In a city of 13 million people, it can be tricky to find a quiet corner or a moment of peace. If you’re hitting the tourist trail in Tokyo but don’t fancy sharing every moment with thousands of others, take note of our insider’s guide to dodging the crowds.
See Tokyo's sights without the crowds
Time your visit
Where possible, plan your vacation carefully. Cherry blossom season (usually late March/early April) is the busiest time of the year. You can beat the crowds by arriving early for the equally beautiful (but less celebrated) plum trees that bloom a dark pink in February and early March.
Shibuya Scramble is at its quietest in the morning
Tokyo by day and by night
Get Tokyo’s busiest shrines and temples to yourself (well, almost) when you arrive early. Most open from 9 am when they are at their quietest. The same can be said for Shinjuku where most shops open from 10 or 11 am, so arrive early to be the first through the door. Shibuya Scramble is also less crowded early in the morning. However, it’s worth considering that the hoards of pedestrians that swarm there later in the day will probably make your photos look more impressive.
If your circadian rhythms don’t permit early morning exploration, take a night-time walk around popular areas like Asakusa and Ginza. Enjoy the twinkling lights and emptier streets.
Many of Tokyo's busiest streets quieten down at night
Popular places can get extremely busy on weekends and national holidays (especially during Golden Week, in late April/ early May), so think about visiting busy spots like Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku, Asakusa or Harajuku on a regular weekday.
Unless you want to experience the claustrophobic Tokyo commute, ride the trains after 10 am on weekdays when most commuters have arrived in their offices. Trains start to get busy from 5 pm on Monday to Friday in the evenings as commuters head back home.
Nezu Shrine is one of Tokyo's prettiest shrines, a little off the tourist trail
Alternative Tokyo attractions
Tokyo has so much to do that there's no reason to follow the same itineraries as everyone else. Make some smart substitutions and get the same great experience.
Nezu makes an excellent alternative to Asakusa. It has its own beautiful shrine and a local, downtown atmosphere. The shrine itself is replete with a long avenue of Instagrammable red torii gates, so you can even have a ‘Kyoto moment’ in Tokyo.
Away from Shibuya’s main drag, you’ll find some lower-key areas—in some cases, only a few streets away. Nearby Cat Street is home to hipster cafes and cool clothes shops and makes a lovely place for a Sunday stroll.
Inokashira Park: All the beauty of any other Tokyo park, but without the crowds
Tokyo’s lesser-known neighborhoods
Areas like Shimokitazawa or Daikanyama offer the youth culture experience without the hordes of people you'll find in Harajuku and Shibuya. Similarly, less well-known places like Koenji, northwest of Shibuya, is a warren of cool thrift shops, cafes, and wine bars.
Discover Shimokitazawa's cool boutiques, cafes and bars
Kichijoji, another hip area to hang out, has its very own hub of small drinking dens known as Harmonica Alley and is also home to one of the locals’ favorite green spaces, Inokashira Park, where you can hire a boat or simply relax. There are always far fewer people than in Tokyo’s better-known parks.
In the east of the city, shopaholics can get their fix of the big Japanese brands by going to Kinshicho. It’s superb for shopping, but also a great spot to get an ‘on the ground' shot of Tokyo Sky Tree.
The Yebisu Garden Place Tower has beautiful city views
The small viewing area on the 46th floor of the Caretta Shiodome building offers excellent views of Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Tower. It’s free to enter, and there are plenty of restaurants if you want to gaze a little longer.
See the buzz of Tokyo at night from far above at Hotel Aman
The Yebisu Garden Place Tower in Ebisu has stunning night views. Although space in the viewing area is limited, you can get a fantastic view of Tokyo Tower, and there are plenty of good places to dine too.
For a panoramic view of Tokyo’s nightscape, visit Hotel Aman’s stunning bar for an elegant drink and the opportunity to look at the hotel’s beautiful interior architecture.
About the author
Rebecca (Becki) came to Japan expecting to only stay for a year. After stints living in Kagoshima, Osaka and now Tokyo, she's still here. She enjoys spending her weekends finding cool new things to see, eat, drink and do.