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Things to do in Tokyo that are utterly unforgettable

Experience the neverending excitement of this vibrant, stylish and entertaining capital.

Tokyo is a delight of conservative old-world culture fitting perfectly into a modern, futuristic metropolis. Serene gardens coexist with lively sumo tournaments while Mt Fuji creates a stunning backdrop for exploring the city.

In one day you can start the morning off with a sushi breakfast in the largest fish market in the world and end at a Michelin three-star restaurant.

Here are the top things to see and do when you’re in Tokyo.


Top things to do in Tokyo

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Wonder at the cherry blossoms

Marking the beginning of spring, the sakura, or cherry blossoms, are often what you first think of when you’re planning a visit to Japan. “Hanami" is the ancient and popular practice of picnicking under a blooming cherry blossom tree and it’s one of the easiest Japanese customs to try out.

The season starts around late March to late April and varies each year. To make the most of the custom and do as the locals do, pick a garden, pack a blanket and some nibbles, and claim your spot under the trees early on in the day. Some parks and gardens even hang lanterns up so you can experience Hanami late into the evening.

If you want to make it easier for yourself, you can also hop onto a cherry blossom tour where you'll visit some of the best spots in Tokyo to see the flowers in bloom.


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Relax in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Spanning over 58 hectares, this urban oasis is a relaxing spot for a stroll or picnic. There are three distinct landscaping styles to explore: Japanese Traditional Garden, French Formal Garden, and English Landscape Garden. You can spend hours taking in the gardens, having lunch in the restaurant or sipping on a matcha latte in the teahouse.

With more than 20,000 trees, the gardens also feature ponds filled with coy fish, bridges, woods, and hundreds of cherry trees making Shinjuku Gyoen a prime cherry blossom viewing spot. The beauty of the gardens is also an impressive contrast to the modern buildings of Tokyo in the background.


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See all the action at Tsukiji Fish Market

The busiest and largest fish market in the world can seem like a strange destination for a tourist. Add in a 4:30 am wake-up and you've got the opposite of a relaxing day.

You'll change your tune, though, once you arrive and experience the lively tuna auction first-hand.

Once all the action has died down, stop by the restaurant section for a sushi breakfast with the freshest fish you'll ever have. If you’d rather have a sleep in and time to explore with a local guide, try out a food tour of the fish market that includes lunch instead.


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Learn all about Tokyo’s history through the ages

Tokyo is filled with interesting and quirky museums but a visit to Tokyo National Museum is the perfect way to start off your trip in the city. Housing an extensive collection of antiquities and artworks from Japan and around Asia, the museum is well worth at least half a day.

During a visit, you can really start to understand the evolution of art and culture in Japan. Special exhibits touch on different aspects of the Japanese experience, including Japanese architecture, archeology, and national treasures.


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Get up close to the sumos

There are a few different varieties of wrestling all around the world but sumo wrestling definitely has to be up there as one of the most unique forms. You can experience sumo a few ways while in Tokyo but if you get the chance, attending an official tournament is a true highlight.

You can also book a morning sumo training tour to get a more detailed look at the intricacies of the sport and see the stars of the show up close. These tours include an explanation of the historical roots of sumo, a demonstration, and the opportunity to take photos after the training.


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Experience life as a Geisha

A geisha is a Japanese entertainer who acts as a hostess to events. They often wear elaborate kimonos, wooden sandals, white face paint and red lips, and operate under strict rules. While in Tokyo you can learn the secrets of life as a geisha and even have one accompany you for dinner or as a guide around the city.

While learning about the ancient customs that dominate the world of the geisha, you can also experience an authentic makeover of your own during a Geisha Experience tour. A great opportunity to truly get under the skin of the geisha and really understand the hard work that goes into this unique profession.


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Dine on sushi

One delicacy that is synonymous with Japanese cuisine is sushi. It is a completely different experience sampling this Japanese mainstay away from the “sushi trains” of home. The mastery that goes into every single roll of sushi is often considered an art form.

A sushi chef trains for two years to perfect the art of handling sushi so when choosing a spot to try your first bite you know you’ll be in good hands. Make sure to reserve in advance to book a table at one of the world-class sushi restaurants holding Michelin stars.


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See Mt. Fuji up close

Standing at 3,776 metres, you can actually view Japan’s highest mountain from Tokyo on a clear day. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site can be visited in one day by bullet train from Tokyo. This fun day trip can include a cruise on the picturesque waters of Lake Ashi and a climb by aerial tram to Mt Komagatake for the best views of Mt Fuji and the opportunity to capture that perfect shot.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike up the mountain and take in the sunrise views during a two-day hike. If you’re short on time a Mt Fuji guided tour will ensure you fit it all in and get back to the city in one day.


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Learn new skills in a cooking class

With more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city, Tokyo doesn’t fail to impress when it comes to dining out. That doesn’t mean it’s all about sushi! You can explore the full range and depth of flavour behind Japanese cuisine in a cooking class.

Learn about what goes into making a traditional Japanese meal and get hands-on with preparing and cooking a meal led by a professional. Afterwards, sit back and enjoy your home cooked meal that you can recreate for friends after your trip. Try something a little bit different with a Japanese sweets cooking class where you can create the sweetest looking desserts.


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Visit Kamakura on a day tour

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s largest city and head to the peaceful city of Kamakura. On this day trip, you can surround yourself with Buddhist Zen temples, Shinto shrines and serene gardens, including the famous Kotoku-in Temple and the 13-metre high Great Buddha statue. You can also explore the nearby tiny island of Enoshima which features sandy beaches, caves and an observation tower.

Fit it all in one day with a well planned Kamakura day tour that includes a traditional Buddhist style lunch.


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Stephanie Yip

Stephanie is the travel editor at finder.com.au. On top of being an avid traveller, she's an all-round bargain hunter. If there's a deal on hotels or a sale on flights, she'll know about it. And she'll let you know about it, too. Though probably not before she buys her own ticket.

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