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! I am super excited to share with you the top things you should see and do in Tokyo.
Before You Go:
- 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
Now let’s talk about all the top things and districts to see in Tokyo.
1. Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji is the most well known market 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.
2. Meiji Shrine (明治神宮)
This is one of my favorite place to visit in Tokyo. It’s a shrine with a large garden. To me, it feels like the Central Park of Tokyo, away from the hustling and bustling of the city.
3. Asakusa/ Senso-ji (浅草寺)
Asakusa is a more traditional Japanese area, with temples, gates, and lots of people in kimonos. It also feels very festive with all the shops and traditional decoration. It’s a little further out compare to Shinjuku or Shibuya, but I enjoy visiting this area every time I come to Tokyo. Also, most of the hostels in Tokyo are actually located in this neighborhood.
Don’t forget the explore the surrounding streets full of shops and restaurants!
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.
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.
Shibuya is also known for the famous Hachiko statue (a dog statue that is known to be the meeting place in this area).
Harajuku is an interesting area known for young adult’s fashion, cafe, and shopping. Sunday is the day when 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.
Roppongi is famous for the affluent Roppongi Hill as well as the vibrant nightlife. 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 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 famous 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. It was also walking distance to the Andaz Hotel for 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 is one of the highlights of my recent trip. It’s a really cute museum showing all the work related to the movies produced by Studio Ghibli. Never heard of this studio? If you have seen Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro then you know them!
How to visit 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. No photos inside the museum unfortunately. There is a bus from Mitaka Station to the 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” which you do not see in the US. Furthermore unlike American stadium, Japanese baseball stadiums sell bento boxes 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 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 😦
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 that’s being taken down already unfortunately. 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.
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!