Shinjuku is a place of contrasts. A neighbourhood of several layers. Between the towering skyscrapers, you’ll find galleries, theatres and bookstores. It’s where universities tutor attentive students by day and entertainment venues lure the young folk by night.
This borough is where you can immerse yourself in the revered history of the Japanese samurai, whisk yourself up to observation decks for unparalleled views of the city and then partake in a Shinjuku bar crawl before singing your heart out with new made friends in neon-lit karaoke rooms. Seek out funky hotel bars, explore galleries and have your mind blown at a Robot Restaurant. Our Shinjuku neighbourhood guide outlines some key highlights of Tokyo. Read on to discover where to eat, what to see and what to do in Shinjuku.
a brief guide to shinjuku tokyo
WHAT TO DO IN SHINJUKU
Japan has an uncanny ability to mix the old with the new. A perfect example of this Japanese modernism is the Hanazono Jinja, an Edo-period Shinto shrine which sits neatly within the modern city centre. The structure sits harmoniously within the community and plays an active role in yearly festivals.
One of the best free things to do in Shinjuku is to visit the free observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. On good weather days, visitors have panoramic views across Tokyo and Mt Fuji in the distance.
For a sensory overload and an experience unlike no other, reserve a dinner seat at the Robot Restaurant, where girls in bikinis command their robots into battle. If warring robots are not your jam, go for something a little more traditional and dress up as a samurai whilst delving into their history at the Samurai Museum.
And if you prefer to get even more active in the city, try your hand at baseball at the Shinjuku Batting Centre where you can take a swing for only ¥300.
THE BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANTS IN SHINJUKU
A slice of Japanese history has remained intact down the charming Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane). It is more affectionately known as Yakitori Alley. Pass under the red lanterns and squeeze yourself into one of the eateries where you can watch vendors grill skewers of meat right in front of you. It’s a cheap and low-fuss dining option but if you’re keen for a more upmarket yakitori experience, make a reservation at Yakitori Ogawa and sample the set menu.
Budget friendly options for lunch range from a hot bowl of curry at Spicy Curry Roka to soba noodles from Kyorakutei. Tonkatsu fans should try the pork cutlets inside Tonkatsu Hinata but if you’re after something fresh from the sea, make a reservation at Sushidokoro Shigeru where sushi tasting menus start from ¥3,000.
Those who prefer dining later can enjoy a bowl of ramen at Sobahouse Konjikihototogisu before 9pm. It is located close to Shinjuku Golden Gai (see below).
THE BEST BARS IN SHINJUKU
If you’re keen to drink a lot and not walk far, begin your Shinjuku bar crawl at Shinjuku Golden Gai. Fair warning – if you start here, it’s likely that you won’t leave as there are more than 250 bars packed into the tiny streets of this district.
Located close to Shinjuku Station, Brooklyn Parlor is an American hipster bar that will appeal to burger fans and craft beer drinkers. If your preference is cocktails, try 8-bit Cafe where you can also play retro video games. Take care not to spill your beverage on the controls!
Add The Peak Bar in Park Hyatt Tokyo to your list of must-dos. Go between 5pm and 9pm where a set fee gets you unlimited drinks and snacks. Here, you can recreate your own Lost In Translation moments. If you want to try Japanese whiskey, a tasting flight at Zoetrope is highly recommended.
THE BEST CAFES IN SHINJUKU
Start your day with some of the best coffee in Shinjuku from Paul Bassett Shinjuku and a side of pancakes. Dessert fans shouldn’t stop there because 4/4 Seasons Coffee not only serves specialty coffee but decadent sweets too.
If your day of exploring starts at Shinjuku station, make a point to visit Verve Coffee before setting off. For something cosy, Cafe Bon will have you feeling like you’re at your nana’s place for a cup of tea. In contrast, Blue Bottle Coffee Shinjuku offers a minimalist interior and baristas with superior knowledge ready to provide your next caffeine boost.
Shoppers can find respite from the malls inside Sarutahiko Coffee. Rest your feet and prepare for your next spending session over a cup of single origin coffee here.
BEST SHOPPING IN SHINJUKU
You’ll find quality Japanese brands and souvenirs inside Beams Japan’s flagship store in Shinjuku. From fashion and art to pop culture and coffee, this place is uniquely Japanese. From one boutique shopping mall to another, the department store Isetan Shinjuku is where you’ll discover labels from Japanese and international designers.
If you’re after items for your next cosplay outfit, make sure to visit Okadaya sewing store for all your bits and bobs. Those looking for a Japanese keepsake, pick up a kimono before travelling home from Tokyo135° Shinjuku Alta.
For the latest tech gear, head to either Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku West or BIC Camera Shinjuku West. These large electronic retailers house everything from cameras to phones, accessories and more. If you plan to spend large on some new tech or gadgets, consider bringing your passport to register for the tourist tax refund at the checkout. Of course, brand new isn’t always within everyone’s budget. Shinjuku Chuko Camera Ichiba sells second hand cameras and is undoubtedly a haven for professional and amateur photographers looking to add a preloved camera or lens to their kits.
WHERE TO STAY IN SHINJUKU
Hotel chains like the Hiltons and Hyatts all have 5-star hotels in Shinjuku but if you ask us, our top pick of the chains is Park Hyatt Tokyo. Alternatively, for something that encapsulates Japan better than most, stay at the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, better known for the large Godzilla head emerging from the rooftop.
If you don’t need all that space, why not spend a night inside a capsule hotel? Nine Hours Capsule Hotel offers a place to stay and shower without the extra bells and whistles.
For a unique Japanese accommodation experience, look no further than a night in a love hotel. These short stay hotels are usually adults only. Enjoy a night of love making at either Hotel Atlas or the more tranquil Hotel Balian Resort Shinjuku Island.
When your budget is a tad smaller and you don’t mind sharing a room with a few other travellers, there are hostels aplenty when choosing a stay in Shinjuku. In our experience, Japanese hostels are some of the best in the world. Dorms at Hikari House or Hostel Pumpkey Tokyo start from around ¥3500. A basic private room will set you back slightly more but travelling as a couple or group offers great value. Imano Tokyo Hostel and Unplan Shinjuku are centrally located and only a short stumble home from Shinjuku Golden Gai.
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PLANNING YOUR VISIT
How far is Shinjuku from Narita Airport?
Train from Narita Airport to Shinjuku
To get from Narita Airport to Shinjuku, you will need to catch two trains. The journey is at least 1.25 hours (75 mins).
Option 1: Narita Express Train ~¥3,250
Option 2: Skyliner > JY Yamanote Line ~¥2,720
Bus from Narita Airport to Shinjuku
The journey is at least 2 hours and will cost ~¥2,800 – ¥3,600.
Drive from Narita Airport to Shinjuku
The journey is at least 1 hour depending on traffic and certainly isn’t the cheapest option. For a chauffeured car, expect the cost to begin at ¥22,000.
How far is Shinjuku from Shibuya?
Not far at all as they are next to each other. Yoyogi Station sits between Shibuya Station and Shinjuku Station.
How do I explore Shinjuku?
For tourists, the notable attractions within the Shinjuku neighbourhood are roughly about 10 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station. For those looking to explore further, you can catch the bus, walk or use subway and metro lines. The Tozai Line, Toei Ōedo Line and Fukutoshin Line all have stations that run through the Shinjuku neighbourhood.
Is Shinjuku safe at night?
Following on from above, visitors are likely to stay in the south-east area of the neighbourhood closest to Shinjuku Station. There are several universities in the area so you are likely to see many Japanese students frequenting Shinjuku. In our experience, we found Shinjuku to be safe at night.
Where is the red light district in Shinjuku?
The red light district in Shinjuku, otherwise known as “Kabukicho”, is often called the “Sleepless Town”. By day, you’ll see uni students meeting up with friends in between classes and you can dress up as a samurai warrior. But when the sun sets, it’s a strong “adults only” atmosphere as gentlemen’s clubs, love hotels and clubs open to entertain the clientele.