Nature and Outdoors
It may be a metropolis famed for skyscrapers and high-rises, but Tokyo has an amazing variety of outdoor escapes and countless parks to choose from. If you want a ramble then
these hikes are a great place to start, with lots of hiking groups around if you don’t fancy going it alone. You can even turn it into a weekend if you want to get back to nature (for a night or two) with these great camping spots. Looking for more of a challenge? Conquering Fuji is a great experience and can be done on a budget that won’t reach any dizzying heights. If it’s more of a relaxed day at the beach you’re after, this is a great place to start. And finally, the parks and gardens—there are dozens, and with relaxed laws on drinking and barbecues, you can enjoy them to their fullest (just remember to take your garbage home). You can find the best spots for picnics, barbecues, and even enjoy performances at Yoyogi Park—perfect for any sunny afternoon in the busy city. Photo by Chris Kirkland
Temples and Shrines
In amongst the tower blocks and skyscrapers, Tokyo has its fair share of stunning shrines and temples and they can be a great way to see the contrasting cultures Japan embodies. With possibly the biggest contrast, the beautiful
Meiji Jingu is minutes away from the crazy streets of Harajuku and is a welcome escape through tree-lined paths to a place that feels a million miles away. Sensoji is the oldest as well as one of the most visually impressive temples—located in Asakusa—and is host to numerous food stalls in summer as well as being lit up dramatically at night. For the quieter more relaxed experience, Nezu Jinja is a lovely Kyoto-esque shrine with beautiful gardens and a great place to escape the hustle and bustle. Wherever it is you’re staying in Tokyo, you won’t be far from a temple or shrine, so just look for the hotly-debated, slightly contentious marks on your map and go exploring. Photo by
If you don’t have the chance to visit cultural capital Kyoto, fear not—Tokyo has its fair share of amazing Japanese traditions on offer, so you won’t be missing out. After visiting the shrines and temples to your heart’s content, why not try an
onsen—the perfect way to relax after a day of walking. The potentially terrifying prospect of naked bathing is explained here—and you’ll forget your fears the instant you set foot in the calming, steamy rooms and feel your aches and pains melt away. If you’ve always marveled at the beauty of the tea ceremony, or don’t know the first things about it, you can learn here. A centuries-old tradition, you’ll be mesmerized by the process and get to experience a beautiful part of Japanese culture. As well as the more peaceful examples of traditional Japan, there are some more riotous options—namely the festivals, and there are hundreds. With food stalls lining the streets selling everything from okonomiyaki to chocolate bananas, performances, processions, lanterns and mochi-throwing—there is no better way to get stuck into Japanese tradition. Held in the summer and often including fireworks displays they celebrate every aspect of Japanese life, from fertility to flowers to fabric dyeing, so take your pick and have fun! Photo by
No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a night out, and ideally more than one. Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi all have very different things to offer and and usually an adventure or two. For Golden Gai and tiny bars as well as the red light district (if that’s what you’re into), Shinjuku is the place to head to. Shibuya is host to clubs such as Trump Room, Womb and ClubAsia as well as a great drinking spot by the crossing. Roppongi—the slightly sleazy foreigner hot spot—has endless clubs, bars and all-things dodgy, just beware of being hustled into bars with extortionate prices… (if it gets too much, 5 minutes down the road Azabu Juban has rum and library bars though!)
With every night catered for, here are some options: you can choose from the many
clubs ranging from 5-floor super-clubs to underground one-off house nights and you can usually do so on a budget. Girls nights, early entry and guest cards handed out near local stations are a great way to save, and a couple of drinks vouchers can balance out seemingly expensive entry fees. This 7-day Tokyo clubbing pass is probably the best way to keep costs down, though. If you want a bar crawl then Roppongi is the place for you with specially organized events run every weekend so you can drink shots till you drop—with games and draws offering even more drinks that the vodka-wielding hosts can throw at you. If that doesn’t sound quite like the night you had planned, an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) might be the one for you.With plenty of food it’s the perfect environment for catching up with friends and all-you-can-drink/eat options are great if trying to stick to a budget. However, if it’s summer, there is nothing better than grabbing a few drinks from the conbini and sitting by a river… you will make friends, go on adventures and get to see Tokyo in a whole new light. Never has a night out gone by without the suggestion of karaoke, be it from a friend, colleague or random stranger, and they are usually right. There are countless establishments, some reputable, some less so—but as with your singing, enthusiasm is what counts.
Tokyo has a museum for basically everything every—ranging from the free Parasite Museum to a Gas Science Museum, as well as the more traditional historical and cultural museums, you could visit a different one every day for a year. Entry isn’t always free but is reasonable, and there is always
International Museum Day when many are free—although beware long crowds as this is popular. You can see the Samurai, play with some traditional toys at the Toy Museum and marvel at the fantastic costumes on display at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum. We even have a mega-guide to help you out. Now, if the idea of a museum bores you stiff, wait! Tokyo has its fair share of strange ones. Why not visit the Ramen Museum in Yokohama, the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka—or if you’re in the Uwajima area of Ehime prefecture, the monk-run porn-museum? If they don’t pique your interest I don’t know what will… Photo by
Art is abundant in Tokyo—from contemporary galleries, interactive exhibitions to challenging street art, it’s an art adventure from start to finish. There are four exceptional primary art galleries, and no shortage of exhibitions and permanent collections to visit, often for free. The National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT) is the place to go for all things creative as it not only holds great exhibitions with a strong permanent collection, but it is also home to the National Film Center and Craft Gallery. With MOMAT free on the 1st Sunday of every month and the National Museum of Western Art free on the 2nd and 4th, you’ll be spoiled for cheap choices. The
National Art Center is another great option with stunning exhibitions from all over the world.
If traditional exhibitions aren’t for you, the immersive
Studio Ghibli Museum is a wonderful adventure into the process of illustration and animation and includes a screening of short films shown nowhere else in the world. If you prefer your art with a breeze and some sun, the options for street art ranging from sculptures to graffiti are endless. Take a walk along the river near Tokyo Tower to see the GTS project’s 12 contemporary pieces or hunt down the works of prestigious artists Taro Okamoto and George Rhoads which are scattered across the city. Miyazaki’s “Really LARGE Clock” is also wonder to behold, with giant spiders and at least two towering Godzillas also worth spotting. And don’t forget some of the most impressive works of art come in building form—a half-day walking tour in Omotesando is all you need to see some epic architecture.
Despite having a population that has fallen in the past year, Tokyo is an amazing place for families, with countless activities indoors and out, as well as generous ticket reductions for kids. Playgrounds are a serious business here, check out these
free ones and for a day out consider Niko Niko park which is fenced in and even has a summer beer-garden you can make the most your kids running wild. There’s a free Moomin-themed park in Saitama which is as magical as you would hope. For interactive museums and art galleries this guide will have you covered; from earthquake simulators to gas science museums, there’s something for even the most curious of minds. However if it’s thrills, nostalgia and bizarrely flavored popcorn they’ve got their tiny hearts set on, fear not, Tokyo Disneyland and the equally fun Tokyo DisneySea don’t have to break the bank—here’s our guide to saving where you can. Although, the more traditional Japanese theme parks can offer a great day out, without the queues and high prices, Hanayashiki in Asakusa is a great alternative. When you’re tired out, themed cafes are a great way to take a break and keep the kids entertained, with numerous characters served up in foam and sugar forms, from Alice in Wonderland in Shibuya to Pom Pom Purin in Harajuku, and of course the ridiculous Monster Cafe which does birthday parties and is very child-friendly. If they miss the pets or just really love rabbits, an animal cafe could be a great plan—with our guide to the cheapest here, (although keep in mind that some have age restrictions). Whatever it is you need—you’ll have plenty of choice in Tokyo! Photo by David Ishikawa
Shows / Performances
There is nothing better than sitting back to watch a show—be it a beautiful, traditional performance or more of a … well, robotic life-size shark fighting a caravan-sized spider to techno music. Whatever it is you’re after, Tokyo has it all. One of the most iconic Japanese events, a
sumo match can be seen at a reasonable price and is an amazing experience—with a little reading you will soon be throwing your seat cushions along with the die-hard fans. If you want to see robots (and I mean the normal ones) there is a free show here and the crazy ones are less free, but booked online can be a fair bit cheaper than on the door. Kabuki theater, dating back to the Edo period, is a brilliant way to see a popular but traditional slice of Japanese culture—as well as a rare opportunity to see Japanese people uncharacteristically heckling and acting like teenagers as they eat and drink and take selfies through the performance. Sports are a big deal, if you hadn’t noticed, and probably the closest to a show is Japanese baseball, which can be seen here. With music, food and drinking, it’s fair to say it’s more about the atmosphere than the game itself. A final option for those without funds is also an excellent one, with Yoyogi Park offering countless performers from chair-balancers to magicians to belly-dancers—you’ll be spoiled for choice! Photo by
From delicate cherry blossoms in spring, to fiery leaves in autumn—Japan’s distinct seasons are really something to behold. What’s best is that oftentimes reveling in mother nature’s beauty costs not a yen! Springtime visitors would be foolish not to drop by one
these spots for stunningly beautiful cherry blossom viewing. Or these ones to see the sakura illuminations at night—known as yozakura. Lighting up Tokyo’s summer nights are the famous firefly festivals and hanabi (fireworks—literally “fire flower”) festivals. Nature revelers should stroll through these falltime hot spots to enjoy koyo, or “autumn leaves viewing”. And not to be outdone, winter comes through with wonderous illuminations, ice skating and nearby skiing and snowboarding options. Photo by iStock.com/RYUYA HORIGUCHI
There are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in Tokyo that are either cheap or free – even in the most expensive of neighbourhoods – like a
modern architecture tour of Omotesando
. And be sure to check out our infamous
101 things to do in tokyo
There are always events, parties and festivals happening in Tokyo. In summer there are
everywhere and in spring there is
– cherry blossom viewing. Almost every weekend (especially during the warm months) there is plenty of free entertainment to be had at
. Whether you’re living in Tokyo or you’ve timed your visit well, you should check out a
at least once.
To make sure you don’t miss anything, keep an eye out every Thursday for the Cheapo Weekend which gives you the lowdown on free and cheap events for the weekend.