Must-Read Guide Top 10 Ideas On What To Do In Ueno Tokyo
Not all Tokyo has been fully transformed into a futuristic skyscraper metropolis; at least not yet. You can still find several places that have retained their authentic Old Tokyo or Edo-like feel. One of them is Ueno, located in Taito ward of Tokyo. Seeing how much we enjoyed being around Ueno, we created this guide for you to find out exactly what to do in Ueno, Tokyo’s old samurai soul.
Ueno is one of the best places to feel the old Tokyo spirit. Sightseeing Ueno will give you a different feel of Tokyo. You won’t find the sky-rise condos, swanky shopping malls and young trendsetters manifesting their unusual rainbow-inspired looks. Instead, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the most beautiful park during sakura season, reasonably priced izakaya pubs, history and art museums, and a couple colourful markets.
And if you’re after some cheap hotels in Tokyo, Ueno has quite a few decent ones without compromising on the quality. Ready?
1) Ueno Park
In a few words, Ueno Park is not just Tokyo’s but Japan’s most visited park! There are a few reasons why this place is so magnetic, especially during hanami or cherry blossom viewing period bringing together thousands of people bathing in the beauty of falling cherry blossom petals and picnicking around on the large mats. Visit Ueno Park at cherry blossom season, it’s one of the best places to see hanami in Tokyo!
If you don’t have a structured plan on what to do in Ueno Tokyo, start with Ueno Park which is good to visit all year round, with many summer sport activities and organised events, Momiji or beautiful bright red coloured leaves during autumn foliage and Christmas lights decorating the park in the winter. Best part of it? It comes with many historical sites, a zoo and it’s totally free!
In the past, Ueno park area used to belong to the Imperial family, hence why the elegant style of the park. In 1924 Ueno park changed hands and was given to the town as a gift celebrating Hirohito’s wedding. There are a few spots you shouldn’t miss out on:
Shinobazu Pond (不忍池)
I absolutely adore this pond, it’s so photogenic and beautifully covered in lotus plants. I had to stop and admire it for a little while. Once you’re there, you’ll realise why Shinobazu no ike or Shinobazu pond has been an inspiration to several paintings featuring this fabulous place, especially if you see it around sunset.
If you walk towards the east side, you can enjoy the view in a more active way, from the boat, perfect on warm, sunny days. They even have swans but boat rental around cherry blossom is so picturesque!
Bentendo temple is often referred to as hexagonal tower and it’s easy to spot it in Ueno Park, as long as you’re near Shinobazu Pond. Bentendo temple’s name derives from the goddess Benzaiten enshrined there, it’s actually a temple built after one with identical hexagonal shape in Lake Biwa.
It’s by far one of the most beautiful temples in Tokyo and in Japan. It’s one of the spots not many Westerners know about (yet)!
Ueno Daibutsu (上野大仏)
If you cannot make it to Kamakura or Nara to see Giant Daibutsu statue, well, I’ve got some good news for you! There are actually two Daibutsu statues in Tokyo, one in Itabashi and the other one, Ueno Daibutsu is in Ueno Park. The Giant bronze Buddha statue dates back to 17th century and got damaged during Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923. However, the Great Buddha’s face looks untouched, it’s totally worth it and it’s one of the most impressive sights of Ueno Park.
Ueno Park Street Food
Whilst you can get yummy street food outside Ueno Station and Ameyoko market, there are quite a few food stalls inside Ueno Park. The welcoming faces of always friendly street food vendors will make you want to try their local delicacies, like grilled seafood skewers, my favourite ones are grilled squid and ayu fish (sweet fish, Japanese speciality!).
Even if you didn’t have anything particular in mind on what to do in Ueno apart from visiting the park, read on and make some notes, it’s only the beginning.
2) Ueno Zoo (恩賜上野動物園)
It’s Japan’s oldest Zoo dating back to 1882! It’s right next to the entrance to Ueno Park so just look for Ueno Onshi Park signage. This zoo is best known for its Ueno Panda family. It’s a Giant Panda family with Shin Shin (Panda dad), Ri Ri (Panda mum) and the new baby delivered in 2017, Xiang Xiang whose name was chosen based on public’s suggestions. Well, as you can see, Japan is very good as pleasing the crowds!
There are over 3,000 animals and 400 different species of animals, including the same arctic monkeys you can see in Nagano, better known as macaque monkeys. They have their special designated area called Saru-yama, make sure you don’t miss it. It’s a great place whether you’re looking for ideas on what to do in Ueno with kids or friends.
Again, Ueno Zoo is far more affordable than London Zoo. With the price as steep as £24.30 per adult, Ueno Zoo is only 600 Yen for an adult ticket! That’s £4 or a sixth of London’s price! Can you believe how much you’re being ripped off in London?! It’s only 200 for students and children under 12 go in free of charge. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of this price difference?
3) Ueno Museum Tour
The list of things to do in Ueno is very long, it’s the most cultural neighbourhood in Tokyo for a number of reasons. If you enjoy visiting museums, you are going to be spoilt for choice here as Ueno is probably the best destination for anyone into culture, history and arts. You might as well spend a couple of days purely on a Ueno museum tour! The list is endless, but let’s focus on a few big ones:
Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館)
Although Tokyo National Museum is smaller, with 110,000 exhibits, it received over 2 million visitors a year. Its main focus is on cultural and historically important assets from Asia and mainly Japan. Those who love East Asian art shouldn’t look any further, in here you can see over 80 National Treasures! It’s the largest art museum in Japan and one of the largest in the world.
Shitamachi Museum (下町風俗資料館)
Shitamachi Museum is near the beautiful Shinobazu Pond. Its Japanese name directly translates to Low City and the main focus is on the Tokyo flatlands (Taito, Chiyoda and Chuo, the old Edo centre which is now Ueno and Asakusa, inhabited mainly by the Japanese lower classes, like cratftsmen and fishermen). Shitamachi showcases Edo-style culture and lifestyle in life-sized replicas of townscapes, including Edo house apartments and streets, all at 300 yen (adult) and 100 yen for students.
National Museum of Western Art (国立西洋美術館)
It costs only 430 yen to get in and under 18s can go in for free. The museum displays paintings by many Western artists, including Rubens, Fragonard, Monet, Delacroix, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Miró and many more. The artistic souls will feel fulfilled knowing what to do in Ueno at any time of the year, rain or shine.
National Museum of Nature and Science (国立科学博物館)
At 620 Yen, it is Japan’s oldest general science museum displaying over 4 million exhibits ranging from natural history artifacts including fossils dating back millions of years to modern technological inventions. National Museum of Nature and Science is divided into the Global Gallery and the Japanese Gallery.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (東京都美術館)
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum consists of 6 different galleries where you can enjoy Japanese calligraphy and ceramics as well as paintings of contemporary Japanese artists but you can also see the works of the overseas artists as well. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions but there’s always something memorable to come for.
If you want to take a breather from the museum, there’s also a restaurant to grab lunch or a snack.
Ueno Royal Museum
Ueno Royal Museum is a little bit tricky as there are no official permanent exhibitions! Don’t worry though, there’s always something on the menu with many contemporary artists showing their artwork. If you’re into calligraphy, there’s a high chance of finding good stuff in here. There are 2-3 exhibitions at any time, great if you’re after something different and fresh.
I reckon you’ll quite enjoy this highly concentrated Ueno museum tour. One, it’s easy to navigate around them and two, you can easily make a couple of days out of it, simply navigating between the beautiful Japanese landscape garden featuring autumn leaves or cherry blossoms, Japanese street food served in Ueno park and museums.
If you’d like to know about the best museums in Taito ward covering Ueno and Asakusa area, read this article.
4) Ameyoko market AKA Ameya Yokocho (アメヤ横丁)
Between Ueno station and Okachimachi station, there’s a long, busy street, street selling all sorts of fresh as well as cooked food, snacks, beauty products and clothing. As long as you’re there before 8pm, it is always busy with Japanese people (often quite old ones as well) doing their grocery shopping. This is Ameyoko Market, the ultimate spot for those wanting to know what to do in Ueno with their stacks of yen and appetite for food.
I remember us trying to see Ueno Park on our second day in Tokyo with our just assembled scooters, hoping for a ride to see sakura in Ueno. Turned out we were going from Akihabara through that market and there was no space for us to walk on, let alone scoot!
Ameyoko market is often simplified as Ueno market. Apparently, the name Ameya Yokocho comes from the word ameya (飴屋 means candy shop) because of the abundance of sweet shops on the streets Ameyoko, whilst the other theory says Ameya is an abbreviation to America where after WW2 all the extra army goods were shipped and sold nowhere else but in Ameyoko market. Whichever way you look at it, this place has a quaint feel.
My first impression was: “Are these shoes fake? They’re displayed outside on the makeshift stalls, which makes them look like they’re worth a few quid, not original Nike shoes and anyone could take them!” Well, I didn’t know we were standing by London Sports and nearby shops selling heavily discounted footwear.
Ameya Yokocho is going to be fun and it looks probably more like Japan after WW2 or Hong Kong . It’s always busy and it’s always cheap so make sure to grab a couple of bargains, whether it’s a bag of chocolates from Shimura Shoten, Minatoya Shokuhi selling Kaisen don (similar to Yoshinoya style rice bowl with fresh tuna sashimi) for 500 Yen, delicious takoyaki or a bargain, Yakiniku from Ueno Taishoen for under 1000 Yen. Try that in Shinjuku and the price will triple!
Japanese street food tastes good and it’s very safe, trust me. If you’ve had bad experience from Bali or Vietnam, this isn’t going to be the case in Japan, the country where hygiene and top-notch quality comes first! There are also many izakayas where you can sit down and enjoy your food uninterrupted. Before you move on, you can treat yourself to a foot bath at Momi no Yu Café, where you might even get a foot massage if you’re lucky!
5) Ueno Restaurants
Whilst there are hundreds of Japanese izayaka pubs, vending machine restaurants and street food stands, Ueno station is also boasting in a good selection of restaurants. Some of the particularly known Ueno restaurants are Seiyoken located on top of the hill with a view on Ueno Park selling Western-inspired dishes.
Innsyoutei is a little more pricey but the décor is fabulous, especially during sakura season. The lunch options include Hana-kago-zen (flower basket), a lighter lunch or 3,500 yen for bento style lunch.
The list is long and Ueno restaurants are gaining popularity amonsts Westerners, especially if the English menu is available. The traditional and a few generations-old Hantei Nezu specialises in Kushiage or deep-fried skewers, which is super popular in Osaka.
Ichiran and Ramen Ippudo serves some good quality and thick ramen soup, Izu-ei specialising in eel dishes dating back to Edo period, Yabu soba if you fancy authentic soba noodles (and despite the simplicity, they taste really good!) or Sasanoyuki for those who are vegan and are looking for alternatives to meat dishes – loads of tofu on the menu!
6) Korea Town Tokyo
If you think you’re going to run out of things to do in Ueno, you’re wrong. Even though you’re in the most traditional Tokyo area, there’s one part that feels non-Japanese, the Korea Town, the oldest one in Tokyo. Whilst the most vibrant Tokyo Korea town is located in Shin-Okubo near Shinjuku’s red light district Kabukicho, there’s also a much smaller version of Koreatown in Tokyo is in Ueno. Considering that Ueno restaurants are known for having very affordable prices and authentic taste, same rule applies to the Korea Town with decades of history.
Once you’re done with your exciting-turn-tiring Ueno Museum tour, you can stop for a fresh kimchi, bibimbap or spicy bulgogi. There are a few Korean supermarkets and independent stands to walk around a grab a few of your favourite Korean snacks.
7) Experience Ueno Shopping at 42-floor Takeya & More
If I told you that you could go shopping in London filled with 42-floors of just shopping space, you would think I’m nuts. Well, this isn’t necessary the case for Tokyo where ridiculously tall buildings are utilised to their maximum potential!
Although this ultra-colossal superstore selling goods at a bargain is in Okachimachi station, it’s only a stone throw from Ueno station. Whilst Ueno does not have multi-storey skyscrapers, this giant stands out even from far away thanks to its bright purple colour. Apparently, Takeya is Tokyo’s or rather Japan’s oldest and well-known discounted superstore.
It’s always packed, just like Don Quijote and whilst the latter usually seems, at least from our experience, to lack other-than-cashiers staff members, let alone English-speaking ones, Takeya in Ueno is also multilingual, with 10 language interpreters!
Well, let’s clarify it, there’s about 8 different building that make up Taketa in Okachimachi! You heard it! We only got to see a handful of them but the most obvious building sells unique things as Don Quijote and more. It’s a great place for Japanese snacks, dry food and refrigerated products you simply wouldn’t find in the majority of Japanese convenience stores like 7-eleven or Family Mart, Japanese souvenirs, fashion and beauty products and many heavily discounted Western brands, including designer outlets like Gucci!
If you thought your shopping is over, it’s not. Yamashiroya in Ueno is a 6-floor toy and game mega department store with figurines and merch from your favourite anime, ABAB Ueno is packed with 7 floors of affordable Ladies’ fashion and Daiso, the 100 Yen store (or a $1 store) and many other much smaller, independent stores specialising in snacks, traditional clothes and accessories.
Once you’ve had enough of shopping in Tokyo’s most cultural place, Ueno, you can release your stress levels over your hard-earned, quickly-spent cash (of course, not many places accept international cards in Japan!) on arcade games, pachinko or beautifying purikura machines.
If you’re keen on knowing where to shop in Ueno and what to buy in Ueno, Tokyo, check out our article here. It will save you hours of research or aimless walking around the shops without knowing what exactly you’re looking for. As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Ueno.
8) Many Beautiful Tokyo Temples Are In Ueno
Ueno station has a lot more to offer than its beautiful Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo or Ueno Museums. Tokyo is home to some of the most beautiful temples and Shinto Shrines and Ueno isn’t going to disappoint you in the slightest.
Here are a few temples you should definitely check out: Kaneiji Temple (東叡山寛永寺円頓院), Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, Bentendo Temple, Ueno Toshogu Shrine (上野東照宮), Hanazonoinari Shrine AKA Fushimi Inari of Tokyo and Nezu Shrine.
If you’d like to know more about the most beautiful temples in Ueno and Tokyo, check out our article here.
9) Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (東京文化会館)
Here’s a little inspiration for you on what to do in Ueno that’s not related to sculptures, shopping or landscape. If you’d like to get a feel for Japanese music and theatre, check out Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, a beautifully designed hall with over 2000 seats. It hosts many events which will get your attention, even if you’re not particularly into music.
The beautiful interior of Tokyo Bunka Kaikan is home to many operas, orchestras, ballet and Tokyo Music Competition! Being brought up in Poland in a musical family, I spent my childhood attending a music school with my siblings so you can imagine that for me this place is certainly charming.
Especially knowing that the works of Chopon, Poland’s greatest composer, are often performed in Bunka Kaikan, gathering a mix of Japanese and international musicians. It’s great for, as I call it, purifying your soul with classical music. Oh, did I mention anything about its magnetic staircase? It’s so captivating!
10) Ueno Summer Festival AKA Ueno Natsu Matsuri
Last but definitely the most exciting idea on what to do in Ueno, Tokyo’s most leafy and historical centre. Ueno Park has something to offer regardless of the season and summer seems to be nothing but an intensive 5-week celebration packed with festivities.
Starting mid-July and going on well into August, you can expect loads of buzz, just look for Shibobazu Pond, in Japanese it’s Shinobazu No Ike, the heart of Ueno Park. That’s thanks to the arrival of Ueno Summer Festival or in Japanese, Ueno Natsu Matsuri!
Summer in Tokyo, despite hitting you with intensive heat, can be pretty cool! Especially if you’re in Tokyo in the second half of July there’s a huge Parade celebrating Ueno Natsu Matsuri going from Ueno Park through the street of Chuo Dori. It’s going to be big, fun and pretty. Imagine around 40 teams of beautiful dancers performing various dances, like sexy or Yosakoi.
If you missed it, don’t worry. There’s also a magical paper floating lantern festival or an ice sculpture show to see. Dare to crash this massive Japanese party?
I hope you enjoyed reading our must-read guide with 10 cool ideas on what to do in Ueno. It will be really exciting, especially now that you know so much about it! Keep this page open for when you’re out and about in Ueno. It will come in handy, whether you’re looking for the beautiful temples in Ueno or feeling peckish and are ready for lunch at Ueno restaurants. Have a fabulous time out in Ueno!
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