Learn Tokyo’s history: Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum for exhibits on culture, architecture and politics, covering the early Edo period through to recent decades. Also stop by the Imperial Palace, home of the world’s oldest continuous monarchy. Take one of the daily guided tours through the grounds, see rare artwork at the Museum of Imperial Collections, or laze around the Imperial Palace Gardens.
Taste Tokyo: Feast on tempura, tonkatsu, yakitori, ramen, sushi and so much more. The neon-lit alley of Ebisu Yokocho is lined with simple restaurants that serve Japanese cuisine at reasonable prices. Jet-lagged and can’t sleep? Another great food experience is the Tsukiji fish market which starts around 4 a.m. It’s the world’s largest seafood market.
Take a trip to the past: In the district of Asakusa, you can marvel at sights, sounds and smells of Tokyo’s past. One of Asakusa’s main attractions is the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century. You can also head to the Shibuya neighbourhood and visit Meiji Jingu, one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Japan, with a well-kept flower garden and forest.
Relax in a green space: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, one of Tokyo’s most popular parks, offers a quick escape from the bustling city with its meditative natural beauty. The park’s unique feature is its three themed gardens – Japanese, English and French – which are especially striking during cherry blossom season. For a livelier atmosphere, Yoyogi Park is a great place to people watch.
Hit the town: If you thrive in places that never sleep, Shibuya is the buzziest neighbourhood in Tokyo. Bars, boutiques, restaurants, clubs, vintage stores, nail salons, cinemas – you can find all these and more. To get up close and personal with locals, plan a night in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, a maze of narrow streets and alleys with over 200 tiny bars.
See some sumo: Tokyo’s national sumo wrestling hall, Ryōgoku Kokugikan, comes alive in January, May and September for the Grand Tournaments. Tickets are readily available; if you’re willing to pay a premium, you can get a ringside seat. It’s worth coming even in the off season, as you can visit the small sumo museum or eat at one of the nearby chanko-nabe hotpot restaurants.
Get animated: Don’t miss Ghibli Museum, showcasing the animation of famed Studio Ghibli. Created by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the studio’s co-founders and the director of films like Spirited Away, the museum is a window into a wonderfully imaginative world. You’ll be blown away, whether or not you’re a fan of their work.
Make feline friends: Hang out with lots of purring, furry cats at one of Toyko’s famous cat cafés. These cosy spots often serve drinks, but the main draw is watching and playing with the cats. The trend has expanded to other animals as well; you can now find cafés with dogs, rabbits, birds and even snakes.
Enjoy the view: For amazing views of the city, most people head to the pricey Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower. As a free alternative, try the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. It’s a few hundred metres shorter, but still has spectacular views of Tokyo’s skyline.
Two and a half hours south of Tokyo lies Nikkō, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 103 ancient religious buildings. The lavishly decorated Tōshō-gū temple is the most famous. Make sure you visit the often overlooked Museum of Art, and then take a long walk on one of the forested trails. To avoid the tourist crowds, visit early on a weekday morning.
Only two hours away by train in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Hakone is a tranquil alternative to Tokyo’s frenzy. Stay at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese guest house, where elaborate dinners are the norm. Sail across Lake Ashi or soak in a natural hot spring while gazing at Mt. Fuji’s snow-capped peak.
At the tiny whiskey bar and record library JBS (Jazz, Blues, Soul), more than 10,000 records fill the walls, floor and ceiling. A testament to Tokyo’s diversity, this vinyl sanctuary is a hidden gem in Shibuya.