Past meets future and east meets west in this capital city like no other. Experience ultra-modern technology and ancient tradition as you explore the metropolis of Tokyo. From Buddhist temples to pulsating nightlife, you will never be short of things to keep you entertained in Tokyo. Here are ten of the best places to visit in Tokyo for first-time travelers to the city.
Soak Up The History In Asakusa
Asakusa is a historic district of the Japanese capital where an atmosphere of ‘Old Tokyo’ still pervades. It is easily explored on foot but the sight of visitors riding a rickshaw, often dressed in kimono, is not uncommon. The area is home to a plethora of dining options. From Sukiyaki to Sushi, you will find restaurants purveying a wide variety of traditional Japanese cuisine.
If you don’t have time for a full meal or want a cheaper eat, sample the street food of “Nakamise Street” located on the approach to Sensoji Temple. Ningyo Yaki (sweet cakes filled with sweet red bean paste in the shape of dolls, birds or lanterns), Dango (squidgy rice cakes on a stick covered with assorted flavorings) and Senbei (freshly made rice crackers) are all must-tries for those wanting a taste of Old Tokyo. These stalls or ‘yatai’ are typically open daily from 9:00 to 18:00 and most dishes cost between 100-400 yen.
Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple and perhaps the most-visited spiritual site in the world. It is an incense-scented oasis of calm in the middle of a modern metropolis. Visitors can take pictures of the magnificent Goju-no-tou (five-storied pagoda) and learn their fortune in the form of Omikuji for a mere 100 yen.
Asakusa is also close to other tourist attractions such as Tokyo Skytree, the Sumida River and Ueno Park. It can be reached by a 5-minute walk from Asakusa train station which is on the Tobu-Tetsudo Isezaki Line or via the subway on the Toei Subway Asakusa and Tokyo Metro Ginza lines.
Marvel At Tokyo Tower
Though surpassed in height by the recently-built Skytree, the 333m high Tokyo Tower remains the most recognizable symbol of the Japanese Capital and even has its own emoji. While the 150m high observatory gives a wonderful view of the cityscape and even Mount Fuji on a clear day, for a backpacker on a budget, the tower can also be enjoyed from the ground. An excellent viewing spot for Tokyo Tower is Zojoji temple and the charming Shiba Park beside it.
The closest subway stations to Tokyo Tower are Onarimon Station on the Mita Subway Line, Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Subway Line and Kamiyacho on the Hibiya Subway Line, which is all about a 5-10 minute walk from the tower.
Admission to the main viewing deck is 1200 yen while both decks cost 3000 yen. A discount of 200 yen is available if booked in advance.
Drink With The Locals At Golden Gai
Tokyo has numerous high-end restaurants and bars, but for more authentic drinking experience, Izakaya alleys are sometimes the better option. These alleys (Yokocho) are old fashioned, narrow smoky streets lined with small Izakaya (Japanese food-serving bars) and oft frequented by salarymen and career women blowing off steam after work. They can be found at several locations in Tokyo such as Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ueno area.
A king amongst Yokocho is Shinjuku’s Golden Gai. Packed with hundreds of tiny bars and eateries, the area is always teeming with life and emerged as a tourist hotspot about 10 years ago after earning two stars in the “Michelin Green Guide Japan.” Golden Gai continues to attract travelers eager to soak up the old school vibes of its dense alleyways. Some of the Izakaya is minute with only a few seats. This means visitors are often shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals as they sip their sake and snack the night away.
A few dishes and 3-4 drinks can cost less than 2500 per person though guests should be aware that a seating charge of around 500 yen is often charged on entry dependent on the store.
Enjoy a bowl of ramen on Ramen Street
Ramen is an obsession for Tokyoites and everyone has their own take on the perfect bowl. If you want a wealth of options then visit Tokyo Station’s cluster of ramen shops on what’s affectionately known as Ramen Street.
If the choice is overwhelming then why not begin with Rokurinsha, found right at the main corner of Ramen Street. It’s not the classic style ramen, served in a large bowl with hot broth. Instead, the house special is Tsukemen which is served with a rich soup on the side, to dip your noodles in separately.
The store is open from 11:00 to 22:00 daily and the Tsukemen will cost around 1,000 yen. While there are cheaper eats in Japan, this is a bargain compared to what a bowl will cost you in the US or Europe.
Bear Witness To Dancing Androids At The Robot Restaurant
A neon-lit extravaganza unlike anything else you will ever witness, the Robot Restaurant hosts a nightly futuristic robotic dance display resembling an alien cabaret show. As crazy as it is entertaining, the performance has become a must-see for visitors to Tokyo. The opportunity to watch giant mecha-spiders fight shark machines is totally unique. They can’t be experienced anywhere else on earth.
The restaurant is located in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho area; the biggest red-light district in Tokyo that is often called “the district that never sleeps”.
Booking in advance is needed, tickets cost from 5,248 to 8,000 yen depending on the website you use to reserve.
Take In A Free City View At The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Rather than blowing your budget on going up Tokyo Tower or Skytree, backpackers can enjoy the magical view of Tokyo’s impressive skyline free of charge from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
There are two observatories on the 45th floor; 202 meters above sea level. It offers spectacular vistas especially at night when the buildings and neon signs light up. The building is just a short distance from the west gate of Shinjuku Station,easily combined with a visit to Golden Gai or the Robot Restaurants; located in the Shinjuku area.
Pet A Hedgehog At An Animal Cafe
Animal Cafes are one of the clearest examples of Kawaii culture you will find in Japan. From bunnies to penguins, cute little critters of all varieties await your petting in Tokyo’s multifarious animal cafes. Owl cafes were the first animal café to become popular. However, the venues now feature one of the cutest creatures on the planet in the form of hedgehogs.
Visitors can also watch them, play and take pictures together all in Tokyo’s fashion capital of Harajuku. There are numerous animal cafes around the city but Harajuku certainly has the highest density. Entry starts from around 2000 yen plus food and drinks.
Browse The Fresh Catches At Tsukiji Fish Market
Once known as the world’s biggest wholesale market, Tsukiji’s inner market has been relocated to a brand-new venue in Toyosu. The infamous tuna auction now takes place there. However, the outer market of Tsukiji remains the same and is still very much worth visiting.
Tsukiji’s Outer Market is home to hundreds of restaurants and shops that sell groceries, kitchen utensils, and Japanese knives amidst a lively and authentic market atmosphere. More importantly, there are still hundreds of restaurants and stalls open to the public. This also allows you to sample the freshest sushi and sashimi without paying the premium prices of high-end sushi restaurants.
The market is a short walk from Tsukijishijo Station, Tsukiji Station and Higashi-Ginza Station. It is open from 9:00-14:00, though many shops are closed on Sundays and some Wednesdays.
Immerse yourself In Tokyo’s Mori Building Digital Art Museum
Since opening in the summer of 2018, the world’s first digital art museum has gone from strength to strength; attracting millions of visitors thanks to its eminently Instagrammable installations. Additionally, the museum also offers a unique interactive art experience with multiple digital art exhibitions projected across the walls and floors of vast open spaces.
The captivating lights and sounds respond to your touch and reflect your movements, providing an utterly immersive experience. The gallery is close to Tokyo Teleport or Aomi Station and tickets cost 3,200 yen for adults.
Lose yourself At A Japanese Game Center
In Tokyo, arcades are as popular as ever. The ubiquity of these ‘game centers’ makes the city a gamer’s paradise. Whether it’s a casino-sized arcade with vibrant lights and the latest games you’re looking for or simply quiet space housing vintage favorites like Pacman, Japan is your go-to place for some of the best arcades in the world.
Taito and Sega game centers can also be found all over Tokyo. They house everything from the connoisseur’s trading card-activated challenge games to the more accessible UFO catchers (claw games), Purikura (Print Club) machines and good old-fashioned Mario Kart. A holiday in Tokyo is not complete without a trip to these noisy, neon-lit houses of fun.