Recently, I took a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip to Tokyo. With a perfect balance of art, nightlife, fashion, cuisine and culture, it’s my kind of city! I loved that every day there is a different neighbourhood to explore and was happiest walking everywhere so I could soak up the dizzying array of contrasts that makes Tokyo so unique. In case you’re heading to the Land of the Rising Sun sometime soon, I thought I’d share with you my mini travel guide and favourite things to do in Tokyo.
18 Things To in Tokyo
- Robot Restaurant: There’s kitsch, and then there’s Japanese kitsch. For a truly unique night out, head to Robot Restaurant and see bikini-clad babes battle robots. The fit out cost ¥10 billion and is a mind-blowing overdose of neon, mirrors, crystal and video screen. You’ve got to see it, to believe it!
- Piss Alley: Tucked away in the shadows of Shinjuku station, is a cramped alley of restaurants and bars that are so small they usually only seat about five customers. Known as Piss Alley (don’t let the name put you off!) this is the place to have yakitori and a beer.
- Shimokitazawa: For top shelf vintage shopping, take a train to Shimokitazawa. Found on the western side of Tokyo, this sweet little neighbourhood has incredible style – but in more of an organic way. Plus, a lot of the roads are too narrow for cars, so it’s got a very different energy to most of Tokyo
- Ryokan: Hands down, my favourite experience on this trip was spending a night at Tsurumaki Onsen JINYA. Founded in 1918, this well established ryokan is just one hour out of Tokyo and is based in a stunning garden that covers 33,000 sq. mts. The traditional Japanese meals they serve here are exquisite while the hot springs have some of the world’s best calcium mineral proportions.
- Dover Street Market: While Ginza is the land of high-end labels, my must-visit destination is Dover Street Market. Created by Rei Kawabuko, the founder of Comme des Garcons, this concept store has seven floors of cutting edge brands. Make sure you keep your shopping strength up by having a pit stop at Rose Bakery on the top floor!
- Narisawa: Hands down, the best meal of my entire life was at Narisawa. Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa is a trail blazer in the world of Japanese cooking, taking a cuisine that’s steeped in tradition and applying new techniques learned through experience and years working with top chefs across Europe. Every course blew my mind – and taste buds.
- Cerulean Tower Tokyo Hotel: Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Shibuya station, Cerulean Tower Tokyo Hotel is the perfect home base for your Tokyo adventures.
- Tsukiji Fish Market: The world’s largest, busiest fish market has long been a favourite tourist destination. But before you set your alarm clock for a pre-dawn wake up call, why not sleep in and head to Tsukiji’s outer market at a more reasonable hour! This rabbit warren of narrow streets is packed with stalls selling fresh seafood, real wasabi, bowls and sashimi knives. Right in the thick of it is the reliably superb Sushizanmai’s honten (main branch) which open 24 hours and where I had lunch.
- Isetan: In the name of research, I visited my fair share of Department Stores in Tokyo! My favourite was Isetan (3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku). It’s got a killer cosmetics floor and brilliant range of labels. While you’re there, visit the mega Muji next door.
- Yoyogi Park: For a complete change of pace, head to Yoyogi Park (Shinjuku). With jazz buskers, lovers picnicing and pooches dressed up to the nines it’s a prime spot for people watching!
- Meji Shrine: After a wander through Yoyogi Park, head for Mejii, Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine. Less of a tourist trap than Senso-ji, the big Buddhist temple across town, its wonderfully serene and austere architecture is captivating.
- Pachinko: For a uniquely Japanese experience (and full sensory overload!) get your pachinko on! Despite Japan’s strict gambling laws, pachinko, a pinball derivative is a national obsession that’s played by millions of people. Pulsing LED lights, row upon row of machines and a cacophony of bells and cartoon voices will make your visit to a pachinko parlour an experience you won’t forget quickly!
- Mistral Bleu ‘Train Bar’: In the heart of Roppongi you’ll find a little watering hole in yes, you guessed it, an old train carriage! The drinks are cheap, the music loud and it’s the kind of place that it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the person next to you – which is something that doesn’t happen all to often in Japan.
- Tempura Kondo: I’ve never been a fan of tempura. I always thought it was too soggy. Too greasy. Too over-rated. And then I went to Tempura Kondo (5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Sakaguchi Building 9). This Michelin two-star restaurant only seats 16 and produces exquisitely delicate tempura – yes, there is such a thing!
- Harajuku: Visiting Harakjuku on the weekend is everything you expect…and more! After getting in some of the best people watching of your lifetime, hit up Kiddyland for the rugrats and Lazy Hazy Planet for insanely good street wear for the fellas. Then spend the rest of your time cruising through the backstreets and lanes off Omotesando Dori.
- Akihabara: Geek out and shop for tech with a visit to Akihabara. My advice for visiting this area is to start with a wander up and down the main strip and then explore the back streets. While you’re there, check out M’s: Pop Life, a famous seven-floor sex department store that has to be seen to be believed!
- New York Grill and Bar: Make like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation and sink a few cocktails at New York Grill and Bar where the sky-high view of Tokyo will take your breath away.
- Shibuya: No trip to Tokyo is complete without seeing the famous crossing outside Shibuya station. Once you’ve taken in this incredible choreography of humanity hit the shops. Visit the legendary general goods department store, Tokyo Hands; stop by Mandarake for three floors of Japanese anime and manga madness and finish with the lifestyle mecca, Loft (21-1 Udagawa-cho).
What are your favourite things to do in Tokyo?