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The world-famous city of Tokyo, Japan, is a perfect blend of technological innovation and ancient Japanese culture. It has so much to offer, which makes planning a bit overwhelming for a first-time visitor. To get a true taste of this metropolis, is it important to prioritize visiting the must-see attractions. That is why I created this list of the 7 most incredible things to do in Tokyo that will ensure an epic trip.

How to Get to Tokyo

A map of Japan showing the location of Tokyo

Before I give you the list of things to do in Tokyo, let’s get there first! The busy capital of Japan is located in the central-east region of the main island Honshu.

Since Japan is an island nation, your journey will probably require at least one flight. There are two major airports in Tokyo: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Tokyo International Airport, Haneda (HND). Where you fly into depends largely on your point of origin.

When it comes to planning transportation, I recommend the website Rome2rio. For a complicated trip like this, it is a great resource to research your options. It also provides estimated price ranges, so you can tailor a budget-friendly trip. No, this is not a paid advertisement; I just love this website!

Things to Know Before You Go

  • Stay up to date on the frequently changing COVID-19 guidance. The U.S. Embassy and CDC provide resources for those from the United States looking to travel to Japan. If you are not from the United States, make sure to check your local requirements.
  • Although credit card use is becoming more common, Japan is largely a cash-based society. Make sure you have a lot of cash on you before you arrive (your local bank can usually make the currency exchange if you give them enough time). Japanese currency is known as Yen. To search the current conversion rates, click here.
  • Bring hand sanitizer! It was a bit of a culture shock when I realized that many bathrooms do not have soap. This was pre-COVID, so things may have changed, but better safe than sorry. 
  • If you have tattoos and plan on using the hot spring bathhouses, you may be out of luck. Although some may allow you in, others will not. If you have smaller tattoos, cover them with a bandage.
  • Learn as much Japanese as you can before your trip, or have an easily accessible dictionary/translation app. Although some signage is in English, most is in Japanese (as you’d imagine). Also, not everyone speaks English; make sure you plan ahead!

Things to Do in Tokyo

Meiji Shrine

Picture of Meiji shrine, which is one of the most popular places to visit in Tokyo

Although the Meiji shrine is located in a busy district of Tokyo known as Shibuya, it is a peaceful escape from the bustling city. This Shinto shrine was built in remembrance of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. I urge you to consider visiting the Meiji shrine and the beautiful surrounding evergreen forest if you are looking for a bit of relaxation. 

Shibuya “Scramble” Crossing

Picture of Shibuya crossing. It is a huge street with many intersections, and crossing this street is one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo.

Walking across the street at Shibuya Crossing is a major bucket list item because it is known to be the busiest intersection in the world. It is challenging to picture its enormity without first knowing that it consists of 10 traffic lanes and 5 major crosswalks. I made sure to cross the intersection (multiple times!). It usually requires a great deal of patience for me to stand at an intersection and wait to cross, but this intersection filled me with excitement. I highly recommend visiting Shibuya Crossing and getting lost in this “scramble” of people.

While in the area of Shibuya Crossing, it is also worthwhile to stop by the bronze statue of Hachikō; this Japanese Akita dog is remembered and revered for his loyalty to his owner. 

Takeshita-dori Street

Picture of Takeshita-dori Street showing the crowds of people that flock to this area, as it is one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo.

If you are looking for a “trendy” place to spend some time, visit Takeshita-dori street. Here, you will experience Japan’s youth culture by stopping into its many fast-food restaurants and fashion boutiques. In fact, it is considered a major hub for Japanese fashion culture. 

Takeshita-dori street is a great place to get a lot of your souvenir shopping done. If you are looking for fun, inexpensive t-shirts, it is the place for you. When I visited Takeshita-dori street, I picked up a super trendy t-shirt for myself, which I love wearing. This street is also a great place to shop for other gifts, such as Japanese washi tape and kawaii trinkets. My friend had asked me to bring her back some from my trip, and they had a great selection.  

Although I highly recommend a trip to Takeshita-dori street, it might not be at the top of everyone’s “top sights in Tokyo” list. I do not recommend visiting this area if you cannot handle crowds. As you can see in the picture I took during my trip, this street is packed with people. After a while, it can be a headache, so you probably will not want to spend too much of your day here.

Asakusa Kannon Temple (Sensō-ji)

Within the modern city of Tokyo, the Buddhist Asakusa Kannon Temple is an ancient blast from the past. In fact, it is the oldest temple in Tokyo. Asakusa Kannon Temple is one of the most frequently visited spiritual sites in the world, making it an important addition to your Tokyo itinerary. The colorful main hall, iconic pagoda, and nearby Nakamise-dōri shopping arcade make this a spectacular destination for all types of travelers.

Nakamise-dōri was a souvenir heaven; from Japanese anime trinkets to traditional tea sets, you’ll be able to find something for everyone on your list. I bought my mom a tea set and my future mother-in-law an incense diffuser at the booths lining this street. I also treated myself to a beautiful floral wallet, which I get a ton of compliments on every day!

Akihabara

Picture of Akihabara showing some of the anime and manga billboards. It is a popular thing to do in Tokyo.

Akihabara, also known as the electric town of Tokyo, is filled with electronics shops, arcades, anime specialty shops, manga bookstores, and gaming stores. In fact, it is considered the anime and otaku cultural hub of Japan. If one of your main reasons for traveling to Japan is to immerse yourself in anime culture, this area should be at the top of your list. I have never been very interested in anime, but I loved exploring Akihabara. All of the stores have so much character, so it is hard not to enjoy yourself. Akihabara is geared towards those who wish to release their inner geek, but I would argue it is fun for everyone! 

Imperial Palace Gardens 

Picture of a beautiful pagoda at the Imperial Palace Gardens.

If you are looking for an escape from the concrete jungle, take a stroll through the Imperial Palace Gardens. This park was the original location of the Edo Castle, but currently, it is known for its cherry blossoms, spacious gardens, historical ruins, moats, and art galleries. Additionally, it is the home of the Emperor of Japan; on certain days, you may be lucky enough to see him in person! It is no wonder why the Imperial Palace Gardens is one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo. I highly recommend taking a guided tour of these gardens to learn more about their rich history.

Tokyo Sightseeing Cruise

Picture of Julia looking out to the city of Tokyo from a boat. A sightseeing cruise is one of the best things to do in Tokyo to say goodbye.

This might not be your typical Tokyo must-do list item, but I highly recommend a sightseeing cruise. I went on one around sunset. It was so beautiful to see the whole city light up as night fell. 

Are you interested in the Japanese culture but do not have the time or money to commit to this trip? Check out Hawaii! Because the Hawaiian Islands are so close to Japan, they have a lot of cultural similarities. Hawaii is the second best place in the world for Japanese cuisine. Check out my article on the best things to do on the Hawaiian island of Oahu!

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After reading this article of things to do in Tokyo, what is on your must-visit list? Contact me or let me know in the comments below!

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