everything you should know about tokyo
Japan Travel Series,  Travel

Everything you need to know about Tokyo

Tokyo Guide – I’m starting off the Japan Travel series with TOKYO

Its my hometown, where I was born, and where I’ll always consider to be home. Well at least it will always be my first home! And it also seems to be the most visited location in Japan. But thats fine as its also the place I can talk about the most. I love my hometown and want everyone who visits to love it too! Have you ever been to Tokyo? Please let me know and share your favourite places!

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the top 5 essentials tips I have about visiting and travelling in Japan 🙂

*** Disclaimer ***
All photos are my own unless otherwise stated . This post is NOT sponsored and does NOT contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

a locals guide to tokyo

Tokyo Yamamote Line

My favourite way to introduce Tokyo to my friends is what I like to call the Yamanote Line Tour. This is particularly useful if you have the JR rail pass, as its completely free for you to ride! The Yamanote line is a circular subway system that passes through some of the biggest areas in Tokyo. If you sit on it for long enough, you will just end up exactly where you started!

tokyo subway yamanote_line_tour

So lets start off with one of my favourite places:

Shibuya

Station: Shibuya (渋谷駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Saikyo line, JR Shonan-Shinjuku line

shibuya tokyo crossing night
Shibuya crossing, Tokyo

The Shibuya crossing is probably one of the most famous photographs from Tokyo. This is one I took at night, and the lights are so bright you’d get confused as to what time it is. There is so much to do here. It’s packed full of shops, restaurants, cafes and massive department stores. You can definitely find anything you need in Shibuya, and its also got its own charms and independent stores.

If you’re in the mood for Japanese chain stores, you’re in for a treat as there is a giant Muji store and a multi storey LOFT as well. I like to do the bulk of my clothes shopping here, and it’s a convenient place for me to meet my friends. 

There are so many restaurants of almost every cuisine, but my favourite has got to be Ichiran. Its a ramen store, and you buy your ticket for a ramen at the entrance, kind of like from a vending machine. Then once you’re shown to your seat,  they’re in front of the kitchen, so you get your food directly from the source. You can’t see into it because theres a little bamboo screen/curtain.

This is one of my all time favourite places to eat ramen, and it is so delicious but super cheap! You can choose how you want your noodles cooked, what toppings you want etc. and it allows you to create the perfect ramen for yourself.

Harajuku

Station: Harajuku (原宿駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line

This might be one of the most famous areas in Tokyo for its unique culture and fashion. Although over the years it has definitely changed and lost a little bit of its independent and unique character, it’s definitely still worth a visit. The road you are probably looking for here is Takeshita-dori. And it’s opposite the exit/entrance to Harajuku station. Here, the narrow pedestrian only street is lined with shops, both chain and independent. You can find any kind of costume or outfit here, as well as accessories to match. Theres also a decent sized Daiso (100 Yen store), which is always fun to go in!

A must do here is to eat a crêpe ice cream dessert from one of the many stalls! My favourite is either the one on the right about halfway down the street, or the one on the left slightly further up. The best flavour is definitely Matcha Oreo!! It is absolutely delicious!

Yoyogi Park

Station: Harajuku (原宿駅), Meiji-Jingumae
Lines: JR Yamanote line (Harajuku) , Chiyoda line (Meiji-Jingumae), Fukutoshin line (Meiji-Jingumae)

tokyo yoyogi park japan meiji shrine
Yoyogi Park Meiji Shrine entrance, Tokyo

On the other side of Harajuku station from Takeshita-dori, is Yoyogi Park, which is home to the famous Meiji Shrine. This park is one of my favourites in Tokyo. It is so relaxing and peaceful, with tall trees and full branches. Hard to believe you’re in the middle of the biggest metropolitan city in the world when you’re sitting on a bench here. The only sounds you can hear are that of nature.

The Meiji-Shrine is also a must see in Tokyo, and if you’re lucky you might be able to catch a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony while you’re there. The Shrine area is quite big, and theres a lot of places to explore. Theres also a shop there where you can buy charms, and they make for a beautiful gift for someone, or even better, for yourself.

tokyo yoyogi park meiji shrine entrance
Yoyogi Park entrance, Tokyo

Shinjuku

Station: Shinjuku (新宿駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Chuo line, JR Chuo-Sobu line, JR Saikyo line, JR Shonan-Shinjuku line, Keio line, Keio New line, Odakyu Odawara line, Seibu-Shinjuku line, Tokyo Metro Marunochi line, Toei Shinjuku line, Toei Oedo line

Shinjuku is one of the craziest and busiest districts in Tokyo, with a variety of different areas all on its own.  It really is almost like its own mini city. There are the huge skyscrapers which house some of the biggest corporate names in the world. But around the corner there are the little winding streets which seem to go on forever. They are full of tiny little independent food stalls and restaurants, and are always packed with people looking for a bite to eat.

Theres also the infamous red light district here, and a massive selection of bars and drinking establishments (Izakaya and Nomiya).

tokyo shinjuku park gyoen japanese garden
Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo

Away from all of that is the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen Park, which you wouldn’t believe is in the middle of Shinjuku! Its different to Yoyogi park. A lot more landscaped and is like a huge (beautifully kept and maintained) garden. All of it with their perfect bushes, trees and water features.

The park also has some small shops and tea houses, and traditional Japanese structures to relax in. Its only a few hundred yen to enter (I think its 200) and the beauty of this park is definitely worth it. Its also really big, and I always discover something new here every time I visit.

tokyo view from government building shinjuku
View from the observatory deck at the top of the Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku

Another highlight of Shinjuku is the Metropolitan Government building, right in the heart of the business area. Here you can climb to the top of the tower to the observation deck for a breathtaking view across Tokyo. On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji! The best part about it is that it is completely free to go up to the top. So if you fancy a view without the cost, this is a must visit attraction.

Related post: Tokyo bucket list

Ebisu

Station: Ebisu (恵比寿駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Shonan-Shinjuku line, JR Saikyo line, Tokyo Metro Hibiya line

This is an area which may not be on a lot of travel guides. But as a local I absolutely love Ebisu and its a good little secret! I don’t live very far from here, and I come here a lot for a quick bite or for dinner with a view. If you take the series of travelators out of the station, you get to a big open area, with a lot of tall buildings around it.

There is a beer garden/pub type establishment at the entrance, which is always a good night with some friends. Beyond that, if you go up to the 34th or 35th floor, you can have an amazing dinner at a reasonable price. And all with a stunning view over Tokyo! I would recommend either the okonomi-yaki restaurant (a type of savoury Japanese pancake) or the beef specialty restaurant called Jyojoen.

Ueno

Station: Ueno (上野駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Yamagata Shinkansen, JR Akita Shinkansen, JR Joetsu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, JR Hokkaido Shinkansen, JR Utsunomiya line (Tohoku Main line), JR Takasaki line, JR Keihin-Tohoku line, JR Joban line, Tokyo Metro Ginza line, Tokyo Metro Hibiya line

tokyo ueno park tokyo japanese shrine garden
Ueno Park, Tokyo

Most famous for the Ueno zoo where you can see adorable Pandas (!), this area is also home to the gorgeous and relaxing Ueno park. The park is full of surprises, and the half on the bottom of the hill has a big lake. It’s full of gigantic water lilies which are beautiful when in full bloom.

There is also a temple here, and very often they have markets and stalls open with food, antiques and drinks on sale in a very festive way. The upper park also houses many temples and traditional Japanese structures, and it can take hours if not days to explore everything that the park has to offer.

Theres always something new in a hidden corner somewhere, and for that reason its worth the hike up the hill for me!

Chiyoda

Station: Tokyo (東京駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Yamagata Shinkansen, JR Akita Shinkansen, JR Joetsu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, JR Hokkaido Shinkansen, JR Tokaido Main line, JR Ueno-Tokyo line, JR Keihin-Tohoku line, JR Chuo Main line, JR Sobu Main line, JR Yokosuka line, JR Keiyo line, JR Tokaido Shinkansen, Tokyo Metro Marunochi line

tokyo station emperor park palace japan
Bridge at the Emperor’s Palace, Chiyoda, Tokyo

This is the area around Tokyo station, which is another business district, but it also has a variety of shops and restaurants. Most importantly though – the Japanese Imperial Family live here!

The Emperor’s Palace is walkable from Tokyo station, and you can do a tour of the area gardens at your leisure. You can choose to have a guided tour within the residence if you queue for it. The park and structures around the palace is also gorgeous, so make sure you have a walk around and explore.

When leaving or going back to Tokyo station, you can also see that the building is very European – which is what inspired it! Its a beautiful old Western style building which is very unusual in Japan.

There is also an underground Ramen street! A whole row (and I mean LOADS) of ramen stores. There is also a ‘character street’, which is just shop after shop after shop, each one dedicated to a different popular character. Theres one for Rilakuma and Gudetama which are two of my favourites!

The station itself is massive, so don’t arrange to meet your friends at “Tokyo station” – its way too big! There are several high rise buildings surround and attached to the station itself, which just makes it more confusing, but everything is labelled quite well in both English and Japanese.

Akihabara

Station: Akihabara (秋葉原駅)
Lines: JR Yamanote line, JR Keihin-Tohoku line, Chuo-Sobu line, Tokyo Metro Hibiya line, Tsukuba Express

akihabara night view billboards neon electric city
Akihabara Electric Town, Tokyo

Known as the electronic and digital heart of Tokyo (or maybe even the world) this is one place you can’t miss if you love tech and anime. Anything about the modern digital age of games, computers, anime, themes and characters etc. Here you can also do a real life Mario Kart experience on the actual roads of Akihabara.

To locals, it’s known as Akiba, and its also home to giant girl band/group AKB48. They have a cafe and shop here, and their own stages.

The streets are full of electronics stores, the biggest one being Yodobashi which is HUGE! One of the main roads, Chuo-dori is a pedestrian only street on Sunday.

This area is also well known for the Otaku and anime culture and there are many shops and cafes which have specific themes. There is probably nothing electronic or manga related you won’t be able to find in this giant Electric Town. Just walking around and looking at the area is a crazy, fun experience!

The best of the rest!

There are still so many areas to explore in Tokyo outside the Yamanote line. Here are a few of my favourite areas:

Asakusa

Station: Asakusa (浅草駅)
Lines: Tobu Skytree line, Toei Asakusa line, Tokyo Metro Ginza line

tokyo asakusa sensoji temple japan
Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo

This is definitely a MUST GO area of Tokyo, and the fact that it is not the number one spot on my list is just because its not on the Yamanote line!

This area of Tokyo is full of traditional streets and temples, and the largest and most famous one is the beautiful Senso-ji Temple. At the entrance is the Kaminari-mon (Lightning Gates) which in itself is absolutely spectacular. Leading up to the temple are hundreds of stalls selling food, souvenirs and more.

My favourite store here is one selling little cakes filled with red bean (ningyo-yaki) and another one which sells rice crackers (osenbe). Just off the main row of market stalls is also a shop which sells sweet potato based snacks. And let me tell you, the baked sweet potato treat is absolutely delicious, and one of my favourite snacks ever!

The souvenirs here are also really fun to browse, and just outside of the main area is a Totoro and Ghibli Studio store! I always go to because who doesn’t love a Ghibli plushie!

The gardens around the temples are just gorgeous, and there are many streams and bridges in traditional garden settings. It really takes you right back to the olden days of Tokyo where everyone wore a kimono. The streams are also full of Koi, and you can sit on little wooden benches while looking at the magnificent old structures surrounding the area.

There is also a five storey Pagoda which is definitely worth a visit, and the giant bell which is struck every year on New Years Day.

Shimo-Kitazawa

Station: Shimo-Kitazawa (下北沢駅)
Lines: Odakyu line, Keio-Inokashira line

Only a couple of stops away from the busy Shibuya station is the area of Shimo-Kitazawa. It’s a quirky and traditional area of Tokyo, loaded with independent stores.

This area is full of vintage stores, little cafes and restaurants, and quiet corners. It has a very different feel to the rest of Tokyo such as Shibuya and Shinjuku, and is instead full of quiet, small streets and low roofs.

Its fun to just stroll around and explore the neighbourhood whilst enjoying a coffee or ice cream from a local vendor, and browse the shops for independent and unique clothing.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Station: Tokyo Skytree
Lines: Tobu Skytree line

Only a short train rider (or a long walk) from Asakusa, is the Tokyo Sky Tree. This is the communications tower in Tokyo, and is also the second tallest building in the world!

The base of the tower is a huge shopping mall, and you can probably find every kind of souvenir and food store while you’re in there! It goes deep underground and its easy to get lost in all the shops! Theres also a kids play area so if you have little kids you can drop them off there to do a crazy shopping spree.

tokyo-skytree-view japan tallest building
View from the Tokyo Sky Tree at night

There can sometimes be a queue to get up to the observation deck, but it is definitely worth the wait (and cost).

There is nowhere in Tokyo which is going to give you a view from higher up, and there are two observation deck levels you can get to. Theres also an area with a glass floor, so if you’re a lover of being high up in the clouds, you can brave the glass and stand over and watch the tiny tiny people underneath! Theres always people trying to jump on the glass which is quite funny!

Ginza

Station: Ginza, Ginza-Itchome, Higashi-Ginza
Lines: Tokyo Metro Hibiya line (Ginza Station, Higashi-Ginza Station), Tokyo Metro Ginza line (Ginza Station), Tokyo Metro Marunouchi line (Ginza Station), Tokyo Metro Yurakucho line (Ginza-Itchome Station), Toei Asakusa line (Higashi-Ginza Station)

London has Regent Street, New York has 5th Avenue, and Tokyo has Ginza. Except Ginza is MASSIVE. If you think 5th avenue is huge, you’re in for a treat coming here!

The buildings here are super fancy and extra tall, and you can walk past a 10 storey Chanel, followed by a Prada, Louis Vuitton, BVLGARI etc. It is endless!

My absolute favourite here has to be UNIQLO and its sister company, GÜ. The UNIQLO here is 12 floors, and EVERY floor is rammed with clothes, for men, women, children and babies. I spend hours and hours here, shopping all the bargains and the cheap Japanese sales tax. It’s only 8% compared to 20% in the UK!

There’s also GÜ which isn’t out internationally, but is the baby sister brand of UNIQLO. It has cheap but fantastic quality clothes aimed at a younger audience. When I say younger, I mean mostly 20’s and 30’s!

There’s also a new shopping centre in Ginza Six, which opened in 2017. There are over 240 brands in this gigantic shopping centre, as well as a wide selection of restaurants.

One of my favourite places to eat in Ginza however has got to be Shiseido Parlour. The gigantic cosmetics brand is much more in Japan. And their huge (stunning) building in Tokyo does the best selection of sandwiches and cakes I have ever had!

Tokyo Dome

Station: Suidobashi, Korakuen, Kasuga
Lines: JR Chuo-Sobu line (Suidobashi), Tokyo Metro Maunouchi line (Korakuen), Tokyo Metro Namboku line (Korakuen), Toei Mita line (Kasuga), Toei Oedo line (Kasuga)

tokyo-dome
Inside the Tokyo Dome, home to the Tokyo Giants

Lastly, if you’re up for a fun night of sports, I would highly recommend getting a ticket to watch the Tokyo Giants at Tokyo Dome (their home ground). Tickets are quite cheap, starting from around £15, and you can get them from the automatic ticket stalls in any convenience store, as well as online.

When we were there, they were handing out free t-shirts and match-day programmes to all spectators, and the pre-game festivities are really enjoyable!

Theres also a range of yummy food inside the stadium, and drinks sales during the match which come up right to your seat! The hot dogs are a must here, and always give me a super American feeling. And as baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan, you’ve definitely had a true local experience! It’s a fun day out, and theres lots of little shops to get souvenirs as well at the start or end of it.

Thats the end of my Tokyo guide for now – I hope you’ve found it fun!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it and found something useful! Please let me know any comments or suggestions down below or on Twitter/Instagram. And I would love to hear your adventures in Japan or any plans that you have 🙂

See you in the next one,

Rina

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