Tokyo is one of the most iconic cities in the world and one of the buzzing cities to visit in Japan. That being said, it’s a totally vast city with so many of the best things to do in Tokyo scattered all across the different neighbourhoods.
Far-flung from its small fishing town image (about 200 years ago), Tokyo is easily a global city and incredible to explore.
Plus, after visiting a few times, I’ve quickly realised how diverse the city is.
It’s not just a sprawling metropolis of millions of people but more of a cluster of mini-cities that have been squashed together to produce modern-day Tokyo.
That’s the thing with Tokyo, it isn’t just one big city. Tokyo is filled with a huge mix of identities and amazing spots that are too good to miss.
As with anything in Tokyo, it never feels like there’s enough time to do everything you want. I mean, the city is huge (have I said that enough, yet) and I’m not even sure you’d have enough time to see it all within a whole year’s visit.
That’s why it’s important to prioritise the best things to do in Tokyo on your visit.
Anyway, rambling aside, I wanted to share some of the best things to do in Tokyo on your first trip to the city. Though be warned, you’ll end up with a list as long as your arm once you actually get around to planning your trip.
Take a look, below, at the very best things to do in Tokyo on your next trip.
1.) Visit the Imperial Palace
Still, the official home of the Emperor of Japan, the Imperial Palace is one of the best things to do in Tokyo when visiting the Marunouchi district.
The main palace itself is surrounded by some expansive grounds and is located on its little island surrounded by a large moat. Now, although you can’t go inside some of the grounds, you can wander through the nearby Kitanomaru Park and Imperial Palace East Gardens.
Once you’re here, make sure to see the Imperial Palace grounds and the stunning Nijubashi Bridge, the East Higashi-Gyoen garden and Edo Castle.
As I mentioned, you can’t visit the inner parts of the palace (unless you’ve got friends in high places).
That being said, you can request a tour through the Imperial Household website at certain times of the year. It is one of the best things to do in Tokyo if you love a little bit of Royal flare.
2.) TeamLab Borderless & TeamLab Planets
TeamLab Borderless and TeamLab Planets are an immersive and surreal artistic space you have to see. For me, it’s easily one of the best things to do in Tokyo and even better if the weather takes a turn for the worst as it’s all inside.
Now, make sure you book your tickets before your trip to Tokyo as they typically sell out. Oh, and each site has its own tickets; so you need one for Borderless and one for Planets. For the latter, it’s almost essential to book these tickets in advance.
Also, just a heads up, even with tickets, you might have to queue. We ended up queuing for around 45-60 minutes to enter TeamLab Planets after arriving from Shin-Toyosu Station.
Once inside, you’ll enter another enchanting world. It sounds super cheesy to say that, but it feels like magic.
3.) Dive into the Ginza District
If you want to go for a little splurge, the Ginza District is your tonic.
Often called the Times Square of Tokyo, Ginza is a buzzing place to visit and is one of the mighty images of sparkly lights, huge buildings and colourful streets that we all know Tokyo for. At the weekends, transport is often barred on the roads and Ginza is transformed into a pedestrian’s dream and is easily one of the best things to do in Tokyo if you love to shop.
To make things easier, book this sightseeing tour of Tokyo that takes in sights within the Ginza District and so much more. It’s such a handy way to see Tokyo, without having to plan (or the stress) of getting around the vast city.
Here you will find a myriad of every type of shops, bars, and foodie spots, selling everything you could imagine. Imagine if Willy Wonka created cities… Ginza is what it would look like.
4.) Experience everything kawaii in Harajuku
Harajuku is famous the world over for its fashion and culture. It’s such a vibrant area of Tokyo and one you’ll love if you like everything kawaii (cute).
To make things easy, book this private tour of Harajuku that will take you to all the main spots and is completely personalisable around your main interests.
Fill up on some gyoza dumplings from the street food style stalls, shop all things adorable at KiddyLand (not just for kids) and head over to the cutest hedgehog cafes and cat cafes in all of Japan.
If you really want to turn your kawaii notch even higher, make sure to head to some of Harajuku’s famous lanes. They’re just off Takeshita Street and have heaps of local stores that are so unique.
Also, if you’re getting peckish, stop off at A Happy Pancake for their souffle pancakes. They’re so good.
5.) Discover the National Museum of Nature and Science
Split into various sections, the National Museum features scientific displays on renewable energy, space travel, and the latest technological creations – you might even spot some of those snazzy Japanese robots they create.
Furthermore, the natural section of the museum contains a wonderful selection of traditional Japanese outfits and exhibits of prehistoric creatures found in this region of Japan. It is one of the best things to do in Tokyo if you love history.
6.) Visit the Senso-Ji Temple
Tokyo has many historical sites, but none quite as notable as the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple. Located in the Asakusa district, this temple is dedicated to the goddess Kannon and was originally constructed almost 1,500 years ago.
Oh, and make sure to spot the Kaminari-mon Gate, the incense vat, and the flock of temple doves that are revered as sacred messengers.
Senso-ji is incredibly popular to see, so, if you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning. It’s well worth seeing and easily one of the best things to do in Tokyo and you really don’t need a guide to explore.
7.) Spot the cherry blossom (Sakura) at Ueno Park
Whilst Tokyo is massively built up, it also features some amazing natural parks that you should see on your trip to Japan. Ueno is the most famous and covers well over 2oo acres.
This beautiful outdoor area has different areas including the Shinobzau Pond, the Toshogu Shrine, and an opportunity to see the Sakura, too (which happens usually around March-April in Tokyo).
Now, during Sakura season, this place gets hugely popular, so make sure you expect some big crowds. That being said, it’s still one of the best things to do in Tokyo if you’re visiting in season.
8.) Admire the art at the Tokyo National Museum
If you want to feed your inner love of all things Japan, you should take a pit stop at the Tokyo National Museum.
This is an art lovers’ paradise and contains around 100,000 works from Japan, China, and India together with a host of national treasures.
Highlights of this amazing museum include a range of Buddhist sculptures, a collection of ancient weaponry, and a selection of traditional Japanese clothing and earthenware.
9.) See the Meiji Shrine
One of the most important religious site in Tokyo and is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife.
Located within the grounds of Yoyogi Park, the shrine has an authentic Japanese design with many pagodas and an inner courtyard that’s too good to miss.
This stunning temple is surrounded by a huge forest that contains literally thousands of trees and offers various amount of trails to meander through if you want a little break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Inside the complex, there is also a museum that contains various royal artefacts and a collection of artwork.
If you want to avoid some of the crowds, head across here at closing time and you’ll have the place almost to yourself.
It really is one of the best things to do in Tokyo, especially if you love history and Japanese heritage.
10.) Spot Mt Fuji from the Tokyo Skytree
You cannot miss the Tokyo Skytree as it towers above the city at a whopping 634m tall.
As with the majority of Tokyo, it’s pretty new but has become one of the best places to see the city from high above the skyscrapers. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji towering in the distance.
If you’re feeling brave, take a walk over their glass-panelled floor, too. That being said, if you get vertigo, you might wanna give this one a miss.
Also, if you’re short on time, then book this guided tour of Asakusa that also includes Tokyo Skytree Tickets. This way, you can get the most out of this area of Tokyo, without any of the stress of getting around.
11.) Explore Akihabara Electric Town
Perched in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, Akihabara is chock-a-block filled with all things larger than life.
Imagine huge stores, massive glistening lights and streets that never really get dark (from all the glowing lights).
It’s a place you have to experience. Once a huge electrical hub, this place is now famous for its love of anime and everything manga. It is one of the best things to do in Tokyo to see a vibrant part of the city.
We spent around 4 hours strolling the area and loved every second. We also left stuffed (from all the streetfood we ate) and our hands full with trinkets to take home.
12.) Experience Kabuki-Za Theatre
Kabuki is a type of theatrical performance that is hugely popular in Tokyo and Japan, and the Kabuki-Za Theatre is possibly the best place to view a traditional show. The fantastic design of this structure mimics that of ancient Japanese, and the performances held within are legendary.
The atmosphere of a Kabuki show is second to none and something spectacular to behold – Enjoy the theatrics, taste some delicious street food, and immerse yourself in this slice of Japanese culture.
13.) Enjoy the hustle and bustle of Tsukiji Market
If you want to try authentic Japanese Sushi, the Tsukiji Market is the only place to visit. Processing and selling a staggering 2000 tons of fish each day, the scale of this fish market is unbelievable.
Located near the port, ships bring huge quantities of fish such as tuna into the market for it to be prepared and sold to the public.
To get the most out of your time, book Tsukiji Market tour where you’ll get to see all the locals sell their produce and barter with the traders. Not only that, you’ll get dropped off at Tsukiji Station after gorgeing on all the different foods and delicacies that the market is famous for.
Just be sure you visit Tsukiji Market on an empty tummy. You’ll be filling up whilst you’re there.
14.) Eat the best ramen in Tokyo
Okay, it’s hard to pinpoint the very best place to get ramen as food is so subjective but Tsuta in Tokyo is just the best. This Michelin-starred tiny restaurant really is a lovely place to eat. In fact, it’s the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant.
Just make sure you try their shoryu-based ramen too!
A warning in advance, you will queue for a painful amount of time for a table here (unless you decide on an unsociable visit) but it’s well worth it if Ramen is your thing. Honestly, you’ll end up gorging in Tokyo, and rightly so!
15.) Embrace the Robot Restaurant
Yes, it’s cheesy, and yes it’s a little tacky but the Robot Restaurant in Kabukichō is unique.
Grab a ticket, head inside and experience a whole different world of quirky, glitzy and eye-dazzling shows! It’s a fun 60 minutes, so lean into the vibe and enjoy the show.
I’m not going to lie, it’s all a little bit tacky, but it’s certainly kitsch and pretty fun to see. I actually ended up enjoying it much more than I thought.
Afterwards, you’ll find loads of karaoke places around here, too. Hop in a booth and sign until your heart’s content! It really is one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
16.) Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Whilst the Tokyo Skytree boats modernism and height, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building oozes with style and sophistication. Standing at 202m high, the twin towers of this government building are free to enter and offer fantastic views of the surrounding city.
On a clear day, you can even see the fabled Mount Fuji, too.
Consider taking the elevators at night for an unforgettable experience and seeing Tokyo lit up in all its glory.
17.) Visit the Tokyo Tower
Dubbed the Eiffel Tower of Tokyo, this monumental metal frame tower stands at 332m high and is the second tallest structure in the whole of Japan.
Whilst the French counterpart is exposed steel, the Tokyo Tower is painted in red and white, making for an eye-catching site.
The observation tower gives us travellers another glimpse of the Tokyo Skyline. We stayed at Prince Park Tower Hotel which had views right across from the Tokyo Tower itself.
It was amazing.
18.) Scramble across the Shibuya Crossing
Yep, it’s as big as you can imagine and filled with hundreds (if not, thousands) of people crossing all at the same time.
Head to the Shibuya Crossing and scramble your way across this bustling crossing.
For the best photo, head over to the walking platform in Keio Station on the Inokashira Line.
The platform has unobstructed views for you to grab that famous photo from above.
To make your trip go nice and easy, buy this Tokyo metro card that will allow you unlimited travel around the city. Not only that, you can use both the Tokyo Metro lines and Toei subway lines. Trust me, this is a big win; on our first visit to Tokyo, we ended up buying the incorrect metro tickets so often.
19.) Visit the Ghibli Museum
Tokyo-ites (is that what you call someone from Tokyo?) go crazy for all things animation, anime and anything created by the Ghibli studio of Miyazaki Hayao. This animation company is famed throughout the world and has created several successful anime films.
Ghibli is unique and differs from traditional exhibit-based museums. Here you can immerse yourself in the world of anime and learn about the history of the studio company in a fun and interesting manner. The Ghibli Museum is easily one of the best things to do in Tokyo if you love its storytelling.