LeanThere are many incredible things to do in Tokyo. So many, indeed, that it is hard to decide what to do.
Many travelers — most travelers, actually — over-complicate their search for things to do in Tokyo. Starting with the assumption that Tokyo is the largest city in the world (and must, therefore, be the most impenetrable on short visits), they set themselves up for failure from the beginning.
What if I told you that getting a taste of Tokyo was actually very simple? Regardless of how many days in Tokyo you have to spend, and whether you’re planning for two weeks or a month in Japan after you leave the capital behind, I think you’ll want to continue reading.
9 Unmissable Things To Do In Tokyo
Walk through neon-bathed streets
If you’re arriving in Japan from Europe or North America, chances are good your flight will land in the afternoon. As a result, your time in Tokyo will begin, in earnest, on your first evening. This is a perfect opportunity to take in Tokyo’s iconic nighttime scenery. A few options for this exist — the arcades and manga shops of Akihabara, the izakaya and snack bars of Shinjuku or the upscale department stores and Teppanyaki restaurants of Ginza — but all will get you immediately in a Tokyo mood (and prevent you from falling asleep!).
If you’d rather join a guided tour, these are some good options:
GOOD TO KNOW: One of the coolest things to do in Tokyo is crossing the “Shibuya Scramble.” Shibuya Crossing may as well be the largest crossing in the world, and whenever the green light flashes, it’s pure madness.
Eat sushi for breakfast
Another one of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is to eat sushi for breakfast — especially on my first full day in the city, when I’m up early due to jet-lag. Note that I don’t recommend watching Tokyo’s famous tuna auction, for two main reasons: 1) A limited number of people are allowed in, so there’s a chance you’ll rise at 3:00 am for nothing and 2) The new Toyosu Market, although functional, is rather sterile.
Head instead to Tsukiji Market, where the auction used to take place, and pop into any of the sushi bars there for a tuna donburi to get your morning started right.
If you care to join a guided tour of this market, here are a few options:
- Tsukiji Outer Market: 3-Hour Food & Drink Walking Tour
- Tokyo: Tsukiji Market Walking Tour & Rolled Sushi Class
You can also sign up for a sushi making class such as this one.
Go on a food tour
Sushi, ramen, Wagyu (Japanese beef) and much more: Japanese food is absolutely delicious and one of the best things to do in Tokyo to discover all that’s on offer is a food tour what will get you set on the basics, so that you can continue savoring on your own during the rest of the trip. You will get a small taste of the most popular dishes – depending on the tour you pick, the portions and the dishes vary.
Here is a selection of the best food tours in Tokyo:
In fact, if you want to learn about the secrets of Japanese cuisine, you may want to join one of the many cooking classes on offer such as this Wagyu class.
Visit a cat cafe
If you are a cat lover as much as I am, you will definitely agree that one of the best things to do in Tokyo is visiting a cat cafe. Places such as MoCHA are a favorite of tourists, but you will also come across the occasional local who – slippers on their feet – will literally try to catch the cats’ attention.
Cat cafés have timed entrances, with a minimum of 30 minutes, and you get a drink with your admission fee. You will be requested to wash your hands upon walking in. Keep in mind that cat cafés are quite popular in Tokyo, especially at weekends, so you may need to stand in line before getting in. You may want to try to make reservations.
Visit an Onsen
An Onsen is an hot spring bath and while going to one may not be your priority when in Tokyo (the most popular ones are indeed outside of the city), should you decide to visit one you will have quite a choice! Onsen Monogatari is an onsen theme park which offers great entertainment, with indoor and outdoor pools; good food and other things such as the fish pedicure and the stone sauna.
Learn about Sumo
For one of the most unique things to do in Tokyo, try to attend a Sumo training session. There are more than 40 Sumo training stables in Tokyo – most of them in Ryogoku district – where you can observe the training. But keep in mind that the athletes you will be seeing are really training and not putting up a show for the sake of tourists, so show respect for them. This guided tour takes you to one of the wrestling stables.
Ride a train from the past to the future
Once you finish breakfast (and after, optionally, heading back to your hotel to freshen up), ride the subway to Asakusa, where you’ll emerge into the historical Tokyo district of the same name. Explore ancient attractions like Senso-ji temple, either via foot or rickshaw, then go back underground and ride the Ginza Line to Omote-Sando, which will take you to Harajuku‘s wild and futuristic Takeshita Street. Whether you finish up at at serene Meiji Shrine or in Shibuya‘s manic pedestrian crossing is up to you.
You can get a Tokyo metro pass here.
Take in underrated views of Tokyo
While in Shibuya, you might ascend the new Shibuya Sky building to enjoy a good panorama of Tokyo. Alternatively, another one of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is to venture outward for truly amazing views. My top picks are probably i-Link, a free observation located near Ichikawa Station in Tokyo’s neighboring Chiba prefecture, followed by the Fuji TV Sphere on Odaiba Island.
The former allows you to see the entire Tokyo skyline splayed out beneath Mt. Fuji, while the latter sees the iconic Rainbow Bridge imposed in the foreground of a classic Tokyo city shot.
Another of the coolest things to do in Tokyo if you want to get incredible views is going up the Skytree. This TV broadcast tower is a symbol of the city and stands 634 meters tall. You can go up to the first viewing platform and 350 meters, or the second one at 450 meters.
If you want to go up Tokyo Skytree, you can get your tickets here.
Devote one day to making excursions
Speaking of Fujisan, you can get a bit closer to it (specifically, the town of Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes region) as one of the day trips from Tokyo I’m about to recommend. Alternatively, travel northward to Nikko and the 17th-century Tosho-gu Shrine, or southward to Kamakura, a historical city that once served as the capital of Japan. While on your way back to central Tokyo from Kamakura, get off in underrated Yokohama, either to luxuriate in serene Sankei-en garden, or to eat your way through one of Japan’s best Chinatowns.
These are some of the best guided day-trips from Tokyo:
- Mt Fuji full day bus tour from Tokyo
- Mt Fuji Day Tour with Kawaguchiko Lake
- Mt Fuji and Hakone Cruise & Bus Tour
- Hakone Fuji Day Tour: Cruise, Cable Car, and Volcano
- Tokyo: Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Kegon Waterfall Tour
Other Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To Tokyo
How long should you spend in Tokyo?
The topic of how many days in Tokyo is a somewhat contentious one, but I have a simple answer: As many days as your trip to Japan allows. If you plan to spend 10 days to two weeks in Japan, for example, 3-4 days in Tokyo is sensible. This allows you a day or two of core sightseeing in the city center, plus a day to explore secondary and tertiary Tokyo attractions, and one more to take day trips to the city’s outskirts.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of things to do in Tokyo to justify a longer trip, if you can spare it. If you’ve traveled in Japan before, for example, and want to focus your next trip more on a deep exploration than a wide one, get yourself an Airbnb and “live” in Tokyo for a week or longer. After hitting up some of your favorite Tokyo tourist spots, including the ones I’ve mentioned above, focus on getting to know your neighborhood, whether that’s popular Shinjuku or offbeat Shimokitazawa.
Where to stay in Tokyo
Many of my favorite places to stay in the capital are near Tokyo Station, which in spite of being a somewhat quiet area is the most central place you can base yourself.
On the more affordable end, UNIZO INN Tokyo Kanda-eki West is a chic and comfortable place to stay, while five-star properties such as the Imperial Hotel and Tokyo Station Hotel (which, as its name suggests, is actually located within Tokyo Station itself) are worth the splurge, if you can afford it.
Other properties aren’t quite as convenient, but provide great ambiance and convenience. Akasaka’s Hotel Felice is a stylish boutique property at a great price point, while the pair of Celestine Hotels in Ginza and Shibakoen pair great design with proximity to icons like the Ginza business district and Tokyo Tower, respectively. Hotel WBF Asakusa, meanwhile, is within walking distance of Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and one of the most important attractions in the city.
If you want to try the experience of staying in one of the infamous capsule hotels in Tokyo, you may want to opt for First Cabin (there are several scattered around town) for a more luxurious yet tight experience.
Finally, one of the most recommended things to do in Tokyo is sleeping in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where you will find tatami-matted rooms, very low tables, and communal baths. Ryokans aren’t cheap, but you should definitely splurge at least for a night to try the experience. Ryokan & Day Shizuku is a great one, and it’s quite budget friendly given Japan’s high prices.
All hotels have wi-fi in Japan but if you don’t want to have to worry about looking for it while out and about, you can get a portable router such as this delivered to your hotel.
Guided tours of Tokyo
If you feel like you need guidance to explore Tokyo, you may want to consider joining one of these guided tours – they are all equally good, but varying in prices, length and size of the group:
- Tokyo private welcome tour with a local
- Tokyo day bus tour
- Tokyo private sightseeing tour
- Tokyo customized private tour with a local host
- Old and nostalgic Tokyo half day Yanaka walking tour
- Tokyo hidden gems and highlights walking tour
Where to go after you are done exploring Tokyo
Tokyo, for most travelers, is where Japan begins — but the country doesn’t have to end in the capital. Japan’s “tourist trail” usually runs from Tokyo westward to the Kansai region, centered around the popular cities of Kyoto and Osaka. From there it’s typically on to Hiroshima (which needs no introduction) and then an about-face back to Tokyo. If you have just a week or two in Japan, it’s likely your trip will take this shape.
It’s not certain, however. Many travelers devote shorter trips to secondary islands like Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido or the Okinawa archipelago, or to underrated regions like snowy Tohoku or off-the-beaten path San’in. Another option is to head northward from Tokyo into the dramatic Japanese Alps, whether you spend your entire trip hiking through them, or emerge into the underrated Hokuriku region on Japan’s northern coast.
The bottom line
If you organize yourself properly, transposing a list of things to do in Tokyo into a workable itinerary is easy. Rather than thinking of Tokyo’s as one of the world’s largest cities, consider it as many not-so-large cities pasted together. Focus not on seeing and doing everything, but on getting a cross section of the culture, cuisine and scenery that makes Tokyo such an iconic destination.
As far as how many days you should spend in Tokyo, the answer is “as many as possible.” With this being said, you shouldn’t stress too much if you can only devote a couple days of your Japan trip to the country’s capital. Tokyo is a city where the quality of your experience is at least as important as the quantity of time you have.
Further readings about Japan
Make sure to check out these other posts about Japan:
This post has been written by Robert Schrader, who created Japan Starts Here as a one-stop shop for Japan information — and inspiration. Whether it’s your first trip and you need to know the basics, or you’re returning and want to dig into secondary and tertiary destinations, Robert’s hundreds of guides, itineraries and essays will get you where you need to go. Don’t forget to follow Japan Starts Here on Facebook and Instagram, either!