Travel Journal: New York

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“I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later — because I did not belong there, did not come from there — but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” - Joan Didion

New York City, there’s no place like it.

SEE/DO

New York Public Library – a thing of architectural beauty, inside and out. I was lucky enough to catch a photography installation when I was there, but I think there are exhibitions running all the time. It’s an achingly beautiful place inside and out. After you’ve explored the Library, take a moment to soak up the bustling city outside at Bryant Park (tip: there’s free wifi here for you to plan your next move)!

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, first thing, or at sunset. The bridge’s lights are switched off at sunrise but you’ll have the bridge almost all to yourself (save for a few joggers and photography enthusiasts). The lights stay on in the evening  (so magical to capture at sunset!) but you’ll be jostling for position amongst tourists, so choose your own adventure.

Definitely walk the Manhattan Bridge – it still affords amazing views of Manhattan (including the Brooklyn Bridge) and there are no tourists! Hurrah! My favourite thing to do (if staying in Manhattan) is to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, spend the day in Brooklyn (go on a Sunday and visit Smorgasburg/Brooklyn flea markets), then walk back along Manhattan Bridge just before sunset. Manhattan Bridge will take you directly to SoHo and Chinatown which is handy if you happen to be staying near there. It’s in a more convenient location than Brooklyn Bridge because with the latter you’ll have to walk 2km through Wall St/Financial District to get back up to SoHo.

Meander your way through SoHo – my absolute favourite borough in NYC. SoHo has it all – postcard-perfect New York streets, amazing shopping, a huge number of great coffee haunts in close proximity to one another, and very instagram-worthy cafes. Shopping along Broadway (go all the way up to ABC Carpet and Home near Union Square) is a New York ritual!

Spend the afternoon in Greenwich Village – also one of my favourite NYC boroughs. Unbelievably dreamy tree-lined streets, quaint boutiques (Bleecker Street), Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, terrace houses with those unmistakable stoops, and just basically a New York dream. You can also walk to the Highline from here (it’s about a 8-10 min walk). There are little boutiques hidden down small streets so it’s the best place to set aside a few hours and just get lost.

Explore Central Park on a pushbike – at the very least, your feet will thank you for it! You can walk it, too, if you’ve a whole day spare. Bring your sneakers, though! Central Park is also close-ish to the MET so you could probably make a day of it.

For 360 views of the city, Top of the Rock is the place to go. Book your ticket in advance online to skip the queues. This is probably as touristy as I’ll get but the views are SO worth it and it’s relatively inexpensive, too. Once you’re up there, you can stay as long as you like. And there’s no heart attack-inducing hike that sights like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris imposes on you – you actually go up via an awesome elevator ride!

Wander through the pretty part of Brooklyn – Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill and Park Slope are just a dreamy dream. My favourite thing to do is to explore the neighbourhood at sunset then walk to the wharf and along the East River all the way to Brooklyn Bridge as the sun goes down. Then have dinner at the fancy pants Shake Shack there (or even better, Luke’s Lobster!).

EAT – CAFES/RESTAURANTS

Egg Shop, SoHo – I was so lucky to have met the owner and brainchild of Egg Shop at a dinner party whilst in NYC who convinced me to have brunch at her adorable café the morning after. Best decision ever. Aside from the egg dishes, the fried chicken and hash browns are a must, must try! There are some MAJOR queues on the weekend (about 2 hours’ long) so try to go on a weekday.

Two Hands, SoHo – love love love the avocado toast here and the coffee is pretty good too! Be prepared to line up, though – especially on weekends.

Jane, SoHo or Greenwich Village – everyone orders the avocado toast but the other items on the menu are just as delicious, like the meatballs!

Ippudo, East Village – crazy expensive ramen (after all the tipping and currency conversion) but crazy good – the noodles here are on par with its Tokyo counterpart and the service is equally as attentive. The price difference is stupidly crazy though – to give you an idea, a bowl of ramen at Ippudo NYC is around $25 (this is after tipping + currency conversion) whilst in Tokyo you’ll pay around $10 tops (and you get free pickled beansprouts haha).

Luke’s Lobster Bar,  Brooklyn (near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge). I used to go to Ed’s Lobster in SoHo until I found out Luke’s is half the price (you’ll pay roughly $30 for a lobster roll at Ed’s). Nevertheless, I love the lobster rolls in NYC – I enjoy them way more than I did in Boston.

EAT – SWEETS

Momofuku Milk Bar – a New York rite of passage. There’s quite a few of them scattered around to make it convenient. Not sure about the other locations but the one in East Village always has queues!

Morgenstern’s Ice Cream – hands down my favourite gelato place in NYC. So many flavours, so much deliciousness.

Doughnut Plant – you haven’t tasted doughnuts until you’ve tasted Doughnut Plant. Not even kidding. It’s so good you probably won’t want to have doughnuts anywhere else again. And it’s so good, we bought half a dozen and carried them with us on the plane to Iceland. They were still alright days later (just goes to show the sugar content, ha)!

COFFEE

I used Trottermag’s new coffee iphone app to guide me to the best (and most photogenic!) coffee spots in New York.

My particular favourites include Happy Bones, Bluestone Collective, Two Hands, Gasoline Alley, and Brooklyn Roasting Company (my absolute favourite).

SHOP

The Apartment by The Line – my favourite store in NYC and an interior dream! Even if you don’t buy anything (the whole ‘apartment’ is shoppable) you could easily spend a whole afternoon soaking up everything this beautiful space has to offer. It was almost surreal being here after stalking its online store for years!

La Garconne – I sadly didn’t have time to visit the store in Tribeca but if you’re a fellow Francophile who has always admired LC from afar (and by that I mean via the world wide web) it’s a total must-see/shop.

ABC Carpet & Home – an incredible home & lifestyle store showcasing a thoughtfully edited selection of homewares from Mad et Len candles to beautiful, handmade ceramics and wares you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a photography props dream!

SoHo – my favourite area in NYC to shop. I especially love the crazy beautiful COS store (it’s conveniently around the corner from The Apartment), the equally gorgeous And Other Stories space (on Broadway) and Wooster Street  – such a charming part of SoHo!

H&M – I hear the biggest H&M in the world has just opened up on Fifth Ave! Perfect timing for that upcoming collab with Balmain…

Brooklyn Flea – I picked up a pair of awesome specs here on my last trip. The Flea is a great place to tinker around for the afternoon!

WHERE TO STAY

SoHo is my favourite borough to stay in – it’s just so convenient getting to uptown and it’s just so close to everything I love too.

Greenwich Village is lovely for airbnb apartments – it’s a lot quieter than, say, SoHo and has a more quaint, local and laidback vibe to it.

East Village – definitely stay here if you want a more upbeat New York vibe without all the tourists/people that descend on Times Square/Midtown. East Village has the highest concentration of bars in NYC, so you’ll never go thirsty (or hungry) if you stay in this borough.

For more (slightly) affordable options, Brooklyn is really great. We stayed at Aloft (in Downtown Brooklyn) and would absolutely stay there again. It’s on a quiet street and next to a Sheraton hotel, with a couple of main subway stations within walking distance. The room rate we paid (mid-April) was US$182 per night for a King Room. The wifi was kinda sketchy (which was frustrating for me as I was working every day from the hotel) but it may have just been our room.

Finally, if the thought of tourists getting in your way with their Nikons and Canons breaks you out in a rash, do not stay in Midtown or anywhere close to Times Square. Just sayin’.

A FEW RANDOM TIPS (because if you’re anything like me…)

Bloomingdales in SoHo has free wifi (it instantly connects once you’re inside!) and free restrooms, and the only thing it’ll cost you is to look as inconspicuous as possible.  It’s in a super convenient location (backs onto Broadway/Crosby Streets) so I always camped out here when I got lost and needed google maps. Lol.

New York is a very walkable city but if you’ll be riding the subway, buy a metro card at any station. Subway fares are so cheap in NYC and you can use the trains as many times as you like within the allotted days. Also, please make sure you download the Hopstop app because once you’re in Midtown the chances of getting lost are very, very real.

Before you head to NYC (or while you’re there) visit ny.racked.com for all the sample sales that are happening in the city – it’s updated daily!

To get from JFK airport to Manhattan (or Brooklyn) it’s worth swallowing the pill that is the $60 taxi fare and catching a yellow cab. It’s about AUD$60 to Manhattan and $50 to Brooklyn (it’s closer to JFK) and as it’s an hours’ drive, you don’t want to mess around too much, especially if you’re arriving late at night. JUST MAKE SURE you catch a taxi from the official taxi stand outside the airport (it’s to your left as you come out of Arrivals). The most important thing is to ignore all the shady people stopping you in your tracks along the way to offer you a ‘cheaper taxi fare’ – it may be slightly cheaper but a lot of them aren’t insured or registered properly if something goes awry. And a word of warning – they are super persistent and very convincing to unassuming tourists.

As far as tipping is concerned, 18% of the bill is the bare minimum or you can probably get away with doubling the tax at the more casual sit-down places. Don’t tip if you get crap service, though!

Like Tokyo, New York is one of those cities with the very likelihood of you getting trampled on by locals if you stay still (or walk really slow…). It’s the little things like making way for people on their way to work on the subway or the Brooklyn Bridge that will make life a little less stressful for everyone. Time, life, and people go at extraordinary speed in NYC – things just go faster and you’ll either love it or hate it.

Finally, be prepared to line up everywhere in New York. I was naively under the impression that a big city with so many places to eat and things to do would be exempt from queues but I was so wrong. So plan accordingly and, most importantly, have fun!

Photography by Michelle and Jamie Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

Start over each morning.

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Days go on, months pass us by, and each year turns into birthdays that begin to lose their lustre. It’s been a year since this post and it’s funny how when you turn 30, you think you’ve got everything figured out.

If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that everything probably figures itself out eventually.

Grand plans, best friends, big dreams under the hum of the streetlights. Maybe sometimes they need to fall apart to fall together again?

photography by Nich Hance McElroy

Let’s never leave.

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It’s a little crazy to think that it was only three weeks ago when half the contents of my unzipped carry-on bag literally flew halfway up the street outside our Iceland hotel as we piled into the car en route to the airport. A tour bus load of passengers who – with much amusement apparently – witnessed me running after my Roshe Runs as they made for a great escape along with the ferocious wind at 5am.

I can’t begin to tell you about the howling and unforgiving Icelandic wind that morning, but let’s just say steel lamp posts were swaying rather precariously from side to side and it took no less than 10 minutes for my husband to successfully put one suitcase into the boot.

And if that wasn’t enough, my hands were jammed in my pockets out of fear they’d turn blue and fall off in -9 degrees celsius weather.

So I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to (and dare I say, earned) sun-drenched Santorini – and the daily overdose of vitamin D – to end our two month-long trip.

Of course, the excitement was kinda dampened when our airline lost our luggage on the way to the Adriatic coast – but that’s another story for another day (see, I wasn’t ever joking about packing that spare change of undies).

The short story is that eventually our suitcases turned up and the long story? Maybe I’ll just let these pictures speak a thousand words.

In collaboration with Topshop Australia | wearing Finders Keepers pinstripe top + culottes available at Topshop.

Photographs by Jamie Lau.

Travel Journal: Norway

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Exploring the Norwegian Fjords with my own curious eyes was always one of those things high on my bucket list that seemed forever to tick off because it was just so far-flung.

But, the wait was worth it. I had always considered Italy’s majestic lakes, Iceland’s otherworldly alien landscapes, and the Maldives’ as-blue-as-the-eye-can-see beaches the most incredible things I have seen with my own eyes, but Norway’s Fjords have proved that nature’s greatest wonders – of the breathless, weak-at-the-knees-kind – really is in Scandinavia.

Travel Notes:

We booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour, leaving Oslo then spending two nights in Bergen before setting off on the Fjords (and Flam Railway) tour for the day. We returned to Oslo that evening at around 11pm. All in all the day tour is about 16 hours long.

The Norway in a Nutshell tour essentially just provides you with transportation (i.e. trains to and from Oslo; a train from Bergen station to the bus; a bus from the train station to the boat; and a pass for the Flam Railway), so it’s largely self-guided and there’s no ‘tour guide’, as such.

We had to book and pay for our own hotel in Bergen – the Norway in a Nutshell tour doesn’t cover any accommodation costs. You can stay how ever long or short in Bergen you wish – we opted for two days just for curiosity’s sake and to get a good feel for the town. Even though it’s Norway second largest city, it’s a small town so I wouldn’t stay any longer than 2-3 full days.

In a Nutshell (ha, #seewhatIdidthere) the tour was worth every single penny – no regrets!

PS. if you do decide to stay in Bergen, make a beeline for Blom and Kaffemisjonen for the best coffees in town!

Photography by Michelle and Jamie Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

To see more of my travels, follow my Instagram + #seetheworldwitholympus for real-time updates and a peek at where I’m off to next.

On packing lists and two month trips.

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When I first started putting together this post (just under 4 weeks ago), I was on my way to Tokyo, leaving the 98% humidity and 35C temps of Vietnam (thankfully) behind me. I’ve already spent the night on an unforgivingly hard chair in an airport thanks to a missed flight at Narita and a few days ago I left New York City where spring has definitely sprung, with some days hitting a max of 26C, the warmest since summer ended. This week, I’ve been traipsing glaciers and snowstorms in Iceland, where the average real-feel temperature has been a blistering 0C. The last leg of my trip involves spending time in Greece until mid-May for my first taste of a European summer.

So in light of my current travel situation, the idea of packing light to visit 10-12 cities with a million climate extremes seems laughable. Because I’m flying various airlines, my limit is 20kg of checked luggage, so packing for a two-month trip around the world has been about packing smarter, not necessarily lighter.

And by ‘smarter’, I mean packing a spare change of underwear in my carry-on.

My new-found fear of flying has nothing on my fear of packing too much for a holiday. I have these horrific visions (stemming from past travels) of lugging my suitcase up six flights of vertigo-inducing stairs to my Copenhagen airbnb, or walking 2km from my Paris hotel to the subway station negotiating cobblestoned paths and an erratic GPS that sends me astray the entire way.

Many of you have asked for a run-down of my packing list so I thought I’d put together a small insight + guide as to how I’ve packed for my two-month holiday.

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FIRST THINGS FIRST – PREPARING A PACKING LIST

My overarching goal is to ensure everything goes with everything – lots of easy, wearable and fuss-free items from pants and tops to shoes and dresses. This also always means I tend to stick to a very classic and neutral colour palette – grey, white, black, and navy, with the ‘colour’ I add being khaki, blush or mid-blue denim.

My other ‘deal-breakers’ include:

Shoes that I can walk all day in

Summery clothes that can also be worn for a wintery climate

Things that can be replaced + wouldn’t be devastated to lose or damage on my travels

Wrinkle-resistant items or those that require little ironing

In preparing my packing list, I always use Pinterest as my main packing list tool.

I first start by putting together a (secret) board of items I’m thinking of packing for my trip. This helps me to clearly visualise my packing list at a glance to see if I’m missing anything or have too much of something. I add items and/or refine or cull as I go along. For this particular trip, I created two boards – one for winter and one for summer. It just made it a lot easier to achieve a good balance of summer and winter items.

The second phase involves creating an inspiration board filled with travel outfits that could work for the nature of my holiday.

It doesn’t always happen but I try to complete my boards the week before I fly out. I start packing the day or two before – never any earlier as I find the wrinkles in my clothes are much harder to iron out.

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A TYPICAL IN-FLIGHT OUTFIT

When I’m flying 30+ hours, then walking my bedraggled self and catching a train to my hotel, comfort wins out every single time. I’m all about loose layers, relaxed silhouettes and comfortable, easy pieces, for a long-haul flight:

A merino or cashmere sweater

A relaxed long cardigan or an oversized slouchy coat

Acne Canada wool scarf which I use as a blanket

Black ponte pants or soft leggings

Porselli black ballerina flats (I slip off my shoes as soon as I get on a flight and put on a pair of soft cotton socks)

A large black tote bag

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WHAT I PACKED

WordPress would probably have a meltdown if I listed every single item in my suitcase right now, so here’s a good run-down of a good proportion of my packing list for this current trip:

COATS + JACKETS

Isabel Marant khaki down parka

Zara nude wool long robe coat

Balenciaga navy wool jacket

The rationale:

This is actually packing ‘light’ (for me) especially for such a long trip. I always pack a statement blazer for more dressy occasions and although it’s super heavy, the calf-length Zara coat keeps my legs warm when I’m only wearing one layer of pants. I’ve gotten the most wear out of this coat the most. The parka is virtually indestructible – I packed it specifically for exploring the fjords in Norway and Iceland.

I’ve bought a Uniqlo quilted down jacket on my travels which has proved to be indispensable to wear on its own or as a thin layer underneath my coat. It rolls up like a sleeping bag, too!

What I wish I packed:

Nothing. I think I’ve ticked all the boxes with these three options.  

KNITS + SWEATERS

Topshop charcoal grey coatigan

Isabel Marant merino turtleneck

Country Road mens’ grey merino sweater

Country Road grey knitted sleeveless roll neck

The rationale:

The Topshop coatigan is perfect for plane trips and can be easily layered underneath a coat. For wintery destinations, roll-necks and turtlenecks are essential. The Country Road mens’ grey sweater goes with everything.

What I wish I packed:

I may have packed way one too many grey knits (even though they are varying shades of grey… lol), so I kind of wish I had packed my classic mens’ black sweater by Country Road.

DRESSES

Bassike striped dress

Seed black silk trapeze tank dress

Alice McCall playsuit

The rationale:

Because it’s far less versatile than separates, I tend to pack the least dresses as possible. The Bassike stripes are ideal for in-between weather, the Seed black silk dress is my LBD that works on its own or layered in winter, and the playsuit is my ‘dressy’ piece for my summer destinations.

What I wish I packed:

Nothing, except for maybe my black Witchery jumpsuit. It’s just so heavy, though! 

SHOES

Chanel espadrilles

Porselli black ballerina flats

Birkenstock Arizona in black

Converse trainers

The rationale:

Shoes are always always, always the most challenging part of my packing list. I never want to travel with any more than three pairs of shoes but it never happens because, well, FOMO. For this trip, however, I made sure that every pair of shoe I packed could be worn all day without a hint of a blister.

One thing I always do is to place the insert from my Nike Frees into my shoes (like the Converse sneakers) for added comfort. It makes such a difference to shoes that don’t have a thick sole.

What I wish I packed:

My COS black Chelsea boots or Isabel Marant Dicker boots. It broke my heart to leave them at home this time – they are heavy and they just weren’t versatile or comfortable enough for me to wear through all seasons. Sneakers can make me feel so dowdy though and they’re not waterproof. I’ve almost caved into buying a pair of ankle boots on this trip…

BAGS

Celine Trio in navy

Celine Cabas in black

Everlane backpack

The rationale:

Only the ‘basics’ this time and I really wanted to go light on this – I even left the Le Pliages at home. Even though they’re super compact, all the weight adds up – it’s so important to remember this when you’re packing.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever travelled with a backpack and I swear I will never travel without one ever again. I haven’t yet figured out how to make it look less schoolbag-ish but when you’re travelling for 8 weeks, practicality trumps all.

I brought the Trio as it can be worn cross-body, and the Cabas doubles as a sturdy and expansive carry-on bag.

What I wish I packed:

A larger bag with a shoulder strap that fits my OM-D E-M1. I’ve hardly used my Celine Trio because it doesn’t fit my camera, and the Cabas is too impractical for all-day walking. Also, I wish I had brought my Longchamp expandable weekender – I’m really missing the practicality of a zippered carry-on bag! I’ll never learn…

ACCESSORIES

Acne Studios ‘Canada’ scarf in grey

Country Road black leather belt

Ray Ban oversized Aviators

Knitted grey beanie

Straw boater hat

The rationale:

The scarf doubles as a blanket on the plane, the beanie will keep my ears warm in Iceland, the boater hat works in both summer and (kind of) winter, and the belt is really my only accessory.

What I wish I packed:

My black wool fedora as it’s such a classic winter staple and (call me pedantic) but it just feels weird wearing a straw hat when it’s snowing outside.

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THE VERDICT SO FAR

So I’m at the halfway point of my two-month trip now and the general consensus is that I’ve neither packed too much or too little. If anything, I think I’ve packed slightly more than I probably need, even though when I departed Australia my checked baggage weighed in at roughly 13-14kgs.

My only major regret is not packing a pair of ankle boots because some destinations have turned out to be way colder, snowier and rainier than I anticipated. You can never predict the weather, I guess, and I didn’t own any boots that I could walk all day in plus be ok with trashing them in mud puddles!

At the end of the day though, I’d say 99% of what I’ve packed can be worn together so, and off the cuff, I’ve worn about 90% of what I’ve packed so far. So given packing smarter (as opposed to lighter) was my goal to begin with, my packing list has performed relatively better than others of mine in the past.

And in case you missed it, read my Spy Style post over at vogue.com.au for more of my packing tips + essentials.

Life in the slow lane.

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Fridays are for my favourite things: sunshine, waking up at noon, cups of tea, leaving things half done, and life in the slow lane.

They say time goes quicker in New York, whilst in Iceland, life is the complete opposite. I’ve been watching snowflakes fall to the floor from my bedroom window every day I’ve been here; taken the roads that are less travelled, sat by waterfalls as they crash to the ground and it’s as if the second-happiest country in the world doesn’t know a damn thing about time.

But the thing is, they’re completely okay with that. And so am I.

In collaboration with Topshop Australia 

Travel Journal: Tokyo

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I always leave my heart in Tokyo.

The midnight vending machine run; the beguiling sense of order and chaos at Shibuya Crossing; the meticulously wrapped fruit and stationery; the simple fact that you can find good ramen on every street corner; and the way not many Tokyo-ites can hold a conversation in English but always try to – even if it means walking you 500m to the nearest subway station when you find yourself lost in this incredible labyrinth of a city.

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Truth be told, I love Paris for its architecture and New York City for its old-world, well-mannered grandeur, but I love Tokyo for everything. There is no other city that comes even close and no other place I could definitively say I love most.

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As with my other travel journals, my guide to Tokyo is by no means definitive. I’m the non-tourist tourist – I prefer to spend my afternoon at a café sipping coffee rather than line up for hours at a major tourist attraction. So with that in mind, the recommendations I’ve shared below is a snapshot of how I like to spend my time travelling.

This is my Tokyo.

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EAT

Ramen

Ippudo Ramen – in my opinion, some of the best ramen in Tokyo is right here. I’ve been countless times and it’s such a different experience to the chains in Sydney and New York.

4-10-3 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo

Ichiran Ramen – ramen in your own booth, ordered from a vending machine. It’s a tiny restaurant in a basement and its main aim is to minimise customer contact as much as possible for the sake of efficiency. A classic and compulsory Japanese experience. If you have trouble finding it, it’s just a few doors down from Zara.

1 Chome-22-7 Jinnan, Shibuya

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Japanese the locals love

Maisen Tonkatsu – life-changing tonkatsu, not even kidding. Maisen has ruined eating tonkatsu anywhere else in the world for as long as I shall live.

4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya

Harajuku Gyoza – cheap but cheerful gyoza and, in my humble opinion, the best in Tokyo. Remember to order the mince beansprouts and pickled cucumber with your dumplings! Also, try to go for an early dinner or late lunch as queues form quickly here.

6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya

Café hopping

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Bread, Espresso & – people queue up for the French Toast and understandably so – it’s served in a cast-iron skillet (enough to share between two so for 650 yen it’s a bargain) and it’s also to die for. I did read somewhere, though, that it’s only served on the skillet for the 3pm run.  In any case, I’d jump on a plane to Tokyo just for this. The French Toast is only served before 10am or after 3pm and not in between so don’t try getting a table at 2:30pm then ordering the French Toast when it hits 3pm. You’ll be refused and told to go back outside to line up. It’s a Japanese thing, I think.

3-4-9, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

Café Kitsuné – I love the matcha lattes here. Pricey at $6 a pop but it’s surprisingly difficult to get matcha lattes anywhere else in Tokyo (even from a vending machine).

3-17-1 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku

Nicolai Bergmann Nomu Café – this breathtaking space is a sight for sore eyes. It’s a florist and café in one. Order the Scandinavian lunch set.

1F, 5-7-2, Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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Sweets

Shozo Coffee Store – the cutest little store (try their famed madeleines) with an amazing courtyard at the back. Don’t miss it!

3-13 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Sadaharu Aoki – Japanese pastry chef who honed his craft in Paris. Make sure you try the eclairs!

Shinkokusai BLD, 3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Rose Bakery – for the carrot cake, of course. Be sure to do a little window shop at Uniqlo and Dover Street Market after!

7F, 6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Snacks

Onigiri from the corner store – my most favourite part about visiting Japan is the convenience stores! I’m obsessed with having onigiri for breakfast. It’s hard to miss, but look for a Lawson, Familymart or 7-Eleven.

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Specialty Coffee

See my five must-visit spots in Tokyo on vogue.com.au. 

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SEE

Meji Shrine – a beautiful shrine in the middle of a forest in the middle of Harajuku. An experience like no other when in Tokyo.

Mori Tower – an amazing 360 view of the Tokyo skyscapers. On a clear day I think you can see Mount Fuji.

Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa – go on Sundays when all the food stalls are peddling everything from Doraemon cakes to takoyaki.

Get lost in Omotesando – the best thing. I could spend hours walking around and dropping my jaw at all the architecture here.

Get lost in Daikanyama – one of my most favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo. There are so many small cafes and shops hidden at every corner. Go here before everyone else does.

Ghibli Museum – I’ve only seen (though really enjoyed!) a few Miyazaki films, but this one is definitely something you shouldn’t miss if you’re a huge fan.

1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms – refer to my Hanami section below.

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Hanami in Tokyo

‘Hanami’ is Japanese for ‘cherry blossom viewing’ and it’s one of the most magical things you’ll ever experience if you visit Tokyo during March and April. It’s the happiest and most exciting time of year in Japan. The season doesn’t last long – two or so weeks tops, so it pays to research the best time to go!

When should I book my trip?

As far as Tokyo goes, the last week of March to the second week of April is generally a safe bet. I have visited Tokyo for the past two cherry blossom seasons and found that full bloom peaks around the 26th-28th March give or take a couple of days.  This year, I was in Tokyo 26th-31st March and full bloom fell the day or two after I arrived.

Because it’s the most popular time of year to visit Japan, it’s typical for hotels to book out a year in advance. Book your accommodation and flights as early as possible if you’re planning a cherry blossom trip.

Where is the best spot to see/photograph cherry blossoms?

If you don’t mind crowds and have a whole day to spare, Ueno Park is beautiful, vast, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It seems everyone and anyone in Tokyo is here at any one time!

For cherry blossoms with a lake view, visit Inokashira Park and Chidorigafuchi Moat of the Imperial Palace. Both of these parks also give you an opportunity to hire a row boat. I love photographing Inokashira after everyone’s gone home and as the sun’s setting – just before 7pm.

Nakameguro is probably my most favourite spot for hanami with its cherry blossom-lined canal and shops/cafes on either side.  It’s packed with tourists during blossom season though, so bear this in mind.

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SHOP

Omotesando – shop your Chanel bags, Church’s boots, and Dior earrings here. Don’t forget to comb the backstreets for cool little boutiques.

Minami Aoyama – Prada, Miu Miu, Diptyque, Acne Studios and tons more (including amazing architecture).

Found Muji – located near Omotesando, it’s the most inspiring and incredible place to shop a curated edit of one-of-a-kind Muji homewares. APC is also just around the corner if that’s your thing.

Margaret Howell – the Ginza store is beautifully merchandised and the sales ladies here are always so lovely!

Rag Tag – Japanese consignment stores are seriously amazing. I’ve found archival pieces from Balenciaga and Isabel Marant here for heavily reduced prices in immaculate condition as well as designer handbags for so low. It’s also shoe heaven here if you’re a size 36-38. For the best and largest designer handbag selection (think Celine, Chanel, Balenciaga, Prada, LV, Hermes), head to the Harajuku and Ginza outpost. For accessories and jewellery, Ginza wins. The Harajuku store is by far the biggest though in terms of all designers. Rag Tag Shinjuku has the most range of pre-owned Acne Studios. As you can tell, I’m such a discount shopper!

Nakameguro and Daikanyama – you can find all the indie boutiques here, stocking everything from Bassike and Isabel Marant to local Japanese labels.

T-Site -  the most incredible bookshop in Daikanyama, Tokyo. It’s so easy to spend hours here.

Muji – no Japanese retail experience is complete without a visit to this iconic and quintessential Japanese store. I love stocking up on wearable and chic wardrobe basics (Breton striped dresses and linen skirts) from Muji as well as stationery.

WEEKENDERS/DAY TRIPS

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Kyoto – it’s an easy Shinkansen (bullet train) ride to and from Tokyo. For me, two days is enough but I’m not fanatical about shrines as others! Arashiyama (the beautiful bamboo forest) and the surrounding parks/markets can be done in a couple of hours.

Hakone – a beautiful and serene escape from Tokyo, which you can combine with a trip to Mount Fuji. I’d love to stay at Hakone Ginyu next time, but it always seems to book out at least a year in advance during peak season!

Mount Fuji – I’ve done the Mt Fuji/Lake Ashi Viator day tour and highly recommend it. It’s about 13 hours in duration and it’s easy to get to and from Tokyo. It was inclement weather to go up to the 5th station but the sky was clear enough to see Fujisan in all its symmetry!

Visit an onsen – I’ve stayed at Manza Onsen Hotel and although it’s nothing overly fancy, it offers a truly authentic and charming Japanese experience. The all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet was a highlight, haha. The hotel offers bus transport to and from Tokyo from a bus terminal in Shinjuku. 

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ESSENTIALS IN TOKYO

Suica/PASMO metro transport card – budget around 1500 yen per day for moderate metro use. These cards can be purchased at all train stations or at the airport upon arrival.

Portable wifi – I’ve used Global Advanced Communications twice for my trips to Japan and highly recommend it. Order it a month online before your trip and have it delivered directly to your hotel on the date you arrive. The wifi works throughout Japan. I order the ECO Pocket WIFI 21mbps + extra battery. The cost was around AUD$70 for 11 days. It might sound expensive, but it’s really not as Tokyo is hugely difficult to navigate without the benefit of having wifi with you at all times – this far outweighs the cost.

Google Maps – absolutely essential when in Tokyo, but you will obviously need wifi to power it.

Basic grasp of the language – learning how to say thank you goes a long way in Japan!

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WHERE TO STAY

My favourite areas to stay include

Shibuya – a distinctively youthful and frenetic part of Tokyo that never ever sleeps. Close to all you’ll ever need, really.

Shinjuku – quite similar to Shibuya, home to the giant department stores, and a great base to explore Tokyo.

Shinbashi – an affordable option if you want to be close to Ginza, Asakusa, and the Yamanote line (to get to and from the airport).

Omotesando – close to boutiques and some of the coolest cafes in Tokyo. I’d try and book an airbnb here as there’s probably not much in the way of hotels.

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Hotels I’ve stayed at + recommend

Park Tokyo (Shiodome), Granbell Hotel Shibuya, Granbell Hotel Shinjuku, Sunroute Shinbashi (no-frills, tiny, but a great location). For those of you lucky enough to be not on a budget, try Claska or Park Hyatt.

Photography by Michelle Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

To see more of my travels, follow my Instagram + #seetheworldwitholympus for real-time updates and a peek at where I’m off to next.