A Guide to the Best Free Walking Tours in Tokyo
Tokyo is a labyrinth of a city made up from what feels like hundreds of other tinier cities. This layout means two things; first - there’s a lot of ground to cover, and second - no matter what corner you turn, there’s always something new to discover. This makes walking around on foot one of the best options available. If you’re looking for a little guidance and you don’t have a lot to spend on getting around, Tokyo has plenty of free, volunteer-run tour companies, run by locals who are more than happy to show you their side of the city. These are some of the best.
Aug 06 2019 (Feb 25 2020)
Tokyo Free Guide
Tokyo Free Guide is one of the most popular of all the free tour options. It's popular because it offers custom tours, but you do have to reserve. The company has over 500 volunteer guides on their books and every single one of them is at least bilingual with Spanish, Italian, and French being the most common languages after English.
TFG is best suited to those who may have a specific niche or interest and want to learn about it further. Whether it's anime, fashion, food, Japanese history or something else within Japan, there's undoubtedly a TFG volunteer that's more than eager to show you around. While the service of the guide is free, guests are expected to pick up the bill if there are any admission, food, or transport fees during the tour. The company often receives more requests than they have available guides. So if you don't want to miss out, book via the website around four to six weeks before arriving in Tokyo.
For a tour that’s a little more structured, Tokyo Localized’s walking tours are an option. These tours, run by Tokyo locals, cover all the tourist-centric bases and are an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the city. Tokyo Localized’s flagship tour takes guests around Tokyo’s geek center Akihabara, the historic and museum populated neighborhood of Ueno, Tokyo’s old black market Ameyoko Shopping Arcade, and to Kanda Myojin Shrine, where you can pray for good luck, prosperity, and marriage.
The company currently offers four other tour packages, covering youth fashion hubs Shibuya and Harajuku, the vibrant inner-city neighborhood of Shinjuku, and the historic streets of Asakusa. They also offer night walking tours too. Tours are only run in English, and because they’ve all been pre-designed, there’s no room for customizations. To join one, sign up via the booking form online around two weeks in advance.
Go Tokyo Guides
Go Tokyo, run by the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau is a tourist service. It not only has one of the most detailed Tokyo travel websites out there, but they also offer pre-planned free tours. There are 13 tour routes available, but not all of them are free.
The Shinjuku Walking Tour is one of the free options, and it’s a perfect way to catch all the action happening in this fast-paced corner of the city. The tour route takes guests from the busy shopping district to the undergrounds department stores, to Shinjuku’s Hanazono Shrine, and finally stops at Kabuki-cho to say hello to Godzilla. Group maximum is five people per tour, so book as far in advance as you can to avoid missing out.
Shinagawa SGG Goodwill Guide
If you’re looking to see a different side of the city, then exploring Shinagawa is a great way to do it. The area isn’t known for being a tourist destination, but it has plenty of hidden attractions, like the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, the lush Gotenyama Gardens, and for photography fans the Nikon Museum. For more secretive Shinagawa gems, be sure to read our feature on the 20 places to visit in the area.
The Shinagawa SGG Goodwill Guide is a volunteer group of Shinagawa locals eager to showcase the best-hidden gems this corner of the city has to offer. While the company does have Shinagawa in the name, they also offer custom style tours for visitors on the hunt for something a little more specific. The tour is free, but guests are expected to cover the expenses, including food, admission fees, and travel. To secure a guide, visit the website, click ‘how to apply’ then download the application form, fill it out and email it to email@example.com.
Tokyo Free Walking Tour
The team at Tokyo Free Walking Tour offer three tour packages: The Imperial Palace East Gardens, Asakusa, and Meiji Shrine and Harajuku. One of the main benefits of this company is that guests don’t have to book in advance. Check out the tour calendar on the website and turn up to the site in time for the tour, and you’ll be able to join the crew.
The company’s flagship tour is the Imperial Palace East Gardens tour. It runs every Saturday and meets at Tokyo Station before cruising around the Imperial Palace before stopping off at the remains of the Edo Castle. For more information on previous tours or what to expect, visit the company’s Facebook page.
Tokyo SGG Club
The Tokyo SGG Club launched back in 1983 and since then has continued to offer the best and warmest hospitality Tokyo has to offer. The company offers tours through the city’s more traditional tourist spots like Asakusa, Ueno Park Area, The Imperial Palace East Gardens Area Tour and the Yanaka area.
The locations of choice make it a great option for those wanting to learn more about the history of the city and traditional Japanese culture. The way to book a tour is by visiting one of the service centers listed on the company’s website. From there you can chat with one of the volunteers at the front desk and gather some valuable travel information while you book a tour.
Tour Guides: The Key to the City's Secret Side
Tokyo is so full of hidden delights, under-the-radar attractions, and fascinating stories to learn. But to really go beyond the regular tourist attractions and see just how this city works, there's nothing more valuable than speaking to a local tour guide. Tokyo tour guides know the city's secret sides better than everyone else, and they're more than happy to let you in. All these tours are free, but experiencing the city like a regular Tokyoite is truly priceless.
Header image credit: Jérémy Stenuit/ Unsplash
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.