Anime, manga, traditional arts, tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, origami, calligraphy, garden sculpturing, poetry, video games, sushi, Kobe beef, cherry blossoms, weird toilets, and even weirder tv shows … Well, what is Tokyo not famous for!? The city is the epicenter of all of this, and so much more…
It’s the largest metropolitan area on this planet, inhabited by over 36 million people. If that is not enough to make you realize what a small part of this world you occupy, we really don’t know what will! It’s also the city, in the whole world, that has the most Michelin-starred restaurants. It boasts the world’s largest fish market (of course), and it’s home to the world’s busiest train station. More than 3.5 million passengers come through Shinjuku station every single day.
We went to Tokyo for just a week, and we were quite simply blown away!
We had originally planned to visit Kyoto as well, but once we arrived and realized how big of a beast the city was, we decided to stick with Tokyo only. This serves as an excellent excuse to come back on a separate trip and explore the rest of Japan!
One thing that we would really like to highlight about Tokyo is the food. OH….. MY…..GOD! During what feels like the shortest week in history, we managed to eat our way through ramen, chicken katsu curry, sushi (in quantities you would not believe), Kobe beef, shabu-shabu, donburi, some of the best Italian food we’ve ever had, several Michelin-starred tasting menus, the obligatory Kaiseki, Korean BBQ and, well, you name it… We loved it all!
Except for shabu-shabu… Come on, who wants to eat boiled meat?
Besides the excellent cuisine, Tokyo has more to offer than you can possibly imagine (let alone experience in a single week). When we finally do come back to Japan, we’ll still need to spend a few more weeks in Tokyo. The city is huge. On our first week-long visit, there was just no way we could manage to see it all. On the plus side, that means there are so many more adventures and experiences waiting for us when we return!
You cannot even start to compile a complete list of things to do in Tokyo… There’s just too much to see and do! So instead, we will limit ourselves to our 6 ultimate favorite things we got to try on our short visit. If you are looking for more than that, we suggest you head over to TripAdvisor, or simply walk around the vast city streets. In Tokyo, there’s always something exciting waiting around the next corner.
One day when we finally go back to Tokyo, we will no doubt start out by doing all the 6 things from our list all over again. They were really THAT amazing. Only after that will we start to explore all the other activities, experiences, restaurants, shows, and bars that we missed on our first visit.
Well, we better book more than a week!
1. Feasting on Kobe Beef at the Yakiniku Restaurant: Han no Daidokoro
To be honest, ever since we started traveling full-time, we have worked hard on decreasing our meat consumption. One reason for that is that we try to minimize our carbon footprint. We fly much more than we used to, so we are really doing our best to cut back in other areas!
However… we simply cannot publish this post without mentioning our favorite restaurant in Tokyo: Han no Daidokoro. On our short visit, we ended up eating here twice. We just had to come back for some of that mouthwatering Kobe beef. The whole experience really blew us away.
You’ve probably heard all about Kobe beef, and yes, it is as good as it sounds. That farmers sing to the cows, massage them, and feed them beer is pure mythology, but they must be doing something right because it’s hands down the best meat we’ve ever tasted. Nothing else even comes close. At Han no Daidokoro, they serve you the beef raw, and you cook it yourself at the table – Korean Barbeque style. You may be afraid of under/over-cooking your meat, but we assure you, it’s quite simply impossible. This beef tastes terrific, whether it is raw, well-done, or anywhere in-between. It’s tender, flavorful, and, quite honestly, addictive.
We aren’t eating meat at all at the moment, but if we found ourselves back in Tokyo tomorrow… Well, we can’t promise we wouldn’t have a bite. Of course, it also helps that they have created a wonderful and welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant, with an open kitchen and some witty servers. Rarely is a great restaurant experience just about the food, and Han no Daidokoro was no exception. We loved the whole thing!
You may think that Kobe beef is super expensive (due to the rarity) and it usually is. However, we actually found the prices here quite decent! We ended up paying a similar price compared to any other quality steakhouse around the world. The only difference was that the meat here came in smaller quantities. What they lacked in quantity, they BY FAR made up for in quality. So as you can hear, we highly recommend a visit to Han no Daidokoro when you are in Tokyo. Just remember to clear your calendar… You will probably want to come back another evening or two for seconds!
2. Joining a cool biking tour through the city
You know the famous hop-on/hop-off busses you see at all major tourist spots around the world? Don’t ever “hop-on” on of those. They are ridiculously overpriced and just a sad way to see a new place, really. Of course, this is just our opinion, and you are free to do as you please. But we definitely recommend you ditch them!
A much better way to get some sightseeing done quickly is on two-wheels. We went on a small-group biking tour around Tokyo, and it was the perfect way to get acquainted with the city. It took a little more than half a day, and it was the ideal way to see the main sites and get our bearings of the city. We ended up biking around most of Tokyo, seeing a lot of the “must do’s.” At the same time, we got a feel for our favorite areas that we would later go back to and explore some more.
We had a casual lunch by the harbour, on public benches, where we had picked out some pre-made sushi from a nearby supermarket. We are not lying when we say it was some of the freshest and most delicious take-out sushi we’ve ever had. It was better than most sushi we’ve had delivered back home in Copenhagen or London. Don’t be afraid of buying cheap sushi in Tokyo – it’s all going to be tasty. Also, it seemed to be great fuel for our bike-legs!
Biking around Tokyo felt surprisingly safe, and our guide was really good at keeping an eye on the people who had the least biking experience. Being Danes, we are extremely used to riding bicycles, which might have made this experience more relaxing for us. People who aren’t as experienced might need a bit of getting used to it, but everyone can handle it. We would probably not show up if you don’t know how to ride at all, though!
Everybody else can do it – even kids. They provide helmets, of course, and help you navigate the traffic (which isn’t that bad actually – especially since they try to keep you on smaller roads).
Fun fact: People don’t lock their bikes in Tokyo. Most bikes you see are just standing right there on the street with no locks on. No one would ever dream of stealing them, so you have nothing to worry about in that regard either. Just another reason you gotta love Japan, right?
3. Enjoying free skyline views at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
It was, in fact, our bike trip that led us to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. In addition to being the headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it is also a great place to get some proper skyline views! It is actually two separate skyscrapers that are conveniently located and offer FREE access.
Arriving by highspeed elevator to the top floor, it was the first time we laid eyes on the Tokyo skyline. Needless to say, it was beautiful! We had quite a clear day, but it should be a great experience regardless of the weather. The fact that it is free makes it VERY affordable, as well. Make sure you have some time up there to walk around and maybe even get a cup of coffee to go with the amazing 360-degree view.
4. Taking a stroll through the beautiful Shinjuku Chuo Park
No matter how cool a city we visit, or how much there is to see and do there, we always try to find a little piece of nature. One of our favorite places in New York was Central Park, and back when we lived in London, Regent’s Park felt like a proper oasis to us.
Luckily Tokyo managed to impress us in this regard as well! Close to the famous Shinjuku station, you’ll find Shinjuku Chuo Park, which is absolutely stunning. It’s a proper Japanese garden, so it’s only fair that you have to pay a small amount to enter. Don’t let that deter you!
We visited during the autumn and were lucky to be treated with some of the most stunning fall foliage views of our entire lives. The colors were out of this world! We can only imagine how the place looks during the cherry blossoms. We had a fantastic walk, and even though it started raining for a bit, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
We love being out in nature, even if it’s artificially made, and this park in Tokyo really delivered for us. Having such a beautiful park near our accommodation ensured that we could quickly escape the busy city streets and breathe some fresh air. There were a ton of other good reasons why we based ourselves in Shinjuku, though, and we highly recommend you find accommodation in this area for your visit as well.
Maybe our personal pictures above can convince you to visit Shinjuku Chuo Park?
5. Eating sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is legendary, and no visit to Tokyo is complete without a sushi breakfast there. The market opens super early, like 5 am, and closes at lunch, where most of the fish are already gone. So, if you want the real experience, you should definitely come early. Luckily, although a bit outside of the city center, you can easily reach Tsukiji by taking the subway. Just aim for Tsukiji Shijo Station, and since two lines go there, it shouldn’t be too difficult to reach.
You probably don’t have to be there quite as early as 5 am, but we came at 8 am, and all the most popular sushi places already had queues that were up to 100 meters long! You should arrive particularly early if you have a special place in mind.
We hadn’t really done our homework, so we just walked around the queues and found a less popular restaurant. They had two tiny seats in the bar available for us, with no wait-time, and we went for it. It was FANTASTIC. We only had nigiri, but what it lacked in variety, it gained back tenfold in how unbelievably fresh and delicious it was. This was a long-standing item on our bucket list, and we were not the least bit disappointed about the experience!
It really was a very special morning, and even if sushi is not your favorite choice for breakfast, trust us, you won’t be craving those Frosties after this experience. Just learn this lesson from us: Don’t have a Michelin-star tasting menu waiting for you (for lunch) a couple of hours later. Let’s just say… we weren’t exactly hungry.
When you’ve finished your hearty breakfast, you can take a stroll around the fish market. There isn’t that much to see, but a few hundred meters inland, you find the outer market, which is enormous. If you like markets in general, you’ll be in for a treat. To us, markets are a little too busy and sell too many souvenirs. We quickly got on the subway back into the city instead, ready for new adventures.
6. Visiting what is probably the best bar in the world: Bar Benfiddich
Bar Benfiddich is hands down the best bar we’ve ever been in. We know, we know… we should be careful about throwing such accolades around, but, in our humble opinion, you find the best bar in the world in Shibuya, Tokyo.
We had been out for dinner and were walking back towards our hotel. Just before we got there, we decided to go for a nightcap. We had no idea where to find a bar that was still open, but a quick search on Google for “bars near me” threw a few results. One looked really interesting and was quite close to Shinjuku station. It turns out, Bar Benfiddich is almost impossible to find, but when we finally did locate it on the 9th floor of a typical residential building, we forgot all about our struggles. We had found heaven on earth. As soon as they start their magic, with homemade EVERYTHING, no drink will ever compare. The place is filled with candles and is so cozy and unpretentious. It’s a proper speakeasy, which is so dark you can barely see each other, but makes you feel home nonetheless. The owner is, like so many of the Japanese, proud of his work and puts everything into it. It really shines through. The quality is unquestionable, and there is just no way you won’t be wowed. We know we have sold this a little aggressively, but we are confident you won’t be disappointed by your visit!
You should know that you have to be patient if there are no seats available when you arrive. They only let in the amount of people that they have chairs for. Since there are less than 15 of those in the little room, you might be in for a bit of a wait. But but but…we promise you it’s worth it!
When talking about bars in Tokyo, we also have to mention the New York Bar. Consider this a little bonus tip! It is known from the movie Lost In Translation with Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray. Located at the Park Hyatt hotel, New York Bar looks exactly like in the movie. Like most other tourists, we couldn’t help ourselves, so we went up there to buy an overpriced drink. We were, however, pleasantly surprised. They had live jazz music and a pretty bitchin’ view! We had already seen the Tokyo skyline during the day, but the view just went up an extra notch or two after dark. So, we definitely recommend you check this place out.
Head there for a single drink or two (which were great, by the way). For the best experience, we suggest you watch the famous movie beforehand. That really gives the whole experience a bit of an extra “oomph.”