Tokyo has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities to visit. However, it is still possible to have a fantastic time without spending a Yen! Read on for our top 10 picks for totally free things to do in Tokyo.
1. Get your temple fix by visiting Senso Ji and Meiji Jingu.
Tokyo has thousands of temples and shrines, many of which have entry fees, but two of its most famous and beautiful are totally free to visit
Senso Ji in the old part of town, Asakusa, is the most important Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Approach through the astonishing Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) with it's huge red lantern and along the shop lined Nakamise-dori, into the main temple complex. The gates, five storey pagoda and Hondo (main temple hall) are all that glorious red and gold colour, and be sure to check out the incense cauldron and the bronze dragon sacred purification fountain where people wash their hands to cleanse themselves before visiting the Hondo.
Over towards hip Harajuku, Meiji Jingu is hidden amongst beautiful dense forest. This important Shinto shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, and despite only being completed in 1920 (and rebuilt in the 50s following bombing in WWII), is one of the most visited Shinto sites in Japan. Walk under an enormous torii gate and through towering trees, and feel as if you have left the craziness of Tokyo behind as you enter this sacred space.
2. Tour the Imperial Palace
While the parkland and moat surrounding the Imperial Palace walls are free to explore any time, arrive by 12:15 to see if you can sign up for the free English tour of the inner grounds - head towards Kikyo-mon gate and look for the queue starting to form along the grass opposite. The first 300 people in line will be given a numbered ticket. You will need your passport for ID in order to register, you can also pre register online (200 additional spots).
3. See the Skyline from the Metropolitan Government Building observatory
202 metres up on the 45th floor, this free observation deck gives panoramic views of the Tokyo skyline. On a clear day you can even see Mt Fuji in the distance, and this is a great place to come in the evening to see the city lit up. Although not as high as the Tokyo Skytree, this is still a great alternative if you don't want to pay the Skytree's £15 fee.
(If you would like to do both, you can save a few pounds with discounted Skytree tickets from Klook here.)
4. Window shopping and people watching in Harajuku
Walk down Takeshita Dori, the vibrant pedestrianised shopping street world famous for its Harajuku Girls - trendy teens in rainbow fashions, and browse in the amazing clothes shops. Here you'll find Lolita baby doll dresses, kinky spiked leathers and edgy goth gear, amongst bubble tea food courts and cat cafes, and rainbow candyfloss as big as your head! You'll also find a 3 storey Daiso, an incredible 100 Yen shop - cheap souvenir heaven. Unbelievably crowded on weekends, you'll have a more peaceful browse early on a weekday.
From here, walk along tree lined Omotesando, known locally as the Japanese Champs Elysee, where high end designer boutiques like Louis Vuitton contrast with 5 floor Kiddyland, a toy shop that all ages will enjoy. Be sure to head up the escalators at the entrance to Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku and look back to photograph the kaleidoscopic mirrored effect.
(For cheap eats in this area, pop down Cat Street, another cool pedestrianised shopping street, to Harajuku Gyoza - 6 delicious dumplings for only about £2!)
5. Walk over the Rainbow Bridge
Just like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this huge suspension bridge over Tokyo harbour has a pedestrianised walkway either side of the road. We recommend the north side of the bridge for views of Tokyo skyline - especially impressive as the sun goes down and everything starts to light up!
Walking on the south side gives views of Tokyo Bay and Odaiba, and on a very clear day you can even see Mt Fuji!
6. Scramble on Shibuya Crossing
At peak hours, some 3000 people use this pedestrian crossing interchange, the busiest in the world. Follow the crowds as huge neon advertising boards blare above you. For great views of the crossing, grab a drink and a window seat in the Starbucks opposite.
While you're here, pay a visit to Hachiko’s statue, just outside Shibuya station. This bronze Akita has sat here since 1934, and commemorates a real dog, who accompanied his master to the station every morning and waited for him every evening for a year. Tragically, one day his master died at work, and Hachiko continued to wait for him to come home for the next ten years.
7. Get Nostalgic
Also in Shibuya, head to the 6th floor of the Parco department store. If you grew up in the 90s like us, you will LOVE the Pokémon and Nintendo stores, where you can buy any merch you can dream of, from Mario Kart birthday party supplies to Pikachu chop sticks. The Pokémon Store is dark and edgy, with a giant Mewtwo captured in a capsule at the entrance, and graffiti inspired hoodies, alongside Swarovski Pokéballs and plushies of every critter you can remember. On the way back to Shibuya station, pop into the castle fronted Disney Store to check out their Japanese exclusives and cute stationary.
8. Hit up the Red Light District
Head under an electric red torii gate to walk amongst the neon lights of Kabukicho and try to find Godzilla lurking above a hotel. Check out the brightly lit madness of the Robot Cafe entrance and the signs advertising the 'services' available in the dark and mysterious host clubs. Back towards Shinjuku station, wander down narrow Omoide Yokocho and peek into the tiny smokey bars and eateries.
9. Learn about Sumo
While tickets to Japan's famous sport itself can be prohibitively pricey, the Sumo Museum is fascinating and free! Located next to Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena, it is closed when national tournaments are held in January, May and September. However, it's still worth popping over during these months to see the wrestlers coming and going, and to watch the heavyweight action on a screen outside.
10. Nerd out in Akihabara
You can spend hours exploring the massive electrical stores, manga, anime and cosplay shops and amazing games arcades. See how many flyers you can get from kitten ear wearing giggling French maids promoting their cafes, and watch the seriously skilled video-gamers battle it out. It's easy to get a really good sense of the place without spending a penny, but if you want to join in, most of the arcade games can be enjoyed for only 100 Yen (about 70p) per play!
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