Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a must-visit destination in the Land of the Rising Sun. However, a trip to Tokyo, or Japan in general, can be very costly.
How to have an awesome trip to Tokyo without spending all your money? What are the best things to do in Tokyo on a budget? Read here to find out!
Visit Senso-Ji Temple
I came here a couple of times on my trips to Tokyo. Senso-Ji Temple is the largest and oldest temple in Tokyo that was built in 645.
From the outer gate – Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) – to the temple’s second gate, there is a 200-meter long shopping street named Nakamise that leads to the temple. Nakamise has a lot of beautiful products to offer and different Japanese food to try.
Before entering the main temple, you should wash your hands in the traditional Japanese way. The purpose of this is to both wash away the dirt from the physical body and cleanse the spirit of sins and transgressions.
Senso-Ji temple is always full of tourists in the morning, so you could try to avoid the crowds by visiting at night.
How to get to Sensoji temple?
Sensoji Temple is located just a few steps from Asakusa Station. You can get there by the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line, and Tobu Railways.
Main hall: 6 am ~ 5 pm (from 6:30 am from October to March)
Temple grounds: Always open
Tips: The best way to explore the old Asakusa and Senso-Ji temple is while wearing a kimono. You can experience what it’s like to wear an authentic kimono while strolling the historic streets of Asakusa.
Viewing the city from Tokyo Skytree is a great way to get a sense of the size, scope, and layout of Tokyo. As one of the highest towers in the world, Tokyo Skytree offers visitors panoramic views of the surrounding metropolis.
When the weather is clear (and if you’re lucky), you can even see Mt. Fuji on the distant horizon.
After visiting the observation deck, you should perhaps peruse the aisles of the shopping complex, or visit the aquarium; both of which are situated in the base of the tower.
Tips: If the line is long, you might consider paying extra to skip the line. The best time to visit Tokyo Skytree is around sunset as this urban metropolis seamlessly transitions from day to night.
Experience one of the world’s fastest elevators that takes you to the top like a rocket
How to get to Tokyo Skytree?
If you are around the Asakusa area, you can easily walk to Tokyo Skytree by crossing the Sumida River. Alternatively, you can get to Tokyo Skytree Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line, or Oshiage Station on the Asakusa Subway Line, Hanzomon Subway Line, and Keisei Oshiage Line.
Admission fee: Entrance fee: 2060 yen (1st observatory, regular); 1030 yen (2nd observatory); +510 yen for reservations in advance
Tokyo is an ideal destination for travelers who love the cuisine of the “cherry blossom” country – Sushi.
Although the internal market of Tsukiji Market was closed on October 6, 2,018 and moved to a new site (Toyosu Market), the outer market of Tsukiji remains open.
With the fresh fish delivered directly from Toyosu Market, Tsukiji Outer Market is one of the best places in Tokyo to try sushi. Breakfast or lunch at one of these local restaurants will undoubtedly provide a memorable experience on your trip to Tokyo.
Besides having different sushi restaurants, Tsukiji Outer Market also has different shops selling seafood and other dishes on the narrow roads.
How to get to Tsukiji market?
You can get to Tsukiji Station from Ginza station or Tsukiji Shijo Station from Shinjuku station.
Admission fee: Free to enter Tsukiji market
Open hours: 5 am ~ 2 pm (Closed on Sunday and National holidays)
Tips for budget travelers
If you are traveling to Tokyo on a budget, you might want to check out the restaurants nearby Tsukiji market. I had a tasty lunch at a lovely little restaurant named Sushi Katsura (すしかつら), and it was delightful and very affordable.
Chill at Ueno Park
Ueno is a lovely park located near Ueno station in the heart of Tokyo with different sections including a zoo. Ueno park is home to numerous statues, shrines and especially the beautiful Shinobazu Pond where you can rent a boat and row around.
The beautiful trees and other surrounding nature make the park a remarkable place to escape the urban congestion of Tokyo. The tranquil serenity of this park offers a stark contrast to the outside commotion.
During springtime, this park is a great spot to see Sakura – the infamous Japanese cherry blossom trees – in full glorious bloom.
Also, Ueno park has a great collection of museums that you cannot miss.
There are four museums, namely the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum.
Admission fee: It’s free to enter the park, but you will need to pay if you’d like to visit the Museums.
Open hours: 9:30 ~ 5 pm for the museums, while the park always opens.
How to get to Ueno park?
As Ueno park is located next to JR Ueno station, you can walk there after taking a train or subway.
Explore Ameyoko Market
If you’re into shopping and want to find a good deal, Ameyoko Shopping Street is one of the best places to go in Tokyo.
Located near Ueno park, Ameyoko market is a busy shopping street offering with different products from fresh veggies and seafood to souvenirs and clothing.
If you are hungry, different food stalls are selling mouth-watering dishes from Kebab to Korean food and Chinese dishes. These stalls are always full of people, so you should hurry and get your order!
Open hours: 10 am ~ 8 pm (some stalls closes on Wednesday)
How to get to Ameyoko market?
You can get to either Ueno or Okachimachi Station from the JR Yamanote Line and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. The market is also accessible from a short walk from Ueno-Okachimachi Station.
Wander around Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo Imperial Palace is located on the former Edo Castle in the heart of Tokyo. Although you cannot visit the private ground of the palace (except on January 2nd (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday)), you can get a beautiful view of Nijubashi Bridge.
While the Imperial Palace is not the most impressive by Japan standards, the gardens around the Palace are worth wandering around.
There are two guided tour for the palace ground starting at 10:15 and 1:15 daily except on Sundays and Mondays. Each visit is conducted in English and Japanese and takes 75 minutes to finish.
As there are only 300 slots available, you should register online at the Imperial Household Agencyor the Kikyo-mon Gate on the same tour-day.
How to get to Tokyo Imperial Palace?
After arriving at Tokyo station, you can walk to the Imperial Palace within 10 minutes.
Visit Tokyo Tower
Do you know that Tokyo Tower is higher than the Eiffel Tower?
Built in 1958, Tokyo Tower was the tallest structure in Tokyo until Tokyo Skytree was built. After climbing a 600-step staircase or using the escalator, you can get to the main deck at 150 m. You can also go up further to the top deck at 250m high and enjoy an amazing birds-eye view of Tokyo.
Below the tower is the Foot town building featuring One Piece Tower with different cafes, restaurants souvenir shops. Nearby Tokyo Tower is Shiba Park, a lovely park where you can get nice pictures with Tokyo Tower in the background.
You should get your ticket online to skip the line and go directly to the elevator.
Visit Meiji Jingu and Yoyogi Park
Meiji Jingu is Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine built to commemorate Emperor Meiji – the late 19th-century king of Japan.
Meiji Shrine is surrounded by a beautiful park named Yoyogi and its gardens. A walk from the entrance of Yoyogi park to the shrine will bring you a relaxing and enjoyable experience while trolling along the road with lots of greeneries.
The best time to visit Yoyogi park is probably around autumn when you can see the changes in the leaves, or during spring when you can get a beautiful view of cherry blossom.
In Meiji Shrine, you can also buy some souvenirs and write your wishes and prayers on Ema, a small wooden plaque. This historic place is often used for the traditional wedding ceremony so if you’re lucky you might see some. If you’d like some explanation on the history of Tokyo, joining Tokyo Walking Tour is a great idea.
Admission fee: There’s no entrance fee, but you will need to pay to enter a few places.
How to get to Meiji Jingu?
You can get to Meiji Jingu from Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Meiji-Jingu-Mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Lines. There’s a short walk from Harajuku Station to the entrance of Yoyogi park before you can get to Meiji Shrine.
Eat and shop Takeshita street
Located in the Harajuku area, Takeshita Dori, or Takeshita street, is one of the busiest shopping streets in Tokyo offering trendy, but sometimes, weird things.
With colorful but crazy clothes and accessories, Takeshita Street is a fantastic place if you’re into alternative fashion. Although it’s just about 400-meter long, the road is full of trendy shops, used clothes stores, and fashion boutiques. You may spend hours checking out shops to shops here as every shop is unique.
Also, this street is a food paradise with different stores selling crepes, rainbow cotton candy, and especially the yummy “Zaku Zaku” – a crunchy cream puff stick similar to churros but not churros.
I remember the first time I visited Takeshita, and I was utterly overwhelmed by the crowd. I spent hours checking all the shop. It was fun but maybe exhausted if you’re not used to crowded areas.
Travel tips: While you’re near Takeshita street, continue walking to explore the Harajuku area.
How to get to Takeshita street?
Harajuku station is on JR Yamanote Line, two stations from Shinjuku station or 1 station from Shibuya station. After arriving at Harajuku station, you should cross the street and continue walking a short distance to get to Takeshita Dori.
Be amazed at Shibuya Crossing Street
Shibuya is my favorite place to visit in Tokyo. The area is a trendy hub for young people with unique fashion and culture, packed with different shopping malls, restaurants and nightclubs.
One of the most famous attractions in Shibuya is its intersection in front of the Hachiko Exit. There are thousands of people crossing the streets at once, making it a chaotic but impressive moment.
Where to have the best view of Shibuya crossing?
The best place to enjoy a view of Shibuya crossing and film it is at Starbucks Coffee Shibuya Tsutaya. The window seats of this shop offer a stunning view of this landmark.
Other things to do in Shibuya
Besides joining the busy crossing street, I also love wandering around the area to try different Japanese dishes. Shibuya has various cheap eats for budget travelers, and one of them is Uobei Sushi.
At night, the area lightens up with Neon panel and giant advertisement screen with lots of people, so it’s fun to walk around and enjoy the metropolis experience.
How to get to Shibuya crossing?
You can get to Shibuya station and then find Hachiko Exit. Alternatively, you can walk out of the stations, and you will see the most crowded area. You can’t miss it!
Relax at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Looking for a relaxing place in Tokyo? Head to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden!
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest park in Tokyo offering a nice break from the busy streets of the city. The park has different gardens including English Garden, Japanese Garden and French Garden with a Greenhouse and impressive lake system.
Although it costs 200 Yen to enter (~$1), it’s worth the money to explore and enjoy the tranquil environment surrounded by a multitude of flora and fauna system.
Shinjuku Gyoen is home to different varieties of cherry blossom, making it one of the best Hanami spots in Tokyo during cherry blossom viewing season.
The Gardens at Shinjuku Gyoen are quite large, so you should wear comfortable shoes and pack some snacks with you. There is a central cafe and rest area if you’d like to take a break. Also, there are several benches and picnic spots around the park, so it may be a good idea to go picnic with your family and friends here.
This place requires spending at least 3 or 4 hours so you may want to skip it if you only have a day or two in Tokyo
How to get to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden?
After arriving at Shinjuku station, you can reach there quickly after a 10-minute walk from the station.
Admission fee: 200 Yen
Open hours: 9 am to 4:30 pm (entry until 4 pm)
Enjoy the streets and nightlife of Shinjuku
Shinjuku is a popular area to enjoy the nightlife in Tokyo. Kabukicho in Shinjuku is Japan’s largest red light district offering plenty of restaurants, bars, clubs, and pachinko. You can also find lots of love hotels in the area.
One of the most famous areas in Kabukicho is Golden Gai, a small but interesting area with over 200 small bars and eateries.
Are you a big fan of Anime or Manga? Even if you’re not, don’t forget to stop by the busy Akihabara district.
Known as the center of Otaku culture, Akihabara has different shops specializing in manga, anime, retro video games, figurines, and card games. Akihabara is also famous for its electronic stores, ranging from small stalls to giant retailers. People say if you cannot find an electric good here, it means it hasn’t invented yet!
Primarily, you can find different anime-related entertainment in Akihabara such as Maid Cafe – a cafe where waitresses dress up and act super cute like maids or anime characters.
You should also visit Manga Kissa – an internet cafe where you can read comic books and play video games all day and night. (I stayed in a few Manga Kissa in Japan, and they were safe).
Be “Kawaii” at Maid Cafe
Established in 2001, Cure Maid Cafe is the first maid cafe ever in Akihabara. Although the waitresses here are less cute than others, the shop offers a more sophisticated atmosphere. The food is not good though, but the staffs are friendly.
Maidreamin is another famous maid cafe chain in Akihabara. You will participate in doing cute things together with the maid like clapping and singing. Although you cannot take any photo here, you can buy a souvenir photo with your meal, either a Polaroid or on your mobile phone. (You cannot take pictures in Cure Maid Cafe if there’s someone in it).
Note: If you’d like to play with cute animals, you should visit a cat/bunny/hedgehog/owl café. They’re easy to find in Tokyo.
Join Tokyo food tour
Joining Tokyo food tours is a great way to learn about Japanese food and explore hidden restaurants that the locals go. I joined Shinbashi Food Tour and Yanaka Food Touron my last trip to Tokyo, and it was a memorable experience.
Tokyo is a large city, so the best way to get around is by taking a subway or metro.
You can buy Tokyo Subway ticket to get unlimited rides on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Depending on your trip, you may want to purchase 24, 48, or 72-hour pass.
Instead of buying separate tickets, it helps saving money and time on your trip to Tokyo. You can pick up at Narita Airport or Haneda Airport, and this ticket is suitable for adults and children above 12 years old.
There are plenty of cheap hostels in Tokyo, ranging under 3000 Yen (~$30) per night. Hostels in Shinjuku and Shibuya areas may be more expensive than others due to the location. If you’re looking for a quiet stay, Asakusa is an excellent area although it can be far from other attractions.