The Coolest Things to Do in Tokyo

We’ve never been back from a bad trip to Tokyo—it’s hands down one of the coolest cities in Asia, from the alleyway izakayas and high-design hotels to Shinto shrines and cosplay culture on full display in the Harajuku neighborhood. Here, the can’t-miss things to do in Tokyo.

Stay at a ryokan-inspired hotel

Slip off your shoes and slide behind paper screens into the hushed confines of Hoshinoya Tokyo. Located in the Otemachi financial district between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, it’s the city’s first five-star ryokan to occupy an entire skyscraper. Soothing, traditionally inspired rooms—golden hued with low furnishings and black marble soaking tubs —are spread over 18 levels; each floor has its own private tea room. The hotel’s showpiece is its rooftop onsen baths, filled with hot spring water pumped from below ground level.

Eat in Ebisu

Any visit to Tokyo should include a stop at Ebisu, an old-school Tokyo alleyway packed with boisterous bars and tiny bistros. You’ll find wine and whisky lounges, sushi and oden shops, and our favorite spot Ebisu Yokocho for izakaya—the Japanese version of Spanish tapas—with cheap draft beers and delicious shared plates.

Sip whisky

Scotland may be the home of whisky, but over the last couple of decades, Japan has regularly scooped up the top international prizes. And while it’s not difficult to find a dram of Suntory’s Hibiki 21-Year-Old (the most awarded blended whisky in the world), it’s far more challenging to find a proper whisky-only bar. For an unbeatable collection of more than 300 local whiskies, hit up Zeotrope (no web) in Shinjuku. If it’s rare vintages you’re after, there’s the Lobby Bar at the Okura Tokyo hotel or try Rock Fish in Ginza for the perfect highball.

Party in Shibuya

Shibuya is Tokyo’s party central and the hottest place to see and be seen is DJ Bar Bridge (no web), squeezed into the top floor of an office block next door to Shibuya Station. The city views are sensational, as is the roster of visiting Djs . Other hot spots include the hedonistic techno-heavy Womb; the hip hop-focused Harlem; and the fashionable Camelot, which caters to revelers of all ages—just as long as you make the strict dress-to-impress door code.

Get high

To fully appreciate the sheer scale of the world’s most populous metropolis whiz up one of the city’s many observation decks and rooftops. The 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree offers a gasp-inducing 360-degree panorama, which includes glimpses of Mount Fuji on a clear day. Or visit the elegant 52nd-floor observation deck at the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills (the ticket price also provides access to the eclectic Mori Art Museum). A few blocks away at the Andaz hotel’s 52nd-floor Rooftop Bar you can enjoy a similar view with a Heavenly Kiss (an apple thyme vodka, ST Germaine and vermouth mix)—perfect for those after-dark bright lights big city views.

Soak it up

Cast off your inhibitions (and your underwear) and sink into a sento (communal public bath). For a traditional experience, head to Akebono-yu in Edogawa Ward. Founded in 1773, it’s the oldest sento in town and features a dozen different pools, medicinal tubs and dry saunas. Or, for something a bit more modern, visit LaQua at Tokyo Dome City, an enormous complex with dozens of natural hot spring pools, rock saunas, an open-air rotenburo, and a healing baden with a fake volcano, palm trees, loungers and city views. Note that men and women bathe separately and tattoos (considered to be a sign of criminality) are not permitted in most sento.

Visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine

Evergreen forests whispering in the wind, women in kimonos walking broad gravel paths, austere Shinto temples burning incense, wishes written on pieces of paper and tied to wooden walls—it’s hard to believe this serene and beautiful place exists in the heart of ultra-modern Tokyo. To see it at its tranquil best, visit early in the morning (the park opens at daybreak) when you can stroll through the 40-foot-high torri gates and have the place almost all to yourself.

Shop Harajuku

The center of Japanese pop culture since the 1970s, rainbow-bright Harajuku is everything you imagined it would be—and more. This is the neighborhood where in one short stroll you’ll see a dozen cosplay Alice in Wonderlands, sugar plum fairies and white-haired warlocks. Needless to say, the fashion shopping is unique. Hit the Laforet Mall for unicorn-hair wigs, lolita headbands, and frilly pink tutus; Putumayo for punk and goth clothing; and the basement boutique Dog for flamboyant vintage and repurposed fashion pieces (Lady Gaga is apparently a fan).

Stay at Roppongi Hotel S

If you’re looking for a super location and stylish rooms that won’t break the bank, look no further than Roppongi Hotel S. Hidden away in the heart of thumping Roppongi, this boutique abode has 47 contemporary-zen rooms—think wooden lattice work, tatami mats and top tech—and a cozy guest lounge where you can sip sake by the window as Roppongi life passes by.

By Carl Unger

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