Things to do in Shinjuku: From Dazzling Nightlife to Skyscrapers

Updated October 15, 2019

From staggering skyscrapers, out of this world restaurants, to a fun, seedy nightlife; Shinjuku has a ton to offer.

Where to Eat Ramen in Shinjuku

This guide gives you 22+ things to see, do, eat, and discover in one of the most interesting parts of Tokyo: Shinjuku. Where the skyscrapers will awe you, and the nightlife will too — all wrapped up in a complete 1-day itinerary.

Things like:

  • Shinjuku Gyoen
  • Golden Gai
  • Godzilla
  • Barbacoa

And much, much more.


Shinjuku is the place where DC comics and anime writers get their inspiration.


To describe Shinjuku from the DC comics perspective, then Shinjuku would best be described as Metropolis and Gotham City, in the comic “Batman.”

Shinjuku’s “Metropolis” is the west side. It is an absolutely stunning city with 662 ft tall skyscrapers.

Right next to these impressive buildings are lush gardens, complete with a waterfall for enjoying lunch or building your photography skills. You can find some of the best shopping around here with a more modern and contemporary design.

Shinjuku’s “Gotham City” is the Eastside, where you will find the more provocative, unusual, eccentric, and even bizarre activities.

And it is the reason that anime director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, picked this city to be the backdrop to his movie “Demon City Shinjuku.” It’s crazy and fun, yet seedy and salacious.

When you are staring up at the towering city skyline at night, you almost half expect to see Batman standing watch.

This part of town indeed is where you will find more of the organized crime syndicates, but unlike anywhere else in the world, it is still a safe place to enjoy, even at night.

Shinjuku has really cool things to see during the day, but its actual allurement is what it has to offer after the sun goes down.

From the fast-paced, neon lights in the middle of Kabukicho, to the pale golden gleams of light coming from old-world style Japanese lanterns in Golden Gai, the nightlife in Shinjuku is something you’re going to want to experience, at least once.

*A bit of advice – Shinjuku is a place to let loose, so don’t be so uptight about all the grit and grime that makes this city what it is; embrace it, you’ll have a fantastic time.

With so much to do, it can be a bit overwhelming to try and figure how to see everything you want to see in one day.

To help you along, I’ve created a one-day itinerary that you can follow if you like, use a starting point, or use it as a basic guideline.

1-Day Itinerary in Shinjuku

This itinerary picks up when you arrive at Shinjuku Station.

Oh, and if you just want to throw this itinerary out the window and roam free, here are some tips to help you make the most of the Shinjuku Station area (and well, any train station for that matter).

Morning

Start off on the Westside and check out Shinjuku’s Central Park. Walk around for a bit taking in the garden scenery making sure to get your Insta shots in front of Shinjuku Niagara Falls, while also getting some great shots of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

After an hour or so, we’ll head back towards Shinjuku station for some shopping and lunch.

Afternoon

Start your shopping spree at Takashimaya Times Square, then hit up Lumine EST, move on over to Bicqlo, and later on to Isetan. Bic Camera is inside Bicqlo for your electronic needs.

There are plenty of great places to eat in any of these shopping plazas, but I highly recommend getting lunch at Barbacoa, especially if you plan on staying for evening time fun.

After lunch, you will need to walk off some of that food, so head on over to see Godzilla before going into the Samurai Museum.

Evening

Now that the sun has gone down and all the gleaming lights are illuminating the energetic hideaways, it’s time for some real fun. Start the night off right with dinner at Robot Restaurant. This dinner show will get you fired up and ready for a good time.

After the show, walk on over to Golden Gai. You can grab a drink or just walkthrough for a nostalgic Japanese experience.

There are so many choices for a nightcap. Heck, you can even go from one to the next, but if you had to pick one the one I would recommend is Hair of the Dogs (HOD). The vibe is really laid back and casual, and the owner is super friendly.

On your way back to the train station, walk through Omoide Yokocho, otherwise known as Memory Lane. You can grab some yakitori while enjoying this piece of Japan untouched by modernization.

Of course, you don’t have to end the night here. If you decide to keep going, head over to Kabukicho for the best night scene, but remember to keep your wits about you.

Top Sights in Shinjuku

Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo, Japan

This garden is a must-see on your trip to Shinjuku because it shows you the more calm and serene side to life. Feel a sense of tranquility while you gaze out over calm pond waters lined with manicured shrubs and a variety of flowers.

Enjoy the pavilions made for the Imperial family and the greenhouse with tropical flowers. Try to get there when the cherry trees are in bloom. Simply magnificent.

Map pin to Gyoen

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Golden Gai

This place is so cool. It’s like you have stepped back in time and are getting a look at old school Japanese culture.

It’s scruffy, unpolished and very nostalgic, but it has some of the most splendid little bars and places to eat that you will ever see.

You don’t even have to drink or go at night to enjoy it, although nighttime does have a unique ambiance about it.

Map pin to Golden Gai 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku, Japan

This is an extraordinary skyscraper that is a testament to Japan’s ingenuity that has withstood powerful earthquakes and remains just as magnificent as the day it was built.

The top has an observation deck where you can get an unobstructed view of all of Tokyo and shop for souvenirs.

Map pin to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Central Park

Just like Central Park in New York City, Shinjuku Central Park is located in the center of the Metropolis of Shinjuku. It is a place to go where you can enjoy open space, fresh air, and a little quiet time for yourself.

Take pictures by the waterfall, or have a picnic under a cherry tree.

Map pin to Central Park

Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane)

Omoide yokocho, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Imagine what life would have been like shortly after the war. Walking down this alley that is lit up with lamps, smoke billowing up towards the night sky and men in work suits rushing to grab a quick bite and beer before heading home.

It is a place that almost seems stuck in time and an absolute must-see.

Map pin to Omoide Yokocho

Godzilla

Godzilla road, Shijuku, Tokyo, Japan

Ok, you can’t come to Tokyo without seeing Godzilla! Don’t worry, he’s not going to crush you beneath his giant feet. This statue is of only his head peering out over billboards.

However, every hour on the hour, his eyes light up, and he blows smoke. An absolute must for your photos and videos of your time in Japan.

Map pin to Godzilla

Samurai Museum

Samurai Museum, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

The Samurai believed in Honor above all else, and this translates through to their armor and sword.

In this small museum, you can get an idea of what it was like to be a Samurai. 

There are English speaking guides who are full of Samurai knowledge to bestow upon you as you walk through the guided tour. Try on the armor, hold a sword, and watch a little ‘battle’ between two Samurai.

Map pin to Samurai Museum

Kabukicho

Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Considered the red-light district of Japan, this is the place to go for all your adult fun – from G to X rated.

There are plenty of techno-playing night clubs, gay clubs, lesbian clubs, lots of small bars to hop, love hotels, cabaret’s, and even legal soaplands.

But that is just what Kabukicho is known for. You don’t have to be naughty to enjoy your time here.

Map pin to Kabukicho


Eating in Shinjuku

Barbacoa

Barbacoa, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Standing in the elevator, you feel the prickle of your salivary glands preparing your mouth for the smell of the grill.

When the elevator door opens, you are greeted first by the sound of sizzling meat on a spit and then by a friendly host that will take you to your table.

Yes, Barbacoa is one of those restaurants. Awesome from the moment you step inside.

Once seated, the parade of meat begins. One by one different grilled types of meat are brought to your table and slices are sheared off onto your plate.

The salad bar is a smorgasbord of meatless options and side dishes to accompany your entree.

It’s all you can eat, so you won’t leave hungry!

Learn more about Barbacoa Tokyo

Zauo Shinjuku

A lot of restaurants claim to be the “freshest” seafood you can get, but none of them come close to the freshness of Zauo.

Why?

Because you literally catch your own dinner! Once you take your seat that is surrounded by water, look down at your dinner swimming by! You are handed a rod, and some bait and the rest is up to you.

But don’t worry if you are not such a great fisherman, you can always order directly from the menu.

Map pin to Zauo

Oedo Ayatori

Oedo Ayatori, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

For a more upscale, traditional fine-dining experience, you definitely have to try Oedo Ayatori. This beautiful restaurant has an open kitchen with a polished and contemporary look that sets off a warm and inviting atmosphere.

You can pick different kaiseki courses, each one skillfully created to showcase the premium quality food uniquely.

Map pin to Oedo Ayatori


Robot Restaurant

Everybody mentions the Robot Restaurant in practically every guide on the internet. It’s for a reason.

Be prepared for the most insane, out of this world experience with this high energy, high voltage dinner show.

Watch warrior princess’s battle it out on 10ft tall, neon covered, transformer robots while laser lights shoot through the room and pop music shrouds your ears.

It will leave you feeling as if you were transported to another galaxy and it is sure to be the most fun you will have at dinner.

Map pin to Robot Restaurant

Kurumaya Bekkan

Kurumaya Teppanyaki, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

If you’re in the mood for some stunning teppanyaki in Tokyo that is surprisingly affordable given the quality of the food — look no further than Kurukaya Bekkan.

This is one of those restaurants where you sit at a counter and the chef cooks the food right in front of you.

You’ll love watching the chef cook. You’ll love the variety of courses. And you’ll love the quality of the food. It’s incredible.

Learn more about Kurumaya Bekkan

Ramen in Shinjuku?

Do you like ramen? Shinjuku is loaded with amazing ramen shops that will both impress you, and leave you wondering if your next “best” bowl of ramen is waiting around the corner.

I cover 7 amazing ramen shops located in Shinjuku for you to check out on your hunt for the ultimate bowl of ramen.


Drinking in Shinjuku

Mugi no Oto

Mugi no Oto, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

This is a great little place to stop and have a domestically crafted beer. It serves over 50 types of canned and bottled beer, which compliment the organic homemade sausages perfectly.

While you’re having a drink, enjoy some modern music performed by professional musicians.

This is a classy, down-home sort of place you’d imagine finding tucked away somewhere in Japan.

Learn more about Mugi no Oto

Hair of the Dogs H.O.D

Hair of the Dogs, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

If you were to ask a local where is the best place to get a drink, they would direct you to H.O.D, Hair of the Dogs.

It is small but full of personality. It is considered a punk/heavy metal bar, but the best part about this bar is the owner and staff.

They make you feel as though you walked into your own local pub, and you’ve been friends for years. Can’t beat that.

Map pin to H.O.D

Hammond Orgasm

Hammond Orgasm, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

With a name like that, it’s got to be good! This place is the quintessential traveler’s lucky find.

It is a place where you go to enjoy a great drink, great music and meet other travelers and share your experiences.

The kind of place that will forever be burned in your memories and followed by the phrase, “ahh…remember that time, at that awesome little bar in Shinjuku…”

Map pin to Hammond Orgasm


Shopping in Shinjuku

Isetan

Isetan, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Located on the east side, this is considered to be the best place to shop for high-end, brand name items. You will notice right away that it is in a class all its own just with the opulent architecture.

That opulence is carried throughout the whole mall.

Map pin to Isetan

Lumine EST

Also located on the east side, this shopping experience focuses on the younger generation with their street fashion and style.

There are 3 floors, and each one is like it’s own shopping plaza with food on each floor.

Map pin to Lumine EST

Takashimaya Times Square

There are 15 floors to this mall! If you can’t find what you are looking for here, chances are they don’t make it! It is a modern mall, so shopping is made easy.

The top 3 floors are all restaurants with a wide selection that is sure to please any type of taste bud.

Map pin to Times Square

NEWoMan

NEWoMan, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

This store was built specifically for the female buyer. There are 7 floors of high-end brand stores that are geared towards a more mature shopper, but the best part of this mall is the rooftop garden and mezzanine.

It is definitely worth checking out.

Map pin to NEWoMan

Don Quijote

Known for being a chain store throughout Japan, this Don Quijote location is considered the most “intense.” It is known for its low prices and a wide variety of items.

This store sells just about anything from groceries to sex toys. It is open 24 hours and something you have to experience at least once.

Map pin to Don Quijote

Bic Camera  (Bicqlo)

Bicqlo, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

This is your one-stop electronic store. They have everything from camera equipment, household electronics, computers, kitchen appliances, toys and so much more.

There are 3 different stores to choose from near Shinjuku Station, but one of the biggest is one is inside the Uniqlo outlet. Since it is located in the Uniqlo outlet, it is called – Bicqlo.

Map pin to Bicqlo

Uniqlo

This is where fashion meets electronics. Uniqlo sells high-end men’s fashion, but it is merged with the latest in technology from Bic Camera (thus “Bicalo.”)

Inside you will find mannequins not only showing the latest trends in menswear, but that same mannequin will be holding the most recent in camera equipment or working an appliance.



What is Shinjuku known for?

Shinjuku has a very well known business district with towering skyscrapers, but it is most famously known for being the entertainment district.

It is the place that people go to let off steam from the workday in one of the many pubs and then have dinner at an off the wall themed restaurant.

There are plenty of clubs and shows to enjoy, but there is also a risque side of Shinjuku. If you are looking for some adult-only fun, then you will find it in Kabukicho, otherwise known as the red light district.

What should I not miss in Shinjuku?

There are so many wild and crazy things to experience in Shinjuku, especially at night, but there are a few places that are a must-see when you visit:

  • Samurai Museum Get up close and personal with real samurai swords, see how the Samurai lived, and even dress as a samurai yourself
  • Samurai Trick House This one is better if you have little kids with you. It’s more interactive with live demonstrations that your whole group can get involved in
  • Robot Restaurant This is an overload on all your senses kind of place but in a good way! It has warrior princesses riding 10ft tall robots all lit up in neon lights while techno music blasts through the roof

Is Shinjuku dangerous / Is Kabukicho safe?

Just like anywhere else, you go in the world, there are places where you have to be a little more vigilante. But Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world with the lowest crime rate.

Even in Kabukicho, as long as you stay sober and don’t go looking for trouble, you can enjoy the night scene safely.

However, that being said, Since Shinjuku is where you will find the more shady activities, it is advised just to be a little more careful.

There is one thing that you should watch out for – Touts.

A tout is a guy that hangs out around the entrance to bars and tries to lure you into their bar.

They are extremely friendly, but once you go in, you will be charged an outrageous price for your drinks, and you won’t be able to leave until you pay the price.

Simply tell them “no money, going home,” and they will leave you alone.

Is Shinjuku Gyoen free?

Gyoen is not free, but it is pretty cheap. 

Gyoen admission fees:

  • 500 yen for 15 years old or over
  • 250 yen for 6-14 year olds
  • Free for under 5 year olds
  • Free entry on the following days:
    • Showa Day (Showa no Hi)
    • Greenery Day (Midori no Hi)
    • Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi) – free for elementary and junior high school-age children only
    • World Environment Day (Kankyo no Hi)


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