Tokyo is one of those cities-even if you've never been there, you probably have a decent picture in your mind's eye. Fast-paced, high-tech; all neon, intensity, and ambition alongside deep-seated, venerable tradition. Picture that typical image of modern-meets-ancient and you're just barely halfway there.
Yet, despite that complexity of character, a quick trip to Tokyo doesn't have to be overwhelming. Visit Tokyo on a luxury tour of Japan and your stay in the city will likely be two to three days. There's a huge amount that you can fit into that time-provided you've done a little reading-up first. You'll tick off some of the essential things to do in Tokyo as part of your itinerary, but you'll also probably have some free time to spend as you like in the city. That's where preparation really pays off. We've put together some of the essential Tokyo experiences that you can pack into a quick visit as part of a longer Japan tour.
Essential attractions: The Tokyo tourist must-sees
There are a few must-see Tokyo attractions that you can expect to be included on any Japan tour. Before we look at the best ways to spend your free time in the city, it's important to get a sense of what you'll likely see with any expert tour guide in Tokyo. The amount of sites you'll visit may depend on how many days you have in Tokyo, but these are all staples of Tokyo tour itineraries.
The historic landmark: Senso-ji
Also known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple, Senso-ji is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Tokyo. To give you an idea of its cultural significance, some statistics list this historic temple as the most-visited spiritual site in the world, which also makes it one of the most significant tourist attractions in Japan. Senso-ji's history is immense-the temple was originally completed in 628, though it was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt afterward. Today it's a spectacular example of the ornate temples that Japanese Buddhism is famed for, and symbolic of both Japan's commitment to peace and traditional craftsmanship, with intricate carvings in the main hall. Outside is the Nakamise shopping street-packed with souvenirs-and you'll enter the temple grounds through the spectacular Kaminarimon (the Thunder Gate).
Near the city center in the historic Asakusa district, the temple is conveniently located for pairing with many of the other essential things to see and do in Tokyo; a visit here followed by a trip to the nearby Tokyo National Museum makes a perfect culture-themed morning.
Tokyo's cultural heartbeat: Meiji Shrine
Another of the major tourist attractions in Tokyo, this landmark is a fixture of Japan tours. Almost a century old, the Meiji Shrine is a large complex in an area of forest in central Tokyo's Shibuya neighborhood. The moment you enter through the distinctive torii gates, you'll get a palpable sense that you're in a sacred place-but in addition to various buildings dedicated to the late emperor and empress, the complex also has beautiful gardens. The shrine frequently hosts events, and you can even visit the country's second-oldest baseball stadium nearby.
Spring things: Cherry blossoms
Tour Japan in late March or early April and you'll have one thing front of mind: the cherry blossoms. The highlights of a cherry blossom tour of Japan are arguably around Kyoto, but you can also catch some spectacular examples in Tokyo. One of Tokyo's best Japanese gardens is Koishikawa Korakuen, right in the heart of the city. Its weeping cherry trees often bloom early, so this is a good bet if you're visiting Tokyo for a few days in late March. Or catch the hanami in Ueno Park-walking distance from Senso-ji-to fit a quick walk around the spectacular cherry blossoms into a morning's sightseeing with another must-see Tokyo attraction.
Making the most of free time in Tokyo
Once you've seen the must-visits with your local guide, it pays dividends to plan your free time. Are you intent on seeking out a great sushi restaurant? Do you want to immerse yourself in local life? Maybe you'd like to fit in a little shopping? Your definition of the best things to do in Tokyo will naturally depend on your tastes, so here are our top tips for making the most of your free time, separated by area of interest.
For foodies: Great cuisine on a tight schedule
Tsuta restaurant in the Sugamo District famously became the first ramen restaurant to receive a Michelin star. However, getting a table requires standing in line for a while, which is fine if you have more time, but not ideal for a quick meal. Instead, head to Kindenmaru in Shibuya for a convenient lunch of excellent traditional ramen, just south of the Meiji Shrine. For smart, modern takes on classic Japanese cuisine from renowned chef Yuki Noda, head to Kiki Harajuku, even closer to the shrine.
For shoppers: Ginza
Like any self-respecting global megacity, Tokyo has its glitzy side. Picture that classic Tokyo street scene-a brightly lit corner surrounded by neon signs-and you're picturing the district of Ginza. The epicenter of all things upscale in Tokyo, Ginza is home to flagship stores from leading fashion brands and the Wako department store-Tokyo's answer to Bloomingdale's. Visit on a weekend when the main street, Chuo-dori, is fully pedestrianized to experience Ginza at its bustling best.
For culture enthusiasts: Edo-Tokyo Museum
If you're on a culture-focused tour of Japan and want to delve deeper into local history, the Edo-Tokyo Museum provides some richly fascinating background to the city's history. To understand how Tokyo came to be the sprawling hub of industry, innovation, and power it is today, you need to understand its transformation during the Edo period, from the 17th to late-19th centuries, during which time the city saw rapid growth. And this is just the place to learn everything you need to know about the period, from daily life to politics, art, and architecture.
For the best view in town: Tokyo Skytree
Few attractions in Tokyo embody the city's famous spirit of ingenuity and innovation like the Tokyo Skytree. Not to be confused with the iconic Tokyo Tower (the 60-year-old Eiffel Tower lookalike, which is about half the height) the Tokyo Skytree opened in 2012 and remains the world's tallest tower, at 2,080 feet. The view from up here puts the idea of Tokyo as a megacity in perspective; visit at night and round off a couple days in Tokyo in spectacular fashion.
Now that you have more than enough inspiration for things to do in Tokyo, set your sites on broader Japan with our Japan tour itineraries. With Cox & Kings, you can choose to join an escorted group tour or plan your own private luxury tour. Speak to one of our travel experts today to start planning.