Tokyo is a tough city to tackle as a tourist. It’s enormous and there is so much information about it, it can be hard to know what to narrow it down to. This Best of Tokyo Guide is my way of helping you sift through the piles of information and finding the best places to eat, sleep, drink and a few sights to check out in between.
On our trip to Japan, we started in Osaka and after traveling around the country for a few weeks, we finished with five days in the country’s capital, the big lights of Tokyo. Whether you want to eat, drink, explore, or simply shop for souvenirs in Tokyo, there’s a little something for everyone in this mega-city.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
After spending most of our time in AirBnB places around the rest of Japan, I was ready to finally find out what the capsule hotel experience was really like. The trouble with capsule hotels is that they originated as a place where businessmen could grab a quick night’s sleep and most of the ones that I could find were for men only.
Enter Ace Inn. I found them after much Googling and asking around and I was so excited to see their “mixed dorm” capsule rooms. Each bed has it’s own little private cubby with a bed and a light and a little place to put your valuables.
The rooms have SO many beds in them, as is the norm for most capsule hotels. You pull a curtain over your cubby hole and you have complete privacy. The room had it’s own bathroom with tons of showers and toilets so we never had to wait.
They were also really helpful when it came to seeing the sights and getting around by subway. They have other room types as well, including tatami mat rooms, but if you’re traveling as a woman or a couple this is a great place to check out the capsule experience.
Where to Eat in Tokyo
Anywhere and everywhere. I didn’t eat one bad meal in all of Japan and Tokyo had the best food of all. If you want to learn a bit more about what sort of foods are on offer, check out my post the Best Things I Ate in Japan.
Tsukiji Fish Market: This is a sight to see, a place to eat, somewhere to shop and basically everything in between. We came initially to find a place to have top class sushi (which we did. Pick any of the restaurants, they’re all amazing), but ended up staying all day because it just had so much to overload the senses with.
A lot of people come really, really early to watch the tuna auction. I wish we had, but you either need to book onto a tour to do it (quite expensive) or you need to get there crazy early because they only let a certain number of people in as viewers.
Either way, come here and eat the sushi.
Nonbei Yokocho: I think this might be one of the more famous places to go for yakitori in the city. Don’t quote me on it, but when I was doing some research before our trip, this alleyway consistently came up as one of the best places to go to sample some authentic yakitori. There are tons of places to choose from and they’ll put anything on a skewer. We had chicken heart, lungs, and intestines (don’t recommend that last one). Address: 1-25-10 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku
Shinbashi Yurakucho Gado-shita: Another sort of alleyway near Shinbashi station. I went to it initially because I thought it was funny that it was called gado-shita (which boringly just means under the train tracks in Japanese), but the food is seriously good. It’s also a great place to eat on a budget, most little restaurants keep the prices pretty low. Address: 1 Shinbashi, Minato-ku; 1 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku; 2 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku (it’s kind of in between all these streets. Ask if you’re not sure).
Inaba Wako: If you’re looking for some top class tonkatsu, this is the place to have it. Tonkatsu is pork that has been pounded thin and breaded with panko bread crumbs, then fried to crispy perfection. It’s kind of common to have it with a sort of curry sauce. You’ll never be able to eat a sad ol’ chicken nugget ever again. Address: Takashimaya Tachikawa Store, 2 Chome-39-3 Akebonochō, Tachikawa-shi
Where to Drink in Tokyo
Oh man, Tokyo has such a great nightlife scene. We had some seriously fun night’s out here and part of me just wants to come back so I can party with the locals again!
It’s good to note that a lot of bars around Tokyo (and some we found in Osaka as well) charge a cover fee that they charge you on your final bill. Sometimes we didn’t even know there would be a charge until we got the check at the end of the night. It ranges anywhere between 200 and 400 Yen.
Also, if you’re a non-smoker, expect to do a bit of second-hand smoking if you want to go out in Tokyo. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, but it certainly isn’t enforced if it is. Most bars we went into were full of smoke and if people did actually go outside to smoke, they usually just stood right by the wide open doors.
Craft Beer Market: This is such a cool little bar and though it took us a little while to find, was packed with the after work crowd. Every pint is 780 Yen (about $7), which is shockingly cheap in this city. Address: 1-23-3 Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku.
Harmonica Yokocho: This alleyway near Kichijoji Station is SO freaking cool. It used to be a flea market and the little stalls remain. Except now, they’re filled with amazing restaurants and bars. You could easily spend all night here stopping into each bar and having a beer and a few different dishes. It’s packed at night and most bars are standing only (a pretty common style of bar in Tokyo). It’s a great place to get chatting to the locals (if only because you are squeezed up against them all night) Address: 1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho, Musashino-shi
Shinshu Osake Mura: This place may go down as the best night-out of our entire trip in Japan, and perhaps one of the best I’ve ever had. Cans of craft beer are about $2 and there are a few bar snacks, but mostly just beer. We got chatting to so many people while we were there. They were so interested in where we were from and what we were doing in Japan. The guys behind the bar spoke a tiny bit of English, but you can see the beers in the fridge behind the bar, so we mostly just did a lot of pointing and bowing. If you like craft beer and chatting to the locals you should definitely come here. Location: It’s right near the Shimbashi metro (and JR) station, but a bit confusing to find. Use the Shiodome exit from the station and you’ll see the Shimbashi Ekimae building. It’s INSIDE that building.
What to Do in Tokyo
Plenty of guidebooks will mention the Tokyo Castle, the Sky Tree (we didn’t go up it, seemed a bit expensive for what it was and the lines were always crazy long), Shibuya Crossing, and the fish market. I recommend going and seeing all of those things. They are all interesting and very cool, but these are some of the things that we sort of stumbled upon that I loved way more.
Meiji Shrine: Really easy to get to by subway or train (Harajuku Station) this shrine was one of the most impressive in the city. What I loved most about it was that it was surrounded by forest and from inside the shrine area you couldn’t hear a single sound from the main road. You could almost convince yourself you weren’t in the most populace city in the world!
Rikugi-en Garden: This place is so beautiful. We were a few weeks late on the cherry blossoms, but there were plum blossoms (I think?) and the park was filled with colorful flowers and trees and spending a sunny afternoon strolling around it was one of my favorite things that we did in the city.
Yoyogi Park: Okay, it’s not exactly a secret or anything, but it is just so COOL. I found myself saying that a lot while I was in Tokyo. Everything seemed so effortlessly cool. People were so creative and uniqueness seemed to be praised in most parts of the city. After living in Korea for over a year it was so refreshing to be somewhere where individuality was something to be lauded. This park is full of cosplay (people dressed up and acting as the people they are dressed up as), there were bands playing music, gymnastics bending themselves in half and families simply playing frisbee. I highly recommend going on a Sunday when it’s in all its glory.
Book Town: It was literally an accident that we found this place. I had no idea it existed and when we exited the Jimbocho station and I saw alleyways full of bookshelves I must’ve let out some weird sound. A few people turned and stared. I later read there are almost 170 bookstores in this neighborhood. We found tons of books in English and a few shops that only sold antique English books. Luke had to stop me from literally spending all of my money here. If you’re a book lover, you’ll definitely want to make a stop here.
What Didn’t We Do?
- I didn’t go to any themed cafes. I got a bit of a taste of that culture in Korea and I didn’t love it, so we didn’t spend time doing that. If you are interested in that though, there are SO MANY different types of cafes – animal cafes, maid cafes, prison cafes. Give it a google and I’m sure you’ll find one that suits your tastes.
- Like I mentioned, we didn’t go up the Sky Tree. I Just thought it was a bit overpriced. At the time we went it was almost $30 per person (about 3,000 Yen).
- We didn’t go to any Sumo wrestling or to watch the training, which you can do in Ryogoku. I think we simply just ran out of days and sort of forgot to add this to our itinerary. You can, of course, go to one of the tournaments. They are only a few times a month, so definitely check before you come to Tokyo so that you can get yourself some tickets. We arrived in Tokyo one day after a week of tournaments. We were so bummed! We were told at Ace Inn that there are always plenty of cheap seats available.
Getting Around Tokyo
Our JR Pass expired the day we arrived in Tokyo, which actually worked out perfectly because the subway is a much better way to get around the city and it’s not included in the JR Pass.Getting Around
If you do have the JR Pass , then avoid the subway as much as possible and stick to the train lines. There are plenty of them around the city with stops in most major parts of town.
There are two subway lines in Tokyo and if we were doing a lot of sightseeing, we aways ended up on both. It’s good to check at the start of the day which stops you’ll be using because you can save money by buying a day pass for only one of the lines. If you buy a day pass for both lines it costs 1,000 Yen per person (roughly $9).
I hope you found this guide to Tokyo somewhat helpful. It is SUCH a great city and it has endless corners to explore.
For more posts about Japan, including how much I spent while traveling there for 17 days, check out the Japan section of the blog.