If you read my travel content, you know that I tend to write more about specific topics. I never wrote “complete travel guide to tokyo” post as I figured there are thousands out there already but I realized these are the type of articles I read when I trip plan. In these city guides, I’ll share some quintessential experiences that define the destination as well as hidden gems I found during my time there. I’ll also cover basics like where to stay and any tips I have!
1) Eat ramen/udon with the locals, preferably from a vending machine
Toyko is a pretty expensive city, but you can find some cheap eats in the city by going to small ramen or udon shops! A must do experience in my mind is to visit one of these where you’ll often be next to locals just getting off work. We went to Ramen Manrai near Shinjuku and you make your order on a vending machine! Since we didn’t read Japanese, we had to piece together photos with the characters. I found it to be a yummy cultural thing to do. A famous ramen chain to visit is Afuri.
2) Visit a temple and learn about the history
We are not too much of cultural travelers in terms of history and religion unfortunately. But Tokyo has so many beautiful temples and parks to visit if you are interested. We did walk through this which was right in the middle of Akasaka after sushi and before beers. It’s a wonderful juxtapose to have this lush ancient temple set right next to skyhigh concrete buildings. If you are sick of the hustle and bustle, these make a wonderful stop. The most famous temple in Tokyo is Meiji Jingu.
3) Fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market
I love sushi at home and I knew I wanted to have sushi multiple times when I was in Japan! Expect to line up for 1-4 hours at Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi right outside the Tsukiji Fish Market. We were just at the Sydney Fish Market so we skipped out on going to the actual Tsukiji Fish Market, but a quintessential Tokyo experience is to see the live auction bright and early in the morning. If you don’t like waiting, I’ll share with you though two sushi spots that I thought were delicious in the Hidden Gems section!
4) Feel the city vibes at Shibuya crossing and street wear trends at Harajuku
The most famous street in Tokyo is arguably the Shibuya crossing. You’ve seen the time lapse videos and the best place to watch the action is at the Starbucks. Also take a walk into Harajuku for stores selling street wear and also the Tokyo mural wall where I took the photo at the beginning of this post. See the “Now is Forever” location tag on the map!
5) Drive around the streets in a Mario Cart
Something I was really excited to do but didn’t end up doing was driving around the streets in Mario Carts. This has become a very popular activity! You and your friends dress up as Mario characters and can actually take to the street in a Mario Cart! An international driver’s license is required which is usually around $30 to get.
6) Eat at a Michelin Restaurant
There is no shortage of top ranking restaurants in Tokyo. Splurge a little and treat yourself to one of World’s Top 100 restaurants. During our trip, we went to L’Effervesence which was classic French cuisine with impeccable service. We also went to Den which is more of a whimsical, family style experience. Read in depth about the two restaurants in my Tokyo Michelin Restaurant guide. Other World Top 100 include: Narisawa, Nihonryori Ryugin, and Florilege.
1) Spend a day at a department store from basement to the top
There are quite a few popular department stores, one of them is Isetan. From the basement, you’ll find an unbelievable assortment of food vendors. From dry food, to dessert, to fresh meat, we found lots of snacks to bring back home. Then, you can continue your adventure by going up floor by floor and browsing the Tokyo fashion. Lastly, in the Shinjuku location, the Isetan has a rooftop garden which was a nice break in the day.
2) Visit an animal café
I love playing with animals but I’ve only ever gone to a cat café. In Tokyo, the possibilities are endless with dogs, rabbits, owls, and hedgehogs. See my map for all the animal cafes I found.
3) Thrift shop for designer items at Ragtag and shop Japanese designers
There is a huge thrift store chain called Ragtag and they have several locations in Tokyo. I found a perfect condition LV pochette for $150CAD! Retail price is ~$650. It’s even better because there’s no taxes for tourist. Some other stores that are cheaper in Tokyo than in North America are Comme des Garcon, Maison Kitsune, and Uniqlo. Supreme will have different items as it has Japan drops. Lastly, if you are into jeans, Pure Blue Japan and Japan Blue Jeans have their stores in Tokyo and it’s about $200 versus $400 in boutiques in Vancouver.
4) Enjoy the city view with a cocktail in hand
My boyfriend and I are big cocktail drinkers and often they are in dark, small bars. But I also really enjoy bars with a view and I got just that at the Ritz-Carlton. It is on the 45th floor with a beautiful panoramic view. The drinks are pricey but you can sip on one for a while as the servers are not pushy. I’m planning on writing a separate post for just cocktails in Japan!
5) Be Kawaii with 3D latte art
When I was on exchange in HK, I visited a café that did 3D latte art. I’ve been wanting to repeat the experience ever since and I find Reissue in Harajuku. The coffee itself was not that tasty but the art is really cute. Come prepared with a photo for what you want them to do. I chose a hippo but I think because my photo was so simple, it didn’t look as good as some other ones I’ve seen. It’s approximately $9 CAD for a latte, so it’s not cheap!
6) Eat sushi outside of Tsukiji (it’s just as good)
We waited in line many times during our trip to Tokyo, but 2-4 hours for sushi is just not worth it when there are so many other spots! Our favorite was Itamae Sushi. There are so many locations and the one we went to was in Akasaka. You have to take off your shoes to enter the restaurant, and the décor is clean but traditional. The menu is extensive and I loved the tuna sashimi and uni rice bowl. It’s not that expensive either and the service was great! If you want to eat in Tsukiji, I recommend Sushi Zanmai. It’s a bit touristy but it’s open 24/7 and tasted so good!
Where to Stay
For most tourists, the big areas to stay are in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza. We decided to stay in Roppongi as we found a pretty new hotel for a decent price. Regardless of where you pick, make sure it is close to the metro line. Our hotel was called Candeo Roppongi and was about $130 per night. It was really clean and modern. However, the room was still tiny and there was barely any spots to put our luggage. Roppongi area has a lot of restaurants/bars/nightlife. I would highly recommend the area and it’s about a 5-10 minute walk to the different metro lines depending on where you are going.
- The hotel rooms are likely to be much smaller than you think so pack light
- The Robot Restaurant is such a highly rated activity but I did not enjoy it, save your money
- A lot of restaurants/bars are not on street level, so if you can’t find it, look up and check for stairs/elevators
- The city felt incredibly safe even when we were wandering into small side streets.
Hope you found this helpful! If you have any specific questions, I’ll try my best to answer! Feel free to use the google maps to start your trip planning!