A metropolis full of life, color, flavor, and energy. As soon as you set foot in Tokyo, you will be dazzled and impressed by this vibrant city that never sleeps.
Japan’s capital is one of the most interesting and exciting cities to visit. Its streets are full of impressive skyscrapers that rise into the clouds, and among these steel titans we can also find ancient temples and sanctuaries. It’s a city with a revitalizing energy and, simultaneously, a sense of calm. Tokyo is a place where avant-garde and tradition meet.
Like a living organism, Tokyo is constantly changing and evolving. You can’t possibly experience all of its wonders in a single trip. For first-time travelers, the city might seem overwhelming, but it a more approachable place than one might imagine. While coming into the city from the Narita Airport, you can already start to appreciate its majesty, the landscape slowly transforming from rice fields and tile roof houses to warehouses and concrete buildings. It’s a kind of metaphorical journey, in which the past gives life to the future.
Tokyo is a fascinating experience for the senses. And, as with any city, there are certain places that you absolutely must visit. Here’s a brief travel guide with some the places you can’t afford to miss.
Where to Stay
Tokyo offers a variety of accommodation options, from elegant hotels that offer luxurious amenities, gleaming towers with five-star rooms, and quaint boutique hotels. Here are some options for different needs and tastes.
Aman Tokyo: Find paradise in the middle of the city. This hotel is located between floors 33 and 38 of the Otemachi Tower. The space is a true architectural masterpiece, designed by Kerry Hill, in which the minimalist decoration creates a real sense of tranquility. This hotel will take your breath away from the moment you step off the elevator and find yourself in the middle of a lobby with 30-meter-high windows that overlook the Imperial Palace.
Hoshinoya Tokyo: This space is a traditional type of Japanese lodging, known as a ryokan, in the heart of the Ōtemachi district. It is like entering a sanctuary; the second you walk through the door, you leave the bustle of the city behind you. With classic elements like tatami mats, shoji paper screens, and minimalist wooden furniture, this hotel is perfect for immersing yourself in Japanese culture.
Where to Eat
Tokyo’s food scene is simply out of this world, featuring techniques and recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. With over 160,000 restaurants (a world record), Tokyo is a veritable Eden for our taste buds. From Michelin-starred restaurants to small street-food stands with only room for only four people, there is something for everyone.
Kaikaya by the Sea: It’s a good idea to make a reservation at this small restaurant in the Shibuya neighborhood because there aren’t many tables. The best time to go is dinner. Explore the delicious menu prepared by owner and chef Teruyuki Tange consisting primary of fresh-caught fish. This is a must for traditional sushi lovers, and you can’t leave without trying the cherry blossom ice cream.
Été: This is arguably the most exclusive restaurant in Tokyo, not only because it’s hidden or has only one marble table that seats 6, but because the waiting list is eternal. The Japanese-French fusion menu is the creative project of culinary superstar Natsuko Shoji. From fish tartare over vegetables, caviar, and tilefish in clam broth, every dish delights the palate.
Where to Have a Drink
Whether you’re looking for a nightclub, a speakeasy, or anything in between, you’ll find it in this city. There are charming pubs in Shibuya, karaoke places in Roppongi, and bars that line the narrow streets of the Golden Gai neighborhood. Tokyo is a city that comes to life at night—full of neon signs, world-class cocktails, and eclectic venues.
Zoetrope: This little temple for whiskey lovers is tucked away in an alley in the Nishi-Shinjuku zone. This dimly lit venue has space for no more than 12 people and offers an intimate Japanese whiskey tasting experience. Atsushi Horigami, the owner and bartender, has created a paradise with more than 300 bottles of local whiskey, some so rare that they are no longer for sale.
The New York Bar: This spot is a hit with tourists because it’s the place where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet for the first time Lost in Translation. The bar offers a menu with a wide range of classic cocktails (Cosmos, Martinis, and Manhattans) in a sophisticated and luxurious atmosphere with jazz music and spectacular views of the city.
Where to Shop
The world of high fashion meets urban style in Tokyo. Luxury brands coexist with the work of emerging local designers and Japanese fashion legends. Here, boutiques are not just shops but spaces where the architecture of the building is a work of art that houses the very best international fashion.
Dover Street Market: This concept store located in Ginza was created by Rei Kawakubo and is home to work from avant-garde Japanese designers such as Comme des Garçons and Junya Watannabe as well as local brands such as A Bathing Ape, Sacai, and Visvim. They also have pieces from European brands like Alaïa, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. This is a mandatory stop for fashionistas; it reflects the new global landscape of luxury.
Toro: This little boutique is one of the best places for vintage pieces in Tokyo and the world. Clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories from different eras are beautifully displayed in a modern environment that makes these vintage pieces feel fresh. All the garments are in prime condition and of the very best quality, so it’s the perfect place to find a unique treasure.
Where to Visit
As I mentioned above, Tokyo is a massive city that can’t be fully explored in just one trip. If it’s your first time in Tokyo, stick to the tourist sites. Take a whole morning to visit the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, where there are more than 58 hectares of botanical gardens full of flora from around the world.
Then, visit the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, and avoid the crowds by getting there as early as possible. A few blocks away, you’ll find the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in the city and an ideal spot from which to admire the urban landscape from above.
The Yayoi Kusama Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art are musts for art lovers. Visit the Harajuku neighborhood, where you can delight in all of the colorful buildings and the eclectic mix of locals and tourists. And, no one can leave the city without visiting the world’s busiest intersection: Shibuya Crossing. Finally, anime and video game fans should make time for the Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo and the Robot Restaurant, where you’ll see one of the most unique shows in the world.