If you are looking for somewhere nearby Tokyo that you can visit during the summer holiday season, home to some of Japan’s best shrines and temples and surrounded by nature, Nikko (日光) is the perfect destination. This nature spot near Tokyo is about a 2-hour train journey from the metropole and boasts world-famous tourist attractions flanked by beautiful nature. The Nikko Toshogu Shrine, listed as one of the 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan, is the most famous historic spot in Nikko and a must see in Japan. If you want to unwind and cool down in nature head to Lake Chuzenji and the nearby Kegon Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls of Japan. Though Nikko is famous for its radiant autumn scenery, the area welcomes you with a refreshing atmosphere and spectacular sceneries all year round. Nikko is also home to a number of hot springs where you can relax after a long day of exploring this must see place in Japan. Here are our suggestions to make most out of your day trip to the Nikko area in summer!
How to get Nikko from Tokyo
There are several ways to travel to Nikko from Tokyo. You can rent a car in Tokyo and drive yourself there. This is definitely the fastest and most comfortable option getting to Nikko, that will also give you the flexibility you need/want when doing a day trip from Tokyo. However, if you decide to stay overnight (which we can recommend), you best option is to travel to Nikko by train. You have several choices and, especially when you are an international tourist, this will be the cheapest choice.
- Shinkansen & local train
From JR Tokyo station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to JR Utsunomiya station in Tochigi prefecture and transfer to the JR Nikko Line. It is about a 43 min ride to reach JR Nikko station, a main gateway to famous tourist attractions in the Nikko area!
Time: 1.5 hrs
Fare: ¥5,680 (One way)
- Limited Express
If you start your journey from JR Shinjuku station or Ikebukuro station, a limited express called Nikko is you best option. This train takes you to Tobu Nikko station without transfer in less than 2 hours.
Time: 2 hrs
Fare: ¥4,080 (One way)
- Local trains
Although local trains are also available from Tokyo to Nikko, you need to spend at least 3-4 hours on the train, which is definitely too long for a day trip. Moreover, local trains could get quite crowded especially during summer holiday season. Taking Shinkansen or the limited express we introduced above will help you save time while enjoying a comfortable train ride at a reserved seat with less crowds!
If you are an international tourist the cheapest option to go with is the option Tobu railway offers: the Nikko All Area Pass or the Nikko World Heritage Area Pass. These pass includes a roundtrip from Asakusa Station in Tokyo and unlimited bus and train rides in a designated area in/surrounding Nikko. The passes are valid for 4 and 2 consecutive days and can be purchased at the Tourist Information Center at Asakusa Station, or the Tobu Tourist Information Center or Tobu Top Tours travel agency at Ikebukuro Station.
Best tourist attractions that you can’t miss in Nikko
From magnificent historic shrines to scenic natural attractions, Nikko offers unforgettable experiences for everyone. You can also hit great hiking trails surrounded by lush greenery in summer, before the entire Nikko area gets swamped with tourists looking for the radiant autumn colors in fall. Here you can find the best tourist attractions in Nikko!
1. Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Whether you are interested in Japanese history or not, Nikko Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) is definitely not to be missed when in Nikko. Initially built in 1617, this majestic shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is known as the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over 260 years. The elaborate carvings and details of beautiful structures are simply amazing and a must visit. Nestled in a peaceful and sacred mountainous area, the designated UNESCO site welcomes visitors with natural surroundings including hundred years old cedar trees!
2. Shinkyo Bridge
The Shinkyo Bridge (神橋) ia the iconic bridge that is featured in many pictures of Nikko. The sacred bridge stands at the entrance to Nikko’s shrines and temples, right at the foot of Nikko Toshogu Shrine. In autumn the black and red bridge forms a picture perfect spot with all the red leaves around it. The scenery with the red maples is quite incredible! Back in the Edo Period (1603-1868), only the emperor could cross the bridge, today everyone can for a fee of ¥500.
If you are planning to rent a car in Nikko, don’t miss the unforgettable driving experience at Iroha-zaka (第ニいろは坂). This scenic drive is one of the winding roads that connect the central part of Nikko city and famous sightseeing spots such as Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji. Drivers can enjoy the steep driving roads which feature 48 hairpin turns. Near the top of Irohazaka Daini Winding Road, you can find Akechidaira Ropeway which takes you up to the Akechidaira Observation Deck at the elevation of 1,373m. It welcomes you with the breathtaking view of Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, Iroha-zaka, and Mt. Nantai altogether!
4. Kegon Falls
From Nikko Toshogu Shrine it is about a 40 min bus ride to Kegon Falls (華厳の滝) known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Water from Lake Chuzenji cascades down the rocky cliff at the height of 97m, which creates a breathtaking scenery. You can take an elevator down to the observation deck located at the basin of the stunning waterfall for the best views of the waterfall. From spring through summer, the scenery is impressive, created by the splashing water along with lush greenery surrounding the unique rocky cliffs and the beautiful white cascade. Yutaki Falls and Ryuzu Falls are also beautiful waterfalls nearby which are worth a visit. The water from Nikko area is known for its high-quality and purity, and one of the few places where water is frozen and stored to make kakigori, the famous Japanese summer treat.
5. Lake Chuzenji
Nestled at the entrance of Oku-Nikko area just a stone’s throw away from the Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) is widely renowned for the elevation, approximately 1,269m above the sea level. The large lake in Nikko is one of the highest elevated lakes in Japan! It is believed that it was originally formed about 20,000 years ago by volcanic eruptions of Mt. Nantai, the iconic peak located at the north of Lake Chuzenji which shows some resemblance to Mount Fuji. Luxury boat cruises, hiking and packrafting and SUP-boarding are popular among tourists as a great way to enjoy the scenic landscape. Enjoy the beautiful azalea flowers in early summer, or lush greenery which completely covers the entire Mt. Nantai in summer. When you have a car, drive to the former British and Italian embassy villas on the southern lakeshores and continue to the Hangetsuyama observation deck from where you have a magnificent panoramic view of Lake Chuzenji and surrounding areas!
6. Senjogahara Moor
If you want a memorable hiking experience during your stay in Nikko, head to Senjogahara Moor (戦場ヶ原), located just north of Lake Chuzenji. The place was originally a lake and later became a vast marshland covering approximately 400ha areas located at the elevation of 1,400m above the sea level. It offers some great hiking trails across the scenic marshland which is home to about 350 species of plants and flora. The hiking trail with just a few ups and downs is easy to tackle even for beginners or learn more about the local legends, the history, and nature of Senjogahara with a guide.
From Senjogahara Observation deck, you can enjoy the stunning views of the marshland against a backdrop of surrounding mountains including Mt. Nantai. It is about 4 min drive to Lake Yunoko, a peaceful and mystic lake perfect for taking a refreshing stroll around!
7. Kinugawa Onsen
After exploring tourist attractions in the Nikko area, get a refreshing hot spring experience before you hit the road home! Kinugawa Onsen (鬼怒川温泉) is a famous hot spring resort which is about a 25 min drive from Nikko. There are about 80 hotels and ryokan, ranging from Japanese traditional inns to modern ones. At some ryokan, you can enjoy the hot springs without booking a room or staying overnight. Perfect when you do a day trip! At the tourism office they can tell you exactly which hot springs are open for guests, what features they have and how much they cost.
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
If you need some help to organize your trip to Nikko, you should definitely check out our private tour including English guide. We’re glad to help you make your trip to Nikko a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memory! We will try our best to accommodate all your wishes and can start the tour both in Tokyo as well as in Nikko.
Whether you love to spend your holiday relaxing in nature or exploring historic spots, Nikko always offers something for everyone. Visiting Nikko will allow you to discover new aspects of Japan hidden in the sacred mountains and beautiful shrines that have been there for over centuries. In addition, many of the tourist attractions introduced above are located quite close to one another, which makes it easy to visit multiple spots on the same day of a day trip from Tokyo! Despite this, we do recommend you consider spending the night in Nikko to make most out of your visit, it is 100% worth it! Or combine a visit to Nikko with a trip to Nasu Onsen, about 1 hr north of Nikko.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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