Tokyo Imperial Palace

Located to the west of Tokyo station and occupying some of the most expensive real estate in the world is the Imperial Palace—official residence of the Imperial Family since 1868. Built on the grounds of the former Edo Castle, Tokyo Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and comprises of the Inner Grounds, Kitanomaru Park, Imperial Palace East Garden, and Imperial Palace Outer Garden.

The wide gravel area in front of the palace is one of the most spacious in Tokyo and makes for a peaceful walk. On Sundays Uchibori Dori (the main road in front of the palace) is partially closed to traffic to make way for a 3km cycle course (you can borrow bicycles for free).

Nijubashi is the famous bridge that leads up to the main gate

Unfortunately, visitors often come away from Tokyo Imperial Palace disappointed for the simple reason that they can’t enter the Inner Grounds. The closest you will get to the Imperial Family is walking up the gravel path to the stone bridge (seimon-ishibashi) and taking a photograph of the imposing gates from the other side. The Inner Grounds only open to the public on 2 January, for the New Year’s Greetings from the Imperial Family, and the 23 December, the emperor’s birthday. Any other time during the year and you will need to make an application through the online form well in advance of your visit to Japan. Tours are in Japanese but an English audio guide is also available.

All three parks and gardens are open to the public and are free of charge. Kitanomaru Park located on the north side contains the Science Museum, National Museum of Modern Art, and the Nippon Budokan—Tokyo’s Royal Albert Hall.

Seimon-ishibashi. The closest most visitors get to the inner sanctums of the Imperial Palace