See where old meets new in Tokyo

Japan’s capital is where the ancient and modern rub shoulders more closely than anywhere else in the world. Its eclectic neighbourhoods are the best place to witness its old and new faces…

Credit: Tokyo Tokyo

Credit: Tokyo Tokyo

Tokyo is a city where you can go back to the future, where the ancient and the futuristic are seamlessly entwined.

You might visit a shiny new shopping centre to pick up traditional snacks and souvenirs. Or perhaps you’ll stroll along streets where centuries-old temples rub shoulders with neon-drenched skyscrapers. Or of course, you could explore a cutting-edge contemporary art gallery then grab dinner at a restaurant founded generations ago. You’ll find this intoxicating blend of old and new everywhere in the city; here are just a few of our favourite neighbourhoods where you can experience it.


With a name meaning “The Bridge of Japan”, it’s no surprise that Nihonbashi has played an important role in Japanese history. For centuries, this has been Japan’s Zero Milestone Marker – or in other words, it’s quite literally the centre of Tokyo.

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan opened up trade with the rest of the world, Nihonbashi’s role as a hub of commerce evolved. The version of the bridge you see today dates back to 1911, when Western-style buildings were popping up throughout the neighbourhood. Stroll the streets of Nihonbashi and you’ll still see plenty of these imposing stone edifices.

Close by is Mitsukoshi, Japan’s original department store, which opened in 1935. The building itself dates to 1914, with Art Deco flourishes added later. It makes a fascinating contrast with nearby COREDO Muromachi, a modern complex with gleaming high-rises. Both contain a mix of high-end stores and restaurants, ranging from traditional shops with long pedigrees to the latest designer brands.

A few steps from there you'll reach Tokyo Station, with its elegant red-brick Marunouchi side dating back to 1914. By now over 3,000 trains depart every day, including super fast shinkansen services –  more than any other station in the country. As well as exploring the “station city” inside, it’s worth losing yourself in the maze of streets near the Yaesu entrance. Here you’ll find tiny izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), historic restaurants and even indie galleries.

Tatsuno Kingo, who designed Tokyo Station, cut his teeth on the nearby Bank of Japan in 1896 – the first Western-style building with a Japanese architect. As well as admiring the façade, you can explore some of the Classical-style building on a tour.


The appeal of Kagurazaka lies in its historic backstreets, and in its curious blend of traditional Japanese character and French influence.

The main street stretches from Iidabashi Station to Akagi-jinja, an Edo-period (1603-1868) shrine which was given a chic redesign by world-famous architect Kuma Kengo in 2010. Visit on a Sunday afternoon if you can, when this whole street is closed to traffic.

Kagurazaka has several other interesting shrines and temples, too. Stop by Zenkoku-ji (which dates to 1595) to ask Bishamonten for good fortune. Or if you’re hoping for luck in love, visit Tokyo Daijingū, famous for originating the Shintō wedding ceremony. This is the place to stock up on romance-focused omamori (good luck charms).

If your shrine visit does the trick and you need a date spot, you needn’t go far. Due to its French schools, the first opened in 1952, Kagurazaka is known as “Petit Paris”. Today it’s home to some of the city’s best French restaurants, pâtisseries and cafés.

Explore on foot, and you can easily peer into the nooks and crannies of narrow Kakurenbo-yokochō, or “Hide-and-seek Alley”. In Hyōgo-yokochō you’ll walk on cobbles and past wooden walls painted in black lacquer, behind which are high-end ryotei (traditional restaurants). At the base of Atami-yu Kaidan, you’ll pass the sentō (public bath) after which it’s named. Having clambered up its stone steps, you might hear shamisen (a three-stringed traditional Japanese instrument) music drifting from the practice hall which led to its nickname, Geisha Alley.


People pouring across Shibuya Scramble Crossing under the light of multi-storey video billboards is one of the city’s iconic images. But this hyper-modern district has been a popular entertainment area for a long time, and you can still find retro corners to explore even now.

Crossing aside, Shibuya’s most famous sight is Hachikō. This unassuming statue of a beloved dog by the station was originally made in 1934, then again in 1948, and has become a popular meeting point. Set out from Hachi to enjoy some of Shibuya’s musical attractions, such as a live opera or ballet performance at Bunkamura’s airy Orchard Hall. A visit to Tower Records, the flagship store built in 1995, is a nostalgic experience for anyone who grew up playing CDs. Through the main doors, emblazoned with “No music, no life”, are floors of CDs, vinyls, cassettes and books, plus event spaces for everything from intimate gigs to meet-and-greets with k-pop and j-pop idols.

Shibuya’s kissaten (a retro Japanese-style café selling tea and coffee) make a refreshing change from the neighbourhood’s many experimental, Instagram-ready coffee shops. These retro cafés tend to have a mid-century atmosphere, even if they opened later – try out Aoyama Ichibankan (1973) or Chatei Hatou (1989), both cosy spaces decorated with dark wood and antiques. Lion adds an extra element. This meikyoku kissaten (known as masterpiece cafés, where you can drink coffee and listen to classical music), was founded in 1926 as a shrine to music. You order quietly, sit in silence, and enjoy listening to a few of the 5,000 records over the built-in sound system.

For something a little more lively, embrace Tokyo’s nightlife with a trip to a yokochō (an alleyway crammed with bars or restaurants). Nonbei-yokochō is the classic choice, its much-loved tiny izakaya leading to its name of “Drunkard’s Alley”. The sleek new Miyashita Park development nearby has its own small side-street of bars and street food joints, known as Shibuya-yokochō.


Asakusa is probably the first place you’d think of for a slice of traditional Tokyo – and for good reason. But the neighbourhood is no museum piece, with some eye-catching modern architecture and a thriving culinary scene keeping things lively.

Asakusa’s impressive list of superlatives has to begin with Sensō-ji. It was founded in 628, making it the city’s oldest temple. After exploring the precincts, and browsing the many specialist shops in the area, head over to the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center; designed by Kuma Kengo, it’s an elegant combination of traditional and modern aesthetics, and has excellent views.

Next, grab an onigiri for lunch from Yadoroku – Tokyo’s oldest rice ball restaurant (founded 1954). The portable snack is ideal for a stroll alongside the Sumida River, from where you can watch the futuristic water taxi pass below a cluster of gleaming modern skyscrapers. Looming over them all is TOKYO SKYTREE which, at 634 metres high, the world’s tallest tower.

Rest your legs for a while with a ride in a jinrikisha (rickshaw), a great way to see the neighbourhood. Afterwards, for another gentle dose of adrenaline, you could visit Hanayashiki (opened 1853). Not only is it Japan’s oldest amusement park, but it’s home to the oldest existing rollercoaster, dating to 1953.

Wrap up your day with dinner in – what else? – Japan’s longest-standing tempura restaurant, Kaminarimon Sansada (founded 1837). And finally, enjoy a bracing glass of Denki Bran, the signature drink of Kamiya Bar – Japan’s first ever Western-style bar, opened in 1880.

Item 1 of 8


Across the river from Asakusa, Ryōgoku is most famous for one thing: sumo. Not only can you watch a match at the Kokugikan, but you might even spot some rikishi (wrestlers) in their training stables. For a taste of their lifestyle, stop at one of the neighbourhood’s historic chanko-nabe restaurants – this huge, hearty hotpot is a wrestlers’ staple.

Sumo aside, Ryōgoku is known for its laidback shitamachi (downtown) atmosphere, which you can experience just by strolling its low-rise streets and whiling away an afternoon in one of its retro cafés. Recently, the mid-century vibe has been embraced and updated with some interesting new developments – indie shops, contemporary galleries, and even sentō (public baths)! Both Edo-yu and tattoo-friendly Mikoku-yu have been lovingly remodelled, and had a few spa treatments added. Mikoku-yu even has TOKYO SKYTREE views from a couple of baths, as does nearby Daikoku-yu’s decking area. Arai-yu has bright murals in the bathing areas, while Kogane-yu’s artist-led renovation included adding a craft beer taproom; in keeping with its younger clientele, it’s also tattoo-friendly.

Ryōgoku is a great area for museums, too. The Edo-Tokyo Museum is a standout, with its lifesize reconstructions of historical Tokyo (including the Edo-period bridge in Nihonbashi), but it’s closed for renovations until 2025. Nearby, the Sumida-Hokusai Museum gives a well-presented introduction to the ukiyo-e (Japanese art that includes woodblock print and painting) master in a bold modern building. You can see some beautiful blades at the small Japanese Sword Museum, and also views of the traditional Kyū-Yasuda Teien from its roof garden. Finally, though the topic sounds niche, the Tobacco & Salt Museum is worth a visit for its eclectic collection, well-designed space and interactive displays.

Kiyosumi Shirakawa

With its shitamachi history, arty atmosphere and recent boom in coffee shops, Kiyosumi Shirakawa makes an ideal place to spend a relaxing day. The neighbourhood is hemmed in by four rivers – the Sumida, Onagi, Oyoko and Sendaibori – which made it a useful location for transporting goods. This history has left it with a lot of old wooden warehouses, which are perfect to convert into airy galleries and aromatic roasteries.

The Fukagawa Edo Museum is a great starting point for your explorations. Its life-size displays immerse you in the district as it would have been in the mid-nineteenth century, allowing you to step into boathouses, homes and even a fire tower. Neighbouring Kiyosumi Teien, a Meiji-era stroll garden with a scenic pond, is also worth a visit. The area’s major gallery is the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, opened in 1995 in an arresting steel-and-concrete building.

Kiyosumi Shirakawa took the first steps to becoming a “coffee town” in 2015, when third-wave coffee culture pioneers Blue Bottle opened their first overseas location in a warehouse here. Others followed, each with their own unique approach. Allpress Espresso Tokyo Roastery & Café is also in a repurposed warehouse, while fukadaso converted part of an old apartment block. Cosy ARiSE COFFEE ROASTERS always has a wide selection of house-roasted beans, while KOFFEE MAMEYA -Kakeru- eschews roasting their own to focus on perfecting the barista part of the process and serving multi-course tasting sets.


With millions of people passing through Shinjuku Station each day, it is one of the world’s busiest. People come here for all kinds of reasons, too. You’ll see suit-clad commuters heading for the office, camera-toting families on holiday, groups of friends dressed up for the LGBTQ+ nightlife venues in Ni-chōme, and well-heeled tourists staying in one of the high-end hotels.

The neighbourhood is just as eclectic as its visitors. Make a beeline for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, designed by Tange Kenzō, to get an overview of the area from the free South Observation Deck. You can look over the Empire State-style NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, the towers of the Park Hyatt Hotel – made famous by Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation – and the calm, green oasis of Yoyogi Park.

Despite its profusion of skyscrapers, some of Shinjuku’s most interesting sights are at ground level. Hanazono-jinja, which dates back to at least the sixteenth century, is a serene spot with both regular Sunday antiques markets and frequent festivals.

Hanazono-jinja is also right next to Golden Gai, a slice of pre-war Shinjuku which is one of Tokyo’s most memorable nightlife areas. About 200 bars and tiny restaurants are squeezed into a few slightly careworn blocks. Most seat under a dozen guests, so pick one with a theme you like and prepare to make some friends. Some have been here for decades, while others are newer, sleeker openings; try 24-hour spot Shadow for the former, and literary Open Book for the latter.

Nearby Omoide-yokochō, or “Memory Lane”, has a similar no-frills atmosphere, with more focus on food. Expect each place to offer just a couple of dishes, cooked to perfection and often eaten while standing up, before heading onto the next bar.


The chic residential area of Nakameguro is one of Tokyo’s most rewarding districts to walk through. Its generally low-rise buildings include an eclectic mix of architecture, with cutting-edge modern houses ingeniously folded into tiny plots next to standard apartment buildings, and historic gems tucked away down side streets.

The heart of the neighbourhood is the Meguro River, lined with cherry trees which bring excitable crowds each spring. The Sato Sakura Museum, in a restrained black building, displays artwork inspired by the blossoms, mostly made between the 1920s and 1980s.

Just a few minutes’ walk away, Kyū Asakura House gives you the chance to see inside a mansion built in 1919, complete with manicured traditional garden. Meguro City Office makes an interesting contrast. Designed by Murano Togo in 1966, its gently curving lines of concrete and mosaic-lined skylights couldn’t be more different – though along with a rooftop garden, visitors can also make use of a couple of traditional-style rooms.

Today, Nakameguro is known for its trendy coffee shops, microbreweries and vintage boutiques. 1LDK and the attached Taste and Sense are a good example of the popular “clothing store plus café” combination. Stationery and book shops are also popular, and sometimes they aim for a very specific niche; dessin sells rare books, mostly focused on design, while only free paper mostly stocks zines. The whole Nakameguro Koukashita development, under the train tracks, is also worth exploring for shops and cafés – there’s even a branch of the legendary i’m donut? bakery.

Azabu Jūban

Azabu Jūban’s cosmopolitan air comes from its eclectic but mostly highbrow mix of influences. What was once a genteel residential area for samurai families became a lively commercial hub when foreign embassies began to appear here.

Among the older sights in the neighbourhood, the temple of Azabusan Zenpuku-ji stands out for its impressive gingko tree, which is over 700 years old. The temple itself dates back to the ninth century, and was apparently founded by the famous monk Kōbō Daishi.

Though it’s a few centuries younger than the temple, Takenoyu still has an impressive pedigree. This cosy, tattoo-friendly onsen (natural hot spring bath) is known for its mineral-rich “black beauty” water. It may look intimidating, but it’s reported to be very good for your skin…

Whether for samurai or embassy workers, there’s always been a demand for good, quick food in Azabu Jūban – and much of it is still on sale today. Within just a couple of minutes’ walk, you can pick up crispy senbei (rice crackers) at Tanuki Senbei, founded in 1928; fresh taiyaki (sweet pastries shaped like fish) at Naniwaya, which is where they were invented in 1909; warm imagawayaki (pastries filled with red beans or custard, the inspiration for taiyaki) at Tsukishimaya, which opened in 1951; and a whole range of nuts and beans at Mamegen, which dates back to 1865.

You can take your snacks to the pretty Meiji-era Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, named after Prince Arisugawa Taruhito. It’s also home to the light, airy Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library, which has a great fifth-floor cafeteria with views over the greenery. You can get a more panoramic view just a short walk away, in the glittering towers of the Roppongi Hills complex. After stopping to admire the modern art collection at the Mori Art Museum, head up to the rooftop Sky Deck and marvel at Tokyo stretching away towards the horizon. Newly opened Azabudai Hills draws people with its huge open spaces filled with lush greenery and foliage-topped modern architecture in the heart of Tokyo, an area that was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, a renowned British designer who was also responsible for the cauldron used at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the new Routemaster double-decker bus in London.

Feeling inspired?

For more information and to start planning your own trip exploring Tokyo's ancient and modern sides, head to the official tourist board website.