Tokyo is rightly proud of its world-class public transportation system. But this amazing city also rewards slowing down and exploring its highlights on foot.
Here’s how to do just that, connecting several Tokyo landmarks on wonderfully curated walks that showcase different parts of the city, from some of the most iconic outdoor and spacious attractions, to lesser-known discoveries sure to delight your inner cultural aficionado.
Asakusa and Sumida
(2.5 km; 2.5 hours)
On this walk, experience the flavor of Shitamachi (the former “lower town” of the Edo era), strolling from Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, to Skytree, the tallest free-standing radio tower of the world.
With a history of approximately 1,400 years, Sensō-ji has been the spiritual and cultural powerhouse of Asakusa for centuries. Start by entering the famous Kaminarimon gate with its huge lantern, then stroll down Nakamise Dōri, the street lined with shops and approach the temple, with a traditional snack or two freshly prepared by the vendors in the store.
Once you reach the temple, be enchanted by the puff of incense, the crackle of feet approaching the main hall to pray, and the brilliant vermilion hue of the temple and its five-storied pagoda.
Then take a quick five-minute detour to Asakusa Engei Hall, a performance hall for rakugo, traditional Japanese comic storytelling, and other performing arts—one of only four such theaters in Tokyo. Take a few moments to appreciate the colorful flags and lanterns that adorn the unique exterior, and appreciate an institution that has nurtured the careers of some of Japan’s most famous comics.
Make a U-turn towards Nakamise Street and continue on the Sumida River. For the best view of the “golden flame” atop Asahi Super Dry Hall on the opposite bank, go to the Azuma-bashi Bridge area near Asakusa Station, then head north to at Sumida River Walk, a new addition to the area that now gives pedestrians direct access to Sumida-gawa from the tourist areas of Asakusa to Tokyo Skytree.
Open to foot traffic from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and lit from dusk in coordination with Tokyo Skytree lighting, it’s one of the most scenic places to enjoy the riverscape and setting sun.
Take a well-deserved break at Tokyo Mizumachi, a small waterfront shopping district tucked under the train tracks, accessible only on foot or by bike (though bike parking is limited). It’s the perfect spot for casual al fresco dining, so grab a bite to eat on the riverside terrace facing the Kitajukken River or grab some takeout and lay back in the adjacent Sumida Park.
Marunouchi, Ginza and Tsukiji
(6.3 km; 3-4 hours, excluding optional stops at the museum)
Located next to the Imperial Palace, on the grounds of lush Kita-no-maru Park, is Japan’s first national art museum. Known as MOMAT, Tokyo’s Museum of Modern Art is home to an incredible 13,000 early 20th-century Japanese (and international) works of art, 200 of which are selected at a time for display in the rotating MOMAT collection.
Begin your walk here with a culturally enriching walk through this spacious and lesser-known artistic gem, before strolling through the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Stop at Kōkyo Gaien Plaza to snap photos of the iconic Megane-bashi stone bridge and its reflection on the moat as well as the Nijū-bashi steel bridge behind it, the closest you can get to the grand buildings without a tour.
Then, walk through the gardens to the Tokyo International Forum, a grand convention and civic center with an impressive 60-meter-tall glass hall inspired by the shape of a boat, taking the elevated glass walkways to experience the atrium bathed in light from all angles.
If you’re interested in more art and architecture, head to the Mitsubishi Ichigōkan Museum next door. Designed in 1894, this beautiful red-brick building was the first Western-style office building in the Marunouchi district. Faithfully reconstructed based on the original design, it is now a museum focusing on late 19th and early 20th century art.
If the mood takes you, take a quick detour to Tokyo Station, where on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the KITTE building, you’ll find a most delightfully unexpected attraction called Intermediatheque, a free museum with an eclectic and fascinating collection of antiques. acquired by the University of Tokyo, the most prestigious educational institution in the country, since its founding in 1877.
From there, return to the Tokyo International Forum and continue to Yūrakuchō Station, turning left towards Ginza. Considered Tokyo’s fanciest district, discover this upscale shopping district with its designer boutiques, high-end restaurants and galleries, including the beautiful Kabukiza Theater, before heading to Tsukiji, Tokyo’s pantry .
While the area’s indoor wholesale market moved to a new location in 2018, Tsukiji’s outdoor market remains open and brimming with incredibly fresh seafood and other tasty morsels. Visit Yamachō (6:50am-3:30pm) to try their freshly made tamago-yaki (sweet rolled egg omelet) on a stick. Gloriously moist and decadent, you’ll be hard pressed to wipe the smile off your face as you savor every bite.
Ueno and Yanesen
(6km, 3 hours)
On this walk, we will first visit the quaint Yanesen district, the collective name for the districts of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi, a charming part of the city that has all the nostalgia of Tokyo some decades ago.
Start with a stroll along the historic shopping street of Yanaka Ginza, lined with locally owned shops, cafes and food stalls. the ideal place to grab a delicious snack on the go. Be sure to pause at the Yūyake Dandan Stairs for a great photo opportunity before heading to the nearby Asakura Sculpture Museum.
Former residence and workshop of the famous late Japanese sculptor Fumio Asakura, this incredible building, itself classified as a national cultural asset, showcases his life’s work. With an emphasis on realism, expect to find depictions of the human form as well as plenty of cats. Don’t miss the beautiful rooftop garden, the oldest existing rooftop garden in Tokyo, and the courtyard, both registered as Places of Scenic Beauty.
From there, continue south past Yanaka Cemetery to SCAI The Bathhouse, a contemporary art gallery housed in a 200-year-old former bathhouse. Entrance to the exhibition is by advance reservation, which can be arranged online, although the outside alone is worth a stop.
Moving through the heart of Ueno and its culture-rich central park, Ueno-kōen, you’ll find the city’s largest concentration of museums here, including the Tokyo National Museum, as well as other notable cultural attractions. Stop at Ueno Tōshō-gū, a gilded Shinto shrine built in 1627 dedicated to Edo-era Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, before hopping onto Ameyokō Shopping Street to soak up the market atmosphere and browse the vendors’ offerings.
Following the train tracks, you will soon reach 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan, an arts and crafts district of around 50 artisan shops, studios, galleries and cafes, nestled under the train tracks between Okachimachi and Okachimachi stations. ‘Akihabara. Most of the products sold here are not mass-produced, making it a great place for unique souvenirs and gifts.
Another 5-10 minutes and you’ll be in the heart of Akihabara, Tokyo’s “Electric City” and hub of otaku pop culture, manga, cosplay and more.
Note: Tokyo museums are generally closed on Mondays. Be sure to check the current opening days and times for each attraction you wish to visit, as well as COVID safety measures, before embarking on your walk.