Shinjuku is definitely one of Tokyo’s most popular neighborhoods. It’s one of those areas that’s good for just about everything — sightseeing, shopping, eating, and drinking. With lots of neon lights, noise, and crowds, it’s got a definite “Tokyo” vibe, but also has some peaceful spots, too. Read on for our picks of the best things to do in Shinjuku, day or night.
Have a picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku Gyoen is a former Imperial property turned public garden. It’s a wonderful oasis of green amidst all the concrete and clamor of Shinjuku. There are groves of cherry trees — which makes this a popular hanami spot — and also a greenhouse, a teahouse, and a large pond. Best of all, however, are the manicured lawns, which are excellent for picnicking. Unlike Tokyo’s many free parks, Shinjuku Gyoen does require admission — though that helps keep it from getting too crowded.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory
Tokyo’s capital building has free observatories atop both of its towers. From up here — at 662ft (202m) — you can look out over the whole city, and sometimes even see Mt Fuji to the west. The observatories are open late, so you can see the nighttime twinkly version of Tokyo, too. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building also doubles as an architecture attraction: it was designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous modern architect. It’s in Nishi Shinjuku, on the west side of Shinjuku Station.
Here are more places with good views in Tokyo.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Grab yakitori at Omoide Yokochō
Omoide Yokochō is probably one of the most photographed places in Tokyo. It’s an olden-days alleyway lined with wooden buildings and paper lanterns. Inside the buildings are small, crammed, and exceedingly casual restaurants — mostly specializing in yakitori and motsu nikomi (stewed offal). Omoide Yokochō means “Memory Lane,” and it very much does feel like Tokyo from another era. It also has the nickname “Piss Alley” though it’s not really that grimy anymore.
Here’s a roundup of more yokochō — alleys with bars and restaurants — in Tokyo.
Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley)
Find your favorite bar in Golden Gai
Golden Gai is a little bit like Omoide Yokochō — it’s also a warren of ramshackle wooden buildings, except these ones house bars. Teeny, tiny bars. For decades, Golden Gai was the exclusive haunt of entertainment-media-creative people, but these days more and more bars welcome foreign travelers. Many of the bars have some kind of theme, like “death metal,” which, naturally, attracts like-minded customers. Many of the bars also have cover charges (usually ¥500–¥1,000), so the cheapest option would be to pick one bar and stick with it. But the more fun option is to bar hop until you find your favorite.
Kabukichō is the most famous, er, infamous, neighborhood within Shinjuku. It’s Japan’s largest red-light district, with lots of host and hostess bars, love hotels, and other NSFW attractions. But it has a lot of other stuff too, like the giant Godzilla head statue, above the Toho Cinema multiplex. Also: all-night batting cages, arcades, and a bowling alley. And if the Robot Restaurant reopens, that’s here, too. After all, entertainment — of all stripes — is the name of the game here.
Read our full guide to Kabukichō here.
Raise a glass in Tokyo’s gayborhood, Shinjuku Nichōme
Japan’s largest LGBTQIA+ enclave has hundreds of small bars and clubs. When the weather is warm, the scene fills the streets and there’s a whole vibe. Some spots can be a little cliquey but others are welcoming. A good Cheapo place to get started is Aiiro Café — formerly known as Advocates — which has an excellent all-you-can-drink beer happy hour for just ¥1,000.
More Cheapo-approved Nichōme spots here.
Go for drinks with a view
Shinjuku’s most iconic night spot is probably the New York Bar atop the Park Hyatt. It was famously featured in the 2004 movie Lost in Translation. Movie cred aside, it is also cool because it has views over Tokyo from big picture windows. It is, unfortunately, not very Cheapo-friendly. We recommend going early and getting the check before 8pm (7pm on Sundays) to beat the ¥2,750 cover charge.
Tip: Many Cheapos prefer the Peak Lounge on the 41st floor, which has an all-you-can-drink plus snacks happy hour deal for ¥8,000 per person from 5pm to 9pm. Though this is still kind of pricey tbh.
See free art in Nishi Shinjuku
Nishi Shinjuku is Shinjuku’s business district. But tucked among the skyscrapers are some of Tokyo’s most famous public works of art. One of Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures is here. It’s a popular meet-up spot for dates and also often appears in Japanese TV dramas set in Tokyo. Nearby, are two sculptures by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, Tokyo Brushstroke I and Tokyo Brushstroke II. These and more are part of the Shinjuku I-Land Tower complex.
Check out the latest fashions (and snacks!) at Isetan
Of all of Tokyo’s major department stores, Isetan is the trendiest. It’s also among the most expensive so we are not really recommending buying anything here. But it can be fun to check out the latest looks from up-and-coming Japanese labels, before they’re available outside Japan.
Tip: Isetan also has an excellent depachika (department store food hall), which is perfect for picking up supplies for a picnic at Shinjuku Gyoen. Or, if you don’t feel like walking to the garden, you can take your goodies up to Isetan’s roof terrace.
Isetan (Shinjuku, East)
Catch a flea market or a festival at Hanazono Shrine
Shintō shrine Hanazono-jinja is Shinjuku’s signature shrine. It doesn’t look like much — the building is fairly modern reconstruction and the grounds are largely paved — but the shrine really comes alive in November, when it hosts the Tori no Ichi (“Rooster Market”). Vendors sell laborately decorated ornamental rakes that are believed to help business owners “rake in the money,” so to speak. Meanwhile, most Sundays, a small flea market takes place on the grounds.
Shop for, er, anything at Donki
Don Quijote (aka Donki) is a Shinjuku landmark. It stocks a wild array of goods, the layout is absolutely chaotic, and the theme song piped loudly throughout the store will definitely stick in your head. Maid costumes? Designer wallets? Granola? Check, check, and check. This isn’t the only Donki in town but it’s one of the most fun.
Don Quijote Shinjuku Kabukichō
Kick back in Shinjuku Central Park
Unlike Shinjuku Gyoen, Shinjuku Central Park (Shinjuku Chūō Kōen) is a proper Tokyo public park, which means it’s free and open 24/7. There are lawns, terraces, children’s play areas, exercise equipment, and walking trails, though none of it is particularly scenic. Festivals and events, like flea markets, are held here occasionally.
Shinjuku Central Park
Hang out on the Southern Terrace
Tokyo has few places for outside dining and drinking, so even though the offerings here aren’t the most exciting, we appreciate this large open terrace across from Shinjuku Station. There’s a Shake Shack and a Starbucks with patio seating and on a warm, sunny day this is a nice place to chill.
In winter, there are illuminations in the evenings.
Experience the world’s busiest train station
Well you don’t really have a choice with this one, unless you walk to Shinjuku from elsewhere. Shinjuku Station is widely reported to be the world’s busiest train station. Millions of people pass through here every single day.
It has something like 200 exits (we are not even exaggerating!), whole underground malls, and, well, a lot of corridors in which to get lost. Bonus points if you can navigate to the nearest exit to your destination!