Top 12 Free Things to do in Shinjuku
In need of some things to do in Shinjuku? How about we go one better and give you some free things to do in Shinjuku?! This is one for the yen savers amongst you - a list of the top 12 free things to do in Shinjuku, Tokyo!
Shinjuku is near-impossible to avoid when you’re in Tokyo. Indeed, Shinjuku Station is not only the busiest in Japan, but the busiest in the world; it is a transport hub on an impossible scale that, somehow, functions perfectly. Find an exit, however, and what surrounds it in all directions, the Shinjuku area as a whole, has much to give.
But most places do expect you to give a little (or a lot) back in return – cold hard cash. But why bother? Do your research and there is a plethora of free thing to do in Shinjuku, and we’ve done you the courtesy of rounding up, not 10, but 12, of the best. I’ll repeat that: 12 completely and utterly free things to do in Shinjuku, all right here. We’ve got things to do in the morning, things to do during the day, things to do at night, crazy things to do, cool things to do, romantic things to do and more, all right here.
Take a look:
1) Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory
Start your budget tour of Shinjuku by staring out over it from the top of the Metropolitan Building, a 202-meter tall monolith in the heart of the business district. The neighbouring towers are the scene of big-money business transactions, but there’ll be none of that here, as admission is completely free.
Take an elevator up either the North or South tower, which one doesn’t particularly matter, as both offer pretty much the same views. From here, slowly round the edges of the deck, taking in a 360-degree panorama of Shinjuku and the city beyond. On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji looming in the distance, and every day, you can laugh at the suckers paying a ludicrous amount of money for the same experience over in the Sky Tree. If you happen to find a bit of cash, pick up a few souvenirs in the gift shop or enjoy a drink or bite to eat in the cafe, which, is more reasonably priced that you’d perhaps expect.
Address: 2-8-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo
2) Shinjuku Central Park
Just across the road from the Metropolitan Building is Shinjuku Central Park, a medium-sized but lovingly designed escape from the city, catering mostly to salarymen on their lunch break, skateboarders and the homeless. If you don’t fit into one of these categories, don’t worry, indulge in a spot of people watching, recover from your vertigo, look up at the nearby skyscrapers and bask in the knowledge that you still haven’t spent a penny.
Address: 2 -11 Nishishinjuku, Tokyo
3) Taiso-ji Temple
Next up, a pair of entries for the more spiritual among you. First, the lovely Taiso-ji Temple. Though this isn’t the biggest or grandest temple you’ll find in the city, it is a nice place to take a breather or unpack your bento and have a picnic. However, if this is your plan, be careful of the stray cats that have made the religious site their home, they’ll be quick to snap up anything left unguarded. Away from the cats, the main draw here is the giant Buddha statue, which makes for a great photo opportunity, and is quite impressive.
Address: 2-9-2 Shinjuku, Tokyo
4) Hanazono Shrine
One of the most important Shinto shrines in the city, Hanazono is open 24/7 for a nosey around. Built in the early 17th century, but, like many of Tokyo’s old buildings, rebuilt several times in the aftermath of war or natural disaster, the shrine’s greenness and sense of calm contrast nicely with the nearby Kabukicho and Golden Gai, making for another great spot to take the weight off your feet for a while. Well-attended and tourist friendly festivals take place here year-round, though the New Year celebrations are hard to beat.
Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Tokyo
5) Golden Gai
Exit the Hanazono Shrine and you’ll wander straight into the equally worshipped, though for very different reasons, Golden Gai. Probably Tokyo’s most talked about and most popular drinking spot, this place comes alive after nightfall, with hundreds of tiny bars (mostly with pretty high cover charges and drinks prices) packed into an area much too small for them. The streets are a remnant of a Tokyo (mostly) long gone and thus highly photogenic and atmospheric. Hang out here, take some photos, soak up the vibes – very free and very fun.
Address: 1 Kabukicho, Shibuya, Tokyo
Kabukicho, Tokyo’s famed red light district and general entertainment hub has got to be experienced at least once. Whether you’ll be in a hurry to return is a matter of taste. The streets glow with electric light; bustle with tourists, locals and touts; and ways to spend your yen abound. However, we’re not here for that. The cheapo option here is to simply walk around; take it slow and soak everything in and be careful not to accidentally find yourself in one of the many massage parlours. The giant Godzilla perched atop the large TOHO cinema complex is another photo opportunity not to be missed and given its size, you’ll be hard-pressed to miss it.
Address: Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
7) Art Galleries
If the somewhat low-brow charms of Kabukicho wear thin, Shinjuku’s free art galleries should give you a much needed cultural hit. First head to Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery, just a couple of minutes on foot from deepest Kabukicho, for cutting edge contemporary art which focusses, fittingly, on an exploration of modern Japan’s mainstream and more esoteric cultures. There are usually two exhibitions running simultaneously here, with past artists including Megumi Igarashi, notable for attracting praise and criticism in equal measure for her vagina based work. Afterwards, set course for Konica Minolta Plaza, a photography gallery hidden on the fourth floor of a nondescript Shinjuku block. There are in actual fact three galleries here, displaying works from Japan and abroad. Though most of the available information is in Japanese, most of the works here do a good job of speaking for themselves.
8) Tokyo Fire Museum
It’s fair to say that the Japanese Fire Department has had plenty to deal with over the years; human and natural disaster combining in an unholy alliance of devestation. Sombre subjects, but at the Tokyo’s Fire Museum, the efforts of the men and women of the vital emergency service, from as far back as the 17th century, are celebrated unreservedly. With 6 floors, information is in abundance, but the interactive exhibitions and displays of fire-fighting technology are what really steal the show. This is a great attraction for all ages, though kids will probably appreciate it most. There’s even an observation deck on the tenth floor that offers a decent view, tables perfect for lunch and of course, the whole museum is completely free to enter.
Address: 3-10 Yotsuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo
9) Toto Tokyo Center Showroom
As anyone who remembers the Simpson family visiting Tokyo will know, the toilets in Japan are near-sentient techno-wonders sent from the future. This isn’t too far from the truth, either. At Shinjuku’s Toto Showroom, you can get the inside track on everything toilet (and bath) technology related, all for the extremely reasonable price of zero yen. The toilet and bath may seem like a humble, quotidian necessity to you and I – but the boffins at Toto certainly do not have the same outlook. The exhibition space itself is a lot of fun to walk around and probably more interesting that you might think, plus it gets extra points for the free tea and coffee available to all.
10) Shinjuku Gyoen
Though the regular entrance fee is not free (a whopping 200 yen), once inside you are free as a bird to relax for as long as you like, look around the extensive exotic greenhouse and savour the calm. You may say we’re cheating a little here, and you’d be partly correct. But oh well.
Shinjuku Gyoen, just off the area’s main drag, is one of the city’s premier parks – an excellent combination of wide-open fields and intimate trails and gardens – perfect for a morning stroll or afternoon break. Not as bohemian as Yoyogi Park to the south (alcohol is forbidden, for example), Gyoen is much more landscaped and picturesque. Swap Yoyogi’s circus performers and drunk students for artists painting in watercolour and bird-watchers and you begin to get the idea.
Address: 11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo
11) Shinjuku Ni-chome
Ni-chome, Tokyo’s gay district and the biggest of its kind in Asia, is an excellent corner of Shinjuku to check-out – a brilliant way to see an otherwise hidden side to the city. It is often said that Ni-chome is the best place for foreigners to head for nightlife, primarily for its mass of bars and clubs, friendly and welcoming atmosphere and indeed, the cheap drinks. Drinks prices are indeed some of the lowest in central Tokyo, so this would be a good place to splash out after a long day of scrimping. But, should you want to see out the day without spending a single yen, simply walk around, take in the vibe and have some good old fashioned free fun.
Address: 2 Chome Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
12) Guided Tour
Last but not least – we give you the free guided tour. This a guided tour of the whole of Tokyo, though with its beginning point being in Shinjuku, we thought we’d include it here. These tours are provided by the city government and are available in multiple languages, including English. They begin at the Metropolitan Government Building (our first entry!) twice a day with the option of ten different routes, including a tour of the streets of Shinjuku, a Sumo themed tour and a tour of Tokyo’s parks and gardens. This is a fantastically cost effective way to see Tokyo through the eyes of a local resident; a scheme you’d be a fool not to take advantage of. For more information on the tours, including all the different route options, click here.