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Top 30 Things to See and Do in Tokyo For First-Time Visitors!

Top 30 Things to See and Do in Tokyo For First-Time Visitors!

Date published: 28 April 2020
Last updated: 15 May 2020

Tokyo has so many things to do! There are a variety of natural, historical, cultural, and modern areas to visit. Hopefully, you will be able to visit and experience many parts of Japan and experience a different aspect each time.

But if you are only going to be in Tokyo and might have only one go at all the amazing and interesting things the most populated city in the world has to offer then here are the top 30 things you can add to your bucket list. We categorized them into different types of experiences so you can get a taste of all that Tokyo has to offer.

1. Kawaii Monster Cafe

1. Kawaii Monster Cafe

If you are looking to experience some of the Harajuku outlandish and colorful fashion and dine at a restaurant cafe where both the design of the restaurant and the look of the food is eccentric, then Kawaii Monster Cafe is definitely for you.
Located in Harajuku and designed by the famous artist Sebastian Matsuda known for his kawaii creations, Kawaii Monster Cafe has Harajuku Girl servers, interesting and artistic decor, and themes, a giant rotating stage shaped like a cake for performances and an interesting array of visually pleasing food and drink options.

2. Robot Restaurant

2. Robot Restaurant

This is the famous and highly popular tourist attraction that combines lasers, lights, music, costumes, beautiful dancing girls and, of course, robots. A show like no other, this blindingly bright building with giant female robots that people can sit and take pictures with, is located in Kabukicho. The show happens five times a day and is loud, bright, and fun for all ages.
There are different food and drink options as well as snacks and souvenirs sold during intermissions. With no other show like it, you are sure to walk away with one of the most unique experiences to be had in Tokyo.

3. Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

3. Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Fans of the artist Hayato Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films, as well as Japanese anime in general, will definitely enjoy visiting the Ghibli Museum located in Mitaka. Both the internal and external parts of this museum are incredible and whimsical. The museum has beautifully crafted buildings with high ceilings, spiral staircases, colorful rooms, and even a giant stuffed cat bus from the Totoro movie for kids to play in. The museum is filled with interesting exhibits and the entire museum is an experience in itself.
Guests can watch short animated films exclusively shown at the museum, walk around and see rooms with sketches, illustrations, and different exhibits dedicated to Miyazaki and his animations. The outdoor cafe, as well as the rooftop patio with a giant robot soldier, are also popular features and photo spots for visitors.

4. Visit a Maid Cafe

4. Visit a Maid Cafe

A fun and unique experience that started in Akihabara is the chance to visit a maid cafe. With many big chain brands as well as small, one-of-a-kind maid cafes to choose from, these themed cafes are very accessible and tourist-friendly. Staff dressed in maid outfits greet customers as their masters and serve them with cute and unique rituals. The food and drinks are usually made to look kawaii and are usually served with a dance, song, or chant by the maid.
You can pay the maid for extra services like playing rock, paper, scissors, taking a photo, or requesting her to sing a karaoke song. Many regular customers visit alone as maids strike up conversations with guests so this might be a fun place to go even as a solo traveler.

5. Ueno Zoo

5. Ueno Zoo

If you are looking for something outdoor and are a fan of animals then visiting the Ueno Zoo might be something fun to do while in Tokyo. Located in the busy and bustling Ueno area, you can walk the grounds of the park or check out the Ameyoko shopping street as well.
The zoo, which is the oldest in Japan, houses over 3000 animals and has the most amount of species on display than any other zoo in Japan. The zoo’s most popular animal, the Panda, brings crowds of people.

6. Watch Morning Sumo Practice

6. Watch Morning Sumo Practice
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If you have ever wanted to experience a sumo tournament live and you are in Tokyo in January, May or September, then head to the Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium to catch The Grand Sumo Tournament. However, if you are in Tokyo during other months of the year, you still have a chance to see sumo up close.
Many sumo stables (places where sumo wrestlers train and live) allow guests to watch the morning practice and exercise. Sumo wrestling is much more than two overweight Japanese men pushing each other out of the ring. The stamina, dedication, mental strength as well as all the cultural customs that come with each match make sumo a revered and respectable sport in Japan. Witnessing the sumo practice in person is undeniably a unique opportunity.

7. Try Traditional Japanese Tea ceremony

7. Try Traditional Japanese Tea ceremony

Tea ceremony, or Sado, is a Japanese cultural activity that involves making and serving green tea. It sounds pretty simple but is actually a complex system of rules and traditions that date back hundreds of years. The art and detail, as well as physical motions and steps that are required, represent the elegance, respect, and harmony between the server and drinker.
Wearing a kimono, sitting on a traditional Japanese tatami mat and being instructed by a professional tea ceremony teacher, you can experience the tea ceremony itself as well as have a hands-on experience of using the ancient tea-making tools to both serve and enjoy the tea and sweets that accompany it.
Tea ceremonies happen year-round and there are many tea houses and places to perform tea ceremonies all across Tokyo.

8. Rent and Wear a Kimono in Asakusa

8. Rent and Wear a Kimono in Asakusa

If you are visiting Tokyo, it’s highly probable you will visit Asakusa and walk the shopping streets of Nakamise heading to Senso-ji Temple. The most popular and most visited area in Japan by tourists, the streets of Asakusa are always filled with crowds of people taking pictures of the famous landmarks like Kaminarimon or riding the traditional human-powered rickshaws along Sumida River.
To make the experience even more unique and traditional, there are many kimono rental shops in the area that allow visitors to rent a kimono, geta (traditional block sandals), and accessories for the day. Available for both men and women, it’s also popular for couples and for those looking for the perfect Instagrammable Japan memory.

9. Samurai Museum

9. Samurai Museum

Fans of traditional Japanese history and samurai culture will definitely enjoy spending time at the Samurai Museum located in Shinjuku. The museum showcases many samurai weapons and armor dating back from the Kamakura Era to the Edo Period and helps visitors understand the spirit and philosophy of these historic Japanese warriors.
The armor and weapons are displayed in a traditional setting with the museum being decorated with tatami mats, paper screens and traditional Japanese music adds to the ambiance. The museum provides guided tours, has demonstrations and there is even an area for visitors to try on samurai gear and take pictures. Definitely a must for samurai buffs.

10. Take in a Kabuki Show

10. Take in a Kabuki Show

If you are into the cultural arts and would like to experience the traditional and elaborate music, dance, and drama of Japan, then attending a kabuki performance should be added to your list.
Kabuki is a classical performance art that has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Performed only by men, actors with lavish costumes and elaborate make-up perform in archaic Japanese. Most Japanese people can’t fully understand it so knowing Japanese is not required as the importance of kabuki is in the exaggerated and dramatic gestures.
Probably the best place to watch kabuki in Tokyo is in Ginza at the Kabukiza Theater. Here you can watch an afternoon or evening show and get an English subtitle guide as well.

11. Snack-walk along Harajuku's Takeshita Street

11. Snack-walk along Harajuku's Takeshita Street
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If you enjoy street food and especially desserts then heading to one of the busiest and most popular shopping streets, Takeshita Dori in Harajuku is a must. The trendy and whacky street filled with souvenirs, peculiar fashion shops and unique boutiques catering to lolita, goth, punk, and other subculture wear, also has some of the best and creative foods available. Fried cheese on sticks, a variety of crepes, giant cotton candy, and tapioca bubble tea are just some of the most popular food and drinks Takeshita Dori has to offer.

12. Chow Down in Shin Okubo Korean Town

12. Chow Down in Shin Okubo Korean Town

Since Kpop, Korean dramas, and Korean culture, in general, started booming around the world, Shin-Okubo, the Korean district in Tokyo has become a Mecca for everything Korean. The streets around the station are filled with Korean cosmetic shops, fashion, jewelry, toys, and Kpop Idol fan shops as well. There are also big Korean supermarkets with lots of foods and drinks imported from South Korea as well as heaps of restaurants, cafes and food stands.
Street vendors serving savory, spicy, and sweet foods, line the streets to groups of young fans of Korean food and pop culture. The restaurants are also always filled with Japanese and foreigners enjoying a variety of Korean dishes.

13. See an Event or Festival in Yoyogi Park

13. See an Event or Festival in Yoyogi Park
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The Yoyogi Park area is a part of Tokyo that combines the hustle and bustle of crowded shopping streets with tranquil walks through the beautiful and well-kept parkland of Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine. Yoyogi also has the Yoyogi Park Square that sits between the park and NHK Studios and hosts a variety of cultural and food festivals all year round.
Yoyogi Park Square has a giant open stage as well as an expansive area for food stands and depending on when you visit you can experience everything from the World Gourmet Festival, Rainbow Pride Event, and Wan Wan Dog Carnival to festivals dedicated to different types of music like Jazz, Reggae and Latin. And of course, there are festivals celebrating the culture, music, food, and people of places around the world like Ireland, India, Thailand, Cambodia, and Taiwan.

14. Satisfy Your Inner Carnivore at Niku Yokocho

14. Satisfy Your Inner Carnivore at Niku Yokocho

Niku in Japanese means meat and Yokocho means alleys so Meat Alley is definitely a place to visit if you are a fan of meat. An indoor restaurant and bar zone located in Shibuya, this expanse of eateries is always packed with groups of people drinking alcohol and eating a variety of different kinds and styles of meat and other grilled foods.
A very casual atmosphere combined with a relaxed vibe makes the Niku Yokocho a great place to kick back with friends and beers and try some amazingly delicious foods like yakitori, which are meats on skewers or yaki niku, meats grilled at your table. There are even wagyu burgers, raw meat sushi, horse meat, and churrasco for those looking for a unique taste experience. Of course, there are also other non-meat choices as well to balance out the meal.

15. Get Fresh Sushi at Toyosu Fish Market

15. Get Fresh Sushi at Toyosu Fish Market

Once the world’s biggest fish market, Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo closed down and was relocated further east in Tokyo to become the Toyosu Fish Market. The new market is almost double the size of Tsukiji so it still holds the record of the biggest fish market in the world.
Unlike Tsukiji though, Toyosu Fish Market is much more modern and hygienic and does not allow visitors to enter the seafood auction area but does allow visitors to watch from a viewing deck. The 40 wholesale food stalls are open and available to the public as well and there are shops and restaurants available for the public to try the fresh seafood.

16. Drink With Locals at an Izakaya

16. Drink With Locals at an Izakaya

Izakaya is a broad and general term for any bar or pub-type restaurant in Japan that serves alcohol and food. Depending on your tastes, group size, and budget you can find izakayas that are tiny holes in the wall with limited seating and menu selection to giant chain izakayas that have multi-level seating, rooms for groups and parties and menus filled with hundreds of food and drink options.
Most izakayas are open every evening year-round and welcome groups of students, salarymen, or workers out for a drink and bite to eat after work. You can find many traditional izakayas with tatami flooring, low priced beer, and fried foods in every corner of Tokyo and is quite a fun way to meet local Japanese people in a relaxed atmosphere.

17. Enjoy a Dinner Cruise in Tokyo Bay

17. Enjoy a Dinner Cruise in Tokyo Bay
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There are a variety of boat cruise options along Tokyo Bay at night for those hoping to catch the beautiful Tokyo Skyline. Depending on the type of cruise experience you are looking for there are options with elegant luxury liners, smaller boat tours as well as yakatabune boats that are traditional Japanese low ships with strings of lanterns on each side. They usually have some type of Japanese food or drink options making the trip along the Tokyo Bay fun and entertaining.
If you will be in Tokyo during the months of June to September than a fun and popular experience is to dress in a Japanese yukata (summer kimono) and board the Noryosen boat cruise which is a huge multi-level ship that has all you can drink bars, live dance performances, food stalls and tons of chances to drink, dance and meet locals.

18. Wander Around Shinjuku's Golden Gai

18. Wander Around Shinjuku's Golden Gai

You will enjoy the nightlife and atmosphere of Golden Gai for many reasons. Located in Shinjuku and surrounded by other restaurants, shops, buildings, and attractions, Golden Gai is a crammed bar hopping block with a unique atmosphere and design. Narrow alleyways and passages contain over 200 tiny bars and drinking establishments all with their own unique decor and feel.
Most bars are a bit overpriced and have a sitting charge but you will find some that are reasonable and also have English menus. The bars usually hold less than ten people so if you are in a big group it might not be a good fit. But for small groups or even as a solo traveler Golden Gai is a good place to get a drink, talk to a local and experience an authentic Japanese drinking locale.

19. Soak up Tokyo's Night in Kabukicho

19. Soak up Tokyo's Night in Kabukicho
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The entertainment and red-light district of Tokyo located in Shinjuku might sound dangerous but is actually quite lively and unthreatening. Walking through this district you will find host and hostess clubs as well as a love hotel zone for use by many couples for some privacy they can’t get at home. The area also has many bars, clubs, lounges, and restaurants that cater to many types of people and tastes.
With a variety of food, drink and entertainment options, the streets are lively, bright, and open until the early hours of the morning. Depending on your budget and the type of entertainment you are looking for there are a variety of choices but just like any other country, the best way to enjoy the nightlife in Kabukicho is to do some research and drink responsibly.

20. Sing Karaoke in the Land Where It All Began

20. Sing Karaoke in the Land Where It All Began

A popular pastime for people of all ages that was first introduced in Japan is karaoke which allows people to sing to their favorite music. Unlike karaoke bars in the West where people sing in front of strangers, most karaoke in Japan is done in private karaoke rooms that are rented out by the hour.
Many big and small karaoke chains are available in every part of Tokyo and most are conveniently located near the station and near restaurants and bars. With a group of friends, you can pile into a room and take turns belting out your favorite Japanese or English tunes. With thousands of song choices and food and drink options as well, karaoke is definitely an amazing experience even if you can’t sing.

21. See Tokyo's Glittering Lights from Tokyo Skytree

21. See Tokyo's Glittering Lights from Tokyo Skytree
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Skytree is the tallest tower in Japan completed in 2012 and stands at a height of 634 meters or 2080 feet. It has two lookout points, one at 350 meters (1148 ft.) and the other at 450 meters(1476 ft). The first observation deck also has a cafe, restaurant, and outdoor observation area. From Skytree you can get a panoramic view of Tokyo and see the close-by Asakusa area and Sumida River from above.
The base area of Skytree is also popular with many interesting and trendy brands, shops, restaurants, cafes, and even an aquarium.

22. Visit Tokyo Tower

22. Visit Tokyo Tower

Built in 1958 and modeled after the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo tower which stands at 333 meters or 1092 feet, used to be the tallest structure in Japan until the Skytree was built in 2012. The Tokyo tower is a much loved and iconic symbol of Tokyo and the post-war boom of Japan. It was built and is still used as a communication tower but is also quite a popular tourist attraction as well bringing over 150 million visitors since it’s opening.
Tokyo Tower also has two observation points at 150(490 ft) and 250 meters(819 ft) and shops, cafe, and restaurant on the main observation deck as well as restaurants and shops at the base. Something fun and interesting to try if you visit on a weekend or holiday is to climb up the 660 steps to the observation using the outdoor staircase.

23. Enjoy Free Views from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

23. Enjoy Free Views from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

If you are looking to see a good view of Tokyo but don’t want to spend the money then you will be happy to know that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a short walk from Shinjuku, allows visitors to take an elevator to 202 meters or 662 feet for free. With elevators available to ascend the North or South tower, visitors can head to the observation floor that has large glass windows giving a panoramic view of Tokyo city and beyond.
The observation level also has a cafe, souvenir shops, and pop up exhibits of Japanese art or culture. The observation is also open until 11 pm allowing visitors to get a great night view of Tokyo as well.

24. People-Watch from Shibuya Crossing and Shibuya Magnet

24. People-Watch from Shibuya Crossing and Shibuya Magnet

A popular scene of Tokyo is the Shibuya scramble, where crowds of people cross the intersection every day, making it the busiest intersection in the world. Tourists flock to the intersection and wait as the lights turn green to snap photos and videos of the crosswalk that is located in front of Shibuya Station. The station also has the famous Hachiko dog statue which has become the symbol of Shibuya.
Along with enjoying the experience of walking the scramble, a fantastic alternative perspective of the scramble is to see it from above via the Shibuya Magnet, which is a rooftop restaurant and observation area located in the former Men’s Shibuya 109 building. From this rooftop floor you can eat, drink, watch live shows and look down on the busy intersection from above.

25. Tour the Grounds of Tokyo Imperial Palace

25. Tour the Grounds of Tokyo Imperial Palace

These large grounds located close to Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace is the residence of the Japanese Imperial Family. The inner palace grounds are only open twice a year on January 2nd and on the Emperor’s birthday, but the surrounding grounds of the palace and park are open year-round and are a spectacular sight to witness.
The parks and grounds that surround the residence are immaculately maintained and are extremely popular during the cherry blossom season as well. Entrance to the areas is free and contains a variety of interesting views including the East Gardens with castle remains, moats and guardhouses. Another picturesque spot to check out at the Imperial Palace is the Nijubashi or double bridge in the Kokyo Gaien National Garden area.

26. Shopping at Sunshine City Ikebukuro

26. Shopping at Sunshine City Ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a massive indoor shopping and entertainment complex located near Ikebukuro Station that is a perfect way to spend a day indoors. Besides some amazing shopping and restaurants, the complex includes the Pokemon Center, an aquarium, planetarium, game center, an indoor amusement park called Namjatown, and an observatory deck 240 meters or 787 feet high.
A great place for families as well as couples as there are famous brand name shops, anime-related stores, and even romantic and elegant restaurants on the 58th and 59th floor. Whether escaping the rain, humidity of the summer or cold of the winter, the indoor Sunshine city is packed with things to keep anyone entertained.

27. Hit Up An Arcade at Joypolis Odaiba

27. Hit Up An Arcade at Joypolis Odaiba

Odaiba, in general, is an amazing area of Tokyo to visit as it has many outlet malls, museums, game centers, a car show, and even a giant Gundam Robot statue. Odaiba also has a huge multi-level indoor amusement park called Joypolis.
The amusement park is open to children and adults seven days a week and can be experienced using a pay as you go or an all-day unlimited pass system depending on how much joy you can handle. The rides include roller coasters, half-pipe and simulator type rides, arcades, VR shooting adventure games as well as horror and haunted house type experiences.

28. Pet Cuddly Pets at Animal Cafes

28. Pet Cuddly Pets at Animal Cafes

A unique themed cafe that was made popular by Japan are cat cafes. A chance to sit in a comfy cafe setting with a coffee while cats sleep, play, and purr around you became quite an international phenomenon with cat cafes popping up around the world.
Since cat cafes became so popular, Tokyo went beyond the cat cafe and now is home to a variety of animal cafes where guests can relax and interact with a variety of different animals while enjoying a beverage or snack. Some of the animals besides cats that are featured are rabbits, hedgehogs, owls, pot-bellied pigs, snakes, dogs, and even penguins.

29. Enjoy Digital Art at teamLab Borderless

29. Enjoy Digital Art at teamLab Borderless

A magical and dazzling display of digital art and projection mapping awaits at the teamLab Borderless Digital Exhibit at Mori Building in Odaiba Tokyo. The immersive, interactive art exhibit invites people to experience a moving and eclectic exhibit of colors, lights, shapes, objects, and textures.
Very popular among the younger crowd and Instagrammers looking for a perfect shot, walking through the corridors and rooms, the floor, walls, and ceilings have projections of different themes. Images such as waterfalls, skies, and flowers float throughout the building. Rooms with objects reflecting light, mirrors, ambient music, and physical sections allow guests to choose their own path through the art exhibit. The images that are projected onto the surfaces are always changing and moving to make it a unique experience for each individual.

30. Check Out Tokyo National Museum

30. Check Out Tokyo National Museum

For fans of museums, history, and Asian culture, the Tokyo National Museum located near Ueno Station is a good indoor option. The museum offers English brochures, has many descriptions in English, and even English speaking volunteer guides are available for those who want an in-depth explanation.
The museum holds one of the largest amounts of Japanese art and anthropological artifacts with over 100,000 items including many national treasures. Works such as paintings, sculptures, sketches, calligraphy, and archeology are housed in different exhibits along with special exhibits happening regularly all showcasing both Japanese and Asian cultural and historical artifacts.

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These are just some of the amazing things to see, do, eat, and experience in Tokyo. Of course, there are many more places and categories we could add to this bucket list that are popular and noteworthy. But hopefully, these are a good starting point for those who have never been to Tokyo and want to get a good taste of what the city has to offer. Based on your budget, schedule, and interests you will have an opportunity to experience some or many of the best parts of Tokyo whether it is the culture, food, modern or traditional aspects.

Written by:

Sohail Oz Ali

Sohail Oz Ali

Sohail Oz Ali is a Canadian Youtuber, author and blogger who has lived in Hokkaido, Nagoya and now resides in Chiba. Between visits to Karaoke and revolving sushi restaurants, he enjoys walking his dog, watching Japanese love dramas and teaching English. You can also find him roaming the streets of Japan looking for the next big YouTube video trends.

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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