Ueno is known for it’s variety of family-friendly activities and tourist spots galore. The whole experience can be a bit overwhelming, especially on a short vacation. As for the must-see and must-do, these are the top ten cheap things to do in Ueno.
1. Ueno museum(s)
These spots are a must and very popular, so they may as well be grouped together. Ueno Park features several different museums with plenty to see, such as the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum, all of which are fantastic and won’t break the bank. Each spot offers different art and design.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum features famous painters such as Van Gogh and Gauguin, as well as more modern and contemporary artists. The National Museum for Western Art focuses on more traditional artworks, while the Tokyo National Museum harbors artifacts and culturally significant pieces from all over the world. The National Science Museum is a great destination for kids, as there are plenty of interactive activities to do here.
A whole day can be spent going to each one of the spots, so it is best to look at what artists are on display at any given time. There are also group and student discounts to be had at most locations. Not to mention free admission days—be sure to check the respective websites for those cheapo dates.
Cheapo tip: Consider getting the Grutt Pass for ¥0. It’s a discount booklet that gets you into 79 museums or attractions for free or at a drastically discounted price.
2. Ueno Zoo
Founded in 1882, Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan. With over 3,000 animals to be seen, it is easy to spend hours upon hours here. The zoo received its first giant panda in 1972, and they’ve been a hit ever since—find the panda exhibit not too far from the entrance gate. They also have a petting zoo which holds very rare okapis and aye-ayes that makes for an unforgettable experience. Best of all, admission is only ¥600 for adults.
3. Ueno Toshogu
What is a day in Ueno without a visit to a shrine? Ueno Toshogu was built in 1627 and dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu formed the foundation of rule that would later become the Edo period. The shrine itself is very beautiful and especially shiny, as it is covered in gold. Despite it’s age, the shrine has been taken care of and doesn’t look a day over 100.
Entrance to the outer shrine is free, but for a more memorable experience, you may want to check out the inner shine and peony flower garden. The fee for just the garden is ¥700, while both the garden and shrine visits costs ¥1,100. The pink flowers are very beautiful when in bloom from New Year’s Day through mid-February and mid-April through mid-May. Plus, a stroll along the inner wall of the shrine allows you to see all of the intricate work done on its exterior, so seeing both is recommended.
4. Shinobazu Pond
Located within Ueno Park, the Shinobazu Pond is a lovely date spot. Paddle boats are available to rent during the spring and summer. From July to August the beautiful eponymous lotus flower can be seen in full bloom. Otherwise, it is still nice to look at from the benches and sitting areas surrounding the pond. The pond is conveniently located right behind Ueno Toshogu, and it is so big you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
5. Ueno Koreatown
Although Shin-Okubo is well known as the official Koreatown of Tokyo, Ueno has history in the streets. Only a three-minute walk east from Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Koreatown, which has been around for several decades. There are plenty of delicious restaurants and authentic Korean food to try. It is a refreshing change of scenery for Ueno, which is most known for its rich Japanese history.
Ameya-Yokocho is a street so sweet it has candy in its name. If you’re looking to spend some cash, this is the place to go. The market street is named as such for a history of candy shops, but now there is much more to be seen. Fresh fish, clothing, beauty products and plenty of good deals can be found at each stall. The street is always filled with life and plenty of giddy tourists looking to get a bargain. For a true Ueno experience, Ameya-Yokocho is worth checking out for a nice deal.
7. Kamonka Ueno Bamboo Garden
This swanky restaurant is located only a hop and a step from Ueno Park, and well worth it. The menu features traditional Chinese dishes among more modern twists. The interior decor is very interesting and well executed, putting it on the list of must-go joints. It’s foreigner friendly and the food is reasonably priced with nicely sized portions. Be sure to take a photo or two of the decor (and your meal) for Instagram.
8. Marui Department Store
The Marui department store is located conveniently across the street from Ueno Station JR. With air-conditioned, well-lit floors, this is the perfect place to go to escape the heat in summer or the cold in winter. There are plenty of gems to be unearthed in this 9-story building. The first floor has cosmetics and features a Lush and Skin Food, two popular brands in Tokyo. There are also two different home goods stores, Nitori on the top floor and Muji on the bottom. For all furnishing and decorative needs, these powerhouses got your back.
With several different restaurants and a specialty-goods grocery store, this place is shoppers paradise. On the basement floor there is a Baskin Robins where shoppers can be found taking a break with a scoop.
9. Neko Maru Cafe
This cafe is labeled as one of the best in Tokyo according to hundreds of cat lovers. While some cat cafes may seem too small for cats and visitors to stretch out and enjoy each others company, this location is plenty spacious. The staff is very friendly and it is obvious that the cats are taken good care of.
Neko Maru offers a very relaxing environment, which rubs off on both cats and their customers. An hour-long visit is ¥1,000, which is plenty of time to have a cup of tea and snap some cute pictures. They also have a frequent customer card, so for regulars, be sure to sign up. A cafe is a great spot to relax or figure out what to check out next, so why not do that with cats?
For the game geeks among you, Yamashiroya supplies all that your heart desires. With six floors of models, games and toys, every type of fantasy can be reality. The store is almost always packed, and rightfully so. If you are trying to geek out but don’t want to shop around too much, this place has everything you need. And for some Japan-exclusive products to show the gang back home, Yamashiroya has it all.
With this list and a smartphone in hand, these destinations are easy to find and a blast to be had. Regardless of personal interests, each of these locations have something worth experiencing during a trip to Ueno. The area has so much to offer, and more if you are willing to do some exploring. Just like any part of Tokyo, a little curiosity can only be rewarded.