Home to more than 13 million people in the city itself, Tokyo is an incredibly fascinating city of skyscrapers, jumbo advertising boards, quirky characters, and intriguing cultural phenomenons. Tokyo isn’t nearly as expensive as it was some years ago, so be sure not to sell yourself short as you will need at least 3-4 days to see all this city has to offer. If it is your first time to Tokyo, here is a complete quick guide to Tokyo to help make your stay unforgettable!
For more advice on travelling in Japan, check out our guides to Osaka and Kyoto.
Population: 13.35 million +
City Motto: Changes with each governor, currently “My town Tokyo”
Climate: Humid Subtropical (with mild winters)
A Quick Guide to Tokyo
Prior to Arrival
Residents of 66 countries do not need a visa to enter Japan as a tourist, for visits of 90 days or less. This includes residents of the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and EU residents (see a full list here).
As only some ATM machines in Japan accept foreign credit and debit cards, it is advised to get some cash in advance, bring foreign cash to exchange, or remember to use one of the foreign ATMs at the airport as you enter Japan.
There are two main airports in Tokyo, which are the most common way for visitors to arrive and begin their Japan journey in the capital itself.
Narita is the main airport for international flights and Haneda mostly serves domestic flights, though some international flights also arrive here.
Narita is usually a 2-hour drive into the city (subject to traffic), with limousine bus being the most direct mode of transport at a modest ¥3,100 one way.
The fastest way into the city from Narita is the Skyline for ¥2,400 per person, one way. The train completes its journey at both Nippori and Ueno Stations.
From Haneda airport, the easiest and cheapest way into the city is by Tokyo Monorail, costing ¥470 per person, one way. As we arrived into Haneda airport from Sydney at 4:30 am in the morning, we decided to hop in a taxi directly to our hotel for around ¥5,000 – more expensive but worthwhile after a red-eye flight arriving before sunrise!
Getting around Tokyo is incredibly easy once you’ve got the hang of it. To make it easier for you to understand, let me break it down!
The colourful thick lines on the route map above are the Tokyo Subway network. This services all of the popular neighbourhoods to visit and points of interest, so it is entirely possible to stick to the subway without using any other lines (thus requiring further ticketing). A day pass costs 600 yen (around $5 USD) and allows for unlimited travel on the Tokyo subway for that day. This network operates on the Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Hanzomon, Namboku and Fukutoshin lines.
The light grey dotted lines are the JR network, which requires a separate ticket for travel. While it is unlikely you will need to use the JR to transit around the city and will usually find a workable route within the Tokyo subway system, it can sometimes be easier to use a single one-way ticket on the JR (as it was for us travelling from Komagome to Ueno stations). The ticket machines are easy to use – just be sure to find the one that offers English translation! The price for a one-way ticket varies, but for our route cost 160 yen per person, one way.
Japanese is the official language spoken and while English is widely spoken, you will find it is not very common for locals to speak more than very basic words and phrases. Here are some quick Japanese phrases to help you get by or just to impress a local!
Excuse Me: Sumimasen
Sorry: Gomen nasai
Thank You: Arigato
What to See & Do
If you’re after major tourist attractions, you should aim to visit Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji Temple, get a glimpse of the Emperor’s Palace from afar, see a view of the city from Tokyo Tower and be a kid for the day at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea.
If you want to really go beyond the major sites and feel like a local in this crazy concrete jungle, then I’d suggest you ditch the major tourist sites (or at least, most of them) and head to the likes of Harajuku for young fashion, Omotesando for grown-up fashion, Shibuya crossing for Tokyo’s “Times Square” and Shinjuku garden for some time to unwind.
Tokyo’s Best Parks
Although a bustling metropolis with busy streets and crazy pedestrian crossings, Tokyo is also an oasis inside the many beautiful parks that provide tranquillity to Tokyo residents. Here are the best parks to visit:
Rikugien Garden – One of Tokyo’s lesser-known parks for foreigners, Rikugian is worth going out of your way to visit for fewer crowds than other parks (pictured above).
Shinjuku Garden – As Tokyo’s most renowned park, Shinjuku is also considered the most beautiful.
Ueno Park – A very large park that has impressive cherry blossoms in the spring with a large lake.
What to Eat & Drink
There’s just no way you can come to the capital of Japan without eating sushi – but beware, western sushi is very different from traditional Japanese sushi so be sure to keep an open mind! Sake (rice wine) is the preferred drink of choice, though for beer lovers you can’t go past homegrown Asahi!
Fun dining experiences:
When you think of Tokyo you think of flashing neon lights and chaotic pedestrian streets… but what about heading indoors!? Tokyo is bursting with fun places to eat indoors, with character cafes being as popular with locals as they are for visitors. Popular cafes include the Hello Kitty cafe, Nicolas Charles Bunny Cafe, Alice in Wonderland Cafe and Moomin Anti Loneliness Cafe for singles. Details below!
Cafe de Miki & Hello Kitty Cafe -〒135-0064 東京都江東区青海1-1-10 ダイバーシティ東京プラザ4F (website)
Nicolas Charles Cafe – Address: 東京都渋谷区神宮前4-26-5 神宮前426ビル 1F・2F (website)
Alice in Dancing Land Cafe – Alice in Dancing land is located under the Bershka store in Shibuya Parco.
Moomin Cafe – You can reach Moomin Cafe from Suidobashi JR station or Korakuen station (website)
Where to Stay
Tokyo is infamously one of the world’s most expensive cities to stay and visit. Accommodation prices are sky-high, however, there are some great hotels on offer.
New Otani Hotel – for our 3 nights in Tokyo, we stayed at the New Otani Hotel as part of the Trafalgar Tour. This hotel had a great view of the city and was very close to the Ginza Line (which connects you to everywhere you need to go including stops at Shibuya, Omotesando and Ueno).
Park Hyatt – for fans of the film “Lost in Translation”, you might wish to check yourself into the Park Hyatt hotel and experience Tokyo city life like Scarlett Johansson herself. This would be my first choice if returning to Tokyo in the future as I’m a huge fan of the film and don’t think you can beat a skyline view such as this!
Park Hotel Tokyo – another hotel popular among bloggers right now is the Park Hotel – with great views over the city and playful rooms like the cherry blossom room!
Get Out: Day trips from Tokyo
Mount Fuji – undeniably the most popular day trip from Tokyo is to visit nearby Mt. Fuji (2 hours drive one way).
Hakone – centred around Lake Ashino, Hakone offers hot springs and great views of Mt. Fuji, so is a great place to visit after the mountain base itself.
Kamakura – less than an hour away from Tokyo is Kamakura, known as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan. This area offers a number of temples and shrines to visit.
World of Wanderlust visited Japan with Trafalgar on the Splendours of Japan Tour.