Beginner's Guide to Visiting Tokyo

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Advisor - Lauren Freedman
Curated By

Lauren Freedman

  • International Travel

  • Japan

  • Tokyo

  • City Travel

  • Solo Travel

  • Downtown

  • Foodie

  • Sightseeing

A neon-lit street in Tokyo, Japan.
Curator’s statement

Tokyo, Japan is where I took my first international solo trip and it was such a welcoming adventure. This guide is excellent for first-timers, dog lovers and movie buffs.

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Where to stay in Tokyo

Things to do in Tokyo

Busy downtown Japan, Tokyo featuring neon lights at night.

Sensō-ji Temple: At this beautiful temple in Asakusa you can sometimes hear monks chanting. It is a popular spiritual destination and the oldest temple in Tokyo. The Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate is at the opening of the complex. Make sure to grab a Omikuji or fortune paper, but be advised not all of the papers carry good fortunes. 

Nakimise is an ancient shopping street outside of Sensoji Temple and a great place to buy souvenirs.

Harajuku: This is the fashion and shopping district of kawaii (cute) style. It's also referenced in the name of Gwen Stefani's backup dancers. Check out Takeshita Street. Grab a crepe and get ready for some excellent street fashion. Pop into a vintage clothing store or get a photo at a Purikura photo booth store. Add stickers and effects to your photo for the full effect. 

Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine): I can't recommend this enough. The shrine is picturesque and the walk there is through a tranquil forest. It's hard to believe this is in the middle of such a vibrant city. The grounds are 170 acres, so make sure you have some kind of map.

Shibuya crossing: This is the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world. Featured in Lost in Translation, I had to take a picture with my umbrella there as an homage. If you want to see the spectacle from above, you can see it at the Hikarie Building connected to Shibuya Station or at the Starbucks Shibuya Tsutaya, if you are thirsty. 

Statue of Hachikō's: Also at Shibuya Station is Hachikō's statue. This dog was known for faithfully awaiting his owner Ueno's return to the station, where he would accompany him home from his work commute. The professor died at work and Hachiko waited patiently for his return everyday for years after Ueno's death. The story is both touching and heartbreaking and as a dog lover, I had to go pay tribute to such a loyal companion. 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories: This government building is home to some of the best panoramic views in all of Tokyo. Admission is free!

National Art Center Tokyo: I like to go to an art museum in every major city I visit and this museum in Roppongi does not disappoint. Even the building itself is a work of art.

Sumo Wrestling: If you are in Tokyo during a sumo tournament, it is definitely worth checking out. I make it a habit of seeing a sporting event in each city as well and this was a fun experience. The other spectators around me were kind enough to share their snacks they brought with them from Osaka.

Places to eat & drink in Tokyo

People eating at a food stand in Tokyo, Japan.

Outer Tsukiji Market: Go and have sushi for breakfast. It's a great place to go if you are still jet-lagged and waking up at weird times because the restaurants open early! Be prepared to wait, but it's worth it. 

Make sure to check out the Yakitori Alley-In Ginza, under the train tracks, in the evening. Pop-up yakatori stand set up here where you eat on milk crates. It's a lively, casual place and I found the lighting here from the lanterns to have quite a magical glow.

Go to a themed cafe that vibes with your interests. There are maid (Maiddreamin) and butler cafes (Cafe Swallowtail). If you are in the mood for danger try the Ninja cafe (Ninja Akasa). And my personal favorite cafes have animal companions you can interact with, like owls, hedgehogs or capybaras. There really is something for everyone!

7-ELEVEN: If you haven't been to a 7-ELEVEN in Asia, you may think this suggestion is crazy, but hear me out, this is not your American 7-ELEVEN. There are a wide variety of takeaway foods here and a plethora of snacks. Try the rice balls, bento boxes or the cheese twists. It's also a great place to get cash or a quick hit of WiFi on the go.

Marion Crêpe: The selection here is impressive! Pick a sweet or savory crepe and eat it while you explore Harajuku.

Golden Gai is a fun bar district to get lost in. There are more than 200 bars here. Some only have seating for a handful of people. And with multiple bars stacked on top of each other, do not forget to check out some of the upstairs locations! My favorite is La Jetée a hotspot for cinema enthusiasts and directors like Quentin Tarantino. Be sure to try the Japanese whiskey! If you have your heart set on visiting a certain bar, you may need the help of a local guide to find it and maybe make it your first stop and not your fifth.

Need to Know

Tokyo is an excellent destination for solo travelers looking to broaden their horizons and truly delve into its rich culture, flavors and dynamic atmosphere. I will gladly organize an itinerary that seamlessly transitions you into the energy of this incredible city!