Things to do in Nikko Japan – how to plan a Nikko Day Trip & Longer


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Whether you take a day trip to Nikko or spend longer there, you’re sure to find activities, attractions and the best Nikko sites to keep you busy.  The best of Nikko’s attractions are surrounded by nature.  You’ll find lakes, shrines, temples and beautiful national parks in Nikko.   Your only regret is likely to be that you didn’t spend long enough here to see all the things to do in Nikko.  We’ve also covered how you can see Nikko remotely – with virtual Nikko tours and explorations available.

Nikko is easy to reach as a day trip from Tokyo, but you can also visit Nikko from Kyoto with relative ease.   The areas natural beauty also makes Nikko a great place to experience a ryokan visit and to spend time luxuriating in an onsen.

Where is Nikko

Nikko is located in the Kanto region of Japan’s main island of Honshu.  Nikko is around 125 kilometres from Tokyo.

How to Get to Nikko

Most people visit Nikko from Tokyo and it is an easy day trip from Japan’s capital city.  If you have a JR Pass it’s even easier.  (If you haven’t bought it yet, make sure you buy your JR Pass BEFORE entering Japan as it’s a lot cheaper – check prices and buy now! .

Get to Nikko from Tokyo on a JR Pass

The easiest and fastest way to travel from Tokyo to Nikko on a JR Pass is to first take a Shinkansen train from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya.  Transfer at Utsunomiya to the Nikko line and take the train to the terminus at Nikko.  Your total journey time will be about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Take the Tobu Nikko Line from Asakusa to Nikko

The Tobu Nikko line is not included in the JR Pass, but you might find it a more convenient way to travel from Tokyo to Nikko.   This is a direct train from Tokyo’s Asakusa Station to Nikko.  You can read more about the Tobu Nikko line here as well as the benefits that it includes.

Read all about the benefits of the Japan Train Pass here 

Take a guided tour from Tokyo to Nikko

If you’d prefer to visit Nikko from Tokyo with a cultural guide, then check out this option of a guided cultural day trip from Tokyo to Nikko. – take a guided Nikko cultural day tour from Tokyo

How to see Nikko virtually

We’ve gathered together a range of videos, virtual tours and webcams so that you can see Nikko even if you can’t be there right now.  Relax back on the sofa and enjoy.

Webcam of The Shrine Bridge Nikko > View it here

How to Get Around Nikko

Most of the attractions in Nikko are within easy walking distance from the Tobu Nikko train station and the JR Train Station Nikko.  If you prefer to take a bus, there are bus options.  It’s possible to buy a 2 day pass for Nikko buses that follow a circular route around Nikko and the UNESCO shrine areas 4 times an hour.  Single tickets are also available and you can easily travel as far as Lake Chuzenji on this pass and these buses.

Where to Stay in Nikko

If you’ve decided to stay in Nikko rather than making your visit to Nikko a day trip, then there are plenty of options on where to stay in Nikko and her surroundings.   In Nikko accommodation is split into the traditional ryokan with onsen accommodation and regular Japanese hotels and hostels.

Stay in a Ryokan in Nikko

Traditional Nikko ryokans provide you with a room with tatami floors and communal bathing.  Breakfast and dinner are generally included when you stay in a ryokan – and focus on the foodstuffs available in the area and suitable for the season.  You can read all about ryokan etiquette in our guide here.

Kinugawa Onsen Hotel – Located at the Kinugawa Gorge this is very popular especially at weekends – so be sure to book early! –  You can select western-style or Japanese style rooms and while communal indoor and outdoor onsen pools are provided you can also opt for a private hot tub room.  Located outside Nikko, its accessible easily on the Tobu-Nikko line, but you can also take advantage of the hotel shuttle.  Great for escaping into nature – check availability and book now.

Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel – in a beautiful location at the Lake Chuzenji-ko Lake, this hotel dates back to the Meiji period.  It’s a stunning tranquil location, surrounded by nature with gorgeous onsen baths.  Splurge and enjoy yourselves surrounded by a little luxury – check availability and book rooms now.

The Nikko Kanaya Hotel – this is the oldest resort-style hotel in Japan.    Famous for attracting international visits such as Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh and Eleanor Roosevelt it has old school charm with leather chaired lounges, modern rooms with a traditional style and a fabulous restaurant.  Even if you don’t stay, lunch or dinner here is an incredible experience.  Check availability and book your experience here now

Western Style Rooms in Nikko

Nikko Station Hotel II –  located across from the Tobu-Nikko railway and bus station this hotel gives compact rooms, breakfast and you may luck out and get a mountain view.  Rooms are western-style and you’ll get the usual Japanese in-room amenities of hairdryers, kettles, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi.    Check availability and book now.

Nikko Station Hotel Classic – Located very close to the JR Nikko station you’ll get free Wi-Fi, an included breakfast buffet as well as both indoor and outdoor onsen baths.  Rooms are western Style.  Check availability and book now.

The Best Time to Visit Nikko

The most popular time to visit Nikko is the autumn when the hillsides blaze with colour.  This is the peak season in Nikko.   It is usually a few degrees cooler than Tokyo you’ll find it popular in summer with those who want to escape the heat of the city.     Nikko is a popular weekend destination and get away for Japanese tourists, so if you do plan to visit on a weekend, we’d recommend that you plan and book any accommodation ahead of time!


Nikko Day Trip Itinerary

The town of Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage site most famous as the some of the 17th-century Shogun Tokugawa.  Tokugawa’s dying wish was to be enshrined in Nikko.   Nikko is also an area of outstanding natural beauty.  National Parks, woodland and waterfalls are quite stunning here and the area that you’ll visit is very green.  All the temples and shrines fit into the parks extremely well, and visiting is really rather like walking through the woods to the next attraction.

 

To visit Nikko as a day trip you’ll want to make an early start to maximise your time in the town and her UNESCO attractions.   (In a month in Japan the latest we got up was 0600 in order to maximise our time in the country.  It was exhausting, but fabulously worthwhile!)

The best itinerary for a 1 day trip to Nikko:

Most shrines and temples in Nikko open between 0800 and 0900 depending on the time of year, check each shrine below for opening times.  The last entry to all shrines is 1630.

UNESCO World Heritge Nikko Trails

  • Arrive into either JR Station Nikko or Tobu Nikko Station as close to 0900 as you can for a full Nikko day trip
  • Visit the Shinkyo Bridge – either to take photographs or to walk across the bridge
  • Next, go to Toshogu Shrine—easily the most important shrine in Nikko. You can take an audio tour here also.
  • Visit Futurasan Shrine – the oldest shrine of Nikko
  • Stop by the Rinnoji Temple in Nikko
  • Take a bus trip to Lake Chuzenji – if you can squeeze it in taking a walk along the lakeshore and then
  • Head to Kegon Waterfalls
  • Try the world-famous Nikko shave ice and Nikko Yuba to round out your day.

Need more time in Nikko than a day trip?  Book yourself into a ryokan and wake early the next day to experience more of what there is to do in Nikko!

Best things to do in Nikko

While there are many things to do in Nikko, the most well-known is that Toshogu Shrine and that’s where you should plan to head to first. We recommend getting here early and trying to avoid the crowds.

Shinkyo Bridge

While most visitors to Nikko make the Toshogu Shrine their first stop, they’ll see the Shinkyo Bridge en route.   This vermillion coloured bridge crosses the Daiya River.  Legend has it that when the first high priest Shodo arrived in 767 the river was impassable because of the strong current.  Shodo’s prayers were answered when two snakes appeared and joined together to create the bridge and safe passage across the river.    This bridge, however, dates from the 16th century and the Shinkyo Bridge is the most recognisable attraction of Nikko and is also Japan’s oldest bridge.   In feudal times the crossing of the bridge was reserved only for the emperor.  Today you can cross it for a fee.

Shinkyo Bridge Nikko

While it is free to photograph and view the Shinkyo Bridge from a distance, if you want to walk across this sacred and famous site it will cost you 300 yen.  The Shinkyo Bridge is open from 0800 until 1700 from April to September, it marks the entrance to the UNESCO World heritage shrine areas of Nikko.

Toshogu Shrine Nikko

The main highlight of a visit Nikko is seeing the Tosho-gu shrine.  This Shinto shrine was created in 1617 and covers a vast area.   Most day visitors from Tokyo will spend the majority of their time here, deep in the cedar forest.    The Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) is one of the most famous and most decorated temples in Japan.   It was created as the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  Tokugawa founded the Tokugawa shogunate and the Edo period, which they ruled over lasted from 1603 to 1868.  All the rules of Japan at this time came from the Tokugawa shogunate.

Toshogu Shrine Nikko

The lavish decorations include intricate wood carvings and accents of gold leaf across the many different buildings here at Toshogu.  The most well-known of buildings are the Yomeimon Gate and the five-storey pagoda.

Five sTorey Pagoda Nikko in the rain

The most famous decoration here is the carving of the Three Wise Monkeys.

Three Wise Monkeys at Toshogu Shrine Nikko

This famous carving represents the saying taught by the Tendai Sect of Buddhism “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”

Be sure to visit the Toshogu Shrine Five-Story Pagoda.  This pagoda is built with a centrally supporting pillar at its core.  This is an earthquake-resistant design that is the same as which is used in the Tokyo sky Tree tower.

The Toshogu Shrine was opened to the public in 1965 and arguably the most important part of the shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa at the top in the inner shrine.  The walk there through the woodland on moss-covered stone steps is atmospheric to say the least.

The shrine opens from 0800 until 1700 from April to October and closes one hour earlier from November until March.  Entrance fees apply (1300 Yen adults, 450 yen for children) and you can read further information about the Toshogu Shrine here.

Futurasan Shrine

Located next to the Toshogu Shrine, the Futurasan Shrine is the oldest in Nikko.  It was founded by the Buddhist Monk Shodo Shonin – who the legend says created the Shinkyo Bridge across the river Daiya.    In the grounds of the shrine are a drinking station and a pool.  These are fed by 3 freshwater springs which are said to bring wisdom, youth and good eyesight.

Futraran Shrine Nikko

Rinnoji Temple

The Rinnoji Temple is the most important and oldest Buddhist temple in Nikko.  The first temple here was built in 766 and it was founded by Shodo Shonin.  The Three Buddha Hall here is the main building and contains three large Buddha statues representing Nikko’s three mountain deities – Amide, Sanju Kannon and Bato Kannon.  The Buddha statues are covered in gold lacquer, Senju Kannon has 1000 arms and Bato Kannon is represented with a horse’s head.

Taiyuinbyo

This is the mausoleum of Iemitsu, grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1604 – 1651).   Iemitsu was the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun and intended that, as a sign of respect to his grandfather, that his shrine be more restrained.  It was built close to the Toshogu Shrine in order that he be close to his grandfather to be able to serve him after death.   It remains an excellent example of the architecture of the period, but it has a strange quirk.  It’s considered that the main buildings of temples should face south, however, this temple faces the Toshogu Shrine, the North East, as a measure of respect to his grandfather.

Taiyuinbo Shrine Entrnace

Recognized as a registered national Japanese treasure, this shrine is said to represent heaven and earth.    Taiyuinbyo is open from 0800 to 1700 from April to October and closes one hour earlier from November to March.  The entrance fee is 900 yen.

Tamozawa Villa

The Tamozawa Villa is one of the largest remaining traditional wooden buildings of Japan.    Visiting the Tamozawa Villa allows you a glimpse at that imperial life would have been like for the aristocracy and rich merchants.

This villa was built in 1899 as a summer retreat for Prince Yoshihito

Lake Chuzenji

Lake Chuzenji was created by the eruption of Mount Nantai some 20,000 years ago when lava blocked the blow of the river.  It has been an attraction and summer residence since 1868.   It is particularly popular during the Japanese Cherry Blossom season  and also as a place to view autumn leaves.  Reach Chuzenji Lake by bus from the Nikko JR station of the Tobu Nikko station.    The journey from Nikko to Chuzenji takes around 45 minutes.

Sightseeing lake cruises are offered from April to November with special fall colour cruises also available in autumn.  These sightseeing cruises are included on the Tobu Nikko All Areas Pass.  You can also walk along the shores of the lake and also visit Nikko National Park at the Chuzenji-ko Onsen and Kegon Falls on the north-eastern side.  The walking trail around the 25 kilometres of the lake’s circumference is steep in parts but a great walk nonetheless.

Kegon Waterfalls

The Kegon Waterfalls or Keon no taki are the only outlet for Lake Chuzenji and makes the list of one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.  The falls are nearly 100 metres tall with 12 smaller co-located waterfalls nearby.  Kegon waterfalls are about 40 minutes by bus from Nikko Tobu Station in the direction of Chuzenji-ko.  Disembark the bus at Chuzenji Onsen where it’s a short walk to the falls.

It costs 500 yen to visit the falls – you’ll take an elevator down to the viewing platforms, although there is a free viewing lookout at the top too.  The falls are open at various times throughout the year –  December- February 0900 – 1630, March, April, and November 0800 -1700, May- September 0730 -1800, October 0730 – 1700

Kanmangafuchi Abyss

The eruption that created Lake Chuzenji also created the Kanmangafuchi Abyss, a group of pools formed in a gorge.  There is a pleasant walk along the river that leads to a row of around 70 stone statues of the protector of dead children, Bodhisattva Jizo,

Jizo statues in Nikko

Japanese legend says that Jizo hid children in his robes in order to protect them from underworld demons.

Akechidaira Ropeway

You’ll need to take a 40-minute bus journey to visit the Akechidaira Ropeway.  Alight at the Akechidaira bus stop and walk the few metres to the ropeways/ cable car station.

The Akechidaira cable car is included in the Nikko Pass if you’ve bought that.   This gondola is just a 3-minute ride, but it takes you to Akechidaira Plateau.  From the Akechidaira Plateau, you’ll be able to get a great view of the whole area – from Lake Chuzenji to the Kegon Falls, and Mount Nantai.

Edo Wonderland

Edo Wonderland or Nikko Edomura is a theme park that shows Japan as it would have been during the Edo period – the time in which the Toshogu Shrine was built.  Staff are dressed in period costume and as a visitor, you can also rent clothes to wear too.  There are buildings built in the Edo style, a wax museum, historical markets and live theatrical shows too.  Don’t miss the adult ninja experience and the samurai experience too.  Prebook your Nikko Edo Wonderland experience here! .

What to Eat in Nikko

Nikko is famous mostly when it comes to food for Yuba.   As the town was founded as a Buddhist temple town, most Buddhist monks follow a vegan diet and the town became creative with vegan foodstuffs.

Try Yuba in Nikko

Yuba is the skin that is formed when you boil and then cool down soy milk.   (Think skin on custard).  Yuba skin is used in many ways – to wrap sushi instead of seaweed, with wasabi added, in ice-cream, smoked and also as a side dish on its own.   Head to Nikko Yuba Zen to try all different types.   The best way to try if you’re not sure is to try ramen or udon noodles with Yuba.

Take a Yuba Cooking Class in Nikko

Go one better – take  class and learn how to make Yuba based dishes in Nikko – the ultimate in cultural experiences in Nikko – check out your options  here.  In this class taught by a professional Japanese Chef, Hiroshi you’ll learn to cook 3 egg based dishes and take home the menus to try at home!

Try Shave Ice in Nikko

Nikko is known for the purity of its water and since 1894 they’ve been making shave ice here – shave ice actually originated in Japan.  The best place to try shave ice in Nikko is Shogetsu Himuro.   The ice is created during the winter, is cut into blocks and is then removed and transported to freezers for summer visitors.    It’s well worth a try – to taste shave ice from the place in which it was created!

Tori Gates to Shrines Nikko

Take a Day Trip to Nikko or Longer?

Whether you decide to visit Nikko on a day trip or to spend longer here, it is well worth a visit.  The architecture and decorations on the temples and shrines are quite stunning.  The location of the UNESCO World Heritage shrines in Nikko, right in the National Park is a welcome relief from townscapes.  Even if you visited like us on a web October day, the crowds can be quite intense, so you’ll want to plan your route ahead of time, in order to see everything that you want to see in Nikko.

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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