Where’s the best place to stay in Tokyo? This guide will help you pick out the best neighborhoods and accommodation for your trip!
You might remember from my recent trip to Tokyo that I met up with my friends Jessica and Hai from Notes of Nomads, who have lived in Tokyo for years. They are the ultimate Tokyo experts, and when I decided to put up a Tokyo accommodation guide on the site, there was no question that I wanted them to write it!
And for the record — my personal favorite neighborhood to stay in Tokyo is Shinjuku! And if you can afford the Park Hyatt Tokyo, DO IT. It was one of the best hotel experiences of my life.
Tokyo is a city that quickly takes ahold of you. Its eclectic mix of traditional and modern attractions, huge electronics stores and tiny counter bars, the brightest neon signs and the most dimly lit izakaya, make it surprising, chaotic, delightful and mind-boggling in the most incredible of ways!
Deciding on where to stay in the largest metropolis in the world can be overwhelming. However, the sheer size of the city has meant that many neighborhoods offer different looks, feels and points of interest to visitors. Deciding on your priorities for your trip will therefore make it considerably easier to decide on a Tokyo neighborhood that suits your travel style.
After almost a decade of being based in Tokyo, here are our recommendations for places to stay in this incredible mega-city!
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for Views, Nightlife, and Being in the Center of Things: Shinjuku
No accommodation guide for Tokyo would be complete without mentioning Shinjuku! If you’re wanting to jump right into the bright lights and constant hum of the city, then this is your place.
Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world, serving more than 3.5 million passengers a day. While shinkansen trains do not depart from this station, a number of JR lines, private rail lines and subways do. Staying in the area means that you are always connected, even if that also means sometimes getting lost in the overwhelm of this station.
Shinjuku really has it all with a great variety of shops, electronics stores and depaato (department stores), as well as your pick of fantastic restaurants. If the idea of exploring Tokyo by night and being close to food, shopping and entertainment sounds like your idea of fun, Shinjuku is the place where you should stay in Tokyo.
Popular places to visit at night include old-school Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) where small hole-in-the-wall eateries serve up everything from conventional noodle bowls to frog sashimi, Kabukicho district for its cheap izakaya and karaoke joints, and Golden Gai, where stacked wooden rabbit-warren bars take you back to former times. (Note from Kate: Golden Gai is so cool! I wrote about it here.)
In Shinjuku, you can enjoy the city lights at street level or head up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for free views over the city — a great place to catch the sunset, especially on a clear evening.
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for Foodies: Asakusa
With 160,000 restaurants in central Tokyo alone, it’s no easy task to isolate one neighborhood in particular as the foodie destination. Honestly, you can find excellent food choices all over the city and restaurants to satisfy any taste or budget. Hell, many people even rate convenience store food among some of their best eats! (Note from Kate: Truth. I love my 100 yen convenience store onigiri!)
The whole city (and country for that matter) has extremely high food standards, but we settled on Asakusa for a few reasons. One is that it is filled with traditional snacks and restaurants where you can sample lots of different Japanese treats and dishes. Soba and tempura are two traditional Japanese dishes that Asakusa is particularly well known for.
Another is its food accessibility. Japan is typically a challenging country for those with dietary restrictions, especially with so much of the cuisine based on fish products. However, Asakusa has a great range of vegetarian, vegan and halal restaurants, making it easier to find food for all kinds of diets.
If Asakusa feels overwhelming at first, venture away from the highly visitor-frequented Sensoji Temple and the Nakamise shopping street leading up to it. You’ll quickly find a more residential side to Asakusa, one where life goes on at a slower pace and you can find many local shops.
Foodies will also no doubt be interested in the nearby Kappabashi Street. It has been coined “Kitchen Town” and is best known for its high-quality kitchen knives and plastic food models (like the ones you see in restaurant windows in Japan). You can actually book a lesson to learn how to make these fake food samples for yourself!
For those simply wanting to pick up some practical souvenirs, Kitchen Town also has beautiful bento boxes, useful kitchen gadgets and classic chopsticks.
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for Hipsters and Fashionistas: Shimokitazawa
Shimokitazawa is one of the most unique neighborhoods in all of Tokyo. Its residential feel makes it seem worlds apart from downtown, but it’s just a stone’s throw away from Shibuya and the popular youth district of Harajuku.
Shimo, as we like to call it locally, is always changing, which is both part of its eclectic charm and its heartbreak. What may be there on one visit may well not be there on another. The area has an interesting history that centers on the aftermath of WWII, when it served as a black market. The area’s addiction to blue jeans and vintage American apparel all originated from black market trading of US army surplus supplies obtained during the war.
The area has quite a number of established second-hand clothing stores, but the ticket prices can be off-the-charts crazy (this place is full-on hipster chic, you guys). So if you’re like us and think of thrift-store shopping more in terms of a vintage treasure hunt, then we recommend “Don Don Down,” where items are discounted every Wednesday until sold.
Shimokitazawa also has a lot of hip coffee shops where you can count on a more diverse range of beverages than the usual Americano that dominates most menus in Japan. Oddly enough, it is also home to more than 100 curry shops. From Japanese curries, soup curries to Thai and Indian curries, and even curry balls, you’ll be spoiled for choice. You can stuff yourself on all of them during the town’s annual Curry Festival in October!
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for Day Trippers: Tokyo Station/Marunouchi District
Tokyo Station in Marunouchi is one of the most convenient connections in the city. The surrounding neighborhood gives you easy access to both Narita and Haneda Airports and to a number of subway and train lines, including the city’s central loop, the Yamanote line.
It’s a great base for day trips, especially those to the Tokyo Bay area, such as Yokohama, Kamakura, the Tokyo Disney resorts, and for traveling between cities. From here you can take the shinkansen (bullet train) to other popular destinations like Kyoto and Osaka.
Marunouchi is at the heart of Tokyo’s financial district, and while it has long been a busy area for the city’s salary men and OL’s (office ladies), the refurbished Tokyo Station has transformed the area from a transport and business hub that trails of commuters would simply pass through, into a destination in and of itself.
Tokyo Station stands as a rather interesting contrast to the modern, non-descript office buildings that dominate the area. The iconic European-style redbrick building was originally constructed in 1914. After surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, it was later burned and gutted during fire bombings in WWII. A reconstruction project to restore Tokyo Station to its former 1914 charm was completed in late 2012.
Tokyo Character Street features 20 stores dedicated to well-known Japanese characters and TV show merchandise, while if you’re in the mood for noodles, Tokyo Ramen Street is operated by eight renowned names on the city’s ramen scene. You can find more food variety on Kitchen Street on the first floor main concourse between the North Yaesu and North Marunouchi exits.
For those wanting to visit the Imperial Palace and its East Gardens, it’s an easy 10-15 minute walk from Tokyo Station.
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for High-End Fashion and Dining: Ginza
Ginza is one of the most coveted addresses in the city. Think of any of the world’s top luxury brands and they’ll probably have a storefront here, along with Japanese luxury brands you’ve never heard of.
If high fashion and luxury goods are what you’re after, then Ginza is the perfect shopping destination. While weekdays are preferable for fewer crowds and more personalized service, a great time to enjoy this shopping district is actually weekend afternoons, when Chuo Dori is closed to vehicles and becomes a lively pedestrian street.
Ginza is also home to some of the best restaurants in the city. These are the kinds of places that will leave a dent in your wallet but also allow you to walk away with that satisfying feeling that it was totally worth it. Top guidebook restaurants are always popular here, so it’s best to ask your hotel to make a reservation for you in advance to avoid disappointment.
Ginza is also located near Tsukiji with its incredible selection of sushi restaurants, and is well connected to other popular areas for food, shopping and sightseeing on the Ginza, Marunouchi and Hibiya lines, such as Asakusa, Ueno, Shibuya, Omotesando, Akihabara and Shinjuku.
Best Tokyo Neighborhood for Nature Lovers: Okutama
Contrary to popular belief, Tokyo actually has a lot of green spaces. They exist in pockets all over the city, so it actually isn’t difficult to find a park or garden for a walk or to simply chill out in. There’s even a tranquil ravine known as Todoroki Valley within the confines of the 23 inner-city wards.
For those who want to get into the “wild,” so to speak, you simply have to go west. The west side of Tokyo is where it’s at for the hikers and nature lovers. Many tourists visit Mt Takao on a day-trip, but to get further off the tourist trail and into national park territory, we recommend Okutama in Chichibu Tama-Kai National Park.
Even the train ride there (approximately 2 hours from Shinjuku) has many visitors on their feet in the train carriage gasping at the views, especially around Sawai and Kawai Stations. In fact, many people get off around there for hikes and mountain climbing. A popular peak in the area is Mt Mitake and can be accessed from Mitake Station on the same line and a cable car can then take you part of the way up.
Okutama Station itself sees fewer visitors but it’s also a wonderfully picturesque place to go hiking, white-water rafting, forest bathing and visit hot springs. If you’re interested in camping or staying in more remote accommodation, you’ll find those options here.
Keep in mind that the Asian black bear is found in the area (yes, there are bears in Tokyo!) so hikers are advised to make their presence known by talking and making noise along the trials. Some hikers like to wear bear bells.
While we wouldn’t recommend basing yourself here for your entire time in Tokyo because of its distance from downtown, and limited bus services and dining options, a night or two will allow you to see a completely different side of Tokyo that you probably never knew existed.
Best Luxury Hotel in Tokyo: Park Hyatt Tokyo
For those wanting a luxury stay in Tokyo, it’s hard to go past the Park Hyatt of Lost in Translation fame. This 5-star hotel in Nishi Shinjuku occupies the top 14 floors of a 52-story tower, giving guests unparalleled views of the city and the chance to live out all their Lost in Translation fantasies at the New York Bar.
Facilities include world-class drinks and dining, pool, spa, gym and fitness center.
(Note from Kate: I said it above but I’ll say it again — this hotel is fantastic, and the views are unreal. If you’re a Lost in Translation fan in the least, you must stay here.)
Well, in Japan, don’t expect wide hotel room but, cleanness is always on point. This 3*** star hotel room is no exception, for more or less IDR. 1.2mio a night, with good location (next to subway station, a lot of konbinis around and one Donki store not too far), I think Sunroute Hotel is a good choice for beginner to explore Tokyo. #msalwayshungrytokyo #travelgram #room #hotel #recommended #travel #sunroutehotelhigashishinjuku #higashishinjuku #tokyo
Best Mid-range Hotel in Tokyo: Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku
This three-star hotel is a comfortable western-style accommodation with reasonable pricing. Its biggest asset is its location, just 1-minute walk from the nearest subway station and 10 minutes from the main JR Shinjuku Station.
The hotel’s facilities include free Wi-Fi, two restaurants and a 24-hour front desk.
Best Hostel in Tokyo: K’s House Tokyo
For those looking to stay in Tokyo on a budget, K’s House in Kuramae (Asakusa) is an excellent choice.
There are mixed and female only dorms for those wanting the cheapest possible stay, as well as budget-friendly private rooms for solo travelers, double rooms for couples, twin and multi-capacity rooms for friends and larger traveling parties, and family rooms for those traveling with kids.
Facilities include free Wi-Fi, communal areas for socializing and a rooftop terrace. This hostel has no curfew. Note: there is another K’s House in Asakusa (K’s House Oasis) with similar facilities but less room variety.
Tokyo Travel Tips
Get an IC card. Electronic public transportation cards such as Pasmo or Suica will save you time and hassle trying to figure out individual fare prices for each train journey on your own (and it also gives you a small discount). Get them from ticket machines (500 yen refundable deposit) and add cash for spending. You can also use these cards at most vending machines and convenience stores.
If you do buy a paper ticket and are not sure which value to buy, just get the cheapest one and you can pay the difference at the other end. You’ll find fare adjustment machines near the ticket gates. Simply pop your ticket in and it will tell you how much you owe.
Consider a rail pass. If your plan is to visit several cities in Japan, the JR Rail Pass can be a huge cost saver. While they have been doing limited trialing of in-country JR Pass purchases, it is still easier (and cheaper) to organize the pass from your home country. A voucher will be sent to your address, which you can then exchange for the pass in-country.
While the rail pass is best used for inter-city travel, if you still have validity, you can also take advantage of using it on JR lines during the Tokyo portion of your trip.
Take advantage of lunch sets. Grab a lunch set for the cheapest, best-value meal deals. Many restaurants have daily lunch specials, known as higawari ranchi, which usually include a main, side, a drink and sometimes a small dessert.
Japanese restaurants are notorious for having many different menus. You might need to sift through them to find the one with the daily lunch specials on offer.
When you’re really hungry, get more rice. If you’re finding Japanese servings a little smaller than what you’re used to back home, many restaurants offer larger servings of rice at either no extra charge or for a very minimal extra cost. Simply ask for gohan oomori.
In Japan, it is polite to eat every last grain of rice in your bowl, so only order larger servings if you plan on finishing it.
When you don’t know where to eat, check out department stores. Department stores can be found near train stations around the city and they are an easy go-to for food. As a rule of thumb, there are restaurants on the top floor(s) and a food hall in the basement. These basement food halls are called depachika and are home to an array of delicious food options.
It’s also where you can find food-related gifts and those legendary $100 square watermelons beautifully gift-wrapped to perfection.
Ask for a recommendation. If you don’t know what to order, you can ask for a recommendation by saying osusume wa? It’s an easy way to find out what’s popular or the restaurant’s specialty dish.
Expect to wait in line. Queuing is like a national pastime in Japan, and sometimes the wait at popular attractions, special events and restaurants – especially newly opened ones – can be several hours.
It’s always useful to check about ticketing and reservations in advance. You may be able to get advance tickets that will allow you to skip some of the waiting time, or for specific restaurants you want to visit, ask your accommodation to help you with making a reservation ahead of time.
Mind your chopsticks. One of the most important areas of Japanese dining etiquette involves chopsticks. Think of them as for the action of eating only.
If you like to talk with your hands, be sure to place them on the chopstick rest or over your bowl or plate. Never wave them around, point with them or leave them standing in your bowl. The latter is a funerary act, as is passing food to another chopstick to chopstick, and should be avoided.
If you are using your own chopsticks to put food on the plate of another, it is polite to flip them around and serve from the fat end.
Don’t Visit Tokyo Without Travel Insurance
A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense — that’s far from the truth. Travel insurance is vital, even in a destination as safe as Japan. It’s saved Kate hundreds of dollars and for one of her friends, who slipped and broke her foot while traveling in Italy, her travel insurance bought her a business class ticket home and saved her thousands of dollars.
If your purse is stolen on the shinkansen, travel insurance will refund you what you lost.
If you slip on the steps of a temple and break your ankle, travel insurance will refund your medical costs and get you home for free.
If you get appendicitis while in Tokyo, travel insurance will cover your medical costs.
If an immediate family member dies while you’re in Japan, travel insurance will help you get home immediately.
These are unpleasant things to think about, but it’s so important to be prepared for the worst.
AdventurousKate.com uses and recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re a great fit for almost every traveler. Take a look at their policies before you buy to make sure they’re right for you.
Tokyo Awaits You!
There you have it – those are our tips and recommendations for places to stay in Tokyo during your trip. Tokyo may be huge but it also has options to suit any kind of traveler. Simply pick an area that most suits your travel style and use the city’s incredibly vast public transportation system take you to see the rest.
Meet the Tokyo Experts
Jessica Korteman and Hai Huynh are Australian travel personalities living in Tokyo. They write about their travels on their blogs Notes of Nomads and Travel Solo Anyway, produce videos on their YouTube channel, and regularly appear on Japanese TV and print media.
They are the founders of Instameet Community Japan and are the countrywide Instameet Managers for Instagramers Japan – join one of their free monthly photo walks during your next trip to Tokyo!
READ NEXT: What’s it Really Like to Travel in Japan?
Have you been to Tokyo? Where’s your favorite place to stay? Share away!
The post Where to Stay in Tokyo — Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation appeared first on Adventurous Kate.