Tokyo is a bustling city that never sleeps and is one that never grows stale no matter how many times you visit. There’s always something new to look forward to, be it a new place to visit or a new restaurant to try.
To fully experience the modern, urban city of Tokyo, Japan, you will need at least a full week but that’s provided you’re in it for the whole package which includes eating, drinking, sightseeing, shopping and the likes. But if you’re more of a touch-and-go sort of traveller then 3 full days is all you need.
From the crucial must-eats to the places that simply cannot be missed, here is our guide on the places that you absolutely must visit if you’re strapped for time in Tokyo but want to make the most out of your stay. Take your pick or visit them all if you can!
MUST-TRY FOOD PLACES
Famous for their jiggly soufflé pancakes that almost broke social media for a period of time, Gram is a must-visit if you’re planning to up your Instagram game, and of course, to luxuriate in quite possibly, one of the fluffiest pancakes in the world.
The soufflé pancakes come in a stack of three thick pieces. The cream-coloured goodie is cooked to order and served warm, and freshness is guaranteed. Due to its overwhelming popularity, queues are often long and they only cater a few time slots for these pancakes a day —11am, 3pm & 6pm.
Gyukatsu, which is essentially a deep-fried breaded beef cutlet, is very much similar to the tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) that we are all familiar with. The only exception being the superior, snowflake-like marbling that comes with every piece.
Gyukatsu Motomura is arguably the most popular restaurant in Tokyo for gyukatsu and for good reason. Their gyukatsu brims with an intense beefy flavour that is nicely wrapped in a layer of buttery, delicious fat. Dab over a smidgen of wasabi, along with a dip of soy sauce and be prepared for your mind to be blown.
Offering diners one of the absolute best bowls of ramen in the world as well as a unique dining experience all rolled out into one, Ichiran Ramen is a must to visit when in Tokyo. Period.
At Ichiran Ramen, you first place your orders via machines and paper forms to indicate your preferences. It might seem daunting at first but English versions of either are also available. After which, you’ll be allocated a booth where you get to enjoy your ramen in peace sans any distractions. It’s just you and your bowl of piping-hot, delicious ramen.
If you would like a refill of noodles, soup or whatever, feel free to ask without feeling embarrassed—we always do.
Landing yourself in joint that sells decent tonkatsu is almost as easy as finding a FamilyMart every few blocks, but if you’re only going to be staying for a few days, you’ll want to nail down one of Tokyo’s best, and really, there are few that have been able to match up with Maisen Tonkatsu.
Preferably the main outlet at Aoyama in Shibuya, this retro-toned restaurant specialises in 5 different types of breaded pork cutlet but the one we always opt for is the Amri Yuwaku, a variety of pork that is exclusive only to Maisen. Crispy, succulent and robust, every bite promises a long, pleasurable journey to flavour town.
Slap on a hunk of some of Japan’s finest Wagyu beef in-between two slices of lightly buttered and grilled Whitbread and what do you get? An orgasm-inducing experience that’s what.
At Wagyu Mafia The Cutlet Sandwich, luxuriate in some of the most premium quality Wagyu beef, prepared the same way a gyukatsu would, but in a sandwich. The result is a lot more impressionable than the idea of it and trust us when we say that it’s worth the splurge.
No, this isn’t a prank. We’re serious when we say that Yoshinioya is a place worth visiting when in Tokyo, either for breakfast or as a midday snack.
Despite having multiple outlets back home, neither can compete in terms of variety and quality of their food. Everything is next-level, from the tender slices of beef to the sauce that goes over your rice—they nail it down perfectly.
PLACES TO GET SLOSHED
NONBEI YOKOCHO (SHIBUYA)
Nonbei Yokocho, also referred to as Drunkard’s Alley lies down an innocuous passage just a stone’s throw from Shibuya Crossing. At first glance, the alleyway may seem to lead you nowhere, but a few steps down the same direction and you’ll be greeted with rows upon rows of izakaya, yakitori stalls and bars.
OMOIDE YOKOCHO (SHINJUKU)
Shinjuku is known to be Tokyo’s party capital with its near-countless entertainment venues which open until late daily. If you’re out to drink and feast on some solid street food while you’re at it, we suggest heading down to Omoide Yokocho.
Upon exiting the West Exit of Shinjuku Station, follow the road into a narrow alley where you’ll be fumbling around a maze littered with endless rows of small bars and eateries. The establishments are pretty run-down and the stalls are as traditional as they get. But if all you’re pining for is cheap beer and decent grub, what’s there to complain about?
Feeling a little fancy? Then you should definitely hit up a swanky, speakeasy in Ginza. Scattered all over this upmarket district are a host of speakeasy cocktail bars that, by themselves, are pristine institutions that have preserved their art from as early as the 1920s—think places such as Bar High Five, Lupin, Bar Musashi and Gaslight Eve.
Drinks at one of these establishments are by no means cheap with a separate cover charge just for entering the premise, but what you do get is professionally crafted cocktails that you are both delicious and elegant.
AKIHABARA – ELECTRONICS & ANIME PARADISE
Akihabara is a buzzing shopping hub famed for its electronics retailers, ranging from tiny stalls to vast department stores like Yodobashi Multimedia Akiba.
It is also a haven for anime fans because literally every street you turn into, you’re bound to wind up at a venue specialising in manga, anime and video games. Massive superstores include Tokyo Anime Center that boasts a wide array of exhibits and souvenirs and Radio Kaikan that has 10 floors full of toys, trading cards and collectables. Don’t be surprised to see young girls dressed as maids handing out flyers on the street because Akihabara is also home to many maid cafes.
Meiji Shrine is a stone’s throw away from the bustling shopping district of Harajuku and is a must-visit if you’re keen on soaking up and learning about the ancient Japanese tradition of shrine culture.
The walk from the main entrance to the shrine itself will take you about 10 minutes and before entering the sacred site’s main hall, you are expected to wash your hands and mouth as a form of purification at the troughs located right outside. At the shrine, you can write down your wishes on a wooden plate at a fee of ¥500 before hanging them on one of the two divine trees.
After you’re done, head over to Harajuku’s shopping street where you can shop for the latest trends in clothing, cosmetics and more!
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
A huge, quintessential part of the market may have shifted to a new location but the area is still bustling with plenty of street food stalls selling anything from freshly-cooked tamago to fresh sashimi. The streets are bustling and besides tasty nosh, you can also land yourself some pretty interesting souvenirs to take home.
The item that definitely warrants a try, but is extremely hard to find—because it’s that popular—is the uni bun. This charcoal-black bun comes generously filled with fresh uni and an orangey custard that’s made with—you guessed it—uni.
SHIBUYA CROSSING + SHOPPING IN SHIBUYA
It’s official, no one ever travels to Tokyo without paying a visit to the Shibuya Crossing in Shibuya. During weekends, the Shibuya intersection can see up to 3000 people crossing simultaneously.
Apart from the iconic intersection, Shibuya is a neighbourhood that’s dominated by fashion which makes it a shopping haven for tourists and locals alike. And if you’re a young group, you’ll be happy to know that nestled in and around Shibuya are a host of pubs, clubs and cool bars waiting to be explored
SAMURAI MUSEUM IN SHINJUKU
A place that definitely warrants a visit if you’re a fan of the historically badass samurai, the Samurai Museum located in Shinjuku expresses the culture of these ancient warriors and the spirit behind them.
On display, you can expect rows and rows of armour and swords from the Kamakura to Edo Eras as well as those created by contemporary artisans. You can even experience donning the samurai outfits for a commemorative photo.
The departmental store of sorts that houses literally anything and everything, the iconic Don Quijote is not to be missed. If you thought the double-storey outlet in Orchard Central was huge, you seriously have no idea. In Tokyo, we’re talking about 8 to 10-floor buildings dedicated to a wide array of goods ranging from household products, clothing to food and liquor as well.
VISIT A THEMED OR ANIMAL CAFE
In Tokyo, themed cafes are a popular draw and you can find anything from robot cafes—where everyone and everything is operated using artificial intelligence—maid cafes, vampire cafes (we’re serious), owl cafes and so much more!
They typically serve food there as well but they probably will not impress you as much as the atmosphere and the experience will.