Tackling Tokyo in two days is no easy feat. After all, it’s the world’s most populous metropolis with district after district bustling with activity. The city can easily overwhelm with its constant crowds and what seems like endless variety of entertainment options. Tokyo varies widely, too, from bright, neon nightlife that feels like a 1980s Blade Runner-esque take on the future to meticulously manicured parks and shrines that are simply peaceful, serene and timeless.
Whether you’re heading to Tokyo for business, pleasure, or planning a visit during the 2020 Summer Olympics, here are Yelp community-recommended spots to check out in Japan’s capital. They offer a good mix of must-visit locales for tourists and off-the-beaten path travelers alike in and nearby popular areas Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara.
Consider making the Business Hotel Shinjuku Town Annex your home base (we did). The hotel offers a no frills experience with floor futons for bedding and a super friendly staff. It’s far enough away from the heart of Shinjuku to offer respite from the crowds but still within walking distance and, with two train stations nearby, an excellent launching point for your Tokyo adventures.
8 AM TO NOON
Breakfast at Yayoiken Shinjuku Hyakunincho
Reason to go: “The saba set, which came with saba, rice and miso, was light yet filling. The saba was grilled to a golden color and had a nice, crispy crunch.” – Douglas K.
Hop on a train at Okubo Station and head to the Ghibli Museum
The Ghibli Museum is seriously magical and perfect for families, film buffs and kids of all ages. Naturally, the museum showcases the work of Studio Ghibli, but is built in a way the entire building is an experience rather than large rooms with wall hung artwork. Plan on spending at least a couple hours here, and sitting down for a light lunch and pour over coffee in the outdoor eating area. Buying tickets well in advance is a must.
Reason to go: “Every detail within the building is wonderful and representative of the work which has come out of this extraordinary studio. A highlight is the short film, which you can only see at the museum.” – Vicky O.
NOON TO 4 PM
Take a leisurely walk through Inokashira Park
The Ghibli Museum is in the western portion of this sprawling park. Take some time to meander through it back towards a train station. During the spring, enjoy the cherry blossoms and changing colors in the fall. Tokyo is usually temperate year-round, so a walk in Inokashira Park in the winter is still well-worth it with its many paths, ponds and shrines.
Reason to go: “If you love tranquil, yet cool parks that offer a lot of sightseeing in different seasons for the trees and so much more… definitely give Inokashira Park a visit!” – Dennis A.
After the park, hop on a train to Shinjuku Station for an afternoon, evening and night’s worth of revelry. Once you find your way out of the station, head straight to the lauded Ichiran for some excellent ramen, which you’ve probably been craving it since you first arrived in Japan.
Reason to go: “This was not only a great experience but the ramen was some, if not the best I have ever had. I ordered the miso base, medium soft noodles, pork (also ordered extra), green onion, garlic, medium spice.” – Dominic M.
There’s great shopping all around the area surrounding Shinjuku Station, from luxury malls, famed department stores, novelty shops and more. Pop into Don Quijote for gifts for your friends back home (note: Japan-only flavors of Kit Kats will be hit).
Reason to go: “Make some time on your last day to swing by any Don Quijote for souvenirs! Stock up on Kit Kats, Ichiran Ramen kits, and much much more.” – Lisa N.
Inokashira Park by Christie A.
4 PM TO 8 PM
You have the full evening and night ahead of you still. Take a break from the bustle and spend time in Hanazono Shrine to find some peace and quiet.
For dinner, head to Omoide Yokocho (translates to “Memory Lane” and is also affectionately known as “Piss Alley”) and grab bites and drinks at one or many of the dozens of tiny eateries packed into an alleyway. If you can find a seat, definitely grab some salted chicken wings and beer at Saitamaya.
Reason to go: Great food and atmosphere and maybe the best chicken wings on Earth. Like most spots in Piss Alley, the space is very limited. If you’re lucky enough to grab a stool, order up a beer or a high ball or two and pick a few bites from their recommended menu, all around $5 each.
Head towards Shinjuku’s red light district and take in an over-the-top show at Robot Restaurant (order tickets well in advance, though).
Reason to go: “Sky high expectations. All satisfied. A tourist trap of the highest caliber. If it was slightly cheaper I would have gone two nights in a row.” – James S.
For something a bit less touristy but just as entertaining, enjoy some one-on-one time with up-and-coming local magicians followed by a very professional show at Tejinaya Magic Bar.
8 PM TO 2 AM
By now the neon and bright lights of Shinjuku will be on full blast. Wrap up your evening by bar hopping in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, an area jam-packed with over 200 tiny bars in a just six alleyways. For a relaxing night of sipping whiskey and listening jazz music curated by your bartender, check out the aptly named Jazz. Or take things up a couple notches and listen to metal and watch horror films at Death Match In Hell, where all drinks are ¥666.
Reason to go: “Every drink on the menu, from beer to shochu to spirits, is 666 yen! Plus there’s no cover. There’s red lighting, old-school horror movies on the 2 TVs, and an infinite collection of horror, metal, thriller, and inappropriate memorabilia. It’s just a little safe satanic fun!” – Kara D.
There’re hundreds of other spots to visit in Golden Gai alone. And just outside the district are many more bars, clubs and love hotels to entice you in for some more fun. Just remember the last trains run around midnight-1 a.m.
Outside Death Match In Hell, Golden Gai, Shinjuku by John E.
8 AM TO NOON
This morning, explore Shin-Okubo Koreatown, full of Korean eateries serving up goodies at all hours of the day, plus shops that will pique the interest of any K-Pop fan. Before venturing out elsewhere in Tokyo for the day, get your cute on by grabbing a sweet bite and Kakao Friends-inspired latte art at Mui Mui.
Reason to go: “Second floor spot with a light airy feel and Asian pop music. The menu was akin to a mid to upscale American breakfast spot with waffles and French toast…plus cake.” – Alex S.
Head to Shinjuku Station to transfer to the Chuo Main Line towards Akihabara, full of arcades, electronics stores, comic and anime shops and spots selling vintage video games and pop culture collectibles galore. Leaving Akihabara Station, head to a nearby Taito Station or Sega arcade, taking your time to explore the many levels of video games, claw machines, capsule toys and photo booths.
Reason to go: “My favorite part was finding a little section where couples write things or draw something on a wooden board and display it! So cute!” – Belle L.
NOON TO 5 PM
Grab lunch and a local beer or two at Hitachino Brewing Lab.
Reason to go: “You get an awesome view of the Kanda river along with the glittering buildings plastered with anime and electronic advertisements. What could make this better? Oh yeah, delicious, delicious beer!” – Gary Y.
Now onto exploring the many game shops and toy stores Akihabara is famous for. There are many spots like Sofmap in the area for all your electronic needs.
Reason to go: “Multiple floors of electronic goodness. Every floor felt like a different store with its own specialty and vibe. A must stop for techies.” – Brian S.
And no first visit to Akihabara would be complete without a stop by vintage video game mecca Super Potato.
Reason to go: “I fell more and more in love after each floor we explored. I loved the mix of retro games, consoles and merchandise, plus some new Nintendo merch I hadn’t seen around, especially in the States!” – Cara L.
5 PM TO 9 PM
Before leaving Akihabara, grab dinner at the women-owned Nadeshiko Sushi, which features top-notch seafood and touts being the only restaurant in Japan where all the sushi chefs are female.
Reason to go: “My sister and I both ordered the tokujou sushi set, the extra special sushi course. It came with steamed egg custard, sushi (assorted pieces of nigiri, a cut roll, and a piece of eel), soup, and mochi ice cream.” – Kristina T.
Take the Chuo Main Line back to Shinjuku Station to transfer to Harajuku Station. Across the street is Takeshita Street, which will likely be jam-packed with people shopping, dining and just relishing being in an area globally-known as the heart of Japan’s youth culture. Browse the many cosplay shops or grab a locally printed and designed rock ‘n’ roll shirt at Jimsinn.
Reason to go: “Takeshita Street is where you will experience that trendy, fashion-forward, youthful side that has become synonymous with ‘Harajuku.’ It’s one explosively colorful block filled with sweet food, sweet fashion, and sweet people.” – Sharon M.
Takeshita Street, Harajuku by Blue A.
9 PM-2 AM
Hop back on the train and head one stop away top Shibuya Station and make your way outside to the famed Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. Cross if you’d like. Either way, first head to JBS Shibuya, a small bar tucked inside the second floor of a nondescript building about a five minute walk from the station. Inside, the bartender/proprietor will play jazz, blues and soul (hence JBS) records from his own collection. Enjoy the music and keep the talking down.
Reason to go: “I drank the Nikka all night. The owner played the dopest records. Really cool spot for audiophiles. Be sure to snag a spot close to the sound so you can really get a listen.” – Richard G.
For your final meal, Shibuya has more than enough options at all hours of the day. Head to Whoopi Gold Burger for extreme burgers served with a skate punk twist and side of humor.
Reason to go: “The portions are HUGE and come with fries and a drink if you get the combo. The burger names are cute. The posters in the bathroom are a bit of a surprise…but don’t get offended…it’s all part of the feel they have going for the place.” – Jasmine Y.
Or, if you’re not feeling punk rock burgers, make your way to one of the many yakiniku restaurants like Han no Daidokoro Bettei or Yakiniku Horumon Dougen.
Reason to go: “Located deep in the red-light district in Shibuya, it’s a small, shabby Yakiniku restaurant that serves good quality beef at the affordable pricing.” – Yuichiro N.
Han no Daidokoro Bettei by Vivian D.
If you’re still standing at this point, we’re impressed. End your night wandering around Shibuya, enjoying the celebratory vibes of the people patronizing pretty much any kind of late night establishment you can dream up.
Follow this bookmark collection of all the businesses mentioned in this article plus a few extras. And when you’re finally in Tokyo, use Yelp to find more great nearby businesses.