How to experience the perfect Tokyo holiday

Tokyo skyline

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted March 01, 2023

We’ve created the perfect guide to experience the best of Tokyo, from the ancient to the traditional, the wacky to the serene. Discover what makes Tokyo special, and why it’s one of top destinations to visit.

Tokyo. A destination of contrasts, colour, diversity, and style. In a city filled with everything imaginable (and some far beyond your imagination), knowing where to go and what to see is paramount.

Ancient history in Tokyo

In a 400-year-old city, it’s no surprise that ancient sites pepper the Tokyo landscape. Founded in 1604, Tokyo (then called Edo), was a small fishing village that gained importance around the 17th century, steadily growing into the bustling metropolis it is today.

Including the city’s historic monuments in your Tokyo travels is as imperative as ensuring you get a fresh sushi fix. Plan to visit the Imperial Palace, the official residence of Japan’s emperors. It is a picturesque site spread across 115 hectares. If you’d prefer to capture Tokyo’s history in one easy spot, head to the Edo Tokyo Museum, where artefacts fill an impressive eight storeys.

One of Tokyo’s most famous historic sites is Meiji Jingu. Nestled in a vast forest, this century-old shrine is a peaceful monument amid bustling Harajuku. The shrine offers a striking contrast to the modernity of Tokyo’s hippest neighbourhood.


sumo students

Don't miss seeing the sumo wrestlers in action! Image: Supplied

Traditional Japanese experiences in Tokyo

Connecting to traditional Japanese experiences enriches your Toyko stay. If you’re in town during the basho season (January, May, and September), book a ringside seat to a sumo match. You don’t need to understand the rules of sumo to have a good time!

Spending a night in a ryokan is an ideal way to experience traditional Japan and the country’s unique aesthetics. Ryokans are small inns where guests sleep on tatami mats or futons, enjoy a public bath, and sample authentic local cuisine. It’s an unrivalled opportunity to experience Japan’s simple life. While you can find many ryokans across the city, Edo Sakura and Sawanoya are highly recommended.


Ghibli Museum

The quirky Ghibli Museum is perfect for anime lovers. Image: Getty

Art and culture in Tokyo

As you would expect from such a vibrant city, Tokyo has an exciting and diverse arts and culture scene. Discover traditional wood-block prints at the Sumida Hokusei Museum before a visit to the city’s first-ever art museum. Built in 1926, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum houses stunning pieces from the Edo era, alongside distinguished artwork from around the world.

Tokyo is also home to a range of stunning contemporary spaces. There’s even an Avant-Garde neighbourhood: Aoyama. Plan your visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Yayoi Kusama Museum (book tickets well in advance), and the quirky Ghibli Museum. 21_21 Design Sight is a dream for architecture and design lovers, too.


Ueno Park

Ueno Park boasts 800 cherry blossom trees. Image: Getty

Peaceful nature in Tokyo

While the Japanese word shinrinyoku may not be familiar, you’ve no doubt heard of the translation: forest bathing. This is the act of destressing out in nature. You might think Tokyo, with a population of 14 million, would be light on natural spaces to relax in, but there are ample, in fact!

The eight trails on Mount Takao offer a peaceful respite; it’s an hour by train from central Tokyo. For an even more relaxed visit, hop on the cable car up Japan’s steepest slope.

The ‘Oasis of Tokyo’ is another popular spot. Visitors are often surprised that this small 1-kilometre-long valley exists amid the dense high rises. Explore Todoroki Valley at your leisure or take a guided tour to discover its secrets.

If you’re fortunate enough to travel during Japan’s famous cherry blossom season, head to Ueno Park where 800 cherry trees line a central path. Shinjuku Gyoen is a less crowded, more spacious spot to catch the sakura blooms.


traditional Japanese food

Experience some of the best Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. Image: Supplied

Japanese food and drink in Tokyo

Tokyo is a joyful destination for foodie lovers. Not only for Japanese staples like sushi, ramen and tempura, but for the modern take on traditional cuisine, too.

To experience the capital’s best sushi restaurants, head to Sugita Nihonbashi-Kaigaracho and Sawada. Wander the alleys of Omoide Yokocho to experience yummy yakitori, and for noodles, try Shin Udon for udon noodle delights and Menja Nukaji for top-notch ramen.

For Japanese fusion, Deli Fu Cious offers a sushi chef’s take on burgers (far better than it sounds), Inua for a stylish night out, and the Michelin-starred gourmet dishes at Narisawa.

Of course, you’ll need something to wash down Tokyo's delectable bites. For a Zen-like experience, partake in a Japanese tea ceremony where you’ll learn the subtle rules of this ancient tradition. We recommend Happo-en and Maikoya in Shinjuku if you’d like to don a kimono for the occasion.

Less Zen, but no less traditional, sake is another Japanese rite of passage for many visitors. Finding a nihonshu (sake) bar is not a hard task; there are hundreds across the city. Fujita Saketen has been around for nearly a century, Kuri is a trendy bar with over 100 varieties of sake, and Manaita is a popular local haunt to introduce you to the brew.


Tokyo streets at night

Tokyo completely lights up at night. Image: Supplied

Experiences unique to Tokyo

No visit to Tokyo is complete without experiencing at least one of the quirky places that make it so enticing. The Shibuya Scramble is not a Japanese take on scrambled eggs, but the mayhem at the crossing outside Shibuya Station (Hachiko exit). The dance of criss-cross action as hundreds of people cross at once is a majestic sight, day or night.

A visit to Harajuku is another Tokyo must-do, one of the city’s most famous neighbourhoods. Here, you’ll see on-trend looks, outrageous outfits, and eye-popping ensembles. Wander Takeshita and Cat Streets before chilling out at Meiji Shrine; it’s in the neighbourhood.

While there are a ton of unusual cafés and restaurants in Tokyo (including one where you sip your latte amongst the owls), nothing beats the Robot Restaurant. Dancers, lasers, fireworks, real-life go karting and robots sum up the many ways that Tokyo can – and does - surprise visitors. You may be confused, but you won’t be disappointed!


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