According to the United Nations, Tokyo is projected to remain the world’s largest city until at least 2030. For family travelers, the Japanese capital might appear unforgivingly urban at face value, especially if you’re trying to absorb mind-boggling statistics that demonstrate its gargantuan size, like the 14 million residents and three million cars found within the city limits. But on the ground, Tokyo is anything but daunting. Safe and impeccably clean, it’s a destination that promises wonderment at any age, and ticks all the boxes for an unrivaled family-friendly getaway.
For Kid-Friendly Fun in Tokyo, Here’s Where to Go
Japan’s capital is like a giant amusement park for the entire family, from parents and grandparents to kids and toddler. Besides futuristic (and always punctual) trains and sky-piercing structures, Tokyo also offers unique experiences such as glass-ceiling waterbuses, zoos, aquariums, game centers, and museums full of natural and technological wonders. Join us as we explore the magical side of one of the most advanced cities on the planet.
In between the steel and concrete, Tokyo is threaded with endless fun at street level. It’s a place that begs to be explored on two feet, all so visitors can stumble upon the patchwork of unique neighborhoods, leafy parks, cozy shops, and peaceful shrines located in the most surprising places. From its white-gloved taxi drivers and always-punctual trains to its youth-fashion districts and architectural hodgepodge, Japan’s capital mixes clockwork efficiency, sublime design, tech wizardry, and unexpected zaniness—all hallmarks of a cityscape that’s constantly being reimagined and rebuilt. For families and multigenerational travelers, few cities can compete with Tokyo in the entertainment department, especially if the little ones tag along. There are zoos and aquariums, theme parks, ancient gardens, toy pavilions, and virtual reality gaming centers that have an irresistible appeal to both adults and children. You’ll even find workshops that teach how to make those quirky plastic meals often displayed outside restaurants. As for trains—arguably the ultimate fodder for kiddie entertainment—Tokyo spoils with its vast network of monorails, subways, street trams, driverless people movers, and Shinkansen bullet trains. Who wouldn’t want to hop on for a ride?
Kick off your adventure at the very top. The best spot for a birds-eye view is in the cloud-piercing TOKYO SKYTREE, the world’s tallest free-standing broadcasting tower. The tower is a marvel of technical know-how, pieced together from approximately 37,000 steel-frame parts and engineered to withstand gale-force winds and sway—but not topple—in the event of an earthquake. It not only has the ability to stay intact, but can also continue to broadcast in case of natural disasters. Head to Skytree’s Tembo Galleria observation deck, which rises 1,480 feet to offer exhilarating views through its floor-to-ceiling windows, and then take a dizzying walk across the glass floor on the lower level. In case a layer of low-lying clouds blankets the vista, Skytree’s on-site Panorama Guide app recreates the experience of looking out on a clear day by denoting landmarks and tourist sites that would otherwise be in your line of sight. Dealing with a fear of heights from up here is one thing, but at least you can have peace of mind when it comes to safety. The popular attraction is diligently enforcing a slew of pandemic precautions, including restricting visitor numbers to less than a third of capacity (the observation deck only welcomes 20% of the total amount of visitors in general), cranking up the building’s ventilating fans, and requiring mask-wearing, body-temperature checks, and hand-sanitizing upon entry.
Today, Tokyo’s roads, railways, and footpaths are the easiest way to get around the city, but it hasn't always been that way. For centuries, waterways and piers were at the center of commercial life. Many key business districts, like Nihonbashi, Ginza, and Asakusa, sprung up around a vast network of canals and rivers. To see how water has shaped the modern capital, hop onto Tokyo Cruise’s Emeralda, a futuristic waterbus with glass ceilings designed by manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, or any of the other commuter and cruise boats ferrying passengers along the Sumida and Kanda rivers and Tokyo Bay.
For a kid-friendly glimpse of Japan’s wilder side, the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno Onshi Park is a cabinet of curiosities that are sure to spark a sense of wonder. The museum, which moved into its Renaissance Revival-style building in 1931, showcases models of animal species that have lived and died in Japan and elsewhere, far beyond the archipelago. Among the collection’s most fascinating objects are a mummified giant squid, a taxidermied Japanese wolf, a prehistoric Futabasaurus skeleton, and dust particles from a distant asteroid. You can also catch a spherical screening in the world’s very first 360-degree movie theater. The National Museum of Nature and Science is a regular weekend destination for Jin Kuramoto, a Tokyo-based product designer. His 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter have both managed to explore every corner. “You can see their eyes light up when we’re around the dinosaurs, extinct wolves, and sea creatures,” says Kuramoto, who founded his eponymous design studio after moving to the capital from the rural Hyogo prefecture. “Tokyo’s incredible concentration of culture and information resources is its greatest appeal,” he declares. For his children, the museum is a journey to the past and offers an extreme close-up of the natural world. Currently, all tickets are timed for entry and must be purchased in advance online to limit the flow of visitors during the pandemic, though visits are not limited in duration.
You could make a similar observation about d47 Shokudo, a diner that specializes in regional Japanese dishes using ingredients from across the country’s 47 prefectures. The distinctive eatery features a rotating menu of teishoku set meals—a composition of rice, a main dish, soup, pickles, and vegetables—all made with local recipes. One month, it’s deep-fried, miso-covered pork cutlets; in the following, raw amberjack sushi. “Bringing ultra-local regional food to Tokyo hopefully gives people a taste of Japan’s countryside,” says Yuki Aima, food director at D&Department, a regional retailer and travel guide publisher that operates the diner. While many small restaurants have had to cut back their seating to meet the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s pandemic guidelines, that has never been an issue for d47. Its spacious layout has long made it a favorite among families in the bustling Shibuya youth-fashion district. More than just a safe space for a superb meal, it’s a food destination that doubles as an introduction to Japan’s surprising cultural diversity, as reflected through the cuisines of its islands. If you’re looking for a spot that the entire family will enjoy—even the child with the pickiest palate—this is it.
Choosing what to do and see in Tokyo ultimately depends on how much time you have—and the more, the better. Beyond this sampling of amusements lies a veritable treasure trove of new and cherished kid-friendly attractions that could easily populate a months-long itinerary. But no matter how long you plan your family getaway to last, you can count on Tokyo to awaken your inner child in an instant.
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Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hours and accessibility of many places are subject to change, so make sure to contact them before your visit. Learn more about Tokyo's safety measures here.