Where to Stay in Tokyo – The Simplified Guide

Let me tell you, tackling these Tokyo blogs has been intimidating the crap out of me.  There is so much I can cover (and hopefully will in the coming months).  I asked friends on my Facebook what they would like to see me cover and received different answers from everyone.  Honestly, I’m not sure if anyone asked for this specific blog, but it seemed the least daunting for me to tackle.  I’m saying that now as I’m writing this intro, but I’m sure it’ll spiral in to a beast of an article once I start digging in to it – hah!

Ok so you’ve booked your flight to Tokyo.  You’re super stoked.  A little scared.  But mostly stoked.  But where to stay?  Whoa, Tokyo is big.  So many options!  You’ve gone back to being scared.  Shh, shh, don’t worry.  Ruby’s here to help you.

Here’s my guide on where I’d recommend to stay in Tokyo.  I’m keeping it simple and central for you (and me).  There are other areas that are fine to stay in, but I’m just listing the places I personally would recommend that meet certain criteria – central, lots of public transportation, and things to do.

Generally when staying in Tokyo, I recommend to be within walking distance of a station that has the Yamanote Line.  The Yamanote Line is a giant loop around the city, so it makes reaching destinations easy.

Among all the places I’m listing, if I’m asked to pick one place to stay that would be Shibuya.  Second choice would be Shinjuku.

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Shibuya
Shibuya gets my #1 spot for recommendations because it hits all of my criteria.  It’s central and Shibuya station is massive and has multiple lines running in to it.  If you’re visiting Tokyo, guaranteed you’ll be coming to Shibuya to see the famous Shibuya scramble (giant crosswalk) and do some shopping.  There’s also a very active nightlife scene, so you’ll never have to worry about catching the after-midnight-expensive taxi to get home to wherever you’re staying.  Being a hub for younger people to hang out in, it’s really easy to find delicious cheap eats and wallet-friendly drinks.  There are plenty of hotels on offer as well as private accommodations.
Areas in Shibuya Udagawacho, Sakuragaoka, Dogenzaka
Train Lines – Yamanote, Ginza, Hanzomon, Fukutoshin, Keio-Inakashira, Odoriko, Narita Express, Saikyo, Shonan-Shinjuku, Tokaido, Tokyu-den-Entoshi, Tokyu-Toyoko
Pros – Central, nightlife, shopping, lots of accommodation options, direct access on the Narita Express
Cons – Might be on the pricier side of things.  Some AirBnBs in that area are poorly managed due to popularity.

Shinjuku
Shinjuku is actually were I lived for a few months, so I’m pretty familiar with it.  It gets #2 on my list simply because of Shinjuku station.  It’s MASSIVE.  Almost any train line you could want goes through there so it makes traveling a dream (though definitely check out a map of the station beforehand…it’s really, really big).  I’m not sure about private accommodation, but since Shinjuku station is such a big hub, there are lots of cheap “salary man” hotels all around.  If you head to Nishi-Shinjuku you’ll hit the fancier hotels – Park Hyatt, etc.  There’s a bit of shopping in Shinjuku, but other than that I always found myself traveling outside of Shinjuku to eat and play.  There is Golden Gai, however, which is a super fun nightlife area.  Avoid staying in Kabukicho – it’ll be cheap but that’s the red light district of Tokyo.
Areas in Shinjuku – Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku Sanchome
Train Lines – Pretty much all of them
Pros – The most train lines,  perfect for commuting elsewhere, not too expensive, direct access on the Narita Express
Cons – Not too much to do as a tourist.  You’ll probably find yourself just using it as a sleeping hub.

Ikebukuro
While not exactly central, Ikebukuro is a fun neighborhood.  It’s also on the Yamanote Line, with a fairly large station, which makes it convenient for travel.  Ikebukuro is famous for Otome Road, the female-centric otaku (anime fan) area, as well as the giant Sunshine City, which holds a mall, aquarium, cat cafe, theater, etc etc etc.  It can be seen as a bit of a seedier area (at least in terms of Tokyo…it has a small red light area), but aside from the occasional drunk old guy, I’ve never had issues there.  There are tons and tons of restaurants and bars falling in to every budget, as well as shopping and multiple arcades and entertainment centers.  Make sure to check out the Penguin Bar if you can!  Hotels are cheaper in this area and there are plenty of private accommodations on offer.
Areas – Sunshine City, anything central around the station.
Train Lines – Yamanote, Narita Express, Akagi, Fukutoshin, Marunouchi, Nikko-Kinugawa, Redarrow, Yurakacho, Seibu-Ikebukuro, Tobu-Tojo, Odoriko, Saikyo, Shanon-Shinjuku
Pros – Fun area, lots of restaurants, cheaper, large station, direction access on the Narita Express
Cons – Not central

Harajuku
Just a short hop over from Shibuya, Harajuku is the alternative fashion capital of Tokyo.  Harajuku is great to stay in if you like things on the quieter sides in the evenings and want a bit of a neighborhood feel.  Day times are definitely busier, as it’s one of my main shopping areas of Tokyo, and the weekends can be insanely crowded.  Looking to experience the old with the new?  Meiji Shrine is right next to Harajuku – you can escape there for some quiet or go hang out and enjoy the weather in Yoyogi Park.  There aren’t really many hotel options here, so your best bet will be to look for private accomodations. While Harajuku station is quite small, it has walking access to 2 other stations that provide great access to multiple train lines.
Areas – Cat street, Jingumae, KitaAoyama
Train Stations – Harajuku, Meiji-jingumae, Omotesando
Train Lines – Yamanote, Chiyoda, Fukutoshin, Ginza, Hanzomon
Pros – Neighborhood feel, lots of shopping, quiet at night, close to Shibuya.
Cons – Not a lot of train lines, limited hotel options

Roppongi 
Love crazy nightlife?  Then Roppongi is your place to be!  Considered the “ex-pat” area of Tokyo, Roppongi is chocked full of bars, nightclubs, and some other seedier nightlife offerings.  Despite a bit of a seedy reputation, Roppongi is one of my favorite places to go out to eat as it is proliferated with amazing restaurants offering a wide variety of food types (and since it is such a foreigner-friendly area, many places have English menus).  Roppongi is also home to Mori Art Museum, the National Art Center, and high end shopping in Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills.  If you have a bit of dough to drop, you can splurge a bit and stay at the Ritz Carlton or Grand Hyatt.  While not the most central, it’s a great place to stay if you want to do a lot of nighttime activities.
Areas – Around Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills
Train Lines – Oedo, Hibiya
Pros – Great restaurants, cheaper private accommodations, fancy hotels, nightlife
Cons – Not the best train line access

Asakusa
Asakusa is the place to go in Tokyo if you want to experience “old school” Japan and I suggest anyone visiting go there for at least a day.  Senso-ji temple, street markets, sumo wrestlers, and Tokyo Skytree are just a few of the offerings on hand.  I think to tourists, Asakusa is what they think of when they think “Japan”.  Grab yourself some delicious matcha softcream and take a stroll along the Sumida river.  If you’re looking to stay on a small budget, Asakusa has quite a few very nice, very unique hostels that I highly recommend, as well as wallet-friendly hotels and capsule hotels.  The only drawback with Asakusa is that it’s pretty far East, so traveling to other areas of Tokyo can take a while.  Also, it pretty much dies at night.
Areas – Kotobuki, Tawaramachi, Hankawado
Train Lines – Asakusa, Ginza, Nikko-Kinugawa, Ryomo, Tobu Skytree, Tsukuba Express
Pros – Old School Japan feel, very cheap, good traditional food
Cons – Far from anything else, absolutely dead at night

Ginza
Want to be a bit flash?  Stay at a fancy-schmancy hotel?  Ginza is for you!  Tokyo’s traditional high end shopping area, Ginza is filled to the brim with nice hotels, designer outlets, and Michelin-starred sushi joints.  Ginza is fairly central, in terms of actual location in Tokyo.  You’re about halfway between Shibuya and Asakusa (which are on opposite ends of the Ginza line), so hopping to different parts of Tokyo is fairly easy.  If you plan to go to the tuna auction at Tsukiji Market, Ginza is great because it’s within walking distance.  I end up in Ginza quite often for dinner, and with good reason – Ginza has a large offering of restaurants, ranging from high-end sushi to super cheap oden izakayas.  There are also tons of hidden, old school bars (such as Bar High Five) along with kitschy up-and-comers (Iron Fairies).
Areas – Yurakacho, HigashiGinza
Train Lines – Ginza, Hibiya, Marunouchi, Asakusa, Yamanote, Yurakacho, Keihintohoku
Pros – Really nice hotels, close to Tokyo station, close to Tsukiji Market, good restaurants
Cons – Expensive, always kind of packed with tourists

Akasaka
I think Akasaka is one of the most overlooked areas in Tokyo to stay.  Yes, it’s a small neighborhood, but there are many very nice, inexpensive hotels to stay in.  It has great restaurants as well as a lively nightlife and is also very central.  Between the Marunouchi and Ginza lines at Akasakemitsuke station, you can get just about anywhere in the city.  It flies under the radar, but I think it will pick up popularity with tourists soon.  Take advantage of the cheap hotels now!
Areas – Akasakamitsuke, Akasaka
Train Lines – Ginza, Marunouchi, Chiyoda
Pros – Cheap nice hotels, good food
Cons – Nothing touristic to do here, you’ll just be using it as a sleeping hub

So there ya go!  My recommendations on where to stay in Tokyo.  If none of these options work for you, I’d say try to find somewhere that at least has lots of train access.  Make your Tokyo commuting easy!
Hope this helps and enjoy your time in Tokyo!
-Ruby

 

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