Tokyo
Destinations

15 of the Best Things to Do in Tokyo

La Carmina

La Carmina

November 29, 2023

9 min read

Table of Contents

From cute mascot cafes to Buddhist temples and Michelin-starred ramen, Tokyo has something exciting—and often eccentric—for every type of traveler to enjoy. Most visitors fly into Tokyo when they begin their journey in Japan, and many end up spending their entire trip here. The capital city has plenty of activities for those with niche interests: fashion lovers can browse kimono boutiques, while families might picnic in a garden or spend a day at Hello Kitty’s theme park.

Each of Tokyo’s major districts has a different vibe, from upscale Ginza to anime-loving Akihabara. It’s easy and inexpensive to get around by subway but keep in mind that the metro stops running around midnight. If you’re keen to experience the best of Tokyo’s culture,  here are the most delightful things to do around the city.

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1. See panoramic views from Shibuya Sky 

couple taking photo on top of Shibuya sky

Located near Shibuya Station, Shibuya Sky is a futuristic observatory that lets you take in Tokyo’s epic skylines from 751 feet above the ground. Purchase a time slot ticket in advance from the Shibuya Sky website, aiming to arrive around golden hour for the most photogenic lighting followed by sunset. The elevator shoots up to the Sky Gallery, an indoor 360° observation center with giant glass windows all around. Outdoors, you can pose for photos at a viewing platform designed to look like an edge hanging over the skyscrapers. Order a glass of wine or champagne at The Roof, Shibuya’s highest rooftop bar, and curl up on a sofa to enjoy the twinkling lights of Tokyo Tower in the distance. 

2. Bar-hop in Shinjuku 

bars in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku, the entertainment district that never sleeps, is home to hundreds of bars for seemingly every subculture imaginable. Start at Golden Gai, which consists of several gritty streets crammed with tiny bars, some of which can only seat about six people. Each has a distinctive theme, like Deathmatch in Hell, a B-horror-themed hole in the wall decked out in skulls and demons. Bar Cambiare is even more niche: it’s dedicated to Dario Argento’s Suspiria movie, with bloody drinks and décor to match. For a taste of Shinjuku’s LGBTQ+ nightlife, head to Ni-Chome and catch a drag show at Eagle Blue, hosted by the fabulous Nattmara. If alternative fashion and music are more your speed, then dance all night with fabulous club kids at DecabarZ in Kabukicho.

3. Watch traditional Japanese theater

traditional Japanese theater

Get to know Japan’s traditional theater arts by watching a noh or kabuki play. Both theatrical genres involve drama and dances with stylized gestures, which convey the narrative and a wide range of emotions. Noh, however, uses masks and more subtle movements, while kabuki performers wear dramatic makeup and costumes and deliver more action-packed performances. At the National Noh Theatre, located a short walk from Sendagaya Station, you can watch a centuries-old play featuring exquisite masks of noh figures like a hannya, or jealous female demon. Visit Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza to see a kabuki show with onnagata, or men in facepaint that play the female roles. Purchase tickets online in advance to ensure you get excellent seats.  

4. Be immersed in art at TeamLab

Teamlab Tokyo.

TeamLab has been making waves for turning digital art into groundbreaking immersive experiences. The original TeamLab Borderless is relocating to a permanent museum at Toranomon-Azabudai, which is scheduled to open later this year. Art lovers can currently visit TeamLab Planets, which is near Shin-Toyosu Station and is open until the end of 2023. Upon entering Planets, guests take off their shoes to wade through an enormous room filled with calf-high water, which appears to be alive with projections of lotuses and darting goldfish. In the Floating Flower Garden, digital blossoms surround visitors from all sides and respond to their presence as they wander through the space. Tickets for TeamLabs sell out quickly, so purchase them well in advance from their website.

5. Play with pop culture in Odaiba

Odaiba TOkyo

Odaiba is a colorful man-made island that lets visitors escape into a world of fantasy entertainment. Take the Rinkai line to Tokyo Teleport Station and say “domo arigato” to a 60-foot-tall robot at Gundam Base; every hour, the “roboto” turns his head and emits flashes of light. Pose for hilarious photos at the Unko Museum, which is devoted to poop and has head-scratching displays of toilets and pastel swirls. At Tokyo Decks, you can spend hours playing 1980s arcade games, shopping for cute character merchandise, and sampling takoyaki (octopus balls) from a half dozen vendors at the Takoyaki Museum.   

6. Hug Hello Kitty at her theme park

Hello Kitty at Puroland in Japan.

Hello Kitty fans can get their “kawaii” or cute fix at Puroland, a theme park based on the popular cat and other Sanrio characters. Take the Odakyu or Keio line to Tama Center Station, and look for a sparkling rainbow arch that welcomes guests into Hello Kitty’s world. Children and adults can take photos with human-sized mascots of Cinnamonroll and Kuromi and shop for limited-edition merchandise featuring their favorite animal characters. Be sure to take the train ride through her castle and watch an energetic stage show starring Hello Kitty and her boyfriend, Dear Daniel.  

7. Dine in a theme restaurant

Tokyo has dozens of theme restaurants that let diners spend the evening in a fantasy world. Theme restaurants tend to feature staff in flamboyant costumes, interactive performances, and dishes decorated to look like characters—an experience that often leaves tourists scratching their heads in bafflement. Go through the looking glass to Alice in Fantasy Book, a Shinjuku restaurant that reenacts the Mad Hatter’s tea party complete with chessboard floors and classic Alice in Wonderland illustrations on the walls. At the Vampire Cafe in Ginza, you’ll be whisked into Dracula’s lair by staff in capes and fangs and seated at a coffin-shaped table. Fans of Final Fantasy can visit Shinjuku’s Square Enix Artnia cafe to eat pancakes and parfaits that resemble the video game characters. 

8. Shop for alternative fashion in Harajuku

person walking in Harajuku.

Since the 1980s, Harajuku has reigned as the youth culture hub of Tokyo. Today, the district remains the best place in Tokyo to see imaginative street style and shop for experimental and alternative fashion. Take the train to Harajuku Station, and walk down Takeshita Doori towards Omotesando. Browse the many indie boutiques along the way, such as Takenoko, which specializes in handmade drag queen and rave outfits, and Yellow House, run by an elderly lady who designs Goth-punk outfits for J-rock stars. Pop into Closet Child to search for secondhand Gothic and Sweet Lolita clothing. Save some yen for Laforet, a department store with 12 floors of eccentric youth fashion, accessories, and art, as well as a Sailor Moon store.

9. Wake up early for Toyosu Fish Market

fish at market in TOkyo

Get a taste of Tokyo’s freshest fish and see the morning tuna auction at Toyosu Market, located at Shijōmae Station on the Yurikamome subway line. The action begins at dawn, so aim to arrive around 5am if you’re keen to see Toyosu Market in action. For a spot at the observation deck above the tuna auction, visitors must fill out an online application; apply well in advance, as spots book out quickly. However, anyone can access Toyosu’s free viewing platforms without a reservation to see chefs haggling with sellers over sea urchins, abalone, eels, and other glistening catches of the day. Head to Toyosu’s fourth-floor restaurant area before noon to enjoy an omakase (chef’s choice) sushi meal for about $40. Get there early as there are long lineups at the most popular breakfast spots, Daiwa and Sushi Dai.

10. Nerd out in Akihabara

Akihabra, TOkyo

Also known as Electric Town, Akihabara is Tokyo’s favorite neighborhood for “otaku,” or those passionate about manga, anime, and video games. Take the train to Akihabara Station and follow the signs to the Electric Town exit, and you’ll be surrounded by skyscrapers covered with neon posters of cartoon girls. Play arcade games and snap purikura photos at one of the many game centers. Have lunch at a cosplay café like Maidreamin, where the servers dress as adorable French maids and treat guests like royalty. Then, shop for figurines at Mandarake, and pop into manga bookstores to browse the latest comic titles. 

11. Picnic in elegant parks

Uneno park

Take a break from Tokyo’s hectic streets by relaxing in one of the city’s many beautiful parks. Visit Yoyogi Park on a Sunday afternoon to see the dancing Elvises or fans of “The King” that boogie to his rock songs in pompadours and leather jackets. Families can kick back in Ueno Park, an enormous green space that includes several museums and a zoo. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is another local favorite featuring elegant gardens in different styles (there’s a small entrance fee of $4). If you’re in Tokyo around late March to April, gather a group of friends to picnic under the pink cherry blossom trees found throughout the city’s parks.

12. Vintage shop in Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa

Tokyo’s hipsters hang out in “Shimokita,” a laid-back neighborhood known for its bohemian cafés and vintage clothing stores. Start with a pour-over coffee and Instagrammable fluffy pancakes, and then take your time to stroll through dozens of well-curated secondhand stores. Find 1950s Americana at Flamingo, and vintage kimonos and yukata at Chicago. At Haight & Ashbury, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a dollhouse draped with lace hippie dresses and jewel box purses. Don’t miss out on Shimokitazawa’s excellent selection of mid-century furniture, home décor, and whimsical toys as well. 

13. Buy souvenirs at Don Quixote

Don Quixote is often described as a general store, but it’s more like a one-stop shop for every imaginable product at discount prices—including oddities like Pokemon onesies and adult toys. “Donki” has about 20 locations throughout Tokyo, including in the major districts of Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro. Each store has multiple floors packed floor-to-ceiling with tech gizmos, skincare, luggage, snacks, home decor, and more—making Don Quixote one of the best places in Tokyo to pick up peculiar souvenirs. Remember to show your passport when you check out, as purchases over approximately $40 are tax-free. 

14. Eat inexpensive omakase sushi 

tokyo sushi chef.

Tokyo offers some of the world’s best omakase—sushi courses made up of the chef’s choice of the day. An omakase meal can be pricy—some restaurants charge up to $500 per person—but there’s a way to have the experience on a budget without compromising on quality. Sushi lovers can enjoy an omakase lunch for under $40 at Manten Sushi near Tokyo Station or Sushi Tokyo Ten in Shinjuku. The lunch special is only available for the first 20 or so diners, so show up at least 45 minutes before the 11am opening time. You’ll be rewarded with generous plates of sushi, sashimi, and sides like chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) made from the freshest ingredients of the day. 

15. Visit two temples that honor cats

Gotokuji Temple

Tourists tend to crowd into Tokyo’s most famous temples, such as Senso-ji in Asakusa. For a calmer and more curious experience, visit two little-known temples that pay homage to cats. Walk 15 minutes from Asakusa Station to Imado Jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to maneki neko, or lucky beckoning cats. Bow in front of the platform guarded by two charming cat statues, each with a paw raised in the air. Then, take the train to Gotokuji Station to honor thousands of lucky cat statues found throughout Gotokuji Temple. You can support Tokyo’s cat temples by purchasing good luck mementos, such as wooden plaques decorated with paintings of kittens, from the gift stalls.

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La Carmina

La Carmina

Freelance Writer

La Carmina is an award-winning travel writer and the author of four books. She runs the leading alternative travel blog LaCarmina.com, and freelances for publications including The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Eater, and Time Magazine. La Carmina has hosted travel television shows for Food Network, Travel Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic. Follow her adventures at @LaCarmina.

Published November 29, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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