Top 10 Things to do in Tokyo for First-timers

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When it comes to planning a trip to Japan, you’re going to want a solid list of things to do in Tokyo to ensure you don’t waste a second in this incredible city! Tokyo is a fast-paced destination with a lot to offer including trying your hand at sumo wrestling, picnicking amidst botanical gardens, taking a day trip to nearby Mount Fuji, and dining in a funky themed restaurant. While there are many places of interest in Tokyo, narrowing this down to a selected few can be a difficult task, that’s why we’ve done it for you. Check out our list of the best things to do in Tokyo below, split up into 6 unmissbale things and 4 things to do just for fun.

Unmissable things to do in Tokyo

1. Enjoy the view from Tokyo Skytree

Among various things to do in Tokyo, it is a must that you walk to the top of Tokyo Skytree to get a perfect view of the city.
The top deck of Tokyo Skytree provides the best view of the city below

One of our favourite things to do in Tokyo is paying a visit to the Tokyo Skytree. If you want to get your bearings, head here first! Standing 2,080 feet tall, the Toyko Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan and from the top of the observation tower, you’ll be able to enjoy spectacular panoramic views over Sumida City and the Asakusa district. It’s also listed as the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure in the world after the famed Burj Khalifa.

  • Good to know: To get the most out of your Tokyo Skytree ticket, head up an hour before sunset and you’ll enjoy seeing Tokyo in the daylight, at sunset, and in the dark. Three sights for the price of one!

2. Explore the grounds of the Imperial Palace

Although there are other various things to do in Tokyo, don't miss out on a visit to the Imperial Palace, home to the royal family of Japan.
Visit the residence of the Japanese royal family and take a tour of the grounds

The Japanese royal family is one of the longest-running hereditary monarchies in the world and their primary residence is the beautiful Imperial Palace. Home to a scenic outer moat, endless cherry blossom trees, and intimate architecture, the palace is a real-life fairy-tale castle. Take a stroll around the palace grounds, and you’ll be inundated with the rich history of the country’s royals.

  • Good to know: When exploring the Imperial Palace’s east gardens, make sure you head over to the moat. You’ll find one of the most popular spots to take the iconic picture of Japanese cherry blossom trees.

3. Marvel at the Meiji shrine

Built to honor Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Meiji shrine is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city. Head inside the grounds, and you’ll be awed by sky-scraping tori gates and picturesque wooded gardens. What’s more, the shrine is in close proximity to other popular landmarks including Harajuku and Shibuya. Despite being very close to the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo, Meiji shrine is incredibly tranquil as it’s nestled amongst a forest of 100,000 trees. The trees were brought here to be planted from multiple regions all over the country.

  • Good to know: While the entry to Meiji Shrine is free, there’s a small fee to enter the Meiji Shrine gardens of just around USD 5*.

4. Brush up on national history at the Tokyo National Museum

Visiting the Tokyo National Museum, the oldest and the largest museum in Japan is one of the most intersting things to do in Tokyo if you're a history buff.
Visit the Tokyo National Museum to experience the world's largest collection of Japanese art

The Tokyo National Museum (TNM) is the city’s most popular art museum, the oldest Japanese national museum, and is the largest art museum in the country! Inside you’ll find a number of exhibits covering artwork, archaeological objects, and galleries focusing on the history of Japan. The museum sits inside Ueno park and is a good activity to be paired with a picnic or stroll through the park.

  • Good to know: The admission fee is only just around USD 5* and is open to the public from 9:30 am – 5 pm every day except on Mondays. The museum is free to enter on the third Monday of September, and on International Museum Day.

5. Take a stroll through Ueno park

If you're in Japan to view the cherry blossom trees, visiting the cherry blossom trees in one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
Stroll around Ueno park and in season, snap photos of the cherry blossom trees

An entire day could be spent in Ueno park, the city’s largest green space. Inside the park, you’ll find a string of walkways leading to some of Tokyo’s best museums including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the Shitamachi Museum. Ueno Park is also a famous cherry blossom viewing spot as it’s home to over 1,200 cherry blossom trees. The trees were initially planted to decorate the grounds of the Kan’ei-Ji temple which existed here long before the park did.

  • Good to know: The most direct route to the park is from JR Ueno Station, follow the signs to the Ueno Park Exit or the Shinobazu Exit (to pick up a park guide) as you leave the station. The park can get crowded mid-afternoon so try arriving early in the morning to beat the rush.

6. Take a day trip to Mount Fuji

Among various things to do in Tokyo, taking a day trip to Mount Fuji is highly recommended.
Set aside a day to pay a visit to Honshu and enjoy the majestic views of Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji sits just 137km west of Tokyo and it can be spotted from the capital on clear days, making it the perfect distance for a day trip! Take the Fuji Excursion Limited Express train from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko and you’ll be there in just under two hours (for USD 40* one way). It’s worth exploring the surrounding lakes of Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko while you’re there. 

  • Good to know: If you’re on a budget, take a bus instead of the train. From Tokyo station, you can get a return ticket to Kawaguchiko station for less than USD 20*, and the journey roughly takes two hours.

Fun things to do in Tokyo

7. Soak up the local culture at a Sumo wrestling match

Being an audience to Sumo wrestling is one of the most fun things to do in Tokyo.
It is a must that you witness Japan's national sport when in Japan. Photo by: ElHeineken [CC BY-SA 4.0]

When it comes to fun things to do in Tokyo, you can’t miss out on a spot of sumo wrestling! Whether you’re feeling brave enough to step into the dohyo and try your hand at wrestling practice, or you’d prefer to take a seat and leave it to the experts, there’s plenty of classes and matches to join and observe across the city.

  • Good to know: Before a sumo wrestling match begins, there’s a ritual consisting of salt throwing, leg stretching, squatting, and stamping which goes for over five minutes before the wrestling starts. Don’t miss it!

8. Dine at one of the city’s iconic themed restaurants

One of Tokyo’s quirky attributes is that the city is the king of themed restaurants. Across Tokyo, you’ll find a string of different restaurants each decked out in funky themes including Sumo-wrestling, Moomin, Alcatraz, Alice in Wonderland and retro gaming themed eateries. Our favourite has to be Ronkunen Yonkumi where you expatriate back to your school days as you dine inside a classroom.

  • Good to know: It’s worth noting that there’s usually a surcharge to dine at one of these restaurants (not more than USD 5*) and the food served is simple traditional fare. The focus is more on the themed experience than having an out-of-this-world meal.

9. Walk the famous Shibuya Crossing

 Shibuya crossing, a very busy crosswalk in Tokyo is one of the top Tokyo attractions.
Walk the world's busiest intersection and experience the scramble at Shibuya crossing

Also known as the ‘Shibuya Scramble’ this particular crossing, found in Tokyo’s Shibuya district is considered an iconic Tokyo attraction. It is renowned for being a hectic scramble of people walking in all directions. At any one point, there can be over 1000 people crossing the road! On average, over 2.4 million people make their way over the Shibuya Crossing every single day, making it one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world!

  • Good to know: To get a birds-eye-view of Shibuya Crossing, head to Mag’s park found on the rooftop of the Magnet shopping complex. From the roof terrace, you can enjoy fantastic views of the ground below!

10. Catch a show at the Kabuki-za Theatre

Located in Ginza, Kabukiza is a principal theatre showcasing kabuki dramas.
Visit the Kabuki-za theatre and be an audience to the enchanting Japanese dance and drama. Photo by: Tak1701d 

The Kabuki-za Theatre is the city’s main Kabuki theatre, and it’s here that traditional Japanese dance dramas are performed daily. This elaborate show has wowed visitors for centuries as it involves colorful costumes, vibrant make-up, and elaborate sets. Since 1889, the theatre has been destroyed four times due to natural disasters, human error, and attacks during WWII. The theatre you’ll see today was reopened in 2013 after being reconstructed again.

  • Good to know: The Kabuki-za official website provides detailed information on the show timing and price of the show for regular tickets. Note that although regular tickets can be booked online, single-act tickets are available for purchase only on the day of the show at Single Act Box Office of the Kabuki-za Theatre itself.

So that’s it for our top things to do in Tokyo! We hope you’re now ready to brush up on the city’s rich history, soak up panoramic skyline views, and immerse yourself in the local culture from food to theatre to sport! Don’t forget to check out the best time to visit Japan to help aid your planning.

*Note: Prices are as of July, 2019.

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