Tsukuba is a modern town built around the University of Tsukuba — one of the most respected public universities in Japan and home to two Nobel Prize winners and a cyclotron. The city is also located at the foot of Mount Tsukuba which offers scenic views, hiking, and lifts. The surrounding area is mostly agricultural.
The Tsukuba Express Line (sometimes abbreviated as TX) connects Tsukuba to Akihabara in downtown Tokyo in about 45 minutes. The fare is 1,150 yen. No reservation is necessary, despite the flashy name it looks like most other trains.
You can also travel to Tsukuba by highway bus (高速バス) from Tokyo station's Yaesu south exit (八重洲南口). Most of the buses go to University of Tsukuba, but you can get off at Tsukuba Center, a bus hub located near the Tsukuba Express line station. The travel time is approx. 70 minutes at a cost of ¥1150 each way.
Japan Rail Passes can not be used.
Tsukuba is extremely accessible and well laid-out. The infrastructure consists of the Higashi-Ōdori (東大通り) on the east and the Nishi-Ōdori (西大通り) on the west, both major roadways running on either side of the university. The campus itself is connected to downtown via a system of bicycle paths and bridges, known as the Pedestrian Way, offering easy transit for university students.
Bicycle rental is available in front of the train station (ask for "rent-a-cycle"). 500¥ per day, half for kids bicycles, open from 09:00 to 18:30. You have to return the bicycles by 18:30, except if you rent for several days.
- Tsukuba Space Center (The only entrance is on Gakuen East Road. It is a long walk from the station so renting a bicycle can be a good idea.), ☎ . 10AM-5PM. JAXA research center with free exhibits and guided tours five times daily. Facility includes exhibits on rockets, satellites, and Japan's involvement with the International Space Station. Guided tours in Japanese three times a day, reservation needed. Free.
- The Science Museum of Map and Survey, 1 Kitasato, ☎ . 09:30 to 16:30. Free.
- Science Square Tsukuba, Higashi 1−1−1, ☎ 029-862-6215. Tu-Su 9:30am to 5pm. Science Square Tsukuba is a museum that highlights some of the exciting research that is happening at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). You might think that a museum about research would be boring, but that is not the case for Science Square Tsukuba. At this museum, you can get a sense of what life will be like in the near future. It's almost like going to a science fiction museum, but in this case, it is science fact—or soon to be fact! The best part about this museum is that you are allowed to touch and interact with some of the displays. 90 minute tours starting at 10am and 2pm.
- Tsukuba Expo Center (From Tsukuba station, face north, and look for the big orange rocket in the horizon. That's the place. It's about a 10-min walk from the station.). Features a model of the H2 rocket and a planetarium as well as robots and undersea vehicles. There is also the famous organ-playing robot with a TV-camera in his head that was presented during the Expo. 410¥, or 820¥ including the planetarium.
Tsukuba's main attraction for tourists is Mount Tsukuba, a double-peaked mountain with a lot of history. The "Tsukuba-san Shuttle Bus" drives from the Tsukuba Express Train Station to Tsukuba Shrine for 720 yen each way, and to its terminus Tsutsujigaoka, closer to the top, for about 1000 yen . The last bus back to the city is at 5pm.
- Mount Tsukuba Shrine (筑波山神社). Notable for a huge bell and Nikko-style carvings, this shrine lies at the foot of the hiking path/cable car.
- Mount Tsukuba (筑波山). There are several hiking paths up the mountain, the most direct of which will get you to the top in about an hour. However, the longest trail offers the most cultural sights, such as shrines and a large stone looking like Buddha. The huge trees and rocks make for a fantastic walk. The not so fit can take the cable car to the top for 580 yen each way. The terminus of the cable car features several restaurants, souvenir stores, and snack shops. The true summit of Nantai-san is a short additional hike. The twin summit of Nyotai-san boasts a dramatic granite formation, a small shrine, and the famous toad-shaped rock, Gama-ishi.
Tsukuba's local specialty is Gama Oil (ガマの油), an ointment that has existed since the Edo period.
Tsukuba has several large shopping centers such as LALA GARDEN, Q't and SEIBU. Lots of families or couples go there every weekend.
- Iias (イーアス). Shopping center one stop away (Kenkyuu Gakuen) on the Tsukuba Express line. It offers three floors of stores and restaurants, including a large movie theatre and a pet store.
- Right-On, Azuma 1-11. 10:00-21:00. Tsukuba is the flagship store of Right-On, a Japanese denim chain.
- Ton-Q (とんQ), 13-12 Higashiarai, ☎ . 10am-10pm every day. Great place to enjoy amazing tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet). It is near the city center and the layout will remind you of a Denny's in the U.S.A. 1000-2000¥.
- West House (ウエストハウス), 2 Chome-14-12 Ninomiya. 10am-11pm. While they also cook occidental food, their speciality is a 60 centimeters-high parfait (frozen dessert) for ¥3000, it is called "Bikkuri Thunder Mountain" and is supposed to be enough to feed 10 people. 1000¥.
- Menya AOI. Delicious miso ramen, in a thick soup. Large serving for the same price. 800¥.
- Tsukuba Sansuitei, 254 Onozaki, ☎ . Traditional Japanese food. 3000¥.
- Heartland (ハートランド). 11:30-14:00, 18:00-21:00. Small Italian restaurant in a quiet street. It is the best option in walking distance from the Space Center. 2000¥.
- Sawadee (サワディー), ☎ 029-856-1908. Authentic Thai food cooked by a Thai chef. 2000¥.
Many bars and izakaya (japanese-style pub) are located in Kuidaore district, which is near to a crossing of Kita-odori (北大通り) and Nishi-odori (西大通り).
- Bar Dali, Amakubo 3-15-1 (Across the street from 7-11 convenience store at the Amakubo 3-chome bus stop on the Tsukuba University route). Lively past 7pm.
- Okura Frontier Hotel (オークラフロンティアホテル), Amakubo 1-1364-1 (Next to Tsukuba station), ☎ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. 11,500+ yen.
- Daiwa Roynet Hotel Tsukuba (ダイワロイネットホテルつくば), Azuma 1-5-7 (Next to Tsukuba Center, along Chuo-dori), ☎ . Check-in: 11:00, check-out: 14:00. 8,000+ yen.
- Hotel New Takahashi Takezono (ホテルニューたかはし竹園店), ☎ . Old but cheap and conveniently situated between the train station and Tsukuba Space Center. 4000¥.
- Tsukuba Kenshu Center (筑波研修センター), Amakubo 1-13-5 (take a bus no.10 or C10 from Tsukuba Center, get off at Medical Center Mae, walk 7 mins to east), ☎ . Check-in: 16:00, check-out: 10:00. 3,600+ yen.