Essential Guide to Tokyo: The Must-Sees of the City
Wandering down modern Tokyo streets, it's hard to believe that this was once a small, simple fishing village. Formerly called Edo, Tokyo is now lit with bright neon lights and is the international capital of fashion, technology, and cuisine. From magical Tokyo Disneyland to stately Tokyo Tower, the list of must-see places in this remarkable city is endless, so how does one decide? For you, I've compiled a list of fun spots both touristy and local that you must stop by!
Oedo Onsen Monogatari (東京お台場 大江戸温泉物語)
Oedo Onsen opened up as the first onsen theme park in 2013, and 15 years later, it’s still hot! Stunningly designed, this park is laden with baths of different minerals, temperatures, and focuses (the foot baths are perfect after walking around all day). An assortment of spas from massage to fish therapy await. This opulent onsen also features Edo Town, where yukata-clad patrons play carnival games, buy old-fashion treats, and more importantly: eat lots and lots of food. From Ramen to sushi to yakitori, the menu is as extensive as the spas and baths themselves! This onsen is one of my favorite in Tokyo, so I highly recommend checking it out with family or friends!
Admission for adults (over age 12) ¥2,612 ($26USD) Sat. & Sun. ¥2,828 ($28USD) children (age 4-12) ¥1,058 ($10USD), and no fee for children under age 4! Just an evening guest? Only ¥2,072 ($20USD), Sat. & Sun. ¥2,288 ($22USD). A luxurious experience at an affordable price.
2 Chome-6-3 Aomi, Koto, Tokyo 135-0064, Japan
Tsukiji Market (築地市場)
Located between Sumida River and the upmarket Ginza shopping district, Tsukiji Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world! Visitors are prohibited from entering the inner wholesale market, but the outer retail market and restaurants are a heavenly gourmet experience. Admission? Free! Walk along and take your pick of the freshest sushi for lunch and peruse the colorful catches. Octopus, squid, salmon, and the rest of the underwater treasures are brought to you. If you can, watch the awe-inspiring Tuna Auction. Literal tons of the highest quality tuna are on display and bid on by elite culinary masters.
Note: the number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day maximum. Tourists must apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate starting from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis.
5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Harajuku is known internationally as a center of Japanese youth culture and fashion. Lined with shops, restaurants, and cafés, Harajuku’s focal point is Takeshita Street (竹下通り). Its side streets are robust with trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands, and fast food outlets reflecting the fashion and trend conscious teens that strut through. Just south of Takeshita Dori is Omotesando, a broad tree-lined avenue that is sometimes known as the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo. Lining the street are luxury goods shops, cafes, and restaurants catered to a more adult clientele. Harajuku is also home to Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo's major shrines found west of the railway tracks in a vast green paradise. The small Ota Memorial Museum of Art and the Nezu Museum are also just a walk away and contain stunning collections of Asian art.
Harajuku Station (JR East Yamanote Line)
Meiji-jingumae 'Harajuku' Station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line)
This district's namesake originated in the late-1940s from plans to build a kabuki theatre there. However, the theatre was never actually built. Even without it, Kabukicho has become a major red-light entertainment hub in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Thanks to the presence of many host and hostess clubs, love hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, Kabukicho is also called the "Sleepless Town" (眠らない街, Nemuranaimachi). We also recommend heading to Golden Gai (新宿ゴールデン街), a network of alleys a few minutes walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station that is teeming with the most popular drinking spots in Kabukicho (there’s over 300 places to choose from!). Immerse yourself in the unique style and atmosphere of each alley and bar.
For a more serene experience, the Hanazono Shrine (花園神社) is the most elegant choice. Built in the Edo period by the Hanazono family, this historic Shinto shrine is nestled in a tiny gap between tall buildings. One step through the red gate, and you’ll find yourself facing a breathtaking display of sakura blossoms surrounding a bright gold and crimson shrine. (Conveniently, a path to Golden Gai lies just to the side.)
Shinjuku Station 3 Chome-38-1 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
Mitaka no Mori Ghibli Museum (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館)
Known for their breathtaking visuals and compelling storytelling, Studio Ghibli is arguably the most famous Animation Studio in the world. My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and many of their other magical films have garnered worldwide acclaim. To the west of Tokyo in Mitaka Forest (三鷹の森), all of those fantasies become reality in the Ghibli Museum. In 1998, Hayao Miyazaki began designing the museum himself using storyboards (much like he does for his films). Three short but long-awaited years later, the museum opened in October 2001. Greeting guests with his gigantic smile, Totoro sits at the entrance to the museum. As you walk along the path, you’ll come across a multi-colored house resting in the hillside with plants thriving up the sides of the building. Stepping inside, the small house transforms into a vast, intricate structure as iron spiral staircases weave in and out of the museum and indoor bridges stretch across the building's length. Each of these winding paths leads to different exhibits. The museum’s slogan "Let's get lost together" was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's vision for visitors to immerse themselves in a world of imagination. Admission is in high demand so tickets are reserved months in advance.
If you're looking for even more Studio Ghibli fun in Japan, check out our list of must-sees
1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-0013, Japan
I know that you must've already booked your flight and packed your bags by now, so I hope this detailed list comes in handy! From immaculate onsen and luxury shopping to bar-hopping and stunning shrines, you'll be able to hit up all the hot spots for a perfect vacation.