This is Tokyo, a city of hyper-modernity built on stern tradition, a place where young and old, future and past, the buzz of modern life and the pursuit of peace through zen Buddhism are endlessly and sometimes awkwardly entwined.
In many ways, this makes Tokyo the perfect city for hotel switching. By staying in two hotels you can open up areas of the city that might not be explorable with time constraints and across city travel woes. But whether you spend your time between night spots like Roppongi and Shinjuku or amongst the theatrical walkways of Shibuya and Harajuku, this huge megapolis is infinitely more discoverable with a hotel switch to help you out.
The best way to get a feel for the gob-smacking scale of Tokyo is by paying a trip to the legendary Shibuya Crossing right outside of Shibuya Station. Thousands of people cross here every hour and at night it becomes a circus of neon lights, huge video billboards filled with the faces of whomever the latest pop idol happens to be and dense impenetrable crowds. From here you can easily explore the fantastic Shibuya Center-Gai, a popular maze of alleyways that serves as a hangout for Japan’s many teenage factions, but also Shibuya’s centrepiece and home to a wonderfully vast collection of restaurants, boutiques and clubs. Don’t miss the iconic statue of Hachikō the dog who waited for his owner night after night for nine years after he died, before being immortalised in bronze outside the entrance to Shibuya station, and if you want to try out a karaoke bar in Tokyo then head to Karaoke Kan, which has western music and some English-speaking staff.
Tokyo’s nightlife is legendary, and our favourite spot to get to know it is Shinjuku. In Shinjuku you’ll find a warren of neon-lit doorways and hundreds of bars, incorporating everything from whisky bars and dives to karaoke bars and world famous cocktail bars such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel (heavily featured in the film Lost in Translation) and the fantastic Ben Fiddich, where every cocktail is made to order according to your preferences.
If you’re looking for something a little more decadent then take the subway straight to Roppongi for personality-driven izakayas and sprawling nightclubs playing everything from Japanese Hip-Hop and techno through to J-ROCK and western dance music.
If you decide to stay in Roppongi, then take a wander into Roppongi hills to see a different side to the district. Contrary to the all-night, alcohol-fuelled sleaze of Roppongi, Roppongi Hills is filled with a huge collection of modern skyscrapers (both residential and commercial) and its streets are manicured and genuinely beautiful. This is also the home of our favourite observation deck in the city, on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, which has some of the best nighttime views over the ultra-modern skylines of Tokyo – including the Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree and out to the idyllic waters of Tokyo Bay.
For the well-heeled and style conscious it’s all about Ginza and its boutique-lined streets that are shared with tech giants such as Sony and Apple, but if you’re not sure what you’re looking for then head straight to the Matsuya department store that sells a healthy mix of Japanese fashions such as icons Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, and has a wonderful basement dedicated to Japanese food (it’s a bit like a Japanese version of the Harrods food hall).
Those on the lookout for something a little more experimental should stay instead in Harajuku, the home of Tokyo’s ever-changing youth cultures, underground fashion boutiques, and subcultures. Spend a few hours walking the streets here and you’ll pass by Gothic Lolitas and cosplayers of every genre, leather-clad punks and Yami Kawaii girls. This is the beating heart of Harajuku and the best place to see it all is on Takeshita street which is filled with colourful fashion stores and food stands that sell a smorgasbord of extremely sweet desserts – from multi-coloured candies and ice creams to crepes stuffed with fruit and delicious whipped cream. Harajuku is a great spot for cat cafes too, try the chain Cat Cafe MOCHA for a true kawaii neko experience.
What started out as a place to get mostly illegal electronic goods is now a mecca in central Tokyo for those who love anime, manga and video games. Wander the busy streets that are lined with buildings branded with names such as Sega and Nikon, ascend neon-lit towers that are filled with the endless bleeping of arcade machines, visit maid cafes and buy cheap electronics and manga in-between food stops at the local food trucks. Afterwards, if it all gets a bit much then head into the residential exterior of Akihabara which is infinitely quieter by comparison and filled with quaint parks, residential houses and the odd roadside shrine or two.
There really isn’t just one area of Tokyo that’s best for food, because every district of this city is home to something tantalising, delicious and unforgettable – this is after all the city with the most Michelin stars in the world. There are old school izakayas filled with cigarette smoke, beer on tap and small bites on every corner, tiny soba shops down atmospheric lantern-lit alleys, delicious pizza and Italian-style gelato and incredible sushi in every district. To get started we suggest indulging in an authentic Ramen stop (get the tantanmen Ramen!) in the Kaduya restaurant in the Meouro district, while anyone hunting down a kaiseki should head straight to Ginza and the Michelin-starred Ginza Kojyu, which frequents many “best restaurants in the world” lists, and offers a slightly more modern and creative take on the traditional kaiseki.
The stunning gardens of the Imperial Palace is as good a place as any to escape the riot of Tokyo’s streets but the gorgeous Yoyogi Park is the place in Tokyo to retreat to. The sprawling park has cherry blossoms and a lake, and is generally packed around the edges but quieter as you get deeper in. Groups of Rockabilly’s gather for a dance at the entrances on Sunday but other than that the park is perfectly serene and a perfect place to unwind and find your zen in central Tokyo.
Most of the temples in Tokyo are overcrowded and popular every day of the year, but a favourite of ours is Sensō-ji in the charming Asakusa neighbourhood. Visit the temple sure, but afterwards, take a stroll through the historic streets surrounding it and do a little shopping in the trinket stores or take a tour of Asakusa on one of the rickshaws.
Tokyo’s distinctly different districts mean that it has something for everyone but with so much on offer it can be overwhelming to travellers who want to see as much of the city for as little cost as possible, but that’s where hotel switching with Nightly.travel comes in to offer a brand new way to discover more of a city while saving money.
This post was written by Nick Nomi, our guest blogger.
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