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Visiting Tokyo for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do

A temple in Tokyo in spring with women in traditional dress walking beneath the cherry trees
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

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Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

see more

Big, bright, busy, and bold, Tokyo can feel overwhelming for the first-time visitor. Whether you’re struggling with the language or trying to navigate the convoluted metro system, exploring the sprawling Japanese capital can be challenging. To make sure that you’re getting the most out of this thrilling metropolis, take the guesswork out of your visit by following these tips.

See the Shibuya Scramble

Pedestrians walk through Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing.
Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. | Photo Credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Marvel at one of Tokyo’s most impressive sights.

One of the city’s most popular photo spots, Shibuya Crossing is believed to be the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. When the traffic lights change, hundreds of people cross the road in all directions, creating a mesmerizing sight for onlookers. You’ll find Shibuya Crossing right in front of the Hachiko Square exit of Shibuya Station, surrounded by the glowing neon lights of department stores (which make the crossing even more impressive after dark). Get a bird’s eye view from one of the surrounding cafes, explore the neighborhood on a walking tour, or use the crossing as a backdrop during a photoshoot.

Get up high for a city view

A view of the Eiffel Tower-inspired Tokyo Tower.
The Tokyo Tower was designed to mimic the Eiffel Tower. | Photo Credit: Richie Chan / Shutterstock

Scale a skyscraper for a new perspective.

To see just how vast (and surprisingly green) Tokyo is, head to one of the city’s observation platforms; on a clear day, you may even glimpse Mount Fuji. One good option is Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest building, which is 2,080 feet (634 meters) and has two observation decks. The 1,092-foot (333-meter) Eiffel Tower-inspired Tokyo Tower also has two observation decks. The Mori Tower’s 52nd-floor indoor observatory is another good spot (combination tickets also provide access to the Mori Art Museum), while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku has two free observation decks.

Enjoy kawaii culture in Harajuku

Women dressed in a kawaii outfit in Japan.
Kawaii culture in Japan is a big part of the city's aesthetic. | Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Immerse yourself in Harajuku's cute and colorful youth culture.

Japan is closely associated with kawaii (“cute”) culture, which brought the world Hello Kitty, Doraemon, and an adorably saccharine aesthetic. Kawaii culture originated in the Harajuku neighborhood, and the area still boasts hundreds of shops, cafes, and restaurants offering their take on the latest kawaii-influenced trends. Stroll along the shopping street of Takeshita-dori; eat creative and cute dishes on a kawaii food tour, and learn about the area’s various subcultures on a walking tour.

Explore the history-filled streets of Asakusa

Visitors walk through Asakusa , a traditional neighborhood of Japan.
Asakusa is considered the traditional neighborhood of Japan. | Photo Credit: Boris-B / Shutterstock

Soak up old-school Tokyo vibes in this historic neighborhood.

Tokyo is not all bright lights and tall towers. For a taste of the city’s more traditional side, head for the Asakusa neighborhood. Here, you’ll find the city’s oldest temple, Senso-ji, and historic streets that are filled with places to shop for Japanese street snacks and souvenirs; Nakamise-dori, which leads to Senso-ji, is one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets. A rickshaw tour is a fun and effortless way to see the area.

Stroll around the Imperial Palace

Visitors stroll outside of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, home to the Japanese imperial family.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is a sight to see. | Photo Credit: Guillermo Olaizola / Shutterstock

Get a glimpse of Japan’s royal household.

Once the largest fortress in the world, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is home to the Japanese imperial family and occupies the site of the former Tokugawa shogunate's castle. Most of the complex is off limits but there are guided tours of the grounds, offered by the Imperial Household Agency. The beautiful East Gardens are open to the public all year round and while they are a seasonal delight no matter what time of year, they are extraordinary during cherry blossom season.

Take a food-focused tour

Street food in Tokyo.
When in Tokyo, try some of their tasty street food. | Photo Credit: martinho Smart / Shutterstock

Immerse yourself in one of the world’s most fantastic food cities.

Tokyo is known for its spectacular food, and you’d be remiss not to make the most of your access to its varied offerings, which range from fried street food and izakaya snacks to Michelin-starred dishes and delicate kaiseki ryori haute cuisine. Dive into Japan’s rich culinary heritage by taking a hands-on cooking class, exploring a market (such as the renowned Tsukiji Fish Market), or joining a food-themed walking tour.

Visit the Nezu Shrine

View of the Nezu Shrine, one of the oldest worship places in the city.
Nezu Shrine is one of the oldest worship places in the city. | Photo Credit: cowardlion / Shutterstock

Avoid crowds at this hidden gem.

Tokyo does not lack for shrines, but Nezu, northwest of Ueno Park, is an underrated destination. Built in 1705, it is one of the city’s oldest Shinto shrines and has a red torii gate path similar to the one at Kyoto’s famed Fushimi Inari. Nezu Shrine is best known for its Azalea Spring Festival, but the building and grounds are stunning at any time of year. There are also plenty of cafes and traditional candy shops around the shrine, serving traditional snacks like bean paste filled taiyaki. A guided bike tour can take you to the shrine and surrounding attractions.

Watch sumo wrestling in Ryogoku

Sumo wrestlers before a tournament in Tokyo.
Watching sumo wrestling is a popular past time in Tokyo. | Photo Credit: J. Henning Buchholz / Shutterstock

Learn about Japan’s national sport.

A sport with numerous complex rules and traditions, sumo can be baffling for first-time viewers. To better understand the history and culture of this enthralling wrestling style, head for the Ryogoku neighborhood, located on the banks of the Sumida River. This is the hub of sumo culture, and you can watch a tournament, tour the stables where the wrestlers live, learn a few moves, and feast like a wrestler by ordering a hearty chanko nabe hot pot.

Explore Tokyo National Museum

Photo Credit: f11photo / Shutterstock

Admire an extraordinary collection of cultural treasures.

One of the world’s largest museums, you should set aside at least half a day to explore the sprawling Tokyo National Museum. The museum’s six buildings are home to more than 100,000 artworks and antiquities from Japan and across Asia. Afterward, take a stroll in the landscaped surroundings of Ueno Park, which is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season.

Enjoy the colorful nightlife scene

Photo Credit: Luciano Mortula - LGM / Shutterstock

Tokyo’s nightlife is among the best in the world.

From the densely-packed pubs of Shinjuku’s Golden Gai to the youthful night clubs of Shibuya and ritzy cocktail bars of the Ginza, Tokyo’s nightlife is diverse and always entertaining. Away from the most-trafficked parts of town, language and cultural norms can sometimes create a barrier, so book a guided nightlife tour to discover the top spots and experience the city like a local.

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See all Tokyo tours
1,147 tours & tickets
Things to do in Tokyo
See all things to do in Tokyo
A woman walks through a Shinto shrine in Tokyo
Top 6 Spots for Culture Lovers in Tokyo