There are lots of ways to get around the sprawling megapolis that is Tokyo and the Greater Tokyo area. Which is best however, depends on where you’re going, how much you money you want to spend and whether or not you like taking the scenic route. So let’s talk options.
Tokyo is a great city for public transport with a strong network of train, subway and bus routes criss-crossing the city. While not as cheap as other countries the system is (almost) always on time, and will get you where you need to go. Don’t know the difference between Bullet trains, local trains and limited express trains? We’ve got you covered, read on.
Fun Fact: With the exception of Toei operated services, all other ‘public’ transport providers in Tokyo are actually privately owned.
The shinkansen is a super-fast, easy way of getting from Tokyo to other parts of Japan. Yes, we’re talking about the world renowned Bullet Train. You can be in Kyoto in under three hours — and even back the same day if you like. If you’re going to be doing a lot of domestic travel, buying a Japan Rail Pass is probably a good idea — have a look at our JR Pass guide to see whether a countrywide or regional pass works best for you. Also see our guides on getting from Tokyo to popular destinations such as Osaka, Hiroshima, Kanazawa and Nagoya.
Trains & subways
To the uninitiated, the train and subway system in Tokyo can seem incredibly complicated. To help get your head around them we’ve put together a handy beginner’s guide to Japan’s rail system.
If you’re in town for more than 24 hours, we recommend buying a Suica/Pasmo IC card. These are credit card size cards that you charge up with credit and use instead of tickets to get on/off public transport. They are usable on all lines and they work all across Japan. This will save you so much hassle as you don’t have to think about which ticket to buy. You can even use them to pay for items from a vending machine and in some shops!
Some operators have one-day tickets that are a good deal, but read this guide so you know which ones should be avoided (some are only useable on one subway company, which makes them pretty much useless).
For travel within the city, the bus system can be useful for making those trips that the subway doesn’t handle well — like Roppongi to Shimbashi. Fares are cheap and you can use Pasmo/Suica IC cards to pay. Working out which bus goes where and where you should get off however, is quite a task. We recommend asking a local and telling the driver where you’d like to go. For long distance travel out of Tokyo, highway buses are almost always the cheapest (and least comfortable) option.
With such a well developed public transport system it’s not entirely surprising that many people living in Tokyo don’t have their own cars. That being said there are still private transport options around, but they often more expensive than public transport.
Taxis have a flag-fall of ¥730, so even if you catch one for 100 m, this is how much it will cost. Once your trip reaches the ¥730 threshold, the figures on the meter will start to spin like the fruit on a one-arm bandit. Generally taxis are only a good deal if there are 4 of you. They can, however, be useful (and your only choice) if you’re stranded after last train or if you have too much luggage that you’d rather not take on public transportation. Read our step-by-step guide on catching a taxi in Tokyo, including Uber and other ride sharing apps.
Some places or situations really will be easier if you have a car. Your choice in this case is whether to buy or rent. Luckily for you we have handy guides for both, here’s one for buying a car and one for rentals. Oh, and if you’re planning on heading out of town for a road trip, don’t forget about the road tolls.
After spending some time in Tokyo you’ll quickly realise that the bike culture here is strong. From a mother somehow balancing 3 children and herself on a single bike, to a high school student casually holding an umbrella in one hand while cycling through the rain, there’s no shortage of cyclists on the streets. If you want to join them you can once again choose to buy or rent.
No really, not only is this the most cheapo friendly option but it’s actually a great way to see the city. Central Tokyo is quite compact and as you can see from our walking map of the Tokyo subway system it won’t take you too long to walk from one station to another. If you need a little more convincing let 1 of these 6 routes inspire you.