This post is part of the series Japan
Other posts in this series:
- Must Visit Places in Tokyo for First Time Visitors (Current)
- Interesting Facts About Tokyo You Probably Didn’t Know ~ Japan
- Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Tokyo
In June 2019 I was travelling to Japan for the very first time in my life! I cannot remember the last time I was that excited to visit a new country as I felt before travelling to the land of the rising sun.
Our first stop and challenge was Tokyo, the capital of Japan since 1869. With a population of 38.140.000 and area of 2.193,96 km² Tokyo is the most populated city in the whole world! And if you have been travelling to Tokyo, you already know what I mean by “challenge”. No matter how many days you want to spend in the metropolis, it won’t be enough for seeing everything that is worth visiting. So the secret of travelling to Tokyo is: plan and book in advance and choose wisely which places you really want to visit during your stay in one of the world’s most unique cities!
I’ve never been to a place like Tokyo. Zen and Chaos live together in the buzzing metropolis! From traditional Shinto Shrines to modern skyscrapers, from the best metro system in the world to the most peaceful gardens ever, from Michelin Star restaurants to Ramen vending machines, from tea ceremonies and Sumo wrestling to eccentrically costumed youngsters – Tokyo has it all!
Japan will change your perspective on travel and Tokyo is a great place to start one of the best trips of your life! Here are some of the best places and some of my favourite spots we visited during our trip to Tokyo! Enjoy!
Meiji Shrine and its surroundings are very different from the otherwise lively areas of Tokyo! Located in Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine is one of these places where you can escape the megapolis madness!
Meiji Jingu is a traditional Shinto shrine located in this peaceful park in the middle of the concrete jungle of Harajuku district. Yoyogi Park is a beautiful and peaceful green spot which is one of the favourite places of the locals for biking or just chilling.
Meiji Shrine was built in 1920 to pay tribute to Emperor Meiji and has become Japan’s most famous Shinto shrine. Nowadays the shrine is one of the most beloved places for traditional weddings in Tokyo.
At the entrance of the Meiji Shrine, there are two massive Toriis, each 12m high. The Japanese believe that when you enter the toriis you are automatically leaving the everyday worries behind. And I can easily imagine why Meiji is considered as being one of the most peaceful and calm places to visit in Tokyo!
We visited the shrine in the early Saturday morning at 8:00, but as it always happens in Japan, even at 8:00 during the weekend we were not the only people to visit the shrine. If you want to experience a Shinto wedding you might visit the shrine on a weekend too! We were lucky enough to see two beautiful weddings on that Saturday morning.
Asakusa is one of the most interesting and old, but well-preserved neighbourhoods in Tokyo. Compared with the modern districts, Asakusa offers cheaper food, accommodation and shopping alternatives. This is one of the main reasons why so many backpackers choose to stay in this district. In Asakusa, you will be able to enjoy the old Tokyo vibe and visit some of the most interesting temples and traditional markets too!
One of the highlights in Asakusa is the Sensoji Temple. Sonso-ji is the oldest and most iconic temple in Tokyo, constructed in the early 7th century AD. The temple got famous for its large red lantern in front of the entrance, red structure and green rooftops. Sensō-ji became the symbol of Asakusa and the reason why the village grew as part of the city. Back in the days, Sensō-ji served as a city wall and protection of the city of Edo (the name of Tokyo at the time).
The next attraction in Asakusa district is the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest building in Japan with íts 634 meters! Unfortunately, you cannot visit the Skytree for free – the entrance fee costs ¥ 1000 – ¥ 3400 depending on the type of ticket. The construction of the Skytree took 4 years between 2008 and 2012. When it was finally built, the Tokyo Skytree was the second-highest building in the World after Burj Khalifa. The Skytree was constructed with extremely heavy steel tubes so that it can survive an earthquake with a magnitude of 7!
There is no doubt – when you see the Tokyo Tower for the first time, there is no way of not thinking about the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Actually, not only the colour of Tokyo Tower (333m) is livelier, but it is also 33m taller than the Eiffel Tower (300m).
The tower is open daily from 9:00 to 23:00 and for admission of ¥ 900 – ¥ 2800 you will be able to visit two observation decks, a special observatory area, an aquarium, arcades, and a souvenir shop at the lower levels. On a clear day, you will be able to see even Mount Fuji from here!
In Minato district, right behind the Tokyo Tower is located the Zojoji Temple. Zojoji is one of the most underrated temples in Tokyo, meaning that it is not one of the most visited places in the metropolis. What a great thing if you want to enjoy a temple in the buzzing city! We visited the temple on a weekday so we went inside the main building. During weekends many ceremonies are held here so probably it won’t be that easy to get inside.
Zojoji temple offers much more than great view together with Tokyo tower in its background. Here you will find a mausoleum of Tokugawa family – one of the most powerful families of Japan from 1603 to 1867. Zojoji Temple is also famous for having many Mizuko Jizo statues which are a symbol of Japan’s unborn children.
Get out of Tokyo and head southeast to Odaiba. Although Odaiba is also part of Tokyo, it feels like a different city after travelling for about an hour by subway from Shinjuku Station.
The neighbourhood Odaiba is actually an artificial man-made island and is one of the few places in Tokyo where you can access the ocean and actually chill on the beach.
Nowadays Odaiba is a well-known entertainment and shopping neighbourhood with many beautiful buildings like Fuji TV Building, Telecom Center, Palette Town, Miraikan, Tokyo Big Sight etc. Some of the free attractions are the Rainbow Bridge (the best time to visit is after sunset) and Tokyo’s Statue of Liberty and Venus Fort shopping mall.
Welcome to one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to – teamLab Borderless! TeamLab is the first Digital Art Museum in the World, and I as a digital junkie couldn’t resist visiting it. TeamLab Borderless is not just a museum for digital art – it is a result of endless creativity! The highly interactive museum is the outcome of some hard-working mathematicians, architects, programmers, engineers, animators and musicians.
TeamLab Borderless uses more than 500 computers and projectors divided into five distinct zones: Borderless World, Athletics Forest, Future Park, Forest of Lamps and EN Tea House. All the artworks in all 5 districts are computer-generated in real-time. Almost anything here is tangible, but a combination of colourful projected images and vibrant sounds.
If you want to visit the museum, buy your ticket in advance! TeaLab is always booked out as tickets are being sold out weeks in advance. The best time to visit it is in the early morning (that’s why we got the best photos without having to share the best photo locations with others) or in the afternoon after 15:30. And don’t forget to take your time – one hour won’t be enough to explore all five districts.
Ah, Shinjuku! I definitely wanted to stay in this neighbourhood of Tokyo, therefore I was searching for some affordable accommodations several months in advance! … and as you can guess – it was not the easiest things to do! At the end, I booked 6 nights at APA Hotel Shinjuku Kabukicho Chuo and we were totally happy with our choice (except the fact that the room was the smallest I have ever booked in my entire life! … I guess it is typical for Tokyo though!).
The reason why we wanted to stay in Shinjuku is that the neighbourhood is modern and traditional at the same time! Another reason is that Shinjuku station is probably the best station in terms of connection in and outside Tokyo. Here you can also find many gardens (Shinjuku Central Park, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, etc.) and shrines (Shinjukujunisha Kumano Shrine, Shinjuku Suwa Shrine, etc.), the best streets for going out at night (Omoide Yokocho, Golden Gai), museums (e.g. Samurai Museum), Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (for the best view over Tokyo for free!), the famous Robot Restaurant, etc.
Omoide Yokocho is one of the coolest streets of Tokyo located in Shinjuku! The meaning of Omoide Yokocho is “The Memory Lane” – and indeed, everything here feels nostalgic of traditional Japan. Its slang name though is much more colourful – “The Piss Alley”. The street is known for its pubs and food stalls (izakaya), but just in case you didn’t know – turn your Google Translator on, there are almost no menus in English!
The Golden Gai is the best place in Shinjuku if you want to go out at night and feel the spirit of real Tokyo. Golden Gai is an area with 6 small alleys lined with more than two hundred bantam bars! The alleys are so narrow that if you stretch your hands you’ll probably touch the buildings at both sides! Most of the bars are bars at the street level and some of them are so tiny that only 2 or 3 people can sit inside at the same time!
Harajuku & Takeshita Street
Harajuku district is one of the craziest in Tokyo. Harajuku is located in a walkable distance from Yoyogi Park and the famous Takeshita Dori. In this neighbourhood, you will be able to buy the most insane clothing ever! Harajuku style is colourful, shrill and not for everybody … You can easily stroll for several hours looking at the showcases and the people on the street.
Takeshita Dori was definitely the busiest street we visited in Tokyo! With busy, I mean as BUSY as Tokyo can be! You have to follow the masses, otherwise, you will get smashed by them.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Sometimes, the best things are free! And Japan has many of them! A good example is the Metropolitan Government Building where you can enjoy some of the most spectacular panoramic views of Tokyo for free. Metropolitan Government Building (Tocho) was in a walkable distance from our hotel, that why we managed to visit it after a long day of exploring the city! From 45th floor you will be able to enjoy the views from Yokohama in the south, Chiba in the northeast and way out west to Mount Fuji! You haven’t really seen Tokyo if you haven’t seen it from here 🙂
There are two observation decks on the 45th floor each. The South Observation Deck is closed on the first and third Tuesday of every month, the North Observation Deck is Closed on every second and fourth Monday of every month as well as between 29th December and 3rd of January.
Back in the days, Akihabara was a huge Black market during World War II as there was a surge in the demand for radio and its parts which remained unregulated for a long time. Nowadays, Akihabara is the electronics district of Tokyo, the Mecca of Maid and Gundam Cafes, Cat Cafes, comic shops, anime, Manga, gambling centres and a myriad of electronic shops. If you are a first time Tokyo visitor, you have to wander through the main street called “Chuo Dori”!
If you are a Gambler, you’ll probably want to leave here, as this neighbourhood is a gamer’s dream! One of the reasons why Akihabara got a famous spot for gamers is the fact that here they can play all the retro games too. For example SEGA has four stores in Akihabara where you can play any old or new game they have ever made.
Welcome to Tokyo’s Most Underrated Shinto Shrine – Nezu Shrine! Nezu Shrine It was originally built in 1705 during Edo Period, and it’s actually one of the oldest shrines in Tokyo. Thanks to its hundreds of orange-red torii gates (called “Senbon Torii”), Nezu reminds of Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto. But – here you can have the torii gates just for yourself!
Shibuya Crossing is famous for being the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world! Tokyo’s urban area is home to more than 38 million people, of which sometimes 2.500 are passing through Shibuya Crossing at once! One of the main reasons why this crossing is so busy is its close proximity to the Shibuya Station – the third busiest transportation spot in Tokyo!
Shibuya Crossing is also known as the “Times Square” of Tokyo due to the huge LED signs and billboards located all over this place. The traffic lights change at every 2nd-minute cycle when hundreds, and sometimes thousands are crossing the street! The scene is a definition of organized chaos in the middle of a major business hub in Tokyo! Therefore Shibuya has become one of the most iconic landmarks of the city!
Probably the best view over the buzzing crossing is from the second floor of Starbucks located in the Q-front building – take a coffee and enjoy the spectacle!
Ah, Hachiko! What a great story, what a great dog! The monument of Hachiko was on my Top 5 must-visit places in Tokyo! The story of Hachiko might melt your heart, especially if you’re an animal lover like me! Hachiko was the dog of Eizaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture science at Tokyo University. Back in the ’20s, the Akita dog used to follow his owner when he went to work in the morning at the Shibuya Train Station and picked him up in the afternoon when he returned from work. Every single day! Professor Eizaburo had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage. One day he passed away while he was at work without returning at Shibuya station… Hachiko continued to wait at the station for 9 years, 9 months and 15 days! Nowadays Hachiko is a symbol of unconditional loyalty, not only in Japan!
Ginza is one of the most expensive and modern districts in central Tokyo. Here you can shop till you drop – Ginza is the most high-end and vibrant shopping area in Tokyo! Or … you can do as we did – window-shopping! The two most interesting and glamorous streets of Ginza are Chuo-Dori Street and Harumi-Dori. Ginza is also home to the traditional Kabukiza Theatre. Also in Ginza, you can visit the most famous fish market in Tokyo called Tsukiji. The fish market is the total contrast to the upmarket fashion boutiques and glossy buildings.
Ready to visit Japan? Start looking for your Japan accommodation now while it’s fresh in your mind.
Want stylish accommodation in Japan you can afford?. Find the cheapest prices for the best accommodations possible:
- Click here to search for hotels in Japan (Booking.com)
- Click here to search apartments in Japan (Airbnb + up to 40 € off)
- Click here to search hostels in Japan (Agoda)
If you are flying to Japan it is beneficial to use a flight comparison site to find the cheapest flights. I recommend and use Kiwi.com.
Click here to compare and book cheap flights to Japan
Rental Car in Japan
Rentalcars.Com searches all the big car rental companies in Japan and finds the best price for you. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Japan and around the World.
If you are the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are all kinds of guided tours around Japan including Mount Fuji.
Enjoy the day!
Continue reading this series:
Interesting Facts About Tokyo You Probably Didn’t Know ~ Japan