There’s hardly a question I hear more often than “What’s your favorite city to visit?” The simple answer? Tokyo.
Over years of traveling, no city has captured my attention more than the superlative capital of Japan. Tokyo is everything that travelers imagine—and more. In Japan’s capital city, you can spend your day roaming the neon-lit streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya. Pull up a chair at a squished-up izakaya in Golden Gai to enjoy delicious food (washed down with a beer, of course, like the locals).
If you’re into shopping, there’s no better place than Ginza, home to the city’s top boutique shops and shopping malls. Or, for a dose of history, hit up Asakusa. Tokyo’s most historic quarter is jam-packed with temples, small shops, and superb restaurants.
Ready to start exploring Japan’s crazy capital? Follow along with this Tokyo travel guide for ideas on when to visit, what to see & do, where to stay, and how to get around!
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What to see & do in Tokyo
In a city the size of Tokyo, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be short on things to do. You can enjoy just about anything here, from re-aligning your qi at age-old temples to watching robots scrap it out with lasers over a drink or two.
Want to get started planning out what to do? Here are some of the best things to do in Tokyo…
- Tsukiji Fish Market: Even if you’ve only got one day in Tokyo, don’t miss out on visiting this gem! Tsukiji Fish Market was most famous for its early-morning tuna auction. And although the tuna auction has moved to Toyosu Market, Tsukiji is still worth a visit. Explore the colorful market to see all types of sea creatures before they end up on the chopping table at a top local restaurant in nearby Ginza or beyond.
- Senso-ji Temple: The centerpiece of Tokyo’s traditional spiritual core of Asakusa, Senso-ji Temple brings shutterbugs face-to-face with the city’s most compelling architectural photo ops among the surrounding area’s parks, pagodas, gates, and some of the finest temples & shrines in Tokyo.
- Golden Gai: This collection of narrow alleyways in Shinjuku hides hole-in-the-wall bars and izakaya that seem frozen in time. Visit to get a taste of postwar Tokyo before its economic surge to grab a bite of some of the city’s tastiest food alongside local salarymen.
- Meiji Shrine: Indulge in some of Tokyo’s calmest moments by trading in the bustle of Shibuya for the calm greenery of Meiji Shrine. This lovely Shinto shrine, built shortly after World War I, sits among 70 hectares of forest that provide much-needed relaxation for Tokyoites and visitors alike.
- Things to Do in Akihabara
- Things to Do in Asakusa
- Things to Do in Ginza
- Things to Do in Shibuya
- Things to Do in Shinjuku
What to eat
One of the main reasons Tokyo cracks the top of my own personal list of favorite world cities is its food. Even if the thought of sushi scares the tastebuds off of you, you needn’t worry: there’s far more to Tokyo than raw fish and rice dishes.
Ready to let the flavors of Japan delight you? Here’s a quick primer on what to eat in Tokyo:
- Sushi: Perhaps it’s a little less than creative to suggest eating the one Japanese food everyone knows about. But, truly, this is probably the best place in the world to do it! Whether it’s indulging in a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market or eating perfect sashimi at a Michelin-starred restaurant like Sukiyabashi Jiro, prepare to never see sushi the same again after trying what Tokyo has to offer.
- Yakitori: The quintessential Japanese street food, these grilled BBQ skewers are a favorite among the pubs & bars of Tokyo and the perfect light snack to soak up sake and biiru. Try out the small izakaya & restaurants under the train tracks at Yurakucho to find some of the city’s tastiest.
- Ramen: Maybe you spent most of your college days eating it. But I can guarantee that all other ramen you’ve indulged in will pale in comparison to what you’ll find in Tokyo. There’s a whole ton of ramen varieties around Japan. My recommendation here is the delicious (and budget-friendly) Tonkatsu ramen at Ichiran. You’ll find this popular local chain all over the city.
- Okonomiyaki: Although it’s often more associated with Osaka and Hiroshima, okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes) is a must-have while plying the streets of Tokyo. Among the most famous varieties here is monjayaki, a pancake with more watered-down batter than traditional okonomiyaki. Monja Street in the Tsukishima area is the most famous place in town to try it out.
- Soba: Along with ramen, you can’t leave Tokyo without a taste of these delicious buckwheat noodles—hot or cold. Keep on the lookout for Fuji Soba, one of the city’s most popular soba chain restaurants.
Where to stay
There’s no doubt that figuring out where to stay in Tokyo is bound to elicit a little stress. The accommodations scene in Tokyo is spread far and wide with prices that among the world’s highest.
Even so, as a traveler you’ll want to stick close to the city center to stay close to all the action—even if that means spending a tad more for the privilege. There’s no better feeling than waking up to the beat of the city right outside your door.
Not sure where to start looking for your accommodations? Here are some of the most popular areas to stay in Tokyo for travelers…
- Shinjuku: My own personal favorite district in Tokyo, Shinjuku puts out a never-ending pulse that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat for your entire trip.
- Shibuya: Next to Shinjuku, Shibuya is one of the best places to stay in Tokyo for keeping up with the city’s rapid heartbeat. From the world’s busiest intersection to some of Tokyo’s favorite shopping, there’s a whole lot of awesome here to justify calling it your temporary home.
- Asakusa: For culture lovers looking for a little more subdued experience, there’s hardly a better choice than Asakusa. Home to Tokyo’s finest historical architecture, Asakusa is a travel photographer’s dream. It’s also perfect for anyone whose spiritual interest in Japan eclipses their wilder side.
- Ginza: An upscale district that’s a boon for fashionistas, Ginza is an excellent choice for mid-range & luxury travelers. If you want spend to spend your time in Tokyo eating, shopping & enjoying the city at its most cosmopolitan, Ginza is the area of choice.
- Chiyoda: Home to Tokyo Station & Tokyo Imperial Palace, this prestigious central district features some of the finest 5-star hotels in Tokyo. Chiyoda is the best place to stay in Tokyo for a luxurious urban getaway.
Tokyo accommodations resources
- Hotels in Akihabara
- Hotels in Asakusa
- Hotels in Ginza
- Hotels in Shibuya
- Hotels in Shinjuku
- Hotels near Tokyo Station
When to visit
Unlike other cities in Asia, Tokyo is truly a year-round destination. That’s not to say that every time of year will be right for your itinerary, though.
The climate in Tokyo sways between hot & humid summers and cool winters, with spring & autumn falling in between to provide more moderate shoulder-season conditions for travelers.
The best time to go to Tokyo is either April or November.
In April, temperatures in Tokyo are becoming gradually warmer without reaching the ridiculous heights of summer. It’s also one of the drier times of year, something you’ll greatly appreciate if you’ve ever visited Asia during summer monsoon or typhoon seasons. (And don’t forget about April’s lovely cherry blossoms.)
Alternatively, visiting Tokyo in November is fantastic. By mid- to late-November, the fall colors in Tokyo are in full force, creating unforgettable scenes throughout the city. Like April, November offers warm to mild temperatures and is a relatively dry month, marking the start of a downward trend in rainfall as the dry months of winter creep into view.
By air: Tokyo is served by two major airports: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Tokyo Haneda International Airport (HND). Which airport you arrive at will depend completely on your origin and the airline you’ve chosen.
Since Haneda is significantly closer to central Tokyo than Narita, it’s the more convenient of the two airports to arrive at and the one I’d personally recommend if flights are available.
Some of the major airlines flying to either NRT or HND from abroad include All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
One of the most exciting parts of visiting is learning how to get around Tokyo. Of course, in the world’s biggest city, this isn’t always going to be easy.
As with most cities, my recommendation is to come to grips with the Tokyo subway system. It’s by far the quickest and most efficient way of zipping around the city. With rides starting at just ¥170 ($1.54), it’s incredibly cost-effective, too.
Just one word of caution: Avoid Tokyo’s rush hour if you can.
All of the urban legends about Tokyo’s jam-packed subway cars are absolutely true. If you’ve ever had any type of claustrophobic tendencies or social anxieties, this is not the time nor the place to test your resolve!