things to do in tokyo

Ultimate Tokyo Guide

You will literally never be short of things to do in Tokyo, even if you’re a regular visitor like me. The Japanese capital seems to always be bustling, full of life and variety with it’s many different districts waiting to be explored. The full range of Japanese experience can be had here, from historic temples and shrines to modern mayhem.

I’ve been to Tokyo six times across the various seasons and so have compiled huge list of things to do

Where to stay in Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge city with many neighbourhoods. I’ve stayed in Asakasa, Shibuya, Ebisu, Tokyo Bay and Ginza in my many trips to the city and have always found the accommodation options to be plentiful and extremely hospitable.

The Japanese are famous for their cleanliness and politeness and I definitely found this to be the case everywhere I stayed.

I definitely recommend staying in Shinjuku, Ginza or Shibuya areas for plenty of shopping, eating and other activities. For the Ginza area, The Mercure Hotel is a great option or to go a little further upscale, try the Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel just around the corner.

For the Shibuya and Ebisu areas, The Westin at Ebisu is truly excellent and for a slightly less luxe experience and price tag (but amazing location), the Shibuya Tobu Hotel is located just a stone’s throw from the famous Shibuya Crossing.

At Tokyo Bay, the Intercontinental is a hard hotel to pass up, with great views of the bay from many of the rooms. In Shinjuku, try the Hyatt Regency.

How to get around in Japan

Luckily for tourists, Japan has one of the most incredible public transport systems in the world. For most tourists who are planning on visiting Tokyo and a couple of other Japanese destinations (like Osaka or Kyoto), you’ll want to take advantage of the JR Pass.

This pass issued by Japan Rail gives you access to the Shinkansen (bullet trains) plus any other non-bullet JR trains. It also means you don’t have to fluff around at the ticket stations each time you want to ride the train. It also comes with a free JR Pass Guide which will help you make the most of your travels.

JR Passes are available for purchase for 7, 14 or 21 days and they will save you a lot of cash, especially if you are planning to travel around the country a bit. There’s also plenty of local JR lines in Tokyo, so the pass will also assist you in getting around the city.

What to do in Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing

I fell in love with this scramble crossing when I saw Lost in Translation and when I first saw it in person back in 2011, it was even better. Now, it’s my favourite out of all the things to do in Tokyo. It’s free, it’s amazing to watch and it’s even more awe inspiring when you’re down amongst the throngs of people crossing the street.

The Starbucks opposite Shibuya station offers a bird’s eye view with coffee in hand, but I prefer the free Shibuya station views from the first floor.

The Shibuya Crossing (image: CANVA)

Tokyo Skytree

Offering up the most remarkable views of Tokyo that stretches as far as the eye can see, the Tokyo Skytree is easily recognisable in the city skyline. On a clear day you can see as far as the iconic Mount Fuji, which pokes its snow-capped peak above the buildings.

The Tokyo Skytree is located near Asakasa and Senso-ji, so I’d recommend doing both in the same day as it can feel a litlte far away from the centre of Tokyo. I’d also recommend pre-booking your entry tickets as the lines can be very long.

Things to do in Tokyo
The view of Mt Fuji from the Tokyo Skytree


The red roof and pagoda of Tokyo’s largest and oldest temple, Senso-ji, can be easily spotted from the Tokyo Skytree. It is one of the most visited spiritual sites in the world. Pay 100 JPY to receive your fortune from stands on the temple grounds and watch the locals rinsing their hands with small wooden ladles to purify themselves before visiting.

Visiting around New Years Day may make entering the temple itself a bit challenging as Japanese flock to temples between 1st – 3rd January each year on the National Holiday, but the atmosphere in the temple grounds is incredible and features lots of locals wandering around in traditional dress.

Senso-ji in Tokyo (photo: CANVA)

Takeshita Dori

This quirky, kitschy shopping steet in Harajuku really captures the essence of the ‘young’ Japan. It’s in this area and surrounds that the true ‘Harajuku’ fashion can be found. Wander the streets and the malls either side and marvel at the bizarre and funky fashions on sale.

Takeshita Dori also has several famous Harajuku crepe stalls as well as a stand making fairy floss bigger than your head. My favourite stall, though, is the amazing clothing shop for dogs complete with Woody from Toy Story costumes for your pooch.

Things to do in tokyo
A human in a teddy bear suit? Only on Takeshita Dori!


Right next to the madness of Harajuku exists this large and peaceful Shinto shrine. The entrance to a park is marked by giant wooden torii gates and through these gates is a stroll through a wooded area up to the entrance of the shrine. It’s hard to believe that this park is in the middle of bustling Tokyo, but that’s Japan for you – a country of surprises.

If you visit Meiji-Jingu on a weekend, you might be lucky enough to spy a Japanese wedding there. I’ve been lucky on a couple of occasions.

things to do in tokyo
The wooden gates to Meiji Jingu

Tsukiji Outer Market

Even though the wholesale market has moved out to Tokyo Bay, the Tsukiji Outer Market is still the place to be for fresh seafood and sushi breakfasts. A short walk from Ginza station, this impressive street selection of tuna, crab meat, sea urchin and even white strawberries is a fantastic way to start the day.

Simply wander the streets, point out what you’d like and hand over your JPY to the vendor. Or if you’re more into a sit-down meal, hop into one of the many sushi restaurants and enjoy unique and fresh sushi that you just won’t get anywhere else in the world.

You can also get even deeper into the workings of the Tsukiji Fish Market by taking a guided tour with a knowledgable local who can explain the history of the market and the different stalls that you’ll see.

Things to do in tokyo
Fresh crab legs at the Tsukiji Outer Market

Tokyo Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace is an imposing structure near Tokyo Central Station. Though it’s not possible to access the inner area unless on a guided tour it is permitted to wander through the vast park surrounding the palace and there’s a great spot in the park where the palace and the bridge and pond leading inside are all in shot.

The East Gardens are also usually open for a wander and they’re wonderfully pretty.

things to do in tokyo
The pristine Imperial Palace grounds

Visit Godzilla Square

Godzilla and monster movie lovers will enjoy wandering around the Hibiya area to see the newly minted Godzilla Square where there is a 3 metre high replica of the monster who appeared in the 2016 film, Shin Godzilla. It is a fun stop to take some photos, the kiddos will enjoy it and there’s a few cafes around the area for a drink and a pit stop.

Godzilla Square Tokyo (image: CANVA)

Shinjuku Robot Restaurant

The infamous Shinjuku Robot Restaurant is an absolute tourist trap, but is also a totally wacky and hilarious night out for those wanting to experience the zany side of Japan. Bookings are essential at this venue as it is always booked out and then your only option is to find yourself sitting in a waiting line hoping someone doesn’t show up to claim their tickets.

The Shinjuku Robot Restaurant isn’t cheap, but is is a very silly and fun night out.

Golden Gai

Golden Gai is an eclectic collection of tiny bars in the back alleys of Shinjuku and makes for an amazing night out. A lot of the bars are for members only and have signs saying so, however there are a small number that welcome tourists.

There will usually be a cover charge to enter the bar, but the unique experience makes the cost well worth it. Imagine a teeny tiny bar the size of a cupboard with five people and a bartender crammed inside. What a way to make friends!

Golden Gai (image: CANVA)

Tengu Sakaba

A trip to a Tokyo izakaya is quintessential Tokyo. These restaurant/bars are where Japanese salarymen go to drink and eat after the work day is done. Tengu Sakaba, located in the lowest level of Ginza 6, is an awesome spot to experience life and food in Japan over a warm sake.

My fiancée discovered this place a few years ago now on a family trip. When I told him I was heading over to Tokyo, he insisted that I visit Tengu Sakaba, that he’d affectionately nicknamed ‘Smoky Den’. I’m pretty sure it got that nickname because, like most izakayas, smoking is permitted inside. They all seem to have hazy air quality as cigarettes mix with the smoke of the yakitori grill.

things to do in tokyo
The amazing world of Tengu Sakaba

Ginza Shopping District

If high end fashion and window shopping is your thing, Ginza is the district to visit. All the major brand names are here and some of the architecture on the buildings is quite remarkable. Some impressive storefronts include the always-beautiful Dior, the snake covered Bulgari, the suitcase-like Louis Vuitton and the world famous Prada building.

This area is also beautiful at night as the shops light up the street.

things to do in tokyo
The Bulgari store in Ginza

Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Disney Sea

Now, this might sound super-touristy, but Tokyo Disney is actually a hell of a lot of fun for the young and the young at heart. Tokyo Disney was my first ever Disney park experience and I loved how happy and fun it was. The Japanese locals dressed up in Disney costumes – not just the kids, but the adults too. Those who weren’t dressed up were mostly all wearing Mickey Mouse ears throughout the park. Literally everyone was in on the fun.

If you are travelling to Japan with kids, then Tokyo Disney is a must visit with the option to also spend a day exploring Tokyo Disney Sea next door. You can even stay at Tokyo Disney if you’re having a very Disney-centred holiday and can book transfers from the airport direct to Disney here.

Tokyo Disney (image: CANVA)

Visit Tokyo Central Station

The amazing front of the Tokyo Central Station feels almost like a European train station design. For me, it brought up memories of the beautiful Amsterdam Central Station with its towers and dome. For the best view of the station, walk up from the Imperial palace and get a full frontal street view of the entire structure.

Then, for a birds-eye view, walk to the Kitte shopping centre and head up to the open air rooftop. Its totally free and has fabulous views.

things to do in tokyo
The amazing Tokyo Station

Explore the Tokyo International Forum

The Tokyo International Forum is an amazing building with a huge glass atrium shaped like a ship’s hull. It is a remarkable feat of architecture and is another great free spot in Tokyo to visit. You can enter at your leisure and wander through, but definitely don’t miss the chance to get up to the highest floor so that you can get the full scale of the architectural design.

The Tokyo International Forum is located 5 minutes from Tokyo Station and about 12 minutes walk from the Imperial Palace so you can visit all 3 sites in the same afternoon.

things to do in tokyo
The architecture of the Tokyo International Forum

Take in the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to fork out for the view at the Tokyo Skytree, then the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck is the perfect place to go and get an amazing view of Tokyo.

Open from 9.30am – 11pm most days, you can get a beautiful view of the sprawling Tokyo region including as far as Mount Fuji on a clear day. At night, the view is just as special, as you’ll be able to see the twinkling lights of Tokyo below. And since it is free, why not do both?!

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (image: CANVA)

In summary

There are so many wonderful things to do in Tokyo. There are activities to connect to the country’s imperial past, there are activities that celebrate modern-day Tokyo’s wacky side and there is everything in between.

This is by no means an exhaustive list either. I continue to add to it on every visit to this amazing city.

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Things To Do In Tokyo - Emma Jane Explores
Things To Do In Tokyo - Emma Jane Explores

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