What are the best things to see and do in Tokyo?

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world — and with that comes a lot to see and do. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ musts for your next visit to Japan’s capital city:
1. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market. If you’re an early-riser — or jetlagged from the long flight — head to Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest and busiest wholesale fish and seafood market right in central Tokyo. The live maguro (tuna) auction starts at 5 a.m., and for safety, the market only allows 120 visitors a day to watch it on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no guided tours for visitors, still, you can wander around the fish market packed with hundreds of stalls selling everything from live lobsters to baby eels and every kind of edible sea creature imaginable. Business starts to wind down by 9 a.m. The outer market called Jogai Shijo — meaning “food town” — is worth visiting, too. There are hundreds of wholesale and retail shops located outside the market, selling prepared Japanese traditional foods like excellent sushi and ramen noodles, kitchen tools, fresh vegetables, dried fish and more.
2. Explore Ginza. This area — now a shopping mecca — was once a Western quarter with two-story brick homes with balconies, the nation’s first sidewalks, gaslights, telephone poles and horse-drawn carriages. These days it’s the place to find the latest and greatest from high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton and Gucci to trendy UNIQLO and H&M. Ginza has Tokyo’s largest concentration of department stores, upscale boutiques, specialty shops, trendy coffee shops and restaurants, lively bars and pricey hotels.
3. See Shibuya Crossing. It’s not everyday you’re told to visit a crosswalk. But this scramble crossing just outside the Shibuya Station is one of the busiest in the world — and a destination itself. Considered the Times Square of Tokyo, this intersection is riddled with huge buildings adorned with jumbo screens, blaring advertising and J-Pop music. When the lights turn red, pedestrians hit the intersection in all directions. For the best view, grab a latte at Starbucks on the second floor of the Tsutaya building, which overlooks the crossing. The area itself is worth exploring, as it's a lively shopping and nightlife district. And while you’re at the Shibuya Station, stop by the statue of Hachiko, a faithful dog that waited for his owner here even after the man’s death.
4. Tour Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Spanning 150 acres, this national garden is one of Tokyo’s largest parks on the former estate of the powerful Naito family of feudal lords. You’ll see more than 20,000 trees; none is so lovely as the 1,500 sakura (cherry blossom) trees that bloom from late March to early April. Its wide, open spaces make this a perfect spot for hanami, or the viewing of cherry blossoms. Walk along the paths that wind past ponds with water lilies and over bridges. It’s a nice reprieve from the bustling city just outside.
5. Stroll on Takeshita Street, Harajuku. This pedestrian-only street in the trendy Harajuku in the Shibuya Ward is a haven for teens, especially those into Japanese fashion. (The area was popularized by Gwen Stefani’s hit, “Harajuku Girls.”) This street is lined with crepe stands and funky boutiques selling some of the city’s craziest and garish looks, many of them worn by the teens shopping here. Shops here are lower-end than the upscale shopping just a street over at Omotesando, a broad, tree-lined avenue dotted with chic boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

  • On July 23, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are the best day trips near Tokyo?

    Kyoto is too far for what you have planned in Tokyo, but you still want to get out of town for a fix of ancient temples and shrines. What to do? Hop a train to Kamakura! An hour later, you’ll find yourself a world away amid lush greenery and famously charismatic rickshaw runners. There’s a seated Buddha who’s been sitting since the 1300s, shopping streets lined with handicrafts and traditional snacks, and more temples than you could see in even the most ambitious day out. While they might look similar at a glance, each one has its own treasures and surprises to discover. Don’t miss the cave full of devotional deities at Hasudera or the chance to wash your money for good luck at Zeniarai Benten Shrine.
    Bonus: After temple fatigue sets in, you’re just a short hop from the beaches near Enoshima. Take the Eno-den electric train toward Enoshima station, or get off earlier anytime after you can see the ocean from the train. Shichirigahama is one great, quiet option with a few nice cafes near the beach.
  • On July 22, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are the best public baths in Tokyo?

    Spa LaQua is a large-scale bath right in the heart of the city next to Tokyo Dome. There are soothing crystals placed throughout the many baths. There is a rooftop bath, great for catching an evening breeze.

    Oedo Onsen Monogatari has “old Tokyo” as its theme. You pick out a light kimono when you enter and wear it throughout your visit. There’s a large food court and amusement zone with carnival games and strolling entertainers. A river of hot water trickles through a spacious garden, a great place to gather with friends and soak your feet. Spa treatments like the foot-nibbling Dr. Fish and hot stone massages also await. The bath space itself is cavernous and has many different types of baths to try.

    EnoSpa is worth the long ride. There are panoramic indoor baths separated for men and women. EnoSpa also boasts the biggest and most varied mixed bathing area, where everyone lounges together in bathing suits and the robes that are provided. There are two indoor pools, one of which has laser light shows every hour after dark that you watch from inside the pool. Overlooking a bay and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji, is a heated outdoor infinity pool, a jacuzzi, and two pools set into faux caves. There is also a small bar and cafe near the pools. You could bring friends and spend a full day here.

    Finally, for just a few hundred yen, try popping into a neighborhood sento, or small public bath. Look for the distinctive “ゆ” mark. Careful, the water is usually piping hot! This is a great way to step out of your comfort zone and get a glimpse of local life that isn’t often seen by tourists.
  • On July 15, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What is the best time to visit Tokyo?

    Probably not too much controversy on this one - cherry blossom season is easily the most stunning time to visit. It’s hard to plan for precisely; there are entire websites dedicated to trying to predict when the blossoms will peak. But the last week in March through the first week in April is usually a safe bet. However, every season has its delights in Japan, and no country is more finely tuned to the joys that each season brings than the Japanese. Dozens of varieties of hydrangeas bloom in late spring and early summer throughout the city and all over the temple town of Kamakura a short day trip away. Fall brings fiery red leaves. Winter days tend to be clear and crisp in Tokyo. Snowfall in the city is rare and usually lasts just long enough for people to get out and sculpt a few mini-snowmen before it melts away. Unless you really love the heat or are a glutton for punsihment, mid-summer would be a great time to hit the mountains of Nagano or the beaches of Izu instead of sweating it out in the sweltering city humidity.
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  • On June 28, 2013
    Nicholas Coldicott answered the question: Nicholas Coldicott

    What are the best bars in Tokyo?

    Tokyo is, without question, the world’s best city for drinkers. You could pick a drink and find a bar devoted to it. (Rum? Try Tafia in Nishi Azabu. Beer? Popeye, Craft Beer Market or Goodbeer Faucets. Vodka? Go to Bloody Doll. Absinthe? Bar Trench. Sherry? Sherry Club. Whisky or wine? There are hundreds of those.)

    The Ginza district is home to the world’s most obsessive cocktail makers. They obsess about technique, move with precision, and favor classics over offbeat innovations. Star Bar, High Five, Little Smith and Mohri Bar are the cream of the crop.

    For only-in-Tokyo experiences, try Kamiya Bar, the oldest western-style bar in the capital. It serves beers with a proprietary sweet liquor called Denki Bran. Or head to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai ditrict. It’s crammed with around 250 tiny, rickety bars, some seating less than a dozen customers. Of all the choices, Albatross and La Jetee are reliable for a warm welcome. 

    For creative bartending with a Western sense, head to Fuglen, Bar Trench or Bar Tram. All three serve cocktails you'll never see anywhere else.

    And if you're looking for antique spirits, Kohaku in Yushima and Bar Odin in Ebisu are both stock bottles older than your grandfather. 

    And it would be wrong to miss Gen Yamamoto, a beautiful 8-seater bar that serves courses of ingeneous fruit cocktails.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What is the best way to see Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo?

    Imagine the crowded intensity of being on the floor of the New York or London Stock Exchange. Now add in knives flying on every side, crates of fish stacked in every direction, and motorized scooters whizzing straight at you whichever corridor you go down. All before dawn. If that sounds like an exciting morning to you, then Tsukiji Market, (or the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market if you’re feeling formal) is a must for your Tokyo itinerary!
    I always suggest that friends pencil it in for the first or second day when jet lag may have you wide awake while the market action is fresh and the daily tuna auction is hopping. It’s possible to visit at a more civilized hour - say, 9, 10 or even 11 - but it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the shops around the market are already finished for the day by early afternoon.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Melinda Joe answered the question: Melinda Joe

    What are the best fine-dining restaurants in Tokyo?

    If you only have time for one fine-dining experience in Tokyo (after you’ve already gotten your high-end-sushi fix), make it a kaiseki meal. Kaiseki-ryori, which originated in Kyoto, is traditional Japanese haute cuisine: a series of dishes served on exquisite ceramic and lacquer ware, in a particular sequence. These elaborate meals, which can sometimes take up to three hours, begin with an amuse bouche followed by the hassun, the dish that expresses the theme of the season.

    While some naysayers argue that you can only have an authentic kaiseki experience in Kyoto, few can fault the precision and elegance of Tokyo’s top kaiseki restaurants.

    At Azabu Yukimura, chef Jun Yukimura walks diners through a subtle palate of seasonal flavors, and then dazzles with dishes like wagyu beef shabu-shabu, thinly sliced and flash-cooked in dashi broth seasoned with tongue-tingling sansho (Japanese pepper) flowers.

    Toru Okuda of Koju never fails to impress with his pristine ingredients, many of which arrive at the restaurant daily from all over Japan. Cubes of grilled wagyu beef and crispy-skinned mackerel are served simply with a dab of wasabi. For a more casual meal, you can try his second restaurant, Ginza Okuda, located in the same building.

    Chef Hideki Ishikawa of Ishikawa in Kagurazaka takes an exacting but inventive approach to the kaiseki form. Deep-fried ayu sweetfish, paired with matsutake mushrooms and ginko nuts, leaves a lingering taste of early autumn.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are quirky local customs in Tokyo?

    Let’s focus in on an area you might not expect to find cultural differences in Japan: shopping. In Japan, you will never carry a dripping umbrella through a store. Museums and some restaurants will have racks with keys out front where you can lock your umbrella while you’re inside. But many stores will have a contraption out front that you dip your umbrella into, and then pull it out fully sheathed in a plastic bag. Simply discard the wet bag on your way out in the bin attached to the bag dispenser.
    You know you have to take your shoes off when you go into someone’s home and even in some nice restaurants. But did you expect you’d find yourself suddenly barefoot in the middle of a clothing store, even familiar western stores like The Gap? You will take your shoes off when you enter any dressing room, whether it’s simple or opulent. Each stall will have a section that’s raised or carpeted, and that is a no-go zone for shoes. Once inside the dressing room, women will find disposable “head covers,” soft, translucent bags that go over your head as you try on clothes to avoid smearing your makeup on the clothes.
    Finally, at the register, look for a small tray. Place your cash or credit card on this tray instead of handing it to the clerk directly.
  • On June 24, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    Should visitors rent a car in Tokyo?

    There is no reason to rent a car on a trip to Tokyo. The city arguably has one of the cleanest, safest, most efficient public transportation systems in the world. For longer distances, no place makes it easier to get out of town on bullet trains. Taxis, while not inexpensive, are also some of the world’s finest, from the doors that open automatically to the white lace doilies on the seats.
    Even if you are accustomed to driving on the left, learning the traffic signs is not a project to be undertaken lightly, not to mention dealing with emergency vehicles that broadcast instructions in Japanese from loudspeakers as they pass with sirens on. As you’re planning your trip, instead of thinking about renting, choose a hotel that gives you plenty to do within walking distance. If you’re in any of the major districts, this will be snap. And use the money you would have spent on a rental on a few decadent wee-hours taxi rides after the last train has already left!
  • On June 23, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are the best water activities in Tokyo?

    There may be more exciting or more relaxing water activities in Tokyo, but there is no water activity with a better story than the swan boats in Inokashira Park. But paddle at your own risk! It is said that the small lake in the park is inhabited by a jealous female spirit who doesn’t like to see happy couples. Couples who boat on the lake together, the story goes, are bound to break up soon after. Care to test your luck? Take the Chuo Line west of the city from Shinjuku to Kichijoji and follow the masses through a pleasant shopping street and down a wide set of steps to the park. Take a few minutes to admire the weeping willows and the artists and musicians who hang out in the park, and then walk across the low footbridge to the far side of the lake where the boats are. They don’t cost much to ride — at least financially! If you want to play it safe, there’s a lovely walking path around the lake, too.
  • On June 21, 2013
    Sandra Barron answered the question: Sandra Barron

    What are the best neighborhoods in Tokyo?

    There’s plenty out there about Shibuya and Roppongi — let’s take a look at a couple of the slightly smaller neighborhoods. Kichijoji is on the Chuo line, west from Shinjuku, and has a funky, fun vibe. Walk down a laid-back street full of second-hand shops in Kichijoji to get to the beautiful Inokashira Park, with lots of space to relax and a lake with pedal boats. Fans of Japanese anime will love the Ghibli Museum. The yakitori (skewered chicken) at the two Kichijoji outposts of Iseya has been loved for decades.
    Head to Daikanyama on a sunny Sunday for brunch or coffee, and enjoy the slightly arty, Euro-inflected ambiance. There are record stores and galleries among the high-end clothing stores. T-site is a luxury book and record store perfect for whiling away an afternoon, with a gorgeous cafe/bar to retreat to as evening falls. And surprise, New Yorkers: This is where Italian food import emporium Eataly got its international start.