A Solo Traveller’s Guide to Tokyo

Spend time wandering Tokyos backstreets on your solo trip to Japan
Spend time wandering Tokyo's backstreets on your solo trip to Japan | © Astemir Almov / Unsplash
Ellie Hurley

Contributor

Tokyo is every bit as enthrallingly diverse as the films make out. One minute it’s slick skyscrapers, neon gaming arcades and frenetic crowds; the next it’s old temples and alleyways stuffed with smoky izakayas (pubs). You’ll never fit it all in one trip, but you can get a grasp of the highlights in just a few days – and for solo travellers, Tokyo is a blast.

What’s the vibe?

Tokyo is a dream for solo travellers, from ramen bars to kaiten (conveyor-belt) sushi restaurants and capsule hotels. No one will think twice about you dining, sightseeing, shopping or staying at a hotel alone. The city is safe, too; even at night you shouldn’t be worried about exploring, especially in busier hubs.

A Tokyo solo trip overview

With so much to see and do, you’ll want to maximise your time in Tokyo
You can’t miss a stop at Senso-ji temple when in Tokyo

Interested in historic Tokyo? See sprawling Meiji Jingu shrine in the west or ornate Senso-ji temple in the east. In the centre, the Imperial Palace has grounds that are perfect for a stroll; in Ueno there are treasure-laden museums, surrounded by serene park greenery and ponds. Other must-visit areas are Ginza, for high-end shopping and omakase (chef’s-choice) sushi bars, and Akihabara for geeky electronics purchases and gaming arcades.

Where to stay in Tokyo as a solo traveller

Japan is known for traditional inns, or ryokans, but they aren’t major in Tokyo. Expect large modern hotels geared towards business and leisure travellers. The boutique-hotel scene is beginning to grow and there are some excellent, if pricey options. Pod – or capsule – hotels (beds rented for the night), can be great for solo travellers. Just be aware – with limited space and privacy they aren’t usually practical for much longer than two nights. Which neighbourhood is for you? We recommend these areas.

Shibuya

Check into one of the best boutique boltholes in Tokyo

This district in the west is a shopper’s paradise, with its department stores and fashion boutiques. It is extremely well-connected and within walking distance of must-see Meiji Jingu shrine. Book Manhattan-loft-style Trunk Hotel, one of Tokyo’s finest boutique check-ins.

Shinjuku

To experience the best of Tokyo’s nightlife, stay in Shinjuku

The city’s biggest transport hub is home to some of its best nightlife: late-night restaurants, karaoke and cheap bars pouring draft beer. Considering a day trip to Hakone or Mount Fuji? Most trains depart from here – and many of Tokyo’s best-value addresses are in the neighbourhood.

Asakusa

Stay in Asakusa to see a different side of Tokyo

Fancy a sleepier corner of Tokyo? This traditional central-west neighbourhood is home to the city’s most famous temple, Senso-ji. You’ll also find old arcades, small joints serving onigiri (rice balls) as well as shabu shabu (hotpot) – and some fine places to lay your head.

Chiyoda

The Hoshinoya Tokyo is perfect for travellers wanting to experience Japanese culture

Chiyoda has some of the Japanese capital’s most luxurious hotels, including Aman Tokyo, the Hoshinoya and Tokyo Station. There’s high-end shopping nearby in Ginza, and the leafy Imperial Palace has grounds to explore. Look for excellent examples of Tokyo’s early 20th-century architecture as well.

What to do in Tokyo as a solo traveller

There’s almost nothing you can’t do in Tokyo – but aim to include these essential experiences.

Sample a sushi bar

Sampling sushi is a must when in Tokyo

There are two kinds of sushi: amazingly affordable and amazingly expensive. For quality, wallet-friendly fare, visit a kaiten (conveyor-belt) bar: plates are colour-coded according to price so you can keep an eye on your total. If you want expensive gourmet, book an omakase (chef’s choice) sushi bar well in advance. Top-rated places purvey the finest-quality spreads in Japan.

Sing karaoke

Head to Kabukicho for a night hopping between karaoke bars

Karaoke is a national sport in Japan – in Tokyo, office workers practise in their lunch hours. To get the full experience, visit nightlife-hub Kabukicho where packed karaoke bars give the area a real atmosphere. Dine and drink at an izakaya (pub) or okonomiyaki (pancake) restaurant before belting out hits until late.

Get stuck into a karaoke session in Tokyo’s late-night Golden Gai district as part of Culture Trip’s 12-day small-group adventure, Japan Rising: From Neon Lights to Rural Ryokans, led by our Local Insider.

Tokyo Skytree

Soak up panoramic views when you head up to the top of the Tokyo Skytree

At a head-spinning 634m (2,080ft), this is the tallest of Tokyo’s many impressive skyscrapers. Admire the view from floor 450 – on clear days you can see all the way to Mount Fuji – then descend to the base for some of the city’s best high-quality souvenir-shopping.

Eating and drinking in Tokyo

Tempura is one dish to try when in Tokyo

You’ll find amazing sushi and ramen, but there’s a lot more to the city’s culinary scene. Many restaurants will specialise in one dish – say, tempura (deep-fried foods), yakitori (grilled skewers), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) or udon (thick noodles). At an izakaya, a traditional Japanese pub, you can usually try a bit of everything.

Solo travellers can tuck in at a restaurant, but Tokyo has plenty of takeaway options, too

Solo dining is very common in Japan, but if you feel uncomfortable, Tokyo has some of the world’s best readymade takeaways – from grocery stores, department-store food halls (depachika) and conbini (convenience stores). Meals are washed down with beer, sake or shochu (rice-spirit) cocktails.

Find memorable culinary experiences in Tokyo – and book them – with Culture Trip.

Stay safe, stay happy

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world – perfect for solo travellers

Despite progress, Tokyo still largely operates on a cash basis, especially for smaller transactions. Note that not all bank machines accept foreign cards.

Getting around in Tokyo as a solo traveller

The Tokyo metro makes getting around the city a breeze

Tokyo has an excellent metro network, but be sure not to miss the last train – cross-city distances can be vast, and taxis are very expensive.

Cultural need-to-knows

Tipping is not necessary – and can even cause offence.
Fancy forgoing that solo journey in favour of a trip with like-minded travellers? Consider Culture Trip’s 12-day small-group adventure, Japan Rising: From Neon Lights to Rural Ryokans, led by a Local Insider.

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