally museum people, but when it comes to learning something so new and interesting as the history of Japan, we couldn't skip the opportunity.
The Tokyo National Museum is huge so be prepared to spend a whole day exploring it. Take your time to learn about the history of the city, it truly is very interesting and unique. We are true Japan lovers so there is no surprise we wanted to understand more about the history of our favourite place on earth.
Love The Tokyo Tower
This communication and observation tower allows tourists to enjoy epic views over Japan at either 150 or 250 metres above ground. Standing at 333 metres, it is 13 metres taller than its model, the Eiffel Tower. Seeing Tokyo from above is, in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
Go FREE In The Government Building
For the budget traveller, visiting the Government Building in Shinjuku could result in an epic evening spent in Tokyo. It features an observation deck of its own, located on the 45th floor and offers free admission at all times.
If you want to spend a little more time in the Government Building, the 45th floor features a lovely bar and restaurant with those incredible views of the city. You can sit down for a lovely dinner or have a drink with your loved one for a truly romantic experience.
Get High In Roppongi Hills
Roppongi Hills feature Tokyo’s most amazing Sky Deck. Located on the 54th floor of the Mori skyscraper, the Sky Deck is an open-air observation terrace. You can set up your tripod and photograph 360 degrees views over the city. One of the top things to do in Tokyo is to check out the Sky Deck right before it closes when it’s dark and admire the lit up, the futuristic capital of Japan.
Feel The Vibes In Shinjuku
Arguably, Shinjuku is Tokyo’s most colourful ward. Home to Asia’s largest red district, countless street food vendors and a huge vibrant market, Shinjuku is a major commercial and administrative centre. Usually associated with jampo adverts and crazy awesome neon lights, Shinjuku is Tokyo’s most vibrant district.
Drink In Golden Gai
For an epic night out, head into the maze of several narrow streets of Golden Gai. Featuring over 200 bars and small restaurants, Shinjuku’s district, Golden Gai will make you feel as if you stepped into a friend’s kitchen. The establishments are so small that usually, no more than 5 people can fit in. Look out for English menus posted outside, to ensure you are welcome should you Japanese language skills be limited. Why not go to a proper Tokyo pub crawl?
Go Electric In Akihabara
Also known as the electric town, Akihabara is home to Tokyo’s largest electronic department stores. Many come here for the high concentration of anime and manga stores and cosplay cafes. I believe there is something strange about Akihabara and you either love it or hate it.
Eat Cute Food In A Maid Cafe
Mainly found in Akihabara, maid cafes are a sensation in Japan. Cute girls dressed as maids will serve you all sort of kawaii desserts and dishes. Remember that usually, you need to “meow” at a girl to grab her attention as normally they don’t respond to “sumimasen” (excuse me in Japanese).
See The Future In A Robot Restaurant
This is another quirky Japanese invention. The Robot Restaurant is not about being served by robots as one would initially think, but it’s essentially dining whilst watching cute girls wrestling with cyborgs. Although the entry fee is quite pricey, the show itself it’s worth checking out at least once in this lifetime.
Walk Around The Timeless Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a city on its own located right in the heart of Tokyo. It features several storeys of shops, restaurants, bars and boutiques. For a full experience, you should probably allocate an entire day for your quest to try and discover Tokyo Station’s secrets. Given its size and the surreal maze of subterranean streets, it could seem like a daunting task for the inexperienced.
Watch A Game Of Sumo
Originated in Japan, it is the only country where sumo is being practised professionally. Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo wrestling and countless tourists come to Japan to watch sumo games. Although not so much a feminine sport, sumo is very much loved and appreciated worldwide. If you are new to sumo, you can check out the morning sumo practice.
Buy Something From A Vending machines
Each street corner in Tokyo is guaranteed to have a vending machine. Some vending machines sell hot and cold drinks only, whilst others have bananas, hot pots, milk, fruit and many other bizarre things you could only find in Japan. If you are short on cash, use your Suica or Pasmo card to pay for your goods.
Sleep In A Capsule Hotel
The capsule hotel might be the best solution for the budget traveller and definitely an unforgettable experience. These hotels feature “capsules” where travellers can sleep in. Some have associated them with morgues due to their uncanny appearance. Most capsules are large enough for one person to sleep comfortably, and are equipped with an alarm clock and wifi.
Get Stroking In A Cat cafe
A beloved attraction in Japan is the cat cafe, an establishment which allows you to eat, drink and play with cats. These are perfect for animal lovers not allowed or able to have their own pets at home. Usually there is a small entry fee and several rules which need to be followed whilst indoors.
Never Eat Alone With The New Moomin Cafe
Are you a solo traveller? Then book your next tickets to Tokyo. Japan has introduced a new type of cafe: the Moomin cafe. Here, you will be seated next to a plush toy as a companion, so you never dine alone again.
Experience The High Tech Toilets
One of the coolest things about Japan is how super high tech their toilets are. All hotels offer these sci-fi warm seated, music signing toilets. After visiting Japan you will wonder how come that the rest of the world hasn’t yet adopted these crazy cool robo-facilities. And I promise, there are so many more things nobody told you about Japan.
Feel The Love In Cuddles Cafe
Although innocent enough, these crazy Japanese establishments allow men to sleep next to girls (and cuddle them). For an extra fee you might even be allowed to stroke the girl’s hair. Creepy or fun?
Try Your Luck In a Pachinko Parlour
These places are incredibly loud and usually full of smoke. These are Japanese arcades, where people go and play the slots or pinball.
Enjoy A Public Bath
In most parts of the world, people go to the pubs in order to relax and socialise after a long day at work. Yet again, Japan does things differently. There are many public baths available throughout the streets of Tokyo. You have to pay a small fee and you are good to go. There are of course several rules to follow before you can enter the baths, but essentially all you need is to bring yourself, get rid of your clothes and spark a casual conversation.
Attend A Tea Ceremony
Escape Tokyo’s agitation by attending a soothing tea ceremony. This is a great chance for anyone interested in Japanese traditions to learn more about customs and manners around serving tea. Although may seems so trivial to some, the Japanese tea ceremony is a form of art.
Go To A Ramen Place
By now, you probably tried all Tokyo’s street food, enjoyed plenty of sushi and ate in several restaurants. If you haven’t tried a bowl of ramen, now it’s the time to do so. Tokyo’s first small ramen place to win a Michelin star is located in Sugamo. You need to go there very early in the morning to grab a ticket valid only for lunchtime. Some serious dedication and patience are definitely required here. In the end, you will be rewarded with some of the best ramens you’ve ever tasted.
Buy A White Japanese Strawberry
Did you know that Japan is no 1 strawberry eater in the whole world? There is no surprise many strawberry farmers came up with new ideas on how to sell their precious strawberries. From boxing them in glowing packaging through making them as alluring as possible to selling white strawberries. Although quite expensive for one strawberry (about £7-10), you will at least get to enjoy a juicy fruit like no other.
Ride The Subway
Amongst the best Tokyo things to do, riding the subway is a given as there is no better and faster way to explore the city. Grab a suica or a pasmo card and embark on a subterranean adventure. Tokyo has the biggest, most intricate and most intuitive map one can even come across. Although it can look overwhelming at first, take a second to familiarise yourself with the Tokyo subway map and you will realise how user-friendly it really is.
Check Out The Ghibli Museum
Located on the western side of Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum is a popular destination for all Studio Ghibli fans. A walk around this museum will enable you to get a closer look at how animation really comes to life.
Buy An Ema
An ema is a Japanese wishing wooden plaque which can be found in almost all temples and shrines. Simply buy one, write your wish or prayer on it and leave it behind at the temple grounds so the spirits can take care of your fortune.
Read Into Your Fortune With A Japanese Omikuji
These fortune telling strips are available at the famed Sensō-ji. Grab a wooden box and shake it well until a bamboo stick falls out of it. Find the matching Japanese characters from the wooden stick to the drawers located next to the box. Grab your fortune. If you get a good blessing, keep the paper, otherwise leave it behind on the temple grounds so the spirits can take care of it.
Take Your Kids To The Tokyo DisneySea
What better way to enjoy a summer day than by visiting the Tokyo DisneySea, a theme park with Disney characters which are sure to keep your inner child going for days to come. The Tokyo DisneySea is an award-winning park which has been internationally recognised for its design and concept.
Eat Street Food
Japan is synonymous with awesome food. Although home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world, it is the street food which makes Tokyo so district and fun. Skip conventional dinner, explore Shinjuku’s streets and try magical street food to remember.
Take A Walk On The Piss Alley (Omoide Yokocho)
Located in Shinjuku, the Piss Alley (also known as the memory lane) is a small cramped alleyway which looks more like a local hotspot. Unlike the name suggests, the Piss Alley is not a smelly back street, but a cool place with lots of bars and small shops stuffed together as tightly as possible.
Release Your Inhibitions In The Red District
Located in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo’s red district is Asia’s largest and the world’s most peculiar adult entertainment quarter. It features many hostess bars, massage parlours, cuddles cafes and love hotels. Many of these places are run by the Yakuza, hence travellers are advised to be careful when pub crawling in the area. Don't forget to check out some adult only activities in Tokyo.
Go Zen In Gyoen
A large green space and a popular hanami spot, the Shinjuku Gyoen is a beautiful landscape garden. Usually quieter and more relaxing than Ueno or Yoyogi, many choose to buy an annual pass to enjoy this garden all year round. The Shinjuku Gyoen undertakes a beautiful transformation during the sakura season as well as in mid-autumn when all tree leaves change colour.
Cross The Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble
You’ve probably seen many time-lapse videos of the Shibuya Crossing, but nothing can prepare you for the real Shibuya experience. The busiest pedestrian scramble in the world gets crossed by over a quarter of a million people. Prepare for loud jumbo adverts and neon lights flashing from all directions as well as tonnes of people crossing in all directions. Better yet, venture beyond the famed crossing and find the best things to do in Shibuya.
Celebrate Pets At The Hachikō Statue
There is much more to Shibuya than just its iconic pedestrian scramble. Whilst in the district, visit the statue of Hachikō, located right outside the Shibuya subway station. Hachikō was an Akita dog which came to greet his owner daily. Even after the owner died, the dog continued to show his devotion by arriving at the train station at the same time, every evening, for the rest of his days. The statue is meant to celebrate devotion and friendship.
Japan has long been associated with sushi, and no sushi experience can match the Japanese desire for perfection. In Japan making sushi is a form of art and the itamae (sushi chefs) take their jobs very seriously. Many open their own sushi restaurants to ensure the service and food quality are always up to standards. For a more casual dining, try a sushi train restaurant.
Visit The Imperial Castle
Located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, The Imperial Castle is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. Although the Palace itself is closed to the public, for a small entry fee you can enjoy a walk through the East Gardens.
Rent A Room In A Love Hotel
The title here is pretty self-explanatory: these are hotel rooms rented out for short periods of time only. They are very basic, with a double bed and have outfit rental facilities. Who knows what happens behind closed doors.
Buy A Book In An Anime Shop
Mainly found in Akihabara, these anime shops are more than meet the eye. Some offer memberships where you can book a room and have access to a computer as well as their whole library of anime and manga collection. These establishments are usually fitted with showers and even nail salons.
Visit An Owl cafe
You visited cuddles cafes, cat cafes and Moomin cafes. What about something a little wilder, like an owl cafe? For about 1500 yen these quirky cafes will allow you to befriend a wildling for about an hour. Due to their popularity, booking is essential.
Accommodation in Tokyo
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 Shibuya or Shinjuku might be a great choice. Alternatively, you can enjoy the quiet quarters of Chiyoda or immerse yourself in a more luxury option in Ginza. Whether you are a budget, midrange 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.
Did you make a list of all the things you want to do in Tokyo? What did you pick from the article? Or maybe we missed a really cool activity you want to add? Let us know in the comments section below!