Heading to Tokyo? This guide shows you the top things to see in Tokyo.
Tokyo is probably one of the most visited cities in Asia and what fascinates me about Tokyo is that it’s a mixture between the old and new. This applies to food, culture, tradition, architecture, and fashion. It’s also seen as the capital of quirky things that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. I personally love the food and shopping in Tokyo, and I’m equally in love with the orderliness and cleanliness of the city. This is probably why I have been there 4 times already! If you are interested to spend a couple of days in Tokyo, this is a pretty good 2 day Tokyo itinerary. In this post, I am super excited to share with you the top things to see in Tokyo. If this is your first time in Tokyo, make sure to check out my guide on how to plan a trip to Tokyo.
Things to Know Before You Go to Tokyo:
- There are 2 international airports in Tokyo, one is Narita (~2 hours from the city) and the other is Haneda. Haneda is much closer to the city so I would suggest flying in there. For more information on transportation in Tokyo, you can read my post here.
- The best time to visit is April/May or mid-late October. April is when cherry blossom bloom and the whole city is covered in pink. But it’s also the most expensive and crowded time to visit. I personally prefer to visit right after the busy times since most of the crowd would have left
- In terms of fashion, don’t wear shorts, they are not in style. Women still dress relatively conservatively
- I suggest a minimum of 3 days in Tokyo, I stayed for a week once and it was barely enough
- Have cash with you; subway only takes cash (unless you have a commuter type of cards). Most restaurants also prefer cash
- There are luggage delivery services in Japan so you don’t need to drag things around from city to city. Read more here
- Reservations are necessary for top end restaurants. Ask your hotel or credit card company concierge service 1-2 months in advance to avoid disappointments
- For more tips on how to plan a trip there, read more here
Top Things to see in Tokyo
1. Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is the most well known market in Tokyo and also one of the top things to see in Tokyo. It’s a wholesale market for fish, fruits, vegetables, etc. It’s known for famous sushi chefs coming here early in the morning to pick their fish in order to serve the customers the same day. Most tourists want to visit the tuna auction. I’ve never seen it because I can never get up that early, but basically only 120 visitors are allowed each day and you have to wait in line at 5am to get a ticket.
Even if you do not see the Tuna auction, it’s still fun to walk around the market early in the morning and get some fresh sashimi meal in the market. The two most popular restaurants there are Sushi Dai and Dai-wa Sushi. The line for Sushi Dai was ridiculous at 7am in the morning so I opted for Dai-wa sushi instead.
I would suggest go to Tsukiji Fish Market as early as possible to see the most action. Also make sure to watch out for traffic while you are there because fish wholesalers have carts they drive in to move around the goods and it can get quite chaotic. Make sure to wear close toed shoes too as the floor can be dirty and wet (you are dealing with dead fish after all).
One thing to note is that even though sushi chefs come here early in the morning to buy fish, that’s not the fish they are serving in their restaurants the same day. Many people comment on how “fresh” the sushi is, but in reality, sushi is not measured on freshness. All the top sushi restaurants in Tokyo flash freeze and age their fish for a few days before they serve sushi to their customers, so the fish is not fresh (it’s similar to how steakhouses age their steak). Sushi is measured on how the sushi chefs age their fish and make their rice.
2. Meiji Shrine (明治神宮)
Meiji Shrine is one of my favorite “top things to see in Tokyo” because it’s so peaceful and quiet in there. It’s a shrine with a large garden. It’s located near Harajuku and it’s a shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife. To me, it feels like the Central Park of Tokyo, away from the hustling and bustling of the city. To get to Meiji Shrine, you will need to take the JR Line to Harajuku Station. The shrine is a huge forested space and is a great place to go in the summer. As you walk in through the gate and lines of trees, you will see these sake barrels. They are empty of course, but sake in Japan is a way to bring people and Gods together. If you have seen the movie What’s Your Name, the movie also discusses the importance of sake as a connection between humans and Gods. These sake barrels at Meiji Shrine are donations from different manufacturers.
As you walk towards the main complex of the Meiji Shrine, you will see shops selling good luck charms and little wooden cards for you to write your wish on.
You will probably also witness a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony at the Meiji Shrine. The 4 times that I’ve been to Meiji Shrine, I think I saw weddings 3 times.
The Meiji Shrine is open all year long and admission is free.
3. Asakusa/ Senso-ji (浅草寺)
Asakusa is a traditional Japanese area in Tokyo and is known for Senso-Ji Temple as well as the numerous traditional Japanese food and souvenir stalls. A lot of backpackers are probably familiar with Asakusa because most of Tokyo’s hostels are located in this neighborhood.
Senso-ji Shrine is the oldest shrine in Tokyo and it’s one of the top things to see in Tokyo, attaching millions of tourists a year. The entire area around Senso-Ji shrine is very festive with all the shops and traditional decoration. You can probably spot the most people in kimono here as well because people come here to pray and pay their respect. But of course you will also find all the tourists here, but for good reasons.
To get to Asakusa, you will need to end up on the Ginza line to Asakusa station (about 20 minutes from Tokyo station and 40 minutes from Shibuya). Once you exit the station, walk towards the first gate called Thunder Gate. There will be a lot of tourists taking photos under the Thunder Gate. Once you pass the Thunder Gate, you will see stores lined up leading towards Senso-Ji Shrine.
Although the Sensoji and the shopping area is really busy and crowded, most of the residential area is very quiet.
If you are a beer fan, you may be happy to hear that the Japanese beer brand Asahi has a Asahi Beer Hall located a few minutes walk from the Asakusa Station, away from the shrine.
Even though you may not recognize the name, but you will recognize the famous crosswalk that appears in almost every movie that takes place in Japan, including the Fast and the Furious. Shibuya is a major shopping center in Tokyo. Whenever you walk around Shibuya, you will not only see students in uniforms but also very fashionable people. There are many shopping centers in Shibuya catering to both high school students and professionals.
The Starbucks on the second floor (in the photo below) is probably the world’s most popular starbucks because everyone sits by the window to people watch. It has the best vantage point to see the entire crossing.
I love walking around Shibuya because of all the shops and restaurants. There are a lot of young people hanging out in Shibuya, and the famous dog statue Hachiko is also outside of the Shibuya station. If you are not familiar with the story of Hachiko, it’s a famous dog who was known for his loyalty towards his owner. He continued to wait for his owner for 9 years even after the owner’s death. The Hachiko Statue is a famous meeting point for people to wait for their friends.
Shibuya is also known for the famous Hachiko statue (a dog statue that is known to be the meeting place in this area).
Another cool things to see in Tokyo is in the Harajuku district. Harajuku is an interesting area known for young adult’s fashion, cafe, and shopping. There are both small independent fashion shops as well as international brand name stores such as GAP, Forever 21, H&M, Topshop, etc.
You may have heard of Harajuku if you are an anime later, it’s because on Sunday many young people dress up as anime characters and gather on the Jingubashi (Jinggu Bridge) next to the train station.
What’s there to do in Harajuku? Besides the shopping, I really like checking out the different cafes and crepe shops.
Shinjuku is a major commercial, business, entertainment and transportation hub as well as a great place for shopping, dining, and night life. If it’s your first time visiting Tokyo, I would recommend staying in Shinjuku because it’s so convenient to get everywhere from there. I stayed in the Hotel Century Southern Tower last time I went but there are many nice hotels around there.
Many people visit the The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for its free observation deck. Apparently on a clear day, you can see as far as Mt. Fuji (I’ve never been on a clear day….). The famous New York Bar (featured in the movie Lost in Translation) is also located in Shinjuku, in the Park Hyatt Hotel.
It’s noteworthy to mention that East Shinjuku is full of nightlife; it has Tokyo’s biggest red light district and gay nightlife central. Or you can spend the night playing arcade games to try to get those cute stuffed animals like I did.
Like I said earlier, Japan is an interesting country full of weird and quirky things and one prime example is the Robot Restaurant in East Shinjuku. Even though it’s a “restaurant”, but you are not there for the food. Instead everyone goes there for its 90 minute show featuring lots of robots, dinosaurs, laser nights, etc. I have not watched it but apparently it’s quite the wild show.
Love Hotel is another one of those things that you would go to Japan for. These hotels are where young lovers (or old ones) go because Japanese people tend to live with their parents which can get inconvenient at times. The hotels charge by the hour and have many different themed rooms you can choose from. There are many love hotels in the East Shijuku area.
A different form of hotel called Capsule Hotel is also available in Shinjuku. This is where you pay very little for a very small sleeping space, hence in a “capsule”. Of course there are different kinds of capsule hotels in Tokyo and it’s because one of the top things to see in Tokyo on many people’s list. If you are on a budget and just need a place to sleep, why not try it?
Roppongi has a very vibrant nightlife. There are a lot of clubs, bars, strip clubs and restaurant in Roppongi. It’s very favored by expats and business people and you will see a lot of them at night. Roppongi Hill is an area within Roppongi and is a very affluent area. The first time I went to Tokyo we ended up at a few bars and a club in Roppongi. There is a nice observation deck called Tokyo City View in the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hill. You can see the Tokyo Tower from this observation deck. During Christmas time all the trees in Roppongi have beautiful lights on them, a sight not to be missed.
Ginza is known for its upscale shopping, dining and entertainment. All the major shopping centers and expensive brands can be found in Ginza, as well as upscale restaurants like Sushi Kanesaka (great food by the way). The flagship store of many international brands, such as Swarovski is located in Ginza. That store by itself should be a tourist site.
Some of the luxury hotels in Tokyo is walking distance from Ginza. One of such hotels is the Andaz Hotel which has a gorgeous rooftop bar. You will also see many very fashionable men and women in Ginza.
If you go to Ginza during the holidays, apparently it’s one of the best places to see Christmas decorations in Tokyo. If you are interested to watch Kazuki performance, Ginza is where the Kabukiza Theater is. Read more about it here if you are interested.
9. Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower is the icon of Tokyo and you cannot have gone to Tokyo without seeing it in person. One good way to see Tokyo Tower is to just take the subway and walk as outlined here. Another way to see it up close is to go by Mario Kart, you can read more about my experience driving to Tokyo Tower as Bowser here.
There is an observation deck that opens till 11pm at night as well as many shops in Tokyo Tower.
Akihabara is the electronic district in Tokyo. It’s known for anime, manga, games, electronic and computer goods as well as maid cafes (where teenage girls dress up as maids and serve you food and drinks and chat with you). There are numerous book stores with all sorts of manga and food stalls as well as huge electronic shopping centers in Akihabara.
On Sunday afternoon after 1pm the main street of Akihabara becomes a pedestrian only zone.
10. Ghibli Museum
Ghibli Museum should be on everyone’s top things to see in Tokyo if you love movies from Studio Ghibli such as Spirited Away or Castle in the Sky or My Neighbor Totoro. The studio is renowned for its animated films and several were nominated at the Academy Awards.
The museum is really cute and it shows all the work related to the movies produced by Studio Ghibli. No photos allowed inside the museum unfortunately but sometimes it’s better to just enjoy instead of trying to take photos. The only place you can take photo is outside in the garden.
During your visit to the Ghibli Museum, you will have a chance to view a short film exclusive to the museum that you will not see anywhere else in the world. The short film gets updated ever so often so if you go back to visit again you will most likely be watching a different short film. You can expect to spend at least a couple of hours at the Ghibli Museum.
If you are a huge fan of Totoro, you should buy some of the Totoro plush dolls from the Ghibli Museum since it has a stamp on its feet saying it’s from the museum (you cannot get that if you buy Totoro from anywhere else).
How to visit Ghibli Museum
Ghibli Museum tickets need to be booked months in advance, it gets sold out really easily! The official website will give you more information on ticket purchase and transportation.
There is a bus from Mitaka Station to Ghibli museum for 210yen (one-way) and 320yen (round-trip). You will need to take the JR Chuo Line to Mitaka station then wait for the bus.
11. Baseball Game
Baseball is one of the most important sports in Japan so it’s definitely worth stopping by a game! Watching a baseball game in Tokyo is equivalent to watching a soccer game in Europe and watching a football game in the US. The games are interesting and fans are entertaining. They also have teenage girls running up and down the aisle carrying beer in a “backpack” full of beers which you do not see in the US. Furthermore unlike American stadium, Japanese baseball stadiums sell bento boxes (boxed food with rice, meat, veggie, etc) as well as western food. You can read more about Baseball games in Japan here.
A funny story about watching the games there. It was my first time watching a Baseball game in Japan and our 2nd night in Tokyo and unexpectedly a ball flew towards us and hit me on the arm. This hit actually left a huge bruise on my upper arm and hurt for weeks 😦 Despite this painful injury, watching a baseball game there is still one of the top things to see in Tokyo and I will gladly do it again.
Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. It has shopping centers, business and commercial buildings, residential area, and of course Gundam statue. But I think the GUndam statue might have been taken down already unfortunately. The famous Fuji TV station is also housed on Odaiba.
It’s a nice outing from the center of Tokyo. Apparently it’s also one of the venue locations in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The rainbow bridge connects Odaiba to Tokyo.
To get to Odaiba from Tokyo, you have many options. There are several buses leaving from Tokyo, taking the train on Rinkai Line from Shibuya or Shinjuku station or the Yurikamome Monorail from Shinbashi station. The Yurikamome Monorail is a very popular choice because you can enjoy the view from the very first car (operator car but the monorail is automated so no drivers sit there).
13. Tokyo Imperial Palace
I’ve only been to this place once but I was really impressed by the architecture and history of this place. Since it’s the primary resident of the imperial family, this place is generally closed except guided tours Tuesday to Saturday. If you have time, stop by for a tour. The gardens are really pretty inside.
Yokohama is not really in Tokyo itself, but it’s accessible by train from Tokyo for a nice day trip. There is a huge Ferris Wheel, the largest Chinatown in Japan, Yokohama Marine Tower (inland light house), and many museums, restaurants serving international food, and shops.
For more information on Tokyo, especially if you are a first time visitor, check out my friend Melissa’s blog GirleatWorld. Also don’t forget to check my guide on how to plan a trip to Japan for first time visitors. No matter what you choose to do in Tokyo, I’m sure you will have a great time in this amazing city!