If you have an impending trip to Tokyo, choosing the district to serve as your base is one of the most important things to decide on. As the city is large and very diverse, you’d definitely be better off staying in an area that suits your style, budget, and most of all, your priorities when it comes to travel plans. Doing so will not only help you maximize your stay, but it will also grant you a more personalized experience. To help you find your match, here’s a lowdown on Tokyo’s most popular locales.
Asakusa and Ueno
Asakusa and Ueno are districts in Tokyo’s Taito ward. Occupying the northeastern parts of the city, both are considered as historic downtown areas, where the old world sits side by side with the modern. Steeped in nostalgia, the past clings in the form of age-old temples, other historic structures, shopping alleys dedicated for traditional wares, restaurants that have been in operation for many generations, retro theme parks, cultural museums, and old-school inns called ryokans – for travelers seeking to experience traditional Japanese hospitality.
Asakusa and Ueno are ideal for travelers who are mostly interested in the historical and cultural aspects of the place they’re visiting. If it’s your first time in Japan and places like Kyoto or even the much closer Kamakura are not part of your travel itinerary, these two neighborhoods will at least give you a glimpse of Japan’s rich heritage.
Another key consideration that might sway you into choosing Asakusa or Ueno is your budget. Its downtown classification equates to lower rents. Hence, majority of the Tokyo’s best-priced accommodations – from backpacker hostels to guest houses, can be found here.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Asakusa and Ueno
Asakusa: Sightseeing at Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa Engei Hall, and Tokyo Skytree; Hire a Jinrikisha for a hand-pulled rickshaw tour of Asakusa
Ueno: Sightseeing at Ueno Park, Kaneiji Temple, Tokyo National Museum, and Ameyoko Market
Shinjuku is that part of the city where everything seems like a blur. It is alive 24/7 and is always crowded with people engaged in different activities. When people talk about Tokyo as a modern and dynamic city, they are most likely referring to Shinjuku. It is a densely packed urban arena of skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels, various entertainment facilities, and Shinjuku Station – the busiest train station in the world.
Shinjuku is great for people watching, dining, shopping, and most of all, partying. Its nightlife is an overwhelming world to get lost in because compared to other night out spots, it is rather unique for its subcultures. A dancing robot cabaret bar is just one of the many outlandish concepts you will encounter here; but if you’d rather experience sharing a drink with a salaryman, then, by all means, head to the tiny izakayas of Omoide Yokocho. It is a truly local experience you wouldn’t want to pass on.
Putting all these into consideration, Shinjuku suits the traveler with a taste for an urban and fast-paced lifestyle. Choose to stay in this area if you like to have many options and prefer to have modern conveniences within arms reach at any time of the day. With it being a major transportation hub, it is also best for people who have plans of doing day trips outside the city. Accommodation costs may not be at rock-bottom prices, but it does have something for every budget: from the cheap and convenient capsule hotels to the five-star luxurious ones.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Shinjuku
Endless shopping and dining choices in and around Shinjuku Station; Dynamic nightlife and entertainment at Kabukicho, Golden Gai, and Omoide Yokocho; Scenic views from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Observation Deck ; Sightseeing at Shinjuku Gyoen National Park
Shibuya is a lot like Shinjuku in the sense that it also boasts of numerous shopping, dining, and entertainment attractions. It carries Tokyo’s modern and energetic vibe, with the distinction of sporting a youthful appeal. This is most apparent in places like the Harajuku neighborhood, the Shibuya 109 shopping mall, and the nightclub Womb. These are the representative go-to places if you want to be immersed in the city’s thriving youth culture.
Between Shinjuku and Shibuya as an area to serve as your base in Tokyo, the latter is a notch less intense but not necessarily less fun. It offers the same breadth of choices, as well as convenience in terms of accessibility and transportation. It also tends to be trendier and has a more human scale feel to it.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Shibuya
Endless shopping and dining choices in and around Center Gai; Sightseeing at Shibuya Crossing and Yoyogi Park; Experiencing Kawaii and youth cultures at Harajuku; Sightseeing and shopping at the sophisticated and fashionable neighborhood of Omotesando
Roppongi and Akasaka
Art, high-end shopping, and clubbing – these are the things to look forward to in Minato Ward’s foreigner-friendly districts of Roppongi and Akasaka. It is Tokyo’s de facto foreigner hub because of the presence of many embassy offices and residential developments specifically targeting the expat community. Hence, the vibe of the neighborhood is truly cosmopolitan, which is evident with its shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings.
Roppongi is particularly famous for its stylish nightclubs where you can dance, drink, and mingle all night long without having to worry about awkward “lost in translation” moments. Moreover, it has also established itself as a veritable destination for art lovers. The Art Triangle Roppongi is the collective nickname of Tokyo’s three premier galleries: Mori Art Museum, Suntory Museum of Art, and the National Art Center of Tokyo.
Being located in the uptown parts of the city, the adjacent locales of Roppongi and Akasaka mostly offer high-end and luxury hotel accommodations. It may not be as central – location-wise, but if experiencing Tokyo’s world-class party scene is a top priority, then it definitely merits some serious consideration.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Roppongi and Akasaka
Luxury shopping and dining at Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills; Appreciate art at National Art Center Tokyo, Mori Art Museum, and Suntory Museum of Art; Clubbing at V2 Tokyo and Esprit Lounge
Ginza, Shinbashi, Shiodome
Ginza, Shinbashi, Shiodome: These are three districts clumped together on the same side of the city, but are unique in its own way.
Of the three, Ginza is undoubtedly the most popular. It is Tokyo’s premier shopping and dining destination where the bigwigs of the local and international fashion scene have set up flagship stores in this neighborhood’s highly coveted retail space. It is likewise a hotspot of restaurants owned by talented chefs from the world over, including the country’s best sushi masters. In terms of culture, Ginza perfectly nails the balance between tradition and modernity, as well as the east, meets west aesthetic.
Shinbashi is a busy commercial district in Central Tokyo, is oftentimes dubbed as the hive of salaryman and OL (office lady) types, and for this reason, many consider the area as the real Tokyo. Its charm lies in an atmosphere that is rooted in the locals’ everyday humdrum. Particularly interesting to tourists are its many izakaya bars, especially the ones located under the train tracks.
Just like Shinbashi, Shiodome is chock-full of commercial offices; the only difference is Shiodome’s are newer developments compared to Shinbashi. Many of Japan’s largest companies have put up their company’s HQ offices here, and with the emergence of this new city, the skyline in this part of Tokyo is continuously transformed with interesting modern architecture in the form of glass office towers, residential apartments, and shopping complex.
As a base camp for your Tokyo trip, any one of the three areas is actually a strategic choice if your itinerary is heavy on the attractions located on the east side of the city. Apart from their own tourist offerings, these locales are close by to popular destinations such as the Tsukiji Market, the Imperial Palace at Marunouchi, and Odaiba. Getting to farther parts of Tokyo are likewise very easy. For instance, Ginza has a direct subway connection to Ueno, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. Accommodation options are mostly limited to hotels, but at least flexible budget-wise since Shinbashi is home to a number of business hotels.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Ginza, Shinbashi, and Shiodome
Shinbashi: Izakaya night out at Shinbashi Station
Shiodome: Sightseeing at Hamarikyu Gardens
Ginza: High-end shopping and dining at Chuo and Ginza streets, Watch a traditional Japanese play at the Kabukiza Theater
Shinagawa is a bit removed from Tokyo’s main city center, but it is a convenient place to stay if your travel plans include taking the Shinkansen to travel outside the city, or if you have a domestic flight to catch at Haneda Airport. The most recommended place to stay in this area is the Prince Hotel. Not only does it provide comfortable lodgings, but it is also a tourist destination in itself. It houses the Epson Aqua Park and other entertainment facilities like movie houses, karaoke rooms, sports and relaxation centers, souvenir shopping, and an impressive food court that serves a wide variety of yummy Japanese dishes.
Elsewhere in Shinagawa, the atmosphere is generally that of an office district – busy during the week and quiet on weekends. However, if you wander into its former Tokaido Street near Kita Shinagawa Station, you’ll stumble upon traces of an Edo-period atmosphere. It has shrines, temples, izakayas, traditional shops, local cafés, eateries, as well as a couple of budget guest houses.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Shinagawa
Sightseeing at Epson Aqua Stadium, Shinagawa Aquarium, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, and Old Tokaido Road
Tokyo Station and Marunouchi
This area is a good alternative to Shinagawa especially if you’d rather stay close to the city center. Tokyo Station is regarded a major train hub because it serves the Shinkansen line and direct trains from both Haneda and Narita Airports. Like Shinjuku Station, it functions not only as a transportation terminal but also as an integrated complex where shopping and dining options abound. It is one of the best places to go souvenir shopping as it features food and products from the different regions of Japan. There are also several malls that connect to the station. Hence, you can spend an entire day without getting bored in this area alone.
The business district surrounding Tokyo Station is called Marunouchi. It is the largest office area in Japan sandwiched in between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace grounds. Because of this, expect it to have an air of sophistication with its office buildings, branded boutiques, and fancy restaurants.
It goes without saying that in terms of accommodation, the options are rather limited to upmarket hotels. Popular hotel chains like The Peninsula Hotel, Shangri-La Hotel, and Four Seasons Hotel all have branches here. For a direct access to the station, the Tokyo Station Hotel offer luxe lodgings within one of Tokyo’s iconic landmarks.
Major sightseeing spots and activities in Tokyo Station and Marunouchi
Tokyo Station: Shopping and dining inside the station and nearby malls
Marunouchi: Sightseeing around the business district and at the Imperial Palace grounds
Thumbnail is from Flickr