Taking Narita Express to and from the Tokyo Airport

The first time I visited Tokyo many years ago I wanted simplicity. I took the Airport Limousine Bus, which drops off at hotels. By the time I had gotten out of the airport I was on a bus departure after 5 p.m. and we got stuck in terrible traffic. The ride took almost three hours, and the bus seats weren’t particularly comfortable. I never did that again.

Taxis just aren’t an option from the airport in my view, they’re just too expensive, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for a car and getting stuck in traffic doesn’t appeal to me either.

I think the simplest way into the city is the Narita Express train. I was headed to Shinjuku station, which is near the Park Hyatt where I was staying. There are trains running about every half hour, although the wait was longer than I’d have liked because I came out of the customs hall just as I’d missed one.

Coming out of the customs hall there was a ticket booth directly in front of me in terminal 1 of Narita airport. The price is ~ $30 one way or $40 roundtrip. (“Green car” is first class and really isn’t meaningfully different than coach.)

The escalator down to the train was immediately to the left. Narita Express is easy to find because of the red branding.

When the inbound train arrived passengers got off and then staff closed off the train. You don’t board the train right away because they clean it.

The seats on the train are large and comfortable and there’s plenty of legroom. There’s also free wifi, which seems to go in and out. No seat power though and no refreshments onboard.

There’s luggage storage near the door to the train car, and locks available, although I didn’t use a lock. There’s also storage for small bags above your seat.

The longest stop along the way was at Tokyo station, where the train split in half. The car I was in headed on to Shinjuku, but part of the train did not. That’s why it’s important to go to the train car on your ticket. The Skyliner train is actually faster to Shinjuku but requires a transfer. With luggage I’ll take Narita Express and have the train split for me, my ‘transfer’ happens sitting in my seat.

I enjoyed the hour and 25 minute trip, looking out at the scenery along the way and even the advertising on the train — including from American Airlines.

Once at Shinkuku station I followed the signs for a taxi, it was easy to find even though it meant going outside the station and up an escalator. A cab from Shinjuku station to the Park Hyatt was less than $8, and easier especially with luggage than tracking down the hotel’s free shuttle which isn’t at the station proper.

On the return I used my ticket to get down to the tracks but had no problem using a self service machine there to change to an earlier train.

And the thing about Japanese trains is they are on time. I started wondering if our train would be late when it was just a couple of minutes to departure time and it hadn’t arrived. But it pulled up as expected, and we were off.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary — It’s only a 12 minute walk from Shinjiku Station to PH Tokyo. Free exercise

  2. Beijing, Hong Kong, and Bangkok are some of the other large Asian cities with nice airport terminals that have trains to the city center. The trains have signs and announcements in english for the linguistically challenged as most of us Americans are. That used to be a big problem in Japan for one. Some trains have free WiFi and most connect to the local metro which can save even more money getting to your final destination.

  3. And, if you’re travelling on a Japan Rail Pass, access to the Narita Express is included as part of the package. There are a few other airports in Japan where you can use you JR Pass to ride the airport express trains. Quite a bargain, if you’re using airports at each end of your journey to get about, as well as having the experience of riding on a VERY precise method of transportation.

  4. I agree with Mark. If you plan to spend a week or more in Japan, it makes perfect sense to pre-order a Japan Rail Pass.

  5. “the Tokyo Airport”

    You do know that there are two airports that serve Tokyo right?

  6. Depending on where you are staying, it might make more sense to take the Keisei Skyliner from Narita into Tokyo. Going to Shinjuku or Ikebukuru is usually faster on Skyliner than Narita Express.

  7. Japan Rail is wonderful. Their Shinkansen and Express trains are always, always, always exactly on time. A few months ago, one train accidentally left 20 seconds early, and it was a national embarrassment. The company made a national apology for it. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42009839

  8. I still like the limo bus going to Shinagawa Marriott – especially with luggage.

  9. Free tip: actually, when arriving at Shinjuku Station, you can get from the Narita Express to the taxi queue without going outside (helpful in the rain). Exits from the N’Ex platform are confusing, but if you get off the train and walk to the extreme front (north) end of the platform, there is an escalator down to a tunnel that eventually takes you to the main portion of the station. Turn left and walk ’til you pass through the ticket gate and follow the signs to the taxi queue on the same level.

  10. Recently in Tokyo – stated at the Courtyard Marriott GINZA Hotel. The LimoBus stops right in front of that hotel – and there is a list of hotels available, including 5-star ones that the Bus stops right in front of. While my trip was not during rush hour, and took about an hour – you GET ON THE BUS directly after leaving Customs (at least in Terminal 1). POINT: With 2 large suitcases and 2 carryon bags, we did not want to walk more than we had to – certainly not getting off a train, then find a taxi, etc. The Limo Bus worked for us.

  11. took the bus in Kyoto at 11 pm not alot of traffic but there was a garbage strike causing mobility issues for the bus… took hours and in november it was soooo hot and no air con!! In tokyo on the way back to the US we were with older disabled friends so had to take the $400 taxi…nuts

  12. Love the Narita Express, but disagree with you about the ‘Green Car.’ Not only are the seats larger, but because most people don’t pay the extra, we literally had an entire car to ourselves the last time we were there. The rest of the train was relatively crowded. It was really nice in the Green Car.

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