Ever wanted to know how a city of 13 million deals with its sewage (#17)? Have you wondered what it would be like to pilot a space shuttle (#8)? How about visiting the resting place of the 47 ronin samurai (#60)? Or getting a taste of the 22nd century by getting lost in the labyrinth of interconnected underground department stores in Shinjuku (#67) and then checking out the world’s most advanced toilets at the Toto showroom? (#48).
Well, you can do all of this and a lot, lot more for little to no cash in Tokyo.
To the best of our knowledge, all these places are currently open. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, a number of indoor locations are reservation only. Check the official sites for the latest info.
Taking free and cheap to a whole new level, Tokyo Cheapo presents 101 Cheap and Free Things to Do in Tokyo.
Admire modern art, sculpture and installations at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum—housed within a rare pre-World War II art-deco mansion near Meguro. Admission is ¥300 for adults.
Check out Louis Vuitton Espace, a free penthouse gallery on Omotesando Avenue. Even if the current exhibition isn’t to your taste, the space itself is worth seeing, plus there’s a great view.
Visit Meguro Parasitological Museum—proudly advertised as the world’s only parasite museum. Free admission, closed on Mondays. A 15-minute walk from Meguro Station.
For another only-in-Tokyo experience, prepare to be shaken at the Ikebukuro Bosaikan—a disaster prevention museum with a room-sized earthquake simulator. Admission is free.
Marvel at both the amazing ukiyo-e that inspired Europe’s impressionists and the spectacular modern architecture of the Sumida Hokusai Museum, housing works by Japan’s 19th century ukiyo-e master Hokusai. Adults get in for ¥400.
Check out vintage cameras and some amazing photography at Fujifilm Square at Tokyo Midtown. Admission is free, but ironically photography is not permitted!
See pop-art exhibitions for free at the Diesel Art Gallery. Browsing the eye-watering prices of the clothes and accessories at Diesel is also free!
Revisit your living-in-space fantasies (just me?) at Chofu Aerospace Center of JAXA—the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency. Includes a space shuttle simulator and lots of spacecraft and aeroplanes. Admission is free. Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. It’s a 13-minute bus trip + walk from Mitaka Station on the Chuo Line.
Discover how gas was introduced to Japan during the Meiji period at the Tokyo Gas Museum. Admission is free, and the museum is closed on Mondays. You’ll need to catch a bus from Hanakoganei, Higashikurume or Musashi Koganei Station.
Admire 17th- to 19th-century design at Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. Bonus: While the buildings may be old, most have been made fully accessiible. Admission is ¥400. It’s a 5-minute bus ride from Musashi-Koganei Station on the JR Chuo Line.
Advertising Museum – Free admission. Located in Shiodome, not so coincidentally the home of Japan’s biggest ad agency Dentsu. Closest stations are Shiodome and Shimbashi.
Meet up-and-coming young artists at the Design Festa Gallery Space–artists and collectives rent out the rooms to run their own exhibitions
Located in the same neighborhood as the Design Festa Gallery, is the UltraSuperNew Gallery. They don’t always have exhibitions on, but they are usually free and usually very interesting.
See firefighting equipment from the Edo period right through to the present at the Tokyo Fire Museum. Closest station is Yotsuya Sanchome on the Marunouchi Line. Admission is free.
Enjoy exhibits like “Let’s Enjoy Advanced Technology ‘Sewerage'” at the Rainbow Sewerage Museum in Odaiba. The closest station is Odaiba Kaihinkoen on the Yurikamome Line. Admission is free and it’s closed on Mondays.
See the best of Japanese design at 21_21 Design Site next to Midtown, located between Akasaka and Roppongi. There is often a free exhibition on at the smaller of the two galleries.
Discover the latest technology (robots with skin!) at the Miraikan in Odaiba. Admission is ¥630, and the closest station is Fune-no-kagakukan
Ponder why these two unrelated things are the focus of the Salt and Tobacco Museum in Oshiage. Admission is ¥100, and like most museums it’s closed on Mondays. It’s a 10-minute walk from Oshiage Station (under the Tokyo Skytree). It’s more interesting than it sounds!
Kyu Asakura House – A beautifully preserved old house a short distance from Shibuya. Only ¥100 to get in, or ¥500 for a year-long pass!
Take a wander through The National Art Center, Tokyo. There will likely be one or two free exhibitions. The non-free stuff is good too, but it can be pricey.
Gardens and parks
Take a walk in Hibiya Park. Look out for the turtles and herons in the ponds near the police box.
Enjoy the myriad of scenes revealed to you as you stroll around the ornamental pond and teahouse at Hinokicho Park in Akasaka.
Explore Yoyogi Park on the weekend and check out the event square in the summer and everywhere else for musicians, dancers and performers. Events include cultural festivals, live music, farmers markets and flea markets.
Better still, have a covert picnic at Yoyogi’s “secret” park. You’re not meant to bring food and drinks (just be discreet if you do).
Have a picnic at Shinjuku Gyoen. It’s not free, but it’s pretty close, plus there are plenty of gardens and old teahouses to explore. Entry is ¥500, and the park is closed on Mondays. Closest station is Shinjuku Gyoenmae.
If you’re in eastern Tokyo, check out Kasai Rinkai Park. I once saw cats humping in the middle of the path here—sadly it was before the advent of Facebook, so I could only show my friends the photo I’d taken from my phone.
Pretend you’re a guest at the Hotel New Otani and explore the beautiful garden, which predates the hotel by about 200 years (there are no checks and there are always hundreds of people wandering around).
Do the same at the garden at Chinzanso. It’s the same deal as with the New Otani—there are always events here so no one bats an eyelid or particularly cares if you’re a guest or not. The garden is gorgeous.
Take your SO for a walk in the park at Koishikawa Korakuen. Entry is ¥300. It’s a relaxed 10-minute walk from Iidabashi Station.
Not to be confused with the place above is Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. Admission is ¥500, and the gardens are closed each Monday. Closest station is Hakusan on the Mita Line.
One of the largest parks in Tokyo, Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa makes for a fun day out for the whole family with a water park, natural attractions, picnic areas, BBQ area, fake Mayan tower and strange massive dome-shaped bouncy castle thing. Entrance: ¥450 (adults), ¥210 (senior), free for kids.
Feign interest in organizing a wedding to get into Happoen to have a wander around their stunning garden. The garden isn’t strictly public, so you should ask nicely, and you don’t necesssarily have to lie about getting married!
A 15-minute walk from Nishikasai Station is Gyosen Park and Zoo. The zoo isn’t as big as some others, but it’s free and features a “Pony Land”. The zoo is closed on Mondays.
Take the world’s shortest and smallest monorail from Oji Station to Asukayama Park—one of Japan’s first public parks and the site of a number of museums.
See a tycoon’s Western-style residence built during the Meiji period as well as an English and Japanese gardens at Kyu Furukawa Teien. It’s a short walk from Kami-Nakazato Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line. Admission is ¥150.
Wander around Higo Hosokawa Garden—the former gardens of a feudal lord during the Edo period. Admission is free. You can walk there from either Waseda or Edogawabashi Station.
Enjoying the flowers and tranquility of Mukōjima-Hyakkaen Garden is one of the most peaceful things you can do in Tokyo. This garden was built by a rich merchant during the Edo period in northeast Tokyo. Admission is ¥150, and the garden can be reached on foot in 8 minutes from Higashi-Mukojima Station on the Tobu Isezaki Line.
Located 300 m to the north of Ryogoku Station on the Sobu Main Line, Kyu Yasuda Teien is another garden dating from the Edo period.
Showrooms and window shopping
Browse the underground levels of Sony Park (formerly site of the Sony Building) next to Sukiyabashi Crossing. Closest station is Ginza on the Marunouchi and Hibiya Lines.
Make electric car brmmm brmmm (whirring?) noises while seated in the latest electric car in the Nissan Showroom at Ginza 4-chome crossing.
After getting bored of Omotesando, wander down the unique and impossibly crowded Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. If you’re up for a sugar rush, try one of the hundred or so crêpe flavors at the numerous shops along the way.
Feel like you’re violating some sacred inner sanctum of gyaru culture by exploring the 109 department store in Shibuya. Bonus points if you get some of the shop staff to pose in a photo with you.
Public art and architecture
Head to Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. It’s a trendy fashion center with a kaleidoscope entranceway made of mirrors for a full trip effect. After your photo op in front of the building, make your way to the 6th floor terrace for a great view of the surrounding area (we recommend dusk for the most spectacular view).
Check out some of renowned artist Taro Okamoto‘s various public art works. The most famous are the totems at Sukiyabashi Crossing in Ginza and outside the Children’s Castle (next to the UN University) in Aoyama, as well as the mural in Shibuya Station. His house in Aoyama is a museum—the best stuff can be seen from the street for free.
Hunt out the remaining modernist architectural gems that Tokyo has to offer. There is still a structure by Le Corbusier (in Ueno Park) and two buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright—go find them!
Wander around Ginza/Yurakucho to see structures by some of the most celebrated current crop of architects. Look for the translucent Hermès Building by Renzo Piano, the Mikimoto building by Toyo Ito and the Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Viñoly.
Traverse Omotesando starting with the Nezu Museum—a beautiful reinterpretation of a Japanese warehouse by Kengo Kuma, continue on to the stunning Prada Building by Herzog & de Meuron, then look for the TOD’S Building opposite the Apple Store—another Toyo Ito masterpiece. Other buildings along this street include structures by Tadao Ando, MVRDV and SANAA. For a tour in reverse, check our post Omotesando: World’s Best Outdoor Modern Architecture Museum.
Shinjuku is Tokyo’s original skyscraper zone and is famed as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Some of the newer buildings in this area are the best. The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower was voted “Skyscraper of the Year” in 2008 by Emporis. It was built by Tange Associates—although completed several years after Kenzo Tange himself died. The best view of the building is from the roof of the Keio department store. Some other Tange buildings in Tokyo are the Fuji TV building in Odaiba and the incredible Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Since you’re in the area, wander into the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (open to the public) and make your way to the top of the ruins of the Edo Castle dojon (castle platform). Even though the castle burned down not long after it was built 400 years ago, the height of the base is still quite impressive and gives a nice view of the area and the surrounding city.
Pop over to the politically controversial Yasukuni Shrine (due to some of the not-so-honorable people who have the honor of being enshrined there). Apart from being a serene and pleasant spot for an autumnal stroll, there’s often some political excitement—the “right” colorfully represented by nationalists driving around blaring out propaganda/nonsense. Enter the first floor of the Yushukan Museum for free where you can see a Zero fighter and various other armaments.
Try the Shinjuku underground challenge: Owing to the massive scale of shopping facilities and subterrestrial linkage, it’s possible to walk from one mall to another, and up into other department stores for maybe as much as 2.5 kilometers! Go to Shinjuku, start in any mall, department store or station and allow yourself to get utterly lost underground/indoors. See how much distance you can cover and how many different stations you can enter without ever going outdoors. (Not recommended for claustrophobes or enochlophobes.)
If you do wish to emerge, explore the seedy backstreets of Kabukicho after dark looking out for the not-so-elusive, impossibly svelte hosts. You can usually find the more junior ones with permanent scowls painted on their faces loitering around the entrances of their establishments. Check out the sign boards outside featuring their names, blood types and “talents”.
Once you’ve completed the Shinjuku underground challenge (above), grab the Chuo Line over to Tokyo Station, and repeat for Tokyo. Last time I tried, I managed to walk underground from somewhere near Otemachi, down through Tokyo Station, to Tokyo International Forum, then up into Bic Camera next to Yurakucho Station.
Get a photo with the Godzilla statue in Hibiya. The curent statue isn’t “life size”, but it’s much bigger than the previous one! For more of the ornery lizard, check our guide for places to see Godzilla.
Explore “Love Hotel Hill” in Maruyamacho between Shibuya Station and Yoyogi Park.
Drop ¥500 on pachinko, or at least wander through a pachinko parlor and see how long you can stay in there without running out screaming.
Head over to Akihabara and have a strawberry milkshake at a maid cafe. The maids are interesting enough, but observing your fellow patrons is almost as much fun. Fair warning, they’ll probably want to charge for taking photos (the maids that is, not the patrons).
Try out tachiyomi—reading all the books you want at virtually any bookstore. If you weren’t meant to read it, it would be wrapped in plastic.
Views of Tokyo
For one of the best views of Tokyo Bay, the skyscrapers that surround it and Tokyo’s iconic Rainbow Bridge, jump on the Yurikamome automated light rail system. The line begins in Shimbashi, goes across the Rainbow Bridge itself and does a big loop around Odaiba—the land of huge bubble-era construction follies—before pulling into Toyosu Station.
Take a lift to the top of the Carrot Tower in Sangenjaya. It’s actually just an orange-colored building rather than a carrot-shaped tower. It’s only 26 stories high, but there is nothing around it so you should get a great view of the city.
Get one of those photos where you juxtapose Zojoji in the foreground with the nearby Tokyo Tower. Closest station is Shibakoen on the Mita Line.
Wander from Harajuku Station through the long, forested approach and enormous torii to Meiji Jingu. Be sure to take close-up, personal, privacy-invading photos of people having their wedding ceremonies there. Don’t worry, if they didn’t want people to take photos, they would have chosen somewhere else!
Visit Ikegami Honmonji—the resting place of Nichiren—one of Japan’s great Buddhist teachers. The temple is a short walk from Ikegami and Nishi-Magome Stations.
Take the escalator to enlightenment at Hie Shrine in Akasaka. Make sure you take the rear exit down the tunnel of vermillion torii gates. Closest stations are Akasaka and Tameike Sanno.
Experience the unusually solemn, cathedral-like Honganji in Tsukiji. Unlike just about every other temple in Japan, Honganji is made of concrete and stone and incorporates elements of Buddhist architecture from South Asia. Closest station is Tsukiji.
Enjoy the gardens (best in Spring and early Summer) at Nezu Shrine. The shrine is a 10-minute walk from Nezu Station on the Chiyoda Line.
Games, entertainment and things to do
Spend Saturday afternoon wandering among the impossibly fashionable youth of Shibuya and Harajuku. Omotesando on the weekend is like an avant-garde fashion parade. Then head over to Akihabara to experience the polar opposite: otaku-esque men (mainly) shopping for graphics cards and plastic figurines.
Rent a bike and cruise around the city. You’re better off avoiding some of the more crowded areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, and Ikebukuro, but Asakusa, Ueno, Oji, Suidobashi, Setagaya (especially some of the new cycle ways around Shimokitazawa), and around the Imperial Palace are nice places to ride.
Daytime karaoke is one of the most fun and memorable things to do in Tokyo. Day time is also when you get the best rates.
Spend a few 100 yen coins at a vintage games arcade, like Mikado next to Takadanobaba Station.
Morning jog round the Imperial Palace. The forest surrounded by a moat slap bang in the center of Tokyo is a popular route for morning joggers. Get off at subway station Sakurada-mon, between 7 am and 9 am, and just follow all the other joggers.
Climb to the summit of Hakoneyama in Toyama Park—Tokyo’s tallest central city “mountain”. It’s more of a novelty though, since the 44.6-meter-high peak doesn’t even afford views over the surrounding trees! To go on a quest to climb all of Tokyo’s central city “mountains”, take a look at the places on our tongue-in-cheek list.
Trips and travel
Get on the circular Yamanote Line and go all the way round (get off one stop away from where you got on, thereby paying the minimum fare).
Take one of Tokyo’s last remaining tram/street car lines—the Toden Arakawa Line (also called the Tokyo Sakura Tram)—from the start at Minowabashi through to the terminus at Waseda. Only ¥170 for the entire 50-minute trip.
Hiking in Kamakura is perhaps the best thing to do around Tokyo for those who like nature.
Explore Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures. Visit Saitama for the its famous Edo-era town Kawagoe, nature-filled landscapes, and its giant Kannon statues in the mountains. Visit Kanagawa for its beach, castle or hot sping towns, with highlights like the Cup Noodle Museum, Kyoto-esque bamboo forest, and infamous phallic festival.
Mount Takao is usually deemed the easiest mountain hiking spot in Tokyo. When climbing Mount Takao, make sure you take the Keio Line from Shinjuku—at ¥390—it’s about half the price of taking the JR Line! Mount Takao is #2 on our Terrific Tokyo Hikes list.
Takao can get a little crowded and sometimes feel a bit touristy. Try one of these 10 Tokyo hikes, with options for beginners, enthusiasts and experts. For a serious mountain hike, try the Koburi Pass. To make a full-day outing, try 1,304 m Bukosan—but leave early because it’s 2 hours on the train from Ikebukuro, then a six-hour hike.
This article was originally published in December 2012 and is updated periodically. Last update: July 2021. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the rest of our website. We’re dedicated to making your time in Tokyo the best it can possibly be.