I am currently living and working in Japan. This article includes recommendations based on my summer trip to Tokyo.
From festivals to shopping to cafes, Tokyo has plenty to offer. My main focus in this article will be on animal cafes (cat and hedgehog), themed cafes, observatories such as Tokyo Tower and Sky Tower, Fuji tours, and the Imperial Palace Gardens. My main tip for accommodation is to find a hotel with a centralized location to increase convenience and minimize transportation costs.
Resources for Finding Fun Activities
Before your trip to the fun and exciting capital of Japan, I highly recommend getting some ideas of what you want to see in Tokyo while you're there. My favorite website to check for travel ideas is Tripadvisor. However, if you want to see festivals, I would suggest taking a look at Go Tokyo. One of my favorite things I saw in Tokyo was one of the drum festivals.
For your itinerary, I recommend trying to plan it on a day-to-day basis. You want to figure out what you're willing to spend in a day and where you want to go. If you can, it's best to visit places that are close together on the same day to minimize your transportation costs.
To get you started on your planning, I have included my top Tokyo activities below!
1. Themed cafes
I'll start with one of the first activities I did—themed cafes. My personal favorites were the Q-Pot cafe and the Alice Cafe. Until August 20th, the Q-Pot had a Sailor Moon theme that even included the food they served. This cafe frequently does different themes as special events, so you never really know what to expect.
The Alice Cafe, on the other hand, does not have a time limit on its theme—Alice in Wonderland is the theme 100 percent of the time. It is decorated with Queens guards and has themed dishes. Some of the dishes are served in teapots and others on Alice in Wonderland plates. While you are there, you have the option to wear white rabbit ears to get into the spirit of the classic story. At the entrance, you can also take a picture next to a large replica of a page from the Alice in Wonderland book.
I also went to a maid cafe in Akihabara called Animaru. However, I wouldn't recommend this cafe to those who don't speak or read much Japanese as they did not speak much English and there isn't an English version of the menu. I would instead suggest going to a cafe like Maidreamin.
- If you walk down Akihabara, usually the storefront of a cafe will mention if they have an English menu.
- Keep in mind that for most cafe experiences you should budget at least 3000 yen, maybe more.
- Please make sure that you ask before taking pictures in these cafes—they usually have strict restrictions on taking photos.
2. Mt. Fuji Tour
The second activity on my list is the Mt. Fuji tour. While I didn't get the iconic Fuji picture I was hoping for, it was still an excellent tour. The tour I decided on was a fruit-picking tour that also included a wine tasting. If you have any fruit allergies, please keep in mind that peaches are in season until roughly mid-August and then it's grape season.
The tour picks up at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku and lasts about 12 hours, so it's an all-day event. While on the bus, you get the option to buy souvenirs and food at a discounted price. The tour starts at the Mount Fuji 5th station and includes a bell from the station as a souvenir.
After your stop at Fuji, you go to lunch. The tour includes a lunch, which in our case was hot pot, rice, soup, and fried chicken. You also take a cable car up one of the smaller mountains near Fuji and hopefully get some excellent pictures of Fuji from there. The ticket is included with the tour.
Finally, you go fruit picking and are taken to a small farmers market. Last but not least, you go to the winery and can sample wine or juice.
If this particular tour isn't for you, they also have several other Fuji tours and general Tokyo tours on Expedia. However, when I did my research this one seemed to be the best value for the money at about 9900 yen.
3. Animal Cafes
Animal cafes are incredibly popular in Japan, especially Tokyo. The most unusual ones I saw were the hedgehog and owl cafes. The hedgehog cafes are a bit more affordable of the two, and the most common animal cafe you'll see are cat cafes.
If you're staying at the Book and Bed (which is where I stayed), there's a cat cafe right next to Ikebukuro station. Again, plan for animal cafes to be a little expensive. I spent about 1600 yen for the cat cafe and about 2500 yen for the hedgehog cafe.
This is an excellent experience that I highly recommend if you're in Tokyo. You can take pictures and can sometimes can get unlimited drinks for an extra fee. You will also typically get the option to buy treats to feed the animals.
For the hedgehogs, if you're worried about them being too spiky, they have gloves you can wear. The cafe goes by time slots (typically 10 or 30 minute intervals), so the longer you stay the more you pay.
The cat cafe also has a library, so you can read or work there—they have several outlets to plug in your electronic devices. This particular cat cafe had the option to pay by 10 minute intervals, so it's excellent if you're just looking for a short visit.
One of my other favorite activities in Tokyo was visiting the various observatories. Unfortunately, I opted out of going up to the observatory level in Tokyo Skytree because the view was not good that day; the fee was also above my budget at around 3000 yen for residents. But if circumstances are different for you, I'd give it a try!
Fortunately for me, the shopping area surrounding Tokyo Skytree had plenty to do, including an arcade and a Pokemon Center that had some amazing Pokemon merchandise. They also had displays of different Pokemon set up all around the store, making it a joy to wander around despite the crowds. I saw several of these Pokemon Centers while in Tokyo, including one in Ikebukuro.
While Tokyo Skytree has a lot of shopping, and occasionally has good views of Fuji, Tokyo Tower ended up being my favorite view during my entire time in Tokyo.
When I went to Tokyo Tower, the top floor of the observatory was under construction, but the view from the lower observatory was still breathtaking. The roads below looked neon orange due to all of the traffic, and there were blue lights strewn from the ceiling.
The entrance fee was inexpensive compared to Tokyo Skytree at only about 900 yen. They also typically have entertainment such as comedy shows or music. Lastly, there is a cafe in the observatory, so it's a wonderful place to relax.
Tokyo Tower at Night
5. Imperial Palace Gardens
The final activity I recommend is visiting the Imperial Palace gardens. This is an amazing deal for anyone who is traveling to Tokyo on a budget—when I went, there was no entrance fee. The only downside was that there was no guided tour available.
The Imperial Palace gardens have so much to see and do. For example, you can stroll along the gardens and view soldier barracks and other historic buildings that surrounded the palace. They also have a free museum near the entrance, and all of the buildings have placards that give their history in English and Japanese. They have plenty of seating areas including a wide-open grass field.
It's a must-see for any tour of Tokyo.
Imperial Palace Gardens
Some Helpful Tips for Picking a Hotel
Just like I recommend planning ahead for your activities, I always recommend extensively researching your hotel before booking; take the time to make sure you're getting the best price. My personal favorite website to use is Booking.com because in some cases you can book without a prepayment. This can save you some money in the long run because sometimes the prices go up closer to the time you plan to visit.
Typically, once you find a hotel you like, you want to use a site that will check other websites' prices for the same hotel. Personally, I prefer to use Trivago to make sure I'm getting the lowest price possible. The top three things I recommend looking for when staying at a hotel in Tokyo are a centralized location, proximity to the station, and a clean and comfortable environment.
For my stay, I chose the Book and Bed. The hostel was clean and convenient, but in my case not entirely comfortable. My pros were that it is close to the station (about a two minute walk from Ikebukuro), it's centralized so typically it's a direct subway to where you want to go, and it was clean and had an excellent common area. The rooms were in the bookshelves which was interesting to see. The common area couches were extremely comfortable and they offered blankets to sleep on.
My only complaint was that I had a top bunk, so it was a bit difficult to get in and out of bed. Other things to know before you stay here are that you have to purchase towels and toiletries, aside from hand soap, and there isn't a refrigerator or laundry area in the hostel.
Book and Bed Tokyo
Places to Visit in Tokyo
What do you want to see in Tokyo?
AmberLynn on November 21, 2017:
I've never been to Tokyo but I have always wanted to go. This post appeals to my wanderlust.
Ishani Nath on November 06, 2017:
I really want to visit Tokyo some day.I am from India. Have book marked your post, so informative.
steve goldhirsh on August 25, 2017:
very helpful and informative
Melyse on August 22, 2017:
OMG I love it!!!