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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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Chad

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.
  • Hello! Does the JR Narita Express foreigner rate still apply for 2016?

  • bel

    hi chad..im bringing my family in japan on May and we are staying in guesthouse in tokyo uguisudani grace ( arakawa-ku,ueno)..what would be the best transportation for us? thanks

    • Hi Bel. Considering that the hotel is walking distance from Nippori and Uguisudani, I would recommend taking the Keisei Limited Express if you are landing at Narita, which is a direct local train to Nippori and walk from there.

  • Char

    Hi Chad
    I arrive in Tokyo at 8am and leave at 6pm ¬ Im at the end of a 3 month trip so I dont have lots of cash left. I would love to head into Tokyo , have looked at in expensive tours but cannot make the morning ones and the afternoon ones end too late. If I take the most inexpensive route into the city ( 8o minutes ) where to you suggest I get off in order to just take my own stroll around the city?
    Thanks Char from Canada

    • Seeing as how this is probably your first time visiting Japan, I might suggest dropping off at Harajuku Station or Shibuya Station. The two are walking distance from one another so you can easily visit some of the iconic places like the Meiji Shrine, Takeshitadori, Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya in one afternoon. Though the later are shopping streets, these are still enjoyable to walk around even when not spending. Shibuya is also just a couple stops away from Shinjuku but it’s mostly high end malls there.

  • Tons Bautista

    Hi Chad,

    I am just confused right now, I will be riding NEX when I arrive in Narita, I intend to go to shinjuku, as I see it, NEX has a stopover in shinjuku, my quetions are as follow:

    is the 1500 yen NEX for foreigner only up to Tokyo station?

    If im going to shinjuku, will I be tranferring on to another train when I arrive in Tokyo station or the train itself will still continue to head on to shinjuku?

    Thank in advance.

    • Hi Tons. Thanks for pointing out the new ticket. Didn’t know about that. Seems it starts this month.

      For the new 1,500 yen ticket, you can alight at any station on the NEX line, including Shibuya so you don’t have to make a transfer.

      You can actually get off and change to any local JR trains and alight within the Tokyo area and they won’t charge you either until you leave the station.

    • Tons Bautista

      Thanks for the reply Chad, as I checked the map for NEX, its either going to Omiya or Yokohama. Do I check first in Narita if the train is going to Yokohama or Omiya?

    • All of the NEX trains are the same, however they split off at Tokyo station. The front cars go toward Shinjuku, while the rear cars go to Yokohama. It will be indicated at the station, but for convenience sake you can try to be among the front cars when boarding.

    • Tons Bautista

      wow thats a relief, thank you so much Chad 🙂

  • Mele

    Hi Chad. Would you know the earliest train schedule, from Tokyo to Narita Airport? Would have to catch a 9AM flight and was hoping to leave Tokyo at around 5am. Thanks! 🙂

    • The local trains start to operate at around 5 plus or minus, depending on the individual lines. For the other special trains like the NEX or Skyliner, they don’t leave Tokyo until around 6 AM. But it shouldn’t be a problem catching a 9 AM flight.

    • Mele

      Thanks for the quick reply!

      I found this site called ‘Hyperdia’ and this is the itinerary it gave me:

      From Roppongi Station, take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, alight at Ueno Station. Walk to Keisei-Ueno Station, then take the Keisei Skyliner 1 to Narita Airport.

      Does this^ seem practical?

    • Yeah that seems fine. You will need to make sure you reach earlier at Ueno before the train timing though, since the Skyliner leaves at 40 minutes intervals.

      Here’s the train schedule:
      http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/timetable/#nrt1skyliner

    • Mele

      Thanks for the heads-up!

      Looking at it, upon reaching Ueno, I have at least 10 minutes to catch the Skyliner. Do you that think gives me enough time to walk from Ueno to Keisei-Ueno Station, purchase a ticket and board the Skyliner?

    • Yes. As long as you know where the stations are that should be ample time.

    • Mele

      That’s a relief! Really appreciate your replies. Thanks, Chad! 🙂

  • Marcus Ng

    Hi I going to Yamagata in three months time n I arrive at Narita airport and will go to Tokyo station to take Shinkansen to Yamagata…correct? or any cheaper way to go as Shinkansen to Yamagata is abit expansive…kindly advise me…thks!

    • The shinkansen would probablu be the most efficient way to Yamagata. Since you’re coming from Narita, the nearest Shinkansen terminal would be at Ueno, it will save you some time, but will only be a couple hundred yen cheaper.

      An alternative if you’re really on a budget is to take a highway bus once you’ve reached Tokyo, but it would be difficult to synchronise the bus timing and also the journey would take much longer for just a little bit of savings. If time is not an issue though, then you can try checking out Willer Express or JR Bus Tohoku.

  • Kat

    Hello. Thanks for the useful info. I am going to Tokyo by myself in a few months. It is not my first trip there, but the last one was almost 10 years ago.Taking NEX from Narita sounds like a good idea. But my main concern is how it’s going to be like to maneuver around busy train stations, up and down stairs with a suitcase (a medium size) and a jetlag. My plane lands just before 4 pm.. and by the time I got through everything, it will probably be rush hour. Is my concern a justified one? Or am I worried too much? Any advise? Thanks

    • The NEX itself is a direct train from the airport up till many of the central stations. Less locals take it since it’s more expensive, they tend to prefer taking the Keisei local train instead since it’s cheaper. So it’s just a matter of subsequent stations between a NEX drop off point until where you’re staying in Tokyo.

      If it’s any consolation, the evening rush hour isn’t nearly as bad as the morning. You should be fine as long as it’s just a single suitcase. Pretty much all of the stations in Tokyo have elevators for wheelchair bound people these days, or at the very least an escalator, so you shouldn’t have to worry about stairs. You may have to take a longer route inside the station though to avoid stairs.

    • Kat

      Thanks for the response. I feel a bit better now. I think the hotel where I’ll be staying is in Asakasa area. And instead of transferring to different subways at Tokyo station to get to the hotel; what if I just take a taxi from the station… Do you have any idea how long of the ride it will be by taxi? And how much (guess-timate) the fares would be??

    • Did you mean Akasaka? If so it should take up to 1,500 by taxi from Tokyo to Asakasa depending on which part you’re staying it. Japan is notoriously famous for its expensive taxis. But if you decide to go by that way you can find a taxi stand just outside the Yaesu Central Exit. If you meant Asakusa, then it actually is quite a distance and would be closer to 2,000 yen.

    • Kat

      Yeah…Akasaka (Minato). Thanks for the info. It is not too too bad. It may actually worth it. And thanks for letting me know to take the Yaesu Central exit.

  • jwpotter

    Hi, We will be arriving at NRT and I think the NEX is best for us. But, where is the Tokyo station? I want to book a hotel close by, but can’t find it on the map in relation to hotels. Any recommendations? We are older – in our 70’s and so we don’t want to have to travel to far from the station.

  • S

    Hi! I’m a Singaporean girl and intending to travel to tokyo alone.

    If I were to book a capsule hotel in akihabara, how do I get there from narita airport in the cheapest way possible ?

    For the one week I’m planning to stay there, I think I’ll just like to go around Tokyo… Shibuya, shinjuku, Tokyo station, and ginza area.
    What would your advise be especially on transport ?
    In Singapore I would get lost easily too!
    Any advise would be greatly appreciated. I intend to be on a tight budget.
    Thank you 🙂

    • The cheapest way would be to take the local Keisei Limited Express train to Nippori and then take a JR train on the Yamanote “Circle” line over to Akihabara. This will cost you 1,000 + 150 yen.

      If you’re staying at Akihabara, you’ll probably end up using the JR Yamanote the most. It’s the cheapest and most convenient way around this city. Train rides on JR lines cost between 130 to 200 or so yen a trip. You can get a 1 day pass at the ticketing machine for 730 yen (Tokunai Pass), which gives you unlimited rides on JR trains within Tokyo. But this will be worthwhile only if you intend to visit around 3 different places in one day.

  • Cobi

    hello, i would like to ask. im headed for Uguisudani from Narita and will end the week-long trip at Shinjuku headed for Narita Airport. Does taking the Keisei Skyliner to and fro make more sense than getting the SUICA + N’EX round trip?

    • It’ll be much cheaper if you get the Suica Nex round trip and take a train over to Uguisudani from Tokyo station on your way there then.

  • gagan

    Hi, I am reaching narita at midnight 12. Want to go to yokohama. What are the options? As most of the trains and bus service stops by 11.30 pm

    • Unfortunately, there’s really no public transport to get from Narita to Yokohama, or even from Narita to Tokyo at midnight save from a Taxi, which will cost you upwards of $400. Your best bet would be to either stay in Narita until the following morning (trains resume service at 5am) or if you’re in a hurry to try to find a private charter service (which will also cost around $300).

  • suzy

    staying at narita excel. what train do i take to tokyo. i know there is a bus that takes you from the hotel to the train in town.thanks

  • RT

    Hi I will be arriving Tokyo (Yokohama) port via Royal Caribbean cruise and stay for a couple of days in Tokyo.

    What is your recommendation if I need to travel one-way from Tokyo to Narita Airport ? Can I just purchase NEX only at Tokyo station ?

    Any other tour passes to tour around Tokyo since I am not able to purchase NEX/Suica combo at Narita airport ?

    • Hi RT. You can purchase the NEX and Suica combo from any JR Station along the NEX line. Other than Tokyo this would be the Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ikebukuro stations. You can opt for the one way option since you’re arriving by ship.

      Another option would be to purchase one day JR Tokunai Passes for days which you intend to travel around Tokyo a lot. It’s just 730 yen for unlimited travel on JR trains inside Tokyo and can be purchased from any ticketing machine.

  • VS

    Hiya, am arriving at Narita airport but planning to stay around Asakusa. Is the NEX/Suica a better deal? Thanks!

  • CC

    Hi, I will be making a trip to Tokyo end of this year with my kids and will be staying around Tokyo Station. Which is a better? NEX or Limousine Bus? For NEX, do I need to make reservation before my trip or I could just get a ticket when I arrive at Narita?

    Thanks.

    • In that case I’d recommend the NEX. You don’t need to make a reservation, tickets can be bought on the spot.

    • CC

      Thanks.

  • SheilaJ

    Hi! We are traveling through and have a 7 hour layover in Narita. In the past we have toured Narita on our layover but want to try Tokyo this time. Do you think we could take the NEX and spend a few hours walking around Tokyo and get back in time. BTW, we will be there Thurs. July 11. Arriving at 2:30 PM and the departure is 9:20 PM. Thanks!

    • Yes, it’s possible, though would probably be quite a rush. The NEX, or rather transport in Japan in general is pretty reliable and tend to work like clockwork so as long as you take note of the train timings, you won’t run into any problems. I can’t really think of a good place to recommend off the bat though since it would really depend on what interests your teenage son has.

    • SheilaJ

      I know, so much to do and so little time! Even if it is a rush – better than sitting in the airport for 7 hours!! My son likes electronics/gadgets, arcades, sports, and music. He also likes to “people watch” and try new food. I think we will stick close to Tokyo station and wander around that neighborhood.

  • Gary Low

    keisei limited express now connects to asakusa then part of the toei line. so it goes to shimbashi and a few more. ends up at haneda

  • jaY

    This works! Thanks loads for the comparison!

  • Kristy Chong

    Thank You for your break down of the possible transportations from Narita to Tokyo. Now I can replan and save a little on my upcoming trip.

  • Wilko

    Hi guys, maybe you can consider doing a report on Haneda airport travelling to Tokyo…
    Thanks guys,

    • Supermerlion

      Unfortunately, while I’ve tried all of the different transports at Narita…I have yet to set foot in Haneda so am in no position to write such a guide.