Are you planning to travel to Tokyo, Japan for the first time soon? Oooh, how exciting this is, right?!
You might need a little help to plan out your trip though, then my complete Tokyo Travel Guide for the first-timer will help you to plan an amazing first time in Tokyo with all the tips you need to know (where to stay in Tokyo, Where to eat….) and the best activities to do in Tokyo you need to add to your bucket list!
A Complete Tokyo Travel Guide For The First Timer
Table Of Contents
- 1 A Complete Tokyo Travel Guide For The First Timer
- 1.1 How To Get To Tokyo From Narita/Haneda Airport?
- 1.2 How To Travel Around Tokyo:Use the Bus and Subway: Pasmo or Suica ->
- 1.3 BUCKET LIST:
- 1.4 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN TOKYO
- 1.4.1 Fun general activities to do in Tokyo
- 1.4.2 Best activities to do in Tokyo by district
- 18.104.22.168 TOP THINGS TO DO IN SHIBUYA-KU
- 22.214.171.124 TOP THINGS TO DO IN SHINJUKU-KU
- 126.96.36.199 TOP THINGS TO DO IN KÔTO-KU
- 188.8.131.52 TOP THINGS TO DO IN MINATO-KU
- 184.108.40.206 TOP THINGS TO DO IN TOSHIMA-KU
- 220.127.116.11 TOP THINGS TO DO IN SUMIDA-KU
- 18.104.22.168 TOP THINGS TO DO IN TAITO- KU
- 22.214.171.124 TOP THINGS TO DO IN CHIYODA-KU
- 126.96.36.199 FUN DAY TRIP TO TAKE FROM TOKYO
- 188.8.131.52 DISNEYLAND TOKYO / DISNEY SEA
- 1.5 What and where to eat ->
- 1.6 Where To Stay in Tokyo for the first time
- 1.7 Other pieces of information:
If you’re familiar with the blog or have read my travel list, then you already know that I have been to Japan and more especially Tokyo several times now.
However, I noticed that I never been into further details on what to do in Tokyo, what to see in Tokyo or what to eat in Tokyo or any Tokyo Guide. During all of those trips to Japan, I spent hours carefully crafting my itinerary and bucket list either by myself or with friends so, I have tons of activities and tips that could be helpful for you.
Also, you might want to read those 11 things to know before visiting Japan.
Since then I sent and shared those tips and tricks to a few friends of mine who enjoyed them, so I thought why not share with you the top things to do in Tokyo by writing the A complete* Tokyo Travel Guide the first-timer!
*as complete as it can be from my experience and knowledge as a mere mortal that is ahah!
How To Get To Tokyo From Narita/Haneda Airport?
There are two main airports in Tokyo, Narita and Haneda. Most flights land and take off from Narita, however, if you can have a flight who land in Haneda then go for it! It’s much cheaper and easier to go to Tokyo from Haneda than from Narita. Haneda is just as nice as Narita and less crowded.
For flight research, I definitely recommend you Skyscanner.
Booking.com & Expedia are also some good options if you want to buy a bundle with flight and accommodation as you can save up some money that way.
How to get to Tokyo From Narita Airport :
To reach Narita Airport/the city centre you have several options from train to buses find out the option that suits best your need.
NE’X Train or Keisei Skyliner :
Narita Express (NE’X) and Keisei Skyliner are both trains that can transport you from the airport to the city, they seem both pretty similar in term of prices and services as both offer discounts fare for foreigners.
Both give you assigned seats.
You can purchase tickets for both N’EX and Skyliner at the airport (either Terminal 1 or 2) on the day of your ride.
And if you’re unsure and feeling a little lost when buying your ticket if you show which stations to the desk assistance they will help you out!
Nonetheless, there are two main differences :
NE’X Stations -> Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Omiya, Yokohama, and Ofuna.
Keisei Skyliner Stations -> Nippori and Ueno
You can use the JR Pass with the NE’X but not with the Keisei Skyliner.
Make sure to check what’s the best stations for you to get off in order to join your accommodation after!
Limousine Bus :
Another option to go to Narita Airport is the Limousine Bus. While it takes more time than the NE’X or Keisei Skyliner, it’s a little cheaper and also you don’t have to bother carrying your luggage around.
Believe me, when you have nearly 30kg of luggage (I may have been a little overboard on my first trip with packing, make sure not to make the same travel mistake as me!) it’s a-w-e-s-o-m-e.
The Limousine Bus departs from a lot of main stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Tokyo and so on…
See more about it here.
How to get to Tokyo from Haneda Airport :
Unlike Narita Airport you can access Haneda Airport by merely taking the Yamanote Line and Keikyu Line to Haneda airport station.
It’s super easy and cheaper than to join Narita, if you can I’d recommend you to actually fly to and from Haneda for this reason.
Limousine Bus -> It works the same way as for Narita.
How To Travel Around Tokyo:
Use the Bus and Subway: Pasmo or Suica ->
Tokyo’s metro charge by fare, which means depending on where you go the price will change. It gets expensive pretty quickly!
The best way to get around Tokyo is the subway and either get a Pasmo or a Suica to ride it.
I have both, honestly, none have greater perks than the other. It’s really just the logo which changes as they both works on the Tokyo Metro and JR Toei Line and buses.
Pasmo has a sort of pink-ish wagon while Suica mascot is a cute penguin. Which maybe makes it more popular? I don’t know really but both are fine to get from a point A to B. It’s best to get it as soon as you land in Tokyo.
Another perk of the SUICA/PASMO is that all you have to do is swipe then at the entrance and the exit, which means you don’t have to waste time buying a ticket for a specific station each time you have to take it.
All you have to do is charge your Pasmo or Suica, and then you ride the metro! Simple!
You can use both the Suica and the Pasmo as electronic wallets where you see their logo, i.e. on vending machines, convenience stores and even some restaurants I heard. Pretty handy!
How to get the SUICA/PASMO ->
There’s a machine with Suica/Pasmo sign in each station, and you can get the cards from there.
The card has a deposit of 500¥, which you can get back after if you give it back.
Getting the cards are quite simple as you can switch the language of the machine in English, so all you have to do is to follow the instructions.
And if by any mean you have any trouble the stations’ staff will be pleased to help you!
You can keep both of them for 10 years, which is something I only learnt recently.
You can also buy an adorable cart holder for them like this one! Or just get one for yourself back home, it’s really handy!
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN TOKYO
Alright, so this is the most significant chunk of this guide.
Tokyo is a restless city, there’s always something to do, so much it can even feel overwhelming at first.
On this Tokyo Bucket list, I cover things my friends/locals and I have done and recommend. As well as things I would like to do on my future trips! (Yes trips okay)
Fun general activities to do in Tokyo
As I said Tokyo has a lot of activities to do, here some of the geenral that are worth trying at least once if you go to Japan for the first time!
I mean you can’t leave the capital or Japan without trying at least once to sing your lungs out at a Karaoke or play some game at an arcarde center!
- Arcade Center
- Matsuri (Festivals)
Best activities to do in Tokyo by district
TOP THINGS TO DO IN SHIBUYA-KU
Access: Yamanote Line Stop -> Shibuya
❍ Center Gai
The shopping street of Shibuya.
❍ Shibuya 109
Impossible to miss when you go out of Shibuya’s station. This big shopping centre is levelled on floors, you can find a lot of “Gyaru” brands in there or cutesy clothing. It’s quite expensive and basically, if you have some meat on your bone you might struggle to find pieces your size.
❍ Crossing / Hachiko Statue
One of the landmarks of Shibuya, you probably already saw it in movies, advertisement and so on. I have to say that the crossing looks much smaller in real life!
Hachiko statue is located on the left side of the street right before the zebra crossing. It is a statue based on the famous Hachiko Dog story.
Tip: If you want a great shot of the zebra crossing/Shibuya you can go to the Starbucks bay windows if you’re willing to wait as it’s always busy.
❍ Disney Store
You can buy the ticket to both Disneyland and DisneySea there. Obviously, there are also tons of Disney Goodies.
One-stop away from Shibuya Station, Harajuku is also at a small walkable distance from Shibuya. So if you’re visiting Shibuya and want to go to Harajuku next instead of using the Yamanote Line again save some yens and enjoy a nice walk!
❍ Takeshita Dori
Takeshita Dori is a massive shopping street, you can find a lot of alternative fashion there. Pet clothing as well as a lot of different jewellery stores, from cute to underground culture there’s something for everyone taste.
The entrance arch of the street also changes every week. The street from the top might be a bit frightening at first as it is extremely crowded but it’s worth checking at least once!
You can also find the very instagrammable Rainbow Cotton Candy there, as well as their crêpes filled with a lot more than your usual crêpes (cheesecake and so on) if you have a sweet tooth!
❍ Kiddy Land
Kiddy Land is one of the biggest toy shops in Tokyo, levelled on 5 floors you can find a lot of goodies, stationery about Japan’s cute characters/mascots and also about some anime or even Star Wars.
I did buy a massive Kapibara-san stuffed toy and while it was a pain in the neck to travel back home with. I regret nothing.
❍ Yoyogi Park
A huge park, perfect for a picnic or a stroll if you fancy it. It’s also an amazing place during spring to check out the cherry blossoms!
❍ Meiji-Jingu Sanctuary
Very close to Takeshita Dori and Yoyogi Park, Meiji-Jingu sanctuary is, therefore, quite a touristy landmark. You can find inside it a garden, a shrine, it’s quite impressive and worth the visit!
A lesser-known shrine
Shopping Centre: La Foret
You can also find the very instagrammable Rainbow Cotton Candy there, as well as their crêpes filled with a lot more than your usual crêpes (cheesecake and so on) if you have a sweet tooth!
TOP THINGS TO DO IN SHINJUKU-KU
Access: Yamanote Line Shinjuku
Shinjuku is located right next to Shibuya. It’s a vibrant district where you can find a lot of night activities.
❍ Shinjuku Gyoen
A vast imperial Garden mixing Japanese, French and English style. Also, a great spot during the cherry blossoms seasons as it counts nearly 1,500 Sakura Trees.
❍ Golden Gai
A lively area where about bars meets, to put it simply where you should go if you want to experiment with the nightlife!
If you spot the Toho Cinema you can also see Godzilla! And the famous Robots Restaurants is in Shinjuku too.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN KÔTO-KU
Access: There’s a lot of access depending on which part of Odaiba you want to see.
Odaiba is an artificial island which has been built around in 1853 for defensive purposes (Daiba meaning fortress) and then expanded in during the 20th century to the artificial island we know today. It’s a really modern place full of entertaining complexes and malls.
❍ Palette Town / Ferris wheel
Palette Town is an entertainment complex composed of a shopping mall, an amusement park, a Ferris Wheel and even a Toyota Showroom
❍ Giant Gundam
The title says it all really, Gundam is a pretty popular anime in Japan.
A big indoor amusement park, including roller coasters and a haunted house. Also, a shooting game based on the anime Psycho-Pass.
❍ Rainbow Bridge / Artificial Beach
At night you can see the Rainbow Bridge from the Decks. And if you want to walk on the beach you can do that in Odaiba, however, swimming is forbidden.
You can find a lot more of Shopping malls around such as DiverCity Tokyo Plaza (even has a concert venue inside) Aquacity, Tokyo Decks Beach…
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MINATO-KU
Access: Yamanote Line, Hamamatsuchô
❍ Tokyo Tower
One of the best view of the city! However, the Tokyo Tower is slightly losing its popularity to the Tokyo SkyTree. Despite this, I still decided to visit it as my friend and I wanted to do the One Piece amusement Park and Café.
❍ Zozo-Ji Shrine
Zozô-Ji is a different kind of shrine as a lot of it was built to pay tribute to the deaths. You can find a mausoleum and an unborn children garden there.
Access: Yamanote Line, Roppongi
Roppongi is the business neighbour you can find a lot of foreigners, bars and luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN TOSHIMA-KU
Access: Yamanote Line, Ikebukuro
Ikebukuro is an animated and entertainment-related neighbour also associated with owls. A lot of department store and anime-related shops can be found there.
Owl statues located near the centre of Ikebukuro.
❍ Sunshine City
One of the biggest shopping/restaurants/aquarium/Pokemon Center complex, for this reason, it is also referred to as “a city within a city”. To visit it end to an end could take you the whole day. It’s a perfect shopping location!
TOP THINGS TO DO IN SUMIDA-KU
❍ Tokyo SkyTree
Higher than the Tokyo Tower with 495m the Tokyo SkyTree is also a great way to get a bird view over the city.
Access: Asakusa Line, Oshiage
TOP THINGS TO DO IN TAITO- KU
Access: Asakusa Line, Asakusa
Asakusa is the traditional neighbour of Tokyo and one of the most beautiful with a lot of shrines/temples. And the perfect area to find some traditional Japanese souvenirs. I think the best way to explore Asakusa is to really take your time and wander around.
The most famous temples there are :
Access: Yamanote Line, Ueno
❍ Ueno Zoo
Alright, so I am a bit conflicted about zoos in general…However I went to Ueno’s Zoo, it was a nice visit they got boards raising awareness towards animals and endangered species (mostly in Japanese though).
But I couldn’t help to feel sorry for the polar bears, summer in Japan is extremely hot and humid so despite the fact they had this vast swimming pool it is evident that they weren’t enjoying themselves…
It was great for farms and smaller animals, however.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN CHIYODA-KU
❍ Tokyo Imperial Palace “Kôkyo”
A landmark of Japan, the Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. You can only visit the two gardens. Which I didn’t get the chance to do as it was closed when I went. Oops.
Access: Yamanote Line Akihabara
Akihabara or as they informally call it “Akiba” is the tech neighbour of Tokyo, if you’re looking for some new technologies or second-hand shops then this is the place to go.
Akiba is as well famous for its anime and video game culture. You can find the biggest Sega Game Centre in Tokyo there!
I don’t have any recommendation per se for Akihabara as I think that it is worth it to explore the whole neighbourhood as the atmosphere is different from the other neighbour in Tokyo.
Besides, if you’d like to try a Maid Café, then it is there.
FUN DAY TRIP TO TAKE FROM TOKYO
Mt Takao is the perfect day trip for a hike only 45 min away from Tokyo. I have a whole post about it if you want to know more about it, read my Hiking Mt Takao Guide here!
I did it on my last trip and enjoyed every single minute of this day.
DISNEYLAND TOKYO / DISNEY SEA
As for Mount Takao, I have a full post about Disneyland Tokyo! Read my Guide To Tokyo Disneyland here!
I haven’t been to Disney Sea yet as no matter how I love Disney Parks I didn’t want to take another day only to spend it at Disney when I was in Japan, and there’s so much more to do.
Here are some other cool day trips you can take from Tokyo:
- Nikko – A great day trip from Tokyo with raw nature and fantastic architecture – check out a more detailed guide about Nikko here!
- Kamakura – A quaint coastal town near Tokyo where you can find the well known Buddha statue.
- Hakone – A famous place for its Onsen and iconic view on Mt Fuji.
- Fuji-san – For this one, it’s pretty obvious not only you get to see Mt Fuji but also the lakes and more around!
Looking for a day to day itinerary? Then check out this great 5 days in Tokyo itinerary!
What and where to eat ->
Foods to try in Tokyo/Japan :
Ramens and curry are kind of like my favourite food in the world, I could eat them every day if I was given the opportunity to do so.
Ramen is a bowl of noodle soaking in ramen soup and some various topping. They’re often also offered with gyoza (dumplings).
And guess what? The ramen came in a different style in each part of Japan, so if you travel around Japan, you can have different ramen.
Sushi is probably the first thing people think about when they think about Japanese food in western countries.
A little side note: if you want to dip your sushi in soy sauce you need to lower the fish in the sauce and not the rice! But usually, it isn’t required as it ruins the taste of the fresh fish.
Gyudon is a very simple dish composed of rice with on top beef meat with melted cheese. Very simple as I said but delicious and filling!
Takoyaki are octopus balls! They’re originally from Osaka but you can find them all around Japan!
Japanese Curry :
Right, so curry isn’t Japanese so to speak however the Japanese have developed their version of curry which is softer than the Indian curry (you can get spicy one too if you wish though).
There are different versions.
Japanese Desert :
Mochi is a sweet rice cake, the texture is quite sticky but it’s quite yummy. You can also find frozen mochi, they taste slightly better in my opinion.
Traditionally people eat mochi for the New but you can eat them all year round.
Taiyaki are fish-shaped cake, a classic street snack in Japan, warm soft with red beans filling. Or ice cream filling.
Matcha is a green powder. Pretty popular in Japan, there’s a lot of desserts made out matcha.
I think matcha is a hit or miss, you either love it or hate it. Personally…it’s a miss for me. However, if you never tried you have to!
About Restaurants In Tokyo/ Japan:
❍ First, you need to know that tipping is not a thing in Japan, so no need to tip!
❍ Also, a lot of restaurants instead of having water on display has cold tea; it can be surprising at first if you don’t expect it!
❍ Most of them display plastic dishes to show you what they serve outside in the front window.
❍ It’s quite common for most restaurants to order from a machine (outside or inside the restaurant) and hand over your ticket at the counter, no language issue this way.
Except when the machine doesn’t display images and is written only in Kanji then it’s definitely tricky.
❍ Lastly, size in Japan is very different in a lot of restaurants. For example, this pizza is a medium size. While in Europe this would have been a kid pizza
Cheap Chain Restaurants :
Looking back at it, I spend most of my travel eating at the cheapest cost possible aside from maybe 3-5 times, I mean otherwise, I’d have exploded my budget pretty quickly.
I mean everything is good there, you want to order and eat everything if you don’t restrain yourself.
So I mainly have cheap restaurants recommendation! Cheap but nonetheless with good food! Also very easy to find across Tokyo.
Genki Sushi is a cheap sushi restaurant with a little twist. You order on a tablet and the foods arrive on little trays that roll to you! It’s quite fun, to be honest, cheap and have a decent taste. For the price, you can’t expect the best sushi but it’s a fun experience!
Also perfect for a solo traveller.
Probably my favourite one, you can find Sukiya nearly anywhere. They make delicious gyudon and curry.
It’s all in the title! A nice little burger shop. If you ever go there I recommend your their fish burger, it’s delicious.
If you fancy curry then CoCo Ichiban is the place you need. They do a very good and cheap curry. You can find Katsu Curry (fried chicken)
Saizeria is essentially an Italian chain restaurant, there’s a few of them in Tokyo. The food is decent and within reasonable prices.
Did you know you could also find some delicious chocolate in Tokyo? While Tokyo might not be the first city that pops into your mind when it comes to chocolate, you can nonetheless find some delicious chocolate there. Check out the best chocolate makers in Tokyo!
Also if you’re on a budget then you should know that every night convenience stores (konbini) have discounts on bento box and sushi so you can get a meal for pretty cheap around 200 yen 700 yen.
And no worries, if you don’t have a microwave where you’re staying they can heat up your meal if needed. Sometimes they also have dedicated sitting area where you can eat.
I absolutely adore konbini they got a lot of nice cheap food (bento, onigiri, fried chickens and whatnot) plus if you never tried Japanese egg sandwich then you definitely have too, I swear by those and I never found an egg sandwich as good in Europe!
Other types of restaurants in Tokyo :
If you want to try something a little out the ordinary then you’ll surely enjoy themed restaurants. Some very famous ones are the PompomPurin Cafe in Harajuku and the Baratie, inspired by the anime One Piece in Odaiba or anything Pokemon related.
Check this post for more information on themed restaurants!
Even Animals Cafés (Be it cat, rabbit, owl etc…). Although I guess their main appeal isn’t the food but seeing the pets. I only did Cat Cafés, one I could recommend is “Calico Neko Cafe” in Shinjuku !
Where To Stay in Tokyo for the first time
I’ve been three times in Tokyo; three times in different locations
1st) Setagaya in a small apartment we rented via Sakura House. It wasn’t great at all, ultra-small, expensive, and besides we got a few cockroaches. Not unusual for Tokyo but, still, ew.
2nd) Ikebukuro – Very nice location in an animated neighbourhood close to the Yamanote Line – I stayed at the Toyoko Inn, a nice hotel with free -Japanese- breakfast buffet, but the bedding wasn’t the best – it’s okay if you don’t have a fragile back!
3rd) Meguro at the Princess Garden Hotel which was probably my favourite location even though it was quite a small room and slightly out of fashion. It also offered a buffet breakfast and was close to the Yamanote and both, Shibuya and Shinjuku. The staff was extremely friendly. Plus, the Koi Pond is adorable!
Those three areas are fantastic; they’re friendly and convenient to get around Tokyo, especially for Ikebukuro and Meguro as they are on the Yamanote Line.
Transportations in Tokyo are AWESOME; however, they can get expensive fast and add to your budget a crazy amount as I wrote in the first part of this guide.
That’s why I think if you’re in Tokyo solely to explore Tokyo the closer to the Yamanote Line the better if you exclusively plan on visiting Tokyo and its central spots.
Also, keep in mind that hotels’ rooms in Tokyo – just like most of the apartment, in general- are fairly small sometimes there’s not even a closet.
Other pieces of information:
Currency: Yen ¥
You can either change your money before your trip or withdraw there. I feel that sometimes it’s a little bit better to directly withdraw. Just check beforehand how much your bank charges you when you withdraw money abroad or if you can subscribe a travel option to avoid fees!
Japanese don’t use their card it’s more common to pay everything with cash so prefer cash over the credit card especially if you go to small joint or small shops then they most likely only accept cash.
Cards also can charge you a fee, so it’s not the best to pay with them.
However, you can get your hand on a travel card such as the Revolut one I used on my last trip wherever I could and it was great!
Adaptor: Japan power sockets are of type A and B so unless you’re from the U.S.A you will need an adaptor.
Do you I need to know how to speak Japanese?
You don’t need to know how to speak Japanese per se, as long as you stay in the capital/touristy spot you’ll always find someone that will be able to help you. And signs aren’t only written in Japanese (Kanji) so it’s fine. Besides with the Olympic Game of 2020 more and more of the complexes and shops in Tokyo are trying to be more English friendly.
However now, while it might not be needed, I believe it’s always nice to know a few basics of the country you’re visiting, such as Thank you etc…
Although, if you are interested in learning Japanese I do recommend the Minna No Nihongo it’s in Japanese, but you can buy the Translation & Grammatical Notes to go with! We used them at Uni, and I can guarantee you they’re great! You can also check the best resources to learn Japanese by yourself.
And this successfully concludes my Complete Tokyo Travel Guide for the first-timers!
Hopefully, this guide will help you to organise your first time in Tokyo and thoroughly enjoy it! If you have any more question, let me know in the comment below 🙂
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A Complete Tokyo Travel Guide for The First Timer