20 Must-Do’s That Guarantee Your Best Tokyo Moments

Colorful. Vibrant. Fascinating. Quirky. Extreme. Contradicting. Polite. Clean. High-tech…these are only a few out of a thousands words that have often been said about Tokyo.

For a very long time, Japan has held an imperative role on the global stage. The country’s capital, Tokyo has always been a futuristic city representing the vision of tomorrow while holding onto the traditions of yesterday.

In 2014, Tokyo was ranked first in the “best overall experience” category of TripAdvisor’s World City Survey. It’s always attracted travelers of all kinds, and continues to be the premier destination for those who have yet to visit Asia.

It can be overwhelming, however, to narrow down the list of to-do’s in Tokyo as the city has so much to offer and you, most likely, have very little time. This list below will get you through your stay with the perfect agenda. Have fun!

1. Soak your stress away at Japanese-style hot springs.

METRO: Asakusa station/Tobu Skytree line, Toei Asakusa line, Ginza line

Onsen Tokyo
Flickr/Michele Meyer

Onsen, as they’re called in Japanese, come in different types and shapes, including outdoor and indoor baths. We highly recommend a traditional Edo-period onsen in Asakusa area where you’ll get the cultural and relaxing experience all in one. Check out Sadachiyo.

2. Get the best view of Tokyo from Mori Art Museum.

METRO: Roppongi Station/Hibiya line or Toei Oedo line

Mori art museum
Facebook/Mori Art Museum

Located in Roppongi Hills, this is a contemporary art museum founded by the real estate developer Minoru Mori. The museum does not exhibit a permanent collection but rather temporary exhibitions of works by contemporary artists. Artists whose work has been exhibited at the museum include Ai Weiwei, Tokujin Yoshioka and Bill Viola.

3. Grab a dinner and drinks at an Izakaya.

Izakaya Tokyo
Flickr/Hajime NAKANO

Instead of dive bars, think of izakayas as places where locals go to relief their stress and drink cold beers with colleagues and friends. Izakaya is a type of informal Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks. Food comes in tapas style, from chicken wings to yakitori (grilled chicken.) Always order lots and lots of local beer!

4. Attend a fireworks festival (summer only).

hanabi tokyo
Flickr/KetaiBlogger

Or, hanabi. During summer months, Tokyo is literally filled with fireworks festival on a weekly basis where locals dress in yukatas to look at fireworks in designated locations throughout the city. It gets crowded but it’s an extremely local and extraordinary experience.

5. Watch a game of Sumo.

METRO: Ryogoku station/Sobu line

sumo
Twitter@sumokyokai/

The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. If you’re in Japan during non-tournament season, then check out sumo training sessions in the morning at a “beya” (sumo stable.) If you’re in Tokyo during the months of January, May and September, you’ll be able to catch a grand tournament at Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall, Ryogoku Kokugikan ($20/admission fee.)

6. Cross the Shibuya Crossing.

METRO: Shibuya station/JR Yamanote line

Shibuya
Flickr/Candida.Performa

One of the most famous images of Tokyo has to be right here, so you’ve got to do it. Because locals do too!

7. Get nostalgic with Totoro at Ghibli Museum.

METRO: Mitaka station/JR Chuo line

Ghibli Museum
Facebook/Ghibli Museum

If you’re a fan of Hayao Miyazaki, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to this museum, which is also (as you can imagine) very kid-friendly. You’ll take a look inside the film: “My Neighbor Totoro.” The museum combines features of a children’s museum, technology museum, and a fine arts museum.

8. Send a prayer at Sensoji Temple.

METRO: Asakusa station/Tobu Skytree line, Toei Asakusa line, Ginza line.

sensoji
Flickr/Kenichiro Nakazawa

This is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, dating back to the seventh century. It was built to honor Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. One of the most famous tourist hotspots where you can send a prayer on a piece of paper then tie it at the temple along with others.

9. Bring home a Kimono or Yukata.

yukata
Flickr/RageZ

Kimono is a Japanese traditional garment while yukata is a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined. Can be worn by both men and women. You can find special boutique stores specifically selling kimonos and yukatas, or you can buy them at major department stores including Mitsukoshi.

10. Get cultured at Kabukiza Theater.

METRO: Higashi-ginza station/Hibiya line

Kabukiza
Flickr/sookie

Located in Ginza, the Kabukiza Theater is the principal theater in Tokyo for the traditional kabuki. Tickets are sold every day, for individual acts and for each play.

11. Have a zen moment at Meiji Shrine.

METRO: Harajuku station/JR Yamanote line

Meiji shrine
Flickr/Jessica Spengler

Dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, Meiji Shring is now often visited by foreign leaders from around the world. Meiji Shrine is located in a forest that covers an area of 170 acres. This area is covered by an evergreen forest that consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from all parts of Japan when the shrine was established. The forest is visited by many as a recreation and relaxation area in the center of Tokyo.

12. Feed your inner foodie at a top-notch sushi restaurant in Ginza.

METRO: Ginza/Ginza line, Marunouchi line, Hibiya line

Jiro dreams of sushi
Facebook/Jiro Dreams of Sushi

If you’ve seen the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” you’re in Tokyo for a reason. To devour the best sushi in the world, you’ve got to be in the popular upscale district of Ginza. Jiro’s restaurant as well as plenty other Michelin-starred sushi restaurants are located in this area. Completely splurge-worthy.

13. Shopping in Harajuku then Omotesando.

METRO: Harajuku station/Yamanote line

Harajuku
Flickr/Sarah Tzinieris

Two very different districts but since they’re neighbors, it’s easier to kill two birds with one stone. Harajuku is younger, edgier with lots of interesting knick-knacks. Omotesando is luxurious, upscale, and extremely high-end. You get to see two faces of Tokyo in an hour. Fantastic!

14. Cherry blossom viewing at Ueno Park (spring only).

METRO: Ueno station/Ginza line, Hibiya line, JR Utsunomiya line (Tohoku Main Line), JR Takasaki line, JR Keihin-Tōhoku line, JR Yamanote line, JR Jōban Line

Hanami
Flickr/Dick Thomas Johnson

Or, hanami. Japan is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms that decorate the entire country throughout months of spring. Ueno Park is especially lovely during this time of the year. Do not miss out!

15. Karaoke your heart out.

karaoke
Flickr/Dick Thomas Johnson

Ka-ra-o-ke as the locals call it. Probably the best time you’ll have in Japan if you’re with a group of friends ready for a night out. You can hit the bars first but everyone seem to always end up at a karaoke! Just look out for those blue banners, they’re located throughout the city.

16. Learn about Asian art at Nezu Museum.

METRO: Omotesando Station/Ginza line, Chiyoda line, Hanzomon line

Nezu Museum
Facebook/Nezu Museum

The museum holds private collection of Nezu Kaichirō (1860–1940,) a pair of Edo period folding screens of Irises by Ogata Kōrin, other paintings of renown, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics,textiles and archaeological materials, Chinese bronzes of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. You’ll love the museum’s beautiful Japanese-style garden.

17. Picnic in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

METRO: Shiodome station/Toei Oedo line

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Flickr/Yoshikazu TAKADA

Originally a residence of the Naitō family in the Edo period, this is now a large park with a gorgeous garden. You can buy a few bento boxes and have a picnic there or enjoy cherry blossoms during months of spring.

18. Take a stroll in the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.

METRO: Otemachi station/Chiyoda line, Marunouchi line, Tōzai line, Hanzōmon line, Mita line.

East Garden Imperial Palace
Flickr/Toshihiro Gamo

Here’s a state of Kyoto in Tokyo! Built on the site of an Edo Castle, the Imperial Palace is a large park-like area which contains a main palace , the private residences of the imperial family, an archive, museum and administrative offices. It’s a nice walk to snap a few photos and stroll along ancient Japan

20. Get with the hype and head to teamLab Borderless.

teamLab / チームラボ
FACEBOOK teamLab / チームラボ

This immersive museum makes the perfect Instagram snap, if you haven’t seen it on your social feed then you’ve been living under a rock. teamLab Borderless in Tokyo merits 3-4 hours of your time to truly explore an unbelievable digital art experience. Located inside the MORI Building, teamLab has been exhibiting throughout the city of Tokyo since 2001, but the Borderless exhibition is a unique partnership with the MORI Building that aims to create a boundless connection between people, art and emotions.

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and St. Bart's because they were all so different!

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