Updated: January, 2015
The 24 Best Things To Do in Tokyo with Kids
Tokyo is a fantastic city to take kids and it’s far and away the most interesting destination in Japan for families. 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.
- National Museum of Nature and Science
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. It’s a short 5 minute walk from Ueno Subway and JR Station. Reviews. Closed Monday – If Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Monday and closed the following Tuesday.
- Ueno Zoo
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. Reviews. Closed Monday – If Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Monday and closed the following Tuesday.
- Fire Museum
Dress up as a fireman and play in fire trucks and helicopters. The fun and games here are worth an hour or two of amusement for ages up to 8 or 9. Free admission is another plus. Accessed directly from the Yotsuya-Sanchome station. Reviews. Closed Monday – If Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Monday and closed the following Tuesday.
- Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)
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. Asimo the walking robot has demonstrations a few times per day. Fune-no-Kagakukan station. Reviews. Closed most Tuesdays – check website for exceptions.
- Museum of Maritime Science
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. Particular fun are the boats and ships that you can climb aboard. Fune-no-Kagakukan station. Reviews. Closed Monday – If Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Monday and closed the following Tuesday. Reviews. (Update: As of October, 2013 the main building is closed due to major renovations. The outdoor exhibits are still open – no admission fee required.)
- Legoland Discovery Center
A hands-on destination with lots of blocks (big and small), a play area, model builds of Tokyo, and a short ride where you shoot at different targets. The highlight might be the game where you try to walk through a hallway the fastest while avoiding laser beams (it’s right at the end of the museum and can be easily overlooked). Reviews. Open 7 days a week.
- RiSuPia Panasonic Digital Network Museum
A hands-on museum devoted to science and math (and panasonic products). Each visitor gets a handheld tablet that they scan at each exhibit for an explanation of the science behind the games. Reviews. Closed Mondays.
- 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 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. Reviews. Closed Wednesday – If Wednesday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Wednesday and closed the following day.
- Imperial Palace & Gardens
Some children may not be intrigued by the palace and the details of the royal family’s lives, but regardless, the grounds and gardens 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. The palace is open only 2 days a year, January 2 and December 23. It’s a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station. Reviews. The gardens are closed most Mondays and Fridays with many exceptions: calendar of opening days.
- Sony Showroom
A decent rainy day destination as it can be accessed from the subway line without going outdoors (and on of the few kid-friendly attractions in Ginza). It would be easy to breeze through the 4 floors and wonder what the appeal was. But kids will find lots of fun here. All the newest gadgets are hands-on. Kids get have free reign over a collection of electronic gear that is usually off limits to little hands. There is also Sony ExploraScience if you are in Odaiba. Located directly above Ginza Station. Reviews. Open 7 days a week.
- The Railway Museum (Saitama City)
Awesome for both train buffs and young kids, this is a 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 also 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 shuttle to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan station – takes about an hour. Reviews. Closed every Tuesday.
- Ghibli Museum
A wonderful and whimsical museum from animator Miyazaki Hayao (who made films such as Ponyo and Spirited Away). Great for both kids and adults. Advanced purchases are mandatory and can be done up to 3 months before your visit. Reviews. Closed Tuesday.
- Tokyo Tower
Great views of Tokyo. Some will find it more enchanting at night than through the day. Walk a glass see-through floor one level below the main deck (it’s easy to miss if you don’t seek it out). Reviews. Open 7 days a week, year round.
- Tokyo Disneyland
Open year-round and swamped with visitors on weekends and holidays (go through the week instead). Its sister park Tokyo DisneySea is geared to older kids and adults never feels quite as busy. Disneyland gives you the typical Disney feel with lots of emphasis on Mickey, Minnie, and gang. DisneySea is unique to Tokyo and has more rides and thrills. My kids (ages 8 and 11 when we visited) ranked DisneySea as their favorite attraction in Japan. Reviews of Disneyland. Reviews of DisneySea. Open 7 days a week, year round.
- Hato Bus Tokyo Tours
Full and half-day tours (in english) are a little hurries but are a fast way to see the highlights over a short visit. The one-hour open air bus that leaves from Shinjuku (subway exit 8a) is recommended for kids. Reviews. 7 days a week.
This is a pretty awesome place and highly recommended for kids 4 to 12. Kids can play-act their favorite careers with full uniforms and lots of real-world accessories. From dentist to cook, engineer to fireman (there are about 40 different careers in all). Everything is 2/3 life size. Book tickets at least a month in advance. Wednesdays are devoted to english-speaking events but any day will do. Reviews. 7 days a week.
- Joypolis Entertainment Center
An indoor amusement park in Odaiba. Lots of games (electronic and otherwise) and even a couple small scale rides. Kids love this place (parents will find some of it pretty lame). Reviews. Open 7 days a week.
- Tokyo Edo Museum
One of the best museums in Tokyo will replicas of Tokyo street life and home life. Free tours conducted in English (enquire inside after you arrive). Reviews. Closed Monday – If Monday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Monday and closed the following Tuesday.
- Shinagawa Aquarium
Reviews. Closed every Tuesday and January 1.
- Tokyo Sea Life Park
Reviews. Closed Wednesday – If Wednesday is a national holiday, the Museum is open Wednesday and closed the following Thursday.
- Gas Science Center
Reviews. Free admission. Open 7 days a week but closed the day before a national holiday.
- 21_21 Design Sight
Reviews. Closed Tuesdays and New Years Day.
- 3331 Arts Chiyoda
Review. Closed Tuesdays.
- Tokyo Dome City (Amusement Park)
Good fun in central Tokyo without making the trek to Disneyland. Reviews. Open 7 days a week.
- Toyota Mega Web
There’s a mini-car racetrack, a car simulator, and race cars. Don’t make a special trip for this place but if you’re already in Odaiba it’s worth a visit. Reviews
- Watch a Baseball Game
This is a lot of fun. Japanese fans are pretty crazy – the sing, and chant, and wave huge flags the entire game – but it’s still very family-friendly. Buy tickets through JapanBall.com.
- Boat Tour around Tokyo
Playgrounds in Tokyo
- Robot Park in Roppongi Hills a short walk from a Roppongi Mall and the Grand Hyatt. It features several slides, a small play structures, and a huge totem-pole robot. Not huge but a great playground.
- 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.
- List of parks in Tokyo – with descriptions and maps
When is the Best Time to Visit 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 for Visiting Tokyo with Kids
- My number 1 tip for Tokyo: Buy a Suica or Pasmo card for getting around Tokyo (and the rest of Japan). These are purchased at subway stations and can be used on JR trains, subways, and buses in Tokyo and Japan (but not the Shinkansen). You scan the cards as you enter the station. If you don’t have a card you need to calculate the fare for your trip and buy the ticket from a kiosk before entering. This isn’t hard but you’ll be taking the subway a lot and doing it 4, 5, 6 times per day gets old quickly. With the card the system calculates the your fare based on where you enter and exit. There’s a 500 Yen deposit which is returned to you (plus any unused credit) when you return the card. For adults you simply buy the cards from a kiosk. For kids you’ll need to take their passports to a ticket office because they get a reduced rate (this is easier than it sounds and only takes 5 minutes). More info on Pasmo and Suica cards here.
- Riding the subway: Download this map (Tokyo subway map in english) and ask lots of questions (to the train driver, the ticket worker, fellow passengers). Asking people if this is the right train or is it going in the right direction will save you tons of time and effort.
- Changing Money: ATMs that access American, Canadian, or European bank accounts are rare. Post offices and 7-11s will usually have ATMs that will accept western bank cards. If you’re traveling outside of Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto change all the money you’ll need before leaving. Changing money in smaller cities (even Hakone or Kamakura which see many tourists) is very difficult.
- Best American Breakfast: Eggs n Things. If you or your kids are craving pancakes or breakfast from back home, this is the place to go. Often very busy (lunch is the busiest) but worth the wait. (Nearby Golden Browns serve the purported best hamburger in Tokyo if you’re in a day long western food craving.)
- Many of the top attractions are closed on Monday (unless the Monday falls on a national holiday then they will 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 large backpack. Ask at the Information desk to see where they’re located.
- A confusing 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 to best suit the coordinates in your head.
- Best Place to Watch Trains: There’s a walkway that crosses the tracks that offers a great view of all sorts of trains coming and going from Shinjuku station. The easiest way to find it is to go to this Starbucks then walk south (away from Shinjuku station) for another 100 metros and you’ll see the walkway to your left. If you’re arriving at Shinjuku station take the Southern Terrace exit to get you heading towards the Starbucks.
- Japanese Baths are great. So relaxing. You need to completely wash (using the stools and showers you see in the photo) before entering the bath. And when I say completely I mean wash every last inch of your body. No soap or shampoo should get in the bath so do a lengthy rinse after washing. It’s fine to shave in the showering area. There’s a separate area for storing your clothes, robe, and towel outside the bathing area. Older kids are welcome in Japanese baths but I’d ask staff about anyone younger than 6 just to be sure. The Mitsui Garden Hotel Shiodome has a wonderful Japanese bath on it’s top floor with views out over the city.
- Best Toy Store in Tokyo: Kiddyland in Harajuku. 4 floors of toys. It’s not cheap but fun to wander about and pick some Japanese toys (though western brands like Lego are well represented too)
- Most department stores have a play area for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Usually located on the upper floors or roof.
- Japanese style rooms are great for families. Lots of room and easy to slip an extra body in somewhere on the floor. Plus, kids love them.
- Vending machines are everywhere and are lots of fun for kids.
- For more on food and restaurants in for kids read Travel with Kids: Eating in Japan.
What are the Best Hotels in Tokyo for Families?
Tokyo is loaded with great hotels although many target business travelers and put little effort into pleasing kids.
Triples and quadruple rooms large enough to fit a family are rare. It’s often necessary to book 2 rooms for a family of 4 or more. If you go this route 2 good hotels in great locations are the Hotel Sunroute in Shinjuku and Hotel Wing in Yotsuya. Both are reasonably priced and though rooms are small they’re simple and clean and have nice beds and bathrooms.
Booking.com/Tokyo is the easiest way to book hotels and will usually have better prices than the hotel websites. They also offer free cancelations.
- Hilton Tokyo Bay at Disneyland – Located right at Tokyo Disneyland (and DisneySea) and an easy commute into the city. If you’re planning to spend the majority of your time in the city there are better places to stay. But if you’re, say, doing 2 days at Disneyland and 1 day in the city it’s a good choice. The large family rooms are a surprisingly good deal for Tokyo.
- Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi
In Ginza near Tokyo Station • Phone: +81 3-5222-7222 • Reviews
- Grand Hyatt Tokyo
In Roppongi Hills shopping district • Phone: +81 3-4333-1234 • Reviews
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Shiodome
5 minute walk from Shiodome station • Phone: 03-3431-1131 • Reviews
- Shinagawa Prince Hotel
Near JR Shinagawa Train Station • Phone: +81 3-3440-1111 • Reviews
- Tokyo Central Youth Hostel
Steps from Iidabashi subway • Phone: +81 3-3235-1107 • Reviews
A couple notes:
Hotel demand in Tokyo is predicated on a complex holiday, business, and student exam calendar that is almost unknowable to foreigners. I strongly suggest booking early and confirming your hotel stay a few days before arriving in Japan.
Another factor is that email (at least for 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 to a simple question regarding your accommodations. This, once again, leads me to suggest getting a hotel booked early.
Great Excursions from Tokyo
While Tokyo has a ton to offer and should be the focus of any trip to Japan there are several nearby destinations that are perfect for 1 to 3 days of exploration.
- Hakone – The most appealing day trip from Tokyo. There are a series of small towns set in the mountains that are connected by cable car, rope way, train, bus and boat. Hakone is the main town and the start (and end) of the Hakone loop which encompasses 4 different types of transport around the area. Buy the Hakone Free Pass which includes transport from Tokyo and unlimited use of transportation within the area. Hotel Senkei has large quadruple rooms, a beautiful location, and an indoor and outdoor Japanese bath. It’s a great place to stay to get the Hakone feel (the outdoor Japanese bath looks out into the hills) and be close to the train station for doing the Hakone loop. Highly recommended.
- Kamakura – A series of beach hamlets spread around the main town of Kamakura and connected by tram. Good hikes, a few tourist attractions, and decent beaches make it a good day trip or overnight visit from Tokyo. Kakiya Ryokan has large family rooms and a nice Japanese bath. It’s not in the main part of Kamakura town but the tram stop is just down the street and the cheap rates make it worth the effort.
- Kyoto – Many peoples highlight of a trip to Japan is Kyoto. But unless your kids have an intense passion for temples it will pale in comparison to Tokyo’s museums, theme parks, and lively neighborhoods. That said, there’s plenty enough here (including a train museum and lively market) to fill 2 or 3 days. The Ishicho is a ryokan hotel with large family rooms (with tatami mats) and a great Japanese bath. Good location too.
- Osaka – A less intense version of Tokyo with a wonderful aquarium, some very cool shopping districts, and an interesting transportation museum kids will love. Hotel Naniwa is a good budget hotel with a great location and large family rooms.