Best Things to Do in Tokyo
As Japan’s capital city, Tokyo is a dense, metropolitan area full of zany attractions and cultural hotspots. Depending on how much time you have, it can be difficult to figure out what to do and where to stay in Tokyo. So it is best to arrive with a plan. To make your trip easier, I compiled a list of the best things to do in Tokyo.
1. Tokyo Skytree
The Tokyo Skytree is a 2080-foot tall broadcast tower with sweeping panoramic vistas of the city. The Tokyo Skytree is actually the tallest tower (not building) in the world, so there’s no wonder why it’s so popular among tourists. Take a ride up to the observation desks if you want an amazing view. Just keep in mind that tickets are a bit pricey. Otherwise, feel free to marvel at the structure from the ground.
Both Kyoto and Kamakura are known for their temples, but Tokyo is full of them too. The most popular temple in Tokyo is Sensoji. If you are even remotely interested in Japanese culture, then this is one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
Created in 645, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. Legend says that two brothers fished a statue of Kannon (goddess of mercy) out of the Sumida River. No matter how many times they put the statue back, it always returned to them. And so Sensoji Temple was built around the statue and in Kannon’s honor.
3. Shibuya Crossing
One popular thing to do in Tokyo is visit the iconic Shibuya Crossing. Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. So it should be no surprise that you will find the busiest intersection in the world right here in the city. The crossing is a dizzying mix of businessmen, shoppers, and googly-eyed tourists. For a bird’s eye view, head to the Shibuya Scramble Square Tower. This way you can avoid being in the crowd while still admiring the spectacle.
4. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
If you’re looking for a relaxing stroll, head to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. For a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a variety of landscaping styles. Here you’ll find traditional Japanese gardens as well as gardens of English and French influence. The 144-acre property is clean and well-maintained. It’s also a must-see for Cherry Blossom Season.
5. Meiji Jingu
The best way to escape the bustle of Tokyo is to visit Meiji Jingu. This Shinto shrine is tucked away in a peaceful forest. The shrine was constructed in 1920 to celebrate the virtue of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who took large steps to modernize Japan. The shrine itself is a beautiful piece of architecture. But also notable are the towering arches at the end of every road.
6. Golden Gai
A remnant of the past, Golden Gai is an area of narrow streets and cramped dive bars. Once the location of much debauchery, Golden Gai is now a unique attraction for thirsty tourists. Seating is very limited, and many bars are located up steep staircases. So don’t be surprised if you get charged a sitting fee or need to climb to get your alcoholic drink of preference.
7. teamLab Planets
Perhaps the most photogenic and Instagrammable location in Tokyo, teamlab Planets is a must-see spot. The art exhibit features a collection of surreal, “body-immersive” installations that must be seen to be believed. The massive artworks dazzle with wading pools, flowers, mirrors, lights, and digital images that trick the eyes. Each piece is connected by a maze of dark hallways that open upon expansive spaces of light and color. You might get lost, but that’s just part of the experience.
8. Sakurai Tea Experience
For those interested in the best cultural things to do in Tokyo, consider a tasting at the Sakurai Tea Experience. Sado is the Japanese “way of tea,” and founder Shinya Sakurai studied for fourteen years to master the craft. His café is an intimate, eight-seat sanctuary dedicated to the best tea in Japan.
Sakurai routinely travels across the country to select the best tea leaves, which he then roasts daily in-house. However, his specialty is a high-end variety of green tea called Gyokuro. To enjoy the full range of teas, purchase a tasting flight for ¥4800. Just be sure to reserve ahead of time. Seating is very limited, and the café is very popular.
The artsy neighborhood of Nakameguro is easily one of the best locations for Cherry Blossom Season. But you should stick around at anytime of the year. The chic streets are full of charming cafes and independent boutiques. Stop at trendy coffeehouses like Onibus Coffee, and take a charming walk along the Meguro River, where Sakura trees bloom over the water.
Located in Shinjuku, Isetan is Tokyo’s most well-known department store. Shoppers should definitely add this to their list of things to do in Tokyo. There are nine floors of shops! From Japanese brands to international icons, you’ll find a massive selection of fashionable goods. Feeling hungry? Even the food hall is a hot spot for wonderful goodies.
11. Omoide Yokocho
Another Shinjuku attraction is Omoide Yokocho. Similar to Golden Gai, Omoide Yokocho is a narrow street with a warm, picturesque atmosphere. Most of the joints here are hole-in-the-wall restaurants with a focus on yakitori. But what makes these restaurants special is the practice of omakase, where the chef chooses your meal for you. Don’t worry. You’re in good hands.
12. New York Bar
Travelers with a taste for the sleek and swanky should take an evening visit to New York Bar. The sophisticated cocktail bar calls to mind the moody lounges of my favorite luxury NYC hotels. They serve a range of American classics, such as Manhattans, martinis, and Champagnes. Given that the joint is also a jazz bar, you should expect music too. Oh, and did I mention the view? Perched on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt, New York Bar has a splendid view of the Tokyo cityscape.
13. Yayoi Kusama Museum
Tucked away in the suburbs of Shinjuku is a sleek, white museum dedicated solely to the works of Yayoi Kusama. The Yayoi Kusama Museum building may look unassuming, but the avant-garde works inside are funky and revolutionary. While the “Infinity Room” may be her most famous work, Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dotted pieces are all worth a look see. Also, the museum rotates exhibitions twice a year, so you can see something new depending on when you go.
Things to Do Outside of Tokyo
Although there are many amazing things to do and gorgeous hotels in Tokyo, Japan has a large selection of adventures to choose from. If you have time to spare, consider a stay in Yokohama for more city views and charming gardens. Head to Kamakura for a small city packed with shrines. Or explore Kyoto, Japan’s cultural and historical hotspot.