eli's travel recommendations
Last updated March 6, 2019. Top recommendations are listed first in their respective sections.
Contact: @frozenpandaman (or Facebook, if you know me).
Restaurants in Japan often specialize in one type of food per place. Below are my favorite restaurants in the city, grouped by category, and the name of the area of Tokyo in which they're located.
- Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet): Tonki (in Meguro) is my top recommendation. Just watching the production and creation of hundreds of tonkatsu plates in the center of all the place settings as one person memorizes every single order is incredible. The super tiny Marugo and Fukuyoshi (both in Akihabara) are also both out-of-this-world great.
- Noodles: Nishi-Azabu Shūichi (near Todoroki Station, Setagaya), a cute hole-in-the-wall place with great tsukemen (dipping ramen noodles). Tsurutontan (in Ginza, and a few other places) is also great with huge portion sizes.
- Oyakodon (chicken & egg rice bowl): Tamahide (in Meguro).
- Yakitori (grilled skewered chicken): Sasamoto (in Omoide Yokochō, Shinjuku). Note that there are nights when they only accept Japanese (or sometimes Japanese-speaking) customers.
- Fish: The wholesale (inner) section of the Tsukiji fish market closed in October 2018, but the outer market (adjacent shopping area) is still open!
- Curry: Even though it's a chain that's everywhere in Japan, CoCo ICHIBANYA is honestly very good.
- Dessert: yelo (in Roppongi) for kakigōri/shave ice, and Fukusaya (in Meguro) for castella.
- For more, see my Tabelog map or ask me!
Stuff to see/do
- Take a walk along the river and and explore the beautiful, hidden-away Todoroki Valley, the only natural ravine in all of Tokyo's 23 special wards. This is tied for my #1 recommendation, along with…
- The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka - please go here if at all possible. It is an architecturally magical building and space. If you're in Japan the month prior to your visit, you can get tickets for the following month at any Lawson konbini on the 10th of each month at 10 a.m. (this is the easiest method by far) – otherwise they must be purchased online in advance.
- Walk down the narrow, dimly-lit alleys of Omoide Yokochō ("Memory Lane") and Golden Gai in Shinjuku at night, packed with hundreds of tiny bars and eateries.
- For the best view of the city from up high at night, the Mori Tower in Roppongi (paid admission) gives a beautiful view of the city (and also houses a cool art museum). In the daytime, the observation decks in the Shinjuku Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (free admission) are nice.
- Visit Ito-ya in Ginza for an incredible 12 floors of stationery-related goods – floors dedicated solely to paper, pens, stamps, stickers, etc. They also have a second building across the street with six more floors (and a basement).
- Walk around and explore Shimokitazawa, an eccentric and eclectic neighborhood with a Bohemian feel and lots of live music, used clothing retailers, graffiti, hole-in-the-wall cafes, and an independent movie theater named Tollywood.
- Walking around Yoyogi Park and visiting Meiji Jingū shrine in the daytime is just really, really pleasant.
- Conversely, at night, visit Sensō-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo's oldest temple. The area around Zōjō-ji in Minato with its view of the Tokyo Tower is also quite nice.
- The teamLab Borderless museum/exhibition in Odaiba just opened up in June 2018 and has been getting excellent reviews.
- For weird stuff – art, clothing, stickers, zines, etc. – in a retrofitted one-room apartment, go to artist Ken Kagami's Strange Store in Shibuya (check his recent Instagram posts to see when it's open/closed that day).
The wholesale section of the Tsukiji fish market is incredible to walk around and see, and of course has great fresh fish for sale.Closed October 2018, moved to Toyosu Market.
- Rengeteg RomKafé: the most amazing, special, full-of-life-and-character shop in the world, located two blocks from Corvin-negyed. Walk in and prepare to be served a thick hot chocolate tailored to what the owner thinks would resonate with you, e.g. "23.4% dark chocolate, with hazelnut, raspberries, red currant, and rum." Decorated from floor to ceiling with a collection of teddy bears of all shapes and sizes collected over 50 years; curious knick-knacks on every table such as old binoculars, felt dolls, and finger puzzles; a collection of found twigs mounted in picture frames; and old Communist-era train ticket punchers. This is my favorite place in the entire city.
- The family-run Zeller Bistro has absolutely fantastic food and is nice for a fancier meal. You should go here once for sure. The only alcohol I've ever enjoyed the taste of in my life is their homemade elderflower champagne (served free to all guests). Reservations most likely needed.
- Bors GasztroBár, on Kazinczy utca, for sandwiches. Run by two five-star restaurant chefs who decided they wanted to sell street food instead. Rated one of the top places for food in the city.
- Eat lángos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese) and kürtőskalács (chimney cake) at least once, from any street vendor around the city.
- Gelarto Rosa, right by Szent István-bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica), has amazing and beautiful gelato shaped like a rose.
- Stuff of secondary importance, but more relevant if you'll be living here:
- Also on Kazinczy utca is El Rapido Grill, open very late (into the early morning) which has Mexican food, including cactus quesadillas. Across the street is Ramenka which has pretty good & cheap ramen.
- LEVES., by Kálvin tér, also has great soups & sandwiches.
- Babam Török Gyorsétterem, a 24-hour Turkish street food place on Blaha Lujza tér, has excellent (and cheap, like everything in Budapest) gyros.
- The best Japanese food in the city is Biwako (a few blocks from Oktogon), run by two Japanese women who also have a small selection of Asian groceries for sale. Komachi Bistro is also decent.
- The best Indian food in the city is Curry House (close-ish to Rákoczi tér) – better than Taj Mahal or Indigo.
- A Presto (near Opera, a few blocks from Oktogon) has very good pasta and great fresh-squeezed orange juice.
- The Donut Library, by Jászai Mari tér, has good donuts.
- There aren't bagels in stores in Budapest, but if you're craving some, go to Budapest Bägel by Kálvin tér.
Stuff to see/do
- The Citadella has the most stunning, magnificent view of the city at night; Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion don't even compare. It's worth the short uphill walk. Go when it's fully dark out, after sunset, but before midnight when the bridge lights get turned off.
- Budapest is known for its ruin pubs. The most iconic of these is Szimpla Kert, an almost-overwhelming architectural marvel with dozens of interconnected rooms, maze-like balconies, and staircases. You need to go to see this, preferably at night. It also hosts a Farmers' Market on weekends and functions as a community center.
- Also in the Jewish Quarter is Gozsdu Udvar, a short pathway comprised of seven connected building complexes and courtyards. Cool to walk down at night and see the cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, etc.
- See my note about Rengeteg RomKafé in the section above. This is less about food and more about the experience.
- The Hungarian Parliament Building is stunning lit up at night. Walk by or take the 2 tram along the Duna (Danube). It's the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in the city.
- The best escape room in Budapest (which is where they originated!) is Claustrophilia, by Blaha Lujza tér.
- The baths are nice! Check out the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, at end of the yellow (M1) métro line. This line is also the oldest transit system using electric traction in continental Europe, and the second oldest in the world, operating since 1896. The other two most well-known baths are Gellért and Rudas.
- Budapest has incredible public transit, and you'll most likely use it a lot to get around. Something a little different from the "regular" transit (métro, trams, buses, trolleybuses, HÉV, ferries…) is the Cog Railway, tram #60. It runs up in the Buda Hills, farther away from busy downtown Pest and city center, and has gears for wheels to go up the steep inclines! It runs nearby a park called Normafa which is relaxing and beautiful. This railway also connects up to the Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút), a train line completely run by 10–14 year olds (except for the driver).
- Szentendre, located at the end of the HÉV 5 (suburban railway), is a nice little town and great to walk around in for a day or half-day, and has many good places for food.
- Go to the North Shore. Explore Haleʻiwa, get shave ice at the iconic Matsumoto Shave Ice, and, most importantly, get fresh shrimp with garlic at Giovanni's or other trucks around Kahuku and Laie. Of course, it's worth stopping at stands selling fruit or mac nuts and the like, too.
- Waimea Valley has beautiful plant life in a lush botanical garden with a nice, accessible waterfall.
- In Honolulu, Marukame Udon in Waikīkī is excellent. For dessert, the trendy Banán has good dairy-free soft-serve. Also, get malasadas at Leonard's Bakery!
- Honolulu's Chinatown is fun to walk around – there are many shops selling homemade lei, fresh fruit, etc.
- The Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout gives a beautiful, panoramic view of the windward side of the island.
- Rabbit Island and Flat Island are cute. Look for them off the highway if you're driving near Hawaiʻi Kai/Koko Head.
- Lots and lots of hikes. Use Google! :)
- See the Nā Pali Coast – no matter what. Most boat tours depart from the south near ʻEleʻele but you can also leave from the north shore, too, or view it via zodiac or helicopter.
- In Lihue, get saimin at Hamura Saimin, and banana pancakes at the Tip Top Motel Cafe.
- Anuenue Cafe near Poipu is fantastic for breakfast. Fresh sunrise papaya with lime!
- Between Koloa and Popiu is Makai Sushi – housed in the Kukuiʻula Market grocery store, it has the island's best poke (the Gorilla Poke Bowl is especially good). Outside in the parking lot is Waikomo Shave Ice with all-natural syrups.
- Also on the south side, Spouting Horn is cool to see, plus Waimea Canyon with its red, red sand. Drive all the way to the end to see the Puʻu O Kila Lookout (right at the start of the Pihea Trail) for a stunning view of the Nā Pali Coast and Kalalau Trail.
- On the north shore, Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei has great açaí bowls. Also stop at Banana Joe's fruit stand.
- From there, keep driving as far west as you can (across many one-lane bridges) to see the vines hanging down from the impossibly-high vertical cliffs which come right up to the road at Keʻe Beach.
- My top tip is to rent a car and drive around, unless you're only there for one or two days.
- The Golden Circle (near Reykjavík) can be touristy, but has some truly amazing sights on it – the three main stops are Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur & Geysir geysers, and Gulfoss waterfall, which are all worth seeing. I really loved Kerið, a crater lake, as well. Brúarfoss is a bit of a trek from the road, especially if it's rainy or muddy, but has the bluest water you will ever see in the world.
- South Iceland is beautiful and amazing, and there is so much to do and see in this area, but definitely requires driving across vast stretches of nothingness. The most stunning waterfall is Seljalandfoss, which you can walk behind, with the enormous Skógafoss (with an optional ~500-step climb to see it from the top) in second place. You can hike up the base of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Nearby, walk to the hidden, small, outdoor swimming pool at the base of a mountain called Seljavallalaug. Closer to Vík you have the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara, with columnar basalt (and extremely dangerous sneaker waves, so stay far away from the water), Dyrhólaey arch, and the crashed DC-3 plane on the desolate Sólheimasandur beach (4 km walk from the road).
- In northern Iceland, there are beautiful sights all around Lake Mývatn: the Goðafoss waterfall, pseudocraters in Skútustaðagígar, subterranean caves of Grjótagjá, the Hverir (Námafjall) geothermal area, and Dimmuborgir lava fields. The quaint town of Akureyri (the second-largest in Iceland, with a population of ~18,000) is charming and beautiful in all seasons. The Blue Lagoon is expensive, overrated, and crowded – if you're going up north too, go to the Mývatn Nature Baths instead!
Ask me for specific recommendations for the following places:
- Japan – Tōhoku (Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, and Akita prefectures), Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto
- Europe – Stockholm, Northern Sweden (Gällivare, Porjus, Jokkmokk), Berlin, Madrid