Few cities in the world can be said to have a culture as unique as Tokyo's. The metropolis is easily one of the most distinctive and recognizable urban locations on the planet – and one of the most rewarding for travelers.
With futuristic bullet trains zipping from district to district, the electronic haze of Akihabara, and the over-the-top personality of Shinjuku, Tokyo is a city that excites the imagination. In fact, it's best to think of Tokyo as a mesh of cities and cultures all pushed into the same geographic area.
The hyperactive youth culture of Shibuya has little to do with the calm, powerful majesty of Chiyoda and its Imperial Palace – yet the two districts are mere minutes away from one another. Yet through all of its districts' differences, and despite the many unexpected sights and sounds to be found in the city, Tokyo remains quintessentially Japanese, an icon that inspires the pride of an entire nation.
Travelers booking flights to Tokyo should definitely take time to explore the city on its own terms. It offers a limitless wealth of new experiences to its visitors. Despite being the most populous city in the world – its greater metropolitan area is home to more than 37 million souls, more than many countries – it is also one of the safest. It offers unparalleled digital security, health security, infrastructural safety, and personal safety against violence and crime.
With all of these factors thrown together, it's easy to see why Tokyo is also one of the most desirable travel destinations in the world. Until recently, it's also been one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in – and one of the most crowded. Keeping this in mind is key to making flights to Tokyo lead to successful holidays.
Tokyo's mass transit system is one of the largest, safest, cleanest, and most efficient in the world. For first-time visitors to the metropolis, it can also be the most confusing. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that multiple distinct transport companies operate within Tokyo – including two subway networks and several private lines.
Tokyo's Metro Authority does a good job of making sense of these peculiars, but you will still have to study the lines to make sense of them. The most defining rail line for a tourist to know is the Yamanote line. This rail line runs in a loop around central Tokyo. All inter-regional lines and private lines begin somewhere along the Yamanote line. If you become familiar with this line, you have a great starting point for understanding the entire Tokyo metro system.
Fortunately, almost all subway and train ticket vending machines have an "English" option. The transit authority is gradually phasing out the older machines that only operate in Japanese. When you buy a ticket, you actually purchase a rechargeable smart card – tap your card on the touch pad of the turnstile to use it. When you run out of money, recharge at another vending machine.
Travelers who wish to see the sights and sounds of Tokyo are encouraged to purchase the all-inclusive 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket. It costs ¥1500 ($13 USD) and offers unlimited access to most of Central Tokyo's subway lines. Importantly, this ticket is only available to tourists with foreign passports – you must buy it at the airport on your way in.
These lines typically run between 5:00 AM and 01:00 AM. Most run once every three minutes during peak hours, so checking timetables is usually unnecessary. If you get stuck out after the trains close, however, you may to call a taxi, which can be expensive.
If you do choose to ride with a taxi, do not count on your driver knowing any English – use a GPS or show the address of your destination for the best results. The same goes for travelers who wish to rent a car – Tokyo's narrow streets are often unmarked, so you need to know exactly where you are going if you want to arrive on-time.
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Japan's largest international airport is Narita Airport. It is situated far northeast of Tokyo, well outside the city proper, but is connected to the city by rail. The Keisei Electric Railway is the fastest way to get to Central Tokyo's Nippori and Ueno stations, typically taking less than 45 minutes to arrive. The Keisei Limited Express is cheaper, but can take nearly twice as long to arrive and serves additional stops along the way.
Many major hotels also operate regular shuttle service to and from the airport. All of these options cost less than ¥3000 ($27 USD), whereas taxi service from central Tokyo to Narita Airport can easily cost ten times as much.
Because Tokyo is so crowded, Narita Airport has baggage delivery services for incoming travelers. Carrying even a medium-sized suitcase through Tokyo's hyper-crowded rail system is a great challenge. Look for Baggage Delivery services at the airport and let them deliver your luggage to your hotel for you. Delivery is quick, and you can send almost anything – even delicate musical instruments and bicycles. When you see other travelers struggling with their baggage, you'll be glad you thought ahead!
Narita Terminal guides and airport facilities maps provide the location of airlines, lounges, restaurants, shops and other useful services. Like Narita, Haneda terminal facilities include everything from hotels to free Wi-Fi.