A mega metropolis which combines the old and the new like no other, Tokyo is home to over 13 million people and 23 special neighbourhoods. With so many choices, you can see why it can be difficult to decide how to divide your travelling time wisely. Here is a beginner's guide to Tokyo's neighbourhoods.
You will take train rides through futuristic neon-lit neighbourhoods, listen to the silence of 10000 trees in Yoyogi Park, find your fortune in Senso-ji and dance on the vibe of shopping in Ginza. If I could choose one place to get lost in forever, I would pick Tokyo in a heartbeat.
Table of ContentsOpen
Why go: After being featured in Lost in Translation, Fast & Furious and Resident Evil, Shibuya Scramble became a Tokyo icon. Sought after by many tourists, photographers and filmmakers, the world busiest pedestrian crossing is an absolute must whilst visiting Tokyo. Shibuya is known for its buzzing shopping streets, highly rated restaurants and cosy cafés, hence, the crossing itself is only a small part of the entertainment.
What to see: Omotesandō is a beautiful avenue dotted with brand boutiques, leading to Meiji Shrine. Shibuya is a major fashion centre in Japan and a great spot for explosive nightlife.
Secret spot: If you can't afford to stay in one of the hotels overlooking the Shibuya crossing, then grabbing a Starbucks coffee and waiting for your turn by the window is your best bet. From the first floor, you can set up your camera and take some awesome photos and videos of the Shibuya Scramble.
Don't miss: The statue of Hachikō. This is a sad story about a professor and his Akita dog named Hachikō. The dog became an international sensation after showing his devotion and loyalty to his owner, by picking him up daily from the Shibuya station. You can read the story by following this link.
What to eat: You should try a restaurant called Hakushu which serves the best Kobe beef in Tokyo. You will find great service, amazing food and of course, delicious steaks.
Why go: To me, Shinjuku was the true heart of Tokyo: dazzling neon lights, colourful streets, tons of street food and the vast amount of entertainment. Featuring to the busiest train station in the world, Shinjuku can get overwhelmingly crowded. But with crowds, comes the needs for amazing restaurants, cool bars and thrilling entertainment, and Shinjuku has them all.
What to see: The Red Light district in Shinjuku has long been a luring spot for tourists and locals alike. Home to hostess bars, love hotels, massage parlours and some of Japan's weirdest establishments, Shinjuku is the mecca for adult entertainment.
Secret spot: Make your way to Shinjuku's skyscraper district and find the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where you can admire Tokyo from above for free. Featuring an observation deck at its 45th floor, I recommend visiting this during evening hours to capture Tokyo's true colours.
What to eat: Omoide Yokocho or Piss Alley is a small street featuring lots of tiny eateries. Each restaurant and bar has only a few seats, hence it makes you feel as if you've walked into a friend's kitchen. The food is delicious and most places have English menus for your ease.
Why go: Unless you lived in a cave, you definitely heard of Tokyo's Kawaii craze. For an explosion of cuteness, head over to Harajuku, a youthful neighbourhood where everyone comes to express themselves. Harajuku is synonymous with fun, unconventional and awesome. Whether you are here to check out youngsters dressed up or to find the cutest phone accessories on the planet, Harajuku must make it onto your "must visit in Tokyo" list.
What to see: Apart from a world of cute, next to Harajuku you will find Yoyogi Park, a huge green space, home to over 10000 trees and the famed Meiji Shrine. Nothing says zen more than an afternoon stroll through a forested path.
Secret spot: Tokyo Plaza Omotesando has a very cool Starbucks on its top floor. Head over, buy yourself a cup of coffee and chill in this super relaxed environment. From here you can admire really nice views over the streets of Tokyo.
Don't miss: The Line Friends Store which features lots of cute merchandise such as t-shirts, bears and even stationary. Warning: by entering this shop you understand you are about to get lost in a world of cute.
What to eat: You must try the Harajuku crazy pancakes, a desert which rocked my world and made me return countless times to Harajuku. Imagine a massive pancake rolled into a cone and filled with cream, matcha cake, fruits, ice creams and all sort of goodies that will leave you wanting more.
Why go: Fabulous, luxurious and incredibly luring, Ginza is the Japanese equivalent to New York's 4th Avenue. Dotted with international brands, opulent stores and sexy brand boutiques, Ginza is a shopper's heaven. After dark, this shopping district really lights up, you will be left speechless by how beautiful and extravagant it all looks like.
What to do: Visit Ginza during the weekend between 12:00 - 17:00 when the main street (Chuo Dori) is open for pedestrians only.
Don't miss: Pay a visit to Ginza Wako, Ginza's iconic store, opened in 1932. Inside the building, you will find many shops which sell jewellery and luxury items.
Eat: Find Yurakucho Gado-shita Dining, a 700m stretch dotted with restaurants and bars, built right into the arches bellow Yamanote Line.
Why go: For the photographic opportunities over Tokyo, best to visit the Mori Tower, located in the Roppongi district. Although you can find many spots to see Tokyo from above, my personal favourite was the Sky Deck.
What to see: Mori Garden is a Japanese landscape garden which is a popular hanami spot during the Cherry Blossom Season.
Don't miss: If you are interested in modern art, then you should allocate some time to check out the Mori Art Museum. You will enjoy excellent exhibitions and some outstanding galleries.
Why go: Just like Yoyogi Park, Ueno is an oasis of green, featuring countless museums, a zoo and a pond. Extremely popular during the cherry blossom season, Ueno attracts many hanami from all around the world.
For more information about 15 amazing things to do in Ueno please follow this link.
What to see: No visit to Ueno is complete without a trip to the Tokyo Museum. This is Japan's oldest and largest museum and your gateway to learning more about Japanese history, culture and tradition.
Don't miss: Rent a duck shaped boat and pedal your way around the Ueno pond. On a sunny day, chill with a book and admire the beautiful Japanese carp meandering in the lake.
Eat: Find your way around Ueno and buy street food. Best to try the Takoyaki which translates to octopus balls. Yum!
Why go: Asakusa is home to Tokyo's oldest temple: Senso-ji. Many come to this Buddhist temple to pay their respect, pray for health and buy an ema (wishing wooden plaque). Senso-ji is a popular tourist destination, hence it's usually very crowded.
For the best tips on Senso-ji please follow this link.
What to see: Walk around Senso-ji grounds and relax in the Japanese gardens. Try your luck by drawing an Omikuji: the fortune telling paper strips. Walk around Asakusa and find endless streets of markets and shops which offer goods at very convenient prices. This is also the best place to find chopsticks, miso bowls and traditional norens.
Eat: Nakamise-dōri, located at the entrance of Senso-ji, is an old street featuring over 90 shops selling goods and street food. Try some delicious dango, bean paste mochi and matcha tea sweets.
These were my favourite wards, districts and neighbourhoods in Tokyo. What would you like to visit first and what would you eat on your first day in Japan? Let me know in the comments section below.