The Ultimate Guide to Tokyo (Part 3: Top 14 Things To Do)
If you're reading part 3 that means I didn't lose you with parts 1 and 2. And hopefully, you're well on your way with planning your trip to Tokyo. Here's a quick recap of what we've covered thus far in part 1 and part 2:
Transportation from Airport to Hotel
Getting Around Tokyo
My itinerary is especially helpful for those with a limited amount of time or you want a plan of action that is time efficient. For this trip, I used a different layout to organize my days that helped me reclaim my time.
We've covered a lot of information around transportation and itinerary organization. In part 3, we'll take a deeper dive into my itinerary. I will highlight the top 14 things to do in Tokyo. In addition to activities that I didn't get to during my trip and look forward to doing next time. Lastly, I share some tips for navigating the language barrier.
TOP 14 THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO
1. Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing is an iconic intersection in Shibuya, Tokyo. The “scramble crossing” is famous for being one of the busiest crosswalks in the world. There is so much energy as advertisements flash across the many television screens and people pour in from all directions. Trust me, the Shibuya Scramble makes an intersection in NYC look like the first cup in a Mario Kart game. Lol!
Be sure to visit the Starbucks located across from Shibuya Station. Once there, grab a drink and watch all the madness from above. Shibuya is great for shopping and nightlife. Fun fact: My favorite movie franchise filmed scenes at this popular location. #fastandfurious
2. Nakamise Street
Nakamise is a famous shopping street and one of the oldest located in Asakusa. Since this street is on the property of Sensoji Temple, it starts and ends with a temple gate.
I thought this was a great area to buy souvenirs. I definitely feel like I got more bang for my buck. I tried shopping at Don Quijote and it wasn't my cup of tea. The store was tiny (by American standards) and the souvenirs seemed generic and cheap. Lastly, it's highly recommended that you try out an eatery on the street. I'll just say, I hope you have better luck than I did.
3. Mario Kart Experience
The Mario Kart experience hands down landed in my top 5 experiences. I opted to book with Tokyo Bay Street Kart. There are cheaper options available through other companies via Voyagin. I felt the other companies didn't have routes that included popular landmarks, which in my opinion is why they're cheaper.
I was able to book the experience a few days in advance via Facebook Messenger. Tokyo Bay Street Kart does offer a discount if your promise to leave a review. There are several route options available. I chose the K-L course, which was the perfect amount of time. I ended up wearing a DIY Princess Peach costume. They do provide costumes, but due licensing restrictions, there aren't any "Mario" costumes available. I simply signed a waiver saying I brought my own costume and that it was not provided by the company. I recommend bringing your own action camera to capture moments. It is illegal to have your phone out while operating the go-cart.
The last detail to note, which is the most important is your international driving permit. Read my blog post on International Driving Permit: How it Works for more information.
4. Shrines / Temples (Free)
In my opinion, visiting shrines and temples were a great way to learn about the history and culture of Japan, as well as the different religious practices and rituals. In addition, there are a variety of activities happening throughout the year on the grounds of the shrines and temples. There are thousands throughout Japan.
I didn't have to pay to get into any that I visited. However, there are other ways to you can offer monetary support by participating in the rituals, making a donation, buying a trinket. etc.
5. Food / Drinks
Try everything! The food and drinks overall were reasonably priced. My absolute favorite place to eat ramen was at Tokyo Tonkotsu Ra-men Bakara located in Shinjuku. My last night in Tokyo, I splurged dining out at a Wagyu Beef Restaurant. It was incredible! Don't sleep on the offerings at 7-11 either. It's not America's 7-11. I drink sake everyday both hot and cold depending on the vibe. I loved the vending machines at the restaurants and located throughout the streets of Tokyo.
Beware of "all inclusive" eateries. Some of these locations have been known to take advantage of tourists by adding "hidden fees" to the bill. Always ask questions, especially if it's regarding money.
6. Rainbow Bridge (Free)
The rainbow bridge was such a vibe. I did not visit the bridge by foot though. I chose the Mario Kart experience that included this attraction as part of the route. I was so dope to experience the bridge in that way. I'm not sure if I would have felt the same visiting on foot.
7. Tokyo Tower
Same as above. I visited the Tokyo Tower during the Mario Kart experience. I do wish we would have had time to visit this attraction that resembles the Eiffel Tower by foot, but there's always next time.
8. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Free)
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has an observation deck on the 45th floor with panoramic views of the city. It's free to enter. Plus, it's a great place to snap some photos. There was a pianist playing during my visit.
Kabukicho is the entertainment and Red Light District in Shinjuku. Beware of women trying to solicit adult activities. This area and the surrounding area comes to life on the weekend with locals pouring in after completing the work week.
10. Golden Gai
I visited Golden Gai during the day. However, I didn't try to get in at night. I read some of the bars in the area charge cover. In addition to only allowing regulars to enter. Since my visit was short, I opted to go somewhere that I knew I could get into without paying a cover.
11. Memory Lane
Memory Lane aka Piss Alley located in Shinjuku boasts a lot of small bars with great food and drinks. Go at night, take lots of pictures, and don't be afraid to interact with the locals. The area is steeped in history.
The nightlife in Tokyo is insane. Most bars open in the late afternoon and stay open until dawn. I stayed in Shinjuku, but Shibuya, Ginza, and Roppongi are also noted as some of the best nightlife districts. I ended up only partying in only Shinjuku due to transportation restrictions. The trains stop running around midnight. I didn't want to get stuck in another ward. Since taxis can be expensive, most folks just party until the trains start running again around 5am. I definitely want to experience a night out like this, but I was on limited time. I couldn't play those reindeer games.
13. Tokyo Free Guide (Free・ish)
This was so clutch! Tokyo Free Guide provides full day or half day guided tours in Tokyo. I kind of did a full day, I just chose to start around 10am instead of starting earlier. There is not a guiding fee for this volunteer service. You will only pay for the cost associated with the activities for the day. For my boyfriend, the guide, and myself, we spent approximately $60 for train fare, lunch, etc.
The guide was phenomenal! You can book within two months of your trip. I did cut it close, but was still able to secure a guide. Part of your booking includes selecting attractions and areas you would like to visit. I chose places I thought would be harder for us to navigate to on my own. The guide will meet you in your hotel lobby and bring you back at the end of the day.
There is a 7-Eleven on almost every corner in Tokyo. You have to try the food offerings. If I have to compare it to something, it's almost like shopping the cook food sections at Wholefoods. The food offerings are nothing like what's offered in America. They are opened 24 hours. If you need cash, they have ATMs.
This reminds me, a lot of the restaurants did not accept American credit or debit cards. Be sure to carry cash or ask ahead.
ACTIVITIES / PLACES FOR NEXT TIME
The above list barely scratches the surface of things to do in Tokyo, but it's a great starting point. There are somethings I wish I could have done while visiting. Due to time restraints and availability, here are the activities/places on my list for next time.
1. Department Stores
2. Tokyo Sky Tree
3. Sumo Experience
4. Ueno Park
5. Dinner Cruise (Check out at Viator)
6. Kimono Rental
7. Eating at a Michelin Star restaurant
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
In order to navigate the language barrier, I downloaded Google Lens. This app translated menus, signs, etc. In addition I took screenshots of the storefronts and restaurants to use as a reference. I did this because a written name may be listed on Yelp or Google. However, that written name may not be listed on or at the actual location of the business. The name may only be represented in the Japanese characters. Google translate also helped me with learning words to get around and place orders. If you're like me and like your food prepared a certain way, this is the way to go. I also did a lot of pointing. Now, this can be considered rude, but I think they understood my heart was in the right place.
You're so ready now! We've covered transportation, itinerary assistance, and the top activities/places to visit during your trip. If you notice, I tried my best to indicate which activities were free. I hope you feel empowered.
Feel free to drop any questions below. After you've read parts 1, 2, and 3 of course!