As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay – and with each district boasting its own character, choosing which part of the city to use as your base can be a hard decision.
Are you after the full Tokyo experience, with a view from a glittering skyscraper? Or a calm, traditional retreat, away from the neon-drenched madness? How about a kip in an only-in-Japan capsule hotel? Whatever side of this ever-changing city you’re interested in, you’re bound to find somewhere that hits the spot.
Best for history and location: around the Imperial Palace
The enigmatic Imperial Palace lies at Tokyo’s geographical and spiritual heart. Home to the emperor and his family since 1868, the palace itself is closed to the public, but the surrounding parks are a natural place to start any exploration of Tokyo.
Japanese-style luxury: Hoshinoya. Tokyo has been crying out for a place like this, and finally it’s here – a top-end hotel with ryokan-like elements to its décor and service.
Classic style and convenience: Tokyo Station. A grand old dame of a hotel, recently renovated – designers have plumped for dainty Euro-chic in the rooms and chandeliers all over the place.
Best for big spenders: Ginza and around
Look east from the Imperial Palace and you’ll see row upon row of high-rise buildings. Many of the city’s swankiest places to eat, drink and sleep can be found within these mushrooming towers, in between which stretch crowded streets that are transformed come dusk into neon-lit canyons. Most hotels here are, unsurprisingly, rather expensive.
Sweeping views: Conrad Tokyo. It’s the views that really steal the show at this luxury hotel – from the lobby and bayside rooms feast your eyes on what are arguably the best vistas in Tokyo, taking in Hama Rikyū Gardens, Odaiba and the Rainbow Bridge.
Cosy and comfortable: Ginza Bay Hotel. It's more expensive than most capsule hotels, but designed with far more care too. It’s also the cheapest place to stay in the Ginza area.
Best for traditional style: Asakusa and Ueno
Ueno is way up north and not terribly convenient (though it has a major station), but there are lots of sights in and around the area – notably Ueno Kōen, which contains several excellent museums. South of this large park are a few good spots, such as the bustling, rough-and-ready Ameyokochō market. Further south again is a cluster of love hotels.
Just to Ueno’s east, Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most characterful areas, and the de facto choice for backpackers thanks to its large concentration of hostels. There are also some great ryokan choices here, as well as the city’s most venerable Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji.
Best traditional ryokan: Sadachiyo. Step back into Edo-era Asakusa in this delightful old inn marked by a willow tree and stone lanterns, northwest of Sensō-ji temple. Dinner and breakfast are included, and they can arrange performances of traditional arts, including geisha dances.
Best hostel: Khaosan Tokyo Origami. This hostel is an appealing option – rooms have been given Japanese stylings, and you’ll see a fair few paper cranes around the place. There are grand views of Asakusa from the lounge, and the location can’t be sniffed at.
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Best for 24-hour living: Akasaka and Roppongi
At one time pretty much all about nightlife, this area is now also known as Tokyo’s arts hub – Roppongi is home to the National Art Center, Suntory Museum of Art and Mori Art Museum. The iconic Tokyo Tower, nearby, also draws the daytime crowds. Roppongi boasts some of Tokyo’s best hotels, while Akasaka is somewhat earthier, and correspondingly cheaper.
Post-partying peace: Kaisu. One of the only hostels in the club-heavy Roppongi area. However, this is no party hostel, but a beautiful place set into an old geisha house.
Old-school style: Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Glamour is the order of the day at the Grand Hyatt. The rooms’ appealing design uses wood and earthy-toned fabrics, while the restaurants and bars are all very chic.
Best for neighbourhood living: Ebisu, Meguro and the south
Few choose to stay way down south in Ebisu, though nearby neighbourhoods such as charming Nakameguro are surprisingly convenient for the city’s sights. In recent years the whole area has become one of the most fashionable in the city – wander its maze of chic cafés and tiny boutiques by day, or visit at night to see the many bars and restaurants at their liveliest.
A view from above: The Strings. Watch the shinkansen come and go from this chic Intercontinental eyrie, located from 26 floors up in one of the brace of towers next to the station, which evokes traditional Japanese design in a contemporary way.
Boutique style: Claska. This oversized Rubik’s Cube in Meguro is a real hipster’s choice, with an abundance of contemporary Tokyo style. Some rooms have been individually decorated by different local artists.
Best for cutting-edge cool: Harajuku, Aoyama and Shibuya
As a mind-blowing introduction to contemporary Tokyo, it’s hard to beat Shibuya, birthplace of a million-and-one consumer crazes. Just to the north is adventurous, youthful Harajuku, its chaotic creativity giving way to the sleek sophistication of Aoyama. There’s so much to see in this trendsetting trio of districts, both historical and contemporary, that you’re unlikely to get bored. But, unsurprisingly, most places are rather expensive – bar the huge cluster of love hotels in Shibuya.
City glamping: Caravan Tokyo. Glamping in Tokyo? Yep, it’s quite possible, at this actual caravan, located in the Commune 246 snack-courtyard complex. Not quite the great outdoors, but pretty great nonetheless.
Tokyo cool: Granbell Hotel. Curtains with Lichtenstein-style prints, kettles and TVs from the trendy local electronics range Plus Minus Zero, and a cool palette of greys and crisp whites give this boutique hotel a hip atmosphere.
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Best for a taste of Tokyo: Shinjuku and the west
Only 4km due west of the green, leafy calmness of the Imperial Palace, Shinjuku has a long and illustrious history of pandering to the more basic of human desires, packing in everything from glittering skyscrapers to ramshackle bars, shop-till-you-drop department stores to the city’s main LGBT venues. For many visitors, Shinjuku represents the real Tokyo – though there are precious few budget places in this neon paradise.
For a relaxing time: Park Hyatt Tokyo. Occupying the upper section of Tange Kenzō’s Shinjuku Park Tower, this is the epitome of sophistication. Head to the New York Bar on the 52nd floor to listen to jazz and do your best Bill Murray impression.
Budget treat: Kadoya. This efficient business hotel is a little charmer – a major plus is the lively izakaya (Japanese-style pub) in the basement.
Top image © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock