Must see attractions in Tokyo

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ueno & Yanesen

    Tokyo National Museum

    If you visit only one museum in Tokyo, make it the Tokyo National Museum. Here you'll find the world's largest collection of Japanese art, including ancient pottery, Buddhist sculptures, samurai swords, colourful ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), gorgeous kimonos and much, much more. Touring the museum Visitors with only a couple of hours to spare should focus on the Honkan (Japanese Gallery), which has a specially curated selection of artistic highlights on the 2nd floor. With more time, you can explore the enchanting Gallery of Hōryū-ji Treasures, which displays masks, scrolls and gilt Buddhas from Hōryū-ji (in Nara Prefecture, dating from 607); the Tōyōkan with its collection of Asian art, including delicate Chinese ceramics; and the Heiseikan, which houses the Japanese Archaeological Gallery, full of pottery, talismans and articles of daily life from Japan's prehistoric periods. It's also worth checking whether it's possible to access the usually off-limits garden during your visit, which includes several vintage teahouses; it opens to the public from mid-March to mid-April and from late October to early December. The museum also houses a restaurant, cafe and coffee shop, as well as a souvenir shop in the main building. History The museum held its first exhibition in 1872, making it the oldest museum in Japan. It moved to its current location in Ueno Park in 1882. Today it is one of the four museums, alongside Kyoto National Museum, Nara National Museum and Kyushu National Museum, operated by the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, and is considered one of the largest art museums in the world. Tickets and other practicalities The admission fee for adults is ¥1000, while entry is free for under 18s and over 70s. The museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions (which cost extra); these can be fantastic, but sometimes lack the English signage found throughout the rest of the museum.

  • Top ChoiceSights in West Tokyo

    Ghibli Museum

    This museum is the heart of the Studio Ghibli world, a beloved (even 'adored') film studio responsible for classic, critically-acclaimed animated titles like Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo and Princess Mononoke, among countless others. Unlike Disney World, this is a museum, not a theme park, but the levels of fandom on show are likely to be just as intense. Master animator Miyazaki Hayao, who co-found Studio Ghibli and directed some of its best-known works, designed the museum, and kids will become immediately captivated by the fairy-tale atmosphere, from the spiral staircases seemingly leading to dead ends to the replica of the giant cat bus from My Neighbour Totoro. Fans will enjoy the original sketches on display, as well as the host of original short films playing at the small on-site Saturn Theater. The museum also houses exhibitions relating to the history of animation, plus a popular gift shop, a good-quality restaurant and a reading room. How to get tickets for the Ghibli Museum Tickets can be purchased up to four months in advance from overseas travel agents or up to one month in advance through the convenience store Lawson's online ticket portal. Both options are explained in detail on the official Ghibli Museum website. For July and August visits especially, we recommend buying tickets as soon as you can from an agent as they will definitely sell out early. Tickets are non-transferable; you may be asked to show an ID. The ticket price is ¥1000 for adults (19+), ¥700 for 13-18 year olds, ¥400 for 7-12 year olds, ¥100 for 4-6 year olds, and free for ages 3 and under. How to get to the Ghibli Museum The Ghibli Museum (which is pronounced ‘jiburi’ – its full name is 'Ghibli Museum, Mitaka') is on the western edge of Inokashira-kōen in West Tokyo, and you can walk there through the park from nearby Kichijōji Station in about 30 minutes. A minibus (round trip/one way ¥320/210) leaves for the museum every 20 minutes from Mitaka Station (bus stop 9).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shinjuku & Northwest Tokyo

    Golden Gai

    Golden Gai – a Shinjuku institution for over half a century – is a collection of tiny bars, often literally no bigger than a closet and seating maybe a dozen. Each is as unique and eccentric as the ‘master’ or ‘mama’ who runs it. In a sense, Golden Gai, which has a strong visual appeal, with its low-slung wooden buildings, is their work of art. It's more than just a place to drink. The district has long been a gathering spot for artists, writers and musicians. Originally many bars here functioned more like clubhouses for various creative industries. Some bars prefer to keep their doors closed to customers who aren't regulars (foreign tourists included) to preserve that old atmosphere; others will welcome you (if there is space, of course). Recently there's been a changing of the guard, as new, younger owners take over, and the exclusive atmosphere of old is giving way to a lively scene of international bar hoppers, instinctively drawn to Golden Gai's free spirit. The best way to experience Golden Gai is to stroll the lanes and pick a place that suits your mood. Bars that expressly welcome tourists have English signs posted on their doors. Many bars have a cover charge (usually ¥500 to ¥1500), which is often posted on the door. Note that while Golden Gai is highly photogenic, it is also private property; do not take photos unless you have explicit permission. Hotels near Golden Gai Shinjuku, the ward of Tokyo in which Golden Gai is located, is a convenient and popular base for visiting the city, with hotel options at all price levels. It's worth noting, however, that many budget hotels are in the red-light district, Kabukichō; while not dangerous exactly, the district does have seedy pockets and solo female travellers in particular might feel uncomfortable. Hotel options within walking distance of Golden Gai include Hotel Gracery Shinjuku (7-minute walk), Imano (7-minute walk) and Shinjuku Granbell Hotel (5-minute walk).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Odaiba & Tokyo Bay

    teamLab Borderless

    Digital-art collective teamLab has created 60 artworks for this museum, open in 2018, that tests the border between art and the viewer: many are interactive. Not sure how? That's the point – go up to the artworks, move and touch them (or just stand still) and see how they react. Making your way from room to room feels like entering a sequence of discrete worlds – a bit like being in a fantasy role-playing game. Don't miss the maze-like Crystal World, where strands of shimmering light extend from floor to ceiling like disco stalagmites, and the Forest of Lamps, where Venetian glass lamps bloom into as you approach. The latter you'll likely have to queue for. On the 2nd floor, the Athletics Forest is a collection of installations designed with kids in mind (but grown-ups can join in, too). Jump up and down on a bouncy plain and see your energy transformed into expanding stars. Add colour to a drawing of an animal or insect and watch as it is born into an animated creature – then follow it on its course along the crags and divots of this playful indoor landscape. Worn out? Take a break at the on-site En Tea House, where you can see digital flowers bloom inside your cup of tea (¥500). Tickets and other practicalities Tickets cost ¥3200 for adults and ¥1000 for children aged 4-14. Children aged 3 or under enter free. One adult can accompany up to three children, and there is no time limit in the museum after entry. There are no minimum age or height requirements to enter teamLab Borderless; however, keep in mind the museum is dark and often crowded. Prams must be parked at the entrance. Artworks on display at the museum vary by season.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shibuya & Shimo-Kitazawa

    Shibuya Crossing

    Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world (and definitely in Japan), Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change. Nowhere else says ‘Welcome to Tokyo’ better than this. Hundreds of people – and at peak times upwards of 3000 people – cross at a time, coming from all directions at once, yet still to dodging each other with a practised, nonchalant agility. Mag's Park, the rooftop of the Shibuya 109-2 department store, has the best views over the neighbourhood's famous scramble crossing. It's screened with plexiglass, so you can still get good photos, without having to worry about losing anything over the edge). The intersection is most impressive after dark on a Friday or Saturday night, when the crowds pouring out of the station are at their thickest and neon-lit by the signs above. The rhythms here are, however, tied to the train station and after the last train pulls out for the night, the intersection becomes eerily quiet. Hotels near Shibuya Crossing Shibuya has several new accommodations, among them boutique hotels, flash-packer hostels and 'cabin style' capsule hotels (roomier than the average capsule hotel) – suddenly, there's a lot to choose from here. If you're keen to immerse yourself in urban Tokyo and its nightlife, Shibuya makes for a great base; it's got great transit links, too. Options within walking distance of the crossing include Mustard Hotel (15-minute walk), Millennials (six-minute walk) and Hotel Mets Shibuya (12-minute walk).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Marunouchi & Nihombashi

    Imperial Palace

    The Imperial Palace occupies the site of the original Edo-jō, the Tokugawa shogunate's castle. In its heyday this was the largest fortress in the world, though little remains today apart from the moat and stone walls. Most of the 3.4-sq-km complex is off limits, as this is the emperor's home, but join one of the free tours organised by the Imperial Household Agency to see a small part of the inner compound. Surrounding the palace is Kōkyo-gaien, a 115-hectare national garden, which includes public green spaces, moats and museums. The pretty East Gardens are open to the public all year round, and can be entered without a guide. History In its heyday, Edo-jō was the largest fortress in the world. When the shogunate fell and the emperor moved to Tokyo, the castle became the imperial residence – Kōkyo. Much of it was destroyed by fires in 1873 and construction on a new palace was finished in 1888. WWII air raids levelled most of the palace and the current ferro-concrete buildings, done in Japanese modernist style, were completed in the 1960s. The central building, which contains the throne room, Matsu-no-Ma (Pine Chamber), is called the Kyūden. The low-slung structure is surprisingly modest – at least from what can be seen on public tours. The moats and imposing stone walls visible around the perimeter of the palace grounds belonged to the original castle. Touring the palace Tours (lasting around 1¼ hours) run at 10am and 1.30pm usually on Tuesday to Saturday, but not on public holidays or mornings from late July through to the end of August. They're also not held at all from 28 December to 4 January or when Imperial Court functions are scheduled. Arrive no later than 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time at Kikyō-mon, the starting and ending point. Reservations are taken – via the website, phone or by post – up to a month in advance (and no later than four days in advance via the website). Alternatively, go to the office at Kikyō-mon (open 8.45am until noon and 1pm to 5pm) where you can book for a tour up to seven days in advance; if there is space available on that day's tours, you'll be able to register. Bring photo ID. The tour will take you past the present palace (Kyūden), a modest low-rise building completed in 1968 that replaced the one built in 1888, which was largely destroyed during WWII. Explanations are given only in Japanese; download the free app (www.kunaicho.go.jp/e-event/app.html) for explanations in English, Chinese, Korean, French or Spanish. If you're not on the tour, head to the southwest corner of Kōkyo-gaien Plaza to view two bridges – the iron Nijū-bashi and the stone Megane-bashi. Behind the bridges rises the Edo-era Fushimi-yagura watchtower. The main park of the verdant palace grounds is the Imperial Palace East Garden, which is open to the public for free without reservations, though entry numbers are limited. You must take a token upon arrival and return it at the end of your visit.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Asakusa & Sumida River

    Sensō-ji

    Tokyo’s most visited temple enshrines a golden image of Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy), which, according to legend, was miraculously pulled out of the nearby Sumida-gawa by two fishermen in AD 628. The image has remained on the spot ever since but is never on public display. The present structure dates from 1958. Sensō-ji is always busy, particularly on weekends; consider visiting in the evening to see it with fewer people and the buildings beautifully illuminated.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Harajuku & Aoyama

    Meiji-jingū

    Tokyo’s grandest Shintō shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, whose reign (1868–1912) coincided with Japan's transformation from isolationist, feudal state to modern nation. Constructed in 1920, the shrine was destroyed in WWII air raids and rebuilt in 1958; however, unlike so many of Japan’s postwar reconstructions, Meiji-jingū has atmosphere in spades. Note that the shrine is currently undergoing renovations bit by bit in preparation for its 100th anniversary, but will remain open.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Asakusa & Sumida River

    Edo-Tokyo Museum

    Tokyo's history museum documents the city's transformation from tidal flatlands to feudal capital to modern metropolis via detailed scale re-creations of townscapes, villas and tenement homes, plus artefacts such as ukiyo-e and old maps. Reopened in March 2018 after a renovation, the museum also has interactive displays, multilingual touch-screen panels and audio guides.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ueno & Yanesen

    Rikugi-en

    Considered by many to be Tokyo's most elegant garden, Rikugi-en was originally completed in 1702, at the behest of a feudal lord. It is definitely the most highbrow, designed to evoke scenes from classical literature and mythology. But no context is necessary to appreciate the wooded walkways, stone bridges, central pond, trickling streams and wooden teahouses of this beautifully preserved garden. At one teahouse you can drink matcha (powdered green tea; ¥620) al fresco while overlooking the water.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ginza & Tsukiji

    Hama-rikyū Onshi-teien

    This beautiful garden, one of Tokyo’s finest, is all that remains of a shogunate summer villa next to Tokyo Bay. There's a large pond with an island, connected by a causeway, upon which sits the teahouse Nakajima no Ochaya, where you can sip matcha (¥740, traditional sweet included). Don't miss the spectacularly manicured 300-year-old black pine tree near the Ote-mon entrance.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kōrakuen & Akihabara

    Koishikawa Kōrakuen

    Established in the mid-17th century as the property of the Tokugawa clan, this formal strolling garden incorporates elements of Chinese and Japanese landscaping. It's among Tokyo's most attractive gardens, although nowadays the shakkei (borrowed scenery) also includes the contemporary skyline of Tokyo Dome.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ginza & Tsukiji

    Tsukiji Market

    Tokyo's main wholesale market may have moved to Toyosu, but there are many reasons to visit its old home. The tightly packed rows of vendors (which once formed the Outer Market) hawk market and culinary-related goods, such as dried fish, seaweed, kitchen knives, rubber boots and crockery. It's also a fantastic place to eat, with great street food and a huge concentration of small restaurants and cafes, most specialising in seafood.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Harajuku & Aoyama

    Yoyogi-kōen

    If it’s a sunny and warm weekend afternoon, you can count on there being a crowd lazing around the large grassy expanse that is Yoyogi-kōen. You'll usually find revellers and noisemakers of all stripes, from hula-hoopers to African drum circles to retro greasers dancing around a boom box. It’s an excellent place for a picnic and probably the only place in the city where you can reasonably toss a Frisbee without fear of hitting someone.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shinjuku & Northwest Tokyo

    Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

    Tokyo's city hall – a landmark building designed by Tange Kenzō – has observatories (202m) atop both the south and north towers of Building 1 (the views are virtually the same). On a clear day (morning is best), you may catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji beyond the urban sprawl to the west; after dark, it's illuminated buildings all the way to the horizon. Direct-access elevators are on the ground floor; last entry is at 10.30pm.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Harajuku & Aoyama

    Omote-sandō

    This broad, tree-lined boulevard is lined with boutiques from the top European fashion houses. More interesting are the buildings themselves, designed by some of the biggest names in Japanese architecture. There's no better (or more convenient) place to gain an overview of Japan's current sense of design. Highlights include the Dior boutique by SANAA (Nishizawa Ryue and Sejima Kazuyo) and the Tod's boutique by Itō Toyō.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Marunouchi & Nihombashi

    Intermediatheque

    Dedicated to interdisciplinary experimentation, Intermediatheque cherry-picks from the vast collection of the University of Tokyo to craft a fascinating, contemporary museum experience. Go from viewing the best ornithological taxidermy collection in Japan to a giant pop art print or the beautifully encased skeleton of a dinosaur.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Asakusa & Sumida River

    Fukagawa Fudō-dō

    Belonging to the esoteric Shingon sect, at this active temple you can attend one of the city's most spectacular religious rituals. Goma (fire rituals) take place daily in an auditorium in the Hondō (Main Hall) at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm, plus 7pm on festival days (1st, 15th and 28th of each month). Sutras are chanted, giant taiko drums are pounded and flames are raised on the main altar as an offering to the deity.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Harajuku & Aoyama

    Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art

    This small museum (where you swap your shoes for slippers) is the best place in Tokyo to see ukiyo-e. Each month it presents a seasonal, thematic exhibition (with English curation notes), drawing from the truly impressive collection of Ōta Seizo, the former head of the Toho Life Insurance Company. Most exhibitions include a few works by masters such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. The museum closes the last few days of the month (between exhibitions).

  • Sights in Kōrakuen & Akihabara

    Kanda Myōjin

    Tracing its history back to AD 730, this splendid Shintō shrine boasts vermilion-lacquered halls surrounding a stately courtyard. Its present location dates from 1616 and the kami (gods) enshrined here are said to bring luck in business and in finding a spouse. There are also plenty of anime characters, since this is Akiba's local shrine.