Must-Read Guide Top 15 Ideas On What To Do In Shinjuku Tokyo
Right, you’re reading it presumably from Japan, more precisely Tokyo, correct? Since you are looking for some really good ideas on what to do in Shinjuku, I can reassure you that you will find them here. I am here to help you filter through the boring stuff you might have come across before. The list I’ve got for you consists of the things you might have had a vague idea about and also the ones you never knew they existed in Shinjuku! So here comes your must-read guide, packed with 15 ideas on what to do in Shinjuku, enjoy!
1. Tokyo Red Light District AKA Kabukicho
Not too sure what to do in Shinjuku at night? Shinjuku Kabukicho or simply Kabukichō, is undoubtedly one of the largest entertainment districts in the world, largely due to its famed red light district. There’s a few reasons why Tokyo’s Red Light District is named as the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街). It is unquestionably one of the most Instagrammable spots of Tokyo, expecially the luminous arched gate leading up to this seedy district.
There’s probably not a single day (and definitely not night!) where you wouldn’t encounter well-groomed hosts and hostesses outside the hostess clubs and night clubs open till wee hours of the morning, trying to lure you in for a ‘quick’ drink.
Whether you’re just curious or looking for some fun, Tokyo’s Red Light District won’t disappoint you, but remember – many things in Japan happen behind the closed doors so the vibe here is very different from Pattaya or Bangkok. Just make sure you don’t get robed into something you didn’t sign up for like extortionate service charges for drinks you’d want to order for yourself and maybe for the hostess girl!
Here’s a quick video on what to expect in Kabukicho:
2. Golden Gai
Golden Gai or Golden District of Shinjuku is a handful of small alleyways, tucked away from the luminous lights of some of the world’s tallest buildings. I liked it for a couple of reasons, one, it has an authentic, retro look with most bars serving their local drinks in the not-far-from-tattered and definitely have seen better days, drinking establishments.
Not all places will welcome you with open arms so make sure you either discretely peek through the bar windows or look for the more obvious signs (many of bars will literally have the notice handwritten on an A4 size paper) written in English, informing about tourists being welcome there and the table charge price.
Since they are small, they barely make any money so don’t feel ripped off! This spot has found its own, slow pace, despite its location running through Tokyo’s busiest neighbourhood and it’s this run-down feel that makes this spot so appealing, whether for the tourists or professional photographers.
Check out tour on Shinjuku Golden Gai which is one of the must-see places to visit in Tokyo for those who’ d like a taste of Tokyo’s vibe used to be like in the 1960s. Personally, I would save daytime for other activities and come back in the evening as Golden Gai is one the things to see in Shinjuku at night.
3. Godzilla Head by Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku
Godzilla’s head is right at the top of the famed Hotel Gracery, making it one of the most iconic places of Tokyo and definitely a famous spot to see in Shinjuku. The face of Godzilla in Tokyo is probably the one that sticks in anyone’s mind who has visited Shinjuku or ever watched a Godzilla movie. Did you know that Godzilla first appeared in the movie back in 1954 and ever since was featured in 20 odd movies?!
Well, in case you wanted to see it overlooking Tokyo’s largest and most prominent ward, head to Shinjuku! Its head is 40 feet tall and although it might not look terrifying from the bottom, it certainly will make you jump out of your skin in the middle of night if you choose to stay on the 40th floor of this unique skyscraper.
4. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory
I don’t know whether there’s any need to introduce this spot but in case you haven’t come across it before, this is a must-see place offering spectacular views of Tokyo, all completely free! Correct, anyone is welcome to go to the top (well almost top, the panoramic views of this 243 metre building can be accessed from 202 metres).
Be sure to allocate enough time for this place, especially for sunset, as Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory is deemed as one of the best date spots in Tokyo even if you are on a shoestring budget! We did wait for a little while so add extra 20-30 minutes for the queueing during busiest times. Don’t leave shortly after, the night views seen from the North Observatory offer some wonderful sights of lit-up Tokyo. By all means, this is arguably one of the best sunset spots in Tokyo as well as free night views in Tokyo.
When the weather conditions prove to be quite favourable, you are bound to spot the famous Tokyo tourist attractions such as Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower and if you’re lucky, on a clear sky day you will also see Mount Fuji from afar! There’s only one thing I’d like to add to the wishlist: option to go outside as you can do in Roppongi Hills! All in all, you can’t complain, the entrance is free, views are great, and you can walk to Tokyo Metropolitan Building from Shinjuku station. Win-win!
5. Robot Restaurant
Robot Restaurant sits nowhere else but in the heart of Shinjuku and is undisputedly making the top of the lists with quirkiest things to do in Shinjuku. Ever since this restaurant was opened, it has been bringing tons of tourists hungry to see what it’s like inside the place run by the robots.
If you’re not sure what to do in Shinjuku and are looking for something ‘only in Japan’, well, you can satiate your needs here but is not going to be cheap. The entrance fee is 8000 yen per person so make sure you know what you’re paying out for!
Apparently, it cost 10 million dollars to open this high-voltage venue. You won’t need VR glasses here, what you’re going to be welcome with is warrior princesses performing their loud stunts to some blaring electronic soundtracks and dinosaurs exhaling liquid nitrogen, similar effect to the one seen in the nightclubs.
You can check out our video below to see whether it’s worth paying 8000 yen on the door or be smart and find out where to get tickets to the Robot restaurant for less than 6000 yen here.
6. Shinjuku Gyoen
Last but not least! Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) is definitely one of the best things to see in Shinjuku with its wonferful Japanese garden landscape. Rated as one of the most popular and also largest parks in Tokyo, it’s a great chilled out spot for nature lovers. Although this park has a paid entrance, it costs only 200 yen to enter.
Make sure to arrive relatively early as the opening hours are very short, from 9am till 4.30pm, with last entry at 4pm. Basically, in the summer time you will rather want to avoid it due to the scorching heat outside!
Otherwise, you will really enjoy many walking paths and if you’re in Tokyo in spring, be sure to visit the park as it is one of the best places to see cherry blossom in Tokyo.
Although the main attraction here is the Japanese landscape garden and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with visiting just this part, there is also a French garden, an English garden, an art gallery and the beautiful greenhouse where you can enjoy many tropical and subtropical flowers.
7. Shinjuku Wagyu Beef Restaurants
Whilst some of you may be heading to Kobe for an authentic Kobe beef experience, others who are skipping visiting Kobe can still enjoy this experience in Shinjuku. There’s a whole list of places to try wagyu beef, from the alleyway about 7 minutes away from Shinjuku station to the more elegant dining, such as New York Grill (inside Park Hyatt Tokyo), Teppanyaki Yamanami, Han no Daidokoro Kadochika (yes, this is one long name!) or Jiromaru, the standing-style restaurant, voted as one of the best restaurants in Shinjuku.
We combined our wagyu beef lust with the love for an authentic ramen. Result? The melting wagyu beef offers sensational experience to your taste buds, but don’t rush into finishing it as you will wish you had more room for this mouth-watering combo dish!
Check out below out breathtaking tour around Shinjuku at night, a compilation of our nights out wandering around and simply taking in what Shinjuku is all about:
8. Omoide Yokocho AKA “Piss Alley”
Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku is also known as “Memory Lane” or less favourably, “Piss Alley”, only a few minutes away from West Shinjuku station. Probably not the best spot in Tokyo for a date as the name suggests. Until 1999, there were no toilets (nowadays you can see them quite clearly, right outside the tiny drinking establishments, looking very run-down and shielded by the wooden doors).
You get the gist, I guess. This place is a hot spot for Instagrammers because of its obscure settings which attract many tourists looking for the authentic feel of what Japan looked like before all the technology came in and replaced these buildings with sky-high neon buildings. After World War II, Shinjuku West turned into the black market setting up carts and shops with many unregulated items.
It’s an interesting place to visit for those wanting to know what to do in Shinjuku that has some more story behind the shabby-looking venues (still quite busy!) selling local delicacies such as frog sashimi or, if you’re more into something unique, pig testicles (sorry, did not try ourselves so cannot tell if it’s worth giving it a try).
9. Kinokuniya bookstore Shinjuku
In all honesty, this is one of the best bookshops in Japan. Kinokuniya is Japan’s largest bookstore chain with overseas presence, mainly in Asia and a few branches in the US. I remember visiting it for the first time, it was our third day in Tokyo and we spent there 2 hours that passed in a blink of an eye! We were so tired, still fighting off the jetlag and just discovered where to buy a cheap simcard in Tokyo.
It’s an absolute heaven for any Japanophiles, the selection here goes beyond your imagination. It’s not just any large bookstore, this is the first Kinokuniya bookstore ever opened, dating back to 1927! It has 7 floors and it’s massive, I felt like a child upon entering this gigantic building full of so many great author’s works!
Apart from the obvious Japanese books and free wi-fi, you can find all sorts of old and new manga, brand new releases (mainly Japanese but also in English) and there’s even a floor dedicated to foreign books and magazines in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Italian if Japanese isn’t your strong point.
You will be flabbergasted as soon as you step inside the lift with the special staff member (one of the cutest-dressed Japanese staff in a uniform operating the lift for you and welcoming every ‘guest’ entering the elevator with her cute but very high-pitched voice, a little bit like a having the Maid Café experience without paying for it!). The way my new book was handed over to me – first class, I did not come across that anywhere else.
10. Yayoi Kusama Museum
Presumably one of less known things to do in Shinjuku which it totally worth your time. Although Yayoi Kusama Museum is located a little bit outside of Shinjuku station and it might be easier reach it by train (only a couple of stops), it is one of the most popular destinations for art lovers. For those who don’t recognise the name, let me introduce her persona briefly (apologies for such oversimplification!).
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Yayoi Kusama is the avantgarde Japanese granny (almost 90!), a worldwide recognised contemporary artist known for her multicoloured bright designs and multiple art installations located in various places around the world. She is not the typical Japanese with her rainbow-inspired hairstyle and fashion sense, her passion for polka-dot, pop-art and the most iconic Pumpkin sculpture. Not to mention she is probably the coolest nan you’ll ever read about.
The only thing it, the waiting time for the tickets is probably comparable with obtaining tickets to the Ghibli Museum where you need to book your tickets well in advance to get in!
11. The Hub Pub – the British Pub chain in Japan
Although this pub is definitely not unique to Shinjuku, it’s worth visiting it simply for the experience of a cultural mix between regular Japanese people who frequent this spot, the expat community living out in Tokyo and of course, tourists. It’s the closest you can get to experience the typical Irish pub feel abroad, however, you will still be amazed how many more Japanese are there compared to the foreigners.
The staff members speak English, menus are also in English and the prices are reasonable. The food served there is more Western with the oriental twist and their cocktails are delicious (try the milky Matcha cocktail with Baileys). Thanks to the TV screens, this place is a great opportunity to get the feel of Japan’s culture and experience the emotions during big sport events, such as sumo tournaments or major football games. We were lucky to be in Japan during the World Cup in 2018!
12. The LockUp restaurant Shinjuku – Prison-themed restaurant
Japan is home to some of the most exciting, weirdest, creepy, frightening and cutest themed cafes, restaurants and experiences with Tokyo being the epicentre of all of them! Since you are looking for some off-the-beaten-track ideas on what to do in Shinjuku, I can tell you that you’ll be spoilt for choice here.
How about being led to a prison cell in handcuffs for your late dinner? Shinjuku is home to the LockUp restaurant, a prison-themed venue, conveniently located in the shady streets of Shinjuku in Kabukicho. It might not be the best place to visit in Tokyo if you happen to be faint-hearted but those loving the thrill have found a perfect dinner spot.
You can encounter sexy, zombie-like policewomen, serving cocktails and food from questionably-looking test tubes and you-know-what-they-were-used-for styled up syringes that inevitable raise your adrenaline levels. All in all, despite not the most appetising food on the plate, it is voted one of the best restaurants in Shinjuku to its extreme and totally unique style.
13. Zauo Restaurant Shinjuku – Fish For Your Own Food
Ever heard or the Chinese proverb “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime”? What if I told you that this Japanese restaurant in Shinjuku called Zauo takes this saying to the next level with its fresh seafood selection!
As soon as you enter, you’ll be greeted by a vintage boat which turns out to be the seating area as well! Once you seated, here’s the fishing rod with some bait and… off you go! Time to prove to your girlfriend or your mates you are worth something, time to catch your fish. Of course, the bigger and less common, the better (and more expensive)! The options range from about 4,000 Yen but a catch like lobster or scorpion fish will more than double it!
Luckily, all that’s asked from you is to catch your fish, you are free to leave the preparation to the chefs who will take care of it to the best of their super-impressive abilities. Another great dating place in Tokyo where you can impress your partner with your skills and of course, creativity for selecting it!
If you’re looking for the ultimate guide to Japanese quirky experience, check out our best themed cafes and restaurant in Tokyo here.
14. Don Quijote Shinjuku
Although Don Quijote is a huge Japanese chain selling anything you can think of, a little bit like TK Maxx but hundred times better (add to it quirky and weird, of course!). Although it’s not specific to Shinjuku, this Don Quijote one is open 24/7, and is probably the biggest out of all branches.
It’s seriously massive and surprisingly always busy, even at midnight. Here, you can buy souvenirs, gifts for your family and friends, toys, anime merchandise, Japanese beauty products, makeup, weird and funky outfits, snacks and even lingerie! Actually, maybe I should rephrase it – what can’t you buy in Don Quijote?!
Although initially I didn’t like how messy it was and how packed this store gets, I gave in after realising how, surprisingly, many products I liked from there and felt like I needed them, despite the initial rejection, followed by a secondary inspection.
Be smart (unlike us each time we went shopping) and bring your passport with you if you’re planning to splash a little more as there is also a tax-free counter in this Don Quijote. So, whether in Shinjuku or elsewhere, Don Quijote is one of “those” things to do in Tokyo.
Want more ideas? Carry on with our guide on what to do in Shinjuku, you’ll wish you had booked more time in Tokyo!
15. Men’s Fashion Overload – Shop at Isetan Men’s Shinjuku with 8 floors
Whether you feel satisfied knowing what to do in Shinjuku when you finally get there, I strongly recommend to add shopping in Shinjuku to your experiences. Whilst anywhere in the world Women’s Fashion is given the priority over Men’s Fashion, shopping for men in Tokyo has never been easier
You don’t have to buy, you can take just as much pleasure from window shopping. All in all, Kevin and I were amazed how many fashion options were out there for men! Surprised? Read on.
Men’s fashion is big in Japan and many Japanese brands have successfully managed to capitalise on it! Be sure to check out Isetan Men’s department store loaded with 8 floors full of fashionable clothing, accessories and literally anything dedicated to men. After a single visit you this place will make you guys reading it (or your man) look your / his best.
I hope that after reading this article you have a clearer view on what to do in Shinjuku. Don’t forget to share your ideas and of course feedback from your experiences if this guide ticks some of the boxes. There will be more coming along so stay tuned! Also, if you haven’t left for Japan yet and want to know which Tokyo district will be best for you, check out our comprehensive guide to top best Tokyo districts for first timers, it will save you hours of research!
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