I will cover in this blog the 9 most and best Tokyo tours by local guides. So if you’re going to be visiting Tokyo, going on a guided tour of the city is one way you can go sightseeing. This is a good idea especially if it’s your first time in Japan. A guide can explain the history and culture of Japan, pick you up at the airport or your hotel if you prefer, and give you some general tips about sightseeing in Tokyo on your own.
Walking tours in Tokyo are generally small private tours using the public transportation system instead of a big tour bus. This gives you the benefit of being able to move around at your own pace and choose to see only the places that you want to see. If you were on a big tour bus, yes you wouldn’t have to walk that much, but it also means that you would need to stick to a strict schedule. The train and subway system in Japan is an intricate maze, so you’ll find that having a guide to show you how to navigate your way around the city is a big help for beginners. This way, you’ll be more confident walking around later on and going to see the many attractions of Tokyo on your own.
The Most Popular Tokyo Tours by Local Guides:
1. Tokyo Full Day Tour
A tour of 8 hours is perfect for people who have a whole day to spend sightseeing the city. There are many places to see in Tokyo and trying to find them by yourself maybe difficult and getting lost is time consuming. With a guide by your side, you’ll be able to make the most of your day and see as many spots as possible. You’ll be walking around the city, so make sure you have the energy and the shoes to do this.
When visiting a new place, some people have an idea of exactly what they want to see and do, and others have no idea at all. Guided tours can accommodate both types. If you know where you want to go, they can incorporate those places into a logistically practical itinerary. Because sometimes you just want to take the opportunity to see everything, and you need someone local to tell you it’s not possible to do all of it in just one day. For those people who don’t want to have to do the research for famous sightseeing locations, the guides will automatically take you to the best and most popular places, so you’ll be in good hands leaving it up to them.
Tokyo Full Day Tour Recommendations:
Tokyo Must See Places as You Like One Day Tour by Local Guide Dai
7 Hours Tokyo Private Custom Tour by Local Guide Junko
2. Tokyo Half Day Tour
If you don’t have a full day to spend sightseeing, a half day tour is very convenient. You can use tours like this if you’re flight is landing early in the morning or your flight is leaving in the late evening. Usually you’ll need at least 1 hour from Haneda Airport, 2.5 from Narita airport to get into the city and vice versa. This doesn’t include time to disembark and claim your luggage if you’re arriving in Japan, nor the 2 hour advance check in time for your departing flight. So, if you’re landing early in the morning, you could spend the afternoon on a tour after you get into the city and check into your hotel. Or if you checkout of your hotel on the morning of your departure and are wondering what to do with yourself until your late evening flight, taking a tour with a guide who will get you to the airport on time. This is one way you can have fun from the very beginning or until the very end of your trip.
Tokyo Half Day Tour Recommendations:
Tokyo Private Half Day Tour by Local Guide Makiko
Tokyo Half Day Tour by Local Guide Keiko
3. Tsukiji Fish Market and Sushi
Have you ever tried visiting a fish market? The famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo has actually moved to the Toyosu area and is now called the new Toyosu Market. However, the Tsukiji Outer Market is still there in the Tsukiji. I know that sounds confusing. The Tsukiji Fish Market was actually made up of two sections, the inner market and the outer market. The inner market has closed down and moved but the outer market is still open for business. There are retail stores selling fresh fish and lots of restaurants serving fresh sushi. The sushi is made from freshly caught fish, so it is absolutely delicious! It will probably be the best sushi you’ll find in Tokyo.
After having some sushi, there are many sightseeing spots you can visit nearby. One of them is Hamarikyu Garden, almost right next door. It is a beautiful Japanese style garden located at the mouth of a river. You’ll be able to see several kinds of flowers according to the season and even cherry blossoms in the spring. There is also a traditional Japanese tea house where you can take a quick break and try some matcha tea. From Hamarikyu Garden, you can board a river cruise on the Sumida River. You’ll be able to see the city from the river, an unusual viewpoint. The cruise is bound for Asakusa, another sightseeing spot famous for Sensoji Temple. It’s also a great place to buy souvenirs. And another bonus is that you’ll be able to see the Tokyo Sky Tree. You can even go there as it’s only a short train ride away.
Tsukiji Fish Market and Sushi Tour Recommendations:
Outer Tsukiji Fish Market, Hama Rikyu Gardens, Cruising to Asakusa by Local Guide Akira S
Tsukiji Market 3 Hours Walking Tour by Local Guide Hiroko
4. Sumo wrestlers
Have you ever seen a Sumo wrestler up close? They are huge wrestlers of the Japanese national sport, Sumo. This traditional sport has become recently widely known throughout the world, so I’m sure you’ve heard of it before. It is one of the ancient cultures of Japan, practiced in Japan for centuries. The wrestlers belong to one of the many training stables called “heya”. They live and train there together under the tutelage of the “Oyakata” or the training stable master. This “oyakata” usually was a strong wrestler in his time, maybe even a “yokozuna”, a grand champion.
The wrestlers start their training very early in the morning and some training stables allow you to visit and watch the sessions. There is a very strict atmosphere so you’ll need to be very quiet and still during this time. Still, it is an experience that not many people can have. Even for the people of Japan, it’s an unusual experience. If you’re a fan of Sumo, or want to see these training sessions up close, you’ll need to have a guide arrange the visit and take you there. Most of the “heya” are located in the old town area, close to the Ryogoku Sumo Stadium.
Sumo Tour Recommendations:
Sumo Morning Practice and Tsukiji Fish Market by Local Guide Mari
Early Morning Sumo Practice and Sumo Museum by Local Guide Kaoruko
5. Shinjuku and Japanese Food
Shinjuku is a city that never sleeps. If you are interested in seeing the modern side of Tokyo, Shinjuku is a great place to do that. The neon signs light up the streets and it’s crawling with people everywhere you look. This is an area where you can go shopping in the many different department stores, and try lots of Japanese food in the restaurants. You will probably want to try an “Izakaya” restaurant. This is a type of restaurant that serves alcohol and different kinds of Japanese food in small portions. This way you can try some of everything. There are so many restaurants in Shinjuku, it’s hard to decide on one, and it’s very easy to get lost. If you have a guide with you, they can help choose a place to eat and help you order the dishes you’d like to try.
Shinjuku and Japanese Food Tour Recommendations:
Shinjuku Night Walking by Local Guide Akira S
Shinjuku 4 Hours, Daytime or Evening by Local Guide Toshi
6. Cherry Blossom Tours
Spring is one of the most popular times of the year to visit Tokyo. This is because of course everyone wants to see the beautiful cherry blossoms. The cherry blossom season is also special to the Japanese people, and they love to throw picnics in the park under the trees. In Japan, drinking alcohol outdoors is allowed except in some private parks. Therefore, you’ll see a lot of people drinking, taking pictures, and having fun in general, especially on the weekends that coincide with the full bloom of the cherry blossom trees.
Which park to visit to see the cherry blossoms is a hard thing to decide. There are so many places in Tokyo where you can see these amazing pink trees. And taking pictures within sightseeing spots with the cherry blossoms will be a memorable experience that you can also enjoy later on when you look at the pictures you took. If you don’t know where the best places to go are, you can join a walking tour and take advantage of the local guide’s knowledge and experience. One thing to keep in mind when taking pictures is to not touch the flowers or the branches. They are for everyone to see and if many people touch the trees, the flowers will wither and fall faster, and we don’t want that to happen.
Cherry Blossom Tour Recommendations:
Highlights of Flowering Cherries or Sakura in Tokyo by Local Guide Michiko
Cherry Blossom Tour in Imperial Palace and Japanese Garden by Local Guide Kyoko
7. Off the beaten path
I imagine some people have already been to Tokyo once and have seen the popular sightseeing spots already. And other people are not really interested in famous places at all. They want to see something off the beaten path, somewhere only local people know about. For adventurous people like this, taking a private tour where you can choose what you want to see is a real advantage.
The backstreets of Ueno Park to the area called Yanaka are full of small temples only known to the locals. It’s a very old part of Tokyo, also an area that suffered destruction from the World War II air raids. Yanaka shopping street is a street that has an atmosphere of the era just after the war ended. You’ll be able to see old shops that have been open since then. Have a guide explain the history of the area and make your visit all the more memorable.
Old Town Tour Recommendations:
Excursion to Fukagawa, a Typical Old Tokyo Downtown by Local Guide Nobu
Ueno and Yanaka Walking Tour by Local Guide Sachimi
8. Architecture and Gardens
Another way you can enjoy the city of Tokyo is through the architecture of its buildings and the many gardens dotted throughout the city. Rikugien is a Japanese style garden, formerly the garden of a feudal lord of the Edo era. It is a beautiful garden famous for its cherry blossoms and the autumn colors. During these two seasons, the trees are illuminated after dark, so that amazing scene is something you might want to see.
There also mansions and their gardens which have been designated as important cultural properties by the government. These mansions were built in the Meiji Era for wealthy businessmen or men of authority. You might be surprised by these western style mansions in the middle of Japan. But the Meiji Era was the era of the westernization of Japan, and western styles were the height of fashion in those days. In spite of the buildings being of western style, the gardens were another thing entirely. They were made in a perfect mixture of the western and the Japanese. You’ll find these gardens extremely beautiful.
Architecture and Gardens Tour Recommendations:
Discovery Japan Modern Architecture & Gardens (Cherry Blossom Viewing) by Local Guide Hiroyuki
Japanese Gardens and Western Gardens Tour by Local Guide Akira S
9. Tokyo Bus Tour
Lastly, for people who don’t want to walk around Tokyo to see the sights, a bus tour is recommended. This is obviously not a private tour, so there is a fixed schedule to take a quick look at the most famous places in Tokyo. However, for elderly people or families with very small children, walking long distances around Tokyo maybe a bit tiring. Most of the train stations do have elevators but they tend to not be in the most convenient of places. And there are a lot of stairs. So a bus tour is a good way to avoid these problems.
Tour guides on the buses will be explaining things in Japanese, but there are audio headsets you can use to hear the explanation in English. There is also the option of hiring a private car to take you around Tokyo. The driver won’t be a guide, so you won’t be able to hear a detailed explanation, but at least you won’t have to worry about trains or walking too much. This is a good way to tour Tokyo for people who are capable of sightseeing the city by themselves but are in need of transportation help.
Tokyo Bus Tour Recommendations:
Amazing Tokyo (Bus Tour) by Japan Panoramic Tours
8 Hours Private Tokyo Tour (max 8 people) by Tokyo Chartered Cars
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