Tokyo is an enormous city. I know we were overwhelmed when planning our trip. There are so many things to do in Tokyo, it's difficult to know where to begin.
Things to do in Tokyo
This Tokyo travel guide will help you decide where to stay in Tokyo broken down by neighbourhood, what to see in Tokyo and how to make the most of your visit. Especially if you are visiting for the first time.
Tokyo Fast Facts
There are 23 Wards in Tokyo.
The main Tokyo wards we suggest visiting and cover in this guide are Sumida, Asakusa, Minota/Akasaka, Chuo, Omotesando, Shibuya, Shinjuku,
1 USD = 112 Yes (subject to change check XE Currency Converter for up to date rates)
Getting Around - Tokyo has two separate subway lines. You can buy tickets at the machine. Costs are very reasonable starting at ¥200. You can purchase 24 hour, 48 hour and 72 Hour passes.
Taxis are expensive and traffic can be brutal, it is much better to use the subway.
Voltage - Japan has a different voltage than North America. Get a travel adapter before flying.
You can rent a wireless wifi router from Get Your Guide to help navigate and book tours in Tokyo.
Map of Tokyo Wards
What to See in Tokyo
We are lucky when we visit cities around the world and the same can be said for Tokyo.
We have guides to help us out, tourism boards and private companies help with the planning and we can ask questions from fellow travellers that have been to the city before.
With the help of Tobu Japan Trip, we found the right area to stay and had the chance to see sight we wouldn't have thought of visiting.
Now it's time to share our top picks for things to do in Tokyo.
A great way to get your bearings when visiting any city is to start with the hop on hop off tour bus Get Your Guide offers advance tickets online.
Tokyo Travel Guide - Table of Contents
Check out Tours for Tokyo
1. Tokyo Skytree
It lets us see an overview of the city and helps us get our bearings.
The Toyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world and is second only in height (at the moment anyway) to the Burj.
Standing 634 metres high, it is an impressive sight. There are two enclosed observation decks and a restaurant.
Like the CN Tower, it has a glass floor, but it's not quite as dramatic as ours here in Toronto.
But, there were enough people with us in line that were freaked out by the glass, so I think it did its job okay.
You can purchase combo tickets to see both floors for 4000 Yen ($35USD)
Getting there: Directly connected to Tokyo Skytree Station on the Toei Asakusa Line.
Where to Eat: Lunch in Asakusa at Aoi Marushin (Tempura)
2. Jikken Bridge
If you are anything like us, you visit a city to capture photographs that you may want to hang on your wall.
We have seen many posts on where to take photos of the Tokyo Skytree and had to search long and hard to find any reference to the Jikken Bridge.
This location makes for a beautiful view of the tower with its lights reflecting in the river.
It's walking distance from the Skytree and we suggest getting there well before sunset to save your spot.
There were a lot of local photographers on the bridge once the sun went down jockeying for position. So you know it is one of the top things to do in Tokyo.
Lucky for us, we have a lot of patience and set up shop early capturing sunset and another at night when the lights change colour.
**Note: There is a lighting schedule each evening that you can check to see what colours they will be showing.**
Google Maps coordinates: Walk from Skytree to here.
While visiting the Tokyo Skytree, make sure to spend time browsing the stores at Solamachi. It's a massive shopping centre at the base of the tower.
With 300 stores, there's shopping for everyone.
When you arrive, go directly to customer service with your passport to receive a coupon book. It's filled with savings and great deals.
Where to Eat
4. Solamachi Kunimi
When visiting a city, we always look for a restaurant with a view.
Located on the 31st floor of Solamachi looking directly at the Tokyo Skytree, this is the place to eat!
If you are going to have one traditional meal in Japan, splurge and do it here.
We had the Matsu Course that costs 10,800 Yen per person but it is totally worth it. If you want to sample some of the best food in the city, this will give you an overview of Japanese food at its finest.
Where to Stay
Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo: We stayed at the Tobu Hotel Levant and it was a very good location for the Skytree. Excellent breakfast buffet and spacious lobby.
It seemed that a lot of package tours, businessmen and locals stayed here, so it's a good choice.
5. Ryogoku Kokugikan
Want to catch a sumo wrestling match? This is the place where the grand slam tournaments of sumo occur.
If the main event isn't happening you can enter to check it out and there is a sumo museum to check out.
6. Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple is without a doubt Tokyo's most popular temple to visit and is usually at the top of peoples things to do in Tokyo.
We went in the middle of the day, but if you go first thing in the morning you can avoid the crowds.
Entering through the Thunder Gate takes you to a walkway lined with souvenir shops.
The vendors have been on this street for centuries, but today it definitely feels like a tourist attraction.
After shopping at the many stores buying Japanese souvenirs, you'll enter the temple complex.
It is Tokyo's oldest temple dating back to 628, but it has been rebuilt. There is one gate that still stands that our guide Yoshi pointed out.
He said it had recently been repainted and it's a shame because it is one of the few original pieces on the grounds.
Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple but there is a Shinto Shrine adjacent to the complex that you can visit as well.
Subway stop - Asakusa. Take JR Yamanote or JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station, transfer to Ginza line and take the subway to Asakusa station.
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Where to Eat
Aoi Marushin for Tempura - For some authentic Japanese Tempura head here. It's busy with both locals and tourists and is located just a few minutes from the temple.
Address: 1-4-4 Asakusa, Taito 111-0032 - It's kitty corner to the Tourism Information Building, just down the street.
7. Tourism Information Building
As you know we like to go up for city views. Right across the street from the Sensoji Temple is the tourist information centre.
Go inside for tourist information, but also, catch the elevator to the top floor for an overhead view of Asakusa.
You'll see the long roof of the Sensoji temple, the Tokyo Skytree and the river.
8. Sumida River
The Sumida River offers an excellent walk along the water through the city.
It is lined with cherry trees making for another great place to see during cherry blossom season.
Sights to see along the Sumida River:
- Tokyo Skytree - Tallest Radio Tower in the World
- Asahi Beer Hall - One of Japan's largest beer producers has their headquarters here.
- Azumabashi Bridge - One of Tokyo's first bridges.
- Sumida Park - Green space in the city, good for Cherry Blossoms.
- River Cruise - Catch a cruise to explore the waters of Tokyo.
9. Tokyo Tower
Tokyo has another tower, an older and probably more famous tower than the Tokyo Skytree. This is due to the fact that it has been standing since 1958!
Located in the Shiba-koen district, it stands at 332 metres (1092 feet) high.
It looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower (except that it is red and white) and we suggest visiting it at night. Its golden glow is beautiful.
10. Shiba Park
After exploring the Tokyo Tower, take a stroll across the street to explore Shiba Park.
It's a giant green space and there's a temple to visit too. The Zojo-ji Temple dates back to 1622.
The temple complex has been here since 1393 and is the main branch of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism.
11. Hie Shrine
Okay, so if you are looking for that iconic row of red Torii Gates in Tokyo, this is the spot!
Hie Shrine is located right in the heart of Akasaka and it's very easy to get to.
Take the escalator up to the shrine on one side and then walk down the gates on the other.
This Shinto Shrine has several photography possibilities with massive white Shinto gates, temples and pagodas and the Torii Gate.
It also has the guardian statues like Nikko dressed in red to ward of spirits. Hie Shrine's spirit (kami) is Oyamakui.
When visiting you just might come across a lot of locals celebrating an event.
12. Nogi Shrine
Nogi Shrine is a peaceful Shinto Shrine in Akasaka. It took us a while to find it on foot. Our Google maps didn't do justice to where it is.
But after asking a few women sweeping the sidewalks along the route, we finally found it.
This shrine is dedicated to a man that is considered the Last Samurai of Japan. He and his wife committed ritual suicide after Emperor Meiji died.
This was the way of the Samurai but wasn't practiced anymore at the time of his death, so it is very peculiar.
The shrine is open year round, but the house is only open two days per year in September.
You can walk around the outer walkway to glimpse inside where you can see the sword he used, a bloodied shirt and photographs.
13. Imperial Palace
Just north of the Minato/Akasaka area is the Chiyoda Ward. This is where the Imperial Palace is located in a park in the centre of Tokyo.
It was walking distance for us from our hotel.
You can view the palace from afar through the bridges, but it is open to the public twice a year - December 23 and Jan 2.
Plus you can see the Imperial Palace Gardens year round.
Where to Stay
We spent our last two nights at the Intercontinental Akasaka and it was fabulous.
Located right beside the subway, it was a central location with modern rooms and outstanding views.
The hotel bar is a hot spot in Tokyo for city views and we enjoyed two for one drinks at happy hour.
14. Ginza Street
Ginza was once home to a silver coin mint in the 1800s. Today it is Tokyo's most upmarket street with high-end shopping and dining.
15. Tokyo Fish Market
If you want to see fish being sold, this is the place to go.
It's for early risers to see the local sellers trade their wares starting at 5:00 am. Visitors cannot visit the inner market reserved for wholesalers, but can visit the outer markets.
You can have fresh sushi here, but it is also a market selling produce and other household items.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Intercontinental Akasaka was a great central location for exploring all these districts. Located right beside the subway, it was a central location with modern rooms and outstanding views.
Other hotel recommendations:
- Mandarin Oriental for a luxury experience.
- Hotel Celestine Ginza for mid-range
- APA Hotel Shintomicho-Ekikita for budget (rated the best deal in Tokyo)
Note: we did not stay at the other three hotels, but they do come highly recommended.
16. Tokyu Plaza
Have you ever seen photos on the Internet of mirrors reflecting hundreds of people? This is the spot.
There are a few Tokyu Plazas around Tokyo, this one is located on Omotesando Avenue. This is another of the most expensive areas in Tokyo.
The Tokyu Plaza entrance is located on a busy corner and a must stop when walking this street. Take the escalators up, stand in the middle of the staircase and watch the hexagonal mirrors reflect the masses of people walking by.
Things to see in Omotesando
- Window shopping and people watching
- MoMa - Want a taste of Modern Art? Check out the MoMA design store
- Apple Store - We always love stopping in the Apple Store to escape the hustle and bustle of the streets
- Oriental Bazaar
- People watching
- Where to Eat: Heiroku Sushi
17. Meiji Shrine
Another popular shrine to see in Tokyo is the Meiji Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and is one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo.
He was considered the first modern emperor of Japan. During his reign, Japan had opened up and modernized to join the world at the turn of the 20 century.
Japan modernized and westernized herself to join the world's major powers by the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912.
An interesting attraction here is the wall of barrels lining the forest path towards the temple.
Our guide Yoshi told us that these are sake barrels donated to the temples and shrines.
Sake is said to bring people closer to the Gods. Sipping sake at a shrine is a symbolic gesture to bring people closer to the Gods.
Barrels are donated by brewers and blessed to bring prosperity.
Getting There: Metro Stop is Harajuku Station
18. Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing is another spectacular spot to take in the crowds of Tokyo. It is considered the busiest intersection in the world.
Surrounded by billboards and neon lights, hundreds of people make this all-way pedestrian crossing every few minutes. Cars stop to let the hoards of people through in an orderly manner.
Make sure to join the crossing for some adrenaline fun.
19. Magnet's MAG7
To really get a sense of the crowds, make your way to Mag 7 and take the escalators or elevators up to the 7th floor for the viewing platform.
You'll have to walk through restaurants and shops to the rooftop lookout, but it is free and you can order drinks outside.
The glassed-in viewing area looks right over Shibuya Crossing and you will have the perfect view to take in what looks like an army of ants crossing the street from all directions.
20 - 23 Other Things to do in Shibuya
- It's a shoppers mecca, browse the streets and shopping malls.
- Love Hotel Hill - It is exactly what you think it is.
- Food Halls - In the department store basements are food halls for cheap eats!
- Hachiko Statue - See a tribute to man's best friend.
The story goes that Hachiko used to meet his owner every day at the subway station coming home from work. When his owner died the dog kept coming back every day for years until its own death. It is now a popular meeting spot.
Getting There: Take the Yamanote Line direct to Shibuya
Where to Stay: Check out TripAdvisor for reviews and places to stay near Shibuya
Shinjuku is another very popular tourist area in Tokyo. This is the place where all the nightlife, karaoke bars, cat cafes and other zany things to do in Tokyo occur.
It's great to visit at night, but it is even happening during the day.
24. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
One of the best views of Tokyo is from the Metropolitan Government Building. It's free to enter and offers a panoramic view of the city.
If its a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji!
There's also a tourist information centre in the building.
25. Robot Restaurant
When I first visited Tokyo in 1994, it seemed so much farther ahead. And now it just keeps pulling away from the rest of us!
The Robot Restaurant is one of Tokyo's most popular attractions.
Located in Shinjuku, the Robot Restaurant runs a high tech show with dancers and technology takes place three times a day.
Snacks are sold, not a full meal. And it is advised to book ahead.
26. Cat Cafe
Tokyo is known for its unique cafes. There are fishing restaurants, owl restaurants, ninja cafes and famous cat cafes.
The Calico Cat Cafe is the biggest and probably most famous of the cat cafes. Located in Shinjuku up five flights of stairs, it is not quite what you think.
When you go inside, it feels like you are checking into a veterinarian office instead of a cafe. I was happy to see that they are well taken care of.
Being a previous cat owner, I love cats and can understand why people would want to cuddle with some kitties if they can't have one at home, or if they are traveling for a long time and miss interaction with animals.
It's pricey and you pay hourly, plus you pay for treats.
27. Godzilla Street
When thinking of Japan, who doesn't think of Godzilla. The people of Tokyo have a sense of humour and in the Shinjuku district, there is a street named Godzilla Street.
This is a happening street filled with bars and nightclubs.
The Godzilla head towers over the Toho Movie Theatre (Toho is the movie studio behind the Godzilla movies) promoting the entertainment complex.
This is a place to walk around, people watch and get lost in the alleyways. Don't worry, Tokyo is very safe to walk around and get lost in.
While there we saw a woman that was clearly strung out on drugs from the night before, and several locals approached her to help her out. That was something that warmed my heart.
In other cities around the world, she'd be left alone crying on the sidewalk.
28. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
We weren't in Tokyo during cherry blossoms season, but Tokyo's largest park is the best place to see them bloom.
Located in Shinjuku, it is a great escape from the crowds.
29. Izakaya Alleys
All around Tokyo you'll find alleyways filled with pubs and bars known at Izakaya Alleys.
They are tiny stalls serving food and drink and are popular after work meet up points for locals.
It has caught on with tourists and in the Shibuya and Shinjuku areas of the city you'll find these crowded alleyways filled with people.
It can be difficult getting a seat and there is usually a time limit, so we suggest booking on a tour to check them out thoroughly and to be sure you get a seat!
Getting There: Take the Metro to Shinjuku Station, the world's busiest railway station.
Where to Stay: Check out TripAdvisor for reviews and places to stay near Shinjuku
Park Hyatt Tokyo - Recreate scenes from the movie Lost in Translation and stay at the iconic hotel with some of the best views of the city. It is one of the best hotels in the city. Hey if you are going to splurge, you might as well do it in Tokyo.