Tokyo Train Guide: Narita to Tokyo

Finally a detailed guide for the most popular and logical choices

30 April, 2012 by

Tokyo city is notorious among foreigners for having one of the most complex transport systems in the world. But even before we step into Tokyo proper and begin worrying about railways, subways and shinkansen, just getting from Narita Airport in the adjacent prefecture of Chiba to Tokyo can be a confusing venture for first time travelers, especially with the plethora of options available.

Before the nearer Haneda Airport was opened up for international travel late in 2010, Narita Airport would had been the only gateway for those coming to Tokyo. These days, it still remains the busiest airport in Japan thanks to its existing infrastructure, despite being 60 kilometers away.

This is just the first part of a duo of guides hoping to introduce some basic aspects of Tokyo’s transport systems. I’ve decided to split it up into more manageable bites to make it easier on both readers and myself alike.

This first part is particularly meant as an overview for first time visitors, or those looking for an alternate way to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo. We present an overview of the some of the smart transport options used by tourists and locals alike based on personal experiences.

Outside Narita Airport.

I Want Convenience

Limousine Bus
Cost: 3,000 yen
Time: 120+ minutes
+ Comfort
+ Stops directly at Hotels
– Possibly Most Expensive
– Slowest

Not quite a train, but I’ll write a bit about it anyways. The first option that is presented to you when stepping out of arrival are the various bus services in Narita, the biggest of which is the Airport Limousine Bus. Located at a counter immediately across the entrance and with actual buses stopping just outside, booking a Limousine Bus couldn’t be more convenient.

But the convenience doesn’t stop there. The Limousine Bus’s biggest plus is that it operates a great number of services to take you directly to major hotels all around Tokyo. And with so many hotels all around, even if you’re hotel is not on the list, chances are there might be one located a street or two from where you are staying.

Limousine Buses are large coach buses with comfortable heated seats and on board toilets. Add this to the fact that your luggage is taken care off by the staff and you have perhaps the most convenient transport option available.

Unfortunately, there is really no single perfect means of transport from Narita to Tokyo. Each featured in this guide have their own plus and minuses (though we’ve already filtered through those too ridiculous to consider). Limousine Buses come with some flaws, as they are the slowest and possibly most expensive option on this list.

Single trips on a Limousine Bus cost 3,000 yen. The most expensive choice here, though if it takes you directly to your hotel, may end up slightly cheaper than somewhere with multiple transfers.

Limousine Bus.

As a special discount to foreigners, you can get a Limousine and Metro Pass combination for 3,100 yen which includes a 1-day Metro Pass when purchasing your ticket at the airport. There is also a two way pass for 6,000 yen, with a 2-day Metro Pass.

Metro Passes a.k.a. Tokyo Metro 1-Day Open Tickets usually cost 710 yen when purchased on their own. So if you really do have a use for them, then this essentially cuts bus prices to about 2,390 yen. Still, expensive. Try not to factor this too much into your decision. As depending on hotel location and with the exception of one or two places, it may be completely possible to travel around Tokyo without ever using the Tokyo Metro Subway.

Note that even if you haven’t purchased a Limousine Bus ticket at the airport, you can get a return ticket at the hotel lobby of any serviced destination (otherwise, you’d need to visit the main center in Shinjuku).

The biggest issue with taking a Limousine Bus though is how long it takes. Even before factoring in traffic conditions, it will take approximately 2 hours to get to anywhere in Tokyo by the buses. Throw in a traffic jam somewhere and this can drag longer.

This is not to say that the journey isn’t pleasant, with Limousine Buses having some of the most comfortable heated seats ever (I almost always fall asleep immediately when taking the Limousine Buses) and also many more interesting sights along the way than if you were to take the train.

Overall, if you’re staying at a hotel serviced by Limousine Buses the convenience may outweigh the costs. This is particularly true for those traveling with heavy luggage and children. Just be sure that you can afford the long traveling times.

A nice tour through Tokyo streets.

I Want Speed

Keisei Skyliner
Cost: 2,400 yen
Time: 40 minutes
+ Possibly Fastest
– Expensive
– Stops at Nippori / Ueno Stations
– 20-40 Minute Interval

Perhaps through extensive marketing or because its name just clicks, the Keisei Skyliner remains the default option for most tourists arriving in Japan. That is not to say that it isn’t a bad choice as the Skyliner is perhaps the fastest means of traveling from Narita Airport to Tokyo in general.

The Keisei Stations are located right in the basement of Narita Airport. Getting there is simple. However, due to the variety of transport options available, purchasing the right tickets and getting on board the correct train can be confusing for local travelers, much less first time visitors. There is no good solution to this, except to pay attention to signs and muster up the courage to ask for assistance if genuinely lost. The alternative, getting onboard the wrong train can be disastrous.

Keisei has always operated the most used train routes from Narita to Tokyo. And since 2010, the Keisei Skyliner had undergone a facelift to ensure that it stays in the lead. The new Skyliner boasts that it takes commuters from Narita Airport to Tokyo in just 36 minutes.

Keisei Skyliner.

While this is true, the data is slightly twisted for stats. The 36 minute timing is from Airport Terminal 2, up to Nippori in northern Tokyo, which is kind of like boasting that the MRT can take you from Singapore Airport to Tanah Merah in just 10 minutes.

2,400 yen is a fair price to pay considering that you get reserved seats on a train zipping to Tokyo in such little time. You’ll want to add 5 minutes to the time though, since in truth, appart from China Airlines and JAL, Terminal 2 mostly operates domestic flights.

The biggest issue you will want to consider here when taking the Skyliner or any Keisei train for that matter, is that the Skyliner terminus is in Ueno. The two main stops that you’ll be dropping off at are either Nippori or Keisei Ueno, both are in the north of Tokyo.

As the name suggests, the Keisei Ueno station is a separate Keisei-only station that is a short distance on foot from the JR Ueno Station. So if you’re staying anywhere other than Ueno, I’d recommend getting off first at Nippori Station which is shared with train lines from other companies, such as the convenient JR Yamanote Line. Thanks to this, you’d be able to take a train to most central areas in Tokyo from Nippori. Note, that you will need to pay the separate ticket cost of this, usually 130 yen or more.

Another thing to consider is that Skyliner trains operate at a 20 or 40 minute interval (depending on the time of the day). So unless your flight happens to coincide nicely, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting for that train to arrive anyways.

Personally, unless you are in a great hurry where a few minutes would affect an important business meeting (or are desperately trying to catch a plane), high speed transportation like the Skyliner is hardly necessary. If you are in a hurry though, I would recommend making sure that the next train is scheduled to arrive soon before purchasing your Skyliner ticket, if not, you may want to consider the Narita Express as a better option.

Note, do not mistake Keisei City Liner trains for the Skyliner. I’ve seen bloggers humorously mix up the two. They run from the same stations but at the opposite track. It doesn’t help that the City Liner uses phased out Skyliner trains. Basically, City Liners are older luxury trains that now run on the normal local train tracks. They cost 1,920 yen and have reserved seats, but since they’re running on the same tracks as the Keisei Limited Express so the journey takes much longer.

Spacious Skyliner seats.

JR Narita Express (NEX)
Cost: 2,940 +/- yen
Time: 50 minutes
+ Stops at Many Central Stations
+ Fast
+ Free with JR Rail Pass
+ 1,500 yen for Foreigners!
– Expensive (But, See Above)

The newest travel option from Narita to Tokyo, the Narita Express has been operating for a while now but had more recently been upgraded to match the level of comfort and speed of the Skyliner. It is a special Limited Express train operated by the Japan Railway (JR) Company.

Unlike the Skyliner, the Narita Express stops directly at Tokyo Station as well as a number of other ideal stations like Shibuya, Shinjuku, all the way until Yokohama. It takes 53 minutes to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station by NEX and Narita Express trains operate at a 30 minute interval. This means that it is not only more convenient, but also possibly faster than the Skyliner in some cases.

The Narita Express excels at comfort. Seats in the Narita Express tend to be more luxurious than the Skyliner. Like in JR Shinkasen, there are even special “Green Car” seats for those with deep pockets (1,500 yen more). Since it is operated by the JR Company, the Narita Express offers easy transfer between the NEX trains and Shinkansen at Tokyo Station.

The Narita Express.

To Tokyo Station, the NEX costs 2,940 yen. Ticket to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shinagawa cost 3,110 yen. The prices actually fluctuate slightly based on the time of the year.

While the basic tickets for NEX might seem kind of pricey when compared to the other choices on this list, there are actually some secrets that make the Narita Express the best option on this list for the majority readers. Pay attention here.

Being a JR Train, the Narita Express is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. So if you’re carrying one and intend to activate it on day one, the decision is already made for you.

For everyone else, take note, that there is actually a special discount offered to foreigners only available at Narita Airport. This special promotion lets you purchase a Narita Express-Suica Package for only 1,500 yen more than what a Suica would usually cost.

To get this discount, you will need to visit the JR East Travel Service Center at Narita Airport and present your passport. For 3,500 yen, you will get a 1,500 yen Suica IC Card with another 500 yen refundable deposit, as well as a NEX ticket for only 1,500 yen. If you’re visiting Tokyo, a Suica is something that you will need to get anyways and this offer will let you get a NEX ticket for half the price!

Except for a few fringe cases, the Narita Express is a very good fit for those who want the best balance of speed, affordability and convenience.

Lush interior.

I Want Affordability

Keisei Limited Express
Cost: 1000 yen
Time: 80 minutes
+ Cheapest Option
– Slow
– Stops at Nippori Station / Ueno Station
– Free Seating

At just 1,000 yen, the Keisei Limited Express is the cheapest option on this list. It is the most popular choice among locals and those running on a tight budget.

In addition to the Skyliner, the Keisei Electric Railway company also own the normal railway lines between Narita and Tokyo. The Limited Express trains are express trains that run on these local lines. It may be slightly confusing at first, but word “Limited” from Limited Express trains in Japan comes from the fact that they skip certain stops and are thus faster than regular “Express” trains.

If you’re living in any of the residential areas between Narita and Tokyo, then the Keisei Limited Express would be the default means of travel there. Like the Skyliner, the Limited Express stop at Nippori and eventually terminate at Keisei Ueno, giving it all the same benefits or rather disadvantages of the Skyliner.

Keisei Cityliner.

However, if you’re staying near Ueno (as we did in our past two trips), the fact that it stops here becomes a rare plus point for the Limited Express. For example, in our past two trips, we stayed at a hotel in Uguisudani (one stop away from Ueno). It wouldn’t had made sense to take the NEX down to Tokyo and backtrack, since it would had taken the same amount of time (and a few hundred yen more).

One thing to take note about the Keisei Limited Express, is that like all local trains, seats are not reserved and during rush hours, you may have difficulty finding a seat. This can be a hassle if your carrying heavy luggage. However, in practice, I’ve never had trouble getting a seat on the train, except in one case but there would had been seats then too if not for a family of discourteous tourists taking up an entire row to themselves.

Typical train interior.

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.

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Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.