While there are countless places to visit and see in Tokyo, Japan, I narrowed my list down to 5 absolute must see places on your trip to the big city of Tokyo.
1. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Easily the most beautiful park I’ve ever visited, Shinjuku Gyoen National Park is an absolute must when you’re in Tokyo. I was blown away by the landscape and how immaculate everything is kept. You would think (or at least I did) it was not possible to find somewhere so peaceful right in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world. But, I was very wrong. You feel like you are thrown back in the middle of a historical drama when walking through Shinjuku Park. If I had more time in Tokyo (and a bit warmer weather), this would have been my go to reading spot.
2. Mount Takao
My favorite part of the trip was hiking to the top of Mt. Takao. Located about an hour (by subway) outside of the center of Tokyo in Hachiōji, Mt. Takao is a wonderful and cheap day trip (~$10 round trip). At the base of the mountain, there is a little town that has small restaurants which all looked delicious. Another plus, there are many different trails with varying levels of difficulty to choose from.
Not going to lie, I thought I was pretty in shape when I started hiking this mountain. And then, I noticed people probably close to triple my age weren’t as out of breath as I was (clearly need to step up my cardio)!
Along the path up the mountain, there were small stands to buy sesame dango (sticky rice cake roasted and topped with sesame) and other snacks. And if you want to be entertained, there is a monkey park too ($4). Let me tell you, these monkeys aren’t the friendliest of creatures. You’ll also come across Takaosan Yakuōin Yūkiji, a Buddhist Temple, which is very beautiful.
The highlight of this hike though was when you finally make it to the very top, and you see Mt. Fuji in front of you. This was easily the best part of my entire trip. I was in awe of all the natural beauty of the landscape.
After you take a few pictures (or a hundred, like me), there are a couple small “restaurants” to eat at on top of the mountain. I put it in quotes because it’s more of a picnic type setting. My friend and I both ordered a bowl of traditional udon which was much different from the other ramen/udon we had previously tried. You could tell with the first bite that this was a traditional, home-cooked meal, and it was amazing.
There are other easily accessible day trip hikes around Tokyo as well, but I unfortunately didn’t have the time to venture out to any others.
3. Tsukiji Fish Market
I present to you the place that has ruined eating sushi for me back home…The Tsukiji Fish Market: where you will eat the freshest, most delicious sushi in the world. I’m starting to sound like an advertisement now. But really, it was that amazing. We stood in line for about 45 minutes at this little (what I really mean is TINY) sushi bar that sat about 12 people at a time (they had two sushi bars separated by a wall, so they could serve about 24). We were packed in like sardines, so I hope you don’t mind brushing shoulders with the person next to you.
First, we were given matcha tea and miso soup. Then, the feast began. We were given around 12 to 13 pieces of sushi. And, these were not your typical sushi rolls you may be thinking of. They gave you a very good size of sashimi each time. Forewarning, be prepared to pay in cash a decent amount. My whole meal cost a little under $35, and it was very much worth it. This was definitely the most I spent on a meal my entire trip. But for the freshness, quality, and amount of food you’re given, it is a very good price in my opinion.
While I didn’t go to the early morning auction, I did walk around the market (no pictures allowed) and vendors. It’s truly amazing the types of fish and sea creatures I saw that I have never even heard of before.
4. Sensō-ji Temple
If you want to avoid “touristy” locations, then Sensō-ji may not be for you. However, it’s a highly traveled location for a reason. It is a Buddhist temple located in the Asakusa area of Tokyo and is Tokyo’s oldest temple.
We traveled by subway and when you exit, you are already at the beginning of the shopping street leading to the temple. If you’re wanting to buy some souvenirs to take home, this is the place to go. The streets are lined with vendors selling everything from kimonos, fans, snacks, etc. Everything is very well priced and you can find some really cool things. You can also try some really yummy traditional snacks/street food as well (my personal favorite)! Once you make your way down the shopping street you enter the Temple. It’s so rich with color and history that I would be happy spending the day here reading and soaking it all up. One of my favorite parts is the ceiling inside the temple. The craftsmanship is absolutely stunning.
My friend and I stayed in an Airbnb near Harajuku and I’m so glad that’s where we chose to stay. We spent most of our nights hanging out around Harajuku. It really is the eclectic and fashion crazed place you see and hear about with cute cafes all around. If I could live in Tokyo, this is no doubt where I’d live. It’s great for all ages really with places appealing to everyone. Takeshita Street is great for teenagers and young adults with a wide variety of clothing shops, make-up/beauty (Etude House!!), and cute cafes and crepe stands. Right off Takeshita Street, is the main road lined with designer brands (Gucci, Givenchy, Fendi) and shopping malls.
There is a side street, “Cat Street”, with some really great and affordable shops which was where most of my money went. By this I mean mostly the Adidas Originals store. I frequented that store so often, the employees started recognizing me…and I was only in Tokyo for one week. There’s also some thrift stores where you can find some name brand items for less and still really good quality.
If you’ve traveled to Tokyo before, where were your favorite places around the city?