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Travel tips

Best things to do in Tokyo to fully experience the wonders of the city

Mar 22, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Tokyo is a vibrant city where the staggering beauty of ancient architecture and tranquil spirit worlds meet the futuristic intricacy of a sprawling urban metropolis. It’s a forward-thinking place that remains rooted in tradition, and the entire city is marked by this equilibrium. On a trip to Tokyo, you’ll encounter ancient temples, neon-bathed shopping avenues, and blossoming shade trees, all within steps of one another. The best things to do in Tokyo embrace this harmony and make the city a necessary stop on any tour of Japan.

people crossing the street at Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo Japan, considered the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world

Experience the hustle and bustle of the world’s most populous city

Clocking in at nearly 850 square miles, Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world by area. And with more than 35 million people calling its metro area home, it’s the world’s most populous city. It’s true that around every corner, you may stumble upon an ancient temple or the red gate of a Shinto shrine, but you’ll also find ultra-modern skyscrapers and neon-lit bridges. Whether viewing it from above or mingling with the crowds on a busy street, experiencing the stir of the modern metropolis is an exciting and necessary part of any trip to Tokyo.

  • Stop for a bird’s-eye view of the iconic Shibuya Crossing
    The hustle and bustle of the famous Shibuya Crossing is most impactful when viewed from above. Stop and snap a photo as up to three thousand people cross this multi-directional crosswalk simultaneously. Seeing so many people move together as they go about their day can almost feel overwhelming. Yet at the same time, it may evoke feelings of kinship and community—you really have to see it in person to get the full experience.

    While you’re there, try to spot the Hachikō statue, placed in memory of the world’s most loyal dog, who waited daily for his owner, even after the owner’s passing. Today, the statue serves as a popular meeting spot for friends.

  • Use public transportation to hop around the expansive city like a local
    Tokyo is a sprawling city, and each neighborhood has something new to offer its visitors. Since there are so many interesting places to go in Tokyo, the best and easiest way to get around is by using the city’s orderly public transit system.

    “Take some time before you leave to learn how to use the Tokyo Metro system,” said staffer Amanda after traveling on our Japan Adventure Tour. “At first glance, it can seem complicated, but it’s actually an incredibly safe and efficient way to get around central Tokyo and see different neighborhoods. You pay based on your final destination, and you can buy tickets in all stations. There will also be signage in English to help you out. And don’t worry if you get on going in the wrong direction or miss a stop—there are so many that you can just hop off at the next one and change direction. It’s all part of the adventure!”

  • Enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building
    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, located in the Shinjuku ward, offers panoramic views of the city below from two observation decks in each of its twin towers. Not only is Tokyo the world’s most populous city, it’s also one of the largest in area, and the metropolis will seemingly stretch on forever before your eyes. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see all the way to Mount Fuji.

Experience Tokyo

a person wearing a kimono pouring steaming water form a bamboo ladle into a decorative bowl next to a bowl of noodles and vegetables

Savor and learn about the local cuisine

Japanese cuisine emphasizes delicate and complex flavors in dishes that are light yet homey and comforting. On any trip to Japan, you’ll likely encounter a mix of traditional and modern dishes with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

  • Participate in a traditional tea ceremony
    The art of preparing and serving matcha is part performance, part meditation, and part hospitality ritual. It’s an expression of the Japanese concept of omotenashi, the idea that guests should be looked after wholeheartedly. When you take part in a tea ceremony on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo, a tea master will guide you through the customs and tools used to prepare and present matcha. You’ll learn the symbolism behind each step of the process and snack on traditional sweets while sipping your tea.

  • Take a cooking lesson and learn to make Japanese fare
    Taking a cooking class is one of the most unique things to do in Tokyo, Japan. Luckily, it’s offered on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo and available as an optional Japanese Cooking Class & Dinner excursion on all of our other tours of Tokyo. You’ll learn to make traditional dishes such as miso soup, gyudon, and a chicken teriyaki bento box, before sitting down with your tour mates to enjoy the meal.

Taste Tokyo's local cuisine

the red roof of Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo Japan

Find your moment of Zen in one of Tokyo’s temples or shrines

More than 150,000 temples and shrines are scattered throughout Japan. It’s not uncommon to see the tiered pagoda of a Buddhist temple set against the backdrop of skyscrapers and city streets, or the red Torii gate of a Shinto shrine in the middle of an otherwise untouched landscape. Many of Tokyo’s shrines and temples feel like urban oases—tranquil escapes within the modern city.

  • Visit the Meiji Shrine and make a wish
    The Torii gates marking the entrances to Shinto shrines represent the divide between our world and the spirit world. Passing under the soaring wooden gate marking the Harajuku entrance to the Meiji Shrine indicates that you’ve stepped onto sacred ground and really does feel like stepping into another world.

    The shrine and its inner garden feel like something of a sanctuary within the city. The entrance is just steps from one of the busiest shopping districts in Tokyo, but once you step through it, you’ll be surrounded by lush forest and immaculate gardens. If you visit in June, you’ll find the garden awash with blooming irises. Before you leave, write a wish on a small wooden plaque, known as an ema, and hang it on the shrine. The ritual is on our list of 20 amazing things to do in Japan.

  • Explore the ancient Asakusa Kannon Temple
    The Asakusa Kannon Temple, also called Sensō-ji, is the oldest temple in Tokyo and first on our list of must-see temples in Japan. Legend says that in 628 A.D. two brothers pulled a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the river. Even after they put the statue back in the river, it returned to them. They took this as a sign and built the temple to honor the goddess.

    Enter through the thunder gate, adorned with its massive red lantern, and walk down the Nakamise Shopping Street to reach the temple. Like many structures within the city, some parts of the temple were destroyed in World War II and later rebuilt. Take in the impressive five-story pagoda and let the scent of burning incense wash over you before you step inside to explore the temple.

    Travel tip: “Always wear socks or have them on you,” said staffer Amanda. “Most temples and various places will ask you to remove your shoes before entering, and you probably don’t want to walk around barefoot.”

Find your Zen in Tokyo

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cherry blossoms hanging over the Meguro River in Tokyo Japan

Relax in a park and admire the seasonal foliage

The concrete jungle of Tokyo is dotted with green spaces. Wide, grassy parks serve as gathering places, and thousands of roadside trees provide shade and beauty—especially during Japan’s famous cherry blossom season.

  • Wander through the delightful Yoyogi Park
    Next to the Meiji Shrine sits the sprawling Yoyogi Park, one of the largest public parks in Tokyo. Pristine walkways wind through sweeping green lawns dotted with large shade trees. Here you’ll find all sorts of people gathering, sharing picnics, and playing sports. You might even run into a street performer or impromptu dance party.

    If you visit Yoyogi Park on our Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto tour, you’ll notice that the park has fewer trees than other stops on your tour. However, the ones it has are lovely to behold, particularly those clustered around the park’s many bodies of water. The park particularly shines in the autumn, when its ginkgo forest is set ablaze with golden leaves. In fact, the autumn leaves ranked number one on our list of reasons to visit Japan in the fall.

  • Stroll along the banks of the Meguro River
    The Meguro River is one of the prettiest places to see in Tokyo if you’re visiting during cherry blossom season, but that shouldn’t deter you from stopping by at other times of the year. The banks of the river are draped in foliage that changes along with the seasons, from lush greens to fiery reds to, of course, soft cherry blossom pinks. Scattered with quaint cafes and small, independent boutiques, the area is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

    Travel tip: Carry a small bag for your trash. Public trash cans can be scarce in Japan, and littering is highly frowned upon. Always carry your trash out of public places if you can’t dispose of it.

    For more Japan travel tips, check out our guide to the top things to do, eat, and see in Japan

Enjoy nature in Tokyo

people eating at an open air street restaurant above an image of a Japanese lucky cat and anime characters on a card

Gather inspiration (and souvenirs) in Tokyo’s brightly colored shopping districts

Many of Tokyo’s neighborhoods have distinct personalities. One of the best things to do in Tokyo, Japan, is to explore and experience as many as you can. Whether you’re into fashion, anime, technology, or tradition, you’ll find inspiration in the fashion and art you’ll encounter on the streets and in the shops of Tokyo. And while you’re busy exploring, you might as well pick up some souvenirs to take home.

  • Shop and snack your way down Nakamise Street
    The Nakamise Shopping Arcade is situated on the grounds of the Asakusa Kannon Temple, between the outer Thunder Gate and the second gate. The avenue is lined with nearly 90 shops selling souvenirs, clothing, and snacks. Nibble on some rice crackers or sweets made of sweet potato paste as you shop for postcards, traditional sandals, and delicate paper fans. Be sure to try the Ningyo-yaki—traditional sweet cakes filled with red bean paste that are formed in the shape of dolls, animals, lanterns, and pagodas.
  • Soak up the vibrant Harajuku neighborhood’s culture
    The colorful Harajuku neighborhood is Tokyo’s center for fashion and cosplay and the birthplace of kawaii (cute) culture. A stroll down Takeshita Street is one of the most fun things to do in Tokyo, Japan. The pedestrian avenue is lined with boutiques and sweet shops and is particularly popular among Tokyo’s teenage fashionistas. Treat yourself to a sugary crépe or rainbow-colored cotton candy that’s as much a sculpture as it is a snack. Then, wander down the side streets, where you’ll find unique vintage and second-hand clothing stores tucked away from the crowds.
  • Shop for beautiful and functional souvenirs on Kappabashi Street
    Known as Kitchen Town, Kappabashi Street is a shopping district specializing in quality kitchenware, and it’s a food lover’s dream. This is where local chefs and home cooks come to shop for their kitchen tools, and it’s a great place to pick up some pottery or a lovely set of chopsticks to bring home. Swing by on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo to browse the huge selection of kitchen gadgets, tableware, and even plastic display food. If you’re in the market for an artisan-crafted Japanese chef’s knife, this is the place to find it. Some of the shops will even engrave your name on the knife in Japanese characters.
Go shopping in Tokyo
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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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