Tokyo is one of the world’s most exciting cities and offers both the ancient and the modern in one day. Many people can’t help but be fascinated by Japan because of its ancient culture while many are also attracted to its modernity and creativity. Tokyo is full of interesting attractions and not all of them are necessarily that expensive to visit.

    Some very interesting venues are open to the public for free, such as the park at The Imperial Palace East Gardens in central Tokyo, Sumida Park in Asakusa, Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Sumo Wrestling Museum in Ryogoku, and the Yebisu Beer Museum in Shibuya. 

    What are the best things to do in Tokyo?

    1

    Tokyo Skytree

    A modern icon of Japan, Tokyo Skytree stands at 634 meters high, making it one of the tallest structures in the world. The base of the tower, Tokyo Skytree Town, has a shopping mall, an aquarium, an excellent range of restaurants, and souvenir outlets. 

    You can go up to Tokyo Skytree’s 2 observation decks for panoramic views of Tokyo and the Kanto region. The 350-meter-tall Tembo Deck has 3 floors with glass panels overlooking the city, while the 450-meter-tall Tembo Galleria features a steel-and-glass walkway that slopes upwards to the top. Even if you don’t go up to the viewpoint, you will no doubt see this modernist masterpiece while sightseeing around the city. 

    Location: 1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida City, Tokyo 131-0045, Japan

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 10 pm

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    2

    Tokyo Disneyland

    Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disneyland to be built outside of the USA and has been open since 1983. It's still a very popular destination for families, couples, and people of all ages. The park is divided into 6 areas: Adventureland, Westernland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toontown and Tomorrowland.

    This place is purpose built for lots of fun, with big balloons in the shape of Disney characters as well as Mickey, Daisy and Pluto & Co strolling around the park, giving visitors a chance to take pictures with and of them. The entrance to Disneyland is full of Victorian-style theme shops, restaurants and cafés and at one end of the main street is the elegant Cinderella Castle, visible throughout the park. There are also a number of parade routes with colorful floats and characters such as Snow White and Beauty and the Beast. Tokyo Disneyland is located in In Urayasu City, outside downtown Tokyo. The best way to go there from Tokyo is by train to Maihama Station.

    Location: 1-1 Maihama, Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture 279-0031, Japan

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 10 pm

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    3

    Ginza

    A shopper’s paradise in Tokyo

    Ginza is Tokyo's glitzy shopping, dining, and entertainment district, where you can shop for leading Japanese and international brands in fashion, cosmetics, and electronics. The best way to experience this flashy area is to stroll the streets and soak it all up. Between window shopping, you can stop at any of the numerous bars, cafes, and restaurants scattered through the district.

    An excellent place to start is Chuo Dori – Ginza's iconic 1 km-long shopping street closed to traffic every weekend from midday to 5 pm (6 pm in summer). Places worth visiting include Ginza Six, the neighbourhood's largest department store. The store's rooftop garden is a fantastic spot for beers and city views. A few blocks away are Mitsukoshi and Matsuya, famous Japanese department chain stores, and Itoya, the legendary 12-floor stationery store.

    Location: Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan

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    4

    Explore the neighbourhoods of Tokyo

    Discover high-class shopping, traditional temples and hip hangouts

    There are dozens of neighbourhoods in Tokyo worth visiting, each one more enchanting than the next. Spend a day exploring Marunouchi in the heart of Tokyo. There’s the traditional Imperial Palace East Garden on one side, and the other is the fast-paced business district with high-end shops and restaurants. A few blocks south from here is Ginza – Tokyo’s shopping Mecca.

    To experience the city’s legendary nightlife, head to Roppongi and Akasaka neighbourhoods. If it’s history and culture you’re after, Ueno is home to Tokyo’s highest concentration of museums. For an older, more traditional Tokyo vibe, Asakusa will transportation you back centuries. There are several temples, craft shops, and street-food stalls to explore.

    When in Asakusa, visit the popular Buddhist temple, Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon Temple), which is the oldest in Tokyo and one of the most impressive. Many tourists associate it with the large red lantern hanging at one of its gates with engraved characters saying ‘Kaminari-mon’ or ‘Thundergate’. It's estimated that more than 30 million devotees flock here every year. The temple is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

    Legend has it that Sensoji was built in 645 for the goddess of Kannon. The whole temple has been well maintained with regular renovations in spite of the fact that it has been damaged several times including in the great earthquake in 1923 and during World War II. In the courtyard is a tree that has grown out of the husk of a former tree hit and destroyed by a bomb during the war. Devotees see this as a symbol of the temple itself, regenerating and growing in the face of adversity. Another well-known structure, located behind Sensoji, is the five-tiered pagoda, Sanja-sama, which was built in 1649.

    Sensoji Temple is at the heart of many yearly Tokyo festivals, including Sanja Matsuri, Hozuki-ichi, Asakusa Samba Carnival and Tokyo Jidai Matsuri.

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    Location: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

    Open: The temple grounds are always open. The main hall is open daily from 6.30 am to 5 pm (from 6 am April-September)

    Phone: +81 (0)3 3842 0181

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    6

    Explore the temples of Tokyo

    See a quieter side to Tokyo’s fast-paced lifestyle

    • History
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    Tokyo may be a high-powered, fast-moving city, but you'll find quiet temples and shrines between the hustle and bustle. In Asakusa, Tokyo's spiritual center, Senso-ji is the city's largest and oldest Buddhist temple and an unmissable landmark. Escape the hipster crowds of the Harajuku district and explore the nearby Meiji Jingu Shrine located in a forest.

    The Zojoji Temple, near the Tokyo Tower and Shiba Park, stands out for its elegant architecture dating back to the 16th century. A short walk from the buzzing Akihabara shopping district, you can enjoy the peaceful grounds of Yushima Seido, an impressive 17th-century Confucian temple. Two blocks away lies the Kanda Shrine where locals pray for wealth and success in business.

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    Location: Tokyo, Japan

    7

    Roppongi Hills

    Roppongi Hills is a mega complex that features residential apartments, extensive shopping, dining, art galleries, office space, TV studios, gardens and parks and many entertainment options such as movie theaters and museums. The highlight here is the Mori Tower and its observation deck, the Tokyo City View. The idea of the developer is to have a town within a town where people can live and work and enjoy an optimum lifestyle without having to travel. To reach Roppongi Hills, take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line or Toei Subway Oedo Line to Roppongi Station

    Location: 6 Chome-11-1 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-6108, Japan

    Phone: +81 (0)3-6406-6000

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    8

    Tokyo Tower

    Tokyo Tower is an icon of the city and a famous tourist landmark. The design was based on the Eiffel Tower (but measures 13 meters higher than its French mentor), and it was completed in 1958 when a large broadcasting tower was needed in the Kanto area. It’s still active today.

    There are 2 observatories in the building – at 150 m and 250 m – and other facilities, including several souvenir shops, a games corner, restaurants and fast food outlets, an amusement park (with a good number of vintage toys among other things). For fans of jazz, R&B, and Bossa Nova, you can enjoy live music every Wednesday and Thursday at Club 333 on the first-floor main observatory. There’s no extra charge for the music, just pay the regular observatory fee. The Special Observatory at 250 meters may be closed or its operating hours changed during stormy weather.

    Location: 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan

    Open: Viewpoints open daily from 9 am to 11 pm (times vary for other facilities)

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    9

    Tokyo museums

    Discover priceless art and innovative technology

    Tokyo's museums are an eclectic mix, spanning from ancient archeology to cutting-edge science. The city's technology museums have outstanding exhibits on robotics, space exploration and the environment, presented in interactive displays. Unique venues like the Beer Museum and Railroad Museum offer a different perspective on everyday life.

    Visit the National Museum (the oldest in Japan) to get a sense of the country's awe-inspiring history, before heading to Tokyo’s art museums for ancient bronzes, modern paintings, and beautiful ceramics. As Japan is famous for its love of anime, there are plenty of places to celebrate this imaginative art, including the Ghibli Museum and Suginami Animation Museum.

    10

    Shibuya Crossing

    See one of the world's busiest intersections

    Shibuya Crossing is a bustling intersection in the heart of Tokyo's city centre, where you can see throngs of people moving at the same time when the signal changes. This intersection is considered one of the busiest intersections in the entire world and has been featured in movies from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift to Lost in Translation.

    One popular way to catch a photo of this crosswalk is from above. You can head for a Starbucks across the street that's higher than street level, or you can try the Magnet shopping mall rooftop. Whether you catch a photo from the ground among the crowds or climb the stairs to catch it from above, it's a fantastic Instagram photo.

    Location: 2 Chome-2-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0043, Japan

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    11

    Eastern Park of the Imperial Palace

    The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan's Imperial Family and is located in the middle of Tokyo. Most of the palace grounds are closed to the public but you can visit the Imperial Palace East Gardens (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen), which is open to the public for free all year round.

    Inside you will see beautiful Japanese-style gardens that are manicured to perfection and historical ruins such as walls and guardhouses from the Edo period. Also located on the same grounds is the Museum of Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan), which displays a collection of over 6,700 pieces belonging to Emperor Showa, including ancient brush paintings, arts and crafts. The East Gardens is a short walk from Otemachi Station.

    Open: Tuesday–Thursday and Saturday–Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm (closes later in the summer months)

    Phone: +81 (0)3-32131111

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    12

    Ueno Park

    Ueno Park covers a large area and has a lot to offer visitors. Located in the northern part of central Tokyo, it acts as the city’s ‘lungs’, and it's where the locals go for fresh air and relaxation. Among the interesting sights inside the park are the Toshogu Shrine, Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art and the National Science Museum. If visiting the park in summer, make sure you pass by the large natural Shinobazu pond, well known for its many lotuses and birds.

    In springtime, Ueno Park is one of the most celebrated locations in Tokyo as its 1,000 or so cherry blossom trees bloom in an explosion of pink. It is quite common to see large groups of people reserve a spot for their picnic by simply spreading out a sheet at a selected location. In many cases, people sit all day to make sure that no one takes their picnic spot away. You'll see many groups of families, students, friends as well as businessmen in suits sitting cross-legged and enjoying their drink and food at this very popular spot.

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    photo by Guilhem Vellut (CC BY 2.0) modified

    13

    Meiji Jingu Shrine

    Meiji Jingu is a Japanese Shinto shrine that was built in honor of Emperor Meiji (responsible for laying the foundations of modern-day Japan) and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine was built in 1920 and rebuilt after damage during World War II. Meiji Shrine is located in a beautiful forest covering about 175 acres and its many different types of trees were donated by people from all over Japan. The shrine plays a big part in many locals’ lives who come here regularly to mark important personal events, such as to bring their new-born baby for prayer and dedication or when reaching important ages in their lives – 25 or 42 for men, and 19 or 33 for women. The most colorful occasion occurring here must be the Shinto wedding ceremony as Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo among couples who come to celebrate their important day.

    While there, don’t forget to visit the Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum, on the same grounds as Meiji Shrine. Many exhibits demonstrate the changing of traditional Japan into a modern country as seen through clothes, including Imperial court dress, kimono, and the introduction of western clothing. If you're looking to take some souvenirs home, there are many stalls selling artifacts and sweets here. Meiji Shrine is open to the public for free.

    Location: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

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    14

    Nakamise Shopping Street

    Nakamise is not just a typical shopping street in Tokyo; its history can be traced back several centuries. With a traditional Japanese atmosphere, souvenirs are sold along both sides of the 200-meter pedestrian street which is made up of close to 100 small shops. Items for sale here include traditional yukata dresses, Japanese masks, dolls, folding fans, T-Shirts and more. Must-try local snacks are for sale, such as Japanese senbei (rice crackers), ningyoyaki cakes (small cakes with sweet azuki bean filling), dango (sweet dumplings) and kaminari-okoshi (a traditional Japanese crunchy and colorful sweet snack). Nakamise Shopping Street is in the heart of Asakusa, near Sensoji Temple.

    Location: 1 Chome Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

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    photo by chee.hong (CC BY 2.0) modified

    15

    Toshogu Shrine

    A visit to Toshogu Shrine inside Ueno Park is an unforgettable experience thanks to the detailed artwork found within. Founded in 1627, it was dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867.

    Here, you'll find a beautiful 170-meter-long wooden wall that surrounds the Haiden (the main structure and the hall of worship) and 50 large copper lanterns that are used in religious ceremonies. The shrine has a rich interior with many original artifacts, such as a shogun’s armors and sword, as well as maps dating back to the era. The Toshogu Shrine was declared a National Treasure in 1907. It's easy to find the shrine, right in front of Ueno Station.

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +81 (0)3-3822-3455

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    16

    Kabukiza Theatre

    Traditional Japanese kabuki performances are one of those things that you either love or hate. People who love it say that just the austere music, bold costumes and all the colors on stage alone make kabuki theatre a must-see for everyone. It’s certainly a highly stylised performing art.

    At Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza, kabuki performances are held throughout the year with the option of ‘translation headphones’ for foreign audiences. Typically, there are two shows per day, each lasting about 3 to 5 hours, but each show breaks up into a few acts, called maku. Visitors can get tickets for the whole show or just a single maku. Kabukiza Theatre is accessible at the Higashi-Ginza Subway Station stop. Exit 3 leads you out directly in front of the theatre.

    Location: 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan

    Phone: +81 (0) 3-35413131

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    17

    Ginza Wako Clock Tower

    The Ginza Wako Building is a Neo-Renaissance style building with a clock tower dating back to the 19th century. The building is the landmark for the Ginza shopping district and was first founded in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori, a watch and jewelry specialist. Ginza Wako (or just Wako for short) is one of the relatively few buildings that survived World War II. Nowadays, Wako is one of the most well-known retailers in Japan and houses upscale foreign merchandise such as watches, jewelry, dishware and porcelain. The clock tower plays the famous Westminster Chimes.

    Location: 4 Chome-5-11 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-8105, Japan

    Open: Daily from 10.30 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +81 (0)3-3562-2111

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    18

    Sumida Park

    Every spring, many people come to admire the beautiful light-pink cherry blossoms along both sides of the Sumida River. The strikingly vivid trees were planted by the eighth Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune. The scenic spot attracts both tourist and local picnickers who sit and enjoy their meal under the falling leaves of the cherry blossom trees. 

    After the sun goes down, the park’s avenues are lit with beautiful lanterns which makes the night out even more enjoyable. Some people prefer to take a boat tour down the river, all the better to view the blossoms. The weather can be a little cool at night time, so it's a good idea to bring a blanket if you plan to stay for a while. To reach Sumida Park, take the subway to Asakusa station.

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    photo by Arashiyama (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    19

    Sunshine City

    Sunshine City is a 4-building complex in Ikebukuro that features 2 large shopping malls, a theme park, and observation deck. There's also an aquarium, a museum, a convention center, and a theatre, as well as large offices.

    It offers excellent shopping opportunities such as exclusive designer shops, ladies fashion, and household goods split between 2 department stores. In total, there’s over 200 different shops within Sunshine City. When it comes to dining, the choices are practically unlimited, from fast-food to European cuisine and many Japanese restaurants, with varying prices. Don’t miss the panoramic views from Sunshine 60 observation deck on the top floor.

    Location: 3-1 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo 170-0013, Japan

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +81 (0)3-3989-3331

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    photo by Guilhem Vellut (CC BY 2.0) modified

    20

    Hakuhinkan Toy Park

    With 5 floors of toys and games, Hakuhinkan Toy Park is truly a paradise for every child as well as young-at-heart adults. The store was first opened in 1899, making it one of the oldest toy stores in Japan. Hakuhinkan features all sorts of toys, from computer games to board games, jigsaw puzzles, game arcades, magic tricks, wooden toys, Japanese dolls and traditional goods, music boxes, stuffed animals and joke gifts. Hakuhinkan also has a toy clinic, a duty-free counter and child-friendly restaurants. If you’re traveling by public transportation, take the JR Yamanote line to Shimbashi.

    Location: 8 Chome-8-11 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +81 3-3571-800

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    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveler

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