Updated: April, 2013
I get a lot of questions about finding family hotels.
HotelsCombined.com/Tokyo is the best website for finding hotels in Tokyo. It’s truly fantastic at finding the best discounts.
For my recommendations on hotels in Tokyo:
Visiting Tokyo with Kids
Tokyo is a fantastic city to take kids. It has an incredible array of attractions and kid-friendly destinations (beyond Disneyland) that could easily keep a family very busy for a week or more.
And if your kids are anything like mine they’ll love getting around the region by subway and train.
Here are some ideas for planning your trip and some highlights of great places for families to visit.
When to go to Tokyo
Anytime. Tokyo has so many indoor attractions and relatively few outdoor ones that Tokyo makes an attractive destination for kids and families almost any month of the year. Of course July and August will be very hot and humid and December, January and February will require an extra layer of clothing. The best months for a visit are probably April and May in the spring and September and October in the fall.
Tips and Tricks
- If you’re on a tight schedule be aware many of the attractions are closed on Monday (unless the Monday falls on a national holiday then they wlll close on the following Tuesday). If you’re enjoying an extended stay in Tokyo, this isn’t much of a problem, but if you only have a day or two and one of them is a Monday you’ll have a difficult time visiting all the attractions on your itinerary.
- Almost all tourist attractions have good, reliable (and usually free) lockers for rent. They’re often of a pretty good size that will fit a medium sized back pack. Ask at the Information desk to see where they’re located.
- A maddening aspect of getting around Tokyo is the fact that many maps found on pamphlets or on city streets are turned about (seemingly randomly) to place north sometimes at the top, sometimes at the bottom, and even occasionally off to the right or left. This can make finding your destination particularly difficult, as you’ll have an idea in your head of where it is only to check a different map as you exit a subway station to see that it’s off in the opposite direction. Get used to checking where north is on any map and then reorienting it in your mind’s eye to best suit the coordinates in your head.
- Most department stores have a play area for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Usually located on the upper floors or roof.
- Have a plan. Tokyo is a challenging city to get around. It’s busy, many subway stations have few english signs and finding streets and addresses is rarely easy, so it’s best to have a plan. A detailed plan – on what you’re doing for the day. If there are multiple attractions in one neighborhood then hit those before moving on to another area of the city.
- Eggs n Things. If you or your kids are craving pancakes and breakfasts from back home, this is the place to get them. Often very busy but worth the wait. (Nearby Golden Browns serve the purported best hamburger in Tokyo if you’re in a day long western food craving.)
- For more on food and restaurants in for kids read Travel with Kids: Eating in Japan.
Where to stay
I usually suggest families stay as flexible as possible but Tokyo is such a challenging city for accommodations, with hotel demand predicated on a holiday and business calendar almost unknowable to foreigners that I strongly suggest booking early and confirming your hotel stay before arriving in Japan.
Another factor is that email (at least with english speaking customers) doesn’t seem to have a very high priority from many hotels – even top rated hotels. So you can often wait a day or two for a response regarding a simple question regarding your accommodations. This, once again, leads me to strongly suggest to get hotel bookings out of the way early.
- For a list of recommended accommodations read Best Hotels in Tokyo for Kids and Families
Things to Do
Science Museum (in Kitanomaru-koen)
Located in Kitanomaru Park just north of the Imperial Gardens, this is one of Tokyo’s three science museums and needn’t be on a busy schedule. That said kids will enjoy the well designed interactive exhibits. The museum has many demonstrations led by museum staff. When you first arrive try to do a quick walk through the museum to see what shows are being done so you can choose appropriately for your child’s interests.
Children may or may not be intrigued by the palace and the details of the royal family’s lives, but regardless, the grounds make a good open air destination to wander with the kids and let them run about while you enjoy the stunning views of the palace. (A short walk from Tokyo Station)
A good rainy day destination as it can be accessed from the subway line without going outdoors. It would be easy to breeze through the 4 floors of Sony electronics and wonder what the attraction was. But kids will find hours of fun here. Especially toddlers and young kids who’ll have free reign over a collection of electronic gear that is usually off limits to little hands. (Directly above Ginza Station)
A dizzying array of hands on fun can be found at this attraction, maybe Tokyo’s best science museum. Almost every floor of the museum has kid friendly exhibits that are as much about fun as learning. (A short 5 minute walk from Ueno Subway and JR Station)
Kids will love this well spaced and relaxing area featuring a surprisingly wide array of animals (elephants, pandas and tigers being the highlights). Gets very busy on weekends. (A 10 minute walk from Ueno Subway and JR Station)
Update: Sadly, due to the earthquake Tepco has been permanently closed.
Lots of hands on fun for kids. See inside a nuclear reactor, see how much energy you can burn running and riding a bike, see different features of the world though a large interactive globe. (Short walk from Shibuya station)
Dress up as a fireman and play in fire trucks and helicopters. The fun and games here are worth a good two hours of amusement for ages up to 9 or 10. Free admission is another plus. (Accessed directly from the Yotsuya-Sanchome station)
There’s so much here – all with excellent English explanations – families should probably plan on a 3 or 4 hour visit. The exhibits target a range of ages with many of the them clearly intended for adults too. Lots of kid friendly fun. (Fune-no-Kagakukan station)
Makes a good 2-stop visit with the nearby National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (above). Not specifically a child destination, there’s still lots to keep the kids intrigued. (Fune-no-Kagakukan station)
The Railway Museum (Saitama City)
Appealing to both train buffs and young kids that love trains, this is brand new museum located in the Tokyo suburb of Saitama. It takes a bit of effort and time to get to, but is well worth the trip. The emphasis here is on the trains (Locomotives, electric railcars, diesel railcars, passenger carriages, imperial carriages, freight vehicles) but kids will definitely like the train cab simulators and the mini train. See inside the trains, over the trains, even under the trains. (JR from Ueno to Omiya station, then New Shuttle to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan station)
Good quality playgrounds are not common in Tokyo. Perhaps the best we found was Robot Park in Roppongi Hills, a short walk from the Tokyo Grand Hyatt. It features about a half-dozen slides and other small play structures. Although it’s small its unique layout is such that kids up to age 8 or 9 should be happy here for a few hours of play.
Ueno Park has a good playground (just outside the zoo) with slides, play structure and swings. A nearby amusement park has a small collection of rides for kids aged 2 to 8.
Yoyogi-koen, north of Shibuya, doesn’t have a playground but does have wide open spaces and quiet paths for running and exploring. The Meiji Shrine is an interesting stop along the walk.