Tokyo is Japan’s capital and is also the most populous metropolitan area in the entire world.
The city offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, culture, entertainment, and of course, dining, to its locals and visitors alike. Tokyo is home to a deep history and has plenty of excellent museums, historic temples, and gardens to visit.
With the city being set to host the 2020 Olympics, it has become one of the most popular spots in the world to visit, for a number of reasons. With the city’s cleanliness, some of the most friendly locals you will ever meet, and a culture unlike anywhere else in the world, you’ll be needing to check Tokyo off your bucket list as soon as possible.
Our Travel Guides have got you covered across the board, so here are the top things to do in Tokyo for first-timers.
An onsen is a natural Japanese hot spring facility that many locals enjoy. Onsens typically use the natural hot water produced from geothermally heated springs (that are common in Japan as it is a volcanically active country) and have various benefits for the skin and body including alleviating muscle pains, fatigue, and stress. Public onsens are generally separated by gender, and yes, you do have to go in completely nude! It is definitely a new experience for tourists, but well worth it.
Meiji Shrine is located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo and is one of the most popular among visitors to Japan. Every New Year’s Day on “hatsumode“, or the first shrine visit of the New Year, Meiji Shrine receives around three million worshippers. On the day of your visit, you can catch a glimpse of a traditional wedding ceremony if you’re lucky.
The food scene in Tokyo is simply put, phenomenal. It’s impossible to grasp the depth of Tokyo’s food culture — where do we even start? With over a hundred thousand restaurants in the city alone, don’t be too intimidated. Sushi and ramen is just the beginning. Tokyo is one of the world’s most exciting dining destinations, and you can actually find both local and regional Japanese cuisine as well as international foods.
Tokyo’s top restaurants have received more Michelin stars than both Paris and New York combined — but that being said, you don’t have to splurge to get a fantastic meal. The beauty of Tokyo is the hole-in-the-wall, local eats that you won’t find anywhere else.
For a brief two to three weeks in the Spring, the cherry blossoms (or hanami) bloom in Japan. Tokyo has some of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots, where you can see the entire area covered in a beautiful pale pink. Popular spots in Tokyo including Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen are filled with more than a thousand cherry blossom trees, and are visited by thousands of locals and visitors.
A recent activity that has become hugely known worldwide is Go Karting through the streets of Tokyo dressed as Mario Kart characters, just like in the video game. Race with a group and drive through the busiest areas of the city including Akihabara, Shibuya, and around Tokyo Tower.
You will feel like a celebrity as your drive through the streets to see locals waving and taking photographs of you! All you need is a valid international driving licence, and you’re set.
One activity unique to Asian culture and Japan is the number of animal cafes where you can meet, touch, and play with adorable animals. Some of the most popular in Tokyo include the Owl Cafe where you can touch and take photographs with owls and the Hedgehog Cafe where you can watch, touch, and play with the little creatures.
Most animal cafes either charge a small entrance fee or require all visitors to purchase a drink. It is definitely a unique experience for tourists.
It’s without a doubt that one of the best things you can do while overseas is go shopping. One store that you absolutely cannot miss while in Tokyo is Don Quijote (also referred to as “donki”), where you can find just about everything. Snacks, sweets, cosmetics, coloured contact lens, electronics, household goods, souvenirs, and so much more can be found in Don Quijote.
Not only that, but there are several locations scattered around Tokyo in Shinjuku, Ginza, Akihabara, Roppongi, and Shibuya. The Shibuya location is seven stories high (we repeat: seven) and open 24 hours a day — so you can go on a spree anytime you want.
The Robot Restaurant is one of the craziest and most entertaining spots in Tokyo for tourists. Featuring high-tech machines with flashy neon lights, the restaurant is located in Shinjuku, also known as the red light district in Tokyo. The Robot Restaurant is truly one thing that is unique to Tokyo — make sure you book in advance!
Izakaya Alleys are the best place to have a boozy experience in Tokyo, most of which are very tiny and seat only a handful of customers. Izakayas are Japanese style bars and are popular among locals to hop into right after work for a few drinks, and are usually found in old fashioned, smokey, narrow streets.
Drop by the most famous Izakaya Alley in Shinjuku, and dine and drink with locals with authentic Japanese snacks for a whole new experience.
A culture completely unique to Japan, sumo wrestling is one of the national sports and was started in ancient times. Tokyo is home to a number of sumo training rooms, some which are open for public viewing of their morning practice!
Watching sumo wrestlers in action at such a close distance is a great experience, and learning how hard they train both mentally and physically. Though not exactly the cheapest activity in Tokyo, it’s still definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest intersection — the intersection is crossed by around half a million people daily. It is one of the hottest photos spots in Tokyo, and you will likely see many other tourists waiting for the best opportunity for a shot at the centre of the crossing. Another fun fact: The Starbucks overlooking the crossing is also the busiest Starbucks location in the world.
The paradise for all things kawaii (cute), Harajuku is home to masses of stylish boutiques showcasing Japanese fashion and culture. Harajuku’s Takeshita Street is where you can find colourful fashion items, unique souvenirs, as well as a number of fun cafes and street food stands. Be sure to try a famous crepe, or a giant cotton candy while you walk along the street!
Go on a Saturday or Sunday to get the full Harajuku experience — you’ll see true Harajuku Girls decked out in either cosplay or the latest Japanese fashion trends.
Known as the world’s biggest wholesale market before relocating in 2018, Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the most well-known attractions in Tokyo. Although the wholesale inner market of Tsukiji Fish Market has been relocated, the outer market remains the same, where you can purchase some of the best local bites — including fresh sushi and seafood, tamago (sweet egg omelette), and grilled skewers. Go early before it gets crowded, and have one of the best breakfasts of your life!