Visiting Tokyo by following the subway lines is an easy, safe, and economical way to explore the city. I have been to this bustling metropolis twice, spending about 20 days in total, and have traveled extensively with a child in tow, always feeling safe at any time of the day. Tokyo is the largest metropolis in the world, yet using the subway remains one of the easiest ways to get around and visit the city.
Even during rush hour, it’s incredible how there’s never a feeling of overcrowding that I’ve experienced in other cities. People are respectful, and the trains are immaculately clean. The most noticeable thing is the silence, which is almost intimidating – there’s no chatter, and nobody talks loudly on their phones. In fact, have a phone conversation on the metro or train in Japan is considered impolite, and you won’t see anyone doing it.
Another thing that makes subway travel safe is the presence of two inspectors, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the train, who get off at every stop to check who is getting on and off. Only when everything is in order do they give the OK to move on. Of course, the rule respected by everyone when the doors open is to wait politely on the specially marked lines on the platform and facilitate the exit of passengers. There are even some areas, expressly dedicated to women, for lining up to board the trains. Men, if you’re spotted, don’t get in line where it’s not allowed.
To get around by subway, it’s advisable to have a convenient and practical map, distributed free of charge at each stop and available in various languages. The map allows you to see the entire subway network and keep your chosen route under control.
I also recommend downloading the Tokyo Metro Subway Map and Route Planner app. Just set your starting and ending locations, and the route is automatically calculated. The app can be easily used even inside the metro stations, all of which are covered by free Wi-Fi.
But let’s get to the routes that will at least give you an idea of this megalopolis. The main attractions can be visited by following the subway lines.
Ginza Line: The Orange Line
Many of the most popular destinations can be reached by following the “Ginza Line.” This line is indicated by the orange color, and its stops are preceded by the letter G. The “Ginza Line” allows you to visit the Ueno district, the luxurious Ginza shopping district, cutting across the city to reach the Shibuya area. We can define it as the tourist line par excellence. Plan to spend at least two days to see all the offers that the subway stops along this line offer. The Ginza Line has 19 stops. Below are the stops, in descending order, where you should get off.
Asakusa (G19 stop)
At this stop, you’ll find the famous Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in the city, founded in 628. The temple is beautiful and richly ornamented with gold. But despite the beauty and antiquity of the temple, this area is a bit too touristy. From the Hozomon Gate, the symbolic entrance to the temple considered the main access road, to the temple itself, the numerous stalls prevent you from grasping the charm of the place. Moreover, even outside the subway stop, which I haven’t seen in other areas of Tokyo, there are various people who offer themselves as guides or offer various tourist services. However, the temple is worth a visit for its beauty.
Kappa Bashi (G18 stop)
For culinary art lovers, Kappa Bashi is definitely an area to visit. By getting off at this stop, you will have the opportunity to visit a characteristic street entirely dedicated to kitchen utensils of all kinds. A street made up of small and large shops attached to each other where you can find not only Japanese but also European and other Eastern countries’ kitchen utensils. Many of these shops probably directly supply Tokyo’s restaurants, in fact, among the items sold there are also typical Japanese chef and waiter uniforms, and professional kitchen utensils. Some are more oriented towards non-professional customers and offer among the strangest and funniest utensils you can imagine: from the foldable silicone cup to carry in your bag, to the heart-shaped egg mold. It is impossible not to find everything you need to prepare sushi, bento boxes, and more by entering these shops.
Ueno (G16 stop)
The huge Ueno park, in the summer, is brightened by a deafening cicada song. The park alone is worth a visit. If you then consider the number of museums and attractions it contains, you can understand why it is a must-visit on any respectable city tour. There is also a zoo in Ueno where the main attraction is represented by the panda. I visited this zoo in the summer with my son, and I must say that although it is pleasant to walk along the well-kept paths, it made me very sad to see the animals confined in cramped spaces. On the day of the visit, it was 40 degrees, and seeing bears and penguins suffering from the heat was really painful. The National Science Museum.is absolutely not to be missed.
Akihabara (G14 stop)
For years, this district was the temple of technological shopping. Recently, the advent of smartphones has made this area lose much of its appeal. You will find a series of shops selling technological objects that were once considered very “cool” but today lose much of their usefulness or innovation, surpassed by any smartphone app. However, the shops selling video games for enthusiasts are still interesting. Having toured the various shops, I must say that I have not found the spectacular offers and deals for which Akihabara was famous. It remains a district definitely worth visiting, but it has not left any noteworthy memories on me.
Ginza (G09 stop)
It is the shopping temple. All the main luxury brands have their own point of sale in Ginza. Various large department stores, designed in Japanese style, are present in this area, where you can find the same product from different brands on each floor. The main street hosts renowned international brands, but it is in the side streets that you can find more sought-after shops. Obviously, the largest Japanese department store chains have their point of sale in Ginza. Do not miss the two historic malls in Japan: Mitsukoshi and Matsuya. Ginza is undoubtedly the right district for lovers of luxury brands and shopping. In its shops, you can find really everything…
Shibuya (G01 stop)
The Ginza line ends/begins at the G01 station where the Shibuya district is located. This district is one of the busiest in Tokyo and is home to the world’s busiest intersection. It is a pedestrian crossing with several strips crossing each other even diagonally. One of the best places to appreciate the view of the thousands of people crossing the street on this “intersection of pedestrian stripes” is the Starbucks window in the square. From the first floor, it is possible to admire the crossing from above, remaining mesmerized by the enormous number of people passing by. The district is lively and animated. There are many fashion stores aimed at young people, restaurants, game rooms, and many entertainment venues. Shibuya is also a place frequented by lovers of cosplay, that is, those who love to dress up as their favorite cartoon or videogame characters. It is a very cool and youthful district to walk, observe, and discover new trends.
Marunouchi Line (red line)
The Marunouchi line is distinguished by its red color, has 25 stops, and is one of the most used and crowded lines in Tokyo. This line follows a C-shaped route through the city and passes through Tokyo’s main railway station. Here are its most significant stops.
Tokyo Dome City (M22 stop)
From this station, you can reach the large amusement park Dome City, which houses a huge stadium and an amusement park with rides and roller coasters, and is the ideal destination for families and more. The area also offers various shopping centers for shopping.
Imperial Palace (M18 stop)
An important stop on the Marunouchi line is undoubtedly the Imperial Palace, the official residence of the Emperor of Japan. The palace cannot be visited. Only twice a year, it partially opens its doors to the public on December 23 and January 2, when the imperial family shows themselves to the people. For the rest of the time, it is possible to admire the gardens and walk along the avenues that run alongside the moats. During spring and cherry blossom season, the palace gardens are crowded with people who line up for hours not to miss the show. The palace is located more precisely in the Chiyoda district, which, in addition to hosting many government buildings, also offers other attractions such as the Nippon Budokan, the National Museum of Modern Art, and the Science Museum. The latter, despite offering activities mainly in Japanese, is a must-see stop, especially for those traveling with children.
Shopping in Marunouchi (M17 stop)
Marunouchi area is particularly appreciated by luxury brand shopping lovers. The shops and malls in the area are extremely well-curated. Don’t miss a visit to Kitte, a skyscraper in front of Tokyo’s central station, which stands out for its spectacular glass structure. From its sixth-floor terrace, you can admire a splendid panorama of the city. Inside the skyscraper, among the various cool shops, there is also a unique “bar shop,” the Marounochi Reading Style, that is a must-visit. The café dedicates dishes and breakfasts, rotating them to various themes such as anime manga, dinosaurs, and Hello Kitty. The served breakfasts are well-crafted, and it’s also possible to read all the books present in the shop while eating, as long as you know Japanese.
Shinjuku (M09 stop)
The red line offers another shopping stop. From the M09 stop, you can reach the Shinjuku district, where the Isetan department store is located. Shinjuku is the main location of this famous Japanese chain of department stores. At Isetan, you can find the top production of fashion, beauty, and design sectors, as well as kimonos and traditional Japanese objects. The district is all worth visiting since it is considered somewhat the center of the city. Don’t miss the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a beautiful park that represents the green heart of the city.
Chiyoda line (green line)
We conclude this virtual journey with the green line. The Chiyoda line offers three attractions that you absolutely must not miss.
Yoyogi park (C02 stop)
This place also brings together cosplay lovers who meet here on Sunday mornings. This park, open from sunrise to sunset, is very popular, especially during the cherry blossom season.
It is a vast green area where you can have picnics, walk, jog, and bike. The park is also famous because young Japanese lovers of rockabilly or cosplay often perform shows here. You can witness small concerts, dance performances, or juggling shows. It’s also possible to admire martial arts lovers in action.
Omote-sando (C04 stop)
Shopping lovers cannot miss one of the most important luxury shopping areas. Omote-sando is often compared to the Champs Elysées in Paris and is known for its numerous high-end brand shops that line a tree-lined avenue. Omote-sando is also famous for its art galleries. The younger crowd finds shopping in the nearby Takeshita-Dori pedestrian street more attractive, which is always crowded and lively, with various trendy clothing stores.
Roppongi (fermata C05)
Continuing on the green line and walking five minutes from the Nogizaka stop (C05), you will arrive in the Roppongi area, which is also served by other lines. It is famous in Tokyo for its nightlife and for being an area mostly frequented by Westerners. In Roppongi, you can find The National Art Center and The Suntory Museum of Art. The latter is housed in the Tokyo Midtown building, which is definitely worth visiting for its architecture and also contains shops, restaurants, and offices. This huge complex is surrounded in part by well-manicured gardens where magnificent light shows take place, especially on summer evenings.
Various curiosities can also be found just by wandering around the area. I happened to come across the window display of a luxurious fruit and vegetable store, which was displaying a disturbing cube-shaped watermelon..
Of course, this post only covers some of the places that can be visited by the Tokyo metro. The city that never sleeps offers many other attractions to be discovered at every stop….