12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Tokyo

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Nov 17, 2020

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Tokyo, the capital city of Japan and one of the best places to visit in Asia, is also home to the Imperial Palace and the seat of Government and Parliament. Located in East-Central Honshu, the largest of Japan's main islands, this heavily populated city is well worth visiting, and serves as a great base from which to explore other parts of the country.

One of the world's most modern cities in terms of its infrastructure and design - due largely to the 1923 earthquake and the devastation of WWII - Tokyo also holds the title of the world's most expensive city in which to live. Fortunately, it's also one of the easiest to get around thanks to its superb rail and subway networks.

The cultural side of Tokyo is famous for its numerous things to do and top attractions, including museums; festivals; internationally noted cuisine; and professional sports clubs, including baseball, football, and traditional Japanese pursuits like sumo wrestling. It's also a city rich in music and theater, with numerous venues featuring everything from Japanese to modern dramas, symphony orchestras, and pop and rock concerts.

Explore the city and begin with our list of the top things to do in Tokyo.

See also: Where to Stay in Tokyo

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Tour the The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace

The chief attraction of Tokyo's Marunouchi district is the Imperial Palace (Kōkyo) with its beautiful 17th-century parks surrounded by walls and moats. Still in use by the Imperial family, the Imperial Palace stands on the site where, in 1457, the Feudal Lord Ota Dokan built the first fortress, the focal point from which the city of Tokyo (or Edo, as it was then) gradually spread.

As famous as the palace is the Nijubashi Bridge leading to its interior, a structure that takes its name ("double bridge") from its reflection in the water. Other notable features include the two-meter-thick wall surrounding the palace and its gates, one of which leads to the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden.

Tours of the Imperial Palace are available (pre-registration required) and include the Kikyo-mon Gate, Someikan (Visitors' House), Fujimi-yagura ("Mt. Fuji View" Keep), the East Gardens and Inner Gate, the Seimon-tetsubashi bridge, and the Imperial Household Agency Building (be sure to plan ahead).

Another fortress that can be visited is Edo Castle (Chiyoda Castle). Built in 1457, it's located in Tokyo's Chiyoda district.

Address: 1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 100-8111

Official site: www.kunaicho.go.jp/eindex.html

2. Shop 'Til you Drop in the Ginza District

Street Scene in Ginza District
Street Scene in Ginza District

Ginza is Tokyo's busiest shopping area and it's as iconic as Times Square in New York, and much older. It has in fact been the commercial center of the country for centuries, and is where five ancient roads connecting Japan's major cities all met. Lined by exclusive shops and imposing palatial stores, the Ginza district is also fun to simply wander around or. Better still, sit in one of its many tea and coffee shops or restaurants while watching the world rush past.

At weekends, when everything is open, it's a shopper's paradise as traffic is barred, making it one of the world's largest pedestrian zones. Come nightfall, gigantic advertising panels on its many buildings bathe Ginza in bright neon light.

It's also where you'll find the famous Kabuki-za Theatre (see #12 below), home to traditional Kabuki performances, as well as the Shinbashi Enbujō Theatre in which Azuma-odori dances and Bunraku performances are staged.

3. Visit the Sensō-ji Temple

The Sensō-ji Temple
The Sensō-ji Temple

In the Asakusa district of Tokyo, the exquisite Sensō-ji Temple (Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji)) - the city's most famous shrine - stands at the end of a long street market hosting vendors selling masks, carvings, combs made of ebony and wood, toys, kimonos, fabrics, and precious paper goods.

Dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, the temple was established in AD 645 and retains its original appearance despite having been rebuilt numerous times.

Highlights of a visit include seeing the Kaminari-mon Gate with its 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern bearing the inscription "Thunder Gate," as well as the famous and much-loved Incense Vat, reputed to drive away ailments (you'll see people cupping their hands around the smoke and applying it to the part of their body needing healing).

Also of note are the fascinating temple doves, said to be Kannon's sacred messengers. Be sure to drop a coin in the Omikuji boxes near the entrance, from which you can retrieve a piece of paper that will tell your fortune.

Afterwards, be sure to explore the rest of the 50-acre temple precinct with its warren of lanes. If you can, revisit the temple again at night for a completely different (and far less crowded) illuminated experience.

Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032

Official site: www.senso-ji.jp/english/

Asakusa - Floor plan map
Asakusa Map (Historical)

4. Stop in at the National Museum of Nature and Science

Dinosaur skeleton at the National Museum of Nature and Science
Dinosaur skeleton at the National Museum of Nature and Science

Located in Tokyo's Ueno Park, the superb National Museum of Nature and Science (Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan) opened in 1871 and is one of the country's oldest museums.

Now completely renovated and modernized, the museum also boasts a reputation as one of the country's busiest and largest museums, housing a vast collection of some 250,000 materials related to natural history and science.

These include many fascinating interactive displays on space development, nuclear energy, and transportation, each allowing visitors a unique insight into the latest scientific and technological advances. Highlights of the Japan Gallery (Nihonkan) include numerous exhibits of prehistoric creatures and the history of the Japanese people, including traditional customs and outfits. In the Global Gallery (Chikyūkan) you'll see many excellent scientific and technology displays, including robotics and vintage vehicles.

Address: 7-20 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-8718

Official site: www.kahaku.go.jp/english/

5. Enjoy Nature at Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo

Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo
Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo

A paradise-like oasis of green in the heart of busy Tokyo, Ueno Park (Ueno Kōen) is the city's largest green space and one of its most popular tourist attractions. In addition to its lovely grounds, the park also boasts numerous temples and museums to explore.

Criss-crossed by pleasant gravel paths, this 212-acre park includes highlights such as a trip on a small boat on the reed-fringed Shinobazu pond, around a little island with its Bentendo Temple. Be sure to also visit the 17th-century Toshogu Shrine (Nikkō Tōshō-gū), with its 256 bronze and stone lanterns.

Another highlight here is Ueno Zoo (Onshi Ueno Dōbutsuen). Opened in 1882, it is Japan's oldest zoo, and is famous for the pandas presented by the People's Republic of China.

While it's a large attraction and houses more than 3,00 animals representing some 400 species, having a fun monorail connecting its various components can help speed up a visit (and make it even more enjoyable).

The Aqua-Zoo, one of the largest aquariums in Asia, is also worth a visit, especially if you're traveling with kids.

Address: 9-83 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo

Official site: www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/index.html

Ueno-Park - Floor plan map
Ueno-Park Map (Historical)

6. Wander through the Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum (ōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan) houses more than 100,000 important works of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art, including more than 100 national treasures.

Opened in 1938, the TNM, as it's usually known, includes highlights such as numerous Buddhist sculptures from Japan and China dating from the 6th century to the present, as well as fine collections of old textiles, historical weapons, and military equipment.

Also noteworthy are its large collections of historical Japanese clothing and Asian ceramics and pottery. Important artwork includes Japanese paintings from the 7th to the 14th centuries, and another must-see are the museum's exquisite collections of Japanese and Chinese masterpieces of lacquerwork of various centuries, including examples of lacquer-carving, gold lacquer, and lacquer with mother of pearl. There are also many fine examples of calligraphy.

English language guided tours are available. Also worth a visit is the museum's traditional Japanese landscape garden with its three pavilions, including the 17th-century Tein Teahouse (Rokuso-an), and the nearby Museum for East Asiatic Art with its 15 exhibition galleries.

Address: 13-9 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo

Official site: www.tnm.jp/?lang=en

7. Spend Time at the National Museum of Western Art

National Museum of Western Art
National Museum of Western Art | Rory Hyde / photo modified

Located in Ueno Park and just three minutes' walk from Ueno Station stands the National Museum of Western Art (Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan). It was built in 1959 to plans by famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier.

The exhibits, largely made up of works by important French artists, come mainly from the collections of Japanese businessman and art collector Kojiro Matsukata, bought during visits to Europe early in the 20th century.

In the courtyard are works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, while highlights inside are canvases by Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Edgar Degas. The museum also boasts an excellent restaurant with great views over the courtyard.

Address: 7-7 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo

Official site: www.nmwa.go.jp/en/index.html

8. Enjoy Nature and Art at the Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine

Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, construction of the splendid Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingū) began in 1915 and was completed in 1926. Although the original structure was destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt in 1958 and remains one of Tokyo's most important religious sites.

Surrounded by a 175-acre evergreen forest that is home to some 120,000 trees representing species found across Japan - as well as the interesting 'wishing tree', on which visitors can write and hang their deepest wishes - the shrine's highlights include its Inner Precinct (Naien) with its museum containing royal treasures, and the Outer Precinct (Gaien).

It's in the Outer Precinct that you'll find the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery with its superb collection of murals relating to the lives of the emperor and empress. Be sure to also visit the adjacent Meiji Shrine Inner Garden (Yoyogi Gyoen), an attractive public garden complete with a teahouse, iris garden, and a pleasant arbor.

Address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya City, Tokyo

Official site: www.meijijingu.or.jp/en/

9. Visit the Miraikan and Edo-Tokyo Museums

The Miraikan and Edo-Tokyo Museums
The Miraikan and Edo-Tokyo Museums | Setsuan / photo modified

One of Tokyo's newest museums, the impressive National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Nippon Kagaku Mirai-kan) - usually simply referred to as the Miraikan - offers a fascinating insight into Japan's leading role in the field of technology.

Created by Japan's Science and Technology Agency, this ultra-modern, purpose-built facility includes many hands-on interactive exhibits dealing with everything from earthquakes to weather, as well as renewable energy and robotics. Highlights include a number of displays relating to modern transportation such as a superb model of a Maglev train, as well as a robotics exhibition.

Also worth visiting is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Completed in 1993, the museum's exhibits deal with the region's rich past, present, and future. Of particular interest is a replica bridge leading into a mock-up of dwellings in the original old city of Edo.

Address: 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto City, Tokyo

Official site: www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en/

10. See the View from the Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree

It's hard to miss the Tokyo Skytree (Tōkyō Sukaitsurī). This 634-meter-tall communications and observation tower rises out of the city's Sumida district of Minato like a huge rocket ship.

The country's tallest structure (and the world's tallest freestanding tower), the Tokyo Skytree opened in 2012 and has quickly become one of the city's most visited tourist attractions thanks to the incredible panoramic views from its restaurant and observation decks.

With a base designed in the form of a massive tripod, the tower includes a number of cylindrical observation levels, including one at the 350-meter mark, and another at the 450-meter point - the latter includes a unique glass spiral walkway to an even higher viewpoint with glass floors for those with strong stomachs.

Be sure to also check out the smaller and much older Tokyo Tower, built in 1958 and once the city's tallest structure.

Address: 1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida City, Tokyo

Official site: www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

11. Enjoy the Collections at the National Art Center

The National Art Center
The National Art Center

Another of Tokyo's world-class museums, the excellent National Art Center (Kokuritsu Shin-Bijutsukan) is housed in a remarkable curved glass building in the city's Roppongi district. This superb facility only opened in 2007 and has since earned a well-deserved reputation for its fine permanent collection of more than 600 paintings, most from the 20th century. These include many important pieces of modern art and regular visiting exhibitions.

Also worth checking out is the Mori Art Museum (Mori Bijutsukan) on the top floors of the neighboring Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. This fine art museum is notable for its regular exhibits of contemporary artwork from around the globe.

Address: 7-22-2 Roppongi Minato City, Tokyo

Official site: www.nact.jp/english/index.html

12. See a Show at the Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza

The Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza
The Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza

Tokyo is home to a number of excellent theaters, none as well known as the historic Kabuki-za Theatre in the city's busy Ginza district, home to famous traditional Kabuki performances.

Based upon a medieval, highly skilled, and often burlesque theatrical form including song and dance, the theater's performances are as popular among tourists as they are with Japanese-speaking people.

The drama and comedy are relatively easy to follow thanks to rich visuals and theatricality. The theater's interior, usually full to capacity with some 2,000 guests, is always intimate and seems more akin to an enormous family get-together than a stage show due to the fact that spectators bring their own food or purchase treats from the various restaurants spread around the auditorium (go for one of the tasty bento box meals).

Performances can last for hours, and spectators stay as long as they wish (or as long as they can bear). And no one seems to take offence at people's comings and goings, nor their loud cheering or jeering.

Address: 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061

Official site: www.kabukiweb.net/theatres/kabukiza/information/index.html

Where to Stay in Tokyo for Sightseeing

The best area to stay in Tokyo is the city center within walking distance of top attractions, such as the Imperial Palace, and close to Tokyo Station with its public transit and high-speed rail connections. The following hotels are highly recommended:

  • Luxury Hotels: Perched atop an office tower on the edge of Tokyo's financial district, the high-rise Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo offers excellent views over the city. Rooms and suites are posh, with chic decor and comfy beds. There are 10 restaurants on-site. You'll also find a spa, indoor swimming pool, and a fitness center.

    Also boasting great views, this time over Tokyo Bay, is the Conrad Tokyo. This luxury hotel is also popular for its proximity to the Ginza district, which is home to great shopping and dining. On-site amenities here include an excellent Cantonese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant with views across the bay, and a third restaurant serving upmarket European fare. You'll also find a swanky spa with an indoor pool and gym in the building.

    Some of the best views in the city are discovered at the refurbished Palace Hotel Tokyo. If you are on a romantic getaway, book one of the posh rooms with a balcony overlooking the gardens of the Imperial Palace. If you're traveling with the kids, many of the suites have kitchens along with separate living rooms. There are multiple restaurants on-site, as well as an indoor swimming pool and a workout room. Finally, treat yourself to a massage at the luxe spa.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Close to the Imperial Palace and overlooking the magnificent red brick Renaissance-style Tokyo Station, Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo is also near the city's best dining and shopping. This good-value option offers contemporary rooms with Nespresso machines and mini-fridges. Some have tatami mats and futons. On-site amenities include a few dining options and a traditional tearoom.

    Another good mid-range option near public transport and shopping is Hotel Niwa Tokyo. The hotel is located north of the Imperial Palace and adjacent to the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. It offers clean and comfortable rooms - some even feature whirlpool baths. There are two restaurants on-site, as well as a gym.

    A great family hotel is the Courtyard by Marriott Tokyo Ginza, just a five-minute walk from the Ginza shopping district. The rooms here feature Japanese-inspired art and comfy beds. The suites also have separate living space, which is a bonus for parents. When it comes time to eat, you have three on-site restaurant options, including a Japanese restaurant with hostesses in kimonos and its own tempura counter.
  • Budget Hotels: Just minutes from the iconic Tokyo Tower and Shiba Park, Richmond Hotel Tokyo Shiba offers reasonably priced accommodations. It is especially popular for its proximity to the Haneda Express Monorail, the direct link to Tokyo's international airport. There is free Wi-Fi and a Starbucks café on-site.

    Another economy choice located just across the road from the Kanda River and a quick stroll to the nearest metro station is Hotel Mystays Asakusabashi. The property features tidy but basic rooms with free Wi-Fi. If you want to cook for yourself to save cash, book one with a kitchenette. Amenities include a convenience store on-site, as well as bike rentals.

    If you are really traveling on a tight budget then check out Hotel Yanagibashi, which offers some inexpensive hostel-style shared rooms. There are also cheaper private rooms with shared baths and slightly more expensive private rooms with en-suite baths. There is a communal kitchen so you can cook for yourself, free Wi-Fi, and laundry facilities on-site.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Tokyo

  • Sightseeing and Shopping in Tokyo: Tokyo is a big city, and taking a tour is a time efficient way to see the top sites and one of the best ways to learn about what you are seeing. For a little bit of everything, including time for shopping, the Panoramic Tokyo Day Tour - Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple, and Tokyo Bay Cruise is a great option. This is an 8.5-hour tour taking in the city's top attractions, including a cruise on Tokyo Bay and time for shopping in the Nakamise and Ginza districts.
  • Day Trip to Mt. Fuji: One of the best ways to see Japan's biggest attraction, along with several other hot spots and beautiful scenery is on a Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi, and Bullet Train Day Trip from Tokyo. This is a full-day excursion that includes time to explore Mt. Fuji, a short cruise on Lake Ashi, an aerial tram ride up Mt. Komagatake, and a return trip to Tokyo by bullet train.
  • National Park Day Trip: The Nikko National Park Day Trip from Tokyo offers travelers a first-rate opportunity to leave the bustling metropolis behind them. This full-day guided countryside excursion takes in a number of important religious sites, including the famous Toshogu Shrine, along with an up-close look at the spectacular Kegon Falls at Lake Chuzenji. Admissions, hotel pickup, and transportation are included, and an optional traditional Japanese lunch is available.
  • Bullet Train to Kyoto: If you're looking for an opportunity to experience two iconic Japanese "must-dos" in a single day, look into the excellent Kyoto Rail Tour by Bullet Train from Tokyo excursion. The super-fast Bullet train gets you here in just two hours, passing spectacular Mount Fuji on the way. Once in Kyoto, your guide will lead you to the best of this historic city's many top attractions, including the Heian Shrine and Kioyomizu-dera Temple (lunch, travel, and admissions are included, and an upgrade to first class on the train is available).

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imageWhile in Tokyo: Be sure to spend time exploring the many great attractions within an easy day trip of Tokyo. Highlights include family-favorites Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, as well as a great trip to majestic Mount Fuji.

imageTake the Train: Thanks to Japan's superb rail system, it's possible to use Tokyo as a base to explore numerous other great cities in a day or less. Options include taking a Bullet train to experience the attractions of historic Kyoto (passing Mount Fuji along the way), or heading to Nagoya and exploring the city's many fine shrines and temples, along with its famous castle.

imageJapan Vacation Ideas: Another city that would serve equally well as a jumping-off point from which to explore Japan is Hiroshima. Here, you can enjoy the amazing Island Shrine of Itsukushima (you can spend the best part of a day here), as well as the many reminders of the city's part in WWII, including Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. The city of Sapporo on the northernmost island of Hokkaido is also a good place to enjoy the country's rich culture, history, and traditions.

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