Being completely honest, Tokyo is never a place i considered to be on my list of places to visit until summer of 2019. I thought of it as being too busy, too loud, and just too hectic for my liking and there were other places i would’ve chosen first.
However, when the flights came up better than half price, i couldn’t say no. I will never say no to a holiday, unless it’s for a good reason.
So, in this post i’m gonna run through a few of the things we did that i would consider “bucket list activities” instead of just going through a day-by-day account of what we did, i think that would be a little boring!
Getting to Tokyo
We found our flight prices through Jack’s Flight Club, which is a newsletter that send out cheap flight deals every week. You then book through Google Flights and use the calendar to find out which dates are cheapest.
We ended up booking through MyTrip, flying with Aeroflot from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita and back, for just under £300 each. Which i think is a pretty sick deal, i’m not gonna lie.
To be honest, flying with Aeroflot was one of the worst experiences i’ve ever had. I have no other long haul flights to compare it to, but i was incredibly uncomfortable, the food made me bloated and i couldn’t eat a lot of it (fussy eater problems lol).
We had a 2 hour stopover in Moscow which is up there with my worst airport experiences ever. The security you go through has no organisation and it was actually the airport that made me cry both on the way there and on the way back. I started overheating, started to panic, and it was all downhill from there.
If you’re looking at booking a trip to Tokyo, definitely try to avoid Aeroflot. The flight attendants were a bit rude, it was uncomfortable and avoid a stopover in Moscow as it’s not much better there.
Where we stayed and how we got there
I left the neighbourhood investigations down to Max – he knows a lot more about Tokyo and Japan in general than i do. He suggested we stay in Shinjuku, which is exactly what we did.
We chose to book accommodation through AirBnb as we find that a lot more convenient than staying in a hotel. It was quite difficult to find a whole apartment that was a decent price, in a convenient location and didn’t look uncomfortable to stay in.
Eventually, we settled on this property in Shin-Okubo, or K-Town, which is where all the Korean shops and loud neon is situated. It’s a pretty crazy area but we didn’t feel unsafe at any point, and it’s close to everything we needed.
From the 6th to 16th of December, it cost us £566. Pretty steep, but any hotels we looked at for those dates were much more expensive. I do wish we had stayed in a capsule hotel though, just for the novelty.
The check-in place was somewhere completely different from the apartment, which really confused us but it turns out it was only a 5 minute walk away from the apartment. We had also accidentally booked one night more than we needed as it didn’t even occur to us that one of our nights would be spent on the plane. Oops.
From the airport, we took the Skyliner from Tokyo Narita airport to Nippori station which took around 40 minutes and only cost ¥5040, which is about £35 for both of us. The desk was really easy to find, it was right opposite the Arrivals door that we exited through and the staff were very helpful with directions and information.
If you book your tickets in advance through Klook*, it’ll cost you £15 each, so you’re saving a little bit. You redeem these at the same desk you would buy the tickets from.
From Nippori station, we took the Metro to Shin-Okubo station on the JR Yamanote line towards Ikebukuro. It only cost ¥168, which is around £1.17, and took 20 mins. The accommodation was a 20 minute walk from there and really easy to find.
Going back to the airport, we opted for a different method so we weren’t carting around our huge suitcases on the metro again. We booked an Airport Limousine bus transfer from Shinjuku Station back to Narita Airport and it only cost us £20 each.
We bought our tickets through Klook*, (none of the links mentioned are an advertisement, just affiliate links,but we just found the app and site very useful and wanted to share the ways it could be useful for you too!) and the redemption point is at the bus stand.
You can also purchase a “round-trip” ticket if you’ll be returning within 14 days. I preferred this to the train/metro, as you just pop your suitcase on and get off at your designated terminal. The bus staff tell you which terminal to get off at based on your flight, which is handy as there is a few.
In terms of day-to-day travel, we mainly walked everywhere. It was exhausting, but we both feel like that’s the best way to see the city and get to grips with where you’re staying. Bloody ruined my feet, though.
We found the Metro and train systems quite confusing to deduce. Similar to London, and any other metro system, there are colour coded metro lines. We used the app Tokyo Metro to find out which lines and stops we needed – you just enter your start point and where you want to go and it tells you the closest stations.
You first need to find your fare on the charts above the ticket machines, or by using Google. This is the part we struggled with as we’re used to the London metro, where it does it automatically based on where you tap in and out with your card.
The machines themselves are very easy to use as they have an English option built in. The only info you need when using the machines is the price – don’t worry about the stations or lines when buying your ticket.
If you’re planning on using the metro frequently, you can purchase a Suica IC card*, which is essentially an Oyster card for Japanese metro and train lines. This one comes preloaded with ¥1500 (£10) and can be topped up in any metro station.
If you know exactly when you’ll need to use the metro, or you’ll be using it a lot within a few days, you can also purchase a Subway ticket* for 24, 48 or 72 hours. You can then use the metro whenever you like within that time period. Prices start from £5.49 and you can pick up at any major train station.
What we ate
I’ll be completely honest, we didn’t have a totally varied eating experience when we were over there. I’m a very fussy eater and struggle with meat-fear; i’m afraid i’ll be sick if i eat meat anywhere not at home. Didn’t leave us with a lot of options!
Our all-time favourite place to eat was Ichiran, found at 3 Chome−34−11 in Shinjuku but also other places around Tokyo in general. Ramen there costs ¥1580 (£11) and it definitely fills you up. We ate there most nights!
It’s a button restaurant, so you go in, put your money into the button machine, select what you want to eat and receive a little meal ticket. You pass this onto the kitchen staff by laying it on the end of your little booth, and wait for your ramen. You can also get noodle refills for an extra price and free water is available on the tables.
We also tried out Kamukura Ramen, another button restaurant at 1 Chome-5-5 Ebisuminami in Shibuya City. The ramen soup itself was tasty, but they put a lot of cabbage in there which i wasn’t a fan of.
We had ramen again at Divercity Tokyo, a big shopping centre with a massive food court, but it honestly wasn’t great. It tasted fine, but smelled very strange which put me off eating it.
We ate at Wendy’s a few times for lunch and fell in love with Fanta melon soda but other than that, Wendy’s is shit. I had some tater tots from a supermarkets ready-to-eat food section, they were delicious, and Max accidentally ate shark in gyoza.
Then, weirdly, we had Italian one night. We came across a little place called Ventuno Italian, found at 150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, and it was delicious. I had spaghetti carbonara and it was one of the best i’ve had, so there are other options if you crave something other than ramen.
The vending machines dotted around the city were incredibly handy for being out and about. We only came across drinks machines but Max did say there are food ones somewhere. I would highly recommend the Fanta melon soda, Fanta pink grapefruit soda, and Boss Coffee after it’s been in the fridge for a few hours. Delicious.
What we did
Hanazono-Jinja shrina + flea market
Hanazono-Jinja is the largest shrine in Shinjuku and holds a flea market each Sunday, consisting of around 30 booths selling antiques and trinkets. It’s one of the most historic shrines in Japan and is dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success.
You’ll find a lot of businessmen praying here for success, and it’s come to be known as the guardian of Shinjuku.
On a quiet Sunday, the flea market is perfect for a wander and to have a nosy at the kind of antiques they sell. We saw some traditional masks made by craftsmen for Kagura performances, tourist souvenirs and even some Tanto’s, which are small Japanese daggers commonly worn by Samurai.
I think when you visit Japan, you should visit at least one shrine. It’s lovely to see people praying in front of it and there’s a general sense of hopefulness around shrines. Hanazono-Jinja is absolutely worth a visit, even just for a few minutes.
Yoyogi Park/Takeshita Street
I’ve coupled these two together because they’re so close to each other, and because i don’t think either are worth visiting on their own but doing both makes for a lovely day trip.
Takeshita Street in Harajuku is famous for its slightly humorous name and the array of loud shops selling products aimed at younger folk. It’s loud, very busy, and full of stalls selling sweet treats. This is also where you can find the Shiba Cafe and Cat Cafe.
We wandered onto the middle of Takeshita Street accidentally and had no idea where we were until afterwards. It’s absolutely worth seeing just for the novelty, but be aware that it’s almost always unbearably busy so i’d give it a miss if you struggle with crowds.
Yoyogi Park is just a few minutes away from Takeshita Street and is one of the largest city parks. We went there just to sit for a while – it was a gorgeous day and everyone was out with their families, playing games and walking, as it was a Sunday.
Every Sunday, the Rockabilly’s gather at the Harajuku entrance to dance to 50s rock’n’roll music. We managed to catch them on the way out and stayed for a while to watch them – it was like a dance battle.
The Rockabilly’s are strongly influenced by American culture and an earlier culture called Kaminari zoku, a dangerous gang in the 50s. The Rockabilly’s bring that sense of togetherness and a gang without the illegal and dangerous connotations. If you can, stop and watch them gather and dance. It’s very entertaining!
TeamLabs Planets has to be my favourite thing we did in Tokyo – it’s a massive interactive digital art experience where each room is a different immersive piece of art that you can interact with. It’s hard to explain, but genuinely so much fun.
You have to take your shoes and socks off and roll your trousers up to above your knees, as one of the rooms includes water that goes up to your shins. They do offer the chance to hire some shorts, which i did because i was wearing a dress and another one of the rooms has a mirrored floor.
I don’t want to spoil all the rooms for you, so i’ll just include one of my favourites – the room with the dangly lights. There’s a walk-through area which leads out into a large open space with mirrored walls and lights hanging all around. The lights change colour and dance along with the relaxing music playing, and it’s just an incredible experience all-round.
Again, we booked our tickets through Klook*, which cost us £22 each, and we just had our e-tickets scanned on the door. You book a half-hour slot and can arrive at any point during the half hour, but there’s no limit on how long you can spend in there.
Planets is set up as a walk-through, you can only go one way and through each room in a certain order. I liked this as it meant you didn’t miss anything, and none of the rooms were too busy.
There is also a second TeamLabs museum called Borderless, which i wouldn’t really recommend unless you do Borderless first, and then Planets. Borderless is more of a free-for-all, and although it has some beautiful rooms, the set up is more hectic than Planets.
You walk through Borderless on your own, there’s no set path, meaning you could be at risk of missing something. It was also a lot busier than Planets as everyone was allowed in at once, instead of letting people enter in time-slots.
Borderless also costs £22 to visit if booked through Klook*, but because of how amazing the whole experience is at Planets, if you do want to do both, do Borderless first. You’ll be more impressed with Planets that way.
Meiji-Jingu is a shinto shrine dedicated to the worshipped spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. It’s in Yoyogi Park, so add that onto your Takeshita/Yoyogi day and you’ve got almost a full plan laid out.
At Meiji-Jingu, there is a little stall which supplies parchment and pens for visitors to write their dreams, in the hope they will come true. Some were really sad to read, and one little girl asked for a “big, big unicorn”. I hope she gets it.
Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan, and every year, barrels of sake wrapped in straw are offered to the Emperor and Empress as a way for the Japanese to show their respect and gratitude towards Emperor Meiji for his part in leading the industrial revolution and helping modernise Japan.
Like most shrines, the architecture is gorgeous and just really lovely to see. The Emperor and Empress are held in the highest regard by the people of Japan and overall, it’s a really lovely atmosphere to be in. You could even leave one of your dreams behind to leave a piece of you at the shrine.
Venus Fort is a shopping mall in Tokyo, which might sound a little boring, but the interior is breathtaking. They have a Hogwarts-esque sky on the ceiling which changes to a sunset as it turns to night-time, and the shops replicate a European street.
It might look like a very expensive shopping centre, but we found a lot of great souvenirs in there for friends and family. There’s also a food court with various restaurants including Italian, Chinese and classic Japanese so you won’t struggle for something to eat after a long day of shopping.
The fountain in the middle of Venus Fort is gorgeous. It’s named Fountain Plaza and consists of large stone columns, high ceilings and six Greco-Roman goddesses. TeamLabs also had an exhibit on whilst we were there consisting of colour-changing bubbles, but i don’t know what is normally done with that space.
It’s just amazing to walk through, and the perfect place to find some souvenirs to take home. The roof itself is worth sitting inside all day to watch it changing. Although maybe don’t do that…
Metropolitan Government Building
For some gorgeous high-up views of Tokyo, i would highly recommend heading to the Metropolitan Government Building. It sounds scary and looks scary from the outside, very Doofenschmirtz Evil Incorporated. We weren’t sure we were allowed in!
However, you definitely are and the observation decks are free to go up! You may find there’s a large queue for the lifts (there’s also a bag search) but if you go off-season and mid-week, you should be alright. We waited for about 10 minutes and then we were up in the lift.
We had originally planned on going up the Tokyo Skytree, which also boasts some impressive views of the city, but it’s not free. I’m very thankful someone messaged me on Instagram to tell me the Metropolitan Building is free. It was absolutely worth visiting.
The room itself is huge, with large windows covering each wall so you won’t struggle for space. There’s also a gift shop in the very middle of the room which had some souvenirs we hadn’t seen anywhere else – we definitely stocked up there.
Only the South Deck was open when we went as the North Deck was undergoing renovation, but i don’t feel like we missed out on any particular views having only seen the South side of Tokyo. Just make sure you pick a day where the weather is clear! The beauty of it being free means you don’t have to pre-book.
Full disclosure, i did not want to go to the Robot Restaurant so much that i actually cried. I was dreading it. I had this image of us sitting, trying to eat, with robots running around shouting. For reference, i was entirely wrong and that’s not what it is.
The Robot Restaurant is a robot show that you can also get food at. It’s not an actual sit down meal. In the performance room, there’s 3 long rows of seats with tables in front and a wide floor space for the show. Even then, you have to sit back in your seat and remove anything from the little table in case the robots knock it over.
The show was insane. It was a special Christmas one as we were there in December, and the robots come in from either end and perform battle scenes, dances and monologues. Kung Fu Panda was there. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life.
We bought our tickets through Klook* and paid £40 each which wasn’t including any food or drink. It is steep, but i do think it’s worth it because there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Or not that i’ve come across, anyway…
You pick up your tickets from the ticket building across the street from the entrance to the actual show. Seats are allocated so you don’t have to worry about that, and you have about a half hour wait in a waiting room before going down to watch the show.
You can get noise-cancelling headphones if you struggle with loud noises which i would recommend to anyone with sensitive hearing; it’s insanely loud and i sat with my hands over my hears for a lot of it. I laughed a LOT though!
We felt like we couldn’t go to Tokyo, or Japan in general, without trying to see Mt Fuji, and decided to book a pre-planned tour instead of trying to figure it all out ourselves. It worked out cheaper that way and it was much easier.
We booked a trip through Veltra which included stops at Fifth Station and Lake Kawaguchi. We opted for the bus only plan as it was cheaper, £40 each, but you can get the Lake Cruise, Ropeway and lunch added in if you want to pay a little more.
We worked out it was cheaper to buy our own lunch from a supermarket and just pay on-site for the cruise and ropeway, so that’s what we decided to do.
The bus picked us up from Shinjuku Centre Building at 9.20am – i would advise arriving a bit early so you can go to the bathroom beforehand, although there is a toilet break planned for an hour into the journey. An attendant stands holding a sign up so you’ll know which is the correct bus.
It takes around 2 and a half hours to get to Fifth Station, which is where most hikes up Mt Fuji begin. The trip takes between 5-10 hours and the official climbing season is from July to mid September. All facilities and trails are open during this time. There’s nothing to stop you climbing off-peak but without proper facilities and the extreme cold, you may die. So don’t do that.
Fifth Station is 2400m above sea level and has brutal wind in December. The views are lovely, and Mt Fuji is so close it feels like you could touch it, but definitely wrap up warm. We spent around 40 minutes there, so i’d advise peeing and checking out the gift shop.
There are free toilets but we read the queues can be really long, so we paid ¥100 (70p) to use the toilet in the shop which didn’t have running water but tubs to get water to wash your hands from. Strange.
Next on the tour was Fuji-Q, a theme park at the foot of Mt Fuji. We didn’t go into the park itself, which has a number of rollercoasters and haunted attractions, but stayed in the outside area which had the restaurant where everyone else ate and seemed to be inspired by French streets.
We enjoyed sitting out on the benches eating out pre-bought lunch. We got very lucky with the weather, and even if we hadn’t pre-bought our lunch, there were a few bakeries there which we couldv’e dropped into. Overall, we spent about an hour there which was maybe a bit too long for us.
After Fuji-Q, we were taken to Lake Kawaguchi where we did a short river cruise which cost ¥1000 (£6.99) on site and lasted about 20 mins. It took us out to the middle of the lake which had stunning views of Mt Fuji. Full disclosure – you can’t see Mt Fuji from the shore.
I was really disappointed as i thought we’d have a great view, but you only really see it from the boat. You have around an hour at the lake so i would advise you use the remaining time after the river cruise to explore the surrounding streets to try and see Mt Fuji. We managed and took the very bottom two photos on a random residential street.
The tour on the site lists the Fuji Panoramic Ropeway as the final activity, but it was actually closed for scheduled maintenance on the day we went, so we were taken to Oishi Park instead.
I’m not sure if this is an unlisted stop on the tour, or just replacing the ropeway, but i would advice trying to find a tour that stops here. Oishi Park is on the opposite side of Lake Kawaguchi meaning you have the most gorgeous views of Mt Fuji.
We spent 40 mins here which was more than enough time to get some photos and have a nosy at the gift shop. By this point, though, we were pretty tired and ready to go home. We were dropped back in Shinjuku for about half 7, and had another toilet stop on the way home.
We got very lucky with the weather and it was completely clear during our tour, so try to check weather forecasts regularly ahead of time to make sure you book the day that visibility will be best.
It’s not a guided tour, once you get off the bus you have free rein to explore and do as you wish, but on the bus they give you info about stops and the history of Japan which is fascinating. The guides were lovely and very good with English as well!
Overall, one of my favourite experiences i’ve ever had on holiday and definitely worth the price. There are other more expensive tours on the Veltra, but if you have a strict budget, this one is perfect.
So there we have it, that’s all the info i can possibly squeeze out of my brain about Tokyo and everything we did in Tokyo that i would consider ‘bucket list activities’. Tokyo is an amazing place to visit and i would recommend it to anyone, despite having my reservations beforehand.
There are pockets of calm amongst the hectic atmosphere and despite struggling with busy, noisy places, i felt totally fine here. December was the perfect time for us to visit as well, as it wasn’t the height of tourist season and things were relatively quiet.
Definitely add Tokyo to your list of places to visit this year, and sign up to Jack’s Flight Club. You never know what deals you might find!
Is Tokyo on your bucket list?