Tokyo has been my home for close to 5 years and I’m always stumbling upon something new. The city is vast and the options for things to do is overwhelming. Over the years, I have found myself repeating a few things over and over simply because I enjoy them so much.
In this post, I am sharing my favourite things to do in Tokyo. This list has a mixture of activities ranging from cultural to “only in Japan” experiences. You’ll find a few items that have been mentioned many times in many other articles, but I believe they are worth mentioning again.
This list only scratches the surface of what to do in Tokyo. (It doesn’t include food because that deserves its own article). I’ll update this post as I find new and exciting experiences that I think are worth sharing. I left out Tokyo Disneyland, since that’s an obvious choice (it’s not technically in Tokyo).
Also, don’t forget our article on practical tips for traveling to Japan (It’ll make your life easier, trust me).
Table of Contents
Everything listed here you’ll find on this custom Google Maps I created for you.
It’s inevitable that you’ll spend time shopping in Tokyo. There are endless options for clothing, souvenirs, sweets, and pop culture memorabilia. Outside of Disney, I love video games, 80s-90s pop culture, books, and of course anything about food.
If you’re a fan of anything, there’s a chance you’ll find something here. A 5-minute train ride from Shinjuku on the Chuo Line takes you to Nakano, home to one of my favourite malls to browse on any given day, Nakano Broadway. It’s full of small shops carrying a large variety items you never knew existed. It’s a goldmine for anything Japanese and American pop culture-related.
Read our guide showing where to find all the Tokyo Disney Resort items. Also, treat yourself to the famous soft-serve ice cream in the basement, where you can get 8 flavours to create one of the biggest ice cream cones you’ll ever see.
Akihabara is also an excellent area in Tokyo for browsing geek-centric items.
Japan loves its physical media, and with small living spaces, a lot of used books, games, CDs, etc, end up at Book-Off. I’ll lose myself for hours browsing old manga, magazines, CDs long-forgotten, and video game cartridges that bring back fond memories of playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past late at night with my brothers.
There are stores all across Japan and throughout Tokyo. My favourite ones to browse are in Shibuya and Shinjuku. A majority of the things you’ll find here are in Japanese, but you’ll find a selection of English books and CDs, too. If you’re into any kind of Japanese music, manga, or video games, you’ll find it at Book-Off.
The best way to describe Don Quijote is it’s Wal-Mart on steroids. Food, souvenirs, designer clothing, limited-time drinks, furniture, etc, is found here. There are stores in many of the shopping areas of Tokyo (even Asakusa). It’s an assault on your senses with its endless aisles of stuff.
This is an excellent place to find Japanese sweets, a variety of KitKat flavours, and cheap souvenirs. Also pop in here to get cheap drinks and alcohol (cheaper than the convenience stores). My favourite locations are in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Asakusa.
Never in my life have I stepped into a store thought to myself “What did I just step into?” Village Vanguard is a store that carries the most obscure and not-so-obscure items in existence, from Gremlins 2 t-shirts to Child’s Play-themed curry packets to indie J-Pop star memorabilia. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still a ton of fun to browse. My favourite location is in Shibuya.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for shops that offer tax-free shopping for temporary visitors to save money. Also make sure you have cash on hand for the smaller shops, as they may not accept credit cards.
The options for experiences in Japan are vast and overwhelming. After being here for a while, I have a few activities and experiences that I constantly refer back to and always recommend to anyone visiting. These experiences do cost money. For a list of free activities, you’ll find it in the next section.
Mario Kart VR
If MariCar isn’t your thing (more about this in a moment), then an excellent alternative is Mario Kart VR in the Shinjuku VR Zone. It’s well worth experiencing (and much more safe, in my opinion). You wear a VR helmet and hand straps while sitting in a stationary go-kart. You’ll race against three other players while throwing a variety of items at each other to win first place.
It’s a ton of fun and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station (beside the TOHO Cinemas with Godzilla). The Robot Restaurant is also in this area and I highly recommend it. Read our full review and see how to get discount tickets.
As for MariCar, I’ll be honest that I’ve never done it yet, but it’s on my list. If you’re interested, get discount tickets for MariCar through GoVoyagin.
Visiting an Arcade
Arcades are on a whole other level in Japan. While they are a thing of the past in many other countries, they thrive in Japan. Loud music, lights, and crowded spaces are one way to describe a Japanese arcade. With such small living spaces, arcades are an excellent place to go and relax (as strange as that sounds).
Aside from music rhythm games, you’ll also see fighting, RTS (Real Time Strategy), and metal games. Metal games are where you buy a number of metal coins and play a game (you don’t win anything). My favourite is the Mario Party metal game. If you’re not into that, there are also crane games where you can win prizes by somehow knocking the item over into a hole.
Most, if not all, the games are in Japanese only, so it’s best to stick to music or crane games (if you are unable to read Japanese). Those are a bit more self-explanatory in most cases.
You’ll find arcades all over Tokyo and throughout Japan. Some of the biggest ones are found in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, and Ikebukuro (just to name a few places). Round 1, Taito, and SEGA are some of the more well-known arcades. My favourites are Round 1 in Ikebukuro and Taito in Shinjuku.
As weird as this sounds, I absolutely love visiting arcades and losing myself in music rhythm games (Jubeat and Groove Coaster are my favourites). It helps me concentrate and turn off my monkey brain. Bring a pair of earbuds or headphones if you plan on playing the music games, as most have audio jacks so you are able to hear the music.
Onsen or Sento (Public Bath)
On the other end of the spectrum are the public baths. “Onsen” are natural hot springs while “sento” are heated baths, just to clear up any confusion. These two types of baths are found throughout Japan. It’s an excellent way to relax, unwind, and soak in some Japanese culture.
First, you strip down to your birthday suit (yes, you’ll be nude) and wash at one of the many stations (there is soap and shampoo to use). Afterward, you find yourself a nice huge bath to sit down and soak in.
Keep in mind that the places I mentioned do not allow tattoos of any kind, unfortunately. If you have a small one, you could try covering it up with this patch, but do so at your own risk.
My favourite ones in Tokyo are Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Spa LaQua, and Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu. For first-timers, I recommend Odeo Onsen Monogatari as everything has English and is considered a “theme park” for public baths.
Hiking Mt. Takao
When thinking about Tokyo, one of the last things that come to mind is hiking a mountain (besides seeing Mt. Fuji in the distance). Mt. Takao is a 50-minute train ride from Shinjuku Station to Takaosan Guchi Station. Mt. Takao is considered a sacred mountain and has been used for worship for over a 1,000 years. Many hikers (myself included) pray to the mountain gods (Tengu) for fortune.
It’s a gorgeous area and one of my favourite places to get out of the city for the day. The station went under a huge renovation in 2015 and now looks absolutely beautiful, and this is where you’ll find the Keio Takaosan Onsen Gokurakuyu.
There are a few hiking trails to choose from and they range in difficulty and time. My favourite is route 6, which takes me about 90 minutes. It’s an excellent way to get some exercise (and a fun way to see how the Japanese do hiking). Don’t worry, hiking isn’t the only option to get to the summit. There’s also a cable car and chairlift.
At the top and along the paths you’ll pass a temple and shrines, which are perfect photo opportunities. If the day is clear (you’ll have to go early) you’ll have the chance to see Mt. Fuji. There are also a few options for food up there, too (and more options around the train station).
For full details, I recommend checking out Japan Guide.
If you’re a Ghibli fan, then you already know you need to visit the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. I can’t recommend this enough and it brings me pure joy each and every time I visit. Do yourself a favour and make an effort to experience this. You won’t be sorry.
Ghibli Museum tickets are a bit of a pain to get, but I have a full guide explaining how to get them.
For a metropolis as vast as Tokyo, there are a lot of fantastic green spaces scattered throughout the city. If you’re in the mood to relax with a book, ponder life, or just simply enjoy nature, then I recommend these parks and green spaces in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Gyoen: A beautiful park right in Shinjuku, which is a short walk from the station. It’s a popular spot for cherry blossoms and autumn foliage for good reason: it’s absolutely gorgeous. This is one of the first places I visited when I moved to Japan in 2013. It costs ¥200 ($2 USD) and closes at 16:00 on most days.
Ueno Park: A huge park that offers more than just beautiful cherry blossoms. You can find a few museums, Japan’s oldest zoo (Ueno Zoo), temples, and shrines. Not to mention a Starbucks (that’s important.) The zoo is one of my favourite parts of Ueno Park. Also in the area, this is where you’ll find the Ameya-yokocho shopping street.
Meiji Shrine: A popular spot right in Tokyo and a short walk from Harajuku Station (free entry). Even though it’s in the middle of the city, you feel as if you’re transported somewhere else entirely with the dense trees and wide walkways. Here you’ll find shrines and gigantic torii gates. Also, right next door is Yoyogi Park, which is another popular green space.
Showa Kinen Park: This is one of my favourite parks to visit. It’s in the city of Tachikawa (30-minute train ride from Shinjuku on the Chuo Line). The park is massive (160 hectares) and has tons of space to relax. Throughout the year there are flower festivals, cherry blossoms, and autumn foliage. My favourite is the bamboo exhibit, where you can watch experts trim and maintain these things of beauty. The park has an entry fee but also has a lot of space outside the gates to sit and relax if you don’t want to pay.
It took me a few years after living in Japan to finally experience the wonderful art of Kabuki. If you want a true Japanese cultural experience, then Kabuki is something you shouldn’t miss. It’s a 400-year-old tradition where a live performance is given by highly skilled performers who have mastered the art through years of practice and knowledge passed down through generations.
My favourite place is the Kabukiza Theatre in Higashi-Ginza. The cheapest way to get tickets is to buy single act tickets at the Kabukiza Theatre on the same day. You’re able to experience this beautiful art form for less than ¥2000 ($18 USD) per ticket. Check the official website for time slots of performances.
I recommend getting there at least 60-90 minutes before the tickets go on sale to make sure you get a spot. Keep in mind that the tickets are cash only. They do offer an English translation device for ¥500 (¥1000 deposit) and it’s absolutely worth it.
If you want to experience what it was like living in the Edo Period (1603-1868) then Asakusa is worth the visit. It’s a major tourist destination with good reason. The main draws are the beautiful Senso-ji temple and the Kamiari-mon (a gorgeous gate that means “Thunder Gate”). The Nakamise-dori Shopping Streets are fun to wander and feature tons of shopping, street food, and restaurants.
If you’re here during a sumo tournament (typically in May), you’ll want to get tickets for Ryogoku Kokugikan, which is nearby. It’s a Japanese cultural experience I believe everyone should see. If you miss the sumo tournaments, there are opportunities to watch early morning sumo rehearsals.
I enjoy simply walking around the area (early morning or late evening to avoid crowds, and perfect for Instagram photos) and soaking in the architecture. If you wander off the main area where Kamiari-mon is, there are fewer people. As a bonus, there is a Don Quijote in this area, and the oldest theme park in Japan called Hanayashiki.
Japan’s tallest structure (634 metres), the Tokyo Skytree, is nearby and easy to get to along the Tobu Railway from Asakusa. While it’s pricey to go up to the top, it’s worth at least one visit (see the next section for a free alternative). Here you’ll also find one of many Pokémon Centers in Japan.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money for memorable experiences (save your money for all the delicious food you’ll find). Here’s my list of free things to do in Tokyo! For these activities, it’s best to do to them early on a weekday to avoid any potential crowds.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
If you’ve done any earlier research, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is mentioned endlessly. It’s a fantastic way to see the city skyline without paying anything. It’s a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. Get there early to have a better chance at seeing Mt. Fuji. Other paid alternatives are the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower.
You can’t visit Tokyo without crossing the infamous “scramble” (as it’s called) in Shibuya. While the Starbucks overlooking the crossing is a great place to get photos from above, it’s crowded and there are better places for views.
The newly renovated Magnet by Shibuya 109 has a small free observation deck above the crossing. Also, another great spot is over at the Hikarie Building on the 11th floor. There’s a corner that overlooks the scramble which isn’t as busy as other places.
It’s also worth mentioning browsing Loft, Tokyu Hands, and Tower Records in Shibuya is a ton of fun, even if you don’t plan on buying anything.
Browsing Electronic Stores
Electronic stores in Japan are a unique experience. The two biggest names are Yodobashi Camera and BIC Camera. Think of it as Best Buy, but with 1,000 times more selection. There are phone cases, toilet seats, camera lenses, toys — you name it and you’ll find it there. My favourite stores are in Akihabara and Shinjuku.
Tokyo Skyline from Odaiba
Odaiba is a shopping area on reclaimed land that has tons of shopping opportunities (including that huge Gundam everyone talks about). If you head over to Aqua City Odaiba Shopping Mall, it has a perfect view of the Tokyo skyline. Choose from one of the many restaurants and relax with the gorgeous view.
Attend a Festival
Visit any time of the year and you’ll probably stumble upon on a matsuri (Japanese for a festival) of some sort. In the spring you have the cherry blossom festivals almost everywhere you go, then in the summer are the over-the-top firework festivals called hanabi (these put Disney fireworks to shame). If you’re in Asakura in May, you’ll have the chance to see the Sanja Matsuri, where a mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried through the streets.
Festivals (masturi) are perfect (and is in most cases free) ways to experience Japanese culture in an authentic way. Don’t forget to try all the delicious street food, too.
There you have it: a list of my favourite things to do in Tokyo. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it gives you a good sense of what to do in this city. I recommend this excellent guide for more on all the areas of Tokyo. If you have any favourite things you love to do in Tokyo, let me know in the comments!
Tokyo is my absolute favourite place in the world, and after you experience a couple of these activities from this list, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Don’t forget to read my comprehensive list of practical tips for traveling to Japan. It makes your life easier to avoid common mistakes and reduces your stress. Don’t forget, everything mentioned here is on this custom Google Maps I created.
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