Tokyo’s been visited, done and reviewed by many because it’s one of the most lusted-after travel destinations in the world. And now, amazingly, I’m able to share with you my own humble experience of one of the most forward-thinking and modern, yet oldest cultures, on the planet.
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Note that none of these experiences were sponsored and that we paid for everything ourselves.
I had a full TEN days in Tokyo, without the kids, earlier this year while B was there on business. My Mom was with the kids back home in the UK, so this left me free to explore and plan my days as I pleased. I spent days and hours researching things to do in Tokyo, reading endless excursion reviews and blogs – I assure you there are many – and I believe that the experiences I chose, in the end, were some of the best out there and all damn amazing! Now I can, in full confidence, recommend to you these 7 incredible things you need to do in Tokyo.
1. The Imperial Palace, Ginza & Tsukiji Fish Market
Nearby and around the opulent Ginza shopping district is a bunch of see-worthy places that you can comfortably visit, all in one day, on an easy walking route.
Our walk started at Otematchi Station situated opposite The Imperial Palace and its stately gardens. From here, a stroll through tranquil Hibiya Park to the Gado-shita restaurant district in Yurakucho for a meal or a cold beer in one of the many izakaya and yakitori joints is highly recommended.
Head to glitzy Ginza to see where Tokyo’s affluent citizens shop, and splurge on a luxury spree yourself if you’re so inclined. If you have time to work in a traditional Japanese stage performance at the iconic Kabuki-za theatre you’ve done well!
Last but not least, visit the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, with or without a guide and be prepared for a sensory overload. Seafood-lovers and foodies should go on a guided tour of the Tsukiji markets to get the most from this lively cultural hotspot.
READ the full post: The Imperial Palace, Ginza & The Best Fish Market In Tokyo
2. Highlights of Harajuku & Shibuya With A Local Guide
This is really something incredible for you to do in Tokyo! The 90-minute walking tour started at the best known meeting point in the city, the Hachiko Memorial statue.
Highlights included the world-famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, panoramic city views for the Hakarie 11th floor, the local favourite watering hole of Drunken Ally, fashion-forward Omotesando and the over-the-top teen hang out described as one of the craziest places in Tokyo – Takeshita-dori. The guided tour ended at the entrance to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine, where you are free to explore at your leisure.
Going on a tour with a local guide will open your eyes to things you WILL miss if you go on your own. You get the chance to tap into their wealth of knowledge, firing away with as many questions as you can muster in 90 minutes. Make them work! Trust me when I say that in an exotic and culturally rich place such as Tokyo, it’s worth booking a guide.
3. Traditional Rickshaw Tour of Asakusa
So much fun! You don’t want to miss Asakusa. Our guide was energetic student, Hiro, who – to my delight – is potentially a stand-up comedian in the making. Sat on a traditional rickshaw, tucked up in a warm blanky, is the best way to see the popular tourist hotspots of Asakusa and the Geisha districts. We saw it all and more in 45 minutes on the rickshaw while getting the low-down from our awesome guide.
After the rickshaw tour, you have all afternoon to explore the shrines and markets. The difference between you and the hundreds of wide-eyed tourists gawking all around you is that you will know what’s what and who’s who because you had a great guided tour on a very cool rickshaw. This area is very touristy, hectic busy and crowded, but for good reason.
Nakamise-dori is the shopping street that leads up to Asakusa and while it’s super crowded, it’s still one of the places you should visit while in Tokyo. We went in early February and saw some cherry blossoms while the crowds were still manageable.
4. Ueno Park To Akihabara via Ameyoko
Ueno Park alone can keep you busy all day, with a world-class zoo, museums, beautiful shrines, cherry blossoms and street performers to name a few of the highlights.
From Ueno Park, walk to Akihabara via Ameyoko (officially Ameya Yokocho), Tokyo’s old black-market that is today a vibrant place of lively negotiation and big bargains on quality goods, no knockoffs! It’s a completely different market to what we’ve seen anywhere else in Tokyo! Watch a short video here.
Akihabara is a gamer and anime fan’s dream come true. If this is your thing, I suggest that you book a guided tour of Akihabara at night when it lights up and comes to life. Also, if you’re into model building of cars, planes or anything really, this is where you’ll find everything you need and want in great numbers and variety.
If Ueno Park and Ameyoko is enough for one day, which it can be if you do and see all of it properly, I suggest that you do a walking tour on another day of Akihabara, the largest electronics bazaar in the world; the Jimbocho book district, and the Meidai-dori music district. Tokyo is nothing if not a very organised city!
5. Pachinko & Japanese Karaoke
Both widely and passionately enjoyed by the Japanese, easily accessible all over the city, heaps of fun and therefore some of the best things you can do in Tokyo! Everyone should try it, even if you would normally hate doing something like this. It’s part of the experience and not to be missed.
Pachinko is a slot machine game, similar to gambling slots in the western world and the people are crazy for it. The friendly staff will explain how it works, but it’s a bit like ping-ball from what I made of it! Get the silver balls in the right place and Bob’s your uncle.
Japanese Karaoke is very different from what we know. Done in private rooms, it’s especially great for those who can’t carry a tune but love to belt it out, like me. You can drink and eat while singing your heart out at the same time.
Read all about our night out playing pachinko and singing karaoke in Kanda here.
6. Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchi Day Trip
A visit to Tokyo is not complete without a trip to Mount Fuji. This was the big one for me, the one I just absolutely had to do.
The mountain is sacred to the Japanese and the world around the foot of the mountain tells the story of why it is so revered. The only way to find out what it’s really all about is to get on a bus in central Tokyo with a reputable tour operator at 8 am and get yourself there for a full day of wonder.
Each stop on this trip is at a special place that offers amazing views of Mt Fuji, starting at tranquil Lake Kawaguchi, then climb the steps up to the majestic Arakurayama Sengen Shrine, on to the traditional rural village of Oshino Hakkai and finally Gotemba Retail Outlets for great shopping and so much food to choose from you’ll probably eat yourself sick as I did.
We booked this full-day excursion via Viator with Tripguru Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchi Day Trips. Whichever tour you book, as always make sure that you read the reviews before you pay.
7. The Ultimate Japanese Culture Experience – Homecoming Taka
I searched high and low for a cultural experience to do in Tokyo that would include as many of the following: matcha tea ceremony, calligraphy, sushi making, udon noodles and origami. But the excursions on offer were for either one or a combination of a few of them.
Finally, I found the Homecoming-Taka experience, which was a little more expensive, but included all of the must-do cultural things I wanted to do in Tokyo so badly and it was worth every penny. I can highly recommend this experience with Taka-san and Keiko-san where you are treated as an honoured guest in their home and given the best quality ingredients to work with. It is the ultimate 4-hour Japanese culture lesson, but it’s fun and casual, even suitable for children. Allow a little extra time in your day for this experience.
Book The Homecoming-Taka Japanese Culture experience here
I thoroughly enjoyed the James May – Our man in Japan series, and I suggest you watch if you want to see another side of Japan in all its splendour, peppered with a good dash of humour and giggles.
Please let me know what you think and if you’re planning to visit Tokyo in the comments below. If you’ve been to Tokyo, please let us know which experience was your favorite?
In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), various facilities around Tokyo may change their operating days or hours. In addition, some events may be cancelled or postponed. Please check official facility or event websites for the latest updates and information.