With its towering skyscrapers, crowded streets and neon lights Shinjuku is the Tokyo you’ve imagined from the movies. One of Tokyo’s bustling subcenters, Shinjuku is the city’s hub for eating, drinking, entertainment and shopping and there are endless things to do in Shinjuku. From its tiny yakitori bars to the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku is fascinating at every turn. We’ve put together our ultimate guide with the best things to do in Shinjuku. Happy planning!
1 | Memory Lane
What started as an illegal drinking quarter in the mid-1900s is now one of the most charming and gritty lanes in Tokyo. Tucked behind Shinjuku Station, Memory Lane is home to a collection of tiny yakitori bars that are reminiscent of a Japan of days gone by. An abundance of beer and the absence of toilets in its heyday resulted in its nickname, Piss Alley. Memory Lane is the hangout of Japanese salarymen and the atmosphere is dark and moody with red lanterns lighting up the alley and yakitori smoke filling the air.
Shinjuku things to do tip: Budget to spend at least a few hours Memory Lane to really experience the area. Grab a seat at one of the tiny bars, order some beers and yakitori and chat to the staff and other patrons.
Tokyo Essentials: Sim Card, Internet and Subway
One of the best investments you can make for your trip to Japan is to buy/rent a sim card or 4G hotspot. This will give you internet access while on the go. We have used both sim cards and 4G hotspots during our trips to Japan. A sim card is perfect if you just have your phone while the 4G hotspots are great if you have multiple devices that need internet or if you’re travelling a group. They also avoid any compatibility issues with installing a sim card.
We used the Klook app to order our sim cards for our last trip. The app is great as you can order in advance and pick up on arrival or from various departure cities.
- The best 4G hotspot on offer is provided by URoaming with unlimited data – check prices now!
- The best sim card is from Docomo (who we used) – check prices now!
Depending on the duration of your stay, a 24, 48 or 72 hour subway pass is invaluable for navigating the city. We saved so much yen by using our 3 day subway pass for sightseeing trips rather than paying for each individual journey. The passes can be picked up at one of the designated arrival airports in Japan. The pass works for unlimited rides on Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines – check prices now!
2 | Robot Restaurant
Shinjuku is famous for its themed restaurants and diners can choose between a variety of eclectic themes including fishing for the food, being served by ninjas or feasting on a blood themed spread with vampires. Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant is the most famous of them all: neon lights, laser beams, techno music blasting and warrior princesses riding 10 foot tall robots among samurais, and ninjas. It’s the epitome of Tokyo and the most super touristy thing you will ever do in your life but, at this point, it’s almost a rite of the tourist passage in Tokyo! Klook sells discounted tickets which we used to save some yen on the admission fee – click here to book your spot at the Robot Restaurant!
Things to do in Shinjuku tip: It’s not really a restaurant (don’t expect fine dining!), there’s lots of queuing (make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before your reservation as they are very strict and will cancel the non refundable reservation if you’re not there) and drinks are overpriced…. but hey, it’s Tokyo and this is a wild night out and crazy to watch!!
Where to stay in Shinjuku
- Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo: amazing Shinjuku location close to the bars and restaurants with nice rooms, great staff and good value prices for Tokyo – check prices here!
- Tokyu Stay Shinjuku: great location close to the trains and the nightlife with compact rooms and good facilities at a reasonable price – check prices here!
- Park Hyatt Tokyo: luxury in the heart of Shinjuku with incredible views from the 52nd floor New York bar. Perfect for reliving some Lost in Translation moments – check prices here!
3 | Don Quijote Shop
Shopping is a national past time in Japan and the maze of shop filled streets in Shinjuku make it a perfect spot to experience the fun stores that Japan has to offer. Don Quijote is a chain of Japan discount stores which stock an eclectic range of products and we spent hours roaming the aisles giggling at what was on offer: from singing fish that hang on the wall to ridiculous outfits and trinkets. Apparently its the only shop in the world that stocks yoghurt and Cartier watches!
4 | Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a short stroll from Shinjuku Station and its free observation deck, 202 metres above the city, boasts one of the best views of the city. When the weather is clear the views are incredible: Tokyo Tower and the Skytree are visible and, on a perfect day, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
5 | Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nippon Koa Museum of Art
The Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nippon Koa Museum of Art exhibits both Japanese and international artworks. One of it’s most famous pieces, the Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, attracts many visitors and was breathtaking to see. The museum is located on the 42nd floor of a Shinjuku skyscraper and the panoramic views of Tokyo are a bonus to any visit.
6 | Kabukicho District
The Red Light district of Kabukicho is a total assault on the senses. Crammed full of shops, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and famous Japanese love hotels, Kabukicho is the Tokyo that never sleeps. It’s famous for its themed restaurants (think fishing, robots and ninjas), host and hostess clubs and a seedy underbelly where girls can be purchased on an iPad.
Things to do in Shinjuku tip: Kabukicho is best experienced after dark when the streets are lit with neon lights and the area springs to life. Just be careful where you choose to frequent: if someone is trying to encourage you inside a venue it’s most likely going to have high prices and hidden charges.
7 | Shinjuku Station
It’s the world’s busiest train station and Shinjuku Train Station even holds the Guinness World Record as confirmation! It handles a mindblowing 3.6million passengers every day and, with over 200 entrances and 36 platforms, it’s hard to imagine just how big this train station is. It’s like a mini city in the west of Tokyo. Visiting the station at any time of the day is an experience: thousands of commuters stream through the station with each passenger following marked paths to the platforms before queuing at the train doors.
Things to do in Shinjuku tip: rush hour at Shinjuku Staiton is crazy as commuters pack in and it is standing room only on most of the platforms. There’s even a chance you might see the ‘pushers’, the designated rail staff helping to cram people into incredibly packed train carriages like sardines.
8 | Samurai Museum
Shinjuku’s Samurai Museum is a recent hit with tourists to Tokyo and exhibits include samurai swords, armour and guns with visitors also able to dress up in some samurai armour for a fun photo opportunity.
9 | Godzilla
Keep an eye out for the life-sized Godzilla peeking out from over the 8th floor of the Toho Building beside the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Godzilla lights up and blows smoke on the hour.
Shinjuku best things to do tips: if you want to get up close and personal with Godzilla go to Level 8 of the Hotel Gracery for some selfies!
10 | Shinjuku Gyoen
If you need to escape the buzz of Shinjuku, the sprawling Shinjuku Gyoen Park is a slice of tranquillity in the busy city. The huge park has 20,000 trees, beautiful gardens and a picturesque pond and it includes English, French and Japanese Gardens.
Shinjuku best things to do tip: there are hundreds of sakura trees in Shinjuku Gyoen and it’s one of Tokyo’s most popular spots during cherry blossom season
11 | Golden Gai
Similar to Memory Lane on the west of Shinjuku train station, Golden Gai is to the east of Shinjuku Station and is comprised of six tiny alleys connected by narrow passageways. The area originated in the 1950s and is home to over 200 tiny bars, clubs and places to eat. It’s a popular spot for bar hopping and still attracts many locals as well as tourists who love taking a step back in time.
Things to do in Shinjuku tip: Golden Gai is a local hang out and some of the bars are restricted to locals only and have a no photography rule, both of which you will need to respect. At first it’s easiest to venture into spots like Kenzo, Albatross and Bar Orange but most bars will make it clear if they’re tourist friendly or if there is a cover charge. A lot of the spots are cash only so bring some extra Yen if you plan to spend an evening there.
12 | New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel
The movie Lost in Translation was shot in Shinjuku and Shibuya and the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku was the setting for some of its most famous scenes. It was in the Park Hyatt where Bob and Charlotte, played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, stay and meet and in the New York Bar on the 52nd floor where Bob spends most evenings.
Things to do in Shinjuku tip: the views of Tokyo from the New York bar are incredible and the bar charges premium prices – if you’re planning a visit, the cheapest beer on the menu is about $10.