Finding a base to adventure from in Tokyo can always feel like you’re making big trade-offs on accessibility, cost, and the things you want to see and eat. But on my most recent trip, your Guide stayed in Ueno for the first time in over a decade of visiting Tokyo, and it might be the Goldilocks location. Here’s why Ueno is going to be my go-to base in Tokyo from now on…
1. Ueno Park is worth a day of exploring:
Ueno is not just a neighborhood; it’s a dynamic cultural epicenter. Ueno Park, a genuinely sprawling green space, is home to some of Tokyo’s top museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, and the Ueno Royal Museum. My favorite is the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum which hosts frequently changing exhibits for local arts organizations from around Japan, like the national calligraphy competition I caught on my most recent trip. There was also a local sake festival happening in a field outside of the Ueno Zoo when I was last there. There is always so much happening in the park. The events are a way to connect with culture from around Japan.
Wishes and resolutions for the year, tied outside of Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Koen, captured by Mylène Larnaud. Calligraphy on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, by Michiko Watanabe which reads: “One step, one step”, expressed with an energy we can probably all relate to when making a change.
You can experience Japanese festival food (like grilled squid and Hello Kitty castella cake) at any time of the year by heading over to the food stalls and food trucks around the edge of the park’s Shinobazu pond and lining the causeway to Bentendo, a unique octagon-shaped temple where it’s popular to pray for good fortune.
2. Ameyoko is what your izakaya dreams are made of:
Ameya-Yokocho (Ameyoko) Market is a network of streets surrounding Ueno station packed with restaurants, vegetable stalls, and second-hand shops. It dates back to the post-war period when contraband markets popped up outside of the US army base. From fresh seafood to international cuisines and traditional Japanese snacks, Ameyoko is a delicious adventure. As with anywhere in Japan, don’t rely solely on Google reviews–that’s not used by locals and you’ll typically get places that had an English-language menu but aren’t necessarily the best food. Instead, look for the lineups and be prepared to wait a bit for the best places.
3. Ueno is exceptionally convenient from Narita Airport:
For minimizing multiple train line changes, my anecdotal research finding is that Ueno Station is definitely one of the most convenient stations in the entirety of Tokyo’s spaghetti of trainlines. You can get to many major tourist attractions with only one transfer (compared to two or three from other neighborhoods). And you’re within walking-distance of Asakusa and Akihabara.
The Keisei Skyliner provides direct, fast access to Narita Airport. If you’re arriving late at night after a 12 hour flight, you will so appreciate taking a single train to your hotel instead of navigating three or four train and metro transfers. Additionally, Ueno Station serves as a major hub for the JR Yamanote Line, the circular line connecting Tokyo’s key districts, as well as other regional and national rail lines.
There are two Ueno train stations (the JR and the Keisei). The direct train to Narita Airport is run by the private Keisei line and a one-way ticket currently costs 2465 yen (around $16.50 US).
4. Ueno tends to have more affordable hotel options:
Hotels in Ueno typically provide better value than many other neighborhoods around Tokyo. There was a time when Ueno was considered a rougher part of town but you’ll probably just find it charming and so much cleaner than wherever you’re visiting from.
The Nohga Ueno hotel is where I stayed on my most recent trip and I would stay there again. It’s beautifully designed and budget-friendly (by Tokyo standards). Click here to check out my review of the Ueno Nohga.
I got a discount on my stay by using the Agoda platform. Here is a link to accommodations around Ueno on Agoda and it is an affiliate link. Please use this link to help support the blog. It doesn’t add any additional cost to the price. You can also search right here in the widget:
5. Ueno offers a slightly slower pace than the rest of Tokyo:
While Ueno boasts significant tourist attractions, it also offers a slice of everyday Tokyo life. The area’s side streets and lesser-known parks provide a quieter contrast to the bustle of Shinjuku or Gion. The buildings are a bit shorter. The streets are easy to bike on. The office buildings feel like Tokyo of the 90s.
For a beautiful bookstore/cafe/bread shop, I enjoyed Route Books: https://route-books.com/ a short walk from the station or the Nohga.
As you travel around Japan, you will likely notice (on signs but probably not in the flesh) little green creatures with beaked mouths and webbed