Tokyo is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place to visit. Home to almost fourteen million people and with a population density of over six million per square kilometer, it is one of the more heavily colonized regions in the world. The city is also Japan’s biggest tourist attraction and draws visitors like a magnet.
Where Tokyo is concerned, think futuristic rather than antiquated because Japan’s capital city is a contemporary metropolis where you won’t find historic buildings on every street corner. Many of the remaining Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are overshadowed by the city’s towering skyscrapers, but the traditional Japanese cultural values are still in existence alongside Tokyo’s superficial modernity.
It is a vast city which makes it difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to choose which places to visit in Tokyo on your first holiday. To help make your decision easier, here are ten of the top things to do in Tokyo that really should be on everyone’s list of must do’s when they go there.
10. Themed Cafes
High on the list of more unusual things to do in Tokyo is to have coffee in a themed cafe. Some of the themed cafes in Tokyo are pretty bizarre, but they’re also incredibly good fun. Whether you choose to go to an animal cafe, a maid cafe or a movie theme cafe, it’ll probably be one of the weirder things you’ll do when you’re in Tokyo.
The idea of cat cafes originates from Tokyo and has spread around the globe becoming a worldwide trend. In Tokyo, the themes have expanded to incorporate different animals, birds, and reptiles so if you’re not a lover of felines; you can now choose a different species to spend some recreational time with.
If you want to visit a cat cafe in Tokyo go to Temari no Ouchi. It’s an amazing cat cafe where the felines inhabit a luxurious, fantastical environment which could easily have been inspired by a fairytale. If fantasy wonderlands aren’t your favorite sort of set up, then check out the ultra-modern, cat-oriented establishment Mocha Shibuya. Bird lovers will enjoy a visit to Akiba Fukurou which is home to a menagerie of owls. One of the most bizarre animal themed cafes in Tokyo is Chiku Chiku who keep hedgehogs, not in cages, but in miniature dolls houses complete with their own furniture. The Tokyo Snake Center is not the place to take a coffee if you suffer from ophidiophobia, but if you love snakes, then you’ll be in seventh heaven.
Themed cafes in Tokyo are not just about aves, amphibians and furry mammals; there are variations on the idea with lots of human involvement too.
If you love fancy dress or your coffee served with a touch of the dramatics, you may well enjoy Tokyo’s maid cafes. In maid cafes, the waitresses wear maid costumes to serve their customers and in some, like the At-Home Cafe, they also perform song and dance routines. There is an abundance of maid cafes in Tokyo, but the Cure Maid Cafe, the At-Home and the Maidreamin are three of the best. For a gender variation on the theme where it’s male waiters who serve you, go to the Swallowtail Butler Cafe. Maidreamin in particular is a very popular place to visit in Tokyo, so to make sure you get a seat you need to book online here before you go.
Other Themed Cafes
There are many more themed cafes in Tokyo, so if you enjoy something just a touch more diverse than maids and hedgehogs, check out these ones. The Vampire Cafe, the Pokemon Cafe, the Moomin House Cafe or the Alice In Magical Land Cafe which has stunningly extravagant decor themed on the story of Alice in Wonderland. For a fantastic Instagram photo, visit the vibrantly colorful Kawaii Monster Cafe, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of Kim Kardashian.
9. See the Future in Odaiba
Tokyo is all about technology and it’s a city where you can actually experience what the future may look like. To see something futuristic in Tokyo most people head to the Robot Restaurant. The Robot Restaurant is not a restaurant, but a basement venue with a cabaret show during which enormous robots and costumed dancing girls perform to Japanese techno-music beneath an incredible light show. The spectacular is fantastic, but it’s not the best place to go to see how the world will develop in the coming years.
No visit to Tokyo is complete without exploring Odaiba, the artificial island in Tokyo Bay. Although Odaiba appears to be a huge amusement park, it’s much more than that. In Odaiba, you can discover art created by computers in the teamLab Borderless museum or see new technology being developed at Miraikan – the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
In Odaiba you can watch a gigantic transformer, the Gundam statue, spring to life and take a photo with a mini Statue of Liberty. Another good thing about Odaiba is it’s a very economical place to visit, most things are free or don’t cost much to do. Check out our guide on the best things to do in Odaiba here.
8. Yoyogi Park
Tokyo has a lot of public green spaces which all offer something a little different to their visitors. The Todoroki Valley and Meguro Rinshinomori Park are both parks where people go to admire the tranquil beauty of nature. The Hamarikyu Gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, and Rikugien Gardens are more formal parks and wonderful examples of traditional Japanese landscaping. But it’s Yoyogi Park, the 1964 Olympic Village site and one of Tokyo’s biggest parks, which is a must-do on your first holiday in Tokyo.
Humans of Yoyogi Park
While it has a Gingko Forest and a duck pond, they’re not what draws the locals to Yoyogi Park. Yoyogi Park is popular with the locals as a meeting place, for enjoying picnics and many other recreational pastimes. At the weekends, it’s a bustling hive of activity attracting street performers, dance groups and trend-setting fashionistas from the nearby Harajuku district. Yoyogi Park is a great place to observe how the Japanese spend their free time and the place to go in Tokyo to see and be seen.
7. Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park
Most visitors to Tokyo miss out on going to the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park simply because they don’t know about it. The park is only a two-hour drive from Tokyo and has the best roller coasters in Japan. It’s one of the best winter attractions in Japan, but it doesn’t matter what time of year you go, it’s a definite must for roller coaster-loving thrill seekers.
Fuji-Q Highland Must Try Attractions
Fujiyama was the world’s highest roller coaster when it first opened in the late 90s. A staggering 259ft(79m) tall and with a drop of 230ft (70), it may no longer be number one in the roller coaster rankings, but it is still the eighth highest, the fifth longest, and the tenth fastest in the world.
Eejanaika is a vertigo-inducing roller coaster which takes you through fourteen heart stopping inversions in a seat that evolves through a full three-hundred and sixty degrees.
Takabisha, with its almost vertical, one hundred and twenty-one-degree drop is the steepest roller coaster in the world. Be prepared to leave your stomach at the top.
Do-Dodonpa is the roller coaster with the fastest acceleration speed in the world. Feel the g-force as it launches, whooshing from zero to one hundred and eighty kilometers an hour (0 – 112mph) in under two seconds.
Super Scary Labyrinth Of Fear is the largest house of horrors in the world, and it takes a terrifyingly mind-boggling fifty minutes to get from one end to the other.
Getting To Fuji-Q Highland
From Tokyo, you can get to the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park by either bus or train. It’s a good idea to purchase a combination transport and park entry pass. It works out cheaper than paying for them separately. Get your bus and park combo ticket – here. Your train and park combo pass – here. A park entrance pass on its own – here.
Sumo isn’t just a wrestling match between two Japanese giants. As well as being an exciting sporting event to watch, it’s a representation of ancient Japanese culture involving Shinto rituals. Historically, Sumo was a ceremonial celebration of a good harvest but has evolved to become as emblematic to Japan as Mount Fuji and Geisha girls.
Sumo Tournaments In Tokyo
Sumo tournaments, or bashos, take place in Tokyo three times a year during the months of January, May, and September. The fifteen-day-long tournaments are held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan or the Sumo Hall, near the Sumida River. You can check if your visit to the city coincides with a tournament on the Japan Sumo Association website where the dates of the events are posted. Tickets go on sale one month prior to each event and sell out fast, so get yours online here before you go.
Pro Tip: The matches for lower ranked wrestlers begin in the early morning building up throughout the day with higher ranking fighters entering the ring in the evening. Don’t miss the top Sumo wrestlers making their ceremonial entrance just before four in the afternoon.
If your visit to Tokyo isn’t at the same time as the tournaments, you can still see the sumo wrestlers in action by visiting one of the stables where they train. There are around forty-five stables, the majority of which are in the Ryogoku district, but not all are open to the public. Those that are require their visitors to be accompanied on the tour of the stables by a Japanese speaking guide. If you don’t want to go on a tour but are still curious, the Arashio Sumo Stable has a street-side, panoramic window where you can get a quick peek at what’s going on inside.
5. Stay At A Capsule Hotel
Capsule Hotels are a great accommodation option if you’re visiting Tokyo on a budget. Capsule hotels were created as a cheap alternative to traveling in and out of the city for office workers and business people or night time revelers who’d miss the last transport link home. The small pod-like rooms have just enough space to allow you to crawl in, settle down and turn over once you’re asleep. The idea has proved to be so popular that some of the hotel companies are now redeveloping the concept to make it more upmarket by increasing the capsule size. Even if you don’t want to sleep in a box every day of your stay, it’s a fun thing to try for one or two nights.
The Best Capsule Hotels In Tokyo
First Cabin Akihabara offers its guests stylishly decorated, larger capsules with a double mattress and flat screen television. There are individual shower rooms or a public bath and a lounge to relax in.
Nine Hours Asakusa is an ultra-modern and futuristic looking capsule hotel where your stay is restricted to nine hours. One hour is allocated for bathing, one for relaxing and seven for sleeping before you’re gently woken by the Panasonic controlled light and sound system installed in the pod.
Book And Bed Tokyo Ikebukuro is not a capsule hotel but a hostel with dormitories full of books. If you love to read before settling down for the night or wake up and carry on reading where you left off, this is the perfect place for you to stay in Tokyo. You’ll meet lots more like-minded book-loving travelers there too.
4. Onsen and Sento
An integral part of the Japanese culture is naked public bathing, and there are two types of spas or public baths. Onsen are thermal springs where the waters have a high mineral content and are heated by underground volcanic action. Sento baths are man-made and use heated tap water.
Sentos are frequented more by locals than tourists, and if going to one, you’ll need to take a robe, towel, and toiletries as they’re not usually provided. Onsen welcome international visitors, offer a more pampering experience and provide everything you need. There are often restrictions on displaying tattoos at Onsen, so if you have some, opt for Sento bathing where tattoos are more readily accepted.
Best Onsen & Bath Houses In Tokyo
Niwa No Yu – has the perfect atmosphere for first time Onsen users. It’s relaxed, quiet and there are no young children. Male and female bathing areas are separate, but there is also a communal area with outdoor Jacuzzis, a central pool and Finnish-style saunas where couples can bathe together wearing swimsuits. Two other, very good Onsen in Tokyo, are the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba and the LaQua Spa. You can purchase discounted tickets for the Oedo Onsen Monogatari here.
Rokuryu Kōsen – is a neighborhood Sento operating since the early 1930s. The walls of the spa are decorated with stunning murals of the centuries-old landmark, Kintai-Kyo, a wooden bridge in Iwasaki. The Rokuryu Kōsen Sento also add skin-healing, therapeutic minerals to the bath waters. Other good options for enjoying Sento in Tokyo are the Jakotsu-yu and Oshiage Daikoku-yu.
3. Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa
If you only got time to visit one temple during your first visit to Tokyo then make it the Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa. Although the current structure only dates back to just after the end of WW2, a time during which the original building was destroyed, the impressive, pagoda-style temple is wreathed in myths and legends.
Asakusa is an exciting area to explore. As well as the temple, you’ll find some amazing shops and great street food on Nakamise Dori. Don’t miss trying melonpan, small loaves of bread coated with a type of cookie dough, or tasting a green tea, matcha gelato reputed to have the strongest matcha flavor in the world. You can get a more in-depth idea of the best things to see and do in Asakusa here.
2.Day Trip To Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is a frequent feature on our best lists. Not only is it Japan’s best known natural wonders, it’s one of the world’s most impressive volcanoes and one of the top recognizable landscape.
Climbing Mount Fuji
“He who climbs Mt Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool” is a Japanese proverb which rightly sums up the experience of climbing Mount Fuji. Yes, climbing the volcano is a major achievement, but not one which delivers particularly rewarding scenic views.
The ascent is divided into ten sections with stations at each. First Station is at the base of the mountain and Tenth Station at the summit. The majority of hikers begin their trek from the Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station, it’s the most accessible from Tokyo, and take the Kawaguchiko Trail. From the fifth station, the trek up takes around six hours, less if you’re very fit and most climbers can make the descent in three hours. It takes about one and a half hours to circle the crater once you’re at the top, so if you plan on doing it, make sure you get an early start.
The official climbing season to ascend Mount Fuji is a short one and runs from the 1st of July through to the end of August. Going up outside of those months is not recommended by the authorities as the unpredictable weather can be extremely dangerous, and there are no first aid stations open. The official, Climb Mount Fuji website is a good source of information to use to plan your climb.
Hunt For Views Of Mount Fuji
If you stay in Tokyo doesn’t coincide with climbing season, or you prefer to see the iconic volcano from a distance, head to the Fuji Five Lake Region.
One of the best and most photographed views of Mount Fuji is from the Chureito Pagoda in Fujiyoshida. Yes, it’s that one Instagrammable shot of the pagoda and volcano you just can’t miss taking on your trip to Japan. The pagoda is nearby Lake Kawaguchi, an area with great accommodation options, plenty of restaurants and lots of hiking trails. The other four, less popular lakes in the region are Yamanaka-ko, Sai-ko, Shōji-ko, and Motosuko.
There is a year-round bus service from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Lake Kawaguchi. Ticket reservations can be made here, or if you prefer a guided tour, you can book one here.
1. Get A Bird’s Eye View Of Tokyo
One of the best things to do in Tokyo at night is to take in a panoramic view of the city when its amazing skyscrapers are illuminated. If money is no object, a helicopter tour will show you the breathtaking sight from above. If your holiday budget doesn’t stretch that far, there are other, less expensive, vantage points to see the Tokyo skyline from.
Best Viewpoints In Tokyo
Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest building, is six-hundred and thirty meters plus high and has two observation platforms from where you can get incredible views of the city. Skip the queues to go up by purchasing a discount fast entrance ticket online here or explore more options for economic ticket packages here.
Tokyo Tower at three-hundred and thirty meters high is half the height of the Tokyo Skytree, but its city center location means it still provides fantastic views. The tower has two viewing platforms. Purchase tickets for the main deck here or make a reservation for the upper deck on the tower webpage here.
Another popular option for viewing Tokyo from on high is Roppongi Hills. Tickets are available here.
Free Viewpoints In Tokyo
While the above viewpoints are some of the best in Tokyo, they’re not the most economical. If finances are tight, try these free alternatives instead.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, as well as being architecturally interesting, has great views of Tokyo and when it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to see as far as Mount Fuji.
Another great spot to view the city from is the Caretta Shiodome shopping mall. The mall has some incredible panoramic windows, the Skyview on the forty-sixth floor through which you can see Tokyo for free before enjoying a wander around the shops, bars and restaurants.