Best Things To Do in Tokyo

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 19.03.2024

Tokyo offers a dynamic blend of the traditional and the contemporary, presenting you with a fascinating snapshot of Japan. From the moment you arrive, the city's pulsating energy is akin to the rush of consuming multiple energy drinks. Tokyo is a city that never sleeps, buzzing with constant activity and innovation. Here, technology advances at a breakneck pace, making what's cutting-edge today seem outdated tomorrow, and fashion trends evolve quicker than the changing seasons. Yet, beyond its futuristic facade, Tokyo holds deep-rooted traditions and cultural treasures that might not be obvious at first glance. Among all Asian capitals, Tokyo stands out as exceptionally captivating, offering a rich tapestry of experiences that seamlessly weave the ancient with the ultramodern. Planning a trip? These are the best things to do in Tokyo.

The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Tokyo — your essential guide to visiting Japan

#1 Enjoy a peaceful escape in the Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace, the serene residence of the Emperor, offers a peaceful escape in the heart of Tokyo. Walking around the complex, is one of the best things to do in Tokyo. Surrounded by lush gardens and historical walls, it serves as a bridge between Japan's rich past and its present. A stroll around the palace grounds reveals not just the beauty of traditional Japanese architecture but also the importance of this site in the nation's history. 

As you wander, you'll find the East Gardens, open to the public and home to beautiful seasonal blooms. The Nijubashi Bridge, with its iconic double arch, offers a perfect photo opportunity, symbolizing the entrance to a world where history meets modernity.

Image by Pierre Blaché from Pixabay

Image by Pierre Blaché from Pixabay 

#2 Eat at Robot Restaurant

Seeing is believing at Tokyo’s newest and zaniest attraction, Robot Restaurant. It all starts at the entrance foyer, where there’s nary an inch of regular, boring space – everything glistens, shines, flashes or reflects. There’s far more of the same heading down the stairs to the trippy, video-screen-lined hall where you’ll be sat with other excited tourists and locals, and given a bentō set to scoff before the carnage commences.

YouTube clips will give you a great idea of what to expect, but the performances are far more fun if you have no idea what’s coming – for now, suffice it to say that dozens of robots, scantily dressed girls, more LEDs than anyone could ever count, and a wall of roaring music are on the cards.

#3 Experience urban life in Shinjuku

Shinjuku, a district defined by its skyscrapers and neon lights, embodies the essence of Tokyo's dynamic urban life. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, with its free observation decks, offers panoramic views of the city, while Shinjuku Gyoen presents a tranquil escape with its sprawling gardens. 

Shinjuku's diversity extends to its entertainment options, with Kabukichō offering an array of nightlife activities and Shimokitazawa, a short train ride away, showcasing the city's alternative scene with its vintage shops and indie theaters. Shinjuku's multifaceted charm makes it an essential visit for anyone wanting to experience Tokyo's vibrant energy and diversity.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan cityscape past the Metropolitan Government Building in the day © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Shinjuku, Tokyo © Shutterstock

#4 Stay in a capsule hotel

Catering mainly to drunken salarymen who have missed their trains home, capsule hotels are made up of floors lined with two levels of tiny rooms, each containing a thin mattress, a comfy blanket, and (in most) a TV and radio built into the plastic surrounds.

A metre wide, a metre high and two metres long, the rooms are just about big enough to stand in, but not much else. However, the clichéd description of them as being “coffin-like” is rather wide of the mark: while claustrophobics and anyone over 2m tall should give them a miss, most actually find these minuscule rooms surprisingly comfortable – and there’s no more characteristic Japanese sleeping experience.


Capsule Hotel © Shutterstock

#5 Visit Senso-ji, Tokyo's oldest temple

Visiting Tokyo, without going to Senso-ji is unthinkable. It's one of the best things to do in Tokyo. Located in the vibrant Asakusa district, it stands as a beacon of tradition and spirituality. As the city's oldest and most significant temple, it draws both the devout and curious with its rich history, magnificent architecture, and the lively Nakamise Shopping Street leading to its thunder gate. 

The temple grounds, with the majestic five-story pagoda and the sacred incense cauldron believed to heal and purify, offer a profound sense of peace amidst the bustling city. Visiting Senso-ji is not just about witnessing traditional rituals or exploring historical structures; it's an immersive experience that connects you to the heart of Japanese culture and spirituality. Whether you're soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying traditional treats from local vendors, or capturing the beauty of the temple's intricate details, Senso-ji remains an unmissable experience for anyone seeking to delve into Tokyo's cultural depth.

Senso ji, Kyoto, Japan

Senso-ji temple in Tokyo

#6 Stroll around Asakusa and Ueno

The northeast quarter of Tokyo is where the spirit of Edo-era Tokyo is most palpable. Asakusa, centered around the Sensō-ji temple, offers a deep dive into Tokyo's traditional crafts and culture. Nearby Ueno Park, a sprawling green space, is home to several of Tokyo's most prestigious museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, making it a cultural hotspot. In Asakusa, the bustling Nakamise Shopping Street invites you to explore stalls brimming with handmade souvenirs, while the aromas of street food draw you deeper into the historic atmosphere. 

Ueno, meanwhile, not only offers art and history but also a chance to relax by the lotus ponds or visit the Ueno Zoo. Together, these areas provide a blend of leisure, culture, and history, embodying the multifaceted essence of Tokyo.

Ueno Toshogu Shrine © Don Kennedy

Ueno Toshogu Shrine © Shutterstock

#7 Have a cuppa in a cat café

The latest hit formula in Tokyo’s polymorphous kissaten culture is the cat café. Offering quality time with purring felines, it’s easy to understand the appeal: they are relaxing places, offering the pleasures of pet ownership without the commitment.

Ranging from tiny converted apartments to spacious multi-level facilities, cat cafés all have similar rules. There’s a cover charge based on the amount of time you spend in the café and perhaps a small amount extra for your drinks. You have to take your shoes off on entering and sanitize your hands and note that feeding and taking photos of the cats is OK, but you’re not allowed to manhandle or disturb them if they’re sleeping.

#8 Go shopping in Ginza

Ginza is Tokyo's premier shopping district, where luxury boutiques, cutting-edge fashion, and upscale restaurants line its streets. It's a must-visit for those looking to experience Tokyo's high-end lifestyle. Beyond shopping, Ginza is known for its art galleries, elegant cafes, and the Kabuki-za Theatre, offering traditional Japanese performances. The district transforms at night, with its buildings illuminated, showcasing the area's modern architecture.

Ginza's blend of tradition with modernity makes it a fascinating area to explore, offering a glimpse into Tokyo's cosmopolitan culture. Whether indulging in high-end shopping or enjoying fine dining, Ginza epitomizes Tokyo's luxurious side, making it an unforgettable part of any visit to the city.

Ginza, Tokyo © 7maru/Shutterstock

Ginza, Tokyo © Shutterstock

#9 Get gaming at Leisure Land

If you want to see “crazy” Tokyo, Leisure Land is a pretty good place to start. Attractions include a bowling alley, a baseball-batting centre and karaoke rooms, but best of all is the Game Corner on the first floor where you can bash the hell out of the world’s weirdest arcade machines.

In this extremely noisy area you’ll see Tokyoites – and not just the young ones – perfecting their moves on the dance machines, thrashing computerized drum kits, playing all sorts of screen-whacking games, and using grabbing cranes to pluck teddies for their dates.

#10 Learn all about sumo in Ryōgoku

Ryōgoku is synonymous with sumo wrestling and Japanese history. The Edo-Tokyo Museum and the National Sumo Stadium offer insights into Tokyo's past and present, showcasing the city's cultural depth and its sporting spirit. Here, visitors can dive deep into the world of sumo by visiting sumo stables and possibly catching a morning practice session. 

The area is also rich in traditional restaurants serving chanko nabe, the sumo wrestler's meal of choice. With its blend of history, culture, and cuisine, Ryōgoku provides a unique glimpse into the traditions that shape Japan, making it a captivating destination for those eager to understand the soul of Tokyo.


Sumo Wrestlers © Shutterstock

#11 Visit the heart of the manga and anime scene in Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo's electric town, has evolved into the heart of the manga and anime scene. With its electronics stores, themed cafes, and pop culture shops, it's a paradise for tech enthusiasts and anime fans alike. The area's vibrant atmosphere is further enriched by the historic Kanda Myōjin shrine and its celebrated Kanda Matsuri festival. 

This district buzzes with energy, showcasing the latest in technology alongside collectibles and memorabilia. Whether you're hunting for rare manga volumes, customizing your gaming setup, or experiencing a maid cafe, Akihabara offers an immersive dive into Japan's subcultures. Its blend of modernity and tradition captures the essence of Tokyo's dynamic culture, making it a must-visit for adventurers seeking the cutting edge of entertainment and history.

#12 Explore futuristic Odaiba

A futuristic island connected by the Rainbow Bridge, is a testament to Tokyo's innovative spirit. Attractions like the Miraikan science museum and the iconic Fuji TV building highlight Japan's advancements in science and technology, making Odaiba a must-see for future-focused travelers. 

The area also features leisure spots such as Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a hot spring theme park, and Palette Town, offering entertainment for all ages. With its panoramic views of Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge, especially stunning at night, Odaiba combines futuristic visions with leisure and entertainment, embodying Tokyo's forward-thinking and playful character.

Japan, Tokyo Prefecture, Odaiba, low angle view of the Daikanransha ferris wheel at Palette Town amusement park, night

Vew of the Daikanransha ferris wheel at Odaiba © Shutterstock

#13 Dance in Tokyo's nightlife epicenter Roppongi

Roppongi is Tokyo's nightlife epicenter, but it's also a hub for art lovers by day. The Roppongi Art Triangle, comprising the National Art Center, Suntory Museum of Art, and Mori Art Museum, offers a diverse range of art experiences, housed within some of Tokyo's most striking architectural marvels. Beyond its art scene, Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown are complexes that blend shopping, dining, and culture, making the area vibrant around the clock. 

Whether seeking a night out or cultural enrichment, Roppongi serves as a dynamic crossroads of contemporary art, architecture, and lifestyle, reflecting Tokyo's multifaceted personality.


Roppongi and the Tokyo Tower © Shutterstock

#14 Wander in Tokyo's beating heart: Shibuya and Harajuku 

As a mind-blowing introduction to contemporary Tokyo, it’s hard to beat Shibuya, birthplace of a million-and-one consumer crazes, and best visited at night when the neon signs of restaurants, bars and cinemas battle it out with five-storey TV screens for the attention of passers-by.

This blaze of lights doesn’t get much brighter than around the plaza on the west side of Shibuya Station, where you’ll find one of the most famous pedestrian crossings in the world – its stock only rose further following its depiction in the film Lost in Translation.  It's said that over 2.4 million people cross Shibuya every day, making crossing this street one of the best things to do in Tokyo. 

Harajuku, known for its eclectic street fashion, is where tradition meets modernity, with the serene Meiji-jingū shrine providing a peaceful retreat from the bustling streets. These areas are not just about shopping; they're cultural hubs where the latest trends are born, offering a unique mix of sights, from cutting-edge fashion boutiques to historic sites.

Shibuya crossing, Tokyo © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Famous Shibuya crossing, Tokyo © Shutterstock

#15 Visit Tsukiji Outer Market

Formerly home to the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the Tsukiji Outer Market remains a bustling hub for fresh seafood and traditional Japanese cuisine. Explore the myriad of stalls and restaurants for an authentic taste of Tokyo’s culinary delights. Even though the wholesale market has moved to Toyosu, Tsukiji's vibrant atmosphere persists, inviting visitors to savor fresh sushi, grilled seafood, and other Japanese specialties. 

The narrow lanes teem with vendors offering everything from kitchenware to gourmet ingredients, making it a paradise for food lovers. Tsukiji Outer Market embodies the essence of Tokyo's gastronomic culture, offering a rich sensory experience that connects you to the city's culinary heritage.


Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan © Shutterstock

#16 Gaze at the performances in Yoyogi Park

Not only one of Tokyo’s largest city parks, it's also one of the most fun parks to visit. You'ff find people dancing, singing, rehearsing theatre performance and more. Visiting this park is one of the best things to do in Tokyo. It offers wide-open spaces, forested areas, and seasonal gardens. It’s a popular spot for picnics, jogging, and observing the changing seasons, especially during the cherry blossom and autumn foliage periods. 

The park also serves as a cultural venue, hosting events and festivals that reflect Tokyo's diverse community. Yoyogi Park's spacious lawns and tranquil ponds provide a peaceful retreat from the city's hustle and bustle, making it an ideal place for relaxation and leisure. Its proximity to Harajuku and Shibuya makes it a convenient escape into nature, offering visitors a chance to recharge amidst the greenery while still being close to major attractions.

#17 Head to a hanami party

With the arrival of spring in late March or early April, a pink tide of cherry blossom washes north over Tokyo, lasting little more than a week.

The finest displays are along the moat around the Imperial Palace (particularly the section close by Yasukuni-jinja), in Ueno-kōen, Aoyama Cemetery, Shinjuku Gyoen, the riverside Sumida-kōen and on the banks of the Meguro-gawa west of Meguro station, where every tree shelters a blossom viewing (hanami) party.


Hanami © kuremo/Shutterstock

#18 Climb the Tokyo Tower 

An iconic symbol of Tokyo, Tokyo Tower offers observation decks with sweeping views of the city. Its structure is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, yet distinctly Japanese, serving as a broadcast antenna and a tourist attraction. Visitors can ascend to the top for panoramic views, capturing Tokyo's vastness and the contrast between historic temples and modern skyscrapers. 

The tower's foot town features restaurants, shops, and an aquarium, adding to the visitor experience. At night, Tokyo Tower lights up, providing a beautiful symbol of Tokyo's enduring charm and innovation. It remains a must-visit landmark, embodying the city's aspirations and architectural prowess.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Tower 

#19 Enjoy the unparalleled panoramic views of Tokyo Skytree

Dominating the skyline, Tokyo Skytree stands as the tallest structure in Japan, reaching up to the heavens and offering unparalleled panoramic views of the sprawling urban landscape below. This architectural marvel doesn't just stop at its observation decks; it's a comprehensive entertainment complex. Within its towering frame, it hosts a variety of shopping centers, where visitors can find everything from souvenirs to high-end fashion, and restaurants that cater to all tastes, offering both traditional Japanese cuisine and international dishes. 

The Skytree has become a modern landmark in Tokyo, symbolizing the city's blend of traditional beauty and cutting-edge technology. Its presence in the city not only offers a unique vantage point to view Tokyo in all its glory but also serves as a hub of cultural and commercial activity. Whether you're looking to enjoy breathtaking views from its observation decks, indulge in some retail therapy, or dine with a view that stretches into the distance, Tokyo Skytree is an essential experience for any visitor to the city, embodying the vibrant spirit and the continuous growth of Tokyo.

Tokyo skyline with Mt Fuji and Skytree, Japan © mapman/Shutterstock

Tokyo skyline with Mt Fuji and Skytree, Japan © Shutterstock

#20 Walk around Meiji Jingu Gaien

Meiji Jingu Gaien is known for its beautiful ginkgo tree-lined avenue, which becomes especially picturesque in the autumn. This area includes sports facilities, historical monuments, and is a great place for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the blend of nature and culture. The ginkgo trees, turning brilliant yellow in the fall, create a stunning natural canopy that attracts photographers and nature lovers alike. Besides its scenic beauty, Meiji Jingu Gaien hosts a variety of cultural and sporting events, offering something for everyone. 

The area is also home to the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery and the Jingu Baseball Stadium, adding layers of historical and contemporary interest. Whether you're looking to appreciate the changing seasons, delve into Japan's rich history, or simply enjoy a day out in one of Tokyo's green spaces, Meiji Jingu Gaien offers a serene escape from the urban landscape, embodying the harmonious coexistence of Tokyo's natural beauty and cultural heritage.

#21 Take a trip to the hot springs

Until a few decades ago life in Tokyo’s residential neighbourhoods focused round the sentō, the public bath. A surprising number of sentō survive, many fed by natural onsen waters. Then there are the larger hot-spring resorts – good fun, though not a patch on the smaller onsen facilities found elsewhere in the city.

Our top picks for a soak are the old Jakotsu-yu neighbourhood bathhouse and the resort-like spa complex of Ōedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.

#22 Check out the Ghibli Museum

Get behind the scenes of Studio Ghibli anime at this imaginative museum. Beautifully designed throughout, it celebrates the work of the Ghibli animation studio, responsible for blockbuster movies including My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. Visitors gain an insight not only into Ghibli’s films but also the animator’s art in general. There’s also a small movie theatre where original short animated features, exclusive to the museum, are screened.

Combine the best with 24 hours in Tokyo

With only 24 hours to spend in Tokyo, begin your day in the Asakusa area at one of Japan's most iconic temples, the Senso-ji Temple. Take a walk along Nakamise Street to pick up fabulous souvenirs before heading over to a nearby restaurant for a typical Japanese breakfast. 

Then, if you're feeling fashionable, head down the chic streets of Harajuku, where Takeshita Street crackles with cutting-edge boutiques and crepe stands. Stop in to pay respects at the serene Meiji Shrine, an oasis of calm in the middle of the manic sprawl. In the afternoon, visit the famous scramble crossing of Shibuya and have a piece of sushi in one of its many conveyor belt restaurants. 

Come evening, visit Shinjokoen. The day at Golden Gai remains incomplete without toasting with the ubiquitous sake in one of its snug bars, or perhaps, devoting the evening to an unforgettable experience in a robot restaurant. 

Afterward, walk up to observation decks of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for some breathtaking city panoramas (free of charge)

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 19.03.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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