Home to Japan’s Emperor, the Tokyo Imperial Palace occupies the site of the original Edo Castle (Edo-jō), the Tokugawa shogunate's castle, which was once the largest fortress in the world. Located in the center of Tokyo, the palace is surrounded by moats and serene gardens.
Given that it is a royal residence, the palace interior and some of the grounds are closed to the public. You can stroll the meticulously manicured Imperial Palace East Garden, set at the foot of the hill where Edo Castle's foundation remains, and the Imperial Palace Outer Garden. From here you can view two famous bridges, the iron Nijubashi and the stone Meganebashi.
Free tours in English, organized by the Imperial Household Agency, allow you to see a small part of the inner compound. Or combine a visit to the Imperial Palace with other Tokyo attractions, such as the Asakusa and Ginza districts, on a sightseeing tour by bus or chartered taxi or a walking tour. Some tours allow travelers to stop for photos at the palace and also experience a Sumida River cruise, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, or take in the view from the top of Tokyo Tower.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Imperial Palace is a must-visit for those with an interest in Japanese history.
- This has been the Imperial residence since 1868 when Emperor Meiji moved here from the former capital of Kyoto.
- To avoid disappointment, it is best to book tour tickets in advance, but walk-in tickets are also available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- It is free to stop at the palace for photos, but various museums on the grounds may require admission fees.
- The grounds may be closed when Imperial Court functions are scheduled.
How to Get There
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is located in a large park area in the Chiyoda ward of central Tokyo. It is a 15-minute walk to Otemon Gate, the main entrance point, from Otemachi metro station, which is served by the Chiyoda, Tozai, Hanzomon, Mita, and Marunouchi lines. Free tours depart from the Kikyomon Gate, a 10-minute walk from the Otemachi and Nijubashi metro stations.
When to Get There
The gardens are open Tuesday through Thursday and on Saturday and Sunday. Tours are offered morning and afternoon, every day except Sundays and Mondays, national holidays, and December 28 through January 4. Only morning tours are available between July 21 and August 31.
During sakura, the spring cherry blossom season, more of the palace grounds with old cherry trees are open to the public. It's definitely worth a visit during this time for great opportunities to photograph blooming cherry trees framing the palace, but be prepared for bigger crowds and a more thorough security process.