Located in the Tochigi Prefecture in Japan lies the quaint and mountainous town of Nikko. An increasingly popular destination for local and international tourists alike, Nikko is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, while getting to experience traditional Japanese culture visiting temples and shrines. During the spring and fall, is particularly known for people coming to see the budding of the cherry blossoms or the turning of the leaves during fall foliage. Even during the summer it is a beautiful time to visit the mountainous region by making a stop to see one of the largest waterfalls in Japan, Ryuzu Falls. Along with their famous local hot springs, Nikko is a great day (or overnight trip) to add to your itinerary for those looking to see nature’s beauty and traditional Japanese culture.
Getting to Nikko from Tokyo
We recommend that you visit Nikko by train as it is the fastest way possible. For JR Pass holders, you can use your pass to get you through half of the trip, though you will have to switch to the Tobu line which will be an additional cost. The below chart shows total cost of the trip if you are a JR Pass holders versus if you are not. In total the trip from Shinjuku to Nikko can take between 2:30 and 3 hours depending on your train route.
While the stations may slightly differ when you connect from the Chiyoda Line to the Tobu Line, the route you will be taking is the same (this all depends on the time schedule of trains departing at different station in that area). Furthermore, prices fluctuate on rides from Kitasenju Station to Nikko so make sure to take a look before hand and have enough Yen on your train card. For more details on other travel options and train options to Nikko, visit Japanstation.com
Arriving in Nikko and How to Get Around
You will get off at the Tobu Nikko Station and right outside of it you will greeted by small shops and café’s where you can grab a morning coffee or breakfast. Just up the street you will find the bus station which can take you around Nikko, as well as to Lake Chuzenji to see Kegon Waterfall (550 Yen entry fee) (https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3812.html) and Kinugawa Hot spings (Yumoto Onsen, 80 min ride, 1700 yen) (https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3807.html). Around Nikko, you can take the bus system around the city to Shinkyo Bridge (7 minutes) which is at the base of the Rinnoji Temple and Nikko Toshogu Museum. Walking wise, you’re looking at around 25 minutes from the train station to Shinkyo Bridge. Below is a cost chart of the Tobu Bus Ticket:
Activities in Nikko
A town that is surrounded by World Heritage sites, Nikko has a lot to offer during your day trip. If you get there early enough, you should be able to make it to most of them (as some of them require you to take a bus trip to parks away from the town). Check out the activities below for more.
Once you get dropped off by the bus at the base of the hill, the Shinkyo Bridge is directly in your line of sight. Especially beautiful during the fall, the bridge's autumn leaf color pops and is a great place to start your sightseeing around Nikko. To cross the bridge there is a 1,000 Yen fee, though we recommend no spending your money on it unless you really want to walk across it to get pictures.
Nikko Tosho-Gu and Yomeimon Shinto Shrine
Built in the 17th-century, this shrine complex honors the first shogun and features brilliant colors and architectural design, especially during the cherry blossom season and fall foliage. Famous for viewing Leyasu's tomb, the three wise monkey and other animal carvings, as well as the five story pagoda that represents the elements of the earth, there are plenty of things to see and appreciate when visiting this complex. Located at the top of the hill just past the Shinkyo Bridge, you can take a bus to the bridge from Tobu-Nikko Station and walk up the stone steps. There is an entrance fee to the shrine which is 1,300 Yen and 450 Yen for children. For more information, click here.
Rinnoji Temple, Nikko Futarasan Jinja Shrine, and Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin Temple
Located around the Tosho-Gu complex are other notable temples and shrines to check out. The Rinnoji Temple has a main building called the Sanbutsudo (currently under major renovation till March 2019, though still accessible) and is Nikko's most important temple built in the 8th century. Within the temple there is also a treasure house that contains Buddhist and Tokugawa related exhibits, as well as a Shoyoen (Japanese style garden) that is located behind the treasure house. For 400 Yen you can access the Sanbutsudo, and for additional (or separate) 300 Yen you can view the treasure house and Shoyoen. Click here for more information.
The Futarasan Jinja Shrine is home to the deities that watch over Nikko's 3 most sacred mountains that are enshrined here. The Shrine grounds are free to access, though you can pay an additional 200 Yen to tour the small Shoyoen to the left of the offering hall which has a path way around sacred trees, a quiet spring, and some more halls for you to tour. Located close by is the Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin temple is a mausoleum for the third Tokugawa Shinto (Lemitsu) and a place where you can see amazing foliage and cherry blossoms and beautiful temple colors. We highly recommend checking out this temple out as it's off the normal path but offers stunning Japanese architecture.
Located in Nikko National Park at Lake Chuzenji, Kegon Falls is nearly a 100 meter high waterfall that were formed by the rerouting of the Daiya River due to lava flows. You can go to an observation deck to see the falls, as well as ride an elevator to a lower observation deck for a small fee (500 Yen). From the Tobu-Nikko bus station, you can hop on the bus line that is routed for the falls which takes about 45 minutes to reach for 1,150 Yen.
Kinugawa Onsen Day Pass
About a 45 minute bus ride north from the Tobu-Nikko station (or a 2 and a half hour train ride from Asakusa staion, cost 2,890 Yen) you can go to the Kinugawa Onsen for a day of peace and relaxation. This is an town located at the upper stream of the Kinugawa River has quietly become a popular destination for those seeking onsen and ryokan experiences. With plenty of open air and foot baths, you can give your body a much needed recovery if you have had a some big nights out in Tokyo. We recommend that if you don't plan on making it to (or staying overnight) at a ryokan in Hakone, to set time aside to visit this onsen because experiencing one is a huge part of you overall Japan experience. Visiting Kinugawa can be a half day experience so make sure to plan accordingly if you want to visit both Nikko and here. Bus ride cost is around 360 Yen from the Tobu-Nikko Station.
While Nikko is a change up from what you have experienced so far in Tokyo, you will get a traditional Japanese cultural experience visiting this peaceful and beautiful mountainous town. If you are visiting Japan during either fall foliage or when the cherry blossoms are blooming in the spring, make it a point to visit here because the colors of nature are incredible. As far as visiting the Kinugawa Onsen town, we would put this at the bottom of our list of things to experience when visiting because it will take up most of your day and you can get this same experience in Hakone. We hope you enjoyed our post on Nikko, continue reading on to learn more about your next stop in Hakone!