Tokyo is a huge and very diverse city. Yet it’s very easy to navigate within Tokyo and create your own Tokyo sightseeing tour. I loved Tokyo because even though there are millions of visitors each year, we never felt like there were many tourists around us. Tokyo had a much more Japanese feeling and less like a tourist circus, compared to Kyoto. If you only have a limited time in Tokyo, here is a list with the must-visit sights of Tokyo.
My favorite Tokyo sightseeing spots and activities:
#1 Shinjuku Metropolitan Government Office Building (東京都庁, Tōkyō Tochō)
This was one of my favorite attractions because it’s entirely free and you get an amazing 360 degree view of Tokyo. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. This offers a good start in Tokyo to get an overview over the city. Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line is located in the basement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Alternatively, the building can be reached in a ten-minute walk from the west exit of JR Shinjuku Station. Come here at dawn and watch a beautiful sunset over Tokyo.
#2 Shibuya Crossing
Get off at Shibuya station and experience the famous overcrowded and yet very organized crossroads of Shibuya. With it’s many huge billboard screens, I would call it the times square of Tokyo.
#3 Hachiko (Hatschi) statue
While you are at Shibuya station, take a picture with the statue of the famous dog, who faithfully waited for his owner every day. If you haven’t yet seen the movie$, that’s something you should do before coming to Japan.
#4 A walk from Asakusa to Tokyo Sky Tree
If you feel like stretching your legs a little in the city center but don’t want to walk alongside with millions of tourists, this beautiful walk along the river, through a park and a rural area has a lot to offer. Start at Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center (9 am to 8 pm, observation deck until 10 pm) which is an eight story high building in which you can find a tourist info in several languages, free wifi, a café and an observation deck. Afterward, you walk towards the black Asahi tower with its golden flame (or is it a carrot?!) at the top and walk along the river. You continue through Sumida Park and walk past people’s homes with the big Tokyo Sky Tree as your aim. The walk will take you about 20 min.
#5 Tokyo Skytree
Take an entertaining elevator up to 634 meters and enjoy a nice view over Tokyo. It’s open from 8 am to 10 pm and if you are there between 8 am and 9 am you’ll hardly have to wait in the queue. Since the surroundings of Tokyo are often quite hazy, you might be better off going in the evening, when you see the many city lights. Riding up to the Skytree’s observation deck is quite a pricey affair at $20 per adult. So, before you go here, you could enjoy a free view on the observation deck of the government building at 202m.
#6 Tokyo Kayaking
Tokyo has various canals and the best and one of the most romantic ways to see Tokyo (especially during cherry blossom) is to rent a canoe and paddle on the rivers of Tokyo.
#7 Imperial Palace
Visit the beautiful garden, which is especially nice during cherry blossom and take pictures of the imperial palace. Every Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm you can rent bicycles for free and ride along the cycling path of the palace ground. After a few days in Japan, you will have noticed the many cyclists and so, riding a bicycle will make you feel very local. Get your free bike on Sunday at the Imperial Cycling Station behind Babasakimon gate.
#8 Yamanote Line
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, take the green Yamanote line and ride it once around the center of Tokyo. The whole trip will take about an hour and unfortunately, a lot of it will be spent in tunnels or between high buildings but once in a while you get a glimpse on the different neighbourhoods (from old-fashioned to very shimmery and shiny) and it’s a good way to relax your tired feet in an a/c environment.
Visit the bustling Takeshita Dori street which is the favorite spot of Japanese teenagers but also holds many treasures for tourists with its many trendy shops, used clothes stores, fashion boutiques, crepe stands and fast food outlets. Also, check out Tokyo Plaza with its big mirror entrance.
#10 Daiso-Harajuku 100 yen shop
Daiso 100 Yen shops are everywhere in Japan but the one in Harajuku is one of the largest 100 Yen Shops in central Tokyo. It offers a wide array of goods, including clothing, kitchenware, food and stationery on multiple floors at 100 yen per item. It is located only a few steps from Harajuku Station along Takeshita Dori. The post about 100 Yen shops in Japan will follow soon.
#11 Sensoji Temple Asakusa
This is one of the nicest temples in Tokyo and also one of the most crowded ones. If you walk from Asakusa station to the temple, you will walk along a busy market, where vendors sell all kinds of sweets.
This district could best be described as NYC’s 5th Avenue of Tokyo with many expensive shops and several shopping malls. Soon, you will encounter your first robot which welcomes you at the entrance of a store. Visit Tokyu Plaza Ginza (11 am to 9 pm, restaurants until 11 pm) which offers 14 floors of shopping with two floors of tax-free shopping for foreign tourists and a cool open rooftop with views over Tokyo city.
#13 Panasonic living show room
Panasonic is one of Japan’s leading producers of electronic appliances and home interior products such as sinks, faucets, toilets, doors and entire kitchens and living rooms. The Tokyo showroom in Shiodome displays the company’s home interior products on several floors. While this might not be of any interest to you, they do offer free lockers where you might want to store your luggage for one or two hours to give your back some relief while walking through the nearby Ginza district. Admission is free and opening hours are from 10 am to 5 pm (entry until 4 pm). It’s closed on Wednesday, Obon and New Year.
#14 Tsukiji Market
This is Tokyo’s famous fish market where you can whitness the interesting Tuna auctions if you manage to get up early enough. At the moment, it’s still located above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line. But there was talk that it will be moved to a different location at some point, so re-check the location before you visit Tokyo. Alternatively, it can be reached in a five-minute walk from Tsukiji Station (Hibiya Subway Line). The closest JR station is Shimbashi (15 min walk from the market). The public market is open from about 9 am to 2 pm and you can buy all kinds of fish and sashimi.
The tuna auction is between 5.25 am and 6.15 am. It’s restricted to 120 visitors a day. The rest of the inner market will be open to visitors after 10 am, and you will only get to see, what they haven’t cleaned up or sold yet. It’s still an interesting experience to walk through the very business thriving market. The market is closed on most Wednesdays and Sundays. Here is a great article about how to visit the Tuna auction with calendar times by Tokyo Cheapo.
#15 Rainbow Bridge
This is a huge bridge across Tokyo Bay with a very impressive entrance ramp on the west side. Walk the 1.5 km across the bridge by starting at JR Tamachi station (from the station it’s about another 700 m to the bridge) or Shibaurafuto station, from where it’s only a short walk to the entrance gate. You will then land on Odaiba Island, where you find a small beach, many shopping malls, the science museum, a small statue of liberty and Oedo Onsen, our favorite onsen of Japan.
#16 Drive your own Mario Kart
A fun thing to do in the Tokio Bay area, is to dress up as a character from Supermario and drive across Rainbow Bridge in a go-kart. Check out MariCAR‘s website here.
Below the brick arches of JR Yamanote Line for about 700 m on both sides of Yurakucho Station you find a lively restaurant area. Go there and dine in a special ambiance.
#18 Koishikawa Korakuen garden
This garden is open from 9 am to 5 pm (entry until 4.30 pm). The entrance fee is 300 Yen. Koishikawa Korakuen is a beautiful landscape garden from the early Edo Period. This garden is a good place for a visit during all four seasons of the year. Therefore it counts as Tokyo’s nicest Japanese garden. It’s about a 10 min walk from Korakuen Station (served by the Marunouchi and Namboku Subway Lines) or Suidobashi Station on the JR Chuo Line (only the yellow local trains stop here) or the nearby Kasuga Station (Oedo and Mita Subway Lines).
#19 Cherry trees
During cherry blossom season (usually in the beginning of April) it’s lovely to just stroll through a park. Marvel at the white and pink blossom and have a pick-nick. The post about the best cherry tree viewing spots in Tokyo will follow soon.
What would you include in a Tokyo Sightseeing tour?