Visiting Tokyo for the First Time? Here Are Some Popular Places to Visit

Curriculum: The Sights, Sounds, Smells, and Tastes of Japan
Published: 2024-02-29
Visiting Tokyo for the First Time?  Here Are Some Popular Places to Visit

Tokyo is an eclectic city of contrasts - ultra modern skyscrapers, residential bedroom towns, and ancient temples and shrines. In this guide I will give you some ideas for things to do while visiting Tokyo.  

The places mentioned here are not necessarily in any particular order. If you are in Tokyo for a week you should be able to hit all the sights within the city.  Trips outside Tokyo will take the full day, or more if you stay overnight in a place like Hakone, so plan accordingly.

Note that the best weather on the Honshu and Kyuushu islands is in the spring (late March, April, May, and early June) and the fall (late September, October, November, early December).  Cherry blossoms start to bloom typically at the end of March in Tokyo.

I certainly hope you enjoy your visit!  If you are in Tokyo during the prime months it is more than likely that I am there too, so drop me a line (via the contact form) with any questions you may have.

Senso-Ji in Asakusa - the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

Step back in time at Senso-ji at Asakusa, a temple that dates back to the Edo period.  It is somewhat tricky to get there.  Go to Asakusa Station on the Ginza Line. Head towards Kaminarimon Gate, which is the entrance to Nakamise-dori Street. There you will find rows and rows of shops with souvenirs and quick bites to eat. At the end of the street is the temple. This is probably the number one place tourists visit in Tokyo, so it will likely be crowded. It is a top destination of practically all tour groups. So, might be best to go early to try to avoid the crowds.  More...

Meiji Shrine - A beautiful walk through the forest.

Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine and park that is between Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. One of our nieces got married here. It’s definitely worth popping over here if you are nearby. Nice quiet walks among the tall trees is what I remember the most.  More...

Tokyo Skytree - the tallest structure in Japan, it is presumably the tallest broadcasting tower in the world.

It’s really got an amazing view of the entire city. It is considerably newer and taller than Tokyo Tower. Bring your passport - the last time I was there foreigners got a discount if they showed their passport.  Getting there, two stations are close on different lines: Oshiage Station and Tokyo Skytree Station. If you are at Asakusa and still have energy, you can walk across the river and be here in 15-20 minutes.  More...

 

Tokyo Tower - used to be the tallest structure in Japan…  

It also has a really amazing view of the entire city.  There is a new section to it that has a food court and some souvenir shops.  It’s next to Shibakoen (Shiba Park), which is worth a look because an old temple called Zozoji is there.  I normally get to Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Station - it’s around a 15 minute walk from Roppongi Crossing. Roppongi was my hangout when I first came to Tokyo to work, so it is a walk down memory lane for me.  I lived down the street at Nishi Azabu.  More...

 

Imperial Palace - surrounded by a moat. 

The Imperial Palace itself generally is not accessible, but some of the surrounding grounds are open to the public. That said, there is a guided tour that you can register for, but reading the fine print, it says that you have to be over 18 to visit. 

You can enter the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace at Kikyomon Gate and register for a tour. It is open only on certain days during the week.  A schedule for the month is posted at the gate entrance. The last time I saw it the gardens are not open on Mondays and Fridays.  More...

 

Tokyo Station - at the heart of the city.

If you visit the Imperial Palace area you may pass through Tokyo Station to get there. It’s a 15 minute walk. In any case, the station itself is something to see because of its unique architecture. The surrounding area has some of the larger office buildings in the city (and one of them was designed by my brother in law). It is a gateway of sorts to the Imperial Palace as well as to the financial district of Otemachi. And frankly it is a city unto itself, filled with shops and restaurants of all kinds.  More...

 

Shibuya Scramble Crossing - People Everywhere!

You have probably seen this on some news or travel program but it’s a good place to visit to be able to say you were there. Find the statue of Hachiko first, which is at one of the exits from Shibuya Station. That used to be a favorite meeting place when I lived in Tokyo - let’s meet at Hachiko!  There is a famous story of how loyal this dog was to its owner, and I think a movie was made about it. Anyway, the crossing is adjacent to this spot; you will see some big video advertisements and the 109 building in the distance. Follow the flow of people towards the gated alley entrance (Starbucks and Tsutaya will be on the right). You should see a large Ikea sign up in the distance. There are a bunch of shops and restaurants in this area, and it’s always a good area to explore on foot. I like to follow this alley a hundred yards or so and then cut right towards the path that leads to higher ground, then circle around back toward the station.  More...

 

Takeshita Street - Unique Little Shops Attract The Younger Crowd

Not too far from Shibuya is Takeshita-dori, which is a very popular street with a lot of little shops and restaurants. Go to Harajuku and follow the signs or teenagers.  Very popular with teens, it is crazy crowded on weekend days. Quite a spectacle, to me it is more interesting than Shibuya crossing. You can follow it all the way out, and then make a right when it runs out of shops, or when you are done with the crowds. Head towards the main road at Jingumae, and turn left towards Omotesando. Lots of shops and even an Apple Store in the way up the gradual incline to Omotesando crossing. There is a subway station at there you can use to navigate home, or go right and walk to Shubuya.  More...

Akihabara - Electric Town

Akihabara has all the latest tech, and more recently, is the center of the anime universe. Lots of shops dedicated to your favorite anime themes and memes. If you ever wanted to try a “maid cafe” this would be the place to do it. There are also a few animal cafes here too.  If you decide to visit Akihabara it would be best to scout out what shops you want to visit before you come. Or just come and wander around a bit.  More...

Shinjuku - City Lights

This area of Tokyo features a myriad of things to check out.  East Shinjuku boasts the world famous red light district Kabukicho, a hotel with a giant Godzilla on the roof, and a thousand restaurants and bars. West Shinjuku is the sophisticated side of town, with some serious skyscrapers and large hotels, such as the Hilton, Keio Plaza, and Park Hyatt (where “Lost in Translation” was filmed). Walking around Kabukicho at night is amazing because of all the neon lights.  More...

Tokyo Dome City - A Little of Everything

This would be a change of pace if you wanted to do something completely different. The largest domed ballpark in the world is here, as well as an amusement park with lots of western style restaurants. It’s not on many “places in Tokyo to go” lists but I think it’s worthy a visit if you have seen enough temples. (formerly known as Korakuen Amusement Park) If you are into baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is here too.  More...

teamLab Planets and Borderless - Now for something completely different…

teamLab has an “exhibition” that involves you taking your shoes and socks off, checking your stuff in a locker, and walking around their exhibit, some of which is wet (up almost to your knees in some rooms). My sister and I tried this and though we would not do it again, it was a unique enough experience that I would recommend giving it a try. You need to buy tickets online - rsvp only. A new exhibit called Borderless was opened in 2023 near the new Azabudai Hills complex.  I have not seen that one yet but will on my next trip.  More on teamLab-Planets...  More on teamLab-Borderless...

 

Ginza - High Priced Shopping

This is on every to-do list, so you might as well check it out. The main street in Ginza has a lot of large department stores and cafes. The Kabuki Theatre is here also in case you want to catch a show. I have been known to get lunch at the enormous Tokyu Plaza building. The City Bakery is on one of the basement levels, and has a simple lunch offering with hamburgers and other western stuff, plus, it actually serves decaf coffee, which is generally rare in cafes in Japan. I have a favorite walk to get to Ginza - exit Tokyo Station in front, and walk a block towards the Imperial Palace and search for Marunouchi Naka-dori avenue (at which you will turn left). It is a tree lined street with lots of shops and restaurants. It leads to the edge of Ginza. You’ll eventually make another left to go down into downtown Ginza.  More...

Parks

Here are a few parks that I like; if you are in the mood for just wandering around…

Ueno Park - Lots of Museums

A big park at the northern end of the city, it was one of the first places I visited when I came to Japan in 1984. It has a bunch of museums and a zoo. A big pond also, which is nice to walk around. Of all the museums the National Museum is probably the one that you should checkout. Lots of very old artifacts etc.  More...

Hibiya Park - Has Everything

A very central park near Ginza and Tokyo Station.  It has everything, a pond, temple, shrine, and it’s surrounded by skyscrapers. Kinda reminds me of a mini Central Park.  More...

 

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden - Has its own Starbucks!

In Shinjuku there is a nice large park that is on a lot of go-see lists. It has a series of ponds, a restaurant, and a Starbucks that overlooks part of the lower garden. Get ready to wait in line to get in though.  More...

 

Yoyogi Park - For some quiet time, maybe...

Near Harajuku is a large park that I remember well from the old days when I lived in Tokyo. On Saturday’s (I think), was it the Iranians or the Pakistanis, I forgot, but one nationality set up chairs to do haircuts (guys only). The other thing I remember and what it is mostly know for is the rockabilly style youngsters that would come to the park all dressed up on Sundays. They’d play loud music and do the twist!  Quite a show sometimes - not sure if they still do that, but I think so.

One notable structure in the park worth mentioning is the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, a very uniquely architectured stadium that has been host to many a concert and sporting event.  We saw Bruce Springsteen in 1985 and Pink Floyd in 1988 at this enormous venue.  Good memories!  More...

 

Day Trips Outside Tokyo

Here are some quick ideas about getting outside Tokyo. Some of these places will be closer to Mt Fuji, so if you have not seen it yet you may get a chance to if you get some clear weather. By the way, I do not recommend climbing Mt Fuji. I have done it and it is an ordeal that is not worth the effort in my opinion. 

Kamakura - A Former Capitol

Near the coast, Kamakura is best known for its giant Buddha statue and beautiful temples. We went to Hasa-dera temple recently and it is quite unique with a nice view of bay. There are many temples here, but this is my favorite. To get to Hasa-dera, get on the Enoden line at Kamakura station, and get off at Hase station.  It's a short walk from there.   More...

Also, if you want to see the beach area, you can stop at Enoshima island.  Get back on the Enoden line and get off at Enoshima station.  Walk down the main drag towards the harbor.  You'll see a long bridge, on which you will have to walk to get to the island.  The major attraction there is the Enoshima Sea Candle, a lighthouse that provides some splendid views of the area.   More...

Yokohama - Port City

A seaside town south of Tokyo, it’s port area is beautiful with lots of shops and restaurants. It has a couple of unique things to see - the Hikawa Maru ship tour and the Gundam Factory. I have been to the ship tour and it is pretty good. The line into the Gundam Factory was too long for me but you can see the huge robot from the outside.  More...

 

Hakone - Beautiful countryside, lake, and view of Mt. Fuji

Famous for its hot springs and historical role, it is a well known getaway for local Japanese. Normally people go for a couple of days or so but I just met somebody that did a day trip and enjoyed it. So it can be done. Nice and peaceful, big lake with boat rides, and a cool gondola if you have time to ride. On a clear day you should be able to see Mt Fuji. (pronounced “ha-ko-nay”).  More...