I’ve always been intrigued by Tokyo. I love the dark, neon-noir imagery of the city at night and all the perfectly zen architecture that graces so many design blogs.
Designers flock to Tokyo every year in search of inspiration and for good reason — the city is a designer’s dream and compared to Tokyo, we’re all just living in the past. I went on a week-long trip to Tokyo in 2018, and was so smitten I went back again exactly a year later.
This list started off as a top 20 list, which quickly grew to 30, then 40 and ultimately turned into a top 50 list of my favourite things to do in one of my favourite cities in the world.
Let’s get to it!
1. Get inspired at Tsutaya Books
It sounds weird to start a list of things to do in Tokyo with a bookstore, but trust me, Tsutaya is probably the best bookstore in the world. They have a few locations in Tokyo but if you only have time to visit one, I highly recommend the Daikanyama T-Site…the one that started it all. I also love the one in Ginza and in Roppongi Hills.
The stores are beautifully designed, and you can spend hours wandering around the store being amazed without even opening a book. The Daikanyama T-Site location is so beautiful that Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture even won an award at the World Architecture Festival.
Architecture aside, there’s endless shelves of books (with a good selection of English books), stationary (very sleek and modern and definitely not of the Hello Kitty variety), an awesome music section, and most importantly, SO MANY magazines. Magazines on street style, fashion, design, sneakers, you name it.
Can all bookstores be this perfect?
2. Sing your heart out
It’s not Tokyo as we know it from Lost in Translation without some karaoke. Karaoke Kan in Shibuya is the infamous spot where the movie was shot at, but there are a ton of others depending on your preference. There’s a Hello Kitty themed room in Big Echo Karaoke and even a hot tub karaoke at Lovenet!
3. Immerse with digital art at teamLab Borderless
Probably one of the few art museums where you’re encouraged to touch the art, teamLab Borderless is a huge interactive art museum located in Odaiba consisting of 60 artworks divided into 5 different sections — a surreal mix of colour, light and sound.
Created by a team of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects, it’s a place where you can become one with technology and the natural world — hence the term borderlessness.
Make sure to plan a lot of time here as you will definitely get lost here for hours.
4. Slurp on a giant bowl of udon at TsuruTonTan
As much as I love ramen, I could never say no to a good bowl of udon. TsuruTonTan has you covered in the udon department, offering massive bowls of udon guaranteed to change your life.
5. Watch some cool ads at the Ad Museum Tokyo
My favourite museum in Tokyo and also the only advertising museum in Japan, it’s a great place to learn more about the thought-provoking world of advertising and about the history of ads in Japan.
After working in the advertising industry in NYC, I found this museum so fascinating in learning more about the history of Japanese advertising and successful ad campaigns through the years.
6. Have some drinks at RECORD BAR analog
If you’re into vintage records, RECORD BAR analog is a great place to get a drink. With its hip retro interior and huge selection of old and new records, you might find yourself staying awhile here. I recommend the princess highball!
7. Feel transported back in time at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa
Asakusa is a great neighourhood to feel transported back in time. Come for the famous Sensoji temple, a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century, and the Kaminari Gate, and stay for the lively Nakamise shopping street, and all the delicious food at the restaurants and food stands that line the streets in this area.
8. Feel creative at 21_21 Design Sight
21_21 Design Sight is a musuem in Roppongi created by architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake. If you’re a fan of either (or both!), it is definitely a must.
9. Explore the Roppongi district
Roppongi is known as the expat neighborhood, offering tons of foreigner friendly bars, restaurants and clubs. It’s one of my favourite areas in Tokyo since there’s so much to do there without the large crowds as you would get in other more touristy parts of the city.
Roppangi has also made a name for itself as a cultural center, with sites such as the National Art Center (the largest art museum in Japan) and the Mori Art Museum.
10. Have a highball! (or 2 or 3…)
A highball is a seemingly simple cocktail that consists of whiskey and soda water. It’s commonly found across Japan in most bars and are meant to be a “light” summery drink to compliment all the bar food you’ll surely have.
11. Try some interesting food at an Izakaya
Speaking of bar food, izakaya restaurants (sort of like a tavern), are a quintessential Tokyo eating/drinking experience. Food and drinks are cheap, and are a great place to try all the weird dishes you’ve always been tempted by.
Luckily there’s no shortage of izakaya options to choose from in Tokyo. My favourite is Ebisu Yokocho!
12. Be amazed by the colours at Pigment
An awesome store to check if you’re a creative is Pigment, a store designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma. With over 4200 colours of pigments, walls of brushes, and large selections of papers, the place is part museum, part workshop, part store.
13. Check out the crazy exhibits at Dover Street Market
If you’re looking to do some designer shopping, Dover Street Market in Ginza is super trendy and always awesome. With brands like Balenciaga, Chrome Hearts, and one of the best selections of COMME des GARÇONS Play you’ll find in Tokyo, it’s a must for those who want to splurge on some cool wardrobe pieces and see some really interesting, trippy store exhibits like the one above!
14. Take in the views in Ginza
Ginza’s one of Tokyo’s most high-end neighborhoods, filled with luxury shops, fine dining, and more. In fact, Ginza’s Public Elementary school recently announced new Armani uniforms for all students!
One of my favourite spots in Ginza is the rooftop at Ginza 6, a large department store. The views are great and best of all, it’s free and open to the public.
15. Explore the alleyways of Shinjuku’s Golden Gai
The Golden Gai is a collection of tiny bars that line the narrow alleys of Shinjuku. It has a post-war charm that transports you back in time, and while it’s a not-so-secret spot, it’s still a must visit, especially for those interested in the elusive, unpolished side of Tokyo life.
Luckily there’s no shortage of booze as some 200 bars can be found here, however, some bars do have signs saying, “no foreigners” or “no tourists.”
16. Buy some new kicks
Tokyo’s known to have a great sneaker culture and the city definitely delivers. There’s plenty of shops to check out for the sneaker enthusiast such as Mita Sneakers, Worm Tokyo, Atomos Shibuya and Kicks Lab.
17. Have sushi for lunch
While having sushi in Tokyo seems like a pretty obvious thing to do, if you’re looking to try some mid to fine-dining sushi options, lunch is a great time to do so.
Many restaurants offer awesome lunch specials at a fraction of what you’d pay for dinner. The lunch sets are usually a bit smaller than dinner sets, but hey, that means more room for dessert right?
18. Cheer on your favourite soccer players
The Japanese are weirdly into baseball, but why waste your time watching the most boring sport ever invented (don’t hate me Americans!) when you could check out a soccer (football) game instead?
The Japanese league is the best in Asia, which isn’t saying *that* much, but they’ve actually been investing a lot in acquiring some solid (although aging) soccer players such as Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta, my favourite soccer player of all time, Lukas Podolski.
I really wanted to go to a Kobe game while I was in Tokyo but tragically our schedules didn’t line up so it wasn’t meant to be (…for now at least!).
19. Find out how strong your matcha game is
If you love matcha as much as I do, you’ll find Tokyo to be a heavenly place. There’s definitely no shortage of matcha here and you can satisfy your cravings in so many ways. If you’re looking for a great matcha latte, cafes such as Cafe Kitsune, Nana’s Green Tea and Deus Ex Machina has you covered (although almost all cafes serve a mean matcha latte).
For something colder, Suzukien in Asakusa is a popular matcha ice cream spot where you can even choose the intensity level of your matcha in a range from 1 to 7 (I found 4 to be perfect).
20. Try a Pocari Sweat from a vending machine
Vending machines are a thing of delight in Tokyo, offering everything from hot drinks to weird collectible figurines. You can find them everywhere in the city, which can be quite handy. Bonus, they tend to make awesome backdrops for your Instagram photos!
21. Admire the architecture in Omotesando
Steps away from the busy streets of Harajuku is Omotesando. Despite being neighours, the two couldn’t be more different.
If you find that all things “kawaii” in Harajuku isn’t for you, Omotesando is the exact opposite — known as the “Champs-Élysées” of Tokyo, it has wide tree-lined streets filled with trendy shops, restaurants and bars.
Many of the buildings are designed by award-winning architects. Can you spot the famous Prada flagship store?
22. Check out the art at the Nezu Museum
If you’re an art lover, the Nezu Musuem is a necessary stop on any Tokyo trip. It’s a contemporary museum filled with traditional art, and a super photogenic garden.
23. Search for treasures at Somewhere Tokyo
If you’re in the mood for something unique, Somewhere Tokyo is a fascinating store in Ebisu offering a range of vintage and contemporary designs and art.
24. Take a scroll along the Meguro River
If you’re in Tokyo during cherry blossom season, Meguro River is one of the prettiest spots in the city to watch them!
There are also tons of stalls along the river that sell food and drinks, making it a great spot to hang out with some friends.
25. Hang out with the cool kids in Daikanyama
Known as “Tokyo’s Little Brooklyn”, Daikanyama is a surprisingly chill neighbourhood just a 15 minute walk away from Shibuya.
There’s tons of interesting finds here such as the Saigoyama Park, the famous Daikanyama T-Site with their Anjin Library & Lounge and the Hillside Terrace.
Shop some cool finds at the Hollywood Ranch Market, and grab a drink at Mocha Coffee.
26. Take part in the madness that is the Shibuya Scramble
Welcome to the busiest interaction in the world, where hundreds and even sometimes thousands of people are running in all directions. I recommending joining in on the fun, and then take it all in from above.
Many people recommend going to the Starbucks Shibuya crossing location for an awesome view, but it’s so crowded there, I recommend going to the L’Occitane Cafe Shibuya for an unparalleled view without all the crowds.
27. L’Occitane Cafe Shibuya
As mentioned in the last point, I really loved this cafe. It’s a great place to take in the surprisingly hypnotic view of the Shibuya scramble while enjoying some tea and pastries. A win-win situation if I do say do myself!
28. Indulge in department store basement food
One of the best places for food is, believe it or not, at the basement of department stores. I could get lost wondering around and exploring all the food options (they have EVERYTHING) found at these “food courts.”
The prices are also very affordable for those looking for a cheap but tasty meal.
29. Be shocked at prices at the Trading Of The Cave
A 4-floor trading card store that houses a selection of rare Japanese card games such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. It’s crazy to look at prices and makes you wonder where your old Pokemon cards from elementary school are…
30. Tsukiji Fish Market
The Tsukiji Fish Market recently moved to Tokyo’s Toyosu district and and with that goes the enormous frozen tuna auctions that many tourists line up before dawn to watch.
However, if you’re looking for some tasty food, all the restaurants and stalls in the original location still remain where you can get some amazing kaisendon (sushi rice bowl), sweet egg omelette, shu mai and mochi dango.
31. Try a cheese tart at Bake
I randomly discovered Bake as I was wondering out of the Shinjuku train station. The scent lured me over to the stand and I was curious why all these people were in line to buy a seemingly simple cheese tart.
Little did I know that these Bake cheese tarts are a taste of heaven, and one bite into the little tart, and I was instantly in love.
32. Take in the view at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
For an awesome (and free!) view of Tokyo, the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building is generous in keeping both of the north and south towers free, providing a panoramic view of Tokyo. You can even see Mount Fuji on a clear day!
The cafes at each tower are a great place to feel refreshed and soak up the views around you!
33. Stock up on stylish basics at Gu
Why shop at Uniqlo when you can find it all over the world? Instead, check out Uniqlo’s “trendier” and “more affordable” store Gu. You can find them all over Tokyo and the selection is great.
34. Get crepes in Harajuku
There’s a lot of things going on in Harajuku but the one thing you don’t want to miss is getting a delicious crepe! There are a lot of crepe stands around and if you’re feeling extra hungry, the ones stuffed with cheesecake just might be calling your name.
35. Go on a night time free walking tour
Walking tours can be a great way to learn about a place if you don’t have much time. On one of my trips to Tokyo, I did the free night walking tour in Shinjuku run by Tokyo Localized.
It was a great way to learn more about the Japanese drinking culture and nightlife, and Red Light District. They also offer a night walking tour of Shibuya and a few day walking tours as well!
36. Let fluffy pancakes make your life feel complete
Fluffy pancakes, need I say more? My favourite is from A Happy Pancake located in Omotesando.
37. Stock up on kit-kats at Don Quijote
If you can’t afford to shop at Comme des Garcon, look no further than Don Quijote, the largest discount store in Japan. Most stores are open 24/7 and sells everything your kitschy heart desires.
Found all over Tokyo, it’s a great place to find weird souvenirs, and most importantly, stocking up on various flavours of Kit Kats to bring home.
38. Sleep in a book store
They’re really into books in Japan aren’t they? Possibly the coolest hostel I’ve been to, Book and Bed Tokyo is a bookstore/cafe/hostel where you can sleep between the shelves.
The beds themselves may not be the most comfortable, but it’s a great place to wind down and browse through their shelves of book.
39. Walk over Rainbow Bridge
For one of the best sunset spots in Tokyo, a well-timed trip to Rainbow Bridge gives you fantastic views of the Tokyo skyline as you walk across!
40. Make a prickly friend at a Hedgehog Cafe
There are so many animal themed cafes in Tokyo to choose from, but I was most intrigued by the hedgehog cafes. Considering how hedgehogs are banned in the state of New York and California, I figured if I wanted to play with these prickly little creatures, my best bet was in Tokyo.
I went to Harry’s Hedgehog cafe in Harajuku, and while there was a short wait, the lines weren’t bad at all. Everyone gets assigned to a table with two hedgehogs, and they seem to rotate the hedgehogs enough so they all get adequate sleep.
42. Order ramen from a machine
Probably one of the most quintessentially Japanese things you can do, a ramen machine is a fun and simple way to press a few buttons on a machine (in which you get a ticket that you hand over to the chef), and have a delicious, steaming bowl of ramen appear in front of you minutes later.
42. Leave Tokyo for a day and explore the town of Kamakura
Just an hour south of Tokyo, Kamakura makes for an awesome day trip. Many nickname the town “little Kyoto” because it’s so quaint, it’s home to the Great Buddha, several temples, a beach and Komachi Street, which the main street filled with restauarants and sweet shops.
43. Take a romantic train ride
If you’re not in a rush, you can opt for the slower, more scenic train ride from Tokyo to Kamakura called the Romancecar. It departs from Shinjuku and goes to a few different locations aside from Kamakura as well, such as Hakone and Enoshima.
The train ride is stunning, with panoramas of Katase-Enoshima, overlooking the Pacific ocean. On clear days, you can see Mount Fuji! While it’s called the Romancecar, it’s definitely not just for couples — I was there on a solo trip, and saw lots of other solo travellers, as well as families.
44. Take a break at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Sometimes you just need to get away from the craziness in Tokyo and there’s no better place to do it then at the Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, which was originally constructed on the site of a private mansion belonging to Lord Naito of the Edo era.
It was redesigned as a national garden after WWII and opened to the public. There’s no shortage of pretty spots here!
45. Try random food at a 7-Eleven
7-Eleven stores in Asia are awesome and unlike the ones in the US, are really clean and offers a huge selection of food like sushi (that won’t kill you).
I highly recommend the onigiri (rice balls) and the selection of hot meals. Oh, and a walk down the snack lane is a must.
46. Take some Instagram-worthy shots of the Tokyu Plaza entrance
The mirrors that form a kaleidoscope effect at the Tokyu Plaza entrance makes for an awesome photo that’s totally trippy.
47. Browse for art books at Nadiff a/p/a/r/t
Aside from Tsutaya, another awesome source for art book is Nadiff a/p/a/r/t. The bookshop is art heaven, with shelves full of Japanese and foreign art books, prints and zines. There’s even an onsite gallery called NADiff with exhibitions from emerging and established artists.
48. Party the night away in Shinjuku
The Shinjuku party district is known for its bars, karaoke, and underground clubs. There’s no better way to experience Tokyo than to partake in its crazy nightlife scene…if you remember it the next day.
49. Relax at Ueno Park
Ueno Park is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, with plenty of things to do. Several temples and museums can be found on its grounds, as well as a zoo. After checking out all the sights, there’s nothing better than sitting down for a picnic and take in the views.
50. Check out the Hie Shrine
When you think of red torii gates, most people would picture the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, but Tokyo’s Hie Shrine, a spot that’s often overlooked by tourists (shhhhh), is just as spectacular.