Top 20 free things to do in Tokyo
Exploring Japan's capital is a mind-blowing experience, but it can also blow your budget. Don't despair – there’s an abundance of things to do and see in Tokyo that don’t cost a single yen. From gardens and temples to contemporary art, sumo practice and a world-famous fish market, here's Tokyo's best free attractions.
1. Imperial Palace
Follow the broad moats and park paths that surround the Imperial Palace for views of its famous bridges and medieval keeps. In total, it’s 5km around the palace grounds – a popular local jogging course.
2. Toyosu Market
Want to witness Tokyo’s famous tuna auction at Toyosu Market? Set your alarm early because it starts at 5am (and finishes by 6:30 am). A limited number of visitors who apply in advance can watch from a viewing platform near the market floor; check the market website for details.
Follow in the footsteps of countless pilgrims by approaching Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple, in Asakusa, along Nakamise-dōri. The way is lined with colourful stalls selling all manner of souvenirs, from giant rice crackers to exquisitely decorated battledores.
The neighbourhood of Harajuku is probably the world's greatest eye candy. Stroll zelkova-tree-lined Omote-sandō, a glam boulevard of up-scale boutiques housed in contemporary architecture; check out the arty explosion at funky Design Festa gallery or hang out in Yoyogi-kōen (Yoyogi Park), with dancers and drum circles.
5. Sumo practice
Even if you can't make a sumo tournament, you can see sumo wrestlers going through their training drills at a sumo 'stable', such as Arashio Stable, where visitors watch the morning practice session (asa-keiko) through windows on the street.
This island of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay is linked to the city by the Rainbow Bridge. Walk over the 918m-long single-span suspension bridge to Odaiba, where you can sunbathe on an artificial beach (weather permitting), see a Statue of Liberty replica, and gaze upon a larger-than-life Gundam statue.
7. Washi making
Lessons in the art of paper folding are offered for a fee at the Origami Kaikan, but you can view artisans making washi (Japanese paper) in the workshop here, and peruse the gallery, for nix.
8. Shibuya Crossing
Every few minutes a wave of humanity washes across Shibuya Crossing. Join the masses or stand back and watch. An ideal vantage point is Mag's Park, on the roof of the Shibuya 109-2 department store. Here you can also view Myth of Tomorrow, a monumental piece of modern art by Okamoto Tarō.
Fans of kaiju (Japanese monster flicks) will want to pay their respects to the giant Godzilla that lords over the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. While you’re here, pose for photos with the robot ladies outside Robot Restaurant.
10. Yebisu Beer Museum
The Yebisu Beer Museum, run by one of Japan’s largest brewers, covers the history of beer in Japan, including displays of cool vintage posters and bottles. Tastings sadly aren’t free, but a serving here is only ¥400.
11. Advertising Museum Tokyo
One of Tokyo's most interesting free museums is the Advertising Museum Tokyo. The montage displays of old ads provide an illuminating visual history of commerce in Japan over the last century or so.
Escape to the densely wooded grounds that envelope the capital’s premier Shintō shrine, Meiji-jingū. If you’re lucky, you might spot a traditional wedding procession.
13. 3331 Arts Chiyoda
Based in a former junior high school, 3331 Arts Chiyoda houses a score of free contemporary art galleries offering a mix of exhibitions and interactive installations. Be sure to check out the galleries of the Bakuchoro area such as Taro Nasu Gallery.
14. National Diet
Art and anime not your thing? Then how about a free tour of Japan’s seat of governance, the National Diet, to view the wood-panelled, leather-bound and gilded interiors and the gardens planted with species from across the country.
15. Green spaces
Beautiful foliage and horticultural skills can be admired in Tokyo’s traditional gardens. Free-to-enter gardens include those attached to the Hotel New Ōtani in Akasaka and the Hotel Chinzanso, as well as the lush grounds of Happō-en, near Shirokanedai Station, and the Imperial Palace East Garden. Tokyo also has excellent public parks, from the central Yoyogi-kōen, to Inokashira-kōen in west Tokyo.
The streets of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi – three areas collectively known as Yanesen – provide an idea of what pre-WWII Tokyo was like. Here you’ll find small temples and shrines, craft shops, galleries and cafes, and Yanaka-reien, one of the city’s oldest graveyards. Interesting galleries include SCAI the Bathhouse, in a 200-year-old public bath.
17. Tokyo technology
No need to resort to industrial espionage: at Toyota’s public showroom, Mega Web you can test drive prototypes of the automaker’s Winglet – a Segway-like personal mobility vehicle. At METoA Ginza, check out the latest technologies on display from Mitsubishi Electric.
This fabled nightlife neighbourhood is also a treat to explore in daylight. There’s plenty of public art scattered around the glitzy commercial complexes of Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, as well as dazzling contemporary architecture at the National Art Center Tokyo.
19. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Survey the city 202m above ground from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – on a clear day you may catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji. Come at dusk to catch spectacular sunsets and the city burst into neon-lit action.
20. Tsukiji Market
Tsukiji Market has a bunch of stalls selling dried laver (edible seaweed), pickles, bamboo rolling mats and more. Come early to get breakfast from the food vendors and to bask in some old Tokyo ambience.
This article was last updated in February 2020.