Tokyo is a spectacular metropolis that you must visit. We already visited many cities but there is no other city that we can think of that compares to Tokyo to in terms of sights. One moment you are walking in-between skyscrapers and the next you will find yourself in cozy pedestrian streets where you would forget that you are actually in a city with millions of people. The city has many faces and you will definitely need a few days to visit all the must-see places in Tokyo. We spent 5 days here and we were hardly able to do all the must-visit places in Tokyo. So here we will share the best places to visit in Tokyo.
Tokyo must visit
Observe the nightlife and the neon advertisement displays in Kabukicho
Kabukicho is the nightlife district in Tokyo. Besides the necessary pubs, you will also find the red light district here. Not comparable with Amsterdam, where the girls try to lure you in from their windows. Here, everything is neatly hidden away, but the pictures outside clearly show what you can expect inside.
According to statistics, this is the most unsafe neighborhood in Tokyo, but we never felt unsafe.
We were regularly approached by touts (remarkably all blacks) who really wanted to arrange a fantastic night for us. Fortunately, they didn’t insist and with a polite “no, thanks” we quickly got rid of them.
You will also find the famous robot restaurant in Kabukicho. You cannot miss it. Even in the abundance of neon-commercials that you find in this neighborhood the Robot restaurant still manages to stand out. This already gives you an idea of what to expect inside. No expense has been spared to overwhelm you with large robots and impressive lasers in a dazzling show.
According to statistics, this is the most unsafe neighborhood in Tokyo, but we never felt unsafe.
We heard from visitors that already have seen the show several times that it is regularly updated. It is touristy because inside you barely find Japanese. The food is not good (it would be better to take restaurant out of the name) and it’s expensive but so completely over the top that you will remember it for a long time.
You better buy your tickets online in advance because they are much cheaper online. Tickets are sold at the venue for (converted to USD) $100. We decided to work with Klook for this experience. Klook is a trustworthy travel company headquartered in Hong Kong that teams up with local operators to offer all kinds of travel experiences. It can be compared to Viator or GetYourGuide. It was established in 2014 and has since grown rapidly through various strategic partnerships such as the one with Shangri-La. Because of the size of its operations, it is often capable of offering tours at significant discounts.
Kabukicho is close to the West Exit of Shinjuku train station. Shinjuku station is served by several JR lines run and both Tokyo Metro and Toei lines.
Cross the busiest intersection in the world
A real Tokyo must visit is Shibuya crossing. You haven’t really been to Tokyo if you haven’t crossed Shibuya crossing.
You haven’t really been to Tokyo if you haven’t crossed Shibuya crossing.
Shibuya station is right underneath this crossing. Take the Hachiko exit. The Tokyo metro app comes in really handy to plan your trips on Tokyo’s subway system.
We wrote a separate article with more useful tips about Tokyo’s public transport system.
Go crazy in the Pachinko arcades
Gambling is illegal in Japan but arcade halls are plentiful. It seems like you can find them on every street corner. Pachinko is the most popular game in these arcades, it’s even so popular that they named the biggest chain of arcades after this game. The game looks like a vertical pinball machine
We regularly took a look inside these arcades but were usually outside just as quickly. The sound is deafening. Other varieties of arcades resemble arcades you can find at fairs in Europe but here too the sound scared us away after just a few minutes.
Visit Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara is one of the must-visit places in Tokyo. This district is famous for its many electronics shops and its lively gaming and anime/manga culture. Your visit to Akihabara is better planned on a Sunday, because the Chuo Dori, the main street in this district is car-free in the afternoon.
This neighborhood is the place to be for every gadget hunter and tech-freak. We walked into various electronic shops to see the latest gadgets. Kris was especially fascinated by the heated toilet seats. You can read more about this in our post with 15 tips about Japan.
Not a techie? No worries! Sniffing up the manga culture is also something special, just like being served by a Japanese girl dressed like a French maid in the many maid cafes you find here.
Make sure to take a few hours for your visit to the Akihabara district. Snooping around one or two of these fascinating stores will quickly take up an hour or two.
Plan your visit to Akihabara on a Sunday, because the Chuo Dori, the main street in this district is car-free in the afternoon.
The mandrake store is definitely worth a visit. It is really packed with everything you can imagine that has to do with manga and anime and a here we saw some really odd things. Looking for the latest tech gadgets (or a heated toilet seat)? Then you should have a look in the gigantic branch of Yodobashi in Akihabara.
If you plan on buying something you should take your passport with you to be able to benefit from the tax-free prices offered by some stores. (for purchases above 5000 JPY) Keep in mind that some products are not suitable for export, but the staff can inform you about that. Most of the staff know their products inside and out.
Akihabara Station is easily accessible by public transportation. You can either take the JR Yamanote Line, JR Keihin-Tohoku Line, JR Sobu Line, Tsukuba Express or the Hibiya Subway Line. The station is just two stops from Tokyo Station and about a fifteen-minute journey from the Shinjuku area.
Go Temple & Shrine hopping
The 2 biggest beliefs in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. Tokyo is full of Buddhist temples and Shintoism Shrines. It will be very hard to avoid temples and shrines during your Tokyo trip.
If you will only visit one sanctuary in Tokyo then we suggest you go and see the Senso-Ji temple in the Asakusa district. It is a large and colorful temple complex. Impressive to see but you will be overrun by hordes of tourists. Do not limit your visit to the temple alone, the nearby park Denbointeien is an oasis of peace and here you can escape from the crowds for a little while.
Are you looking for something quieter, then the Meiji Shrine in the Yoyogi Park in Shibuya is a good alternative.
Senso-Ji Temple: Asakusa station is accessible by the Ginza subway Line (Tokyo Metro), the Asakusa Subway line (Toei) and the Tobu Skytree line. The Tokyo waterbus also has a stop near the Asakusa station.
If you will only visit one sanctuary in Tokyo then we suggest you go and see the Senso-ji temple in the Asakusa district.
Yoyogi park & Meiji Shrine: Harajuku station borders the park and is accessible by the JR Yamanote line. With the Tokyo Metro, you get off at the Meiji-jingu mae station. On the other side of the park, you have the Sangubashi stop of the Odakyu line.
Relax in the parks
Stroll through some of the many beautiful parks or have a picnic like the Japanese do. We liked Shinjuku Gyoen the most. Ueno Park and Yoyogi are next in our top 3. The cherry blossoms turn Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno into a colorful painting during the season so these two should definitely be on your list for cherry blossom spotting.
There is a Japanese garden with several cherry trees in Yoyogi park that you can visit for a fee. From what we heard, the blossoms here are less spectacular, so we limited ourselves to a visit to the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi.
Shinjuku Gyoen is within walking distance of the large central Shinjuku station where both JR lines, as well as the metro (Tokyo Metro and Toei lines), stop.
Yoyogi park: Harajuku station borders the park and is accessible by the JR Yamanote line. With the Tokyo Metro, you get off at the Meiji-jingu mae station. On the other side of the park, you have the Sangubashi stop of the Odakyu line.
Ueno Park: Ueno station is near the park. Several JR lines, including the JR Yamanote line, stop here.
Get a drink or an ice cream from a vending machine
Tokyo is full of vending machines which offer cheap drinks and ice creams. In April it was getting pretty warm on some days so we used the ice vending machines a lot. Easy and cheap!
Feel like a child again in Tokyo DisneySea
Are you a Disney fan, then Tokyo DisneySea is a must. They achieved to decorate the park so well, that you can imagine being in Italy or America (if there wouldn’t be so many Japanese people around). There are also some fun attractions that you cannot find in any other Disney park.
Are you a Disney fan, then Tokyo DisneySea is a must.
And as if this were not enough reasons for a visit, you can also go to see how much Japanese dress up and immerse completely in the Disney atmosphere.
Have a drink with cats or other animals
Being a big cat lover, a visit to a cat café was at the very top of Sylvia’s wish list. Hence, one of our first days in Tokyo we immediately went looking for a cat café. Unfortunately, once we were there, it was a bit disappointing. Sylvia was pretty excited to say hi to the cats but the same could not be said for the cats themselves. They walked away uninterested to hide. Only when the owners of the café came in, they went to them to be petted.
You may wonder why did we then include this in our “what to do in Tokyo in 5 days” list? Because it’s still something unique to Japan. There’re some similar cafés in other countries but nowhere is it part of a tradition like it is in Japan.
Not a big fan of cats? No problem, you can go to a café with owls, we saw cafés where they had hedgehogs, etc.
Use the fantastic public transportation
The main hubs feel like anthills with thousands of ants zigzagging towards their destinations. But despite all the bustle, everything runs smoothly thanks to a well-structured approach, the courtesy, and discipline of the Japanese. The stations here are just as busy as those in the big cities in China but the experience is completely different. It didn’t take long before we mastered the system and navigated the city like real locals.
Read our “first timers to Tokyo’s public transport” to know which ticket is interesting for you.
Try the local food in an Izakaya
An Izakaya is a café serving light meals and drinks. They serve traditional Japanese food in a casual atmosphere. Think about tempura, yakitori, sashimi, gyoza’s etc. The portions are usually not too big, comparable with tapas. You can order several small plates and that makes it ideal to taste the traditional cuisine and take in the local atmosphere. Moreover, Izakaya’s are not expensive. A disadvantage is that smoking is often allowed. You frequently find Izakaya in the charming and narrow Japanese alleyways.
In most izakaya’s they will add a small table charge to your bill in addition to the cost of your food and drinks.
Take a look at Tokyo from above
There are several observation platforms in Tokyo, but only the one in the Metropolitan Government Building is for free. This building has 2 towers that each offer a viewing platform at a height of 202 meters. The northern tower stays open until 11 p.m. and ‘Tokyo By Night’ is really spectacular.
The Tochomae stop of the Oedo Subway Line (Toei) is right under the building. From the large central Shinjuku station, it is 10 minutes walk to the Metropolitan Government Building. Shinjuku station is served by several JR lines run and both Tokyo Metro and Toei lines. In the station, you take the West Exit.
The Tokyo Skytree is, with a height of 634 meters, the highest building in Japan. It’s also the highest free-standing tower in the world. The tower houses 2 observation platforms that offer a fantastic view of Tokyo. They are respectively at a height of 350 and 450 meters and are amongst the highest in Japan. Here you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Tokyo. An absolute Tokyo must visit when you want to see Tokyo from above.
The Tokyo Skytree station on the Tobu Isesaki Line or the Oshiage station on the Asakusa Subway line, Hanzomon Subway Line and Keisei Oshiage Line are the closest to the Tokyo Skytree.
Stroll through piss alley and imagine yourself in a Japanese Mafia movie
2 narrow alleys close to the Shinjuku train station. In other countries, the hair in your neck would stand on end if you knew you had to walk through this. But not in Tokyo. As you stroll through these alleyways, you can taste the charm of this city.
Stroll through piss alley and imagine yourself in a Japanese Mafia movie
These narrow and charming passageways are in stark contrast with the skyscrapers and the neon lights that are so typical of this city. Make sure to take a detour through piss alley and if you are hungry you can indulge in Yakatori in one of the many tiny restaurants that are here.
Piss Alley is really close to the West Exit of Shinjuku train station. Shinjuku station is served by several JR lines run and both Tokyo Metro and Toei lines.
Do a tour with a local
One of the most enjoyable things we did in Tokyo was a walk with a greeter. Greeters are volunteers that will show you around the city in exchange for a small voluntary contribution. The organization will arrange a greeter for you and once you’re in touch you can indicate what your interests are and arrange your customized private tour. Sometimes the volunteers are expats and some are locals, but in any case, they can tell you all kinds of curiosities about their city and its inhabitants. This is how we learned a lot more about the mouth masks they often wear here. And we also found out that the nickname of the Asahi flame is the golden poo.
Other Tokyo tips
If you are looking for a detailed Tokyo itinerary for 4 days, take a look here. Do you have more time to spend in Tokyo? These Tokyo 5-7 days itinerary might interest you.
Read here what to pack for Tokyo.
Here you will find the best photo spots in Tokyo.
If you still have some spare time left after visiting the best places in Tokyo, you could also make a day trip to Mount Fuji from Tokyo. It’s a very beautiful place and absolutely worth a visit. Or take a look at these 10 amazing day trips from Tokyo.
Tokyo is spread out far and wide and the whole city is completely littered with hotels. The oversupply of hotels can make it a daunting task to pick a hotel if this is your first time in the city. For your first time, a hotel like the Centurion Classic is a good choice because of its strategic central location.
The Ritz-Carlton hotel is not far away and offers a beautiful view from the highest building in the city. Of the three hotels the Hilton Hotel is closest to Shinjuku Station, the busiest station in the world and a good base to all the sights in Tokyo and far beyond in the rest of Japan.
Ritz-Carlton Tokyo (Roppongi, Minato)
This is an amazing hotel in a great location amongst lots of shopping, musea, and restaurants. Roppongi also has a popular nightlife scene with locals as well as foreigners. The hotel is situated in the tallest skyscraper in Tokyo. It offers
spacious and well-appointed rooms with great views of Tokyo. On clear days you will even be able to view Mt. Fuji. What sets this hotel really apart is the exceptional service from the staff. Everyone is very friendly and willing to go out of their way to assist you. Highly recommended if you want to spoil yourself in this fantastic city.
Premium Comfortable hotel
Hilton Tokyo (Shinjuku)
The Hilton Tokyo lies in the bustling Shinjuku district, with several train and metro stations within a short walking distance. The hotel also offers a free shuttle bus service to Shinjuku station and limousine service to the airport for a fee. Most of the staff speak very well English. The rooms are large, modern and comfortable. You will be able to relax in the indoor pool or the sauna after a busy day in Tokyo. The breakfast is outstanding with a wide variety. Highly recommended for first timers in Tokyo.
The Centurion Hotel Classic (Akasaka, Minato)
The Centurion Hotel Classic is a small, boutique hotel. It’s located in the Akasaka district, a residential district with a quiet some commercial activity. You will find lots of restaurants and several convenience stores nearby. It is right off the Ginza line, very convenient to take you to most of the popular sights in Tokyo. Rooms are very big by Tokyo standards. Professional and courteous staff. Highly recommended if you are looking for a comfortable family hotel.
More Japan travel tips
If you are looking for more travel information about Japan take a look at this post.
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