Fusing the Old with the New
Catering to almost every traveller, Tokyo offers-up green spaces and famous places, trendy shopping and dining, and peaceful temples and shrines. Tokyo is one of the most fascinating cities in the world and encompasses several “mini cities” each with its own distinct character.
It is a city filled with Japanese history, but also modern, and futuristic neo sci-fi streetscapes. Tokyo’s 38+ million inhabitants are equally proud of its ancient history and culture, as they are of its ultra-modern technology and architecture.
Tokyo has a neighbourhood for everyone, and it sure has something for you. In this post, we are excited to share with you…
Things to see in Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market
Fish is big business in Japan and the Tsukiji Market is a marvellous point for observing this lively industry. It has an inner section where most of the wholesale proceedings take place, and then an outer section where retail shops and restaurants exist.
As a tourist, there are three things you can do here: attend the tuna auction, walk around the market, or eat the freshest sushi (or seafood) that you can ever taste. Most tourists want to visit the tuna auction, there are only 120 limited spots available each day and you have to wait in line at 5 am to get a ticket (it’s a first come, first serve basis). Even if you do not see the Tuna auction, it’s still fun to walk around the market early in the morning and get some fresh sashimi in the market. The two most popular restaurants there are Sushi Dai and Dai-wa Sushi.
We would suggest to go to Tsukiji Fish Market as early as possible to see the most action. Also make sure to watch out for traffic while you are there because fish wholesalers have carts that they drive in to move around the goods and it can get quite chaotic. Make sure to wear close toed shoes too as the floor can be dirty and wet (you are dealing with dead fish after all).
The inner market of Tsukiji Market closed on October 6, 2018 and moved to a new site in Toyosu where it reopened as Toyosu Market. Tsukiji’s outer market, on the other hand, did not close and will remain in business.
Asakusa is one of the most popular spots and a historic districts located in the east part of Tokyo. It is an older part of the city, but it has its charms. The Senso-ji Temple (also known as The Asakusa Kannon temple) grounds is one the main highlights of Asakusa area and is a great place to explore!
Senso-ji is the oldest Temple in Tokyo, attracting millions of tourists a year. The entire area around Senso-ji is very festive with all the shops and traditional decoration. You can probably spot the most people in kimono here as well because people come here to pray and pay their respect. Click here to read our experience visiting Senso-ji
To get to Asakusa, you will need to end up on the Ginza line to Asakusa station (about 20 minutes from Tokyo station and 40 minutes from Shibuya). Once you exit the station, walk towards the first gate called Thunder Gate. Once you pass the Thunder Gate, you will see stores lined up leading towards Senso-Ji Temple.
Although the Senso-Ji and the shopping area is really busy and crowded, most of the residential area is very quiet.
If you are a beer fan, you may be happy to hear that the Japanese beer brand Asahi has an Asahi Beer Hall located a few minutes’ walk from the Asakusa Station, away from the Temple.
About 20 minutes’ walk from Asakusa, the Tokyo Skytree (opened in 2012) is a television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo located near Narihira Bridge and Oshiage area alongside the Sumida River. With a height of 634 meters (634 can be read as “Musashi”, a historic name of the Tokyo Region), it is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest structure on earth after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The tower has two observation decks, one at 350 m (Tembo Deck) and one at 450 m (Tembo Galleria). Apparently on a clear day Mt Fuji can be seen from the lower deck.
The structure evokes a traditional beauty of Japan’s historic buildings with a combination between incredible technological advances and technology from the past. Of course, a vibration-controlling system will make the tower safe and reduce swaying from earthquakes and strong winds.
Furthermore, Tembo shuttle, Japan`s fastest elevator (maximum speed 600 meters per minute) is able to transport passengers to TOKYO SKYTREE Tembo Deck 350 meters in 50 seconds.
At the base of Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo Solamachi, is a huge shopping mall with many restaurants and shops. It is well worth a visit, especially if you have some time to wait until your ticket is up. Solamachi also has a huge aquarium.
The Tokyo National Museum
The museum first opened its doors in 1872, making it Japan’s oldest national museum. It’s in Ueno Park, in Taito, the north-eastern part of Tokyo. The park contains several large museums: Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Western Art, and Ueno Royal Museum. The Tokyo National Museum has the world´s largest collection of Japanese art, with pottery, sculptures, samurai swords, woodblock prints, kimonos and so much more. If you only want to visit one museum in Tokyo, this is the one to pick!
To deep dive into the nerdy side of Tokyo, head for Akihabara. While Tokyo has many surprises, this is where the feeling of having entered another dimension kicks in for real.
Akihabara is 15 minutes away from Sensoji by subway. This area is reputed for being the go-to place for “Otaku”s, anime lovers (or geeks if you prefer). This is also where you can get all your electronics shopping done if that’s on your list of things to do in Tokyo! There are plenty of electronics stores along the main Chuo Dori street. Visit Yodabashi Camera to find all the fancy Japanese gadgets of your dreams. On Sunday afternoon after 1pm the main street of Akihabara becomes a pedestrian only zone.
Visit one of the most famous street crossings in the world on your first day in Tokyo. Located right outside of Shibuya Station, this busy crossing is a bucket list experience for most visitors. When the light turns green, the scramble begins! Businessmen, students, shoppers, foreigners… everyone is going everywhere. Shibuya is a major shopping centre in Tokyo. Whenever you walk around Shibuya, you will not only see students in uniforms but also very fashionable people. There are many shopping centres in Shibuya catering to both high school students and professionals.
A statue outside of Shibuya station commemorates the most well-known dog in Japan: Hachiko. The story goes that this Akita dog who was known for his loyalty towards his owner. He continued to wait for his owner for 9 years even after the owner’s death. The Hachiko Statue is a famous meeting point for people to wait for their friends. Definitely, snap a pic with Hachiko!
Meiji Jingu, a famous Shinto Shrine, is about 15 minutes’ walk from Shibuya Station so it’s an easy thing to add to your Tokyo itinerary. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The shrine is a huge forested space and is a great place to go in the summer. As you walk in through the gate and lines of trees, you will see sake barrels. These are donations from different manufacturers. As you walk towards the main complex of the Meiji Shrine, you will see shops selling good luck charms and little wooden cards for you to write your wish on. The Meiji Shrine is open all year long and admission is free.
In opposite contrast to the serene traditional energy of Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, located five minutes away, is an interesting area known for young adult’s fashion enthusiasts, cafe’s and shopping. Walk down Takeshita Street and witness the kawaii culture of Japan. There are shops selling adorable trinkets, unicorn coloured candy floss, oversize fruit crepes and more.
Take the subway to Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest railway station. As the largest shopping and commercial district in Tokyo, Shinjuku offers a lot to do and see. Some of Tokyo’s largest skyscrapers live here. Go up to the observation deck of the Metropolitan Government Office for a panoramic view of the city, a must see in Tokyo. It’s noteworthy to mention that East Shinjuku is full of nightlife, weird and quirky things and one prime example is the Robot Restaurant in East Shinjuku. Even though it’s a “restaurant”, you are not there for the food. Instead everyone goes there for its 90 minutes show featuring lots of robots, dinosaurs, laser nights, etc. I have not watched it but apparently, it’s quite a wild show. The area really comes alive at night time when the lights are turned on. Take your time exploring!
Roppongi has a very vibrant nightlife. There are a lot of clubs, bars, strip clubs and restaurants here. It’s very favoured by expats and business people and you will see a lot of them at night. Roppongi Hills is an area within Roppongi and is a very affluent area. There is a nice observation deck called Tokyo City View in the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. You can see the Tokyo Tower from this observation deck.
Famous the world over for its elegant high-class shopping, this area has some of Tokyo’s best top-end luxury hotels. With its broad boulevard-like streets, Ginza is Tokyo`s answer to New York`s Fifth Avenue, or London`s Oxford Street. It was the first area of Tokyo to be modernized in the 1870s and has modern Western-style buildings and some of Tokyo’s most upscale shopping malls.
Nowadays, Shinjuku and Shibuya have outshined Ginza when it comes to shopping, vitality, and energy, but Ginza still has the posh factor with all the famous high-end brands. It is also the perfect place to go window shopping and people watching.
On the weekends the traffic is closed off and Chuo Dori, the main shopping street, becomes a pedestrian-only zone which is really cool. In the evenings the nightlife around Ginza is more upscale and mature with plenty of good restaurants and cocktail bars. It is also a very safe area and excellent for families traveling with children.
If you are interested to watch a Kazuki performance, Ginza is where the Kabukiza Theater is. Read more about it here if you are interested.
Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan’s national sport. Sumo wrestling originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Only men practice sumo professionally in Japan. The sport is heavily dictated by rituals and routine, requiring professional and aspiring-professional sumo wrestlers to reside in sumo stables and wear traditional Japanese clothing. Watching a sumo wrestling match in Japan is highly recommended if you come during tournament time. Click here to read our Sumo Grand Tournament experience.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
The Tokyo Imperial Palace Japan is located on the former site of Edo Castle. This imperial castle Tokyo is a so-called ‘flatland castle’ that was built in 1457 by Ōta Dōkan.
The area of the Japan Royal Palace Tokyo is a large park surrounded by a moat and massive stone walls. You can get there in 10 minutes walking from Tokyo Station. The architecture and history of this place is impressive. Since it’s the primary resident of the imperial family, it is generally closed, except for guided tours Tuesday to Saturday. If you have time, stop by for a tour. The gardens are really pretty inside.
Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. It has shopping centers, business and commercial buildings, and a residential area. As a visitor, you could definitely go into Fuji TV’s observatory deck that’s located in the circular portion of the establishment. Other things to see around here would be the shopping mall Decks Tokyo Beach, the plaza of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza where the giant Gundam robot is displayed, and the scenic Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge; this is a spectacular sight at night as it crosses the Tokyo Bay from Shibaura to Odaiba. Thousands of white LED lights illuminate the bridge, and around Christmas, it is lit up in all the colours of the rainbow.
To get to Odaiba from Tokyo, you have many options. There are several buses leaving from Tokyo, taking the train on Rinkai Line from Shibuya or Shinjuku station or the Yurikamome Monorail from Shinbashi station. The Yurikamome Monorail is a very popular choice because you can enjoy the view from the very first car (the operator car but the monorail is automated so no drivers sit there).
There are plenty of entertainment options available on Odaiba such as the Aquacity Odaiba mall with its 13 cinema screens and a Ramen food theme park (!) where you can sample Ramen soup from all over Japan. The Decks Tokyo Beach Mall has a Madam Tussaud wax museum and a Legoland Discovery Center.
How to Get to Tokyo
There are two major airports in Tokyo, Narita and Haneda. Narita Airport handles most international flights while Haneda Airport handles most domestic flights. To get to central Tokyo from Narita, the Narita Express is the best way. Haneda Airport, on the other hand, is closer to the city centre. 50 minutes on the Haneda Airport Limousine Bus will bring you to the heart of Shinjuku district.
If you are traveling by Shinkansen, getting to Tokyo is easy. Most Shinkansen lines go to Tokyo. From Osaka/Kyoto, the ride is about three hours, and if you are planning to travel around Japan quite a bit, there is a special deal for foreigners. Take advantage of the JR Pass. With a 7,14 or 21 Days Pass, you can enjoy unlimited rides on all national JR trains, including Shinkansen and Narita Express!
Getting Around in Tokyo
- The circular JR Yamanote Line connects with most major Tokyo stations.
- If you are staying in Tokyo for any length of time consider buying a subway pass or a Grutt Pass that offers free entry or a discount to museums, galleries, and other attractions in Tokyo.
- trains and buses stop operating in the city between midnight and 6am.
If you are looking for an overview of where to stay in Tokyo, check out our recommended ‘Where to Stay in Tokyo‘ article packed with things to do in the area.
Note: The information provided in this post was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service.