Tokyo is an immense and exciting city full of unlimited options for entertainment, food, and sights, and while you could spend months here and never see it all—after five months here I feel like I barely scratched the surface—we have to start somewhere, and I am confident that this list of the top places to visit during your first time in Tokyo is a good place to start.
From walking the old historic streets of Asakusa to seeing the salarymen speedwalk through Shimbashi, to marveling at the eccentric outfits of Takeshita Street, this post will help you tick off all the main things to do and see in Tokyo, with added tips of some of my favorite spots around all the attractions and neighborhoods. So let’s dive in…
Top Places To Visit During Your First Time In Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing: The World’s Busiest Pedestrian Crossing
One of the most recognizable images of Tokyo is the view of people pouring in from all sides of the sidewalk, crossing in the middle of a chaotic screen-filled high-rise intersection, this place is the popular Shibuya Crossing.
You will come across the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection as you exit the busy Shibuya station, which is somewhere that you will inevitably find yourself at one point or another during your trip, probably more than once, which is very convenient for a city attraction since you do not really have to go out of your way to check it off your list.
Tip: To get a better view of the mayhem make sure to take the elevator at the Tokyo Scramble shopping center and go up to the thirteen floor, where you can admire the people moving below like ants from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Cat Street: Calm Pedestrian Shopping Street
I remember feeling so anxious as I exited Shibuya station for the first time and had to make my way through the crowds of Shibuya crossing, but Shibuya doesn’t have to be all chaos, once you make it out of the Shibuya crossing and wander through the smaller streets, it all calms down again, and Cat Street is one of my favorite roads in the area to slow down.
Cat Street is a pedestrian street a few steps away from Shibuya, lined with popular retail shops, little food stands, and cute coffee shops, a spot I would recommend to anyone’s first time in Tokyo.
My favorites in the area:
- The Roastery by Nozy Coffe: Stylish coffee spot with a nice selection of beans to choose from for your espresso-based drink, definitely one of the best Tokyo coffee shops.
- Lukes Lobster: Little stand serving rolls packed with your choice of lobster, shrimp, or crab.
- Coco Age-Pan: Delicious Japanese donuts deep-fried in coconut oil.
- The Matcha Tokyo: Popular matcha cafe known for its high-quality matcha drinks and treats.
Takeshita Street & Harajuku: Trendy Japanese Fashion
A first trip to Tokyo is meant for seeing all the quintessential Tokyo sights, and the vibrant Takeshita Street is definitely one of those.
Takeshita is a busy street in Harajuku lined with trendy shops for the younger Japanese generations filled with chunky boots, eccentric outfits, vintage shops, pastel-colored storefronts, and lots of crepes stands—something that Harajuku is known for.
Definitely one of the most unique places to visit in Tokyo to get a sense of that young eccentric Japanese fashion that you might not come across in other business-focused areas of the city.
Yoyogi Park: A Green Oasis In The Heart Of Tokyo
Yoyogi Park is one of my favorite places in Tokyo, this green oasis provides a respite from the buzzing city while still being incredibly accessible from busy Shibuya, making it the perfect location to go to relax on the grass and take a break from exploring the neighboring areas.
This conveniently located city park offers a little kiosk at the entrance to buy snacks from, open grass areas for people to relax, small lakes and fountains, and a variety of flower gardens, and is one of the most popular spots during the Tokyo Cherry Blossoms season with their long cherry blossom promenade.
If you are on a mission and don’t want to slow down while exploring Tokyo, you can then go next door to Yoyogi Park and visit Meiji Jingu, a large Shinto shrine at the end of a very relaxing walk through the forest.
Tip: Stop by Gonpachi restaurant across the street from the Harajuku Station, and get some delicious hand-rolled sushi to go for the perfect picnic in the park.
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho & Golden Gai: Iconic Snug Restaurant And Bar Streets
Shinjuku has many things to offer, but the must-visits for anyone’s first time in Tokyo are the iconic Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai.
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho is a small section of connecting alleys lined with small restaurants that fit only a handful of people, serving a variety of Japanese foods, from izakaya to sushi, ramen, and more—the area is rich in character which makes it worth a visit even if you are not hungry at the time.
Golden Gai is a similar concept as Omoide Yokocho but in bar form, the Shinjuku Golden Gai is a lively area known for its narrow alleys lined with the tiniest of bars you have seen in your life, most of them will just fit somewhere between four to seven people, and because of this all of them tend to have a cover fee.
Tokyo Tower: The Red Eiffel Tower
Is it Tokyo, is it Paris? The Tokyo Tower has become an undeniable symbol of the city, directly inspired by the Eiffel Tower the Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 and became the tallest of its kind, since it is three meters taller than its original inspiration.
The Tokyo Tower really stands out in the Tokyo skyline with its distinguishable vibrant red during the day and the colorful lights that illuminate it at night.
Besides looking pretty, the Tower offers an observation deck at hundred and fifty meters for those who enjoy a panoramic view, and if you are not a fan of heights but want to get a close-up view of the Tokyo Tower, the neighboring park Prince Shiba is a great place to relax and admire this iconic structure.
Asakusa and Senso-ji Temple: Older Tokyo Vibes
One of the absolute non-negotiables during anyone’s first time in Tokyo is to visit the historic district of Asakusa, a part of the city that preserves that old Tokyo vibe with pedestrian streets lined with long-standing craft shops and street food stalls.
This famed district is also home to Sensjo-Ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and one of the most important Buddhist Temples.
To make the most of your visit to the area start your visit at the Kaminarimon Gate and slowly make your way up the busy Nakamise street, stopping around to shop some of the best quality souvenirs you will find in Tokyo, such as handmade woodblock prints, gorgeous Japanese fans, lots of traditional sweets and much more, arrive at Senso-ji Temple, and then explore the restaurant packed Hoppy Street.
My favorites in Asakusa:
- Sakai Kokodo Ukiyo-e Gallery: A historic shop established in 1870 selling Ukiyo-e prints and hand-made woodblock prints.
- Kikuya: Confectionary shop selling delicious mitarashi dango, a traditional Japanese rice flour sweet.
- Koike Store: Shop selling Japanese fabrics, especially towels, and handkerchiefs.
- Ginkado: Dessert shop that adapts their confections to seasonal fruits, particularly famous for their simple but incredibly delicious strawberry skewers and strawberry daifuku.
- Asakusa Kagetsudo: Popular bakery specialized in Melon Pan.
- Fuglen Asakusa: Norwegian coffee shop with consistently great coffee.
Akihabara: Anime And Manga World
Akhibhara is a district in central Tokyo known for its concentration of electronic shops as well as for being the heart of the anime and manga fandom in Tokyo with many shops dedicated to these popular elements of modern Japanese culture.
The area is distinctive for its bright displays of manga and anime characters on the side of buildings, its array of retro video game stores, collectible shops, manga cafes, and the brow-rising maid cafes.
Whether you are a big manga and anime fan or not, I would consider Akihabara to be a place worth visiting during anyone’s first time in Tokyo to get a peak at the Japanese youth culture.
Ameyoko Shopping Street by Ueno: Fresh Seafood Stands
The Ameyoko shopping street by Ueno is something I came across by accident but I’m very happy I did, this lively street is parallel to the train tracks and is lined with a variety of shops from leather goods to sports shoes, clothing, and dried goods, but my favorite section of the market is the fresh seafood section, which consists of a couple of stands selling their fresh catches as well as a variety of seafood restaurants displaying the biggest oysters I have ever seen.
Tip: My favorite spot in the street that deserves its honorable mention is the tiny standing sushi bar called Uo Kusa, the place is always packed with locals, the lady working there is lovely and happy to see foreigners try different things, the oysters and crab legs here are amazing, and once you order a sake you basically become friends with everyone at that bar.
Ginza Shopping District: The Place For A Shopping Spree
If what you are after is a little bit of shopping, then Ginza is the place to go.
Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous shopping and entertainment district, home to all the big-name international brands as well as to many Japanese designers, the area is also filled with some of the best restaurants in the city and amazing cocktail bars.
Definitely a place worth fitting into your itinerary whether it is to wander the shops or have an evening out dining and drinking your way around the neighborhood.
Favorites in Ginza:
- Ginza Kagari Main Branch: My favorite ramen in Tokyo, but be warned, the lines can get long, so make sure to come before or after rush hours.
- Tír na nÓg: Unique cocktail bar filled with floating bronze fairies and butterflies, offering a tasty and creative menu.
- Bongen Coffee Ginza: Quaint tucked away coffee shop serving strong espresso-based drinks.
- Itoya: Eight-floor stationary shop, with all the pens, cards, and notebooks you could imagine.
- Commes des Garcons: Tokyo born popular Japanese fashion label.
- Uniqlo: Eleven-story tall retail shop of this popular Japanese clothing brand focusing on affordable and basic clothing.
Tsukiji Fish Market: Incredible Fresh Seafood
A visit to Tokyo cannot be complete without a visit to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish market in the world where you are guaranteed to have some of the freshest seafood you will ever taste.
The outer street is lined with street food stands with lines that can go for over an hour, but for a more local and relaxed experience make sure to wander through the inner streets where you will find some amazing high-quality sushi spots without the long lines.
Favorites in Tsukiji Fish Market:
- Tsukiji Sushi Sei: Off the beaten path but still a tourist-friendly high-quality sushi restaurant.
- Tsukiji Yaki Uo Ishikawa: Seafood restaurant with tabletop grills for cooking your own delicious tuna steaks.
- Sushizanmai Main Branch: Famous sushi chain restaurant with over forty restaurants around Tokyo and a handful in the Tsukiji Market.
Hie Shrine and Thousand Torii Gates: Picture-Perfect Torii Gate Tunnel
One of the top things to do during your first time in Tokyo is to visit Hie Shrine, a complex of Shinto shrines in the center of Tokyo, and particularly the Thousand Toris, a picturesque narrow staircase lined by a tunnel of brightly colored Tori gates.
The underrated Thousand Torii Gates are by far one of the most visually striking Tori Gates displays in Tokyo, making for that picture-perfect Japanese postcard.
Ebisu Bar Scene: A Concentration Of The Best Tokyo Bars
One of the essential things to do whether it is your first time in Tokyo or your fifth time around, is to experience Tokyo’s nightlife, and one of the best places to head to once the sun sets is the narrow streets of Ebisu.
Even though Ebisu is more of a residential area than a party district, the neighborhood is packed with some of the best bars in the city, from cozy speakeasy cocktail bars to popular standing sake bars, there are plenty of options to keep you bar hopping through the night.
Favorites in Ebisu:
- Trench: My favorite cocktail bar in Tokyo, every drink is incredible—try the Violeta—the place is snug, and only suited for small groups.
- Triad: Stylish cocktail bar with inventive cocktails and a great Katsu Sando.
- Buri bar: Sake bar where the sake cups are stored at just the right temperature that after a few shakes from the waiter, the sake turns slushy in front of your eyes.
- A10: Fun-to-find speakeasy cocktail bar.
Naka-Meguro And Meguro River Walk: Peaceful Neighborhood By The River
Most popular during the gorgeous Tokyo cherry blossom season, Nakameguro is still worth visiting year around.
This cozy neighborhood of tree-lined streets surrounding the Meguro River is a slow-paced residential area full of small boutiques, bookshops, flower shops, cafes, and restaurants, perfect for a day of peacefully wandering around.
This a place I would recommend for anyone’s first time in Tokyo to balance out the craziness of the city and see a different side of Tokyo.
Favorites in Naka-meguro:
- Onibus Coffee: Rustic small coffee shop with a nice selection of beans and a view of the train tracks.
- Uoichi: My favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo with some of the best salmon I had in the city and friendly kind staff.
- Deli Coco: Tasty onigiri homemade by a Japanese grandmother.
- Kinto: Simple and elegant homeware Japanese brand—I love their travel coffee tumblers.
Shimokitazawa: Young Thrift Shop Neighborhood
A little bit further out of the city center, you will find the up-and-coming Shimokitazawa neighborhood, an area frequented by the younger Japanese generations, known for its streets packed with vintage shops, cool cafes, and international eats.
A good place to see an alternative side of Tokyo and spend a day thrift shopping, enjoying a beer out on a patio, and having some of my favorite mitarashi dango in the city from a little food truck.
Favorites in Shimokitazawa:
- Shimokita Senrogai Open Space: Outdoor open space with lawn chairs and food trucks, and the best mitarashi dango I had in Tokyo.
- B-side label: Shop with all the hand-drawn stickers you could ever imagine, a fun place to get small souvenirs.
- The Usual: Cozy and quiet coffee shop with cakes and excellent coffee.
- Dylan: Very organized thrift shop with a great selection of oversized shirts.
Shimbashi: Salarymen Capital With Great Cheap Eats
Shimbashi is the salarymen center of Tokyo, with people in business suits flooding the streets at rush hour, which might not sound very exciting, however, the amount of office buildings in the area equals a generous amount of locally-approved cheap eats—some of my favorite restaurants in the city are in this area—which is why I love to explore Shimbashi.
Besides the great meal opportunities, Shimbashi is an interesting area of Tokyo to walk around to see a bit more of the day-to-day life of a big part of the city population, and the location makes it very easy to fit into the itinerary with being within walking distance from Ginza and Roppongi.
Favorites in Shimbashi:
- Taiyaki Kanda Daruma: Japanese confectionary shop selling the most delicious strawberry daifuku in Tokyo—I literally go there at least once a week.
- Saza Coffee: Small coffee shop inside the Shimbashi station serves consistently great lattes and silky hot chocolate.
- Uogashi Standing Sushi Bar: Great local-frequented sushi spot remains open throughout the day, contrary to other restaurants’ super specific schedules. Don’t skip the miso soup, is delicious!
- Kurobota Tonkatsu Horiichi: Tonkatsu restaurant with Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition, with a very specific schedule that is worth hacking for their melts-in-your-mouth pork fillet.
Tokyo is truly full of unique gems, and even though it can be an overwhelming city to visit, I am confident that this list is a good place to start to get a sense of the city and its different personalities, from the salarymen speedwalking through Shimbashi to the platform wearing teenagers of Takeshita to the historic streets of Asakusa.
Hope you found this post useful for your first time in Tokyo, is there anything that you would consider a must during someone’s first time in Tokyo that I’m missing from this post? Let me know so I can keep this post as useful as possible.