24-hour Guide: 20 Fun Things to Do in Shinjuku | Day and Evening

Last Updated on 21.04.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

Tokyo is synonymous with a few things (sushi, ramen, maid cafes — just to name a few), but its two busiest wards, Shinjuku and Shibuya, make the city truly tick. Although newcomers easily confuse one with the other, consider Shinjuku as the more mature twin sister.

Planning the perfect day (or night) agenda in Shinjuku can be just as confusing as navigating through its maze-like station. Luckily, we’ve narrowed down all the best things to do in Shinjuku. From bar-hopping and visiting the red-light district to packing a daytime itinerary with exhibitions, there’s something for everyone.

We recommend getting a bit of everything for a well-rounded trip: sightseeing, food, nightlife and fun activity. We’ll group them based on what you do there.

Feature image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

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Things to Do in Shinjuku: Sightseeing

things to do shinjuku
Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

1. Go to Shinjuku Gyoen

Of course, if we’re talking about Shinjuku, we have to mention Shinjuku Gyoen. Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest and most popular parks in all of Tokyo. If you visit in the spring, you’ll be able to see the cherry blossoms. That’s not all they have, though. There’s a western-style greenhouse filled with tropical and subtropical plants. They also have restaurants and cafes for you to try their lunches and sweets, as well as matcha tea at a tea room. Mainly, visit Shinjuku Gyoen to take in the peaceful atmosphere and scenery.

Location: 11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

2. Shinjuku Central Park

Save some time in your itinerary to unwind in the central park, nestled between surrounding skyscrapers of Shinjuku’s commercial district. The public space is divided into three areas, each connected by park bridges. The east area has an athletic ground for jogging and playing football. The west area is more dedicated to children with its water play pool and playground. The north area features “Citizen’s Forest”, a biotope, a water plaza, a lawn area and a sports corner. We recommend checking out the latest news on their website for upcoming events and festivals. 

Location: 2-11 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Website: parks.prfj.or.jp/shinjuku/en/

things to do shinjuku shrine
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3. Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine, built in the 17th century, is an iconic shrine that you have to check out. Lots of events are held at it every year, and it’s one of those places you can’t forget. Visit it to take pictures for your Instagram, or just for the experience.

Location: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku
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4. See The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, or Tochou (都庁) for short, is one of the tallest buildings in all of Tokyo. Its huge size and beautiful architecture (made by Kenzo Tange) are almost worth the trip on their own, but there’s still more to it. The building houses two observation decks, and you’’ be able see Tokyo from above! Best of all, it’s free! The observation decks open from 9:30 am to 11 pm and open on alternate days.

Note: Due to the ongoing Covid Situation in Japan, the Tochou is temporarily closed

Location: 2-8-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku

Things to Do in Shinjuku: Drink and Dine

5. Dine Like a Local in Omoide-Yokocho

Omoide-Yokocho is the perfect tourist spot. Its name literally translates to “Memory Lane”, and is an insight into the post-WW2 era of Japan. The alley contains more than 60 bars and restaurants, so you’ll definitely find something to enjoy! The food there sticks to the izakaya (居酒屋) style, meaning ‘stay-drink-place’, as most of the food there is freshly grilled. There will also be an abundance of beer, but note that there is only 1 public bathroom in all of Omoide-Yokocho, which has earned it the nickname “Piss Alley”. Make sure it’s late in the day when you visit as everything opens at around 4-5 pm. If you want to check out a place frequented by tourists and locals alike, visit Omoide-Yokocho!

Location: 1-2 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku

Golden Gai in Shinjuku
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6. Pub Hopping in Golden Gai

Golden Gai is a small area comprising six alleyways. In the alleyways, you’ll find a collection of bars, clubs, and eateries. If you are going to visit, we definitely recommend going for the alcohol. Golden Gai is famous for its bars, and is a great place to go pub-hopping with your friends. Each bar will have its own history and theme, with good alcohol to boot. There will be rules posted too, like no pictures, so be sure to follow them. (Or at least don’t let anyone see you breaking them.)

Location: 1-1-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku

Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.
Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

7. Eat One (or Two) Bowl of Ramen

Of course, we have to say ramen. One of Japan’s signature dishes, it’s a no-brainer that you have to try the ramen in the heart of Tokyo. There are over 300 ramen restaurants in Shinjuku, so there’s some fierce competition. We recommend Ramen Nagi, a famous restaurant in Golden Gai. But just walk around and you’re sure to find one! Who knows, maybe you’ll uncover a hidden gem!

Want to try some halal ramen? Check out our post here!

Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

8. Try a Kaiten Sushi Restaurant

Kaiten Sushi is a conveyor belt sushi, where customers are seated in front of a conveyor belt that carries sushi. Customers are free to take as many as they like, as long as they can finish them all. You’ve probably seen or even been to a restaurant like this, it’s pretty common outside of Japan. It’s fast, cheap, and yummy, so check it out if you have the chance! Places we recommend are Katsugyo Oedo, Ganso Zushi and Himawari Zushi Shintoshin.

9. Brunch at Shinjuku

The brunch scene in Shinjuku is just as exciting as the neighborhood’s nightlife. Recently, you’ll find restaurants serving staples like chicken and waffles, pancakes and eggs. For those in need of a caffeine fix (we’re talking specialty coffee) and carbs, head to Paul Bassett. Health-conscious residents can opt for Mr. FARMER, a hip establishment with outdoor seatings that are known for their vegan burger, “power protein” plates and superfood smoothies.

For a chain classic, we recommend Eggslut. 

things to do cafe shinjuku
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10. Cafe Hop in Shinjuku

Shinjuku is a brewing hub for coffee (pun fully intended). Need a quick grab-and-go or a spot to chill after a long day of shopping? Hang out like a hip Tokyoite. You can choose from a myriad of unique cafes, from retro kissaten to modern chains like Blue Bottle Coffee.

Coto team recommends Eight Coffee, a small coffee shop that serves delicious cafe lattes and homemade cookies. If you’re looking for a more hipster hangout, with brick walls, books and beer on tap, head to the basement café, Brooklyn Parlor.

Things to Do in Shinjuku: Shopping and Experience

Cat Cafe
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11. Visit a Cat Cafe

Who doesn’t love cats? With cat cafes, you can enjoy food and drink while surrounded by a boatload of cute cats. You’re free to pet them, and some cafes even allow you to buy treats for them. It’s a great place to relax, and have your body and mind get refreshed by the cats. There are of course limitations. You’re usually not allowed to pick up the cats, nor should you feed them with any food you bring. Other cafes may have other restrictions, but outside of that, you’re free to spend time playing with the cats or just enjoying their company. One place we recommend is Calico, named after a breed of cat.

12. Shop at Isetan

Shop at the trendy department store, Isetan. Coincidentally, the one in Shinjuku is its flagship store. The place was remodeled in 2013 to give it a fresh feel, but the semi-brutalist exterior still makes the place retain traditional charm. Isetan Shinjuku is devoted to global luxury brands: Armani, Chanel, Gucci, Dior and everything else imaginable. You can also find clothes by Japanese designers. Stop by the basement to find a selection of luxury bento, wagashi and artisanal European chocolates. 

Location: 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Website: cp.mistore.jp/global/en/shinjuku.html

13. Go to Shin Okubo

You might not think so, but there’s a Korean Town in Shinjuku! It’s called Shin Okubo, and it’s really authentic to South Korean culture. Originally, it was a neighborhood populated by Korean students and workers that has evolved into Tokyo’s largest Korean community. If you do visit, you’ll be greeted by some wonderful Korean cuisine. Try street food, Fried Chicken, and K-Barbeque. There’ll also be K-pop cafes and shops.

14. Visit the Camera Town 

Akihabara is Tokyo’s electronic town, but you can avoid the crowd by going to Shinjuku’s own camera district instead. You can find great deals on new and vintage models and museum-like camera stores. In Shinjuku Chuko Camera Ichiba, prices will drop if the product isn’t sold within two months. You’ll still be able to browse general electronics in Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera. Map Camera is a hidden gem for photography enthusiasts. The place sells secondhand gear with great deals. 

Location: 1-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku

Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

15. Stay a Night at a Capsule Hotel

The concept of a capsule hotel may sound a bit strange to some. While it may seem strange in concept, in execution it’s quite nice. They’re surprisingly spacious and comfortable and offer an array of things to do or try. Almost all of them come with free Wi-Fi, saunas and electronics to use. They’re super cheap too, and allow you to explore the rest of Shinjuku on a budget. We recommend Anshin Oyado for a straightforward capsule hotel experience, or The Global Hotel Tokyo if you’ve got the money to spend.

things to do shinjuku kabukicho
Image taken from Canva under the Free Media License Agreement.

16. See Tokyo’s Nightlife in Kabukicho

If you’re looking to see the full nightlife of Tokyo, head to the city’s biggest red-light district. There, you can spot a giant Godzilla in the middle of the location, alongside hundreds of bars, nightclubs and love hotels. Fair warning, though. Prostitution is illegal in Japan — and we recommend avoiding any shady establishments. Instead, explore regular bars and restaurants in the famous Golden Gai, or simply sightsee. At night, the streets are lit by neon lights, which lends to the whole fun vibe Kabukicho is known for.

17. Shinjuku Batting Center

Get some steam off by practicing your batting skill. Located in Kabukicho, Shinjuku Batting Center opens until late at night. One game costs only 300 JPY, which consists of 28 balls. The place has twelve batting ranges with varying ball speeds.

Location: 2-21-13 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku

Things to Do in Shinjuku: Museum and Galleries

18. Sompo Museum of Arts

Tokyo gathers some of the best galleries and art exhibitions, from Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Monet’s Water to Rembrandt’s Still-life. The Sompo Museum of Art in Shinjuku is one of them. 

The museum opened in 1976 on the 42nd floor of Sompo Japan Insurance company’s high-rise building. It was originally known as Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art before being reborn as “Sompo Museum of Art” and relocated in May 2020. 

The museum is only a five-minute walk from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which is another iconic city landmark. The exterior and exhibition space is hard to miss. The architectural design features soft curved surfaces and sleek vertical lines.

Note that the entrance fee to the Sompo Museum of Art varies, depending on the exhibition.

Location: 1-26-1, Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku,
Website: www.sompo-museum.org

19. Yayoi Kusama Museum

Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama, has her own permanent museum in Shinjuku. She is known for her use of polka dots and for her Instagram-worthy infinity installations. The museum is 5-story tall, and each floor dedicates itself to classic and rare pieces of the avant-garde artist. 

Her works are renewed twice each year. The gallery also consists of a library and museum shop, with occasional lectures alongside other events held irregularly. 

Note that on-site ticket purchase is not available.

Location: 107 Bentencho Shinjuku-ku
Website: yayoikusamamuseum.jp

20. NTT InterCommunication Center

The NTT InterCommunication Center was built to commemorate the giant telephone service company’s 100th anniversary. The media art gallery is known for its use of futuristic technology and virtual reality, connecting “artists and scientists” worldwide. Besides innovative exhibitions, expect to find workshops, artist talks and live performances.

Location: 4F Tokyo Opera City Tower, 3-20-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Website: www.ntticc.or.jp/en/

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