Move a little southward from the very heart of the city and you find the iconic Tokyo Tower, with its Eiffel-like latticing and signature white and international orange coat. Towering over the nearby Roppongi district are two of the capital’s most striking urban complexes – Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown – both of which mix fashionable retail outlets, galleries, restaurants and other attractions. For a night out, Roppongi also has high-end dining, clubs, and craft beer and cocktail bars. But there’s a very different vibe further south on the artificial Odaiba island in Tokyo Bay, a lively entertainment hub packed with family-friendly attractions.
Where the southern, western and central parts of Tokyo’s core tend to feel more modern and cosmopolitan, the northern and eastern areas retain more traditional character. The winding streets of the Yanaka district are lovely for a stroll, discovering small temples and old shopping streets, but also cool cafes and galleries. Nearby, in Ueno, is the bustling Ameyoko street market, half a dozen top museums and, with Ueno Park, one of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom spots in spring. A fun detour from there is Kappabashi Dougu Street, aka kitchen street, where you’ll find stores that supply Tokyo’s catering industry with chopsticks, pots, pans and even the food replicas seen in many restaurant windows.
Like northern Tokyo, the east side is full of old character. In Asakusa, there’s the magnificent Senso-ji Temple, lively backstreet restaurants and plenty of traditional snack stalls and shops to explore. Across the Sumida River you see the 634m TOKYO SKYTREE, which as well as delivering great views over Tokyo has plenty of attractions and shops in its malls. A little south is Ryogoku, the centre of the sumo world, but also a must-visit for its Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Sumida Hokusai Museum and the Japanese Sword Museum, all of which give superb insights into the Japan of old.
Spread out over almost twice the area of Tokyo’s core 23 special wards – yet with less than half the population – the western side of the capital breaks from the heavily urbanised image of Tokyo, offering visitors leafy suburbs and mountain ranges, outdoor museums and sprawling parks, as well as outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking and glamping.
Stretching into the Pacific, south of mainland Tokyo, the volcanic Izu Islands have everything from trekking and diving to simply lazing about and enjoying the views. The closest and largest of the islands, Oshima, is less than two hours by jetfoil from central Tokyo, making it a popular day trip. Other islands require a longer ferry haul, which helps keep them wonderfully uncrowded and peaceful. Further south, the Ogasawara Islands are an archipelago of more than 30 subtropical and tropical islands.