Imperial Palace and East Garden
The Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo offers some beautiful views of the palace across a lovely moat and stonewall. A 5.3km pathway around the expansive grounds is a popular jogging route, while the East Garden is open to the public and a peaceful place to relax alongside city workers picnicking beneath the trees at lunchtime. Access via Otemachi Station (exit C10) on the Metro Chiyoda Line.
Yes, this crazy wet market tops every tourist list, but that’s for a reason: it’s a unique experience and shouldn’t be missed. Forget the pre-dawn tuna auction and arrive around 8am – you’ll still be surrounded by a mind-boggling array of edible sea life (including enormous bluefin tuna) and a cacophony of sound as stall owners compete for custom (tsukiji-market.or.jp). Access via Tsukiji Station (exit 1) on the Metro Hibiya Line.
One of Tokyo’s earliest public spaces was created in 1873 and is one of the best places to see rows of cherry trees in full blossom during the month of April. This expansive park is a popular place for family picnics, and is home to a range of exceptional museums, including the superb Tokyo National Museum (tnm.jp) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (tobikan.jp/en), as well as a zoo. Access via Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Also known as Senso-ji Temple, this fascinating complex is authentic yet inclusive, always bustling with locals and out-of-towners. Dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kanon, it is fronted by the Thunder Gate (Kaminarimon), sporting two statues of the gods of thunder and wind, and a massive red lantern under which you pass to get to the stunning Asakusa shrine. The shopping streets of Nakamise as you approach are filled with local vendors selling folk crafts and Japanese snacks. Access via Asakusa Station on the Metro Ginza Line.
Sumida River cruise
This is an excellent way to view the city skyline on a relaxing trip that’s vastly different to the usual Tokyo journey crush. You can cruise upstream or down along the Sumida River as you wish. Starting points are at Hinode pier near the Hamarikyu Gardens and Tsukiji Market, and next to Asakusa Station to the north. You can also head south as far as Odaiba Seaside Park.
Probably Tokyo’s most bedazzling shopping district, with shops of every kind – and people to match! The streets of Harajuku, Omotesando and Takeshita-Dori, as well as Yoyogi Park, offer up a distilled Tokyo experience that’s hard to beat. Just stand at the famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing and watch the masses buzzing around in chaotic splendour. Access via Shibuya Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Tokyo skyline views
This metropolis’s massive size is best appreciated from up high – and Tokyo is blessed with a range of towering viewing points in various locations. Tokyo City Hall has a free observation deck; Tokyo Skytree (tokyo-skytree.jp/en) is Japan’s tallest structure, with viewing decks at 350 and 450 metres; and Tokyo Tower is still a favourite for its central location. The Mori Art Museum at the top of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower (roppongihills.com) has superb views, as does the tower’s open-air rooftop Sky Deck. But for a more sophisticated view, head to Park Hyatt’s
52nd floor New York Bar (tokyo.park.hyatt.com).
Tokyo Bay day trip
Just south of the city are gorgeous landscapes and serene religious monuments that allow an insight into the bucolic side of Japanese life. Guided tours can be customised to suit your personal interests, but be sure to visit the Great Buddha of Kamakura at Kotoku-in, as well as Hokoku-ji Temple, famous for its bamboo grove. Authentic lunches and tea ceremonies overlooking Zen rock gardens will be part of the package.
Two hours north from downtown Tokyo, the amazing shrines at Nikko were built to commemorate the samurai shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and have been described as “pure 17th-century Disneyland”. A world away from Zen minimalism, the main shrine is lavishly decorated in gold leaf and red lacquer, with a pantheon of gods and animals staring down at visitors. Set in beautiful giant cedar forests, Nikko makes a fine counterpoint to the frenetic modern city (toshogu.jp/english). Access via Tobu Nikko Station on the Tobu Line from Asakusa Station.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
The city’s largest and most famous Shinto shrine is located within a lush forest park in the Shibuya district. Pass under the enormous Torii Gate and up a long, tree-lined avenue, pausing for pictures next to panels of giant sake barrels, before reaching the shrine itself, a beautiful collection of classical buildings dedicated to the emperor Meiji and his wife. Access via Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line.