Ah, Tokyo – the city of lights, and of the future! Visiting Japan is on every travel-lover’s list. However, when you visit Japan, you have two options – you could visit small towns and villages and enjoy the rustic charm of Japan, or you could visit some of its larger cities and see the future before your very eyes.
Japan has achieved technological greatness, and its cities are breathtaking because of it. The towering skyscrapers, the dizzyingly fast transport network, the space-saving solutions, the nightlife…it’s like being in a wholly different world! Think it sounds like NYC? We’ll let Korean-American writer Min Jin Lee comment on that:
“I had thought that Tokyo would be like New York City, but it wasn’t. I’d imagined that they’d be similar in their bustle and noise level, but, in fact, Tokyo is a very calm metropolis. The bright lights and hectic night-life images so often found in advertisements and Western media do not reflect every day Japan.”
So, in this blog post we’ll take a look at Tokyo – because no trip to Japan is complete without a visit to that wonderful city.
Where to stay in Tokyo – tourist-friendly options
We’re going to divide the place into a couple categories, because there’s no easy way to define “best”. Some people might say the cheapest places are the best ones, while some others might prefer luxury accommodation so they can spend their trip in style. Yet others might prefer places with a good location, or view. So we’ll cover all of those!
In this section, we’ll list some of the best Tokyo neighborhoods (and hotels) from the tourist perspective.
- Affordability – Think cheap, think shared rooms, dorms and hostels. Not the coolest option, but it’s one-third the cost of a hotel room! While cheap accommodation averages around $30 per night, you can find places for as little as $15-20 a night if you book early or during the off season. Little Japan, Sakura Hotel Jimbocho, Planetyze Hostel, Train Hostel Hokutosei and K’s House Tokyo are some good options.
- Location – If you’d prefer a place with a good location, we’d recommend either staying close to the airport or train station, or staying downtown so you’re close to shopping centers, restaurants etc. As such, the best area to stay in Tokyo would perhaps be Kanda (close to Tokyo Station), Marunouchi Area (also near the station), Imperial Palace Area (downtown), or Shinjuku (kind of downtown, close to a train station).
- Independence and flexibility – If you value independence and flexibility over the other factors, you may want to book an Airbnb instead of a hotel room. This way you’ll have the freedom to cook your own meals, come and go as you like, and wash your clothes without an extra charge. In general, you’ll feel like you’re home.
- Novelty – Do you fancy sleeping in a capsule or sleeping pod? Tokyo’s just the place for it! Capsule hotels can be a little pricey, but if you aren’t on a tight budget I’d say it’s something worth trying out. The Capsule Hotel Shibuya is wonderful – good price, good reviews, great capsules.
Where to stay in Tokyo – the coolest places
Style, color, noise, glamor. If you want to stay in a fun-tastic neighborhood (or hotel) where you can just stroll around for a wonderful time, here’s our pick.
- Luxury – When it comes to pure, blissful luxury, Japan has it all figured out. Treat yourself with a stay at the Hotel Monterey La Soeur Ginza, Hotel Trusty Tokyo Bayside, Hotel East 21 Tokyo, Tokyo Dome Hotel, or Asakusa View Hotel.
- Fun neighborhoods – For a neighborhood that promises an experience at every step, find a hotel in Roppongi (for its nightlife), Ginza (for its luxury), Shibuya (for its liveliness – and the sheer number of options!), Shinjuku (for its peace and excitement – that contrast!), Akihabara (to nerd out and buy electronics), or Ueno (because it’s beautiful).
- Close to attractions – Many people like to stay close to attractions, so they won’t have to spend much time in transit. If you do too, some of the best neighborhoods to stay in Tokyo would include Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi – these are busy and bustling with nightlife. Others include Minato, Taito, Urayasu, and perhaps even Koto.
- Views – If you’d like a room with a view, you can take your pick from the APA Villa Hotel Akasaka-Mitsuke, Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Conrad Tokyo, and many others. Skyscrapers offer a gorgeous view of the city, and you get to watch the city come alive with lights at night as you fall asleep. These hotels are a bit pricey unfortunately, but booking well in advance and strategically planning your trip will help you cut costs.
Downtown Tokyo at night
When in the City of Lights, you’ve got to experience the nightlife. Even if you’re a morning person, this is something you’ll be glad you stayed up late for. The nightlife in Tokyo is vibrant, unique, and decidedly Japanese. You’d never see something like this in LA or your average American city. Here are some of the best tourist spots and locations for going out at night.
If you want a modern, trendy, youthful feel, Shibuya’s the place! Popular among the younger generation and people who live their lives on social media, Shibuya is a surprising breath of fresh air. Japan may at times feel outdated (despite its technological advancement), but Shibuya is one of those places where you can experience its youthful side.
From nightclubs to pizzerias, bars and music houses, Shibuya has just about everything Generation Y or Z could want. It may not be ideal for someone looking for a quiet place to sit and dine, but if you’re in your early 20s looking to meet new people and have fun, this is your stop!
If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese culture and prefer something more Western so you can let your hair down (without risk of offending anyone), this is the place for you! Roppongi houses a lot of foreigners and expats, so you can expect a familiar, Western feel. It’s not quite Las Vegas, though!
From shopping to wining and dining, hanging out at bars and singing karaoke songs, you’ll have a blast in this neighborhood. The place is bustling at night, it’s completely safe, very welcoming, and wonderfully affordable. While others such as Ginza might cater to a more exclusive crowd, Roppongi welcomes one and all with open arms.
One of the most populous and noisy (in a good way) areas of Tokyo at night, Shinjuku appeals to people of all sorts – young, old, local, or foreigner. With shopping malls, eateries, live entertainment, games, pubs and so much more, there’s something here for everyone.
If you like being among people, observing them and generally getting a feel for a place, this neighborhood will delight you. It’s like New York in this respect – it never sleeps. Try out novel food items, play fun games, see the lights, talk to the locals, and have a grand old time in this beautiful, wonderful neighborhood.
Note: If you’re a woman traveling alone, you have nothing to fear in Tokyo. Doubtlessly it has its underbelly of unsafe, corrupt places, but tourist spots and popular neighborhoods in the city are 100% safe. The police network in Japan is very robust, and the Japanese are a very helpful, understanding people, so you can trust you’ll have a great experience.
Things to do in Tokyo
Now that you’ve got the accommodation sorted, here’s a list of fun places in Tokyo. Get your money’s worth by visiting these tourist spots and restaurants:
The Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, while similar, offer a different view and vastly different experiences. The former has a more breath-stilling quality, while the Tokyo Tower is Eiffel Tower-like and inspires altogether different feelings.
For those interested in exploring the local culture, Senso-ji, the Imperial Palace, and Meiji Jingu are ideal. The last is a tranquil little place surrounded by greenery, and it has a seasonal garden with delicate little irises.
Tourists with more conventional tastes can try Odaiba (ferris wheel), Tokyo Disneyland, Disney Resort and DisneySea, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (which is a heaven for plant-lovers), Harajuku, Ueno, and Yoyogi Parks.
Tokyo’s restaurants are perhaps the best in the world. In the words of Anthony Bourdain: “Tokyo would probably be the foreign city if I had to eat one city’s food for the rest of my life, every day. It would have to be Tokyo, and I think the majority of chefs you ask that question would answer the same way.”
RyuGin, Narisawa (French), Tonkatsu Tonki (Japanese), Arva (Italian), Tempura Fukamachi, Hakushu Teppanyaki, Tofu-ya UKAI, Tapas Molecular Bar (Breakfast), and B’s Indian Kitchen (Indian) are among the top restaurants in the city.
For a day trip, you can go to see the breathtaking Mount Fuji. It’s pretty far from Tokyo, but with Japan’s trains being what they are, that’s a fairly short trip (35-90 minutes). The trains themselves are rather pleasant, and if you’re traveling with friends, you’ll never notice how the time flies by! Other day-trip ideas include the Izu Islands, Mount Mitake, Mount Takao, and the Showa Memorial Park, which lies on the city outskirts.
We hope you enjoy your stay in Tokyo. The Japanese are a wonderful people, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy meeting them and exploring their marvelous city. Stay tuned for more blogs and travel inspiration!