- Main Airports – Narita International Airport (NRT), Haneda Airport (HND)
- Currency – Japanese Yen (¥)
- Language – Japanese
- Population – 13.5 million
- GDP (Japan) – $4.6 trillion (3rd Overall)
Tokyo might be my favorite city in the world. It also happens to be the world’s largest city by population (Tokyo metro area)! Japanese people are beyond polite, the food is among the best on the planet, the technology is cutting edge, and the city is electric. When people ask what to do, you can visit the shrines, Tokyo’s Michelin Star restaurants, or the hidden coffee shops in Omotesando and Shibuya. But to really experience Tokyo I recommend getting lost. Jump on a subway and head over to Akihabara. Wander around Shinjuku and then visit an onsen (spa) to relax. But most importantly, make sure to interact with the locals as much as possible to experience the culture first-hand.
Public transportation in Tokyo is fantastic. Their underground subway system is meticulous, reliable and can get you all over the city and beyond. I recommend getting a Pasmo card as soon as you arrive in Tokyo at any of the major subway stations and refilling it as you go. We took the airport train to Shinjuku Station and got our card there.
Language Barrier? Kon’nichiwa!
During my stay, I actually found that very few people in Tokyo spoke English. However, with access to Google Maps, I found it quite easy to get around. Many important signs in Tokyo have English translations and are easy to understand, and Google Maps works with Tokyo’s subway system to show you the best routes to take.
Note: This was my first international trip where I got a local SIM card for my phone and it was a game changer having service all the time and being able to use Google Maps and TripAdvsior whenever I wanted to. A Pocket WiFi device will also work and you can either reserve one in advance or pick one up at the airport when you arrive.
Here are a few apps you could get to help you around the city:
- For Translation
- Google Translate, Yomiwa (only for iPhone), and Waygo
- Getting Around
- Tokyo Subway Navigation, Japan Transit Planner (only for iPhone)
Japanese Language Basics:
- Hello – Kon’nichiwa
- Thank You – Arigato (Arigato Gozaimasu = formal)
- Yes – Hai
- Excuse Me – Sumimasen
Top Japanese Must-Know Phrases!
Getting to Tokyo from the Airport
- From Haneda Airport
- Train – a 20-minute ride that typically costs about 400 Yen
- Taxi – a taxi ride to central Tokyo can cost more than $80 USD. We highly recommend considering public transport instead
- Train – there are multiple train options including the Narita Express and Keisei Railways. They cost about $30 USD and take roughly 1 – 1.5 hours to get you to Tokyo
- Taxi – do not take a taxi from Narita to Tokyo! It will cost $150+ USD
- Bus – buses run from Narita to the major hotels in Tokyo. If the bus does not stop at your exact hotel, don’t worry! You can just get off at the stop closest to your hotel and take a short taxi ride to your hotel. Bus rides typically cost about $30 per person, but packages can be purchased ahead of time.
Check out our top activities organized by Tokyo’s different districts. Below this Activities section you can check out our Food and Drink sections as well. Here’s a clickable summary to skip to an activity of choice:
Map of Tokyo by district:
1) Explore the Shibuya District
Walk the beautiful streets of Shibuya and make your way to see the famous Shibuya crossing (just outside the Shibuya metro stop there is a very large intersection). The Shibuya crossing is one of the busiest intersections in the world. Surrounded by giant neon signs and LED screens, the crossing is one of the most iconic places in Tokyo to see. Try to visit at nighttime, when the lights and screens are the most noticeable and amazing.
Visit the Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
On my first day, I decided to pay my respects to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken at the Meiji Shrine. Located in Shibuya, the shrine sits in a cool forest so wear your sneakers. Other than Meiji I would suggest saving your shrine visits for Kyoto and Kamakura.
Spend some time strolling through Omotesando, a beautiful tree-lined area that leads to the Meiji temple. Enjoy the stroll as you pass many high-end stores. For non-shoppers, the architecture of the shops still makes it worthwhile.
3) Check Out Akihabara and Visit a Maid Café
Akihabara, also known as the Electric Town, is a major center for all things related to anime, manga, and video games. As you walk down the streets, you’ll not only see famous anime and manga characters displayed in the windows, but you’ll also see huge arcades in the area! Be sure to check out the arcades, which contain both modern games and the traditional machine games. It’s a great experience just to pop into one of these arcades and observe the locals playing various games.
Maid Cafés are also a fun part of your visit to Akihabara. Waitresses are dressed as maids in these cafés and treat customers as their masters while they serve you food and beverages. It sounds a little weird, and it was, but it’s definitely an experience!
Click here for our recommended Maid Café
4) Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market
The Tsukiji Fish market is an amazing wholesale fish market and is a must-see in Tokyo whether just for buying fish to cook for your next meal or for the early morning tuna auctions. The market is one of the largest fish markets in the world and offers a large variety of fish, shellfish and more. You should plan to have a sushi meal here, either at the famous Sushi Dai or a similar spot.
The tuna auctions are also interesting. If you can wake up early enough, go check one out at around 5:00 am! Gigantic fish are auctioned off to the city’s chefs, who come minutes earlier to inspect the fish. Not only can you see a tuna auction in the early morning, but you can also get in line for some of the best sushi restaurants in all of Japan. Because of the demand, lines for well-known restaurants like Sushi Dai start to form around 5am—be sure to get there in order to have some of the best sushi in the world!
Full Sushi Dai Review
5) Explore the Electric Shinjuku District
While the Shinjuku district is home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings, shops, and more at day, the nightlife in Shinjuku is among the best. Stay up late to explore the extensive nightlife in the area, from clubs and bars to entertainment. Shinjuku is also the city of skyscrapers, so even if you aren’t into nightlife, explore the beautiful lights and sights of the skyscrapers after dark.
Check out Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant for a crazy, fun-filled experience. The robots, performers, and lights are over-the-top, and you can expect anything from glow sticks to fembots and more. Use our link below to get a special deal on discounted tickets.
15% Off Robot Restaurant Tickets!
6) Explore Tokyo Dome City: Tokyo Dome, Shopping, Onsen, and Rollercoaster Ride!
Visit an Onsen
Onsen is the Japanese word for “hot springs,” an often overlooked but large part of Japanese culture. When visiting Japan, you should absolutely visit an onsen to bathe, relax and take a break from the city life. However, clothes or bathing suits are typically not allowed in these facilities, so make sure you’re comfortable in your birthday suit in front of others! LaQua Spa is a great onsen that I visited during my stay, known for having water from the Koishikawa hot springs and offering indoor and outdoor baths, jacuzzis and saunas. Known as a “first-class space for healing,” visit LaQua for a surreal and relaxing experience.
Ride the Thunder Dolphin
The Thunder Dolphin is one of the tallest roller coasters in the world, located right next to the Tokyo Dome. A steel roller coaster, the Thunder Dolphin is over 80m (or 260 ft) tall and the ride can go up to 130 km/hour (or 80 mph). Known as one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable rides in the world, visit the amusement park to experience the ride! It’s right next to Spa La Qua so you can check this out on your way to the spa.
7) Daikanyama and Nakameguro
Visit the Tsutaya bookstore in Daikanyama, and then walk along the beautiful water in Nakameguro. You can stop for a meal along the water and take in Tokyo’s beauty. Check out the cherry blossoms during your walk if they’re in season!
8) Ginza District
See Food & Drink sections below
9) Visit Shirohige’s Cream Puff Bakery in Setagaya
Visiting Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory in Setagaya is a really fun experience. It may take you 30 to 40 minutes to get to Setagaya by train depending on where in Tokyo you are coming from, but I thought it was absolutely worth it especially to see a quieter part of Tokyo outside the bustling districts like Shinjuku or Shibuya.
For takeaway, you can order on the first floor. Otherwise head upstairs to sit down and enjoy these cream puffs with a drink!
10) Take a Day Trip to Kamakura
Located about an hour and a half south of Tokyo by train, Kamakura offers the perfect day trip for those looking to get out of Japan’s capital city but not make the 2+ hour ride to Kyoto or beyond. I’m not against going to Kyoto at all, I just think it’s too tight for a day trip and that Kamakura is a great alternative. I wound up in this beautiful little city during my first trip to Japan and recommend it to anyone looking to get out of Tokyo for a fun day!
Kamakura Travel Guide
You can read about our top restaurant picks by clicking the button below. To summarize, these are our top restaurant picks:
- Menya Musashi
- Sushi Bar Yasuda
- Sukiyabashi Jiro
- Sushisho Masa
- Tempura Kondo
- Sushi Dai
Best Tokyo Restaurants Article
You can read about our top bar picks by clicking the button below. To summarize, these are our top restaurant picks:
- New York Bar
- Star Bar
- Golden Gai – Tetsuya Sakaguchi
- Bar High Five
Best Tokyo Bars Article
Walking through Fushimi Inari Taisha