There are two international airports that service Tokyo. The main international airport, Narita Airport, isn't actually in Tokyo at all, it's located in the neighbouring prefecture of Chiba. The second is Haneda Airport, the city's main domestic airport, now also the departure and arrival point of an increasing number of international flights.
Depending on where you are staying, Haneda Airport is usually the most convenient of the two as it's closer to central Tokyo. That said, Narita Airport is still where the majority of international passengers arrive and how to get from Narita Airport to central Tokyo the subject of this post.
Before coming to Tokyo, be sure to:
- Check your arrival airport. Is it Narita or Haneda?
- Check your arrival terminal. For Narita Airport, there are three terminals. If your flight itinerary doesn't mention which one, you can search by airline via this link.
- Check your connections. If you are transiting in Tokyo, is your arrival and departure airport the same? In some cases, you may arrive at one and depart at another. If transiting between Narita Airport terminals, there are free shuttle bus services that can get you between all three, ranging from 5 to 15 minute journeys.
There are a number of ways to get from Narita Airport to central Tokyo.
Trains from Narita Airport to the City
There are train stations to the city at both Terminals 1 and 2, although the latter station is now often referred to as ‘2・3′ since it is the closest to the new Terminal 3 and hence the station Terminal 3 passengers will also be using. Those arriving at Terminal 3 can access Terminal 2 via a 15 minute walk or 5 minute shuttle bus ride (free). Rail services start at Terminal 1, then stop at Terminal 2 (2・3), before proceeding to the city.
Depending on where you are staying, you may need to change trains once you've reached the central city area. One train line that will be mentioned a number of times in this post, and that you'll no doubt be making use of during your stay in Tokyo, is the JR Yamanote line. Let me explain it briefly here.
The JR Yamanote Line circles the inner city in a constant loop. Unlike many other train services in Japan, all Yamanote line services act as ‘local' trains, meaning they stop at all stations.
What you need to know:
- The JR Yamanote line is denoted by a light green color.
- A ride costs between 140 and 200 yen, depending on how far you travel. JR Pass holders who have already exchanged their vouchers and validated their tickets can ride for free.
- You have the option of taking this service in either a clockwise (‘outer loop') or counter clockwise (‘inner loop') direction.
- It takes an hour to do a full loop of all 29 stations. Check which direction will get you to your destination the fastest.
- Departures every 2 minutes during peak times and every 4 minutes the rest of the day.
- Last train on this line is around 1am and first train around 5am. You should confirm first and last trains for your route if needing to travel late at night or early morning.
Now let's get down to how we reach one of these central stations from Narita Airport.
JR Narita Express
The JR Narita Express, also known as the N'EX, is a high-speed rail service connecting Narita Airport to the center of Tokyo. With this option, you can head directly to some of the city's most popular areas, including Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, without the need to transfer to the JR Yamanote line or other rail services. The train features modern bathroom facilities and comfortable, reclining seats, each with a tray table and power outlet for charging your devices. Announcements in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
As this is a special express service, an additional surcharge is required above the usual base fare. You can buy a Narita Express ticket at Narita Airport stations. It is not the cheapest, nor the fastest option to the city, but is arguably the most convenient. JR Pass holders who have already exchanged their vouchers and want to start the validity of their pass immediately, can ride for free.
If you are not using a JR Pass and plan to return to Narita Airport using the N'EX within 14 days, then we recommend the N'EX Tokyo Round Trip Ticket, which saves you 33%.
- Travel time: 60-90 minutes, depending on destination.
- City stops: Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro (even goes as far as Yokohama and Ofuna, outside Tokyo).
- Cost: 3,020 yen one way (Tokyo), 3,190 yen one-way (Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro). No charge for JR Pass holders.
- Departures: Around 2 departures an hour (not all services stop at all stations, check that the train stops where you are headed before boarding). View Narita Express timetable here.
- First departure: Around 07:45
- Last departure: Around 21:45
- Toilets onboard: Yes
For return journeys, tickets may be purchased at JR Ticket Offices (Midori-no-madoguchi), Travel Service Centers (View Plaza) and reserved seat ticket machines.
JR Sobu Line (Rapid Express)
The JR Sobu Line is a regular JR train service that acts as a cheaper and slower version of the Narita Express.
- Travel time: 90 minutes
- City stops: Tokyo (from where you can access the JR Yamanote line to downtown)
- Cost: 1490 yen one-way. No charge for JR Pass holders, but in that case you might as well just take the N'EX.
- Departures: 1 departure an hour (may require a transfer)
- First departure: Around 07:00
- Last departure: Around 19:30 on weekdays, 20:30 on weekends/holidays
- Toilets onboard: No
The Keisei Skyliner on the Narita Sky Access Line is a train service that provides a fast and direct train link to the city. It is not a bullet train, although its interior does look quite a lot like one, with comfortable seating, tray tables and bathroom facilities. Information about stops is clear via electronic screens and announcements in various languages.
- Travel time: 36-45 minutes
- City stops: Nippori and Ueno stations (both on JR Yamanote line)
- Cost: 2470 yen one-way
- Departures: 1-3 departures an hour (most frequent departures mid-afternoon)
- First departure: Around 07:30
- Last departure: Around 22:30
- Toilets onboard: Yes
Onward journey from Nippori and Ueno Stations: Those travelling to Shinjuku or Shibuya, should get off at Nippori and change to the JR Yamanote line ‘inner loop' travelling in the direction of Ikebukuro (200 yen). Those wanting to go to Akihabara, Tokyo or Shinagawa should get off at Ueno and take the ‘outer loop' in the opposite direction (140, 160 and 200 yen respectively). JR Pass holders can ride for free.
Important note for return journey: If you are heading to Narita Airport from Nippori or Ueno stations on the Keisei Skyliner, you should note that the service stops running very early. Currently 18:20 from Ueno and 18:25 for Nippori. It therefore may not be ideal for those who have late night or early morning flights. See below for other alternatives.
Keisei Access Express
If you need a service that runs a little earlier and later than the Keisei Skyliner, then the Access Express is helpful, and also cheaper.
There are services that run along the Narita Sky Access line (like the Keisei Skyliner) arriving at Nippori and Ueno, as above. However, there are also services that branch off and that stop off at various stations along the Toei Asakusa and Keikyu lines, including Oshiage (the station for Tokyo Skytree), Asakusa, Nihombashi, Ginza, Shinagawa and Haneda Airport. You should check that the service will stop at your desired station before purchasing tickets/boarding.
- Travel time: 50-55 minutes
- City stops: Nippori and Ueno stations + various others as listed above
- Cost: 1240 yen – 1520 yen one-way depending on station.
- Departures: 1-2 departures an hour
- First departure: Around 5:20
- Last departure: Around 22:50
- Toilets onboard: No
Keisei Main Line Limited Express
This is the cheapest way to get from Narita Airport to the city by train, and is the service we personally use whenever possible. It subsequently takes a little longer than some of the other rail options, but if you're not in a rush, can save you some yen.
- Travel time: 70-75 minutes
- City stops: Nippori and Ueno stations
- Cost: 1030 yen one-way
- Departures: 3 departures an hour
- First departure: Around 10am on weekdays and 8:45am on weekends and holidays
- Last departure: Around 21:30. Note there are a few services that operate after this time that can also get you to Nippori and Ueno, however, they are technically not Limited Express services and may increase travel time.
- Toilets onboard: No
Buses from Narita Airport to the City
There are several companies offering bus services that connect Narita Airport to central Tokyo, some even with direct connections to some of the city's hotels. While most people choose to travel by train, the bus can be convenient if it can get you door-to-door without the need to make transfers.
The cheapest services are around 1,000 yen one way, up to around 3,200 yen for limousine bus services. Travel time is around 90 minutes. Tickets can generally be purchased at bus ticket counters at the airport and some can even be pre-booked online (sometimes for a slightly discounted price).
Taxis from Narita Airport to the City
Just like our general advice for transportation in Japan, which would be to only take taxis if absolutely necessary, this is especially true for travel from Narita Airport to the city. Keep in mind that Narita Airport is 60km away from the city, making the cost of a one-way trip by taxi upwards of 20,000 yen. You'll also need to cover the cost of toll roads, which will add a few thousand extra yen to the bill.
With an average trip taking 60-90 minutes, potentially longer if you get stuck in traffic jams around peak travel times, you might as well save yourself the headache (and money!) and take the train.
Stay the night at Narita Airport instead
If you're arriving very late and at a time inconvenient for travel to the city by public transportation, instead of a taxi you'd likely be better off booking a bed at the airport's capsule hotel. You'll be able to have a shower and get some rest, while saving some yen and getting a unique Japanese experience at the same time.