Towering skyscrapers and rustic ryokan guesthouses. Packed trains and serene gardens. Hidden sushi restaurants and ear-splitting karaoke bars. Tokyo is a city of wonderful contrasts.
If you’re planning to visit Tokyo for the first time, prepare for a culture shock of the best kind. The subway trains are as hushed as libraries. Almost everyone you meet is polite and gracious. There are hardly any public trash cans — but the streets are remarkably clean.1
Here’s a quick guide to the best attractions, hotels and restaurants in Tokyo.
If you love offbeat Japanese culture, visiting the Robot Restaurant should top your list of things to do in Tokyo. Go-go dancers bang drums, shiny robots battle on stage, and lights flash, leaving the audience dazed but smiling. For a quieter but still surreal experience, visit one of Tokyo’s owl cafes, where you can sit with a real owl and stroke its feathers.2 Fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s magical films, such as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” can explore the director’s delightful world at the Ghibli Museum.
If you want to experience Tokyo’s history, don’t miss the ancient Sensoji Temple. While the original temple was rebuilt after World War II, Sensoji remains the bustling heart of Buddhism in Tokyo. Visiting the century-old Meiji Shrine is another of the best things to do in Tokyo, and if you’re lucky, you might witness a traditional Japanese wedding.3 The Imperial Palace and its gardens are an inviting respite from the city crowds.
If you love shopping, you can easily fill your suitcase with Tokyo treasures. Begin by visiting the city’s landmark department stores: Ginza Mitsukoshi and Matsuya. Here, you’ll find luxury goods and high fashion (and amazingly good food, too). To browse beautiful artisan wares, head to the Asakusa district. For wild street fashion and everything kawaii (super-cute), wander around Harajuku.
Tokyo is a sprawling city of more than 13 million people, so it’s wise to first decide which part of Tokyo you’ll be exploring the most, then choose a hotel in that neighborhood. Shinjuku, Ginza and Marunouchi are three good bets.4
For five-star luxury, the best place to stay in Tokyo is the Imperial Hotel. Located in Ginza, a few steps from the Imperial Palace, the Imperial Hotel is known for its grand architecture and impeccable service, including a traditional tea ceremony.
Boutique hotel Claska is an oasis of serenity in the Meguro neighborhood. Its 20 rooms are designed in four styles: Japanese modern, sleek contemporary, traditional tatami and quirky DIY. The Gate Hotel in Asakusa is another comfortable, understated boutique hotel with stunning views.
Wondering where to stay in Tokyo if you’re on a budget? If you’re not claustrophobic, try staying in a capsule hotel, which tucks travelers into tube-shaped sleeping compartments (bathrooms are shared). More comfortable bunkbeds can be found at K’s House Tokyo Oasis, one of the best places to stay in Tokyo for budget travelers.
Trying to pick the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo is a near-impossible task, but one must-try place is Sushi Dai. With the world-famous Tsukiji fish market next door, the nigiri at Sushi Dai is as fresh as it gets. Sawada is a six-seat place with two Michelin stars that serves sumptuous sushi explorations. Ask your hotel concierge (well in advance) for help securing a reservation.
Of course, Tokyo cuisine is about more than sushi. Other delectable dishes include shabu shabu, a meat-and-vegetable hot pot, and gyoza, little dumplings. Fukamachi is considered one of the best tempura restaurants in Tokyo. Order the omakase menu and let the chef surprise you.5 Tokyo’s bar culture is a world of its own, but for a little taste, visit the Golden Gai, a collection of tiny dive bars with themed décor.6
Ready to begin your own Tokyo adventure? Just remember to protect your vacation with trip insurance from Allianz Global Assistance. Travel happy!