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44 Best things to see & do in Tokyo

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Rob Goss
  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo

Bucket List Experience

Cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo

Every spring Japan goes into sakura (cherry blossom) frenzy. The subject of everything from traditional haiku verse and woodblock prints to apps that track its flowering, sakura is deeply woven into Japanese culture.

Sakura are the blossoms of ornamental cherry trees – although found across Asia, Japan has historically been home to especially large varieties which were subsequently cultivated into today’s impressive displays. Reflecting both its aesthetic and its importance to Japanese culture, cherry blossom became the national flower of Japan.

When the blossoms briefly reach peak bloom in late March or early April, nothing is as Japanese as heading out to enjoy a spot of hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Close-up of two sumo wrestlers ready to engage in the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament

Bucket List Experience

Sumo wrestling

Nothing quite says Japanese sport like large, semi-naked men trying to wrestle each other to the ground.

Sumo has been around for at least 1,000 years, initially performed to appease the Shinto gods before eventually becoming the major sport it is today. From the brief, yet hard-hitting bouts to the Shinto-influenced pomp that surrounds them, it’s a brilliant spectacle – and Tokyo’s Ryogoku neighbourhood is the centre of it all.

There are three 15-day sumo tournaments a year at the Kokugikan arena in Ryogoku, but if you miss those you could take a morning tour to one of the sumo training stables to watch the rikishi (wrestlers) go through gruelling practice routines.

Any time of year, Ryogoku is also worth a night-time visit for a chanko nabe dinner. This protein-heavy hotpot of fish, meat, vegetables, and tofu, is what rikishi eat to stay supersized.

Adult price: £15

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Sensoji temple at Asakusa.The Sensoji temple in Asakusa area is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Bucket List Experience

Sensoji Temple

First built in the 600s to house a statue of Kannon said to have been fished out of the nearby Sumida River by two brothers.

Today, Sensoji in Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most important and liveliest temples, dedicated to the Bodhisattva of compassion.

It’s also its oldest and most visited – it’s one of the world’s most widely visited spiritual sites with an estimated 30 million visitors a year.

The stall-lined approach is a bit touristy, but if you had time for just one temple in Tokyo, the giant gateways, five-storied pagoda, and vast main hall here make Sensoji the best choice.

Look out for the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the temple’s outer gate, as you go in.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Hakone, Kanto, Japan

A day in Hakone [& Mount Fuji]

Bucket List Experience

A day in Hakone [& Mount Fuji]

As overnight trips from Tokyo go, it’s hard to beat the mountainous Hakone region – under 90 minutes west of the city centre by train.

A trip here takes you close to iconic Mount Fuji, at 3,776 metres Japan’s tallest peak. Add in boat trips with Fuji views on Lake Ashi, superb art at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, cable car trips to the volcanic Owakudani Valley, and more onsen (natural hot springs) baths that you could dip a toe into, and there’s plenty to please even the most discerning visitor.

The area is also home to dozens of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) where guests stay in tatami mat rooms, are served multi-course kaiseki dinners and soak in in-house, private onsen – classic traditional Japanese hospitality. If time allows, book into a ryokan for an overnight stay and get the full cultural experience.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Bullet train speeding in front of Mount Fuji

Bucket List Experience

Ride the Bullet Train, Tokyo

Whizzing around Japan at up to 320 km/h, Japan’s world-famous ‘bullet train’ (shinkansen in Japanese) isn’t just quick, convenient and incredibly punctual – a journey on one is a bucket list experience in and of itself.

From the regimented cleaning crews who whip through the train before boarding to make the carriages spotless, through to bowing conductors, it’s a very Japanese affair. It’s very safe too; in 50 years, carrying over 10 billion passengers, there has not been a single injury.

With comfy reclining seats and, in most cases, regular trolley services selling snacks and drinks, it’s also very relaxing – especially if you watch Japan go by from the window while tucking into a bento and sake. Just as importantly, the Shinkansen can get you across large parts of Japan’s main island, Honshu, but also connects to Kyushu out west and Hokkaido up north.

It connects Toyko, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagano and many other major cities. So if you are planning to visit multiple destinations on your trip, make the Shinkansen part of your itinerary.

Adult price: £90

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 2+ hours

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Pair of long and short swords ,Edo period ,19th century ,Forged iron ,lacquered wood ,rayskin ,cotton.

Bucket List Experience

Tokyo National Museum

Ueno Park’s best museum, and Japan’s oldest museum, is one of the largest art museums in the world.

The museum collects, preserves and displays collections of artworks and cultural objects from across Asia, with a focus on Japanese art. It holds over 110,00 cultural artefacts and artworks, including 89 National Treasures.

For anyone interested in Japan’s fascinating past of emperors, shoguns, samurais and more, this is a must-see. The museum collection includes everything from ancient Buddhist sculptures, to samurai armour and even tea ceremony utensils.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Kamakura, Kanto, Japan

The Great Buddha in Kamakura Japan.The foreground is cherry blossoms.Located in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture Japan.

Bucket List Experience

A day in Kamakura

From 1185 to 1333, the small seaside city of Kamakura, an hour south of Tokyo, was the political centre of Japan. Nowadays, it’s a popular sightseeing area, dotted with historic temples and shrines that has had it likened to a mini-Kyoto.

Most famously that includes Kotoku-in Temple, home to an iconic 11.4-metre bronze statue of Buddha that’s been wooing onlookers since 1252.

Getting to Kotoku-in Temple for the giant Buddha means taking the charmingly retro Enoden Line a few short stops from Kamakura to Hase – worth it for the rickety ride alone.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

Tourists and visitors to Meji-jingu temple

Bucket List Experience

Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine

On the opposite side of Harajuku to the colourful teen fashions of Takeshita-dori and swanky boutiques of Omotesando-dori, Meiji Jingu provides the ultimate contrast to the city’s modern concrete jungle image.

Built in the 1920s to enshrine the Meiji Emperor and Empress, the Shinto shrine blends naturally into the 170 acres of lush forest that surround it.

An hour here is an opportunity to not just have a calm break from the hectic city, but to take in traditional shrine architecture and get a sense of how Shintoism is still important in modern-day Japan.

Whenever you visit, you’ll see visitors praying at the main shrine and writing wishes on votive tablets before hanging them in the inner shrine’s courtyard.

You might see a traditional Shinto wedding procession too – Meiji Jingu attracts lots of tourists, but it’s still a fully functioning shrine.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually

  • Japan

steaming outdoor thermal pool surrounded by red acer trees

Bucket List Experience

Onsen in Japan

Japan is a mountainous country, jam-packed with volcanoes – and where there are volcanoes, there are hot springs. The underground geothermal activity heats water, that rises to the surface creating warm (even boiling), mineral-rich pools of water – fantastic for bathing in, if the temperature is right.

It’s estimated that Japan has over 3,000 hot springs – known as onsen – across the country. Good for health, especially skin, relaxing and sociable, it’s not surprisingly, then, that over the centuries a soak in an onsen has become an integral part of Japanese life and culture.

Many naturally occurring onsen have been converted into indoor (noten-buro) or outdoor (roten-buro) pleasure baths. They can be public or private facilities and sometimes contained within your hotel or ryokan.

For the real deal, you need to get out of the major cities to the natural sources of water. Public hot baths in cities, known as sento, don’t quite hit the spot.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 30+mins

  • Tokyo, Kanto, Japan

The National Museum of Nature and Science is in the northeast corner of Ueno Park in Tokyo.

Bucket List Experience

Museums of Ueno Park

If a day of museum hopping is your idea of heaven, look no further than Ueno Park in northeastern Tokyo.

Home to the Tokyo National Museum and its unparalleled collection of Japanese art and artefacts, plus five other museums, there isn’t a better concentration of cultural sites anywhere in the city.

With a boating pond, temple and other attractions, the park itself is a pleasant spot to linger. In late March and early April, when it’s all decorated pink by the annual wave of cherry blossoms, Ueno Park becomes one of Tokyo’s most popular sites for hanami (cherry blossom) parties and picnics.

Adult price: £Varies

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: March, May and Sept

Freq: annually