Tokyo is undeniably overwhelming to the first-time visitor. But the key to making sense of the sprawl lies in understanding that each neighborhood has a character all its own. We’ve gone ahead and prepared a cheat sheet to some of Tokyo’s more popular districts — along with a hotel or two to match.
Since long before Japanese “street style” was recognized as an international trend, Shibuya has attracted fashion-forward youths and the photographers who follow them. Along with neighboring Harajuku, the area is still full of trendsetting boutiques, as well as cafés and shops that provide a hip backdrop for the style-conscious.
For those who prefer something chic while still keeping a finger on the pulse of the street, Cerulean Tower Tokyu, on the southwest edge of Shibuya, is a perfect place to stay. It’s roughly equidistant from Harajuku and Daikanyama, another neighborhood known for attracting Tokyo’s fashionable crowd — though here the dominant style is slightly more artsy and posh.
Head further south past Daikanyama and you’ll be in Meguro, a popular residential neighborhood where stylish new shops and bars have begun to pop up among practical everyday stores. While it’s not the most convenient area for business travelers, those who have more flexibility with time (or the budget for a few taxi rides) would be able to experience a taste of the local lifestyle. And for that, Claska, which we believe to be the original Tokyo boutique hotel, is the ideal home base. The smartly designed rooms are filled with natural light and feel instantly like home, and when you’re ready to step out, ask the hotel’s friendly staff for the best tips and addresses for getting the most out of Meguro.
When you inevitably spend the entire day exploring the high-end shopping and gourmet wonderland that is the Isetan department store, perhaps with a quick visit to the tranquil Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden nearby, it’s time to experience the traditional (if a bit shadier) side of this neighborhood. Omoide Yokocho, a 100-meter alleyway lined with tiny izakayas, put some contrast in your day. Most of these spots seat fewer than twenty people at a time and specialize in yakitori and nabe (hot pot). Another option is Golden Gai, where you’ll find even smaller bars (many with fewer than ten seats) nestled inside traditional two-story buildings from the ’50s. When you’re ready to call it a night, you’ll appreciate the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s discreet service and ultra-luxe rooms — especially the soaking tub with a sweeping view of the city from high above.
For a long time, Roppongi was known for its debaucherous, expat-centric nightlife. But in the past decade or so the neighborhood has welcomed some refreshing developments, including the openings of art institutions such as the Mori Art Museum, the National Art Center and the 21_21 Design Sight (a collaboration between Issey Miyake and Tadao Ando). As a result, it’s started to see a growing — and presumably better behaved — daytime crowd.
Housed within the Roppongi Hills development, a multi-purpose building complex that’s essentially served as the centerpiece for this healthier revitalization, is the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. The hotel itself has seven restaurants and a bar, and within the complex are yet more dining options, as well as luxury boutiques, beauty salons and a movie theatre. In other words, you could spend the entire day without leaving this small patch of Roppongi — at least until late night, when the still-lively night scene might pull you out of the comfort zone.
Then there’s Akasaka/Toranomon, where Japanese politicians, foreign diplomats and media types converge, thanks to the governmental offices and a good number of entertainment business headquarters in the area. The urban landscape here is an interesting one, as the newer constructions — mostly commercial complexes — soar high into the sky like poplar trees among older buildings, like the National Diet Building and the Hie Shrine, that sit low and wide.
The Capitol Hotel Tokyu and Andaz Tokyo are two hotels in the area that neatly represent the area’s architectural and cultural landscapes. Though both thoroughly modern, the low-slung, Kengo Kuma–designed Capitol Hotel feels a bit more buttoned-up and diplomatic, while the Andaz, in the soaring Toranomon Hills, boasts sweeping views of the city and hip, contemporary amenities, including a rooftop bar.
It’s probably safe to say today that most waterfront areas in cities around the world are in the process of becoming, or have already become, more or less luxurious neighborhoods. Here in Tokyo, Shiodome and the surrounding area facing the Tokyo Bay are no exception. What used to be a drab business district that felt out of the way from anything exciting is quickly turning into a destination of its own. And, one way to take in this new development is of course through the area’s stunning hotels.
With two Michelin-starred restaurants and a glamorous bar overlooking the bay and Hamarikyu Gardens, the Conrad Tokyo naturally attracts in-the-know travelers and sophisticated locals. Nearby, the Park Hotel Tokyo is slightly more casual in style but equally popular, for each of its 273 guest rooms offers a sweeping view of this futuristic neighborhood. Creative types would appreciate the Artist Floor rooms, whose walls are adorned with original mural works by emerging Japanese artists.
It’s not just the city’s oldest temple, Sensoji, that keeps this Edo-era downtown bustling with people of all ages. It’s worth exploring beyond the holy site and Kaminarimon, the iconic red gate with the grand lantern. Foodies should especially enjoy the neighborhood, as it has a number of casual eateries serving traditional snack foods and Tokyo specialties like monjayaki. It’s also home to Kamiya Bar, the city’s first Western-style bar, opened in 1880. This local favorite gets lively from early evening, and the crowd is decidedly old-fashioned casual, so make sure to leave your pretensions at the door. If all that throwback vibe starts to feel overwhelming, retreat to the Gate Hotel, where the contemporary style will provide a welcome respite — and a chance to digest all the food and the traditional culture that you just consumed.
Served by more than a dozen train and subway lines, Tokyo Station is one of the busiest hubs in the world. But step outside on the Marunouchi side, between the station and the Imperial Palace, and you’ll find yourself in a surprisingly calm and refined environment, marked by occasional pre-war elements like cobblestone streets and brick buildings — both rarities in Tokyo today — set against the familiar urban landscape of sky-high buildings.
The best hotels in Marunouchi all seem to have embraced this juxtaposition of the retro and the ultra-modern in their designs. At the newly opened Aman Tokyo, for example, the guest rooms are reminiscent of traditional ryokans, with shoji screens and light wood furniture; while the Tokyo Station Hotel pays homage to the Taisho period (1912-1926), when the city’s fashion and design were progressively adapting Western styles. And then there’s the Palace Hotel, where you can see directly into the past, observing the verdant palace grounds from the comfort of your modern guest room.