When we consider what to see and do in Tokyo, we usually get scared: the city is so huge and offers so much to see and do to the tourist that one does where to start!.
It is a pleasure to the traveler to visit a city so packed with good things but also a great inconvenience because we are always going miss things. We cannot have everything, and anyway it’s a good excuse to return.
First I’m going to shot away with a common question: JR Pass, worth it?
And the correct answer is, it really DEPENDS. If you want to move around Japan by train and get to Tokyo, the JR Pass is your best ally. In other circumstances, it might not be worth. So as you can see, there is no definitive answer to the JR Pass dilemma.
How many days do we recommend for a Tokyo visit?
Nobody can really answer that question for you, so do your homework and use your best judgment, consider budget and time available. But if you still need a number I would say that 4-5 days is the absolute minimum time you should spend in Tokyo as a first-time tourist. And allocating one day to do a trip from Tokyo is a decent idea too.
To investigate beforehand is crucial. Chose itinerary and prioritize whatever interests you the most. This will enable you to adjust the number of days in Tokyo for your tailored itinerary.
What to see and things do in Tokyo?
The best way to deal with the immensity of Tokyo is to divide the city into different neighborhoods and break it down from there. So we can better organize our daily tourist route and make the most of each day.
We have divided our recommendations into the following areas:
- The central area around the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo station, and Ginza.
- The northern zone with the neighborhoods of Ikebukuro, Ueno, Akihabara and Suidobashi / Iidabashi.
- The northeast area with the neighborhoods of Asakusa, Sumida, and Ryogoku.
- The southern zone with Odaiba as the main destination.
- The western zone with Roppongi and the Tokyo Tower, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, and Ebisu.
- And finally the destinations further west of Nakano and Mitaka.
Without further a due, here I present a few basic ideas that you can take as a basis to create your own itinerary. They are our ideas based on own experience. You can use it as an itinerary or merely as a fun read to understand better the city.
Things I recommend to see In the center of Tokyo:
- See the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, which is the official residence of the imperial family and if you are on the correct season you can also spend some time and go to admire the flowering of the cherry trees, walk through the Chidorigafuchi moat, one of the most beautiful places to see cherry trees in Tokyo.
- Marvel at the recently restored Tokyo Station and enter it to feel the bustle of the city and the underground cities that we can find there.
- Buy a doll or a kawaii accessory at Tokyo Character Street, an area dedicated to television merchandising stores and characters and drawings under the Tokyo station.
- Have a ramen noodles breakfast in one of the restaurants which open in the mornings of Tokyo at the Rāmen Street, an area dedicated to restaurants specialized in rāmen located under the station of Tokyo.
- Marvel at the Tokyo International Forum architecture.
- Visit the Hama-Rikyu gardens in the heart of Tokyo.
- Visit the Tsukiji fish market or take delicious sushi at any time in the adjoining alleyways. It’s worth going through we do not want to get up early to try to see the tuna auction because the area is full of traditional businesses.
- Take a walk through the area of Shiodome and Shinbashi, which is full of overpasses, terraces on several levels and many skyscrapers, as well as the clock designed by Miyazaki.
- Walk through Ginza and see the wonderful shop windows and restaurants and enjoy the architecture (and the expensive prices!). Of the many stores of well-known brands. We propose to just take a walk on foot and enjoy the best architecture of Ginza, do not miss it … it’s really worth it!.
And since we are in the area, visit the showrooms of some of the best-known brands of photographic equipment such as Nikon, Sony or Canon.
- Take a rich (and probably expensive) tempura at one of the high-priced restaurants in the area. But if you want to treat yourself, it is the ideal place.
- Take advantage of Sunday when the main streets are pedestrian to take a nice walk and see Ginza from another perspective.
- Reach Yurakucho, an alley parallel to the JR tracks full of sushi restaurants, ramen, etc.
- Admire the wonderful facade of the restored Kabuki-za theater.
North of Tokyo:
What to do and see in the Ikebukuro:
- Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Koen, a pretty interesting place to take pictures of scenes from the Ikebukuro West Gate Park.
- Stroll through the streets near the station, full of neons, restaurants, shops and many people.
- Get lost in the Sunshine City area and visit the Sunshine International Aquarium, the Sunshine Starlight Dome planetarium, the Toyota Amlux showroom or enjoy tasting the gyoza of the Namco Namja Town.
- Stroll down Otome Street, the ‘Akihabara for girls’ full of manga shops for women, butler cafes for them, etc.
Things to see and do in Ueno:
- Stroll through the Ueno park, especially to see the ponds and the Benten-do temple, the Kiyomizu Kannon-do and visit some of the park’s museums. Also, if we go in the cherry blossoming season, this is one of the most popular places in Tokyo to make hanami or the low picnics flowers.
- Take a walk along the Ameyoko shopping street, seeing all kinds of quaint shops.
- Approach walking to Uguisudani to eat Yakiniku in one of its many Korean restaurants and see its particular ‘zone of love hotels’, an area full of love hotels near the JR tracks.
- Stroll through the Yanaka area, full of temples and shopping streets with delicious street food.
Things to see and do in Akihabara:
Akibahara rocks and it’s one of the must-see geek districts for tourists:
- Take an obligatory walk along the main street and back streets of the neighborhood of Akihabara, admiring the neons of big stores, the small shops that seem stopped in the sixties, the maid cafes and the geeky merchandising stores, etc.
And since we are, if you can, you absolutely must go on a Sunday at noon, when the main street becomes pedestrian and offers us a different perspective.
- Buy electronics or manga/anime merchandising.
- Visit the AKB48 cafe and buy merchandise from one of the most popular girl groups in Japan. Or perhaps visit the Gundam Café and take pictures at the entrance.
- Have a drink in the N3331 cafeteria, located between train tracks.
From Ueno, it’s easy to walk to Akihabara taking a nice walk along the Ameyoko street first and parallel to the JR tracks afterward. They are cool restaurants, bars, and houses in that area of Tokyo.
Suidobashi / Iidabashi:
- Enjoy as little kids the attractions and ride in Tokyo Dome City and watch a baseball game or a music concert at the Tokyo Dome.
- Take a walk through the Koishikawa Korakuen park, a 17th-century design.
- Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Tokyo, a beautiful work by the architect Tange Kenzo, which is the seat of the Archdiocese of Tokyo and which we will talk about in detail soon.
- Stroll through Kagurazaka, one of the geisha neighborhoods still active in Tokyo and a beautiful neighborhood with many cobblestone alleys and very narrow in which to get lost.
Northeast of Tokyo
Asakusa and Sumida:
- Approach the Senso-Ji temple, famous for its huge lantern hanging in the door Kaminarimon.
- Buy Sembei rice crackers and all kinds of traditional souvenirs in the Nakamise shopping street that goes from the Kaminarimon gate to the Senso-ji temple.
- See lanterns, plastic food and little gadgets typical of Japanese restaurants on Kappabashi-Dori street, full of shops for restoration.
- See the Asahi Super Dry building (the Asahi Beer Hall, known for its golden-colored sculpture) from the Azuma-Bashi bridge.
- Enjoy a river cruise along the Sumida River that will take us to the Hama Rikyu gardens or to Odaiba.
- Cross the Azuma-Bashi bridge and get close to the Sumida neighborhood to get to the new Tokyo attraction: the Tokyo Skytree tower.
- Visit the Kokugikan stadium, where the sumo matches are held. If there is competition, go to see a few fights and enjoy the beauty of the show.
- Visit a heya, where sumo wrestlers live and train, for example, Heya Arashiro.
- Eating Chanko-Nabe, the most important dish in the diet of a sumo wrestler.
South of Tokyo
- Watch the sunset from the artificial beach of Odaiba and relax watching the time go by and seeing how Tokyo is illuminating in front of us.
- Visit the headquarters of the Fuji TV television network, not only to learn a little more about its programs and artists but also to enjoy wonderful views of Tokyo from its rooftop.
- Go shopping in one of the many shopping centers such as the Aqua City, the Venus Fort (with its curious interior decoration as if it were an Italian city) or the DiverCity that exhibits an impressive Gundam outside.
- Take a photo with the replica of the Statue of Liberty, which presides over the bay.
If you travel with children, go up to the Daikanransha Ferris Wheel or enjoy one of the many attractions that Odaiba offers, such as the Toyota Megaweb exhibition and entertainment complex.
- Take a thermal bath and relax in the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, an authentic theme park of the thermal baths in the middle of Tokyo Bay.
- At dusk, get closer to the promenade of the bay and see how the rainbow bridge lights up.
- Enter one of the Odaiba museums such as the Miraikan (literally, ‘museum of the future’, that is, science and innovation) or the maritime science museum.
- If we are in Tokyo during the event, get closer to Tokyo Big Sight for the anime and manga fair or for the Comiket, which is held twice a year.
- Arrive or leave Odaiba in the first car of the Yurikamome line, a train without the driver of the most curious, to enjoy the incredible views as we cross the Rainbow Bridge.
- Arrive or go on one of the many boats/cruises that depart from Asakusa and if you want to enjoy it to the fullest, maybe book a dinner cruise around Tokyo Bay.
West of Tokyo
Roppongi and Tokyo Tower:
- Make the typical photo in front of the famous Roppongi Crossing.
- Stroll through the shopping complex of Roppongi Hills and admire the views from there of the Tokyo Tower.
- Climb the observatory on the roof of the Mori Tower to admire the views of Tokyo.
- Visit the undulating and beautiful National Art Center Tokyo.
- Visit the headquarters of the TV channel Asahi TV and take pictures of geeks with Doraemon or Shin-chan.
- If we like to go out at night, take something with other foreigners in one of the thousands of international bars in Roppongi.
- Approach the famous Tokyo Tower to enjoy great views over the city. When going down, take a Japanese crepe in a nearby establishment and admire the tower from below.
- Stroll through the neon-laden streets and alleys near Shinjuku Station and end up in the tiny Golden Gai, a jewel in full Shinjuku.
- Go up to the viewpoints of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and enjoy its 360º views.
- Take a picture among the letters of the LOVE sculpture, located between the Shinjuku skyscrapers.
- Take a skewer of yakitori in the alley of the yakitori, parallel to the tracks of the JR, called Shinjuku Yakitori Yokocho.
- Take a relaxing walk through Shinjuku Park (Shinjuku Gyoen), an air lung in the city center, especially during the cherry blossom season.
- Have a drink, dine or take a swim in the pool at the Park Hyatt hotel, emulating Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in the movie Lost in Translation.
- Go into the red-light district of Kabukicho and see another Japan with its love hotels and ‘adult entertainment’ establishments. (Beware if safety in this district, only visit joints that look safe, and avoid touts. Seriously, stay safe here).
- Cross Kabukicho to get to the Korean neighborhood of Tokyo, Shin-Okubo and buy some beauty product or an article of the Korean idol of turn and eat some of the many Korean restaurants that we find in the area.
- Learn a little more about the world of sake by visiting a local sake factory and enjoying a sake tasting. There are many options, we recommend this one that can be conveniently booked online through our trusted partner.
- Visit the most important sanctuary in Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine and, if we are lucky, be spectators of an authentic Shinto wedding (on Sunday it is rare not to find one).
- Enter the idol, pop and gothic lolita culture of Takeshita-Dori street, full of shops with all kinds of objects.
- Sneak into an idol shop on Takeshita-Dori Street and spend at least 100 yen a Gachapon machine from our favorite idol or in one of the thousands of photos sold here.
- Eat a typical Harajuku crepe. Takeshita Street is especially popular with a thousand fruits and ingredients, a real delicacy!
- See, even if only outside the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, the work of the prolific Tange Kenzo.
- Take a walk through the famous and very busy shopping street of Omotesando and hallucinate not only with the prices of the branded shops but also with the incredible architecture of many of its buildings.
- Buy a doll or kawaii accessory in the Kiddy Land store.
- Take a delicious gyoza in Gyoza Lou, emblematic gyoza restaurant in the city.
If the weather is nice, take a walk through the Yoyogi Park to see the rockabillies dance and several rock groups play, then relax and make a picnic in the park.
Meiji Shrine, winter.
- Cross the most famous zebra crossing in the world or see how people cross the zebra crossing, having a coffee in the nearby Starbucks with large windows that look out onto the center of the square.
- Take a picture with the statue of Hachiko, the most famous puppy in the whole world.
- Buy clothes or at least see how Gyaru fashion is in the iconic Shibuya 109 shopping center.
- Visit the Hill of the Love Hotels in Dogenzaka and surprise us with its kitsch architecture, its neons, and its decoration.
- Go through the NHK StudioPark and learn a little more about Japanese TV.
- Come to Ebisu Garden Place and take a picture of yourself as Domyouji and Makino of the drama Hana Yori Dango.
- Take a Sapporo beer in the Beer Museum Yebisu while we learn more about its manufacture.
- Eat a delicious hamburger at Blackows, a Japanese burger shop specializing in wagyu burgers … delicious!
Absolute Top-7 must-see/do while in Tokyo:
Too many things to do in Tokyo? don’t panic!. :), see below for a comprised selection.
- Ginza crossing. Take your time there, it’s awesome.
- Akihabara, Shibuya y Ginza. The neon signs would be an unforgettable highlight.
- Roppongi and the Tokio tower.
- Tokyo station and the imperial palace.
- Ueno national museum.
- Asakusa and the Senso-Ji temple.
- Odaiba, a perfect place to spend from noon to full day.
More Tokyo-traveling assorted questions:
Best time of the year to visit Tokyo?
Anytime, don’t worry. Winter and summers are mild. Summers can have more rain. But I think the weather is pleasant all year round.
Is Tokyo suitable to travel with kids?
Yes, indeed. There are many things which kids will enjoy doing. Tokyo is very family friendly.
Where to eat in Tokyo?
There are eating options in literally every corner, especially in the most tourist areas of Tokyo.
I would keep an eye on Tokyo’s themed restaurants. Robot Restaurants, ninja-themed eateries, samurai restaurants? you bet. They have it all. Restaurants compete to attract the attention of customers which resulted in a boatload of Tokyo thematic restaurants.
Finally, you can book with us the possibility of enjoying the authentic Kobe meat in Tokyo at the Hakushu restaurant in Shibuya, an institution by itself.
This is the thing to eat in Tokyo. And in Asia for that matter. Noodle.
Onsen in Tokyo
For those who want to enjoy the experience of the thermal baths in Tokyo, we recommend a series of onsen, sento and thermal baths here like Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.
There are many other good onsen options outside of Tokyo too.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari
How to get around Tokyo
Tokyo has a very extensive public transport network, although the vast majority of tourists use the Yamanote line, especially if they have the JR Pass.
But the Yamanote line is just one of the JR lines that cover the city; then we have metro lines, other railway companies, tram lines, buses, etc.
How to get to Tokyo
On many occasions, we will arrive in Japan through Haneda Airport or Narita Airport, the two main airports in Tokyo:
- From Haneda, we can easily reach the Hamamatsucho station with the Tokyo Monorail, a journey that takes just 15 minutes since Haneda airport is very close to the city.
- From Narita, a much more remote airport, there are different options (such as the N’EX to Tokyo station or the Skyliner to Ueno station).
In case of arriving at Tokyo from another Japanese city, the most usual (especially if we have the JR Pass) is to arrive in shinkansen to Tokyo station, although travelers with a limited budget can also arrive in one of the many day and night buses that connect the capital with several cities throughout Japan.
Best area to sleep in Tokyo?
Transportation options make this question not so important. But generally, Ginza and Shibuya and good places to stay.
As said above, the nightlife districts are Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. Roppongi and the surrounding areas can be expensive but they are popular with foreigners.
Hiro and Azabu-Juban have many trendy cafes, restaurants, and bars. A taxi going back home shouldn’t cost more than 4000 yens, even late in the night.
Where to stay in Tokyo, hotel options:
Prices are obviously for mere orientation and they change all the time, so check the links for updated prices.
- HOTEL MYSTAYS Asakusa. Asakusa. 3***. 60$.
- Ueno Central Apartment. Ueno 2/5**. 30$.
- Emblem Hostel Nishiarai. Adachi, 2** (Hostel) 25$.
1. Popular cheap in decent location.
2. A hotel alternative that competes with hostels in price., but good.
3. To save money hostels might be the way to go.
Average budget ( Bang for the buck ):
- Candeo Hotels Tokyo Roppongi. Roppongi. 4****. 150$
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Otemachi. Akibahara. 3***. 120$
- The Royal Park Hotel Tokyo Shiodome. Shiodome. 4/5*****. 180$.
1. Great location.
2. A cheaper alternative, but good.
3. Affordable luxury in Tokyo, nice.
- Hilton Tokyo Odaiba. Odaiba. 4/5****. 180$.
- The Tokyo Station Hotel. Nihonbashi. 5*****. 200$.
- Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo. Ginza. 5*****. 250$.
1. Great location and a Hilton in Tokyo under 200 bucks, not too bad.
2. A not super expensive 5 star in Tokyo, and good.
3. This hotel is a best-seller, and a top choice.
Tokyo is a very special city that is extremely safe and enjoyable for tourists. I grouped these attractions by districts because these attractions are close to each other and they can be enjoyed in a bath, let’s say. Enjoy!.
Lonely planet Tokyo.