Tokyo is the most populous city in the world (if you count the entire metro area) at about 38 million people, and it also occupies a huge land area, which can make planning a trip there maddening. It's one of the those rare world cities, with perhaps only New York, London and Paris as peers, where you could spend an entire lifetime but still need another one to truly see everything.
On the other hand, the fundamentals of a Tokyo trip are surprisingly simple. This list spotlights the top 18 things to do in Tokyo, which should suit you no matter what type of traveler you are.
01 of 18
Wake Up Before Dawn to Watch a Tuna Auction
It's no secret that watching a tuna auction is one of the best things to do in Tokyo, or that you need to wake up around 3 a.m. in order to get there in time to be admitted. What you might not know, particularly if you haven't researched Tokyo recently, is that these world-famous auctions no longer take place at Tsukiji Market.
For a number of reasons, chief among them the age of the Tsukiji Market facility and the stress of increasing tourist numbers on it, Tokyo tuna auctions have been moved to Toyosu Market. Located on Odaiba Island not far from many of the other attractions on this list, Toyosu Market is a bit further from most hotels in Tokyo than Tsukiji was—you might want to wake up at 2:45!
02 of 18
Watch a Sumo Match in Ryogoku
Watching sumo is a favorite past-time of both Tokyo locals and visitors to the city, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The first is that if you want to watch a proper sumo match, you should make sure dates of upcoming sumo matches in Tokyo match up with your travel dates, ideally on this official website (where you can also book tickets), rather than scalper sites across the internet.
Assuming there isn't a tournament going on somewhere else in the country (usually Fukuoka or sometimes Osaka), you might be able to watch a morning sumo practice. Some websites will attempt to sell tickets to these online, but beware: They're actually free!
03 of 18
Go Back in Time in Asakusa
There are as many Tokyo attractions as there are skyscrapers in its skyline, but no matter how many days in Tokyo you plan to spend, you're going to visit Asakusa. Home, among other sights, to Senso-ji (which dates back at least to the 8th century, making it by far the oldest standing structure in Tokyo), Asakusa is the closest thing in Tokyo to an "old city."
It's not just the architecture here that will take you back in time. Hire a rickshaw, which is actually pulled by a person, to drive you through Asakusa's narrow alleys. During spring time, walk along the adjacent Sumida River and enjoy sakura cherry blossoms.
04 of 18
See Mt. Fuji from the Tokyo Sky Tree
Asakusa might allow you travel back in time, but it's not far from the rest of Tokyo's futuristic cityscape. Perhaps the best example of this is Tokyo Sky Tree, which is one of the tallest freestanding structures in the world. The observation deck, which is more than 2,000 feet high, offers views of the Tokyo skyline and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji.
Of course, this is not the only game in town when it comes to Tokyo view points. For a great view of Tokyo Tower, visit the Tokyo World Trade Center at Hamamatsu-cho Station. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, meanwhile, has a reputation as Tokyo's best free view point. Yet another option is to ascend to the top of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
05 of 18
Scream Your Head Off at Tokyo Dome City
Japanese amusement parks don't get as much love as they deserve, and Tokyo Dome City in Bunkyo is no exception. Like thrill ride factories you find elsewhere in the country, Tokyo Dome City is a la carte. If the only ride that interests you is the lightning-fast Thunder Dolphin Rollercoaster, you can buy a ticket for a single ride and nothing else. There's no admission gate to the park itself, and thus no fee.
If you can't get enough of the views from the top of Thunder Dolphin, which makes you feel like you're snaking through skyscrapers as it speeds along at nearly 100 miles per hour, consider ascending to the viewing deck of nearby Bunkyo Civic Center. The observation deck is free, and like Tokyo Sky Tree also boasts views of Mt. Fuji on clear days.
06 of 18
Bliss Out at Meiji Shrine
One thing that surprises many visitors to Tokyo is the sheer amount of green space in the city, much of it in the heart of busy business districts. This fact has to do, in large part, with lands the Japanese Imperial Family kept as the city developed and have allowed to be open to the public in more recent years.
A particularly serene place to spend a few hours is Meiji Shrine, located in busy Harajuku just across from Takeshita Street (more on this wild place in just a moment). From the moment you pass under its iconic wooden torii gate and begin walking the forested path toward the main shrine building, Meiji Shrine is a calming oasis from the sometimes overwhelming chaos of Tokyo.
07 of 18
See Shocking Street Fashion in Harajuku
Now, back to Takeshita Street. This bustling street, which you can access from the east exit of JR Harajuku Station, is where the legend of the "Harajuku Girl" originated. Yes, this would be an appropriate moment to reflect on Gwen Stefani's bizarre and short-lived solo career in the early 2000s.
Of course, out-of-this-world street fashion existed in Harajuku long before Stefani struck out on her own. And Takeshita Street is worth visiting even if teenage girls dressed as "Gothic Lolita" quasi-vampires doesn't seem particularly strange or interesting to do.
Among other draws, Takeshita Street is a hub of all things kawaii, or cute. For a sweet treat, stop at one of the many cotton candy shops along the street, where you can buy colorful candy floss that's as big as your head!
08 of 18
Have a Picnic in Yoyogi Park
Like Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park is a lovely green space where you can go to decompress from the insanity of Harajuku. If you happen to be visiting Japan during spring, however, this famous park becomes even more appealing.
Although the blue, plastic tarps on which the hordes of Japanese people who flock here in late March and early April sit might look tacky, there are few things to do in Tokyo that are more relaxing than sitting underneath a canopy of sakura. This is particularly the case if you have local friends, who can assemble a proper Tokyo picnic.Continue to 9 of 18 below.
09 of 18
Visit a Digital Art Museum in Odaiba
Tokyo's museums are rightly world famous, even for people who have no plans of visiting Japan. The latest one to achieve viral internet fame? The world's first all-digital museum, the MORI TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum, which is located on Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay.
Of course Odaiba, which is itself a manmade island, has long been pushing technological boundaries. For example, it's also where you'll find the National Museum of Emerging Sciences and Innovation, colloquially known as the Tokyo Robotic Museum. You can even access Odaiba via a fully automated train called Yurikamome.
Odaiba is also famous for its views—and its kitsch. At night time, enjoy views of the Rainbow Bridge, with the Tokyo skyline glistening in the background. And marvel, perhaps with a bit of puzzlement, at Japan's very own Statue of Liberty replica. Oh say, can you see why people love coming here?
10 of 18
Spot Sakura at Chidorigafuchi
Tokyo Imperial Palace is known as one of the top things to do in Tokyo, although only one section of it (the East Gardens) is ever open, and only for part of the year at that. The most beautiful (and the only always-open) place to see near the imperial residence is Chidorigafuchi, a picturesque moat.
Chidorigafuchi is worth visiting all year-round, but it's especially beautiful during late March and early April, when cherry blossoms bloom here. In fact, it's one of the top cherry blossom spots in all of Tokyo—it's not uncommon to wait an hour or longer to rent a row-boat here during peak season!
11 of 18
Go Wild at One of Tokyo's Animal Cafes
It seems like only a couple of years ago that the "Cat Cafe" in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district seemed like a novel concept. Since then, similar outlets have sprung up all over Asia and the world to the point where cat cafés seem almost passé.
Tokyo, for its part, has continued upping the ante. Whether you visit the Owl Village in aforementioned Harajuku district, the HARRY hedgehog cafe in Roppongi, or take a day trip north of Tokyo to Zao Fox Village (which has also achieved internet fame), it's surprisingly easy to go wild in the world's most notorious concrete jungle.
12 of 18
Eat Conveyor-Belt Sushi in Kabukicho
Many travelers visit Kabukicho, the so-called "alley" district of the bustling Shinjuku district, to photograph its famous neon signs, or potentially to have a drink at one of the seedy bars here. One somewhat unsung Kabukicho activity involves eating conveyor-belt sushi at one of the restaurants here. This method of eating raw fish is not only fun but much cheaper than ordinary sushi bars.
Whether you visit the playfully named "Sushi Go Round" or happen upon a better concealed spot, your Kabuki-cho adventure only begins here. Have a drink at one of the seedy bars or at one of the lively Izakaya pubs where Japanese business people unwind from a hard day's work.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
13 of 18
Appreciate the Splendor of Tokyo Station
Most Tokyo itineraries will pass through Tokyo Station, if only because the Narita Express airport train terminates here. Make sure to stop and appreciate this historical station even if you're in a rush or can't afford a stay at the opulent Tokyo Station Hotel.
The best place to take in a view of Tokyo Station's historical facade, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century, is KITTE Mall, itself a collaboration of the past and present. Housed in the historical Japan Post building, KITTE boasts a viewing deck that offers a priceless panorama of Tokyo Station.
14 of 18
Say "Konnichiwa" to Mickey Mouse at Tokyo Disney
Think the happiest place on Earth is in Florida or California? Tokyo locals might disagree with you—and you might even change your mind after visiting Tokyo Disney.
Located in the southeastern part of the city on the shores of Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Disney (and the Disney Sea Waterpark) take the Disney Park experience to the next level with immaculately themed lands, throngs of your favorite characters, and delicious Japanese food to tie the whole experience together.
Want to visit a theme park that's more wholly Japanese? Consider visiting Sanrio Puroland, a Hello Kitty-themed wonderland situated just to the west of Tokyo in Tama New Town.
15 of 18
Known unofficially as Tokyo's "Electric Town," Akihabara is one of the top places to visit in Tokyo for a bevy of reasons—affordable electronics shopping is just one of them. Buy merchandise featuring your favorite anime characters in the district's many manga shops, or play vintage Sega games in dozens of arcades.
Akihabara is also the epicenter of one of Japan's most bizarre cultural phenomenons: the maid cafe. It's not particularly sexual but rather kawaii ("cute" in Japanese), and features young women in over-the-top maid outfits serving Japanese comfort food. Try it out!
16 of 18
Take a Selfie in Shibuya Crossing
Few places in Tokyo are more evocative of Japan's capital than Shibuya crossing, which is the busiest pedestrian crosswalk in the world, at least colloquially. Whether you come here during the day, after time relaxing at nearby Yoyogi Park or by night when the entire square is lit up, it's easy to visit—Shibuya Crossing is just steps from Shibuya Station.
Tip: If you want to take a day trip to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, the Mark City Mall just off the square offers direct bus service to the city of Kawaguchiko, in the Fuji Five Lakes region, several times per day.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
17 of 18
Have a Teppanyaki Dinner in Ginza
Ginza is one of Tokyo's (and the world's) most exclusive shopping districts, but you don't have to be on the hunt for a designer handbag to enjoy a nighttime stroll through its neon-lit streets. One free activity you can enjoy here is visiting Ginza's opulent department stores where even the melons are designer-grown and can sell for several hundred dollars each.
Ginza is also a dining hot spot, particularly for teppanyaki (i.e. grilled meat) style dining. The wagyu beef on offer at hot spots like Misono, which boasts views of the Tokyo Tower, is among the most delicious available in all of Japan!
18 of 18
End Your Trip With a "Lost in Translation" Moment
Although it's one of Tokyo's most expensive hotels, and therefore out of reach to many travelers, Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku is one of the most popular places in Tokyo to have a drink. Among other reasons, this is due to the fact that its rooftop bar is featured prominently in the classic film "Lost in Translation."
If you do happen to ascend to this sky bar, whose skyline view is one of the best in the city, keep in mind that there is a dress code. If you've been out sightseeing all day, particularly during the sweaty summer months, you might want to shower and change before making the trek to Shinjuku!