Tokyo Travel Guide

With its sushi and sumo, geisha and gardens, neon and noodles, it may seem that Tokyo is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own stereotypes. Yet ticking off a bunch of travel clichés is rarely this much fun, and as you might expect of the planet’s largest metropolis, there’s also enough nuance here to keep you entertained for a lifetime. Ordered yet bewildering, the Japanese capital will lead you a merry dance: this is Asia at its weirdest, straightest, prettiest, sleaziest and coolest, all at the same time.

Tokyo is where tradition meets tomorrow

In the midst of tangled cables and the constant buzz of the city, the vast stretches of concrete and steel might make you think of a typical urban chaos. But if you move away from the busy streets, you'll find peaceful alleys with small, wooden houses and beautiful bonsai trees. Beyond the modern stores filled with the latest gadgets, there are also quaint old parts of the city with temples and shrines surrounded by the soft smell of incense.

Tokyo, the Japanese capital, is a prime example of a city that efficiently meets the needs of its millions of people. The trains are reliable, reaching every part of the city on time. You hardly need to worry about crime, and you can find convenience stores and vending machines open all day and night, offering everything you might need (and even things you didn't know you needed).


Tips from Toshi

Japan Travel Expert


 "To truly embrace Tokyo, wander beyond the tourist trails. Early mornings in Tsukiji offer serene market vibes, while a late stroll through Shinjuku reveals hidden izakayas. Always carry a Pasmo card for seamless travel, and don’t miss the chance to experience a traditional tea ceremony in Ueno."

Exploring this bustling city can be a thrilling adventure, and it doesn't have to break the bank. You'll find many things to do that are surprisingly affordable. There are plenty of cosy izakaya (pubs that offer tasty dishes) and laid-back cafés where you can enjoy noodle and rice meals without spending much. The metro system is a great deal, and you can even catch a sumo match or a kabuki theatre performance for just a few drinks' worth of money.

Figuring out what exactly drives the energy of Tokyo might be a bit challenging, and yes, you might get a bit lost in the process. However, one thing is clear: the vibrant capital of Japan has a way of drawing you in and keeping you coming back for more with its irresistible charm.

Tokyo skyline with Mt Fuji and Skytree, Japan © mapman/Shutterstock

Tokyo skyline with Mt Fuji and Skytree, Japan ©Shutterstock

11 best things to do in Tokyo

Tokyo, a city where the past coexists with the future, offers endless experiences for every type of traveller. From historic temples to neon-lit skyscrapers, here are 12 must-visit places that showcase the city's diverse charm:

#1 Stroll around the Imperial Palace

A great starting point for exploring Tokyo's numerous attractions is a leisurely stroll around the Imperial Palace. This area, which is the emperor's sacred residence, offers a direct connection to Japan's history. Just a short distance from there, you'll find Marunouchi. 

This district is rapidly transforming into a fashionable shopping district and dining, aiming to compete with the flashy Ginza neighbourhood.

#2 Explore the old charm of the Edo era in the Shitamachi Area

Don't miss the Shitamachi area in the northeast of Tokyo. It's where the old-world charm of the Edo era still lives. In Asakusa, the heart of the area beats around the Senso-ji temple, flanked by shops selling traditional crafts. Nearby Ueno Park is a green haven with top-notch museums like the Tokyo National Museum. Exploring these with a local guide who knows every corner of the city makes the experience even richer. Close by, the neighborhoods of Nezu, Sendagi, and Yanaka invite with their quaint temples, shrines, and stores.

Image by Pierre Blaché from Pixabay

The famous Imperial Palace © Pixabay

#3 Visit the Kanda Myojin shrine in Kanda

Kanda is home to the ancient Kanda Myojin shrine, known for the vibrant Kanda Matsuri, one of Tokyo's top three festivals. Just across the Sumida-gawa River, Ryogoku boasts the massive Edo-Tokyo Museum and the National Sumo Stadium.

#4 Be amazed in Akihabara

Crossing back over the river, Akihabara awaits with its unique blend of the old "electric town" vibe and the cutting-edge manga and anime culture, making it a fascinating spot for tech and pop culture enthusiasts. It's the best way of experiencing the diversity of the Japanese capital.

#5 Go wild in Roppongi

Roppongi’s nightlife is legendary in Tokyo, offering endless entertainment for party-goers. During the day, the area transforms, offering Japanese culture with the art triangle that includes the National Art Center, in a stunning building, the creative spaces of Tokyo Midtown, and the Mori Art Museum in the Roppongi Hills complex.


Tokyo Tower from Roppongi ©Shutterstock

#6 Visit the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market

Visiting the bustling Tsukiji fish market early in the morning is an experience that only costs you a bit of sleep but offers a unique glimpse into the seafood trade in Tokyo. Nearby, the Hama Rikyu Onshi Teien garden showcases traditional Japanese landscape design. Across Tokyo Bay, connected by the striking Rainbow Bridge, sits Odaiba. This modern, artificial island features the Miraikan, Tokyo's top science museum, and Oedo Onsen Monogatari, a playful public bathhouse for a fun and relaxing time.

#7 Shopping in Ginza

Make sure to carve out some time for Ginza, the premier shopping district in Tokyo. Known for its luxury boutiques, cutting-edge fashion, and sleek department stores, Ginza is the perfect place to experience Tokyo's high-end shopping scene. Whether you're in the market for designer fashion, unique Japanese goods, or just keen to window shop, Ginza's wide, pedestrian-friendly streets offer a shopping experience that's as bustling and vibrant as Tokyo itself. 

#8 Cross the street in Shibuya 

Fashion lovers should not miss the vibrant districts of Shibuya and Harajuku, plus the stylish Aoyama area, known for their trendy boutiques and unique street fashion. 

An iconic must-see is the Shibuya Crossing, where over two million people cross paths daily, embodying the pulse of Tokyo. After indulging in the urban buzz, find tranquillity at the Meiji-jingu shrine or admire the art at the Nezu Museum, the Ota Memorial Museum of Art, and the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, each offering a deep dive into Japan's artistic heritage.

Shibuya crossing, Tokyo © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

The famous Shibuya crossing ©Shutterstock

#9 Go hiking at Mount Takao and Yokohama

For a quick nature getaway, sacred Mount Takao is just an hour west of Tokyo, offering lush greenery and a peaceful escape. Then there's Yokohama, Japan's second-largest city, right next to Tokyo. It's a must-visit for its lively Chinatown and scenic waterfront areas, offering a different vibe from Tokyo’s urban intensity.

#10 Experience bustling Shinjuku

Shinjuku, on the city's west side, is a hub of towering skyscrapers, dazzling neon lights, and giant TV screens. It's renowned for its bustling atmosphere and what might be the world's most complex railway station. Key attractions include the towering Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the serene Shinjuku Gyoen gardens, and the vibrant Kabukicho entertainment district, known for its nightlife.

#11 Eat your heart out in Golden Gai

In the heart of Shinjuku lies Golden Gai, a cluster of tiny bars and pubs that capture the essence of Tokyo's postwar nightlife. It's a stark contrast to the city's modern bars, offering a glimpse into the local, down-to-earth nightlife culture. Golden Gai, with its unique charm, attracts both Tokyo's salarymen and international visitors, making it a fascinating spot for anyone looking to experience the city's nightlife history.

Discover all the exciting things to do in Tokyo, from its natural escapes to its bustling urban districts


Shinjuku ©Shutterstock

How to spend 24 hours in Tokyo

If you've got just 24 hours to explore Tokyo, kick off your adventure in Asakusa by visiting the iconic Senso-ji Temple. Stroll down Nakamise Street to grab some unique souvenirs and then enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast at a local eatery.

Next, dive into the fashion-forward streets of Harajuku. Takeshita Street is a whirlwind of trendy boutiques and delicious crepe stands. Don't forget to visit the peaceful Meiji Shrine, nestled amidst the urban excitement.

By afternoon, make your way to the bustling Shibuya to witness the famous scramble crossing. While there, enjoy some sushi at a conveyor belt sushi spot for a quintessential Tokyo dining experience.

As evening falls, head to Shinjokoen. A visit to Golden Gai is a must for a nightcap of sake in one of its cosy bars. Alternatively, experience the futuristic dazzle of a robot restaurant.

Cap off your day with a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observation decks. They offer stunning city views and, best of all, entrance is free. This whirlwind tour will give you a taste of Tokyo's incredible diversity and vibrancy.

Insider tips for things to do in Tokyo

Discover Tokyo like a local with our insider tips, guiding you to the city's hidden gems and lesser-known experiences. From tranquil spots amidst the urban rush to culinary adventures off the beaten path, these recommendations will enrich your exploration of the Japanese capital.

Tips from our travel expert

Many visitors to Tokyo expect to see something a little quirky during their stay – here are a few tips from Roshi, our travel expert, to sample the city’s more intriguing facets.

  • Capsule hotels: The rooms at capsule hotels are pretty darn small – there’s no more characteristic Japanese sleeping experience
  • Harajuku Sundays: Today’s Tokyo fashions in a nutshell – Harajuku’s Ō-torii bridge has witnessed generations of youngsters dolled and primped up to the nines on a Sunday afternoon
  • Game centres: Bash the hell out of the world’s weirdest arcade machines in one of the city’s many game centrer
  • Oddball cafés: Have your coffee served by costumed girls, or fawning guys in dicky-bows
  • Golden Gai: Tokyo drinking at its most atmospheric, this is a warren of minuscule bars in neon-drenched Shinjuku
  • Shibuya crossing: It’s amazing to see just how many people can cross a road at the same time; take in the spectacle over a coffee at L’Occitane.
  • Standing bars: Eat like a horse, standing up at one of the city’s umpteen cheap and cheerful soba-ya or udon-ya, or do likewise with alcohol at a tachinomiya.

Tips from author Martin Zatko

Intrepid author Martin Zatko has explored every corner of Tokyo in a quest to better understand the machinations of this fascinating city. Here are some of his favourite places and experiences. 

  • Nakameguro, a charming neighbourhood, remains more popular with expats than visitors. It's worth popping by for a meal, a coffee, or a stroll along the banks of the Meguro-gawa. 
  • Sake, the Japanese rice-booze, is a delight to drink in all its forms. You can head to an izakaya and have it served hot, housed in a lacquered box; take your pick of the stylish range of "cup sake" jars on offer at a specialist bar like Buri; or select one of the beautiful sake bottles (or even a simple carton) on sale at any convenience store. 
  • Karaoke, a Japanese invention, is a great way to bond with new friends. Many foreigners discover, to their glee, that it can also provide one of the cheapest ways to get a little drunk.
  • Sumo, often ridiculed by foreigners until they visit a tournament for themselves, reveals brute force and centuries-old pageantry on display. Even if you can't get to an event, it's on local TV from 4pm to 6pm during tournament time. 
  • Tsukemen, most foreigners have heard of soba, udon, and ramen, but relatively few know about Tsukemen, Tokyo’s own creation, and just the treat during the city’s steamy summer. These springy noodles are served lukewarm, to be dipped into and then slurped from a side bowl of broth.
  • Ryokan breakfasts, perhaps the best thing about staying at a ryokan—a traditional Japanese inn—is the delectable breakfast usually plonked in front of you in the morning.

Sumo wrestling © Shutterstock

The best day trips from Tokyo

Tokyo, a blend of the modern and the traditional, is the gateway to the famous Japanese culture and natural heritage. Just beyond its bustling streets, you'll find destinations that offer serene beauty, historical depth, and unforgettable experiences.

Explore Nikko's shrines

128km north of Tokyo, Nikko epitomizes traditional Japan with its World Heritage-listed Tōshō-gū shrine complex and the natural beauty of Nikkō National Park. It's a place where history and nature intersect in spectacular fashion.

Walk around Fuji Five Lakes

This is your chance to get up close with Mount Fuji, Japan's revered peak. Located 100km west of Tokyo, the area offers stunning views, especially when Fuji-san is snow-capped from October to May. Even without climbing, the presence of the mountain and the serene Fuji Sengen-jinja shrine provide a memorable experience.


Lake Kawaguchiko ©Shutterstock

Go hiking in Hakone

Hakone invites relaxation with its scenic lakeland hikes and rejuvenating onsens. It's a haven for those looking to unwind amidst nature, offering therapeutic baths and tranquil trails that promise peace and rejuvenation.

Climb Mount Takao

Mount Takao is a nature lover's retreat an hour from Tokyo, features hiking paths, a cable car, and, on clear days, views of Mount Fuji. Ideal for those seeking a personalized outdoor adventure, it's a testament to the accessible natural beauty of Japan.

Visit Kamakura's shrines

Nestled between the sea and hills, Kamakura boasts a rich history with its 65 temples and 19 shrines. It's a perfect introduction to the Japanese culture, without having to travel far.

The iconic Daibutsu (Great Buddha) and ancient Zen temples make it a compelling day trip, with enough allure to justify an extended visit for those keen to delve deeper into its historical charm.

For a more detailed overview of how to get to these places, check out our article about the best day trips from Tokyo.


Great buddha in Kamakura © Shutterstock

Where to stay in Tokyo?

Japan’s reputation for being an expensive place to visit is a little outdated in many fields, but it’s certainly justified as far as accommodation goes. However, the quality of accommodation in Tokyo is generally very high at all levels, from luxury hotels to budget dorms; security and cleanliness are top- notch; and except at the bottom end of the scale, you’ll usually find someone who speaks at least a smattering of English. 

While there are few bargains, if you look hard you’ll find plenty of affordable places. You’ll often find the best value – along with plenty of atmosphere – at a traditional ryokan or a family-run minshuku, the Japanese equivalent of a B&B. The cheapest beds are provided by privately run hostels, mainly in the city’s northern districts. Capsule hotels are a little more expensive but certainly worth trying once, if only for the experience. 

Which area is the best?

With Tokyo the size it is, and with each district boasting its own character, it’s important to consider which part of the city to use as your base.

  • Imperial Palace and around: There are a fair few high-end establishments dotted between the palace and the train tracks.
  • Ginza: Highly central area with plenty to see and known as the shopping district in Tokyo. Most hotels here are, however, rather expensive.
  • Akihabara: Tokyo’s electro-capital makes a great base for those in the mood to see maid cafés, robot shops and other quirky facets of the city. There are plenty of cheap business hotels here.
  • Ueno: There are lots of sights in and around this northern area, whose accommodation options previously centred around the squad of hotels and love hotels south of the park; in recent years, plenty of quirky mid-range options have opened up, and the area is now a prime target for foreign visitors.
  • Asakusa: 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.
  • Ryōgoku and Kiyosumi: A few of the hostels in the wider Asakusa area fall under the extent of this chapter in our guide.
  • Bayside Tokyo: The city’s bayside area is quite beautiful, especially when seen from the upper floors of one of its upscale hotels.
  • Akasaka and Roppongi: Roppongi is famed for its nightlife, and boasts some of Tokyo’s best hotels. Neighbouring Akasaka is somewhat earthier, and correspondingly cheaper.
  • 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.
  • Harajuku, Aoyama and Shibuya: There’s so much to see in this wide area, both historical and contemporary, that you’re unlikely to get bored. Most places are rather expensive, bar the huge cluster of love hotels in Shibuya.
  • Shinjuku: For many visitors, Shinjuku represents the real Tokyo, though there are precious few budget places in this neon paradise.
  • Ikebukuro: Not terribly interesting, few visitors use Ikebukuro as a base, though it has some good cheap options, including several ryokan

It's important to consider the feel of each area, and where landmarks are located, before deciding where to stay in Tokyo.

Odaiba Marine Park Tokyo, Japan © AdobeStock

If you're looking for something off grid in Tokyo, visit Odaiba Marine Park © AdobeStock

Best time to visit Tokyo

One of the best times to visit is in the spring, from April to early May. At the start of this period (known as hanami) flurries of falling cherry blossom give the city a soft pink hue and by the end the temperatures are pleasant. October and November are also good months to come; this is when you’ll catch the fireburst of autumn leaves in Tokyo’s parks and gardens. 

Avoid the steamy height of summer (late July to early Sept), when the city’s humidity sees its citizens scurrying from one air-conditioned haven to another. From January through to March temperatures can dip to freezing, but the crisp blue winter skies are rarely disturbed by rain or snow showers. Carrying an umbrella is a good idea during tsuyu, the rainy season in June and July, and in September, when typhoons occasionally strike the coast. 

When planning your visit also check the city’s calendar of festivals and special events for any that may interest you. Note also that many attractions shut for several days around New Year when Tokyo becomes oddly calm, as many people return to their family homes elsewhere in the country.

Read all about the best time to visit Tokyo and the best time to visit Japan.

"Shinobazu Pond" in Ueno Park where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, Tokyo © AdobeStock

"Shinobazu Pond" in Ueno Park where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom © AdobeStock

How to get around Tokyo

Getting around Tokyo is easy due to having one of the biggest and most functional underground systems on the planet. City transit flows through the huge subway and train network that runs out to the city like arteries—clean, safe, and running like clockwork. Tokyo metro and Toei subway systems cover effectively between major through color-coding of lines and signs in English, making the movement around the city easy for a visitor. 

Broad travel extends connectivity to JR lines and other private railways. Water buses are also a fun way to explore the city and the only one of its kind in Tokyo, offering scenic views along Tokyo Bay. Moreover, you can also find taxis and Ubers in case you want to go straight to your destination or dislike travelling alone.

For a more detailed overview, check out our article on how to get around in Tokyo.

Tips for eating out in Tokyo

Get ready for the gastronomic experience of a lifetime: when it comes to eating and drinking, few places in the world can compare to Tokyo. The number, range and quality of places is outstanding, with practically any world cuisine you can think of available alongside all the usual – and many unusual – Japanese dishes. The city’s range of places to dine runs the gamut from simple noodle bars up to high temples of gastronomy where the eye-popping beauty of the food on the plate is matched by an equally creative approach to interior design.

Contrary to what many people think, there’s no need to panic about the cost of
eating out in Tokyo. Even Michelin-starred restaurants often offer bargain set-meal specials for lunch, and there’s a plethora of fast-food options, including stand-up noodle bars and conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, many clustered around and inside train stations. 

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Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 03.04.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

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