The vast majority of Narita's visitors come there for one reason only: Narita Airport, Tokyo's international gateway. But there are a few attractions in the vicinity if you have a short layover and don't want to waste 2-3 hours of it on the long hike to Tokyo. Narita is only a short (c. 20mins) train journey from the airport and the Narita-san Shinshō-ji temple complex and wooded Naritasan Park, with its tranquil koi ponds and pagodas, are a must see.
Narita town itself is very charming with lots of quaint winding old streets lined with old wooden shops. The pace of life here is dramatically different to that of nearby Tokyo and is very relaxed. This is a major congregation point for airline staff too so you can take it that most of the foreigners in town are Air Crew. This means there's a bit more to Narita's nightlife than may seem at first in this sleepy town.
Narita Airport and Japan Tourism were experimenting with conducting short tours for passengers with layovers at Narita Airport, but this seems to have ended; visitors can use the Retrobus instead (see Get Around).
Narita Airport (成田空港 Narita-kūkō, IATA: NRT ICAO: RJAA), located nearly 70 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, is Japan's largest international airport. The airport is generally modern and efficient, but sometimes overcrowded (particularly at immigration). Security has been rather heavy, especially when coming in, due to continuing controversy over land expropriated for the airport - there are plans in the works, however, to relax the checkpoints at train stations and possibly the entry gates for vehicles as part of the first security overhaul since the airport's 1978 opening.
The airport has two terminals connected by both train and bus. Foreign airlines operate out of either terminal, with Japanese carriers ANA and JAL operating out of terminals 1 and 2, respectively.
The South Wing of Terminal 1 opened in June of 2006, and now most airlines in the Star Alliance (e.g. ANA, Asiana Airlines,United, Air Canada, SAS) operate out of that section (although Air New Zealand operates from Terminal 2). Carriers in the other two major airline alliances are also grouped together: the Skyteam Alliance (e.g. Air France, China Southern, Delta, KLM, Korean Air) operates out of the North Wing of Terminal 1, and the OneWorld Alliance (e.g. JAL, American (Except fights to/form JFK in which they fly to Haneda Airport), British Airways, Finnair) operates out of Terminal 2. Check the airport's website just prior to your departure to determine the terminal you will arrive at. On the way to the airport, there are also lists (in English) posted near the doors of trains going to Narita.
There are Citibank cash machines that accept international ATM/credit cards once you leave customs on the arrivals floor of both terminals, as well as ATM machines operated by Japan Post. Recently, 7-Eleven affiliated Seven Bank ATMs accepting foreign cards can also be found throughout the airport.
There are many ways to travel between Narita Airport and central Tokyo. For a first-time visitor, suffering jet-lag, laden with luggage and holding a reservation for a major hotel, the easiest option is often to take the Limousine Bus direct to the hotel. A close second is taking one of the express trains to Tokyo or Ueno Station and then transferring to a taxi for the final leg. If taking the bus, note that traffic jams can cause you to reach your destination a lot later than you were told when you boarded.
When departing Narita, the better shops and restaurants are located in the check-in area: after passing security and immigration, all that's really available is expensive duty-free and some convenience store sundries. But remember that Japan restricts liquids in carry-on baggage, and plan to buy drinks for the plane after security.
If you're at Narita for a connecting flight, you may wish to use the dayrooms and showers inside the terminal, past security. Dayrooms are paid for by the hour; ¥1000 for the first hour and ¥500 for each additional hour. The dayroom consists of a bed and a bathroom with a shower. It's a great way to refresh yourself before your next flight. If you just want to take a shower, you can get a shower room for ¥500 for a half hour. Soap and shampoo are provided, but not things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shavers, and deodorant, so bring them in your carry-on with your change of clothes. Twin dayrooms are available for ¥1600 for the first hour and ¥800 for each additional hour. Dayroom reservations can be made up to a month in advance.
WiFi access is available throughout the airport. There are several WiFi desks located in both terminals which have 100-volt power ports and free Internet access. Elsewhere in the airport you can connect to the Internet with the SSID NRT-AIRPORT at a cost of ¥500 per 24 hours. In the near future, free WiFi will be available both in the departure counter area and the airside waiting area.
If you're really in a hurry (depending on your definition of the term), Narita Heli Express  will whisk you to or from Tokyo Heliport (in Shin-Kiba). The regular fare is ¥260,000 per flight, which means that a solo passenger would spend the cost of one night's stay at the average Tokyo hotel every minute during the 20 minute ride. But if you share the ride with four other willing companions (the helicopter seats up to five), it splits down to ¥52000 per passenger.
When making a journey-time comparison with other transport methods, one should take account of the time required to travel between one's point of origin and the heliport in Shin-Kiba and the time taken for travel between the helipad at Narita airport and the relevant terminal building. For a journey from the Tokyo station area to Narita Terminal 2, the time difference may be 20 minutes or less.
IF this tickles your interest, keep in mind that the helicopter also has service to Kawajima, Saitama prefecture in 30 minutes (¥235,000 per flight) and Maebashi, Gunma prefecture in 40 minutes (¥355,000).
Another helicopter service, Mori Building City Air Service, or MCAS , offers chauffeured helicopter services for ¥280,000 per flight each way. This includes a 15-minute trip by limousine from Narita Airport to the Sakura Heliport, followed by a 15-minute helicopter ride to the Ark Hills Heliport in Akasaka, and finally, a trip by limousine to any destination in Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato and Shibuya wards. A limousine trip to any other Tokyo ward outside of this zone incurs an additional surcharge. With five in the same party the trip costs ¥56000 per passenger.
The two premier reserved-seat train services that operate out of Narita Airport are the Skyliner and the Narita Express. As a general rule of thumb, Skyliner trains offer the fastest ride into Tokyo (36 minutes), while Narita Express trains offer direct one-seat connections to the bullet trains and most of Tokyo's major train stations, albeit at a slower pace (61 minutes).
If you are on a budget and plan to use any of the various commuter train services that run out of Narita Airport, using a stored fare card (Suica or PASMO) will prove to be convenient.
From Narita Airport, the most convenient (direct service into many places without transfer; like Shinjuku), yet expensive way, (by rail) into Tokyo is the Japan Railways (JR) Narita Express (N'EX)  into central Tokyo Station. The ride takes 55 minutes, costs ¥2,940 and offers the best connections to Shinkansen (bullet train) services or the JR Yamanote loop line. Trains usually depart Terminal 1 at around 15 and 45 minutes past the hour; there is one hourly departure between 12 Noon and 1 PM, and after 8 PM. Smoking is not permitted on board the Narita Express, and all seats are reserved.
Alternatively, you can continue onward in the same train, which splits in two with the front half heading south to Shinagawa, Musashi-Kosugi, Yokohama and Ofuna, while the rear cars go west to Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Trains run to Hachioji, Takao and Omiya in the evening, with service from these stations to Narita Airport during morning hours. Reservations are required but can be purchased just before boarding if there is space (and there usually is). If there is no space, JR will sell standing tickets for ¥500 less.
JR East sells a special Suica fare package, called "Suica & N'EX" , exclusively to foreign visitors. The cost includes a discounted fare on the Narita Express (one-way or round-trip, in standard class or green class) and regular JR lines from the airport to any destination in the Tokyo metropolitan area; ¥1500 to use on rail travel in Tokyo or on purchases at locations that accept the Suica card, and a ¥500 deposit. The "Suica & N'EX" card is sold only at Narita Airport, and can be purchased using cash or credit card. It can also be recharged with additional funds, but only by paying cash. The one-way Suica & N'EX ticket is ¥3500 in standard class and ¥5000 for the green car. The round-trip ticket costs ¥5500 in standard class and ¥8000 for the green car; the return trip to Narita Airport must be taken within 14 days and seat reservations must be made prior to departure. (As an example, under this plan a one-way trip on the Narita Express from the airport to Shinjuku in standard class would cost only ¥1500, compared to the normal fare of ¥3110. A round-trip for the same journey would cost ¥3500, compared to ¥6220.)
JR also operates Rapid trains on the Sobu/Narita line, leaving once per hour and stopping at various points along the way, including Chiba. To Tokyo the trip is approximately 82 minutes and costs ¥1,280. These are normal, non-smoking commuter trains and often get crowded during rush hour (though boarding at Narita Airport should not be a problem, and seats can be easily obtained). The Rapid service train also has Green Car service (reserved seating); a seat can be obtained for ¥950 (¥750 on a holiday) if reserved beforehand, or for ¥1200 (¥1000 on a holiday) if obtained onboard the Green Car.
If you have a voucher for a JR pass, then you should exchange it here at the JR View Plaza Travel Service Center (Regular JR ticket counter when the View Plaza is closed), as the Narita Express is free with a Japan Rail Pass. You can also make onward reservations from Tokyo.
The private Keisei (京成, stylized as K'SEI) Railway offers trains to central and southern Tokyo, as well as direct commuter trains to Haneda airport. Keisei trains run on two routes: the faster, more-direct Narita Sky Access Line and the slower, less-direct Keisei Main Line. Both routes connect to Tokyo's Keisei Ueno and Nippori stations; the two lines branch off separately between Airport Terminal 2 Station and Takasago Station. Nippori offers the easiest connection to the JR Yamanote and Joban Lines, and to the Nippori-Toneri Liner for Tokyo's Adachi Ward. At Keisei Ueno you can walk over to JR Ueno station in 4 minutes to connect to the JR Yamanote, Tohoku and Takasaki lines and northbound Shinkansen trains, as well as the Ginza and Hibiya subway lines.
Because the Sky Access and Keisei Main Lines operate on different fare structures, separate ticket gates and platforms are used at Narita Airport's two train stations. Sky Access Line passengers only have to pass through one ticket gate, while Keisei Main Line passengers must pass through two ticket gates. Taking a train through the Sky Access route between the Airport and Nippori/Ueno is ¥1200, while the Keisei Main Line route is ¥1000.
Sky Access Line
The budget option along the Sky Access Line is the commuter train service known as Access Express, or Access Tokkyu (アクセス特急). Access Tokkyu trains depart every 40 minutes, and most daytime trains run into the Toei Asakusa Subway Line (from 4:00/5:00 PM, only to Ueno). Making limited stops, the Access Tokkyu offers the best ride to Oshiage (in front of Tokyo-Skytree, 49 minutes, ¥1130), Asakusa (53 minutes, ¥1240) and Nihombashi (61 minutes, ¥1280). Shimbashi (66 minutes, ¥1280) puts you within easy reach of the Yurikamome light rail line to Odaiba. A change of trains at Nihombashi will allow you to make a quick hop into the Ginza district (Higashi-Ginza Station, 64 minutes, ¥1280). Many services also continue onto the Keikyu Line for Shinagawa (75 minutes, ¥1460) and Haneda Airport (89 minutes, ¥1740).
After 4:00 PM (5:00 PM on weekends), Access Tokkyu trains run directly into Nippori and Keisei Ueno in 60 minutes at a cost of ¥1200. Other times, you will be required to transfer at Aoto; the connecting train a local service; this increases travel time to 80-90 minutes. During these hours, it is better to take the Mainline Limited Express directly to Ueno (81 minutes), and save ¥200.
From the Access Tokkyu trains you can transfer at Imba-Nihon-Idai station - two stations after Terminal 2 - to local Hokuso Railway services. One place of interest is Chiba New Town Chuo (Central Chiba New Town), where malls and shopping venues are on the plenty. At Shin-Kamagaya station you can change to the Shin-Keisei Railway and Tobu Noda Line, which make for inexpensive trips to Matsudo (56 minutes, ¥1070) and Omiya (122 minutes, ¥1580), respectively. At Higashi-Matsudo station you can change to the JR Musashino Line for Saitama's Minami Ward (80-110 minutes to Musashi-Urawa depending on connection, ¥1450).
Keisei Main Line
Regular Tokkyu (特急) commuter trains - those that do not carry the "Access" designation - depart from Narita Airport every 20 minutes, reaching Keisei Ueno in 81 minutes at a cost of ¥1000. During the morning and early afternoon hours, you should use these Tokkyu services over Sky Access trains as they offer a one-seat, cheaper ride. (Taking the Access train will require you to transfer at Aoto, the only connection being a "Local" service to Ueno, hence losing any time-savings you made previously on the Access line). After 4:00 PM (5:00 PM on Weekends), Sky Access trains offer a one-seat ride from Narita Airport directly to Nippori and Ueno; the 20 minutes you'll save on the Sky Access train is worth paying the extra ¥200.
Reserved-seat services that are cheaper than the Skyliner include the Morning Liner which operates from the airport to Ueno twice in the morning, and the Evening Liner which operates from Ueno to the airport six times at night after the final Skyliner service has run. Morning and Evening liner trains cost ¥1400, but you can only make a seat reservation on the day of departure from a special ticket vending machine. The vending machine will sell liner tickets for ¥400 which are to be used on top of the regular ¥1000 fare.
From the Keisei Main Line you have the option of transferring at Funabashi station to the JR Chūō-Sobu line or at Katsutadai station to the Tōyō Rapid with through service to the Tōzai subway line, both of which go right through the middle of Tokyo. The Chūō-Sobu line goes through Akihabara (86 minutes from Narita, ¥1100), Ochanomizu, Yotsuya and Shinjuku (104 minutes, ¥1260) and facilitates an easy transfer to the regular JR Chūō express, which goes as far west as Tachikawa, Ōme, Takao and other destinations beyond. The Tōzai line takes a slight southern approach with stops including Kiba (77 minutes, ¥1400), Nihonbashi, Iidabashi and Takadanobaba (98 minutes, ¥1440).
Note that none of the subway or elevated lines are specifically prepared for travelers with big luggage and tend to get crowded once inside the Yamanote ring; the exchanges at Katsutadai and Funabashi are usually rather pleasant though.
There is also a network of Airport Limousine shuttle buses that serve most major hubs within Tokyo, stopping at major hotels, as well as some suburbs. Prices are comparable to the Narita Express train services (¥3,000/person), but are convenient for the first-time traveler as they take you directly to your hotel. The Airport Limousine is also one way to transfer to Haneda Airport; Access Tokkyu trains are cheaper, but Airport Limousines are much more frequent. The journey to most points in central Tokyo takes 90 minutes or so, but watch out in rush hour (especially on the way to the airport) as there may be traffic jams. The Airport Limousine buses make three pickup stops (Terminal 1 North Wing, Terminal 1 South Wing, Terminal 2) and two dropoff stops (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2).
Keisei offers a new bus service called the Tokyo Shuttle between Tokyo Station and Narita Airport. It costs ¥900 from the city to the airport, and ¥1,000 from the airport to the city. The buses leave hourly from the airport and a bus stop near the Yaesu exit of Tokyo Station.
A taxi to central Tokyo is extremely expensive, on the order of ¥30000 if you hail one directly by yourself (equivalent to a few nights stay in the average Tokyo hotel), and you are more likely to get stuck in a traffic jam than save any time. Flat fare taxi cabs to Tokyo go for around ¥17000-19000 from special taxi ranks, but even so, if you're in a hurry, it's generally much faster and cheaper to take the Narita Express or the Skyliner, and change to a taxi upon arriving in Tokyo or Ueno. If you're not in a hurry, consider the airport limousine bus.
The easiest way to go between Narita City and Narita Airport is by using the Narita City Round Bus or Loop Bus (Retro Bus), the tourist bus service operated by Narita City. There are seven daily trips from JR Narita station, stopping at major locations within the city (including the International Cultural Center, AEON Narita Shopping Center and Shinsoji Temple), as well as both terminals of Narita Airport. Buses depart from Narita Airport Terminal 2 at 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 13:30, 15:00, 16:30 and 18:00; departures from Terminal 1 are 5 minutes later. The first three buses run directly from the airport to the Cultural Center and Shopping Center in about 20 minutes; the last bus at 18:00 only runs to JR Narita station. ¥200 adult.
It is also possible to go between the city and the airport by using the JR and Keisei local trains. These cost a bit less than ¥300 each way. The JR and Keisei stations in Narita are quite close to each other and a reasonably long walk from AEON Narita Shopping Center, the temple, et cetera.
There is also a slightly more complex local bus network run by Narita Kuko Kotsu which is mainly useful for accessing the Aviation Museum and industrial areas around the airport. Fares for this line range from ¥150 to ¥420 depending on distance.
Take your passport with you for re-entry to the airport.
If you are going into Narita, make sure to get some Japanese ¥ as most places will not take foreign currency. The 7-Eleven outside of the west gate of JR Narita station takes foreign cards 24 hours a day (except Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus), and there is also a post office with ATM a few blocks down the street from the am/pm store. For those with UnionPay or Discover cards, the Mitsubishi-UFJ ATMs located on the second floor of terminal 2 or the departure area of terminal 1 of the airport will probably be more convenient (please note that you MUST push the "English" button to start; the machine will NOT recognize any non-Japanese cards in Japanese language mode). Also allow a bit of time for exchanging back leftover currency on departure as this is not something you can do at an ATM! There IS a Mizuho Bank dedicated cash exchange machine in the airport, however, it only exchanges in "money packs" and rates are unfavorable.
Not that much. There is a large Aeon shopping mall outside of town, which you can get to by bus, if you absolutely have to visit a branch of the sporting goods store "The Sports Authority." There are souvenir stores on the road leading to the temple, as well as a reasonably interesting "100 yen" store -- which actually sells items for ¥105 including consumption tax -- along the way. Still, everything should be cheaper than at the airport.
Another great option is takoyaki (たこ焼き), or fried octopus balls. These are popular on the go treats, going for ¥360 for ten small takoyaki. Order zenbu (全部) to get all the toppings. There is a stand right by the Keisei line station main exit (left as you are leaving). Look for the little cartoon octopus pulling a cart of fried balls.
Don't forget to get a hot and sweet dorayaki (どら焼き), or sweet red bean pancake from a little shop across the main street.
Narita has a large number of hotels in the vicinity and they are often cheaper than hotels in central Tokyo thus it may be worthwhile staying out at the airport on your first/last night. If you want to get a cheap rate, however, do book in advance as rates and availability for walk up customers are highly variable.
If you have more than 8 hours to spare, you should seriously consider making the effort to visit Tokyo itself, although with limited time it really is best if you plan where you will go in advance of arriving at the airport.