Nikko (日光) is an ancient city located in the northern part of Tochigi Prefecture, about 100 km north of Tokyo. We say city, but really it is more like a village, famous for its shrines and temples and surrounded by beautiful nature. Being relatively close to Tokyo it makes for a great day trip, though you should certainly consider spending the night at this historical hotspot. There are many different places to go, things to do and last but certainly not least, many onsen (hot springs) to visit after a long day of hiking and sightseeing. Here is everything you will need to know about how to get to Nikko from Tokyo and what to do!
- How to get to Nikko from Tokyo
- Best time to visit Nikko
- What to do in Nikko?
- Guided Tour in Nikko
- Where to stay in Nikko?
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How to get to Nikko from Tokyo
If you are an international tourist the most worry-free and cheapest option to go with is the option Tobu railway offers: a Nikko All Area Pass. This pass includes a roundtrip from Asakusa station in Tokyo and unlimited bus and train rides in the designated area surrounding Nikko. The pass sets you back at ¥4,600 in summer or ¥4,230 in winter and is valid for four consecutive days. It is not the fastest way to get to Nikko, though it doesn’t make much difference, but probably the most convenient. In addition, the Nikko All Area Pass includes free admission to selected tours and attractions and gets you discounts at some tourist sites, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Read more about the Nikko All Area Pass
Note: The Nikko discount passes can only be bought in Tokyo!
When you are in the possession of the Japan Rail Pass, you can also choose for other options:
- From Tokyo station: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya station, and then transfer to the Nikko line to finally reach Nikko station. It takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, and it offers you a comfortable, quiet ride on the bullet train.
Covered by the JR Rail Pass, otherwise around ¥5,000 one way
- From Shinjuku station: A Limited Express train bound for Nikko is operated by JR-East from Shinjuku station. You can enjoy a luxurious ride, but it is also the longest of the three options. Also, if you don’t want to change trains, you need to take the first train leaving Shinjuku at 7.31 am in order to get to Tobu Nikko station. Otherwise, you will have to change trains at Shimo-Imaichi station.
Duration: About 2 hrs
Covered by the JR Rail Pass, otherwise around ¥4,000 one way
Getting around Nikko
When purchasing the Nikko All Area Pass, your travel in Nikko is also covered. Otherwise Tobu Bus offers several bus passes for unlimited use of buses around Nikko. There are several options that all can be purchased at Tobu Nikko Station and JR Nikko Station. Within Nikko you can choose to walk to several interesting spots or going by the loop buses. For the locations outside of Nikko, including the Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji, bus rides are preferable. The transportation in Nikko is very punctual and will bring you to at all the famous tourist attractions!
Best time to visit Nikko
Nikko is known among Japanese as a great destination for koyo viewing, the autumn variant of sakura viewing. From mid-October onwards, the trees change colors and start showing their famous red, yellow and orange leaves. This is the most beautiful time of the year, but for the same reason also the busiest time of the year. During the summer months, Nikko offers a cooling experience away from Tokyo with its many hiking trails.
What to do in Nikko?
Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Nikko is home to some of Japan’s best shrines and temples with the Nikko Toshogu Shrine (東照宮) being the most visited tourists spot in Nikko area. It is one of the most authentic shrines in Japan and a must visit. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples of Nikko. All the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples of Nikko form a single complex that is in total composed of 103 religious buildings!
The Toshogu shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that once ruled the whole country for over 260 years. The shrine itself was originally built in 1617, soon after his death, and most parts of it were renovated by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of Tokugawa shogunate. The shrine is simply amazing, and if you take a close look, you will be impressed with the details and design of each structure completed by skilled master craftsmen. Don’t forget to spot the famous Sleeping Cat and the Three Wise Monkeys.
9am – 5pm
※ An audio guide is available for rent in several languages
Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) is a huge lake located in Nikko National Park. It was formed by an eruption of Mt. Nantai roughly about 20,000 years ago. Its elevation is 1,269m, in other words it is located 1,269m above sea level, which makes it the lake in the highest elevation in Japan. You can walk the 25 kilometers around the lake on hilly lakeside hiking trails while feeling the power of nature, or take a boat cruise or SUP-tour and enjoy the stunning view from the water! In addition, each season gives you different impression with plenty of nature, from cherry blossoms in spring to colorful autumn leaves in fall!
From the lake it is a short walk to the Kegon Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. On your way you will find many restaurants that offer some food that Nikko is well known for, such as yuba which is basically dried tofu skin and made from soybeans, and ice cream made with fresh milk from Swiss cows that live at a nearby farm.
Kegon Falls (Kegon no Taki)
Kegon Falls (華厳滝) is a waterfall in Nikko National Park. All the water comes from Lake Chuzenji which is located just above the waterfall, and the waterfalls 97m straight down to the basin. It is known as one of the top three waterfalls in Japan! You can enjoy watching it from a viewing deck for free, or pay for an elevator that takes you down to the base where you can watch the details and falling water form up close!
Hiking in Nikko National Park
Nikko is part of Nikko National park, a huge park spread over four prefectures and a beautiful nature spot near Tokyo. The Nikko National Park is great for hiking and several trails are available. Some of them are quite tough and require hiking boot while others are easier to complete. We recommend you visit the tourist office located and the train station to get to latest update on the hiking trails. Also the people working there can give you some great advice on which trail suits you best, in perfect English!
A bus ride away from the Chuzenji Lake, you will find Yumoto Onsen (湯元温泉). A little village up north known for onsen! As soon as you arrive you will be welcomed by the characteristic odor of sulfur. All the onsen in the hot spring town use water from the same natural source. Most hotels allow you to enter the onsen against a (small) fee, but there is also a foot onsen – free of charge! Can you think of a better way to relax your feet after a full day of hiking?
For a traditional Japanese experience head to Onsenji Temple where you can try your hand at ‘shakyo‘ (copying Buddhist sutras by hand). In 30 minutes you will learn about history of shakyo and experience the local culture.
Edo Wonderland (Nikko Edomura)
If you are interested in Japanese history or culture, it is definitely a must-visit spot! It is a cultural theme park which gives you an idea of life back in Edo Period (1603-1868). All the buildings are designed based on old houses in Edo era, and they look very real. Moreover, you can rent several types of Japanese traditional costumes ranging from Samurai, merchant, farmer to lord! It allows you to immerse yourself into the unique atmosphere more deeply while walking around the park. You can also watch a Geisha show, have a Ninja experience, or enjoy the food at the many restaurants.
Edo Wonderland Official Website
9am – 5pm, Thursday – Tuesday in summer
9.30am – 4pm, Thursday – Tuesday in winter
Admission ¥4,800 (afternoon tickets available at ¥4,100)
Tobu World Square
Tobu World Square is a unique theme park which provides you a fun experience with more than 100 of world-famous buildings including some UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the 1/25 scale. You can admire all the well-known structures and buildings in a smaller size, and feel as if you travelled around the world in a day! Every detail of each building is accurate and real, it is an impressive experience even for people who have seen the actual one in person before!
Tobu World Square Official Website
9am – 5pm ( Dec. 1 to Mar. 19 – 9.30am – 4pm)
Guided Tour in Nikko
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.
▶ Nikko World Heritage Private Walking Tour
▶ Nikko Private Walking Tour
Where to stay in Nikko?
Like any other destination, Nikko offers a wide range of options to accommodate you. Here we listed some of our recommended places to spend the night:
- Nikko Astraea Hotel – located high in the mountains, in a quiet area, surrounded by trees and flowers and with a great onsen!
- Hatago Nagomi – this traditional Japanese hotel has great views of Lake Chuzenji.
- Tora – a small local guest house, conveniently located next to the bus stop and the train station.
Nikko is well accessible from Tokyo, and some tourists from abroad find it worth visiting several times! It is a good destination for a day trip because of the good transportation service and each tourist attraction is relatively close to one another. If you want to add a place other than Tokyo in your itinerary, taking a day trip to Nikko would be a great option for you. But in all honesty, to enjoy Nikko to its fullest we recommend to stay at least two day days. In this way you can enjoy a beautiful hike, visit the many great and sacred places, eat as much as you can, and relax at the onsen. Doesn’t that sound like a reason to visit Japan?!
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