It’s taken a long time, but on October 11, 2022, Japan re-opened its borders fully to foreign travellers and reinstated visa-free travel for people coming from many countries, including the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This is great news for the country’s hotels, restaurants, museums, and other attractions which have been hit hard by the pandemic. After nearly three years of Japan travel being impossible, we expect the country to be extremely popular in 2023. As travellers start to think about returning to Japanese shores, we thought we’d compile a list of the best places to visit in Tokyo, Japan’s captivating capital, and the start location for our Japan tours.
The Best Places to Visit in Tokyo
Tokyo is a fabulous contrast of the old and the new. And nowhere better reflects this diversity than the Buddhist district of Asakusa. It’s the most traditional part of the city, with old wooden shops hidden amongst the modern concrete buildings and elegant waterfront restaurants. As the oldest temple in the whole of Tokyo, no trip to the city is complete without stopping off at Senso-Ji. This historic red temple is one of the most important things to see in Tokyo. It’s a still-functioning temple that dates back to the year 628 AD. Today’s temple is actually a reconstruction after the original site was destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid.
Be respectful when visiting – Senso-Ji retains huge importance in the life of the locals. And it is not unusual to see residents come to the temple to ask for help or healing from the monks. You can wander freely around the temple grounds and beautiful gardens, but it does get busy. We recommend visiting early in the morning or after the peak hours of the day to avoid the crowds. And make sure to get your fortune told during your visit!
All of our Japan group tours include a visit to Senso-Ji.
The Imperial Palace
Home to Japan’s Imperial Family and located on the site of a former castle, Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is one of the city’s iconic landmarks. A tour of the palace is one of the best things to do in Tokyo. And English-speaking guided tours can be booked daily at 10:00 and 13:30 except on Sundays and Mondays. We strongly recommend getting a ticket well in advance of your visit, rather than just turning up. This is because there are limits to the number of visitors permitted within the grounds.
Once inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace, visitors can soak up the classic Japanese architecture. Not to mention one of the world’s finest examples of a traditional Japanese garden. Getting inside the palace itself is extremely difficult. But even just soaking up the site from the outside is well worth planning in advance for!
Completed in 1920 to commemorate Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines and one of the best places to visit in Tokyo. This is partly thanks to its proximity to other popular areas, including Shibuya and Harajuku. And it is partly down to the huge park which surrounds the shrine and the grand wooden Torii gates that mark the entrance to the shrine. Around 100,000 trees were planted during the construction of the shrine. As a result, it is located in a tranquil forested area, worlds away from the busy city. Like many of Tokyo’s main sights, it was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt thereafter.
Meiji Shrine still operates, and it is possible for visitors to take part in traditional rituals. It’s also traditional to bow at the Torii gates on entering the shrine. And if you really want to soak up the local customs, then you’ll want to bow twice, clap twice, make a wish, and bow again once you approach the shrine itself!
The Meiji Shrine is one of the best things to see in Tokyo, and you’ll take it in for yourself on our Japan group tours.
Dominating the city’s skyline, the Tokyo SkyTree became the world’s tallest tower on completion in 2011 at 634 metres high. It is also one of the overall tallest buildings in the world. Primarily used as Tokyo’s main TV and radio broadcasting site, the SkyTree has also become one of the best places to visit in Tokyo for tourists, thanks to the incredible views offered over the city.
Like many of Tokyo’s attractions, the SkyTree gets busy, so make sure to purchase your ticket in advance. Once you reach the top observation deck (served by super-fast elevators), you’ll simply want to snap some photographs and admire the view. If you get lucky with the weather, it is even possible to see Mount Fuji on a clear day. Other attractions at the SkyTree include high-resolution telescopes, a café, a restaurant, and a vertigo-inducing glass floor. Note that to get to the highest possible point, the Tembo Galleria (450 metres), an additional ticket will need to be purchased.
It’s a fairly well-known fact that Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. And in a busy city, the Shibuya Crossing is the busiest place of all. It’s the world’s most-used intersection, with around 3,000 people waiting to cross one of seven crossing points at any given time. One to avoid if you cannot stand the crowds, joining in with the so-called Shibuya Scramble is still one of the best things to do in Tokyo. Huge video screens flash advertisements on adjacent buildings. And in the evening the entire crossing is illuminated by bright neon signs.
The recently opened Shibuya Scramble Square tower is a good place to get a birds-eye view of the crossing, and another landmark in the vicinity is the statue of Hachiko. He was an extremely loyal Akita dog who waited outside Shibuya station every day for more than nine years for his sadly deceased owner. This carried on right up until the dog’s own death in 1935. Hachiko became a local celebrity after his story made the news. People would sit with him at the station and feed him treats. And some even flocked from across Japan and beyond to see him. Hachiko’s story became famous in Japan and the loyal pup is revered even today as an enduring symbol of loyalty and fidelity.
Cross the famous Shibuya Crossing for yourself and see the scramble from above with our most popular 8-day Best of Japan group tour!
If the hustle and bustle of Tokyo gets a bit much, then Yoyogi Park is a great option for taking a break. It was created after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when the site hosted the Olympic village. Many native seedlings were planted after the games. These grew into the now mature trees which are scattered throughout the area. Yoyogi Park is located right next to Shibuya and is also home to the Meiji Shrine. It offers 134 acres of green space, perfect for a picnic or for getting some exercise. On Sundays in particular, there tends to be lots of entertainment in the park, in the form of musicians, buskers or dancers. In spring, it’s also one of the best places to visit in Tokyo to get a glimpse of the stunning cherry blossom.
Travellers to Tokyo looking to indulge their inner nerd should look no further than Akihabara. It’s the city’s tech centre, as well as being the hub for Tokyo’s anime, manga, and gaming scene. From browsing rare trading cards, comics, and cosplay costumes, to playing arcade games and riding the streets in go-karts dressed as colourful anime characters (top of many travellers’ lists of things to do in Tokyo!), it’s all here! The area is incredibly vibrant, with coloured buildings, neon signs, and video game music blaring out onto the streets. There aren’t really landmarks or specific sites to see. It’s more about diving in and seeing what you can find.
Tokyo National Museum
Museum-lovers aren’t short of things to do in Tokyo. But if we have to pick out just one museum for travellers to visit, it’s the National Museum. Take a whistle-stop tour through centuries of Japanese history. Visitors to the museum can see embroidered kimonos, important artwork, samurai weaponry and golden Buddha statues – just some of the many thousands of artefacts on display. Special exhibitions constantly rotate. So even if you’ve been to Tokyo before, there are sure to be new displays for you to enjoy. The National Museum is Japan’s oldest museum and is located in Ueno Park, one of Tokyo’s oldest green spaces. It’s also another great option for taking in the springtime cherry blossom.
We could keep writing, there are hundreds of incredible things to see in Tokyo. We take in many of the best places to visit in Tokyo on our group tours to Japan, which spend four nights in the city. That’s plenty of time to take in many of the main attractions!