After spending my first week in Tokyo, Japan’s capital, I instantly added it to my list of the most incredible cities in the world! Tokyo is a rare place where as a westerner, absolutely everything feels completely foreign, and yet it’s somehow easy to be there.
Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, and with so many things to see and do, it can be a bit overwhelming. I was lucky on my first trip to have friends who gave me recommendations, so I created this list of my favorite experiences in Tokyo, to help make your first trip amazing!
Here are 10 things you can’t miss during your trip to Tokyo!
1) HAVE A SUSHI BREAKFAST AT TSUKIJI MARKET
Start your day early at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market with a fresh sashimi breakfast. But be warned – this will ruin sushi for you, forever. There are no menus and no California rolls here.
When the doors open at 5 am, you sit down at one of the ten-seat restaurants for an omakase (chef’s tasting) and salivate while you watch the sushi master craft each piece with TLC, before he sets it down in front of you.
People start queuing outside start around 3 am for the most popular places – Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. The Japanese don’t mind queuing for hours for good food, so come prepared with a book and if you’re really diehard – a folding chair. I saw it!
You can also go to watch the famous live tuna action, which happens at 5 am and is limited to 120 people. People start lining up around 3 am for tickets.
TIP: Allow a lot of time to get there and find your way around. The market is huge and absolutely no one speaks English. This is not a tourist attraction – it’s a busy, functioning, fish market with a small area of restaurants inside, so it’s a bit confusing.
2) GET LOST IN SHIBUYA
Shibuya is iconic Tokyo: neon everything, towering skyscrapers, packed streets, and shops on shops on shops full of bizarre things. Definitely check out Tokyo Hands to have your mind blown by 6 floors everything you never knew you desperately needed: hourglasses that run upwards, glittery false eyelashes, and every color nail varnish imaginable.
The best way to explore the area is to just get lost wandering. Make sure you watch the iconic crossing, the busiest crosswalk in the world.
Many people will tell you the view from the second floor of the Starbucks is the best place to take it in, but I prefer to be on the street, smack in the middle of it – grinning ear to ear.
3) BAR HOP IN GOLDEN GAI
Three magical alleyways tucked away in Shinjinku make up the Golden Gai, Tokyo’s coolest nightlife district, and something you can’t miss.
The dark, narrow streets are lined with paper lanterns and hundreds of tiny bars, none more than a few feet wide with just a handful of seats inside. Each place is locally owned and has a different decor and feel, from very wabi-sabi to a place with a fish tank as a wall.
Some bars charge a small cover, some offer all you can drink for under $10. Head there after 9 pm to see the area in action, but this is not a wild, drunken party. The vibe is very chill and friendly. Since it’s such close quarters expect to bond with your bartender and other patrons.
4) SHOP IN HARAJUKU
Harajuku is bananas. Walk the streets and go inside positively every shop you pass to find a mix of incredible vintage stores, boutiques carrying fashions for the Lolita girls, and department stores offering the most creative and off-the-wall womenswear in the world.
I found furry kitten-heels with plush kitten sewn onto the sides, gloves with painted fingernails, and enormous fluffy pom-pom earrings all at LaForet!
There are also dozens of places to satisfy your sweet tooth. The shops alternate with hot pink crepe stands, coffee shops serving marshmallow lattes, and swirls of fresh cotton candy bigger than your head. It’s girly, glittery, cutesy, wild, fluffy, furry heaven.
TIP: Go early to try the famous pancake breakfast at Bills, or at Burn Side Street Cafe, served with whipped cream and a big scoop ice cream. You’re going to need to carb-load for this marathon shopping day!
5) VISIT ASAKUSA
Head out east to Asakusa for a taste of old Tokyo. This neighborhood is quaint and charming; think little shops and traditional Japanese restaurants with tables on the floor.
You can walk around and find a great lunch spot, and then head to see the city’s oldest Temple, Sensoji to get a taste of culture. Walking down Nakamise, a 200 meter street leading up to the temple, was one of my favorite things I did.
The street is full of shops, snacks, and sweets, so bring your wallet and your appetite. I had a particularly hard time choosing between the 20-some different flavors of ice cream!
If you’re a pro in the kitchen, head to Kappabashi Dori to check out the hundreds of kitchen utensil stores and stock up on things you’ll never find in America. After exploring the temple, take a boat ride down the Sumida River to Tokyo Bay.
6) HAVE AN UNUSUAL DINING EXPERIENCE
Eating out in Japan is a unique experience each time since there are so many different types of restaurants. You might be tempted to just play it safe and just keep eating oodles of ramen and sushi, but it would be a big mistake to not try some of the different types of Japanese restaurants.
Boil thin strips of pork and beef in your own hot pot at a shabu shabu restaurant, watch chefs grill skewers of food while trying yakatori, try okonomiyaki where you cook your own savory pancakes on a griddle, or indulge in deep fried pork cutlets and pounds of cabbage at a tonkatsu restaurant.
7) TAKE IN THE VIEW
The view of Tokyo at night will wow even the most jaded traveler! The sprawling city lit up in neon is not something to be missed during your trip.
If you don’t mind being a tourist, head up to the top of Tokyo Tower for a stunning view. If you’d rather take in the city while sipping a cocktail, then the iconic American Bar in the Park Hyatt, where Lost in Translation was filmed, is the perfect spot for you. If you love the cult classic, then make sure you order a Suntory Whiskey.
8) VISIT MEIJI SHRINE AND YOYOGI PARK
Most of your time in Tokyo will be spent among bright lights, towering buildings, and busy streets. Make sure you escape the chaos at least one day and head to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park for some nature and culture.
The Meiji shrine is a Shinto shrine set in a beautiful area off Harajuku. The walk there is serene, and at the temple you can witness people writing their wishes on wooden tablets and hanging them on the wall around a sacred Camphor tree. The priests pray for every wish.
The Yoyogi Park is right next to the shrine, so allow enough time to do both and then explore Harajuku. If you’re there on a Sunday you’ll catch the Lolita girls dressed up and parading around the park, which is an experience not to be missed.
9) VISIT DISNEY SEA
The Disney spirit is more alive at Tokyo’s Disney Sea than anywhere else in the world! I have been to every Disney park and nothing comes close to matching the magic of Disney Sea.
The design of the park, the level of details everywhere, and the quality of the rides would make Walt proud. This is a must-see because everything in this park is completely unique.
Explore Mermaid Lagoon, take a ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or join Indiana Jones on a thrilling and scary adventure! The staff genuinely look like they are having the time of their lives just working there, and will go out of their way to help you find your way around, so don’t fret the language barrier.
But perhaps the best thing about Tokyo Disney is that everyone at the park is dressed up either as a character or in full Disney regale – no matter their age or gender.
Matching or coordinating outfits is really big among couples and groups. I turned green with envy when I saw a couple in custom Prince Charming and Cinderella outfits. So if you’re going, at least get yourself some ears!
This is a really easy day trip from Tokyo, thirty minutes – one hour on the train, depending on where you’re starting from, and the park is easy to do in one day.
10) GO TO A THEMED CAFE
Japan is the land of the bizarre. Themed restaurants and cafes are all over the city and are truly part of the young, Japanese culture. You can have an entire meal in the shape of Hello Kitty!
There are dozens of funky places to go. Head to the extremely popular Robot Restaurant to see a crazy show with dinner, or take a meal in a popular maid cafe like Cure Maid, where you will be waited on like a master. Cuddle hedgehogs while sipping a coffee at Harry, dine with owls flying overhead at the Owl Cafe, or eat rainbow-colored everything in Harajuku at the Kawaii Monster Cafe.
I can’t promise the best food, but I can promise an eating adventure you can only have in Tokyo!
WHAT TO KNOW FOR VISITING JAPAN
Citizens of many countries can get a free 90 day entry to visit Japan for tourism.
Be sure to check the official Japanese Immigration Website for the latest information for your specific country.
The currency used in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). The current exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 108 JPY. You can check the latest EUR exchange rate on Google.
While traveling, our number one tip is to use a free Charles Schwab Debit Card which gives unlimited worldwide ATM Fee Refunds and the true exchange rate.
BEST TOURS IN TOKYO
Some of the best tours and things to do in Tokyo are:
- Tokyo Temples and Shrines Morning Tour
- Tokyo: Sushi Making Class
- 2-Hour Asakusa Food Hunt & Cultural Tour
- Photo Shoot in Tokyo with a Private Photographer
WHERE TO STAY IN TOKYO
We recommend booking your hotels on Booking.com to get the best rate and many hotels offer free cancellation in case your plans change.
Some of our favorite hotels in Tokyo are:
- Pullman Tokyo Tamachi: Luxury hotel with rooms bigger than more in Tokyo, located in the Minato district.
- Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo: Great hotel set in a beautiful traditional Japanese garden with its own pagoda.
- The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho: Perfect location and a luxury hotel with onsite restaurant and great views.
AirBnB is also a great option in Tokyo (and you can save $44 using that link to sign up!).
BEST TIME TO VISIT JAPAN
The best time to visit Japan is during the shoulder seasons of March to May or September to November. These times have the mildest temperatures and will be less crowded than summer.
BEST BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN
Read more about Japan before you go! Some of the best books about Japan are:
WHAT POWER ADAPTERS DO YOU NEED
Japan uses standard Type A and Type B adapters also commonly used in the USA. However, keep in mind that the voltage is different so be careful with your electronics and bring a voltage converter if necessary.
You can buy a universal adapter that will work in any country and has extra ports for USB cables to charge your phone and other devices.
We also always travel with a portable battery pack which is great to keep your phone charged on long journies.
TRANSPORTATION IN JAPAN
- Public Transportation: Japan has extensive public transportation by both bus and train. The high speed trains are particularly good.
- Rental Cars: If you want flexibility, we recommend renting a car at the airport. This provides the easiest way to see certain landmarks, though parking in Tokyo can be expensive.
- Uber: Uber is sometimes available in Japan, though it depends on the area (mostly in Tokyo and Kyoto). However, the rules are constantly changing about Uber in Japan due to the strict permits that are required for drivers to offer rides. Metered taxis are readily available. You can use the popular JapanTaxiApp instead of Uber.
Our top recommended travel insurance companies for Japan are:
- World Nomads: Comprehensive coverage for medical, travel delays, and electronics.
- SafetyWing: Cheaper monthly coverage primarily for medical, starting at $37 for 4 weeks of coverage.
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT JAPAN
- The Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo
- The Perfect 7 Day Japan Itinerary
- How To Plan A Trip To Tokyo Disney In 5 Easy Steps
- Naoshima, Japan Will Surprise You
- Why You Should Consider Japan For A Solo Female Trip
- A Guide To Visiting Hakone, Japan
- 8 Things To Do In Japan Totally Worth The Hype
- 8 Off The Beaten Path Things To Do In Tokyo, Japan
- Why Every Traveller Should Experience A Traditional Japanese Ryokan
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting A Japanese Onsen
- 6 Fun & Free Things To Do In Kyoto
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