Where to stay in Tokyo: a neighbourhood guide
Looking for an insider’s guide on the best area to stay in Tokyo? We get it, exploring one of the world’s biggest cities can be daunting. But don’t worry, we’ve got the scoop on Tokyo’s coolest neighbourhoods – from buzzing neon lights to crazy Kawaii cuteness.
First off, we’re talking about a megacity here, so it would be impossible to discuss every single neighbourhood. We’ll focus on the best places to stay in Tokyo and the best things to do for backpackers. Yep, Tokyo is a perfect backpacking destination. Who wouldn’t want to explore a city where futuristic technology and ancient traditions are a part of everyday life? It’s no secret that the food is some of the best in the world – flavoursome fresh sushi and flaming hot ramen so spicy it comes with a health warning? Sign us up! The nightlife is every bit as crazy as you might expect, with tiny bars that only fit three people inside and restaurants full of performing robots (but don’t worry, we’ll come to that later). Almost 150 weird and wonderful hostels mean you’ll always have a fun place to stay, that’s kind on your wallet. The awesome Japan Rail Pass for tourists makes it easy to explore the country further on a budget too. Sounds like backpacking perfection to us!
Each of Tokyo’s neighbourhoods is like a city in itself, so you’ll want to get all our local tips before choosing where to stay. There’s the bright lights and fast pace of Shibuya, the centre of Kawaii in Harajuku, the wild nightlife of Shinjuku, the old-fashioned charm of Asakusa and the manga mania that’s Akihabara, plus countless other neighbourhoods further off the beaten track. Each area attracts its own quirky subculture, and the different trends you’ll spot around the city are what make Tokyo.
Getting around Tokyo is made possible by an extensive subway system that will become your best friend, once you’ve mastered it. Traffic can be crazy (this includes people traffic, you’ve seen Shibuya crossing right?!) and taxis are expensive, so stick to the underground. Train lines are operated by different companies, which is where it gets confusing – your best bet is to purchase a rechargeable smart card, as this can be used on all lines. Be prepared for some of the busiest trains you’ve ever seen. As they say in Tokyo, “there’s always room for one more”!
Ready to discover your favourite bit of Tokyo? Here’s our ultimate neighbourhood guide!
Jump straight to:
1. Shibuya – the best area in Tokyo to feel the city’s buzz
When you think of Tokyo, the image that comes to mind is probably the colourful neon billboards, towering buildings and huge crowds of people filling the streets of the world-famous Shibuya district. Shibuya is Tokyo’s most energetic neighbourhood where you’ll experience the city’s hustle and bustle at its most intense. It’s partly a commercial area and business hub, and it’s home to the world’s two busiest train stations – try navigating your way around those after a few too many sakes! At the same time though, it’s creative and cool. Its electric atmosphere, unbeatable vintage shopping, quirky drinking holes and endless cafes and restaurants attract Tokyo’s young and trendy crowd.
There’s so much to discover in Shibuya away from the usual tourist checklist. Half the fun in this hectic neighbourhood comes from just exploring its winding, neon-lit streets and seeing what mad things you stumble upon… or what random items you can buy from a vending machine!
What to do in Shibuya
Probably the most famous spot in Tokyo, no visit to the city is complete without battling your way across Shibuya’s scramble crossing. This multi-way intersection just outside Shibuya station sees up to 1000 pedestrians cross in every direction every few minutes, so if you want to feel Tokyo at its busiest then look no further. This area is every travel photographer’s dream come true, with dazzling billboards and video screens surrounding the never-ending sea of people. Pro tip: for the best photo and video opportunities, head to the roof terrace of the MAGNET shopping complex.
Just around the corner, you can pay your respects to Japan’s favourite dog at the Hachik? Memorial Statue. Hachik? was a Japanese Akita who used to meet his owner at the exit of Shibuya station every day when he finished work. After his owner passed away, Hachik? continued to visit the station every day for nine years… is there something in our eyes?! He’s become a Japanese legend and is commemorated with a bronze statue in the spot he used to wait.
Shibuya is a shopper’s paradise. One of the most popular streets, Centre Gai, is lined with eclectic shops and pachinko (pinball) parlours and is THE hang-out spot for Tokyo’s young Gyaru subculture. The street also hosts regular parties and celebrations, and when Japan are competing in any international sporting event you can expect Centre Gai to erupt!
Speaking of shopping, do not miss the bright yellow, cartoonish building that houses Tower Records, Japan’s largest music store. Browsing all nine stories of this legendary institution is a must for music lovers in Tokyo, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a J-Pop gig in the basement!
For an authentic night out in Shibuya, head to Nonbei Yokocho. This narrow, lantern-lit alleyway is jam-packed with tiny restaurants and intimate izakaya pubs that only fit a few people. Even the language barrier doesn’t stop friendships forming in these close quarters! For something a little less…traditional, check out Fight Club 428. Your typical bar may not have a live boxing ring in the middle, but on a Tokyo night out anything goes!
Places to eat in Shibuya
Being Tokyo’s busiest neighbourhood, you might expect Shibuya’s dining options to be off the chain – and you’d be right! From humble vending machines serving hot tins of soup to exclusive Michelin starred restaurants, Shibuya’s got it all. Word of advice: start practising those chopstick skills now.
If you’re after delicious sushi for a great price, head… well, pretty much anywhere. This is one thing you won’t struggle to find in Tokyo! In Shibuya, you can’t go wrong with Sushi-Go-Round on Dogenkaza. Not only do you get the quintessential Japanese experience of grabbing plates of freshly rolled sushi from a conveyor belt, it also gets rid of any awkwardness caused by trying to understand the menu, as long as you’re adventurous. Plus, it’s budget-friendly.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, try The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Pan Ice Cream. Yep, that really is the name of the shop – the owner named it so because he says that the woman who taught him to make it is the best in the world, therefore he’s second best! If you haven’t tried this Japanese delicacy, you’re in for a treat. The melon pan is a sweet, warm bun that’s soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s served with ice cream or whipped cream sandwiched in the middle for a decadent snack.
For seriously cheap eats in Shibuya, burger chain Mos Burger is your new best friend. There are a few of these dotted around the city serving up fast food favourites with a Japanese twist, but what’s special about the Shibuya branch is that they also serve bargain booze. You can grab a beer or glass of wine for ¥400, or about £2.70 – very cheap by Tokyo standards.
Best hostels in Shibuya
Shibuya may be known for its ‘love hotels’, but don’t worry, we’ve got hostels that are more backpacker-friendly and less X-rated! If you want to stay in the heart of Tokyo’s most buzzing neighbourhood while making sure you don’t dip into your all-important ramen budget, we’ve got the places for you.
A futuristic capsule hostel where you can control the facilities in your pod by a device you’re given at check-in… could The Millennials Shibuya be any more Tokyo? Not only is the concept awesome, it’s super social and perfect for solo travellers, with plenty of common areas and a 24-hour bar that serves unlimited free beer for an hour every night. It’s got the perfect atmosphere balance for anyone who’s looking to make friends, without being too rowdy.
Now, if you are looking for more of a party hostel, Wise Owl Hostel Shibuya might be right up your street. Their epic 24-hour bar/coffee shop opens out onto the street, so whether you’re necking cocktails or recovering with a matcha latte it’s a great spot to hang out and people watch. Their happy hour runs from 4-7, and you can get whisky sodas for ¥300, or £2! It’s also within walking distance to Shibuya’s best bars and clubs, so when you want to continue the party you won’t have to worry about missing the last train home or expensive taxis.
2. Harajuku – the best area in Tokyo for Kawaii culture
Even though it sits within the Shibuya district, Harajuku is a neighbourhood so unique, so iconic and so downright crazy that we think it’s more than deserving of its own section in this guide. It’s the hub of Kawaii culture in Japan, which is literally the love of all things adorable – prepare to enter a whole new world of cuteness!
The pastel-coloured streets of Harajuku are lined with cosplay stores and quirky boutiques where you can kit yourself out in the latest Kawaii trends. The young people who hang out on Takeshita Street are world-famous for their street style, so you’ll never be short of inspo – the more colourful, cartoonish and over the top, the better! Expect to see anime characters and cute mascots everywhere too, from street art to cuddly toys and life-sized models. Even the food in Harajuku is precious – between rainbow cotton candy and bunny rabbits made of ice-cream, it can be hard to put your camera away long enough to eat anything!
Harajuku is wacky, weird and wonderful… and there’s nowhere else quite like it.
What to do in Harajuku
The first thing you need to do in Harajuku is take a stroll down its main shopping avenue, Takeshita Street – what are you laughing at?! This street is the epitome of Kawaii and browsing through some of the independent boutiques will get you acquainted with Harajuku culture, plus give you the chance to grab some pretty sweet souvenirs. We’re talking unique clothing items like fluffy platform boots, lollipop earrings and pink tutus (all the essentials), plus loads of vintage bits and bobs like retro Barbies, Furbys and My Little Ponies – kitsch heaven!
Harajuku fashion Hope Warren
When you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, grab a coffee from one of Takeshita’s cutesy cafes, sit outside and just watch the world go by. There’s never a dull moment on this street! Just make sure you have your camera in hand, as you never know when Hello Kitty might stroll around the corner…
If you need a break from the craziness, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo’s largest green space, is just behind Harajuku metro station. This 134-acre beauty is a spot of total serenity within the hectic city, with vast fields, blooming botanicals and sparkling lakes. On Sundays this is where Tokyo’s Rockabilly subculture hangs out, dancing to 1950s music in their leather jackets and quiffed hair. If you’re lucky enough to visit Tokyo in spring, you’ll get to see the pink cherry blossoms in bloom all over the park. Bucket list goals!
Also in the park is Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji. It’s set within a dense green forest where you’ll see plenty of locals relaxing, exercising and spending time with their families. The shrine is easily spotted by its huge wooden archway, which visitors say they feel peaceful immediately after passing through.
Meiji Jingu Erik Eastman
Places to eat in Harajuku
Part restaurant, part immersive theatrical experience – when in Harajuku you must pay a visit to the Kawaii Monster Café. Stepping through the monster’s mouth into this insane café is like entering a parallel universe. There are five themed rooms, including the ‘Sweets Go Round’, a working carousel that’s shaped like a big birthday cake and hosts live dance performances every 30 minutes, and the ‘Mushroom Disco’ where you can enjoy your lunch inside giant rainbow-coloured toadstools. The food is equally nuts – candy salads, seven-coloured spaghetti and chocolate chicken are on the menu. And of course, prepare to be served by a monster – but this is Harajuku, so even they’re adorable!
Cheap eat alert: if you’re not afraid to queue, you can try what have been called Tokyo’s best gyozas at Harajuku Gyozaru. A bold claim indeed, but the constant flow of locals in and out of this no-frills eatery speaks for itself. There are just two options, crispy fried or gooey steamed, and a portion of 6 costs ¥300 (£2).
Takeshita Street is famous for its crepes, and you can’t miss the bright pink shopfronts with their huge displays showing every kind of crepe they sell (side note: when you return home from Japan you’ll probably find it hard to order at a restaurant without seeing your meal made of plastic first). For something seriously indulgent, try cheesecake smothered in cream and wrapped in a pancake from Santa Monica Crepes. Hey, calories don’t count when we’re on holiday!
Did someone say all you can eat desserts? Yeah, Café Ron Ron did! Not only is this one of the prettiest cafes we’ve ever seen, the desserts are out of this world AND get brought right to your seat via a conveyor belt. Eat your fill of beautiful sweets, including chocolate cupcakes, candy floss, macarons and fruity jellies. Totally worth the sugar-induced coma that you’ll leave in.
Best hostels in Harajuku
Though there aren’t (yet) any hostels in the heart of Harajuku, there are several to choose from in nearby parts of Shibuya if you don’t want to be far from the Kawaii madness!
You’ll find Almond Hostel & Café on the other side of Yoyogi Park, an easy walk from Takeshita Street. Just like the park, the vibe at this hostel is peaceful and laid-back, so it’s perfect for couples, digital nomads or anyone wanting a quiet stay. It’s got a stylish coffee shop and co-working space downstairs where you can meet other travellers and plan your days, comfy capsule-style dorms for added privacy and spotless bathroom facilities. They even rent out skateboards so you can cruise Yoyogi Park in style (or publicly humiliate yourself, who knows?)
Almond Hostel & Cafe
3. Shinjuku – the best area in Tokyo for nightlife
Remember how we spoke about the buzzing, neon-glowing streets of Shibuya? Well Shinjuku isn’t all that different – these two electric neighbourhoods just a few kilometres apart are like two sides of the same coin. Just think of Shinjuku as Shibuya’s wild, rebellious sibling and you’ll get the idea.
As Asia’s largest entertainment district, there is always something going on in Shinjuku. The fun literally never stops in this intense 24-hour zone. It’s not unusual for shopping malls, restaurants and even cinemas to be open all night long – and packed full at that! If you arrive in the middle of the night and realise you forgot your toothbrush/phone charger/Pokémon cosplay, there’s nothing you can’t pick up from a Shinjuku department store at 3am.
But what Shinjuku is really famous for is partying. It doesn’t matter if it’s in tiny dive bars or exclusive nightclubs, if it goes all night it’s a real Shinjuku party. This is Japan’s nightlife capital and things tend to get messy. A tip for you: don’t try and keep up with the locals’ saké drinking abilities. It will end badly!
What to do in Shinjuku
It’s only right to start a list of things to do in Shinjuku by telling you where you should head for the best nightlife. There are more bars and clubs around than you can shake a stick at, but to drink with the locals in some seriously cool establishments, head to Golden Gai. This tight maze of streets is home to dozens of tiny drinking dens, most of which only sit 4-5 people and offer a no-frills, authentic Japanese experience. Just walk round and see which ones take your fancy – they’re pretty random and sometimes themed around anything from horror movies to punk rock. Some will ask a cover charge and some only accept locals, so finding the best is pot luck and all part of the fun!
Sake sippin’ in Golden Gai Hope Warren
Tokyo’s red light district, Kabukich?, is also in Shinjuku. You can’t miss the flashing red archway that leads to its main street. Expect seedy bars galore, but visit for the absolutely unmissable Robot Restaurant. Yes, you heard that right. Only in Japan! As you munch on a bento box, a 90-minute show will unfold that involves lasers, ear-popping J-Pop and ginormous dancing robots. We won’t give anything else away, but make sure you add this to your Tokyo itinerary.
Kabukicho Manuel Velasquez
If you haven’t got a chance to swing by Seoul on your Asian adventure, head to Shin Okubu, Tokyo’s Koreatown, for the next best thing. Get your dose of Korean culture with real-deal Korean BBQ restaurants and K-pop venues, plus you can load up your backpack with Korean beauty products for a bargain!
Pssst… did you know you can get a panoramic view of Tokyo from 200 metres high without spending a penny? Head to the observation decks of the Metropolitan Government Building for a jaw-dropping view that costs big ££ elsewhere in the city. It’s open till 11pm and a sunset visit is highly recommended. Just don’t forget your camera!
Places to eat in Shinjuku
Does the phrase ‘Piss Alley’ get your tummy rumbling? Err no, us either, but stick with us here. This street by Shinjuku station’s west exit, officially known as Omoide Yokocho, squeezes together lots of tiny bars and cheap restaurants, a bit like Golden Gai. It’s known for its street food, particularly yakitori which is skewered, barbecued meat – you’ll smell it as soon as you enter the alley! Skewers cost less than £1 so don’t be shy. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a hole-in-the-wall that sells grilled horse penis…
‘Piss Alley‘ Chris Yang
Ramen competition in Tokyo is pretty tough, but Fu-unji by Shinjuku station is approved by the strictest purists. They’re famous for their tsukemen – a kind of ramen where the noodles are served separately for dipping in the broth. The specialty dish costs ¥1000 (about £6.50), and you order on a machine as you enter…very Tokyo! This little down-to-earth spot looks unassuming from the outside, but you’ll be able to spot it by the queue. Don’t worry, it’s worth it.
As much as we love Japanese food, for stubborn sugar cravings you need to check out Café Aaliya. The signature French toast in this underground café is nothing short of legendary. Thick and chunky, soft and gooey with a caramelised coating that melts in the mouth… we’re drooling just thinking about it! You can choose between cream, ice cream and a range of toppings and sauces to finish it off. That’s our kind of brunch!
Best hostels in Shinjuku
Let’s be honest, you probably won’t do that much sleeping in Shinjuku – there’s too much going on and no one wants a case of the dreaded FOMO. But you’ll still need somewhere to stash your backpack, meet up with other travellers and probably recover from your Golden Gai hangover. That’s where these hostels come in! Stay at one of these if you don’t want to worry about missing the last train home (or waiting for the first one in the morning).
Unplan Shinjuku is one for the cool kids. Stylish minimal design, gallery space, basement bar and coffee shop…this hostel ticks all the trendy boxes. Its best features though are its top-notch, modern facilities. They’ve really thought of everything, including free ‘travel buddy’ smart phones in every pod bed that you can take out and explore the city with to avoid roaming fees. We’ve seen the future of hostels, and we like it!
A great spot for solo travellers in Shinjuku is Imano Tokyo Hostel. The atmosphere is perfect for meeting other backpackers, especially in the bar – cheap beer always helps, as do the awesome events they host like takoyaki cooking classes.
If you’re looking for somewhere zen to chill out amid Shinjuku’s craziness then you’ll love Hikari House. It’s a guesthouse run by a local family, so you can expect warm, homely vibes. It also has the major bonus of being located in Koreatown, an area that’s quickly becoming one of Tokyo’s trendiest spots.
4. Asakusa – the best area in Tokyo to soak up some history
Tokyo is a city of many faces – it’s not all flashing billboards and hustle and bustle you know! For a taste of old Tokyo, head to the historic neighbourhood of Asakusa where the pace is very different. It’s home to the city’s oldest Buddhist temple, a towering Shinto shrine and plenty of peaceful, green spaces, so it’s the perfect area to explore if you need a break from the bright lights. You might feel like you’ve travelled back in time as you wander through side streets, past izakaya pubs, calligraphed signs and kimono-clad women, but look up and you’ll spot skyscrapers like the Asahi beer tower and Tokyo Sky Tree. This blend of old and new is one of the things that makes Tokyo so exciting, and nowhere is it more obvious than Asakusa.
Asakusa has some of Tokyo’s most famous sights, delicious food (obviously), amazing hostels and a vibe that’s totally unique… what’s not to love?!
What to do in Asakusa
The most famous thing to do in Asakusa is visit the magnificent Sens?-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. This icon was built over 1300 years ago and is instantly recognisable by the massive red lantern that hangs from its gate. It somehow manages to feel serene and spiritual despite being one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions, but if you are worried about crowds it’s best to visit in early morning or evening. Don’t leave without having your fortune told by the ancient Buddhist act of kau cim – you shake a bucket until a stick comes out, then match the number of your stick to a slot in the wall that will contain your fate. The results are in, and we have travel in our future…
If you want to shop for traditional Japanese trinkets, Asakusa has you sorted. Nakamise Dori, the street than runs up to Sens?-ji, is lined with dozens of vendors in beautiful stalls that copy the architecture of the temple. Disclaimer: don’t expect to feel the zen Sens?-ji vibes here – like any Asian market it’s loud and chaotic, but that’s what makes it fun! Just around the corner, Nishi-sando is a covered shopping arcade with half the tourists. In here you’ll find authentic kimonos and Samurai clothing, plus lots of hole-in-the-wall ramen restaurants for some amazing cheap eats.
Nakamise Dori Hope Warren
For a way cooler (and cheaper) day out than Tokyo Disneyland, why not visit Japan’s oldest amusement park? Hanayashiki has been operating in Asakusa for over 150 years. It feels as though it’s been frozen in time, creating an aesthetic that’s equal parts cute and creepy – its vintage fairground rides and retro carnival games have serious photography potential. Entrance to the park is only ¥1000, which is less than £7 – you won’t be meeting Mickey on that budget!
Places to eat in Asakusa
We already mentioned shopping on Nakamise Dori, but this also happens to be the best place in Asakusa to get your hands on some street food. The vendors here sell all sorts of yummy snacks, from squidgy dumplings to sweet potato jelly, but you really need to try Ningyo Yaki, AKA doll cake. These little sponge cakes are filled with a sickly sweet azuki bean paste, and in classic Japanese style are pressed into all sorts of cute shapes, like teddy bears and dolls. Kawaii AND delicious!
If you’re not all sugared out, head over to Suzukien to try ‘the most intense matcha gelato in the world’. This ice cream parlour has gained a bit of a cult following thanks to its seven variations of matcha (green tea) infused gelato. Matcha newbies can start with number one, the mildest, lightest option, but only hardcore matcha-heads dare to try the bright green hues of number seven. Mix and match two scoops to balance it out.
Soba is a bit of a specialty in Asakusa, so when you’re in the neighbourhood make sure you get your noodle fix. There are soba restaurants all over the place, but a local fave that you can rely on is Namiki Yabusoba. Enter through traditional sliding doors and dine legs-crossed on the floor – there are no forks hidden away here! The noodles are tasty, the broth is delicious and the tempura is next-level crispy.
At the end of a long day’s exploring, make like the local workers and hang out in the down-to-earth izakaya bars of Hoppy Street. The street gets its nickname from Hoppy, the cheap alcoholic drink that’s served in all of its bars. They also all serve their own version of ‘nikomi’, a hearty and filling beef stew that’ll fill you up for cheap – enjoy it outside on ramshackle tables while you bump elbows with the regulars.
Hoppy Street Chris Chan
Best hostels in Asakusa
If you’re loving the sound of Asakusa then you’re in luck, as this is the area of Tokyo with the most hostels. It’s cheaper to stay here than in the buzzier neighbourhoods and there are plenty of budget dining options, plus the vibe is way more laid-back and backpacker friendly.
Sakura Hostel Asakusa is perfect for solo travellers, with loads of group events to join in with including Geisha shows, sushi rolling classes, Japanese calligraphy lessons and sumo wrestling – that’s watching, not competing! The location couldn’t be more perfect, just a short walk from Sens?-ji and Nakamise Dori so you can make sure you beat the crowds. Plus they do an epic all you can eat breakfast spread for ¥350 (£2.50), what a bargain!
Hostel Bedgasm know how to get the party started, with free drinks every night in the bar and an epic rooftop terrace where backpackers hang out after their adventures, so it’s easy to meet people. In case you’re wondering, the concept of Bedgasm is ‘a feeling of euphoria when climbing into bed at the end of a long day’ – we can relate!
The cosy bar at Hostel Bedgasm
For an authentic guesthouse experience, check out Sukeroku-no-yado Sadachiyo. This beautiful ryokan is decorated with Japanese antiques and there are no beds, only traditional tatami mats. All rooms are private, with en-suites and tea brewing facilities, but there’s also a large granite public bath which one of our guests described as “magical”. Stay here to be transported back in time to the Edo era.
5. Akihabara – the best area in Tokyo to get your geek on
Have we died and gone to nerd heaven? Nowhere else on earth is as dedicated to all things geek as Tokyo’s Akihabara. It’s the birthplace of Otaku culture, which is an obsession with, among other things, manga, anime, electronics and gaming – trust us, you’ll be pretty familiar after a few hours in this ‘hood!
The area gained its nickname ‘Electric Town’ when it started selling electronics after WW2, and nowadays there’s no bit of tech that you can’t find here, with multi-storey electronics shops on every street. Chuo Dori, the neighbourhood’s main shopping street, is lit up by the glowing neon lights of arcades and pachinko parlours, so if you’re a gamer you’ll be right at home. Everywhere you look you’ll spot people cosplaying as popular comic book characters, and Tokyo’s Otaku’s hanging out around the many anime and manga stores. If there was ever a place to embrace your inner nerd, this is it!
What to do in Akihabara
Akihabara is a world-class shopping hub, and the first store you need to hit up is Mandarake, the biggest manga and anime store in the world. This place is INSANE, with eight stories selling every comic book and every bit of merch you could ever dream of, including a whole floor dedicated to vintage video games. Prepare to feel the nostalgia as you browse through Nintendo 64 and SNES classics! There aren’t many souvenirs cooler to take home than a rare find from Mandarake.
You’ll probably be in the mood for a spot of gaming after this, so head to one of Akihabara’s famous arcades. If you’re an old-school gamer, Super Potato is the place for you, with retro options like Super Mario Bros., Pacman and the Legend of Zelda available to play. For a bigger selection, Club SEGA is king – you can’t miss its iconic red facade on Chuo Dori. Aside from spending what will probably turn into hours playing Sonic The Hedgehog, you can also experience VR gaming – not for the faint hearted.
Okay, this next one is nuts even for Tokyo. What if we told you that you could dress up as your favourite Super Mario character and race through the streets of Akihabara on a go-kart? Well, if you’ve got a valid driving license and a spare £60 in your budget, Maricar will make your wildest Mario Kart dreams come true. Oh Tokyo, how we love you and your bonkers ways. Please note that you will need an international driving permit to take part, but if you have a licence you can easily apply for one of these for free before your trip.
If you’re lucky enough to visit when the Mottainai Flea Market is in town then you’re in for a treat. This market is all about environmentalism and reducing waste to counter Japan’s consumerist culture. You can pick up cheap vintage clothes, as well as second hand books, records and games. Look here to find out market dates.
Places to eat in Akihabara
Another thing Akihabara is famous for is its crazy themed cafes. There are loads to choose from, but one of the highlights is the AKB48 Café & Shop, dedicated to everyone’s favourite 48 member strong Japanese girl band of the same name. Visit to immerse yourself in hardcore J-pop fandom… it’s pretty intense! Screens all over the cafe show the band’s music videos and live performances and they even serve the girl’s favourite dishes, so you can pretend you ARE an AKB48er… Other themed cafes have more of an Otaku vibe, like the Final Fantasy Café, where the attention to detail in the decor, and dishes like dragon eyes sushi and ninja cocktails will impress fans of the legendary game. There’s also the Gundam Café, based on a well-known anime series about a giant robot that’s a huge part of Japanese pop culture.
If you’re a sucker for adorable desserts, then you’ve probably realised by now you’ll be in heaven in Tokyo. The freshly baked cheese tarts from Pablo Mini taste every bit as good as they look. If you pass by the serving hatch of their cute yellow brick store outside the station, be sure to grab something – you won’t regret it! The cherry mochi flavour is heavenly, as is the matcha and the strawberry… who are we kidding, we’ll take one of everything!
Akihabara is also a hotspot for great ramen joints. Close to the station, Menya Musashi Iwatora is known for its rich, flavoursome ramen that’s topped with huge chunks of crispy chashu pork and a soft boiled egg… is it lunch time yet? It’s one of the most popular spots in the neighbourhood and a bowl of their signature stuff only costs about £7 – you and your wallet can thank us later.
Best hostels in Akihabara
If after reading this, you’re now sure there’s an Otaku inside of you and you’re ready to connect with the rest of your tribe, you’re gonna need to stay in Akihabara! Tokyo’s Electric Town has some epic budget-friendly hostels where your geekiest self will feel right at home.
&And Hostel is one of them. Technology is at the forefront of this ‘smart hostel’, but in Akihabara are you really surprised? Bathroom, dorm and common room facilities are all super-modern, but most importantly you’ll be given a device that can control various facilities throughout your stay, such as check-in, air conditioning, security and ‘sleep management’. We’re not entirely sure what that last one means, so you’ll have to stay to find out .
If you’re travelling solo, GRIDS Hostel Akihabara is a solid choice. You can hang out with travellers from around the world in the cool bar and lounge downstairs, and the outdoor terrace is the perfect place to spend Tokyo summer nights. GRIDS has all the social atmosphere of a party hostel with the added bonus of private, capsule-style dorms that mean you’ll always get a good night’s sleep.
We hope that after reading our insider guide you’re feeling equipped to take on Tokyo, and now know which neighbourhood is the hood for you. #YouGotThis! It doesn’t matter if you love the buzz of Shibuya, embrace Kawaii in Harajuku, party your socks off in Shinjuku, take it easy in Asakusa or channel your inner Otaku in Akihabara, one thing’s for sure… your trip to Tokyo will be one you’ll never forget!
Now it’s time to put these plans into action… check out our full list of hostels in Tokyo to get the ball rolling!