The largest urban center in the world with a population of approximately 13 million, Tokyo is a city well known for being a center of both rich history and modern innovation. The capital of Japan, Tokyo is a captivating city where the latest trends and ancient traditions meet. Any trip to Tokyo will offer travelers an unforgettable adventure whether it is your first visit to the city or your 10th. A city that is always on the move, Tokyo never gets old with its endless restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, galleries, historical landmarks, beautiful parks and temples, and fantastic transportation system.
Best Time to Visit Tokyo
Tokyo is definitely a year-round destination, however, the best time for good weather are the months between March and May when temperatures are mild and there is less rainfall than during other times of the year. Spring is the most popular time of year to visit Japan due to the magical blooming of the cherry blossoms. The cherry trees usually begin to blossom in late March and peak about a week after they bloom. The blossoms begin to fall from the trees within two weeks, therefore the best time to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Tokyo is the last week of March or first week of April.
Tokyo sees more rainfall than other areas of Japan with June, September, and October experiencing the most rain (about 7 inches). The average temperatures in winter are around 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) and the temperature rarely drops below freezing. While the colder months are less attractive to some travelers, this makes winter a cheaper and less crowded time to visit Tokyo. I visited Tokyo in late July, and while we experienced clear skies, the temperatures were hot and very humid.
In my personal opinion, late spring and late autumn are the best times of year to visit Tokyo.
What to do in Tokyo
Tokyo is such a fascinating city to visit, for many different reasons. The culture, historical landmarks, shopping, dining, and local attractions to name a few. Before I moved to New York City, I spent nearly 3 years teaching English in Busan, South Korea. During this time, I was fortunate enough to travel to many countries in Asia, Japan included. My time in Tokyo was short but sweet and the following is a list of my personal recommendations of things to do in Tokyo. As you can see, we crammed in as many activities as we could during our short visit.
This area of town can easily be explored on foot. The highlights of this neighborhood are the Nakamise Shopping Street which is filled with various stalls of traditional snacks and souvenirs as well as the Sensoji Temple, a Buddhist temple that was built in the 7th century. The Asakusa Shrine, The Kaminari Gate, and Dempoin Temple are also worth checking out.
World famous Tsukiji Fish Market
Visit the largest and busiest fish market in the world, Tsukiji Fish Market can be found on almost every tour itinerary. One of the most famous elements of the market is an almost daily Live Tuna Auction that takes place between 5:25 and 6:20 am, meaning you’ll need to arrive around 3 in the morning (we skipped out on this portion of the visit). Most of the action winds down by 10 am, so the best time to visit is between 9 and 10.
Hamarikyu Gardens is a beautifully landscaped public garden in Central Tokyo. Neighboring the Tsukiji Fish Market, this is the perfect place to unwind after enjoying lunch at the market. A highlight of visiting the gardens is that you can take part in a traditional yet informal Japanese green tea ceremony. Gorgeous gardens surround Shiori Pond where you’ll find the small teahouse.
Plan to explore Harajuku during your visit to Japan. This area in the district of Shibuya is known for being a hub of fashion and shopping for Japan’s youth. For those less interested in teen culture, there are plenty of cultural sights to take in, including Meiji Jingu Shrine and one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, Yoyogi Park.
Check out more things to do in Harajuku here.
Shibuya Street Crossing
Visit the busiest street crossing in the world at Shibuya Crossing and walk across the famous intersection located outside Shibuya Station. During peak times, as many as 2,500 people cross the street at the same time. The experience can only be described as organized chaos with pedestrians navigating their way across the street without bumping into one another.
Visit the Imperial Palace Gardens
Serving as the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, the stunning Imperial Palace is only open to the public two days of the year (on January 2nd which is New Year’s Greeting and on December 23rd, Emperor’s Birthday). While you likely won’t have a chance to visit the inner grounds of the Palace, the outer grounds and Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public the rest of the year and are definitely worth a visit.
Another highlight of my time in Japan was climbing Mt. Fuji with my mom. While this may not be on everyone’s bucket list it is an incredible experience for those who love hiking, climbing, and adventure. For those who know that climbing Japan’s highest peak isn’t for them, consider taking a day trip from Tokyo to take in the views of this iconic mountain. Located approximately 100 km southwest of Tokyo, Mount Fuji has been a pilgrimage site for centuries and is considered one of the country’s three sacred mountains, along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. On a clear day, Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
You may become overwhelmed when thinking about where you should stay during your visit to Tokyo. Tokyo is a huge city with plenty of unique neighborhoods and endless tourist attractions, restaurants, and nightlife. Therefore, it is important to choose your accommodations based on convenience, especially if you have limited time in Tokyo.
Two of the most popular areas of Tokyo in which to stay are Shinjuku and Ginza. Shinjuku is great if you’re someone who loves to be in the center of it all. Shinjuku can be thought of as a city within a city. It is also home to the busiest train station in the world and is one of the city’s largest transportation hubs. Shinjuku is on the city’s Yamanote subway line which is probably the most convenient line for getting around the city. This neighborhood is a major commercial center and has thousands of restaurants, tons of shopping options, and plenty of tourist attractions nearby.
Shinjuku is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which is comprised of two 45th-floor observation decks that offer stunning views of the city and are also completely free! One downside to staying in Shinjuku is the fact that accommodations tend to be pricey, and if you are staying in Tokyo on a Saturday night you can be prepared to spend 30% more than on other days of the week. Overall, Shinjuku is a great option for first-time travelers because of its great local atmosphere, accessibility to affordable shops and restaurants, and convenient access to tourist attractions in central Tokyo, direct access to Tokyo’s Narita airport, and convenient kick-off point for day trips to surrounding areas such as Mount Fuji.
Ginza is another great area of Tokyo, with plenty of things to see and do. Home to some of the world’s most upscale shopping, Ginza is Tokyo’s largest shopping and entertainment district. This is also one of the best areas to see Tokyo’s neon lights! Well known for its department stores and luxury boutiques during the day, Ginza comes to life at night, known for being Tokyo’s entertainment and theatre center. Ginza is also known for its excellent dining options and features several fine-dining restaurants that have achieved three-star rankings in the Michelin Guide. The neighborhood also has numerous options for those looking for a more casual meal. With plenty of shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, and shows, there is no shortage of things to see right within the 30 block radius that makes up this bustling area. Add to the mix that Ginza is conveniently accessible by both the Ginza Station and the Yurakucho Station, and you might decide it’s a great place to stay during your visit.
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Another great alternative for accommodation in Tokyo is Airbnb, where private rooms start at $30 and offer a unique way to experience the city from a more local perspective.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive a discount to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat and Drink in Tokyo
As I mentioned earlier, Tokyo is known for its incredible dining options, with more Michelin star restaurants than any other city in the world. Tokyo is food-obsessed with few cities elsewhere that can compare. Tokyo’s restaurants combine the finest quality ingredients with the skills of experienced chefs to create impeccable dishes.
While it’s definitely worth it to splurge on at least one high-end sushi meal (with some of the best sushi found in the Ginza neighborhood), you can definitely find some quality restaurants on a budget. With over 160,000 restaurants in Tokyo, there’s no shortage of incredible places to try. Ranging from small cafes, supermarket take-out meals, street carts, to small restaurants, and so on, each dining establishment offers something unique.
While you might not be worried about finding a place to eat, you might be wondering what you should eat during your time in Tokyo.
- This popular dish consists of grilled chicken along with vegetables and seafood on bamboo skewers. While you may imagine this dish to consist of grilled white chicken, there are many other variations of this favorite meal. A few variations for those with a more adventurous palate include chicken gizzard, chicken liver, and beef tongue. For those looking for something more traditional, you can choose enoki maki which is mushrooms wrapped in sliced pork, or asuparabekon – asparagus wrapped in bacon.
- If you’re going to Tokyo, you’re going to want to eat some ramen during your visit. This beloved noodle dish which is considered to be fast-food actually originated in China but is now a Japanese-favorite. Click here to check out the best ramen in every Tokyo neighborhood.
- Okonomi translates to “how you want it” (yaki means grill) and is a Japanese savoury pancake made up of a variety of ingredients. Although Osaka and Hiroshima are the top cities for this meal, there are still a number of delicious options in Tokyo. There are different ways to prepare Okonomiyaki (either by mixing the batter and ingredients together or by cooking the ingredients separately in layers), and common ingredients include pork belly, cheese, onions, seafood, and of course noodles. A lot of places will bring a large grill out to your table and let you grill up your Okonomiyaki the way you like, which is a fun activity to do with family or friends. This dish which is eaten with chopsticks is often cut into square cubes or triangular slices like pizza.
- This thick pork cutlet is breaded then deep-fried and eaten with sweet brown rice and a side of cabbage. Because this meal has so few ingredients, the quality of them really matters.
- No meal is complete without dessert! This fish-shaped cake is a classic street-vendor snack in Japan and must be tried. The most common filling for the cake is a sweet red bean paste but other popular fillings include chocolate, custard, or even sweet potato.
If you’ve had enough traditional Japanese food during your stay and are craving a meal from home, you’ll soon be in luck. On June 30th, Benjamin Restaurant Group will open its first international Benjamin Steakhouse location in Tokyo, as part of the Remm Hotel. Benjamin Steakhouse Tokyo, like its American counterparts, will offer its guests the quintessential New York dining experience that is well-known and loved by people from all over the world with an almost identical menu that one could experience at the #1 rated Steakhouse in Manhattan (per Zagat).
This spring I had the pleasure of attending a dinner at Benjamin Steakhouse in NYC, to launch the opening of the Tokyo location. Conveniently located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, Benjamin Steakhouse is a grand space, featuring two floors with soaring ceilings and brass chandeliers. As a pescetarian with limited options on the menu, my steak-loving boyfriend Chris was more than thrilled to join me for the evening and sample the fantastic meat plates. The dinner featured an impressive menu, beginning with baked clams, sizzling Canadian bacon, and the Benjamin salad of mixed greens, lump crab, red onion, and apple.
The highlight of the night was the Main Course, featuring the tender and juicy Porterhouse and the perfectly seasoned Bone-In Ribeye.
The portions at Benjamin Steakhouse are huge and the beef is dry-aged for at least 28 days in the restaurant’s special aging box. The dinner also offered two delicious sides of homefries and creamless creamed spinach. While Chris was impressed with the entire meal, to him the Porterhouse was definitely the winner! As for me, the first course and sides were not only beyond tasty but the portions were more than filling! With the Tokyo menu almost identical to that of New York’s, I would definitely recommend adding Benjamin Steakhouse to your list of must-dine-at restaurants in Tokyo.
Looking for more restaurants to try while in Tokyo? Check out this guide to the hottest restaurants in Tokyo right now.
With so many impressive restaurants, it may come as no surprise that Tokyo’s drinking scene is also one of the best in the world. Although sake bars may come to mind when you think of drinking in Japan’s capital city, hidden cocktail bars, underground jazz clubs, and microbreweries are just some of the other top spots to drink at in Tokyo. If you’re looking for the areas of the city with the best bars and nightlife you might want to check out the following:
- Shinjuku Golden Gai
- Shinjuku Memory Lane
- Asakusa Hoppy Street
- Shibuya Drinking Alley
Check the Time Out’s guide to the best bars in Tokyo.
How Much Time do you Need in Tokyo
I would recommend first-time travelers to Japan to spend at least 4 days in Tokyo, but one could probably spend up to 5 or 6 days with plenty of things to do. During my visit to Japan, I spent just under 3 days in Tokyo and it was unfortunately very rushed and I left feeling that there was still a lot to see and do. Going back to Tokyo, and other areas of Japan as well is definitely on my travel bucket list.
For more ideas on how to spend your vacation in Tokyo, check out the following guides:
- A travel guide to Tokyo by Travel + Leisure
- Tokyo Travel Guide by Nomadic Matt
- Lonely Planet’s Guide to Tokyo Japan
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Have you ever been to Tokyo? What tips and advice would you give to first-time visitors?