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Tokyo

The ultimate metropolis, Tokyo is one of the world's most exciting and vibrant cities. While the sheer size and energy of the world’s largest city may seem overwhelming, it is remarkably ordered. It is this contradictory nature that forms the beauty of this extraordinary city – mixing hi-tech modern living, old-fashioned manners, urban design and unspoiled nature (beyond the skyline of buildings soars the magnificent Mount Fuji). Understated contemporary designs sit alongside outlandish cartoonish creations on most streets, and age-old temples, shrines and stone lanterns can be found tucked amongst cutting-edge architecture. Such traces of old Japan are still highly respected and run strong in 21st-century veins. From hole-in-the-wall noodle shops to swanky flagship stores, Tokyo has something to suit every taste and palette. If your eyes ever tire of the neon, there is always a serene garden, park or temple ground to find. Tokyo is even worth a visit purely for its fabulous food and unparalleled mass transit system.

From the traditional district of Asakusa to the centre of Manga culture in Akihabara, there are many distinctive areas to explore. The neon-lit nightlife of Shibuya is home to the iconic ‘scramble zebra crossing’, a concept which sums up Japanese culture in itself, where the bustling crowds move create harmony out of chaos. The boutique shops of trendy Daikanyama are nearby, as are the famous high-fashion stores of Harajuku. For more shopping, walk down Omote-sando near Shinjuku and marvel at the dazzling flagship stores by the world’s most acclaimed architects, or explore the Ginza area just south of Tokyo station. This area is an ideal introduction to the somewhat mindboggling capital city, with the perfect mix of ordered chaos and the most upmarket and Michelin-starred restaurants. Spend an evening on the main streets here to mix with the well-heeled locals or for a grittier experience, explore the alleyways under the train tracks that are home to 'izakaya' pubs. Visit Ebisu and Shinjuku to join the office workers – ‘salarymen’ – for a drink after work for a real taste of everyday Japanese city-life. Roppongi is not to be missed, a lively entertainment district popular with westerners, featuring elegant shops, the most English-speaking restaurants and bars, as well as cultural sights – most notably, the ‘Art Triangle’ made up of Mori Art Museum, National Art Centre and Suntory Museum of Art.

There are numerous easy day trips from Tokyo, thanks to the incredible local and bullet train systems. The historical Nikko with its beautiful temples, mountains and Lake Chuzenji is remarkable, as is the scenic Hakone with its acclaimed Open-Air Art Museum. The coastal Edo-period capital of Kamakura and nearby Enoshima Island are also easily accessible and provide a rural escape to the sea, with magnificent sights including a Giant Buddha statue and concealed bamboo grove. We recommend that keen walkers head to Mount Takao for a relatively gentle climb, complete with breathtaking views.

Tokyo is captivating all year round, but the best time to visit is during the spring and autumn to appreciate the capital in its full effect: cherry blossom or fiery red leaves enhance the spectacular panoramic views.

>> Read our blog: Everything you need to know about visiting the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

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