1. Ueno Park
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  2. Tokyo National Museum
    Photo: Alexirina27000/DreamstimeTokyo National Museum
  3. Ueno Park
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

10 best things to do at Ueno Park: museums, attractions, restaurants and cafés

You can spend an entire day at this vast park in Tokyo – visit shrines, catch some Pokémon, take a boat ride and more

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner
Advertising

Ueno Park is best known for its zoo and its museums, but it has so many more hidden treasures to explore. If you stroll through the park, you’ll spot statues and historical monuments, ancient shrines and temples, and even Pokémon-themed manhole covers. Come spring, the vast green space turns pink with cherry blossoms, and from mid-to-late November, you can enjoy the park’s stunning autumn foliage. 

To make the most of your visit to Ueno Park, follow our guide for the best things to do.

RECOMMENDED: Take a stroll around some of the best parks in Tokyo

Explore the old temples and shrines

The former Kan’eiji Temple complex
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

The former Kan’eiji Temple complex

Before Ueno Park was established in 1873, the surrounding area belonged to Kan’eiji Temple, a vast Buddhist complex founded in 1625. Most of its buildings were destroyed in 1868 during the Boshin War, making way for the area to be designated a public park in 1873. Some of the sanctuary’s relics, such as the five-storied pagoda (pictured), the Kiyomizu Kannondo hall, the massive main gate and Ueno Toshogu Shrine are all designated Important Cultural Properties of Japan.

Ueno Toshogu Shrine
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The Ueno Toshogu Shrine was built in 1627 and is dedicated to the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). The main hall of Ueno Toshogu Shrine was remodelled in 1651 by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) and boasts an Edo period (1603-1868) gongen-zukuri architectural design. Its Chinese-style karamon front gate (pictured) is covered in gold leaf and boasts carvings of dragons, birds and flowers, while the sukibei wall surrounding the shrine structure is just as beautiful, featuring more animal engravings, as well as those of mythical creatures. 

You can’t enter the main hall, but you can get a closer look at the shrine’s splendid exterior by paying a small fee to access the grounds behind the karamon gate (¥500, 6-12 years old ¥200, free for younger children). Don’t forget to pick up a lucky charm and an English omikuji fortune slip, too. 

The shrine is also popular for its Botan-en peony garden, which opens twice a year between New Year’s Day and mid-February, as well as from mid-April until mid-May (¥700, free for primary school students and younger children). In autumn, on the other hand, the space turns into a dahlia garden (end of Sep to end of Oct; ¥500, free for primary school students and younger children).

Walk under dozens of red torii gates

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

You don’t have to travel all the way to Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine to take some Instagram-worthy photos in a tunnel of vermilion torii gates. The small Hanazono Inari Shrine nestled in a quiet part of Ueno Park boasts a staircase lined with red gates, providing perfect photo op, especially in autumn when the surrounding leaves turn red and yellow. The small sanctuary shares its precinct with the neighbouring Gojoten Shrine. 

Visit some of Tokyo’s best museums

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Ueno Park has some of the oldest and most respected museums in Tokyo, covering topics such as art, science and history. Stop by the Shitamachi Museum if you want to see what life was like in Tokyo between the pivotal Meiji restoration of 1868 and the Great Earthquake of 1923. For one of the best collections of Japanese art and artefacts, head straight to the Tokyo National Museum (pictured).

If you have kids in tow, they’ll love the National Museum of Nature and Science – it’s full of interactive displays and dinosaur models. And for art lovers, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum should be your first stop.

Take a break

  • Restaurants
  • Park cafés
  • Ueno

This large café serves a variety of dishes made with fresh and seasonal vegetables. We recommend the Forest Garden Plate – a flavourful mix of 15 different vegetables (¥1,749) that change every season – or the spaghetti bolognese with fresh mozzarella cream cheese (¥1,309). Pair your dish with a cup of herbal tea made from peppermint, lemongrass, lemon balm and rosemary (¥825). 

You’ll also find a range of desserts, such as the small tower of Belgian-style waffles topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with a red berry sauce (¥1,034).

Park Side Café’s interior design matches its location – it’s laid back and relaxed, with lots of natural wood. On sunny days, opt for a seat out on the semi-covered terrace. You’ll get to enjoy the sounds of nature, surrounded by plenty of greenery, and take in the view of Ueno Park’s famous Fountain Square.

Meet famous figures from the past

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

While strolling through Ueno Park, you’ll find a number of statues of famous figures from Japan’s history. Close to the Fountain Plaza, for example, you’ll find a bust of the Dutch military physician and professor of medicine in Japan, Anthonius Franciscus Bauduin (1820-1885). Instead of building a hospital on the site of the former Kan’eiji Temple, he encouraged the government to turn the area into a public park. There’s also a statue of physician and bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi, whose face currently graces Japan’s ¥1,000 banknote.

Don’t miss the striking statue of Prince Komatsu Akihito on horseback (pictured). A former officer in the Imperial Army, the prince was also an important diplomat during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Complete your trip back in time at the statue of Saigo Takamori, one of the most powerful samurai of the 19th century, who led the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Catch some Pokémon

Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Pokémon manhole covers are littered across Japan, but Ueno Park is one of only two spots in Tokyo proper that’s home to these so-called Pokéfuta. In front of the National Museum of Nature and Science, you’ll find Wynaut and Tyrunt (pictured), while the manhole cover in front of the Tokyo National Museum just across the street features Baltoy and Bronzor. The covers actually double as Pokéstops for the Pokémon Go mobile game, so get your phone ready and spin those stops. For the exact locations, check the official Pokéfuta website.

Check out the monuments in Ueno Park

Ueno Daibutsu
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Ueno Daibutsu

Before it was a park, the grounds of Ueno were once home to a massive, bronze, 6m-tall seated Buddha statue built in 1631. Even though the daibutsu was restored multiple times over the years after earthquakes and fires, a lack of donations after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake made it impossible to rebuild the statue. The head and torso were eventually melted down for munitions during World War II, but the face was preserved and stored in Kan’ei-ji Temple. 

In 1967, a pagoda was built to pray for the reconstruction of the daibutsu, and the Buddha's face was put on display at its former location in 1972. When you look closely, you can see that this Buddha has a fancy curly moustache – he’s usually clean-shaven in Japan – and his lovely ‘stache is even present on the ema votive plaques you can buy at the site.

The development of Ueno Park
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

The development of Ueno Park

To find these panels, head up to the top floor of the Ueno 3153 building – it’s directly connected to Ueno Park. On the side of the building, you’ll find two large panels depicting how the area has changed since the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji periods (1868-1912). 

The artwork on the left by 18th-century ukiyo-e artist Kyosai Kawanabe shows the first National Industrial Exhibition, held in Ueno Park in 1877. The artwork on the right goes back further, mapping the former Kan’eiji Temple complex as it was during the Edo period.

 

Advertising
Toki Wasureji no To
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Toki Wasureji no To

At first glance, this monument looks like it’s just an ordinary clock, but it has a deeper meaning. Built in 2005 based on a plan by author Kayoko Ebina, the memorial statue of a mother and her children stands for peace and commemorates the victims of the Tokyo firebombings during World War II, including Ebina’s own family. Toki wasureji no to roughly translates as Tower of Remembrance and it was erected to encourage people never to forget this horrible moment in history.

More Tokyo guides

Advertising
Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising