1. Top view of Asakusa area in Tokyo Japan
    Photo: F11photo/DreamstimeView of Sensoji Temple from the Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center
  2. Bridge Imperial Palace
    Photo: Maruoka Joe/Photo ACView of the Fushimi Yagura castle keep from the large plaza in front of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace
  3. Nogeyama Zoo
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaNogeyama Zoo
  4. Hotel New Otani Landscape Garden
    Photo: Hotel New Otani TokyoLandscape Garden of Hotel New Otani Tokyo
  5. Intermediatheque
    Photo: © Intermediatheque, Museography © UMUT worksIntermediatheque
  6. Keisuke Tanigawa
    Keisuke TanigawaTokiwaso Manga Museum

33 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

Tabea Greuner
Kasey Furutani
Written by
Tabea Greuner
&
Kasey Furutani
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By some measures, Tokyo is one of the world's most expensive cities to live in, but you don't have to take out a loan to have a good time. 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. Going out on a budget has never been this fun. 

RECOMMENDED: For stunning free views, check out the best places to see the sunset in Tokyo

See Tokyo for free

  • Things to do
  • Cultural centres
  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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 that the North Tower is currently closed.

Free museums and art galleries

  • 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.

  • Art
  • 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 you'll have to make an online reservation in advance. 

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  • 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.

  • 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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  • 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. 

  • 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.

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  • 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.

Admission is free, but you'll have to make an online reservation in advance. 

  • 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.

The gallery reopens on October 21 for its new exhibition. Note that you'll have to make an online reservation in advance.

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  • Museums
  • Ochanomizu

With its fascinating mix of exhibits across three departments – commodities, criminal materials and archeology – this basement attraction in the huge Meiji University building is one of Tokyo’s best secret museums. The first section is dedicated to traditional Japanese handicrafts such as pottery, indigo-dyeing, bamboo work, washi paper and lacquerware. The next section, which is also the highlight, is where it gets really interesting. It reveals the torture procedures used in the second half of the 18th century to punish criminals, such as haritsuke (crucifixion), gokumon (displaying the head publicly after a decapitation) and ishidaki gougu (putting large rocks on the knees of a sitting person). As a contrast, there are also some historical Western torture instruments including the iron maiden and the guillotine. There are English explanations, too, should you want to read up on all the details.

  • Museums
  • Haneda Airport

Japan Airlines’ hangar tour takes an hour and 40 minutes and is split into three exciting sections. First, at the Sky Museum you will get an introduction to the airline’s history from its beginnings in 1951, and a sense of how commercial air travel has evolved in the decades since, with a fleet of miniature aeroplanes and the changing fashions in flight-attendant uniforms over the past few decades. You can also take a seat in a faithfully recreated cockpit while listening to announcements in different languages.

The second part of the tour gets a bit more technical as you get into the nuts and bolts of how air travel works and are given an overview of Haneda Airport. The last part is what you’ve been waiting for: you’ll be guided into the hangar to see aeroplanes up close, and watch the aeronautical engineers and mechanics at work.

Admission is free, but you'll have to make an online reservation in advance. 

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  • Museums
  • Ryogoku

Learn about the history of massive men crashing into each other at Ryogoku's Kokugikan Sumo Museum, a veritable treasure trove of sumo-related memorabilia and woodblock prints. Special exhibitions are held six times a year.

Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo
  • Art
  • Omotesando

Following the example of the Champs-Elysées Maison in Paris, Louis Vuitton transformed the seventh floor of its Jun Aoki-designed Omotesando store into an art gallery in 2011. Since opening, Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo has held solo exhibitions by Alyson Shotz and Ernesto Neto, as well as group shows featuring work by artists from Finland, India and Japan.

Go on a free tour

  • 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.

Japanese Sake and Shochu Information Centre
  • Attractions
  • Shinbashi

Also known as 'Sake Plaza', the Japanese Sake Information Centre makes available an abundance of information about Japanese alcohol. As well as being able to search for particular brands by computer, there is also a library with around 6,000 books on the topic of sake. You're welcome to give all that a miss, of course, and move swiftly on to the tasting area. Need we say more?

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Suntory Musashino brewery tour
  • Attractions
  • Fuchu

Known for its blue and gold cans of Premium Malt’s, Suntory will take you on a tour of its brewery, walking you through the various stages of beer-making, from nurturing the hops to the customary sampling of the wares. The 70-minute tour starts with an introductory video before diving into the production process, and, somewhere along the line, you’ll get the chance to walk into a beer vat. While you can’t wander into the production line itself, explanatory footage with English subtitles give you the lowdown on what’s going on as you look on from the observation gallery. At the end, you’ll be treated to three draft beers – just what you need to relax after watching other people hard at work.

Admission is free, but you'll have to make an online reservation in advance. 

Explore the city with kids in tow

  • 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.

  • 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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  • Things to do
  • Gakugei-Daigaku

Himonya Dobutsu Hiroba is a great little place for families with young 'uns. Aimed at children below junior high school age, the kids get the chance to bother guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and even ponies. The latter come with a nominal price tag (¥200 per ride), but the others are subject to a real live free-for-all. Renting a rowing boat on the nearby lake is so cheap it's almost free, too, costing a mere ¥200 per 30 minutes for a boat.

  • Things to do
  • Koto

Throughout the Edo period (1603-1868), traditional Japanese wooden boats known as wasen were used to transport goods and passengers along Tokyo’s many rivers and canals. In order to preserve the wasen and its unique rowing techniques, members of the Wasen Tomo no Kai association provide free rides on these boats once or twice a week. No booking is required: just make your way to the Yokojukken-gawa Shinsui Park in Koto to enjoy a ride (roughly 20 minutes) on the canal. If you’re lucky, the boat operator might even wear a shirushi-banten (traditional indigo-blue jacket) complete with a suge-gasa conical hat, perfect for your Instagram shot. The staff will also be delighted to teach you how to use the ro, a wooden propulsion tool more effective than the regular oar.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Oji

The entrance to this wooded hilltop park is right next to Oji Station, from where you can take the Asuka Park Rail, a free train that takes you all the way to the summit. Despite the one-way trip being only a two-minute adventure, the beauty of the spring flowers below makes it worth your while.

10am-4pm, closed on the 1st Thu in July and from 10am-noon on the 1st Thu of all other months due to maintenance.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

Note that the petting area is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus.

Catch a free gig

  • 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.

The concert is free, but you'll have to make a reservation in advance by calling the ticket centre (03 5353 9999).

  • Music
  • Roppongi

The imposing Austrian-made organ at the world-class concert venue Suntory Hall has been described as a ‘jewel box of sound’ by Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. The acoustics are, of course, superb, and you can experience them for yourself at the free Organ Promenade Concert that’s been a fixture since 1991. Once a month, on a Thursday lunchtime for half an hour, you can be immersed in the tones of one of the world’s biggest organs, which features a total of 5,898 pipes. Check the website for the programme.

The concert is free, but you'll have to make a reservation in advance by calling the ticket centre (0570 55 0017).

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  • 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.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Ebisu

Few would argue that Tokyo can charge a pretty penny when it comes to concert tickets, but gratis gigs are available if you dig about. You'll find plenty going on at this Brit-themed pub in Ebisu, where local bands plug in and wig out most nights of the week. The full schedule is available on their website.

More free things to do in Tokyo

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