See also: Best Things to Do in Tokyo
As the cultural heart of Tokyo, Ueno has long enjoyed a standing as one of the zestful districts to visit. Its central park is a sprawling patch of tranquillity and has a high concentration of tourist attractions where people flock to. In many ways, Ueno feels like a alluring part of Tokyo where time freezes. With a warren of streets that is ever beaming with activity, Ueno is a place you will never get tired exploring. To help you discover the best of the city, here we enlist the best things to do in Ueno.
Greet animals at Ueno Zoo
Constituted as part of the country’s modernization drive, the Ueno Zoo is the oldest in Japan. What began as a humble genesis soon transformed into a world-class wildlife centre that is now home to a wide species of animals and birds. That being said, the prima minim of attraction here certainly has to be the giant animals. While this zoo is a portentous gateway to the wild, it also offers the fortune of leisurely inspecting the marvels of nature.
Sectioned into a whopping sixty-three main sections, expect nothing less than expansive spaces. This is further enhanced by enclosures that bear resemblance to the resident animals’ natural environment. One rather under-appreciated element here at the Ueno park is its historical architecture. A few of those noteworthy structures include a decrepit front gate built-in true Versailles fashion, a traditionalistic Kankan-tei treehouse, and a staggering five-storey pagoda
Explore the burgeoning blossoms at Ueno Park
Situated right in front of Ueno station, this park (officially known as ‘Ueno Onshi Park’) is an excellent choice to base your rallying around in the city. Initially, it was a part of Kaneiji Temple- the city’s most emblematic shrine. Today, the Ueno Park is perhaps one of the most celebrated tourist attractions thanks to its many museums, art galleries, and shrines that dot along the pathway. And most importantly, for its heart-stirring cherry blossoms. If you are visiting during the spring, expect to see burgeoning blossoms of sakura trees and if in fall, a verdant landscape of crimson and gold.
Having said that, take no prisoners; it is very difficult to think of a place that has as many attractions as Ueno park. Bearing a close resemblance to the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple stands tall. Towards the south-western side of the park, the Shinobazu Pond provides an amass of salmon-pink lotus flowers. All these together make Ueno Park quite the catch.
Shop till you drop at Kappabashi
Situated between Ueno and Asakusa, Kappabashi is popularly known for being a supply store Mecca. Well over a hundred years old, it prides itself with over endless shops devoted to cooking trade. Well-nigh a kilometre long, it is easily one of the best places to purchase till your hearts drop. Here, you get to experience the quintessence of the Japanese culture beyond the mainstream tourist attractions.
Getting here is effortless as it can be accessed from at most three different stations- Ueno Station, Inaricho Station and Tawaramachi Station. Kappabashi also prides itself with the over-and-above perk of being close to prominent tourist hotspots such as Ueno Park and downtown Asakusa. This makes a visit to the neighbourhood not much of a beaten track. Even if you are not into kitchenware, Kappabashi will not fail to delight. Here, you can relish the deliciousness of Japanese cuisine amidst much fun and frolic. If you have time left, a side-street roundabout on to the Asakusa part would be very well worth your time.
Pay your respect at Nezu shrine
The Nezu shrine is set amidst luxuriant verdure, with bayou of carp, tracts that are underpasses of small shrine archways, and exquisite, attractively coloured wooden structures that echo Japanese aestheticisms in all its age and grace. Word has it that this shrine is modelled after Toshogu Shrine in Nikko and has been designated with decisive Cultural Properties of Japan. A peculiarly memorable characteristic of this shrine has to be its count of modest, cardinal torii Shinto shrine exit gateways that shroud the avenue on the highland atop the main shrine, mimicking a tunnel effect.
Nezu Shrine boasts the crest of its springtime beauty and exquisiteness when its chiliad of renowned azalea bushes blossom pink and white. This is a magnificent sight on its cavernous highland plot in the month of April. During this time of incalculable beauty, the shrine also marks itself as a venue for customary Japanese weddings.
Stroll along the charismatic shopping paradise of Ameyoko
One of the preferred pursuit of many a visitor while in Japan would be to go on a shopping spree trucking in a galore of wonderful goods and offers as they can. When in Ueno, the best place to do that is none other than Ameyoko- a spirited street market that trails alongside JR Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station. Modern-day department stores are undoubtedly a gratifying way to range over the infinite options for Tokyo shopping, but if you are seeking an experience with a fragment of character and appeal, Ameyoko Market could be an extraordinary alternative.
Bearing much of its post-war aesthetic, the street is a walk through history as much as a shopping hotspot. This busy street features a large variety of small retail business that sells almost anything your mind conjures into existence- general groceries, seafood, essentials, discount clothing, accessories among many others. You will also find a great deal of stalls that cater to downtown Tokyo snacks in addition to a large number of affordable restaurants, cafes, and bars. We highly recommend trying out the rich array of International fares such as Turkish, Korean and Indian.
Cherish artworks at the National Museum of Western Art
Founded in 1959, this museum primarily houses European and American art. With over six thousand sculptures and painting that goes as old as the Middle Ages to contemporary times, the National Museum of Western Art is a sight to behold. Fashioned by celebrated Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, this museum is among the very few museums in the city that boasts of works by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Rubens, and Van Gogh. The artistic prowess is arresting enough but the architecture is a whole matter itself- it is particularly stunning. Owing to its brilliance, in July 2016, this spectacular structure was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So while in Ueno Park, consider spending time exploring the museum.
Enjoy artistic prowess at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has marked its presence as early as 1926 in the beautiful surrounds of Ueno Park. With its six sprawling galleries, this museum beckons much crowd. The Museum gallery is where exceptionally special exhibitions are held; the other five galleries are rented out temporarily by groups to showcase their works. It displays a constantly altering array of several artistic genres that includes paintings, sculptures, installations and even calligraphic works that showcase works of modern-day artists from both Japan and overseas. The newest exhibitions even feature works of Leonardo da Vinci and El Greco. Although the entry to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is completely free, you will be charged for certain exhibitions inside.
Get your hands on the anime goods at Yamashiroya
Situated adjacent to the south-central exit of JR Ueno train station, Yamashiroya stocks a great deal of fun-size toys, marionettes, gadgets, games and puzzles. When inside Yamashiroya, get ready to be awed. Your jaws will drop at the number of toys anywhere you set your eyes on. In this seven-storey building, you will see Japanese staples to pro models like Star Wars, DC, and Marvel. Right before you make your entrance, ready to be greeted by a myriad of top capsule vending machines. The part of the charm here comes from the seriously crammed insides; the building would be packed to the extreme. Even the elevators are tiny and occupied most of the time. So if you are in a rush, the most convenient option would be, without a doubt, the stairs.
Wail away your time by the Shinobazu Pond
If you want a sultry date spot, it does not get better than Shinobazu Pond. Situated within Ueno Park, the pond has been sectioned into three. This makes it convenient for you to visit the duck pond and the boating space, all in one go. From July till August, the pond sees the blossoming of the eponymous lotus flowers. Even otherwise, it would be quite satisfying to take in the sight of the tranquil lake from the comfort of the benches laid alongside. At the time of spring and summer, you can even rent out paddle boats and boat around the lake.
A walk to remember in Yanaka Cemetery
Founded in 1872, Yanaka Cemetery is placed close to JR and Keisei Nippori stations. With a staggering scope of 100,000 square feet, it is contemplated as one of the largest cemeteries in the whole of Japan. According to the legends, the land required for the construction was taken from Tennoji temple. While you are here, you will not feel as if you are walking down a cemetery. But instead, a picturesque pathway surrounded by breathtaking sakura trees that lay a canopy over the graves and pretty flowers. But for the culture-vultures of you, it will not be the beauty that satiates you; this scenic necropolis also marks the burial ground of one of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history- Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan.
Empty your pockets at Ueno Koreatown
Standing at only a three-minute walk from the Ueno station, the Shin-Okubo is hailed as the official Koreatown of Tokyo. Although it is not as far-reaching as Yokohama’s Chinatown, we recommend coming here for the scores of delicious restaurants which serve authentic Korean fares. Surely, Ueno’s Koreatown has a few scores of things that fuel your interest. This street has been around for as long as you can imagine and stands as a refreshing change of scenery amidst a rich Japanese culture. If you were to take a stroll around Koreatown, you’d see vendors selling things in tiny bottles; most of them handmade and authentic.
Enjoy the feline company at Neko Maru Cafe
With a great location that is effortless to find and reach, the Neko Maru Cafe begs to differ in a lot of ways. This animal cafe offers a much-needed respite if you are particularly overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Ueno. Home to more than thirty cats, Neko Maru Cafe is the best of its kind- a sensational phenomenon that has caught on like bushfire. Although reservations are not entirely required, make sure to do one if you are visiting on weekends.
Fancy a hearty meal from Kamonka Ueno Bamboo Garden
When in Ueno, you will not run short of eateries that will satisfy your cravings. If you ever feel hungry, hop on to Kamonka Ueno Bamboo Garden. The selection of Chinese fares here is commendable. The ingredients are picked from different part of China and therefore the authenticity remains unblemished. Some of their famed menus include Extra Spicy Stir-fried Chicken, Sesame Dumpling and Almond Jelly. The restaurant even boasts of English-speaking staff who easily guides you through the menu.
Spend the night at Yanaka Beer Hall
Do not be deceived by the name- Yanaka Beer Hall is not your typical hall. It is more of a pre-war Japanese house. In spite of its phenomenal historic frontage, inside you will find the bar to be impressively modern, rendering it quite a first-class place to spend your time. The bar specializes in a delicious amber pilsner, so do miss out on it. It goes particularly well with the Japanese styled barbecue snacks that are prepared there. If you are planning to visit, be wary of the opening time as it is highly erratic. Also, there is only space for about twenty people at a time. That being said, the Yanaka Beer Hall is very well worth seeking out for a unique drinking experience.
Enjoy a hot spring like foot bath at Momi no Yu
Momi no Yu has fast become one of the most sought-after destinations amongst the Tokyoites as well as foreigners. This unique cafe stands in the quiet corner of the spirited Ameyokocho and offers spa facilities. Here, you can eat while receiving a sort of foot treatment called ashi-yu. By submerging your feet in this hot spring-like foot bath, you get to experience the distinguishing benefits of a hot spring. The charge for the treatment is dependent on the time. As a complimentary service, you also get a five-minute relaxing massage.