Choosing where to go and what to do in Tokyo can be tough, especially for first-time visitors. First of all, Tokyo is huge. It covers over 5,200 square miles (8,369km) – and that doesn’t even include the suburbs, which are technically part of the “Greater Tokyo Area”!
Tokyo also has many (MANY) attractions, cultural sites and activities. So many in fact, it can be hard to choose where to even start. Not to worry though – here are the 7 places you HAVE to see while in Tokyo (in alphabetical order):
TOKYO MUST-SEE #1: GINZA
Ginza is one of the world’s premier shopping districts, and is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Many international fashion designers have stores on Ginza’s main drag, Chuo-Dori, and the buildings lining the street are famous for their eye-catching and unusual facades. The area also has numerous places to eat, from high-price and award winning restaurants, to gastropubs and noodle chains.
While in Ginza, be sure to check out Almond cafe and Itoya Stationery Store. Almond is about 1 block west of Chuo-dori, near the Uniqlo department store (when you see Uniqlo make your turn). Almond is easily recognizable with its pink awning. The cafe serves a few tasty Italian dishes (mostly pasta) but what they’re really famous for is dessert and coffee. The selection is amazing and made fresh daily.
Itoya is a 100-year old stationery store. Its modern design and well thought-out spaces cover 12 floors. It has everything you can imagine related to stationery, letter writing, crafts and art supplies. Itoya is really a surprisingly neat place, designed to inspire creativity. (It’s also a great place to pick up cool souvenirs!)
Tip: At Ginza Station, use Exit A7. It will put you in the heart of Ginza, right by the famous Wako Clock Building, once a silver mine run by samurai.
TOKYO MUST-SEE #2: HARAJUKU
Harajuku is one of Tokyo’s most popular sections, known for its eclectic, artsy feel and its edgy fashion trends. The main street, Takeshita Dori, is lined with shops and restaurants (and the variety and low prices make this a great place to pick up souvenirs).
Tip: On weekends, Harajuku is extremely crowded, but this is still a great time to visit. Weekends are when Tokyo teens show up dressed in cosplay and Lolita (which means amazing photo opportunities).
Tip #2: A great place to check out after Harajuku is just a few blocks over, called Omotesando. The area is lined with high-end shops and great restaurants. It makes for a nice stroll, and hidden among the fashion stores is a fabulous souvenir shop, Oriental Bazaar. (The prices and souvenir quality are great!)
TOKYO MUST-SEE #3: ROBOT RESTAURANT
Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant embodies the city’s love for tech and over-the-top entertainment. The show features dancing girls, huge robots, lasers and electronic music. It’s pop culture at its finest. While this is one of Tokyo’s more expensive attractions (8,000 Yen/$80 USD for show only, 10,000 Yen/$100 USD with dinner), the show is worth it as it’s an only-in-Japan experience. (I personally don’t think the dinner is worth it though, since it’s just a bento box and a beer, but that’s up to you.)
Tip: Book ahead for Robot Restaurant as shows sometimes fill up, particularly on weekends. You can book online and even find coupons if you pre-purchase tickets. The show also has a free shuttle bus that runs from some Tokyo hotels (check the restaurant’s website for the list of hotels).
Tip #2: Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early – if you don’t, your tickets will be cancelled. This allows them time to get you checked in and seated.
TOKYO MUST-SEE #4: SENSO-JI
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s most-visited temple. It’s easily recognizable, with its black and red colors symbolizing thunder and lightning. Senso-ji’s huge torii gate, called Kaminarimon (or, “Thunder Gate”) was built in 1727 and marks the entrance to the temple grounds. Senso-ji is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and was founded in 645, making it the oldest temple in Tokyo.
Tip: Weekends and holidays are usually very crowded. If you must go on a weekend or holiday, go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
TOKYO MUST-SEE #5: SHIBUYA
Shibuya is a great place to visit because there is so much to do. The area is packed with trendy shopping, great restaurants and cool museums. Shibuya’s main area is just outside the north exit of Shibuya Station, and the tall buildings and neon lights are similar to New York City’s Times Square. All you really need to do in Shibuya is walk around – you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff.
While you’re there, be sure not to miss Shibuya Crossing and the Hachiko Memorial. Shibuya Crossing is a famous multi-directional crosswalk where up to 2,500 people cross every time the light changes. The Hachiko Memorial is a popular spot, and is dedicated to the loyal dog Hachiko, who waited (at the very spot his statue is located), for nearly 10 years after his human’s death. The crossing and the statue are both located outside Shibuya Station’s north exit (also known as the Hachiko Gate).
Tip: Another great place to check out in Shibuya is the Yebisu Beer Museum. While small, the set up is great. It’s packed with cool information and exhibits, and covers the evolution of beer in Japan. The museum also has a tasting salon and cafe, as well as a small gift shop.
TOKYO MUST-SEE #6: TOKYO SKYTREE
This is literally one of my favorite places in Japan. It offers the best views of Tokyo (as it is the tallest structure in Japan and in fact, the second-tallest in the world at 2,080ft/634m high). And, Skytree has so much to do – it’s much more than just a tower. At its base are shops, restaurants, a food market and even an aquarium. You can spend a few hours – or all day there – it’s up to you.
Tip: Go up in the tower about an hour and a half before sunset. This will let you see the city in daytime, as the sun goes down, and at night. All offer spectacular, and very different views.
For more tips on visiting Tokyo Skytree, check out 5 Insider Tips for an Awesome Tokyo Skytree Visit
TOKYO MUST-SEE #7: TOYOSU FISH MARKET
Toyosu Fish Market is one of the busiest fish markets in the world. It is famous for its daily tuna auction, where a single bluefin tuna can go for millions of dollars. There are two ways to watch the auction. One is up close and personal in a small, reservations only observation deck, and the other is from a larger gallery one story above the auction floor. Entrance to the closer observation area is limited, and requires submitting an application several weeks in advance. If you’re fine with just being there and getting a general feel for the auction, get to the upstairs gallery no later than 5am for a front row spot. You won’t be up close and personal but you will be able to see the lively auction and hear everything through a speaker. Toyosu also has many shops where you can try all kinds of fresh seafood and produce, and vendors often cook different kinds of street food you can try. There are also small cafes and restaurants serving delicious seafood caught that day. (In other words, go hungry and eat your way around the market!) The market is open Monday- Saturday, 5am-5pm, and is closed on Sundays. Most shops don’t open until 7am and many close by 4pm.
Tip: Toyosu is an active market. There will be forklifts and vehicles moving back and forth and they are often in close proximity to visitors. Be aware of your surroundings.
Tip #2: The auction area is kept very cold to keep the fish fresh. Be sure to bring a jacket with you.
For route planning help and tips on how to get to these attractions, check out our Route Planning page.
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