If you're headed to Tokyo for the first time, these are the 20 activities that can't be missed. Get lost in the city's best museums, stroll through the serene parks and gardens, head way up for the best views from towers and palaces, tour shrines and temples, experience a "only in Japan" kind of show, go shopping, eat, walk some bridges, and eat some more. But remember—no list of things to do can compare to a custom-built itinerary from Journy. Leave it to the experts to build a daily travel plan from scratch just for you—complete not only with activities, but also restaurants, cafés, bars, transportation, and accommodation.
Hidden passageways, spiral staircases, and fascinating zoetropes are just a few of the wonders at the Studio Ghibli Museum, located inside the woodsy Inokashira Park in Mitaka. Even if you’re not a dedicated Miyazaki fan, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy—especially if you’re interested in the art of animation as there are a number of vintage film reels and story boards available for perusing. Photos are strictly prohibited inside the museum, but you can still snap a pic in the elegant Japanese garden and courtyard. Tickets include a short, 20-minute anime film and must be purchased well in advance (one month), either online or at a LAWSON convenience store in Japan, which your Journy trip designer can handle for you. Last-minute tickets can occasionally be purchased only via Voyagin for $62 per person.
Open every day except Tuesday, 10AM - 6PM
1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tōkyō-to 181-0013, Japan
2. Edo Museum
Go back in time at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, where a three-story escalator ride transports you away from modern-day Tokyo and plants you in the historic Nihonbashi. Trek across a full-scale replica of the original wooden bridge from 1608. As you walk through the museum, you'll see a full transition from Edo-era to Tokyo today. With numerous hands-on exhibits (you can dress up as an old-style firefighter, aristocrat, or daimyo and ride in traditional carriages), this museum is all about delivering an immersive experience.
In addition to the permanent exhibition, the museum also hosts a number of temporary exhibits.
Open Sunday, Tuesday - Friday, 9:30 AM - 5PM; Saturday, 9:30 AM - 7 PM ; closed Monday
1 Chome-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida City, Tokyo 130-0015, Japan
Upon opening in 2018, teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum quickly became one of the most exciting additions to Tokyo's art scene. With 60 artworks over 10,000 square meters, the museum is an amazing example of how light and color can create an immersive experience for visitors.
Open Saturday - Sunday, 10AM - 9PM; Monday - Friday 10AM - 7PM
Japan, 〒135-0064 Tōkyō-to, Koto City, Aomi, 1-chōme−3−８ お台場パレットタウン
Parks and Gardens
4. Ueno Park
You can’t go museum hopping in Tokyo without checking out Ueno Park, which is home to the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the National Science Museum—in addition to the Ueno Zoo. Before becoming a cultural hub, the park was home to one of the grandest temples in Tokyo. Today, over 1,000 cherry trees dot the park, making it a popular attraction during early spring when residents throw sakura parties. Whether or not it's cherry blossom season, be sure to walk around Shinobazu Pond, one of the reminders of Kaneiji Temple's former grandeur.
Japan, 〒110-0007 Tokyo, Taito City, Uenokoen, 4−・ 池之端三丁目
Established in the mid-17th century (during the Edo period) as the property of the Tokugawa clan, this formal strolling garden incorporates elements of Chinese and Japanese landscaping. Situated next to Tokyo Dome, it's among the city’s top highlights for a dose of serenity amongst the hustle-bustle of the the capital.
1 Chome-1-6-6 Kōraku, Bunkyō-ku, Tōkyō-to 112-0004, Japan
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is arguably Tokyo's most beautiful park. While here, ask for a map in English ("Eh-go mappoo?") as you walk in so you can be sure to hit all the major gardens: English Landscape, French Formal, Japanese Traditional (with the teahouse), and the curiously named Mother and Child Forest (Haha to Ko no Mori). There's also a lovely Taiwan Pavilion; go inside and look out the second-story windows for an excellent view of the park. Entrance is 200 yen.
Note that hours are seasonal: 9AM - 6PM from March 15 - June 30 and August 21 - September 30 and 9AM - 4:30PM October 1 - March 14
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing
11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0014, Japan
(The Shinjuku Gate is easily accessible via the Shinjuku station.)
7. Yoyogi Park
On Sundays, visiting Harajuku is a must—it's the day of the week when different sub-cultures come here and express themselves through all kinds of interesting dress (Lolita goth punk is a popular theme). Just outside the entrance of Yoyogi Park, there's usually a group of Elvis impersonators hanging around and dancing. Definitely a sight to see.
2-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 151-0052, Japan
Heading to Tokyo with kids? Don't miss our family-friendly guide with all the best activities (hello, Disneyland...aka Disneysea), theme parks, and accessible sushi/ramen restaurants.
Temples and Shrines
8. Meiji Shrine
Dedicated to the late 19th-century emperor who opened Japan to the West, Tokyo's most famous Shinto shrine is wonderfully serene and austere (it’s not colorful or flashy like other Asian places of worship). The 40-foot-high (12-meter) torii gate at the entrance to the 200-acre park is made of 1,500-year-old cypress, and there's a second one like it closer to the shrine itself.
Stop at the cleansing station where you can dip into a communal water tank and purify your hands and mouth before offering up a prayer. You can write wishes on little pieces of paper and tie them onto the prayer wall, or do as the locals do: toss some yen into the offering box (it's near the enormous taiko drum), bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more.
Admission to the shrine is free. Admission to the inner garden is 500 yen.
Open every day, 9AM - 6PM
1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan
Founded in 628, Sensō-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo. Many people believe that the Asakusa Kannon deity enshrined here has the ability to bestow benefits on earth, and around 30 million visitors from throughout Japan and abroad visit the temple every year. It was the epicenter for the development of Edo culture, and these traces still remain today.
Open every day, 6AM - 5PM
2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
10. Asakusa Shrine
While you’re by Sensō-ji Temple, be sure to stop by Asakusa Shrine as well. Completed in 645, Asakusa is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, built to honor Kannon, the goddess of mercy. You approach the temple via the Nakamise Shopping Street, where visitors have been buying traditional snacks and folding fan souvenirs for centuries. The temple’s main hall and five-storied pagoda were destroyed during World War II but have since been fully restored. This spot is popular with tourists so expect crowds in contrast to the quieter Meiji Shrine.
Open everyday, 9AM - 4:30PM
2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Towers and Palaces
11. Imperial Palace
The primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, the Imperial Palace is a park-like complex surrounded by moats and massive stone walls on the site of the former Edo Castle. Two stone bridges lead to the inner palace grounds, which are closed to the public except for January 2 (New Year’s Day) and December 23 (the Emperor’s birthday). Take a guided tour of the grounds themselves (in Japanese, with English audio on headphones) or wander the East Gardens on your own.
Open every day except Sunday and Monday, 9AM - 11:15, 1:30 - 2:45PM
1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-8111, Japan
12. Tokyo Tower
The second tallest structure in Japan, Tokyo Tower is an active radio tower and one of the city’s most famous landmarks. For 900 yen, take the 600 steps or ride the elevator to the main observation deck, where you’ll find a souvenir shop and cafe. For an extra 700 yen, you can take a second set of elevators to get up to the special observatory for an even better view. On a clear day, you might even see Mt. Fuji in the distance (which makes for an unforgettable day trip from Tokyo!)
Open everyday, 9AM - 11PM
Tokyo Tower, 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakōen, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 105-0011, Japan
13. Ryōgoku Kokugikan (sumo amphitheater)
See a sumo tournament with an English speaking guide—that your Journy trip designer can easily arrange for you. This 1500-year-old tradition is an important part of Japanese culture. Watch a series of sumo wrestlers grapple in the elevated ring as your guide explains the traditions of the sport. Tickets range from $30-$100+ per person.
When there are no sumo tournaments held (or if tickets are sold out), you can still see sumo wrestlers in action by watching them up-close-and-personal at a morning training session (7:30AM-9:30AM start time, but the exact time varies).
Open every day, 10AM - 6PM
Japan, 〒130-0015 Tokyo, Sumida, Yokoami, 1 Chome−3番28号
Located in Tokyo's Kabukichō red-light district, the Robot Restaurant Show was Anthony Bourdain's first stop on his "Parts Unknown" Tokyo episode.
Bourdain called this "the greatest show on earth!"—and that's exactly what it is. The show, the setting, the decor, the concept, and the costumes are all things that could only exist in Japan. To give you an idea of the extravagance here, the restaurant itself cost over $100M USD to build (funded by the yakuza).
In this one-hour spectacle, you'll see flashing lights, taiko drums, techno music, scantily clad girls, neon tanks, and, you guessed it, giant robots. This is more a cabaret than a restaurant (you'll get handed a bento box of food when you arrive, but the food is definitely not the reason to come here).
Be sure to arrive 15 minutes before the show starts. After the main show commences, late entry will not be permitted.
Japan, 〒160-0021 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukichō, 1 Chome−7−１ 新宿ロボットビル B2F
This famous shopping district is a hotbed of youth culture and full of affordable and quirky fashion shops, boutiques, department stores, and cozy alleyways. Made (extra) famous around the world by Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls," it's here that you'll see all kinds of alternative fashions, particularly Lolita dresses. Be sure to check out the Laforet mall, ground zero for Lolita fashions. There are also many shops on Takeshita Dori and Omotesando. As you walk toward Omotesando, the streets become more modern and the shops more high-end.
Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, 神宮前１丁目１９−１１
If you're still in the mood for more shopping post-Harajuku, head to Ginza. The easiest way is to head to the Meiji-Jingumae train station and take the Chiyoda line to Hibiya.
READ MORE: 5 Tokyo Street Style Trends To Copy
Markets and Cafés
Although the inner Tsukiji market (along with the infamous tuna auction) closed a few years back and relocated to the new Toyosu Market, Tsukiji is still worth visiting. Grab breakfast or take a stroll through the more than 300 local shops that remain in the Outer Market. In addition to dried seaweed, fruit, vegetables, and fresh sashimi, you'll find sushi knives, kitchen utensils, and other culinary tools.
Open everyday except Sunday, 5AM - 12PM
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
17. Cat Cafe Calico
This relaxed cat cafe in Shinjuku is home to about 50 cats and is one of the city's most popular. Be sure to buy some cat food for extra love and attention from the furry friends.
1000 yen per hour on weekdays, 1200 yen per hour on weekends and holidays. Reservation recommended by phone.
Open every day, 10AM - 10PM
Japan, 〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 歌舞伎町1丁目16-2
18. Hedgehog Cafe
Visiting a bizarre animal café is an essential rite of passage for any traveler to Japan (hence number 17 on our list). At one of Tokyo's hedgehog cafés, you can pay for a set amount of time to play with a hedgehog and feed it—all while enjoying a (human) beverage of your choice. Our go-tos are Cheese Hedgehog Cafe, which also has bunnies and owls available to interact with, and Harry Hedgehog Cafe.
Cheese Hedgehog Cafe
Open every day, 11AM - 8PM
Japan, 〒101-0021 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda City, Sotokanda, 4-chōme−4−３ OGISO BLDG
Harry Hedgehog Cafe
Open every day, 11AM - 7PM
Japan, 〒150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae, 1 Chome−13−２１ シャンゼール原宿２号館 4F
19. Shibuya Crossing
The famous Tokyo crossing was made famous by the movie, "Lost in Translation." Walk across the intersection when all pedestrian lights turn green at the same time and take in the organized chaos—then take time to wander around Shibuya, which is one of Tokyo's trendiest neighborhoods full of young Japanese creatives and tons of cool shops, restaurants, and bars.
2 Chome-2-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 150-0043, Japan
20. Rainbow Bridge
This 798-meter suspension bridge—which extends across northern Tokyo Bay from Shibaura Pier and Odaiba waterfront development—may look familiar if you took a bus from Narita Airport into the city center upon arriving in Tokyo. Odds are there’ll be plenty of traffic at all times, but with a dedicated pedestrian walkway (accessible from the elevator from the Shibaura side pier), you can snag that Instagram-worthy shot of the skyscrapers with stunning views of the city any time of day.
Minato City, Tokyo 105-0000, Japan
After a day of ogling at all the stunning sights in Tokyo, all you'll want is a good night's rest. Turn to our ryokan guide for information on how to pick the best traditional Japanese inn for you—as well as what to expect during your stay—onsens (aka hot springs) included.