Last winter, we had the time of our life when we were in Tokyo. I have now been there 3 times: once 10 years ago, and two of these times were last winter with Simone. We first went for three days to Tokyo on our way to Hong Kong. When our plans in Hong Kong fell through, we were happy to go back to Tokyo and spend a week in a Airbnb in Kanagawa, from where we could also explore a bit around the capital.
We both really loved our time in Japan and would recommend anyone to go for at least a week in Tokyo, even more if you can!
Best places to visit when you have a week in Tokyo
Of course, the neighborhoods of Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku were the absolute must-go-to places to get a real feeling of the busy and modern Tokyo! It helped immensely that we were hosted by a friend in the middle of Harajuku for the first three days of our trip. We also wanted to get a more traditional view of the place so we went to Asakusa and visited some temples and shrines. If you’re looking for some down times, there are great parks, and some beautiful places a bit outside of Tokyo to reload your battery and breath some fresh air!
Tokyo is a huge city, it extends very far and even though the metro is amazing, we still had a short time-span in the capital. So here are the best places to visit during your week in Tokyo to have an amazing trip!
Modern and busy Tokyo: Harajuka, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara
There were two sides of the city I wanted to show Simone: the hyper-urban neon-lights part, and the more traditional part. Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara are three very famous neighborhoods that represent this side of the city. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have some hidden traditional parts too, with Meiji Jingū (a shrine in Harajuku), for example.
Harajuku is another great place for fashion and is flooded with young Japanese going from one store to another, eating cute snacks and going to karaoke! The epicentre of that crowded side of Harajuku is Takeshita Street.
It can also be more of a luxury place when you go along Omotesando.
On the more traditional side, that’s where you’ll find the Meiji Jingū shrine (more about that later).
Shinjuku is the heart of Tokyo’s nightlife. It’s the home of the infamous Kabukichō where you’ll find nightclubs, host bars and love hotels – and also where I’ve had too much to drink for the first time of my life, ten years ago! It’s also where you can find Golden Gai, a maze of little streets with tiny cool bars everywhere.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – where you can get in for free and gaze at the amazing view of the city – is also in Shinjuku.
Shibuya is definitely where you want to go if you’re curious about fashion. It’s a neighborhood frequented by young people where you’ll be able to shop to your heart’s content. On that aspect, don’t miss the famous department store 109 (ichi-maru-kyū). It’s also a great place if you’d like to have a drink as lots of little bars are scattered around the streets of Shibuya.
You might have heard of the Shibuya crossing: it’s one of the busiest intersections in the world!
You want to try your hands at some crazy game in an Arcade Center? Akihabara is your spot! It’s also the place to be if you want to get some anime and manga merch, so don’t forget your wallet!
Traditional places to visit in Tokyo: Asakusa, Meiji Jingu, Ueno
Your week in Tokyo should include a visit to places in the city that are more traditional, with some temples and shrines, and have kept some of the past’s atmosphere. A few places in the center of Tokyo are absolute musts in that regard.
Asakusa is the traditional part of the busy city and you’ve probably seen pictures from there a few times already. It holds the very famous and beautiful Sensō-ji Buddhist temple. Don’t hesitate to check out all the little stalls on your way to the temple and get lost in this place out of time.
Meiji Jingū is a shrine located in Harajuku. It’s the first Shinto shrine I’ve ever been to. Located in a forest, it’s a somewhat magical and peaceful place. A long walk will take you to the heart of the shrine, and then you’ll most certainly observe with curiosity this beautiful place!
Ueno Park, in the neighboorhood of Ueno, also holds a few temples and shrines that are really beautiful. The autumn foliage was particularly pretty over there….
Related post: If you’re into temples, you should check out our Hong Kong post!
Old Tokyo in Yanaka Ginza
You will love browsing the small shops of this very traditional shopping street. Situated in a quiet and residential area, it’s perfect to have a calming walk when the hugeness of Tokyo starts to make you a little claustrophobic. Going at night was a great idea and we got a bento box for diner and bought cute postcards!
Your week in Tokyo is wearing you down? Recharge your batteries by visiting the parks!
Ok, are you ready for this? Because I’m not sure you are. Close your eyes, take a slow breath, open your eyes, and scroll down to see the pictures of this amazing place. If you want a feel of the typical Japanese garden, you can get it here. The architecture, the pond, the trees… We didn’t want to leave that place and it should definitely be in your Tokyo itinerary!! There’s also an interesting piano, if you can find it 😉
Showa Memorial Park
That park looked amazing, and huge. We had tried to cram a bit too many things in one day though, and it was about to close when we arrived. We would have loved to go back to see more of it, but we didn’t have the time… We recommend you give it a couple hours and tell us how you liked it! To get there, we took the Monorail Tama Toshi – an aerial metro that made us feel like we were in a dystopian world, riding over the city… It was also really great that the seats were heated because it was freezing outside!
Day trips out of Tokyo
I know, I’m totally in love with the city too, but if you have a week in Tokyo, you should at least take one day trip out of town. We took two and did not regret putting them on our Tokyo itinerary at all!
Takao-San (Mount Takao)
We were happy to get on our feet after the metro ride that took us to Takao-San, or Mount Takao. After spending almost a week in Tokyo, we were eager to breath some fresh air and be surrounded by nature. There are different hike trails to get to the top of Mount Takao, as well as cable cars. We took two different trails to go up and down, crossed a Buddhist temple on our way and really enjoyed the views! You’ll have the opportunity to have a good look at the immensity of Tokyo, and a magical sight of the Mount Fuji. Don’t forget to eat a dango (these little snacks are usually vegan) and to allow enough time to go down before sundown, especially if you didn’t take the easiest hike back down (like we did).
I don’t know if that’s a common fact, but we kind of got lost when we were in Kamakura. So you might want to: get a map, use a GPS, or just maybe be a little bit more focused than we were! There’s little chance you’ll miss the Sitting Buddha as it’s the must-see in Kamakura. But also take the little trail that will get you to unexpected places with great views, and to a beautiful place hosting a couple of temples in caves. When you get back to the commercial (but very cute) long street, pick a restaurant to eat at to get some strength to check out all the little shops on the way and lose all of your money! After that, you’ll find your way to a huge Temple with a beautiful traditional garden, the frontier between traditional and modern Tokyo.
Where to stay during your week in Tokyo
For the first part of our trip to Tokyo, we were hosted in the little hidden residential streets in Harajuku and it was amazing, so do consider this area!
Close to Narita Airport: Hedistar Hotel Narita
We slept at the Hedistar Hotel Narita
on the last night of the first part of our trip, just before flying out to Hong Kong. It was honestly very basic, but it did the job.
Capsule beds: Oak Cabin Hostel
We had a hard time finding a capsule hotel that would be in our budget, allowed women, and would allow us to stay together
in the same part of the hotel. We found Oak Cabin Hostel in Nihonbashi
and thought it might be our best bet. However you have to know that the capsule beds are only closed by a small sheet, reason why it can get very noisy at night
, which I did not expect. We didn’t try much of the amenities since we slept there on our last night before leaving, but I really enjoyed renting a yukata
to lounge around and sleep in!
Airbnb: a great way to make your week in Tokyo cheaper and have an insight on how Japanese apartments are made!
We didn’t rent any Airbnb in the center of Tokyo because they were a bit expensive, and we also felt like we could use the calm, and the proximity to places that are on the outskirts of town. Even if it took us around 45min to get to the center with the metro – and around 15min to get to the metro – we loved it! It felt a little like we were expats and really living in Japan! We had to take out the right trash (there are several) on the right day, we went to buy food at the grocery store and cooked home, used the laundry machine, used the bicycles to go to the metro station… it felt really cosy!
General Tips for the Tokyo First-Timers
If you’re going to spend a whole week in Tokyo, you should definitely invest in a metro pass. We took the Suica. What’s great is that you can charge it and also pay at convenient stores (and some other places, like some restaurants for example) with it. That’s a huge plus when you don’t want to feel the panic of not understanding or seeing how much money you’re supposed to give when paying for something. Also you can travel worry-free as it can get a bit annoying to have to think about all the different metro prices depending on the destination.
Airport coin locker
As we were traveling with our big backpacks and only passing by on the first leg of our trip to Tokyo, we put our big bags in coin lockers at the airport and only kept what we needed with us in smaller bags. That really helped us move around so we highly recommend you use that if you’re only passing by!
We had one for the first leg of our trip since our friend let us use hers while we were staying at her place. That was very very very helpful because there are no street signs in Tokyo! You have no idea how many times we got lost trying to go back to the apartment, and how desperate we were when we got lost and had forgotten the portable wifi at home.
Bonus tip: Eat Onigiri!!
I absolutely love these little triangular « balls » of rice, and there was hardly a day when I didn’t eat an onigiri (or ten……) bought at a convenient store. They’re cute and practical, it’s the perfect snack!