You’ve heard the rumors. What are the most expensive cities in the world? Paris, London, Tokyo? Well, the rumors are true. But just because certain cities charge more for a cup of coffee doesn’t mean you can’t be frugal when traveling there. Despite its high prices, Tokyo has so much to offer and surprisingly, you can do most of it for free.
One of the best services I can recommend is Tokyo Free Guide, which is exactly as the name indicates. A tour guide will meet you at an attraction of your choice for free. You only pay for their cost of transportation and any entrance fees. Fair warning: book well in advance.
If you’re going to be in Tokyo on a Sunday, be sure to check out Yoyogi Park. Located near Shinjuku, it is an absolute (free) must see. Every Sunday, weather permitting, men and women come out and the park turns into what I can best describe as a scene from the movie “Crybaby.” You have the greasers and the squares, dressed up and hair done, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, dancing and singing for hours.
If you’d like to go, you can head there by taking the JR Yamanote line to Harajuku station, Omotesando exit (the park is located a few steps from here) or the Chiyoda line to Yoyogi-Koen, exit 4.
Since you’re in the area, you can explore Harajuku for the chance to see some of the elaborate costumes, make up, and hair. I’ve heard that it’s best to do this on Sunday, as well, since everyone is out of school. Make sure you walk down Takeshita Street, where all the girls go shopping. It’s crowded, but worthwhile.
The Meiji Shrine, also located steps from Yoyogi Park, provides a serene (free of charge) getaway from the concrete jungle you might find yourself caught in.
If you’re an early bird, take time to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, located on the Hibiya line, Tsukiji exit 1. Get out of bed to witness the chaos during the buying and selling that happens daily. There is a visitor’s passage that tourists must stay in and the auction is finished by 6:30 am. It’s best to arrive around 4:00 am to watch and if you’re jetlagged, what better way to spend your restless morning?
If you’re into gadgets, make sure to visit the Sony Showroom. Open everyday from 11-7 pm, it’s a free tour of the latest technology available on the market today. The easiest way to get here is to arrive on the Ginza line, exit B9, where you can access the store straight from underground. Browse 3D cameras, entertainment systems, and computers that cost more than my apartment.
If you want to explore shops and markets, I recommend Asakusa. We stayed in this neighborhood and explored its charming alleys almost every night. It is said that this part of Tokyo is less modern and more traditional. It is located near the river, a beautiful temple, the Sky Tree, and the ridiculous “Golden Turd,” which is really just part of the Asahi brewery. It’s certainly worth your trip there.
For a free view of the incredible Tokyo skyline, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office buildings. Open from 9:30 – 5:30 and located on the Oedo line, Roppongi station, you really can’t beat an opportunity to see this marvel from above.
If you’re looking to see Tokyo in all of her glory, go to Shibuya on the JR Yamanote line, Hachiko exit. Here, you will find the infamous Shibuya Crossing, a 5-point intersection that swells with people every time the light changes color. For a free overhead view of it all, go to Starbucks, but keep your camera out of sight.
You can also go to Shinjuku station, the busiest station in the world, around rush hour. I would avoid taking the subway at this time, but it was interesting to see the white-shirts-black-pants combination that flood the street at this time.
For a modern tour of Tokyo, ride along the Yurikomome Line, a brand new transit line that is a bit more expensive than the rest. This takes you along the Rainbow Bridge and onto one of the manmade islands. I enjoyed walking around this area and admiring the modern, new age buildings. Stay until nightfall for a beautiful view of the skyline against the bay.
Some of my favorite moments in Tokyo came from simply walking around different neighborhoods, people watching, and making friends with strangers. Despite the cost of getting there, it costs you nothing to get lost, which often makes for the best stories. Some of my favorite destinations within Tokyo included Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Hibiya, Roppongi and Asakusa.
There are other ways to save money besides visiting free attractions. Stay in a budget accommodation (I recommend any of the Khaosan hostels), share meals if you’re traveling with a partner, and always avoid taking taxis. The subway in Tokyo is very efficient and will take you to virtually any point within the city. Although somewhat overwhelming and complicated to understand at first, it gets easier with time. If you’re confused, there is always someone working that will be able to assist you.