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Bridge Imperial Palace1/7
Photo: Maruoka Joe/Photo ACView of the Fushimi Yagura castle keep from the large plaza in front of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace
Hotel New Otani Landscape Garden2/7
Photo: Hotel New Otani TokyoLandscape Garden of Hotel New Otani Tokyo
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Photo: Keisuke TanigawaNogeyama Zoo
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Photo: F11photo/DreamstimeView of Sensoji Temple from the Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center
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Photo: Bunkyo Civic Center Observation LoungeView of Tokyo from the Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge
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インターメディアテク
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Keisuke TanigawaTokiwaso Manga Museum

25 of the best free things to do in Tokyo

Live your best life without spending a yen at Tokyo's best museums, attractions, tours, observation decks and more

By Kasey Furutani and Tabea Greuner
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Tokyo is one of the world's most expensive cities, but you don't have to take out a loan to visit. From free views of the city skyline to cheap Michelin meals, hanging out in the big city doesn't have to cost you anything. That's right: you can enjoy Tokyo's best art, music and entertainment without spending a single yen.

So put your wallet away and follow our guide to the finest free attractions Tokyo has to offer, from local concerts to galleries featuring up-and-coming and established artists. And once you start feeling peckish, consult our cheap eats guide for the best grub under ¥1,000. Budgeting has never been so fun. 

RECOMMENDED: Our guide on going out safely in Tokyo

See Tokyo for free

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories
Photo: Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Attractions Sightseeing Shinjuku

The government-owned towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building are a regular feature at the top of tourist to-do lists, and for good reason. The North and South Towers each boast a free observatory on their 45th floors, which unveil jaw-dropping views of Shinjuku’s famed skyscraper skyline and beyond. Both towers feature a souvenir shop as well as an affordable cafeteria – but the South Tower has the added distinction of housing an eye-catching yellow, polka-dot piano designed by Yayoi Kusama, which is free for anyone who might want to tinkle out an impromptu sky-high recital.

Note: the café and souvenir shop in the North Tower are currently closed due to the coronavirus. Also, the Yayoi Kusama piano cannot be used at the moment.

Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center
Photo: Time Out Tokyo

Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center

Travel Tourist Information Centre Asakusa

It’s hard to miss the stunning Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center designed by Kengo Kuma, located across the street from another visitor magnet, Sensoji Temple’s Kaminarimon gate. Besides offering free guided tours, currency exchange and an information desk, the eight-storey building also sports a (covered) rooftop observation deck, which offers the best view of Sensoji without having to jostle through the crowds. The deck is open until 10pm so you can also admire the grand temple lit up at night. You’ll find exhibitions and cultural events on the other floors but if you’re short of battery power, best make a beeline for the street-facing counter on the second floor – it’s fitted with electrical charging points.

Note: the tourist information centre is only operating until 6pm due to the coronavirus.

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Tower Hall Funabori
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Tower Hall Funabori

Things to do Edogawa

In providing views out over eastern Tokyo, this 115m-high observation deck is something of a rarity. From here you can see the traditional neighbourhood of Edogawa, where the tower is located, Kasai Rinkai Park and its ferris wheel, the Tokyo Skytree and Mt Tsukuba in the distance. The building, which houses offices, restaurants, concert halls and a cinema, is easily identified by its sailboat-like structure jutting into the sky. If you’re lucky, you might even see the occasional fireworks from Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge
Photo: Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge

Attractions Towers and viewpoints Suidobashi

This observatory can be accessed directly from Korakuen or Kasuga stations without setting foot outside, making it a perfect option for when it’s raining. You’ll love the panorama of Shinjuku from the 105m-high deck protruding from its spaceship-like office building, and more so because the slanted windows reduce glare and reflection from sunlight. You’ll get Mt Fuji on a clear day while dusk makes for a spectacular shot when the setting sun is in view – just keep your eye on the clock, though, as the deck closes at 8.30pm even though the building is open until 10pm.

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View from Carrot Tower
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Carrot Tower

Attractions Towers and viewpoints Sangenjaya

Experience one more way that carrots can help you see in the dark, while taking in a spectacular free view of Tokyo from above. Carrot Tower got its name from the building’s orange façade, and is home to a free observation deck on the 26th floor, along with a restaurant and a more affordable café. Don’t expect close-up views of skyscrapers here as Sangenjaya, while just two stops away from Shibuya on the metro, is largely low-rise and residential – though the deck does make up for it with comfy sofas to sit on while enjoying the view. On a clear day, you might even get an unobstructed view of Mt Fuji.

Note: the café is currently closed due to the coronavirus.

Hotel New Otani Landscape Garden
Photo: Hotel New Otani Tokyo

Hotel New Otani Landscape Garden

Things to do Kioicho

Yes, it’s attached to a hotel, but the Hotel New Otani Tokyo's landscape garden is open to non-guests too. The spacious garden, dating back around 400 years, has everything you’d expect from a classic Japanese landscape garden: a vermillion bridge crossing a large pond, a relaxing rock garden with stones from Sado Island, momiji maple leaves that burn bright red in autumn, and even a waterfall. When wandering it’s easy to get lost amid the scenery, but the fine details of the landscape design and nature surrounding you make it well worth the risk. To help you retrace your steps, the garden is illuminated after sunset throughout the year.

Free museums and art galleries

Intermediatheque
Photo: Intermediatheque

Intermediatheque

Museums Marunouchi

Located inside the Kitte shopping mall across from Tokyo Station, Intermediatheque (jointly run by Japan Post and the University Museum of the University of Tokyo) is a hidden museum dedicated to the intersection of culture, history and science. It holds a fascinating collection of scientific specimens and cultural artifacts, from steampunk oddities to an imposing menagerie from the natural world. You’ll stumble upon taxidermy birds and forest animals as well as skeletons in all sizes, from a frog to a minke whale. Perhaps the most compelling exhibit, though, is the story of humans’ evolutionary descent from our ape ancestors, told through progressively taller skeletons. Lovers of biology, history and design will enjoy wandering through the dimly lit halls that remind you of Hogwarts’ library.

Intermediatheque reopens on September 15.

Tokiwaso Manga Museum
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Tokiwaso Manga Museum

News Art

Did you know some of Japan's most famous manga artists lived together in an apartment building in Toshima? While the original building was knocked down, a replica has been built in Minami-Nagasaki, west of Ikebukuro, and turned into the Tokiwaso Manga Museum. The reconstructed apartment even copied the living situations of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy, as well as Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko, aka Fujiko Fujio aka the founders of Doraemon.

Now, budding artists can explore the highly successful mangakas' days of yore in this museum modeled after the trio's old apartment. The details are incredibly specific: you can see replicas of their tatami mat bedrooms filled with sketches, the communal kitchen and even see the Showa-era electronics and appliances. Admission is free but an online reservation is highly recommended. 

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 SCAI THE BATHHOUSE
撮影:上野則宏 協力: SCAI THE BATHHOUSE

Scai The Bathhouse

Art Galleries Yanaka

Located a safe distance from Yanaka’s main shopping street is the singular Scai the Bathhouse. It’s easy to walk past the sento (bathing facility) without a second thought as the traditional architecture blends in with the quiet neighbourhood. But venture in, past the shoe lockers (a remnant from the building’s previous life) and you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Instead of dried-out bathtubs, the hollowed-out space now hosts rotating contemporary art exhibitions featuring a repertoire of local and international artists. Korean-born painter and sculptor Lee Ufan, Japanese painter Tadanori Yokoo and American artist Jenny Holzer have all presented their works here in the past.

3331 Arts Chiyoda
Photo: 3331 Arts Chiyoda

3331 Arts Chiyoda

Art Suehirocho

Wander in and out of classrooms filled with art at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. The former junior high school may still look like an educational institution from the outside, but its interiors have been transformed to serve a very different purpose. Each classroom is dedicated to a gallery or creative space, whose occupants are free to experiment with the interior any way they choose. As such, every room feels like a world of its own: some simply display paintings gallery-style while others fill the space with installations. Artists can often be found in their classroom galleries and are happy to explain their art. The first floor houses a bigger gallery where large-scale exhibitions take place on a rotating basis, in addition to a café, gift shop, and small playroom for kids.

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Mega Web History Garage
Photo: Mega Web History Garage

Mega Web History Garage

Museums Odaiba

Car-maker Toyota’s theme park Mega Web doesn’t just have a showroom for its flashy new rides and a test-drive area – it also features a two-storey exhibition filled with vintage vehicles. At the History Garage you’ll find 20 regularly changing exhibits of domestic and international automobiles from the ’50s to the ’70s, and they are presented against an equally nostalgic backdrop of a Tokyo cityscape from the 1960s. For an even more engaging experience, head down to the first floor and meet the on-site mechanics who restore and maintain all the classic cars you see here. You can watch them at work – or, if you ask nicely between 11am and noon or 1pm and 6pm, they might even let you pop into the garage.

Complex 665
Photo: Complex 665

Complex665

Art Roppongi

Established galleries Taka Ishii, Tomio Koyama and ShugoArts make up the three-storey Complex 665, along with the showroom of Broadbean, a modern furniture and design group, on the first floor. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Roppongi, the warehouse-like building stands out from its surroundings thanks to a distinctive white-spiral motif on its exterior. The galleries are spacious and so you'll find a wider variety of works here – not just in scope and topic but size as well – compared to other space-limited galleries in the neighbourhood. They have been known to exhibit floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall paintings as well as realistic life-size human sculptures. 

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Design Festa Gallery
Photo: Design Festa

Design Festa Gallery

Art Harajuku

Happening twice a year at Tokyo Big Sight, Design Festa is a multidisciplinary celebration of everything from painting to performance art, with up to 12,000 artists and creatives participating in each event. This gallery is the festival’s permanent outpost, open throughout the year with 71 exhibition rooms and spaces to explore. With a unique concept of allowing artists to display and sell their works without any commission fee, the exhibitions here are a constantly changing roster. There’s also a bar and café on site, featuring more art on the walls.

ADMT Advertising Museum
Photo: Shinichi Sato

ADMT Advertising Museum Tokyo

Art Shiodome

This museum is devoted to Japanese advertising, from fascinating 17th-century woodblock prints to modern product-placement techniques. Although English explanations are limited, the images largely speak for themselves. Inspired technology allows touch-screen browsing of historic ads and on-demand viewing of award-winning commercials from the past three decades. The museum also contains a library of over 100,000 digitised images.

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TOTO Gallery Ma
Photo: Nacása & Partners Inc.

Toto Gallery Ma

Art Nogizaka

Architecture aficionados rejoice: Toto Gallery Ma, while bearing the name of its associated company – which is well known for its high-tech toilets – is dedicated to the art and design of buildings and physical structures, and not the household white porcelain thrones. Located in the Toto Building, the gallery features changing exhibitions with models, diagrams and sketches that focus on a particular architect’s or firm’s prototypes and projects. The exhibitions spill out to the outdoor space, where you climb stairs to get a bird’s-eye view of the showpiece.

Go on a free tour

Imperial Palace
Photo: Imperial Household Agency of Japan

Imperial Palace

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Chiyoda

Occupying the site of the former Edo Castle, which was also the residence of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokyo’s Imperial Palace has been home to a succession of emperors since 1868. While the East Garden is open to the public – and free – throughout the year, visitors wanting to take a tour of the rest of the precincts must reserve in advance (see the English reservation site for details).

This will bring you to historic premises such as the former Privy Council building and the Imperial Household Agency Building (both constructed in the early 20th century boasting Western architectural designs), the beautiful Fujimi-yagura Keep and, of course, the Imperial Palace itself. The steel-framed reinforced-concrete structure was completed in 1968, using materials mainly produced in Japan. Tours are available in English and note that you can’t step inside the buildings.

Explore the city with kids in tow

Yumemigasaki Zoo
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Yumemigasaki Zoo

Attractions Zoos and aquariums Kawasaki

Roughly 30 minutes from Shibuya, this tranquil zoo in Kawasaki combines animal-watching with a spot of cultural activity as it also houses two shrines and a temple. Established in 1972, it’s home to more than 50 types of animals including mountain zebras, llamas and penguins. The grounds are especially scenic in spring, when 400 cherry trees are in bloom, making it the perfect spot for a picnic. Its uphill location also offers a splendid view of Kawasaki city.

Nogeyama Zoo
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Nogeyama Zoo

Attractions Zoos and aquariums Yokohama

This fully fledged zoo, located within Nogeyama Park on a hill overlooking Yokohama’s Minatomirai area, was established in 1951, and is home to 93 species. There are the big game animals such as lions, tigers and giraffes to tick off your safari checklist, as well as pettable creatures the little ones can get their hands on, including squeaking guinea pigs and tiny mice at the Nakayoshi Hiroba (numbered tickets are required; check website for time slots). Don’t miss the kagu; this greyish-blue bird with red eyes is originally from New Caledonia and, in Japan, can only be seen at Nogeyama Zoo. The relaxing grounds are also equipped with a café and gift shop.

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Tokyo Water Science Museum
Photo: Tokyo Water Science Museum

Tokyo Water Science Museum

Museums Ariake

It might not sound too promising, but this Koto ward museum turns H2O-related science into a fun and engaging topic using immersive displays and interactive games. You’ll be greeted on arrival by the Wakuwaku Mountain and the Ukiuki Pool, where kids can play with the spray guns and climb into an underwater observation post.

In the small third-floor cinema, the walls and ceiling all become a surround screen, on which you can follow the journey of water from the forest to the city. The subsequent zones, all interactive, expand on the topics introduced in the film: the Aqua Forest focuses on water in nature, Aqua Town explains how water is used in daily life and the staff conduct water-based experiments at the Aqua Lab. All of which goes to show that, while you might not have given it much thought until now, water science is anything but dry.

Edogawa Shizen Too
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Edogawa Shizen Zoo

Attractions Zoos and aquariums Kasai

This small zoo in Edogawa ward’s Gyosen Park may not have the big beasts but kids will love its variety of smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep and goats, especially since they can interact with these friendly creatures at the petting area (sessions run 10am-11.45am, 1.15pm-3pm; summer 10am-11.45pm, 2.30pm-3.45pm).

The zoo is also home to adorable Humboldt penguins, Bennett’s wallabies and spider monkeys plus the two crowd-favourites, red pandas and giant anteaters. The zoo’s cosy atmosphere makes for a leisurely stroll, and there are seats scattered about for you to enjoy a lunchtime bento box. Don’t miss the adjacent traditional Japanese Heisei Garden, which offers calming scenery far removed from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle.

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Fire Museum
Photo: Fire Museum

Fire Museum

Museums Yotsuya-Sanchome

Operated by the Tokyo Fire Department, this free museum is where you can learn about firefighting and disaster prevention through the centuries in Japan, presented through a series of woodblock prints, dioramas and historical documents. There’s also a collection of stunning vintage fire trucks in the basement. But it’s not all just show and tell. Kids can change into minisized firefighter uniforms on the third floor and explore the inside of a fire truck equipped with working sirens. Don’t miss the huge helicopter on the fifth-floor outdoor terrace as well – you can climb into the cockpit and get a sense of the scale of the Fire Department’s operations. The tenth floor, meanwhile, offers a panoramic view of the Shinjuku skyline, Tokyo Skytree and Mt Fuji on a clear day.

Note: activities on the third floor are currently suspended due to the coronavirus.

Suginami Animation Museum
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Suginami Animation Museum

Museums Ogikubo

The Suginami Animation Museum by the Tokyo Polytechnic University is surprisingly engaging, with a host of hands-on experiences. A visit makes for an excellent introduction into the world of Japanese anime, with exhibits focusing on the history and production of most Japanese anime including ‘Rascal the Racoon’, ‘Crayon Shin-chan’ and ‘Doraemon’.

Through the interactive exhibits, you can dub over an ‘Astro Boy’ video, draw your own animation in a computer room and go behind the scenes to explore the production process. There’s even an anime library plus a small theatre playing anime shows on loop. English audio guides and subtitles cover the exhibits and videos, keeping it touristfriendly, while the inclusion of both vintage and modern anime makes the museum fun for the whole family.

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足湯
Photo: Komorebi no Ashiyu

Komorebi no Ashiyu

Things to do Tachikawa

Rest your tired feet in some pleasantly warm water at this unique facility in Kodaira. Ground water is diverted up through a 250-metre deep well and then warmed with leftover heat from the neighbouring waste processing plant, resulting in a man-made 'hot spring'. If you did bring your wallet, the shop here sells special towels (¥100) and handkerchiefs (¥200) designed by students from nearby Musashino Art University. 

Catch a free gig

東京オペラシティ
Photo: Tokyo Opera City

Pipe-organ concert at Tokyo Opera City

Shopping Hatsudai

Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall is completely decked out in European oak, which is well known for its excellent acoustic qualities. Come enjoy the majestic sounds of the 3,826-pipe organ during the venue’s free lunchtime concert. There’s no reservation necessary: just drop in before the show starts, grab a seat either on the ground or second floor and let your cares drift away with the music. Check the website for the programme.

Tsukiji Hongwanji | Time Out Tokyo
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Pipe-organ concert at Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Tsukiji

The distinctive Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple is well worth a visit for its unique stone architecture alone, inspired by traditional Indian temple designs. The interior is just as stunning but features classic Shin Buddhist temple aesthetics instead, complete with stained glass, chandeliers and beautiful furniture. The best way to experience the serene atmosphere, though, is during the free monthly pipe-organ concert, which takes place on a Friday lunchtime and usually includes a mix of classical tunes and Buddhist hymns.

Note: The next concert will be held on October 30.

More things to do in Tokyo

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Institute of Nature Study
Photo: Institute of Nature Study

Best nature escapes in Tokyo

Things to do

Venture into the great outdoors without leaving Tokyo, from a bamboo forest and nature parks to lush river valleys and more

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