Tokyo Travel Guide
Tokyo is the capital and the largest city in Japan. It's also the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Seeing the ultramodern Tokyo today makes it hard to believe that it was once a fishing village named Edo. By mid-18-century, Edo became one of the most populous cities in the world and following the end of the shogunate in 1868, the capital moved from Kyoto to Edo and was renamed Tokyo. Tokyo literally means the eastern capital.
Visit Tokyo and marvel at the unique contrast of modern city life and peaceful nature. The heart of Tokyo is a bustling hub of buildings, pocked with tranquil areas of nature. Yoyogi park sits between Shinjuku and Shibuya with the majestic Meiji shrine at its centre. On a clear day, you can spot the epic peak of Mount Fuji from the tallest skyscrapers.
There are few places on Earth like Tokyo. A cornucopia of vibrant lights, cloud-piercing skyscrapers and a constant buzz of energy. East meets West in a synergy that bonds the spiritual history of Japan with its enigmatic future. A visit to the worlds most animated metropolis will have you hooked, and you'll never want to leave.
Things to know about Tokyo
Even though Tokyo is a modern, thriving city, the Japanese culture is deeply rooted in every day to day interaction. People are very polite and respectful towards one another. this means you will have to adhere to the local culture and manners to blend in. Ideally, you'll queue in the same way as the locals and you'll keep your voice to a lower level in public spaces.
Central Tokyo is usually quiet at night. Japanese cars are fitted with an exhaust pipe silencer and the roads are kept in pristine condition so you are not bothered by traffic noise. At every corner, you'll find a small Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. Even some of the busiest neighbourhoods have these lovely pockets of zen which truly make Tokyo a liveable city.
Unlike most Western stations, the Tokyo station is spread over several stories and is home to shops, supermarkets, boutiques and gift shops. It's like a city within a city and that makes it fun to explore and unique for anyone new to Tokyo.
Tokyo is very popular during the cherry blossom season, but it continues to be one of the most phenomenal cities to visit in Spring. Head over to places like Yoyogi park or Ueno park and picnic under the sakura trees.
When you visit Tokyo, you'll never be too far from a vending machine which normally sells everything from snacks, to hot drinks or even household items. When travelling around the streets of Tokyo you'll notice how spotless clean this city is, despite it being the most populous in Japan and in the whole world.
You don't need a guide to visit Tokyo as you can do all itineraries and see the most important points of interest on your own. If you wish to experience some local-tailored izakayas, restaurants or bars, a tour guide is recommended as a Japanese local will take you to key locations.
Tokyo's food scene is fantastic and you'll find a wide range of restaurants and dishes to suit your budget. Dine in one of the many Michelin star restaurants or purchase street food from one of the many stalls scattered around the city. Visit Japan and Tokyo specifically for food and you won't regret it.
When staying in a hotel, make sure to locate yourself within walking distance from the closest subway station for your convenience. If you wish to save money, shop at convenience stores for snacks or ready made food.
Remember that people in Japan are very considerate. You'll want to familiarise yourself with the manners and etiquette for Japan so make sure to purchase your How to Behave in Japan book prior to your arrival.
Tokyo is a little weird and that's exactly what makes it wonderful. You'll find unusual singing toilets, toilet slippers, onsen where you'll need to be naked to enter one and an ever-growing culture of manga and anime. While there might be some culture shock at first, the best advice is to just surrender and go with it. Immersing yourself in Tokyo is the best way to experience the real deal.
Most nationalities can enter Japan visa-free for a short term stay. A short term stay is up to 90 days for tourism, business, visiting friends or relatives etc that does not include remunerative activities.
There are currently 68 countries and regions for visa exemptions including USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. However, please make sure you always check your visa conditions prior to booking a flight, even if you are from a visa exemption countries/regions. You can read more about how to obtain a visa on the official Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Safety in Tokyo
Tokyo is a very safe city, even at night. Solo women travellers and group travellers generally find Japan and Tokyo safe. Most visits are trouble-free but as always, it's very important that you purchase travel insurance before you visit Japan.
As with any destination, you should maintain the same level of vigilance and practice common sense. It's safe to walk at night and to take public transport.
Tokyo's entertainment districts are considered at higher risk for crime. Avoid entering clubs and bars in the Kabukicho area without a guide or a local who you can trust. Take steps to ensure your drink cannot be tampered with.
Best time to visit Tokyo
Tokyo is a year-round destination and you can visit it at any time. You'll always find something interesting and exciting to do, irrespective of the time of the year.
Spring in Tokyo is the most popular time to visit Tokyo, because of the cherry blossom trees. Many come to Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms, usually at the beginning of April. Just after the cherry blossoms, the Golden Week brings even more celebration amongst locals, making end of April and May an expensive endeavour. Hotels usually book months in advance so book your hotel as soon as possible.
Summer in Tokyo is hot and humid. It's time to take day trips to mount Fuji. Tokyo might feel a little sticky at times because of the sunny weather and high humidity.
September is an excellent time to come to Tokyo as the leaves are slowly changing and the hot and humid summers give way to a cooler, pleasant time of the year. Tokyo will have lovely warm days and cool evenings. A great time to explore the city in all its glory.
Winter in Tokyo is cold, rainy and often snowy too. But don't let this put you off from visiting the city in the winter, as it's one of the best times to see Tokyo. Not only the prices are cheaper than what you'd otherwise expect, but Tokyo is home to many hot springs and thriving bathing culture, making it ideal to enjoy a traditional onsen surrounded by snow.
How to get around
Tokyo has two aiports, Narita International airport and Haneda airport. Both of them receive international flights on a daily basis. Both Narita international airport and Haneda airport have excellent public transport links into the city center. From Narita take the JR Narita Express to the Tokyo station. From Haneda airport take the Tokyo monorail into the city.
By subway - Tokyo has an excellent infrastructure and the best way to get around is by using the Tokyo subway. Head over to the closest subway station and look on the map to find the corresponding colour for your line. Shibuya, Shinjuku stations and the main Tokyo subway station are all busy during rush hour and might feel like a bit of a maze, but don't worry, once you get the hang of it, you'll love how efficient it is. The whole Tokyo metro route covers 195 km (121.2 miles). The Tokyo metro has 8.7 million daily passengers. To travel by subway, purchase a SUICA or PASMO card and top it up with the desired amount at your closest subway station. Simply tap to get in and when you exit to be billed for your travel. Almost every train station will have a top-up machine if you need it. You can also use your contactless card. For the
By taxi - If you need to get somewhere quick, you can always ask your hotel to book you a taxi. You don't have to touch the exterior of a taxi car as the taxi driver will automatically open the door for you and help you with any luggage. You might have to rely on a taxi if you need to be at the airport in the middle of the night. The taxi ride will feel very smooth and pretty incredible. Roads can get a bit congested during rush hour, so if possible, so allocate some time for this eventuality.
By bullet train - The bullet trains in Japan, known as the Shinkansen are fast and reliable and always on time. To save money, buy a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) in advance. A JR Pass allows you to enjoy unlimited travel around the country for the duration of your pass. A ticket on the bullet train is not cheap which is why, if you plan on visiting several cities and points of interest, a JR Pass is really worth it as it will save you a lot of money. You can also use your JR Pass within Tokyo when making use of the trains. For example, you can use it on the Yamanote line.
There is so much to do and see in Tokyo, you won't ever get bored with exploring this city. No matter how long you have to enjoy Tokyo, make sure to plan everything in advance. Make sure you have a copy of your itinerary as well. We recommend buying this travel planner to have everything written down, just in case.
You can spend just 24 hours in Tokyo and enjoy the highlights, but we recommend 5-7 days in Tokyo for first-time visitors. You'll want to locate yourself as close to downtown Tokyo as possible and explore all the main tourist attractions from there. If you have time to spare, there are several beautiful day trip options you can take, which include seeing Nagano and Nikko area, a wonderful area for hiking enthusiasts.
Things to do in Tokyo
Your Tokyo travel will take you on such great adventures and you'll never get bored with all the things to do and see in Tokyo. There is so much to even pack it all in your itinerary, you'll want to come back and enjoy it even more. Tokyo is an incredible destination and one you'll never forget. Many say they become different travellers after seeing Tokyo, comparing everything with this stunning, ultra-vibrant city. One of the best Tokyo travel tips is to ensure you have a list of all the things you want to do and tick off the boxes as you go along. You'll love it.
See Tokyo's museums
Ease into your time in Tokyo and head straight to the best museums in the country. Visit the Tokyo National Museum, located in Ueno Park and see over 120,000 objects. Amongst them, there are 89 national treasures and 648 important cultural properties. Go to the Edo Tokyo museum a historical museum to preserve Edo's cultural heritage. You'll see city models of Edo and Tokyo between 1590 and 1964, just before Japan's capital became the megapolis it is today. Mori art museum is for contemporary art lovers located in Roppongi Hills. Outside you'll find the Maman Spide sculpture. Since you are already in Roppongi, we recommend heading to the Roppongi Hills observatory to see Tokyo from above.
Fall in love with Tokyo's Parks
Despite Tokyo being an urban jungle, it never fails to amaze with its vast number of green spaces. Head over to Yoyogi park and see the Meiji Shrine. If you're lucky you might get to see a traditional Japanese wedding on the day. Visit Ueno Park, an excellent park full of sakura trees, a lovely pond with duck-shaped boats for rent and several shrines. You'll also find many stalls selling street food and other souvenirs here. Don't miss the Ueno zoo to see the polar bear!
A year-round stunning park in Tokyo is the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a relaxing place right next to one of the busiest districts in Tokyo. Head over to the Imperial Palace East Garden open to all visitors. The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan.
Book the Imperial Palace Walking Tour with Local Guide
Get playful at Tokyo Disneyland
If you're travelling with kids you'll definitely want to head over to the Tokyo Disney Resort and get the most out of your time in Tokyo Disneyland. It goes without saying that this is a very popular attraction in Tokyo and it's best to reserve your tickets well in advance. Tokyo Disney Resort is a themed resort offering so many attractions that usually take more than a day to explore. As part of the resort, you'll find two theme parks Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. To make the most out of your time here it's recommended that you stay in one of the several Tokyo Disney Resort hotels which are linked by a convenient monorail.
See Old Tokyo
Take the metro to the Asakusa station to get immersed in Tokyo's old entertainment district. Start by visiting the impressive Sensoji temple, Tokyo's oldest temple built in honour of God Kannon. Take an omikuji to see your future. Eat your way around Asakusa before enjoying one of the two main attractions here: dressing up in a kimono and taking an authentic rickshaw ride. Asakusa is also the perfect place to do some authentic shopping.
Book your kimono experience in Asakusa or your rickshaw tour.
See Tokyo from Above
If you think Tokyo looks incredible when you meander its streets, wait until you see it from above. Get tickets to the Tokyo Tower a television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. Often seen as the Japanese remake of the Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower offers two observation points that offer an incredible Tokyo city view. Alternatively, head over to the Tokyo Skytree a 634-metre tall construction with epic observation points above the city. As a travel tip, make sure to book your tickets in advance for an evening time slot to see the city either at sunset or when it really list up and becomes truly electric.
Book tickets to the Tokyo Skytree here.
Want something a little spicy? Enjoy the adult version of Tokyo in Asia's largest red-light district. Now, it's best to probably just walk around and not touch or hire a guide for this walk if you are not sure. Ideally, you wouldn't venture into any of the establishments. Having said that, Kabukicho is a lot of fun after dark as it has a lot of adult stores to look around and there's a certain vibe to it that you won't get in any other part of Tokyo. From Kabukicho many people head over to Golden Gai, also located in Shibuya to get drinks and eat in the izakayas.
Book your Shinjuku bar hopping night tour with a local
Cross the famed Shibuya crossing
Right in front of the busy Shibuya station, you'll see the famed Shibuya pedestrian scramble, the world's busiest intersection. It gets crossed by over 2.4 million people every single day. That's 2500 pedestrians on every crossing, and it all happens pretty fast and it's super well organised. Shibuya crossing was made famous by being featured in many movies throughout the decades. It's super loud, colourful and one of the best places on Earth. From the Shibuya station, you can see the many stores in the area and enjoy an array of ramen restaurants that are affordable.
Book a Ramen Tasting Tour with Local Ramen Guru
If you love manga and anime you have to head over to Akihabara electric town. Start your journey from the Akihabara station where you'll find lots of great food stalls including the delicious Japanese crazy pancake. Explore Akihabara's shops and purchase all sorts of fun retro electronics as well as anime and manga books and figurines.
If you love shopping for unusual gifts, head over to the Don Quixote, a multi-story shop with sweets, cosmetics, clothes and all sorts of fun items. Akihabara might not be a presentation of the traditional Japanese culture, but it's a fun way to explore a modern and unconventional Tokyo.
Book your anime and gaming adventure
Do a bit of shopping
Shopping is so much fun in Tokyo especially because you'll find so many different kawaii items you're not used to anywhere else in the world. You'll love spending time in shops hunting for the next best thing. Head to Divercity Tokyo Plaza or to Omotesando Hills. Alternatively, if you prefer affordable souvenirs, go to Ueno park where you'll find plenty of open air markets.
Relax by the Bay
Head over to Tokyo bay and admire the rainbow bridge, a suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay. If you are in Tokyo on a sunny day, it's the best time to get a beach towel and head over for a lovely picnic.
While it looks lovely and you might be tempted to dip your toes in the water, remember that Tokyo Bay is not clean water and swimming is usually off-limits.
Eat fresh fish
You've probably heard of the Tsukiji market before and for good reason. Tsukiji fish market is the largest in the world and is known for its exquisite, fresh produce. Restaurants in Tokyo and the whole of Japan buy their fresh fish from here. The inner stalls from Tsukiji market have now been relocated to Toyosu Market. However, the Tsukiji fish market has an outer market that remains open and continues to sell food and other goods to locals and visitors alike.
Book your Tsukiji walking tour with rolled sushi class
See the robot show
The Robot restaurant in Tokyo is a well-known tourist attraction but one that's worth seeing for yourself. The Robot restaurant is all about a crazy electric show that involves robots, dancers, neon lights and loud music. It was created to be different and unusual and most visitors agree that it's bizarre yet wonderful.
Search for the Valley of the Wind
If you're a Ghibli fan then you're going to love your time at the Ghibli museum. Just an important travel tip to remember: you must book tickets in advance as they sell out pretty fast! The museum is located in the suburbs of Tokyo and it showcases the work of the Japanese studio Ghibli.
Take a day trip
If you've purchased your Japan Rail Pass, take a day trip to see Mount Fuji or head to Nikko, a lovely town in the mountains known for its lakes, waterfalls and stunning forested trails. Want to see something special? Make your way to Nagano to see the super cute snow monkey park. To take the perfect day trip just head over to the Tokyo station in central Tokyo and get a shinkansen to your destination. There are so many wonderful places to explore.
What to pack for Tokyo
The best advice is to pack little and purchase lots of fashionable clothes from Tokyo, known to be one of the best capitals of fashion in the world. Japanese people love to dress smart casual, in neutral colours. You'll see that most people are very well dressed in perfectly tailored clothes that just suits them.
Summer packing - Summers are very hot, and humid. Pack light and breathable materials. Shorts, skirts, dresses, sandals. Get your loose textile-like hemp or linen. Pack bright colours like white and beige. Pack your swimming costume, a great white shirt and your comfortable stylish shoes for the evening. For a sporty outfit get a pair of comfortable loungers.
Autumn packing - Autumns are mild and beautiful but they can be a little rainy too. A waterproof jacket, as well as a light jacket for the cooler evenings, should be added to your suitcase. Get your walking shoes and long trousers. During the day you can wear shorts or a skirt.
Winter packing - Pack the warmest winter jacket especially if you plan on going somewhere close to Hokkaido or the mountainous areas. Get warm merino wool thermals, wool or synthetic layers and a fluffy, warm sweater. Bring thermal underwear and trousers. If you wish to ski in the mountains, bring your ski gear with you. Bring your snow boots with you if you decide to be in the mountains.
Spring packing - Spring is a phenomenal time to visit Japan and your packing will be light and nice. If you visit at the beginning of the Spring bring a lightweight waterproof with some insulation. If you visit towards the end of Spring, pack lighter clothes, some shorts, T-shirts and dresses and walking shoes. For evenings you should have a trench coat or a jacket to keep you warm.
Pack enough socks and underwear, toiletries and a small medical kit. For example, bring your own band-aids, earplugs, hand sanitiser and medical face masks. Don’t forget your universal charger/adaptor and some laundry bags to make your life easier.
Where to stay in Tokyo
Tokyo has every range of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Stay in Central Tokyo if you want to be close to the Tokyo station and have quick access to all major tourist attractions and districts within the city. Stay in Palace Hotel Tokyo if you wish to be close to the Imperial Palace and the National Museum of Modern Art. Alternatively, if you've seen Lost in Translation you'll want to stay in Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Tokyo is a very popular tourist destination and one of the best money-saving tips we can offer is to book your accommodation well in advance for your trip. At least 3 - 4 months in advance if possible. Prices go considerably up for last-minute bookings.
To see Old Tokyo, head over to Asakusa. Prices are a little cheaper there than central Tokyo but you can still access many major tourist attractions including the famed Sensoji temple. Asakusa is also a great place for budget hotels.
For first time visitors, stay in Shinjuku or Shibuya and if you love quiet after a long day out in Tokyo, we recommend Chiyoda which is central Tokyo and close to the main Tokyo Station.
Tokyo's cuisine is incredible, boasting 212 Michelin star restaurants. Not all Michelin restaurants are expensive. Tsuta reman is well known for its very affordable dishes and also very long queues. Your Tokyo travel should take you from restaurant to restaurant. Head over to Golden Gai to experience authentic izakayas or try the Memory Lane in Shinjuku for some unusual Japanese skewers.
When you'll want to save money, head over to the many convenience stores and purchase ready-made food. As a tip, head over just before closing time to find yourself some excellent deals and price cuts. There are lots of restaurants in Tokyo selling all sorts of dishes ranging from sushi to tonkatsu. What's fascinating is that usually most restaurants niche out and only focus on serving one type of dish, but made to perfection.
Try ramen, soba noodles, dango and mochi, sample a glass of proper Japanese sake and book a Japanese tea ceremony. To truly experience the food scene in Tokyo, book a tour guide to take you to the most interesting places and restaurants around the city.
Shopping and souvenirs
Shopping in Tokyo is one of the coolest experiences because you'll find so many awesome shops that usually take hours to explore. Shopping is a major attraction in the fashion capital. Wander through the winding streets of Harajuku and you'll discover what cute, edgy Japanese fashion is really about. Shinjuku is one of the largest shopping and entertainment districts in Japan. You can find everything here, even weird things you didn't know you wanted until now. Go high end in Ginza or full nerd in Akihabara where the anime and manga lover is supreme. A good tip is to always place your cash on the tray at the counter and never directly to the cashier. It's not that they don't want to touch you. They're just weird like that. Tipping is also not expected anywhere, so you can definitely purchase an array of really cool souvenirs to bring home with you.