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
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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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