Tokyo is famous for its superb sushi, and one of the best places to get your hands on some is the Toyosu Fish Market. In 2018, the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market relocated to Toyosu, and the latter is now the place to enjoy the renowned daily tuna auction. You can still visit Tsukiji, though, where the historic outer market’s food stalls and restaurants remain in business.
The well-worn neighbourhood of Asakusa and its main attraction, the sacred temple Sensō-ji, are a must-visit – there’s nothing else quite like them in Tokyo. The classical temple and its iconic red lantern, along with the Nakamise shopping street set up along the approach, will take you back to old Japan. Nearby is Hanayashiki, the oldest amusement park in the country.
Visitors can explore the fashionable Harajuku, Omotesandō and Aoyama in a single day. Harajuku and the Takeshita-dōri are the places to go for offbeat fashions (think Lolita style). Admire the stunning architecture and shop high-end brands in Omotesandō. Finish up in the art galleries and cafés of cultured Aoyama.
Tokyo’s Electric Town wows visitors with its sheer volume of anime, manga and gaming paraphernalia available. You can find anything you need to complete your collection – comics, DVDs, detailed figurines, trading and playing cards, costumes, magazines and an endless supply of knick-knacks. It’s also the place to check out Tokyo’s quirky maid cafés.
Historically, the shitamachi (low city) was where the less affluent worked and lived. Today, few places remain in Tokyo where you can experience the old world, but with its ramshackle, frozen-in-time atmosphere, Yanaka Ginza shopping district is one of them. The Yuyake Dandan staircase (which has been featured on TV and in movies) is a good place to snap a few photos to capture the vibes. There’s also a sizeable population of adorable stray cats in the area.
Ryogōku is the capital of sumo culture in Tokyo. Take in a match at the Ryogōku Kokugikan, learn the history of the sport at the Sumo Museum or eat at the sumo-themed restaurant. The district is home to a large number of sumo stables, some of which might let you watch the early-morning practices for free.
You can easily spend an entire day at Ueno Park, Tokyo’s largest. It’s here where you’ll find the Tokyo National Museum, the city’s most popular art museum, along with The National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the underrated Shitamachi Museum, among others. Spend an afternoon museum-hopping, and finish up with a picnic surrounded by gorgeous foliage.
The nightlife in Shibuya is unrivalled. You can spend an evening sipping cocktails 30 floors up or rocking out at an underground DJ bar. Alternatively, why not share a pint with the local people at the Shōwa-era bars by the train tracks, before checking out the area’s clubs and live houses? This neighbourhood is whatever you want it to be.
Spend an evening exploring the world’s tallest tower, the 634-metre-high (2,080-foot) Tokyo Skytree. Check out the boutiques on your way up to the observation decks, where you’ll get unrivalled 360-degree views of the city; on clear days, you might even be able to see Mount Fuji. Skytree Town (also known as Solamachi) at the base of the tower is where you’ll find many shopping and dining options.
Although Omoide Yokocho translates literally to Memory Lane, this narrow, historic street – one of many yokocho in Tokyo – is better known as Piss Alley. Despite that off-putting moniker, this bustling, atmospheric nook is a local favourite for eating and drinking. The main dish you’ll come across is yakitori – skewered meats that go great with Japanese beer and sake.
The Meguro River lends Nakameguro a special charm. Here, you’ll find cool cafés, restaurants and the odd boutique selling goods for the modern flower child. Its classier neighbour Daikanyama is characterised by winding lanes, one-of-a-kind speciality shops and superb dining.
Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance drama that has wowed audiences for hundreds of years with its elaborate costumes, make-up and sets. The recently rebuilt Kabuki-za is the chief kabuki theatre in the region and still retains its traditional charms.
The Japanese royal family – the longest-running hereditary monarchy in the world – makes its home at this beautiful castle complex in Central Tokyo. Bookings must be made for tours of the Imperial Palace grounds, but the Imperial Palace East Garden is open to visitors year-round. On the other side of the moat, Chidori-ga-fuchi is a popular cherry-blossom spot.
This shrine was built in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. With its thickly wooded grounds, skyscraping torii gates and proximity to tourist spots such as Harajuku, Omotesandō and Shibuya, it’s easy to see why it remains one of the city’s most popular Shinto shrines.
Shibuya Crossing, also known as the Shibuya Scramble, is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world in terms of foot traffic. The nearby Hachikō Statue, which immortalises the dog who waited for his owner every day at Shibuya station even after his master’s death, is a popular meeting spot.
The Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s oldest professional baseball team, call the Tokyo Dome home. Catch a game or spend an hour browsing the nearby Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
If you’re tattoo-free (or have ink small enough to cover discreetly), make your way to Ōedo-Onsen Monogatari for a traditional-meets-modern onsen experience. This Edo-themed hot spring park lends out colourful yukata to all guests so you look the part.
This traditional Japanese strolling garden was once the property of the Tokugawa clan, the local shoguns (rulers) when Tokyo was called Edo. A seawater moat surrounds Hamarikyu, and entry is possible via a water taxi from Akasaka. Don’t forget to visit the antique teahouse located within its walls, Nakajima no Ochaya, for the full experience.
A pre-war maze of narrow alleys filled with two-storey bars, Golden Gai is quite a contrast to its surroundings, the glitzy megalopolis of Shinjuku. With most of the bars so small they can only accommodate a handful of customers, seating charges are hefty, but soaking up the local charm makes it all worthwhile. Note that Golden Gai has become popular with tourists in recent years, but every now and then you’ll still encounter the odd “Locals Only” sign or chilly reception to newcomers. If you fancy a different but equally atmospheric bar crawl, check out Nonbei Yokocho.
Head out of town for the day to embark on a hike to the summit of Mitake-san, stopping to shop and dine at the nearby village and pay your respects at the ancient Shinto shrine on the way.
Brooke Larsen contributed additional reporting to this article.