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Day Trip From Tokyo: The Comprehensive Guide For A Great Day In Nikko - Updated 2016

Rachel
Updated Sep 27, 2016

Nikko is located in Tochigi Prefecture in the Kanto region of Japan’s main island. Filled with breathtaking nature and historical shrines and temples, you wouldn’t want to give this awesome UNESCO World Heritage Site a miss. As there is no international airport in the Tochigi Prefecture, the best way to access Nikko is via Narita International Airport serving Greater Tokyo. Accessible within 2 hours by train from Tokyo, head to Nikko for a great day trip. To maximise your day, follow this detailed itinerary for the top list of things to do in Nikko!

How to travel between Tokyo and Nikko

Source: Japan Guide

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If you are staying near Asakusa:

Take the Tobu Railway from Tobu-Asakusa Station, which is a 3-minute walk from exit A3 of Asakusa subway station. The first limited express SPACIA train departs Tobu Asakusa Station at 7.30 am and it takes 110 minutes to reach Tobu Nikko Station on the Tobu Skytree Line. Rapid trains operate on hourly intervals, with the first train departing at 6.20 am. It takes around 2 hours to reach Tobu Nikko Station, but is cheaper [about 1,360 JPY (13.40 USD) one way] than limited express direct trains. To save on transport costs, purchase an All Nikko Pass for a round trip train ride to and from Tokyo as well as unlimited bus rides within Nikko.

Tobu Discount Pass - All Nikko Pass

Price: 4,520 JPY (44.40 USD) per adult (age 12 or above); 2,280 JPY (22.40 USD) per child age 6 to 11

Duration: Full day.

Access: Pass includes 1 round trip rapid/section rapid train ticket between Tokyo and Nikko, and unlimited bus rides in Nikko. Online reservation available 120 days before departure date.

Tobu Discount Pass - All Nikko Pass

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If you still want to go by JR as you got JR Rail Pass:

Take the 2-hour JR direct limited express train ride from Shinjuku Station, at 4,000 JPY (38.80 USD) one way. However, the Japan Rail Pass does not cover the expenses of this journey fully as this route uses the Tobu Railway track partially. It is good to note that the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass, JR East Tohoku Area Pass and JR East South Hokkaido Pass do cover the entire trip. If you are looking for a better option to utilise your JR Pass fully, travel on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno Station instead. Transfer to the JR Nikko Line at Utsunomiya Station. The entire 5,000 JPY (48.50 USD) journey takes about 100 minutes one way.

Japan Rail Pass

Price: dependent on the type of pass purchased

Duration: From 3 days, dependent on the type of pass purchased.

Japan Rail Pass

Map Location

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Start your day with a world heritage tour to Nikko’s famous shrines and temples

By late morning, you should have arrived at JR or Tobu Nikko Station. As all of Nikko’s renowned shrines and temples are clustered together, about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from the station, I recommend you to embark on the spiritual tour first, which will take about 3 hours to explore on foot.

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1. The main entrance to Nikko’s World Heritage Site - Shinkyo Bridge

Source: bryan...

A 15-minute walk from Nikko Station will bring you to the sacred bridge to Nikko’s remarkable history. Ranked as one of Japan’s three finest bridges, Shinkyo Bridge is the gateway to all the shrines and temples in the city centre. The ancient bridge is part of the Futarasan Shrine. Legend has it that when Saint Shodo arrived here, he could not cross the river due to the powerful water current. The God of the River answered his prayers and helped him by sending two snakes that transformed into a bridge. Immerse yourself in the amazing beauty of Nikko as you cross the tranquil bridge to visit the World Heritage shrines and temples.

Shinkyo Bridge (神橋) at Nikko Futarasan Jinja (日光二荒山神社)

Address: 2307 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Price: 300 JPY (2.90 USD)

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm. Closed on public holidays.

Access: 15-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride (200 JPY / 1.95 USD) on either the Nikko-Chuzenjiko-Yumoto bus or World Heritage Meguri bus from Nikko Station

Contact: +81 288-54-2496

Shinkyo Bridge (神橋)

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2. Nikko’s most important temple: Rinnoji Temple

Arrive at the grand UNESCO World Heritage Site - Rinnoji (日光山輪王寺) after crossing Shinkyo Bridge. It was founded by Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. There are 15 Buddhist temples in the historical complex. The best-known among these temples has to be the Sanbutsudo featuring the 3 large gold-lacquered wooden Buddha statues. After viewing the majestic statues, head to the beautiful Japanese-style garden - Shoyoen - behind the complex. If you visit Nikko in autumn, the garden is a must-see for its photogenic maple trees with autumn foliage.

Rinnoji (日光山輪王寺)

Address: 2300, Sannnai, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Price: 300 to 400 JPY (2.90 to 3.90 USD) (Varies for different temples)

Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm.

Access: short walk from the Shinkyo Bridge or 10-minute bus ride (310 JPY / 3 USD one way, 500 JPY / 4.90 USD day pass, covered by the free passes) from Nikko Station

Contact: +81 288-54-0531

Rinnoji (日光山輪王寺)

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3. The top attraction in Nikko - Toshogu Shrine

Source: Kentaro Ohno

Continue your morning heritage walk up north to Toshogu Shrine (日光東照宮). As a shrine complex with 42 out of 55 towers being designated as World Heritage Sites, it is undoubtedly the number 1 attraction in Nikko. Unlike other minimalist-designed shrine architecture in Japan, elaborate wood carvings and million sheets of gold leaves were used to decorate the complex. Admire the iconic symbols of peace in the Shrine, such as the Nemurineko (sleeping cat), the 3 “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil” monkeys and the Sozonozo Elephants (“imagined elephants”). It’s a wonder how the ancient shrine complex is still such an intriguing beauty after more than 300 years!

Toshogu Shrine (日光東照宮)

Address: 2301 Sannai, Nikko-city, Tochigi prefecture

Price: 1,300 JPY (16.70 USD)

Opening Hours: 8am - 5 pm. Until 4 pm from November to March.

Access: short walk from the Rinnoji or 10-minute bus ride (310 JPY / 3 USD one way, 500 JPY / 4.90 USD day pass, covered by the free passes) from Nikko Station

Contact: +81 288-54-0560

Toshogu Shrine (日光東照宮)

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Lunch Break: Enjoy Nikko’s famous tofu-skin cuisine

Yuba, or tofu-skin, is arguably Nikko’s most popular dish. Made from the skin from boiled soymilk that is skimmed off, Yuba is soft and slightly chewier than tofu. You can find it in numerous restaurants serving this traditional dish in Nikko, be it as a simple snack on-the-go or with soba and udon. After you are done at Toshogu Shrine, proceed for lunch at Aburagen nearby. Enjoy a full-course Japanese meal that revolves around yuba at this unassuming traditional restaurant of 150 years. Using fresh seasonal ingredients, enjoy a scrumptious lunch in a cosy setting at reasonable prices.

Aburagen

Address: 1028 Kamihatsuishimachi, Nikko-city, Tochigi Prefecture

Price: 1,300 JPY (13 USD)

Opening Hours: 8am - 5 pm. Until 4 pm from November to March.

Access: 10-minute Tobu Nikko World Heritage Tour bus ride from Nikko train station to Shinkyo bus stop, followed by a 1-minute walk to restaurant

Contact: +81 288-54-1627

Aburagen

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Explore the natural beauty of Nikko in the afternoon

Aside fabulous shrines and temples, Nikko is also known for its awe-inspiring natural beauty. After a wonderful lunch, it’s time to proceed to the west of central Nikko to soak in the breathtaking nature in the small town called Chuzenjiko Onsen. This is also the gateway to the scenic Lake Chuzenji in the Okunikko region.

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4. Learn the Japanese alphabets at the Iroha Slope

Source: Just Go La

Irohazaka (いろは坂), or Iroha Slope, is the slope you will climb when you go from Nikko City to Chuzenji Lake. It is a pair of winding roads connecting the lower elevations near central Nikko to the higher elevations of the mountainous Okunikko region. Consisting of 48 hairpin bends throughout the upslope and downslope roads, one for each letter of the Japanese alphabet, Irohazaka is a spectacular spot for viewing autumn foliage. You can check out the awesome views over the Irohazaka and the valley below at the Akechidaira Observatory near the top of the upslope road. If possible, do avoid visiting on weekends and national holidays from late October to mid November. Otherwise you may be stuck in the traffic for hours!

Irohazaka (いろは坂)

Area: Route 120 between central Nikko city and Lake Chuzenji.

Access: From Nikko train station, take a 35-minute ride on bus (1,100 JPY / 10.70 USD) bound for Chuzenjiko Onsen or Yumoto Onsen to Akechidaira bus stop.

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5. Marvel at Nikko’s most beautiful Kegon Waterfall

A photo posted by @joshpaulyoung on

On the west of Iroha Slope, you will find the most famous and beautiful Kegon Waterfall. It is so beautiful that Kegon is ranked as the top 3 beautiful falls nationwide, together with Nachi Waterfall in Wakayama Prefecture and Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture. Standing almost 100 metres (328 feet) tall, enjoy the breathtaking views from 2 observation platforms. The free platform is easily accessible by foot, whilst the paid platform is accessed via a 100-meter deep elevator and offers the more impressive views. From Akechidaira Observatory at Iroha Slope, you can also enjoy the sights of the fall in combination with Lake Chuzenji.

Like Iroha Slope, Kegon Waterfall is also a popular autumn spot surrounded by maple trees. The beauty of the fall varies during the different seasons, from hot bright red in fall to icy solid white in winter. Regardless of when you visit, the incredible fall will always leave you astonished by its natural beauty.

Kegon Waterfall (華厳の滝)

Address: Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Price: 550 JPY (5.40 USD) for the paid observation platform

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (March to November), 9 am to 4.30 pm (December to February)

Access: short walk from the Chuzenjiko Onsen bus terminal. The bus ride from Nikko Station to Chuzenjiko Onsen takes about 50 minutes (1,150 JPY / 11.20 USD and is covered by the free pass)

Contact: +81 288-54-2496

Kegon Waterfall (華厳の滝)

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6. Wander to the stunning Ryuzu Waterfall in the north

Source: jiroh

Wander farther to the northern shore of Lake Chuzenji to find the stunning Ryuzu Waterfall (竜頭ノ滝), or “dragon head waterfall” as the Japanese call it. Located on Yukawa River, shortly before the river discharges into the famous lake, Ryuzu Waterfall is so-named because it resembles the head of a dragon. The waterfall is surrounded by many trees which turn yellow and red during the autumn season, making it appear more like a fiery red dragon. Examine the fall carefully for yourself and see if you agree. Because of its shadowy location, this is one of the earliest spots to view autumn foliage in early October.

There is a small observation deck near a rest house where you can get panoramic views of the waterfall for free. Take a short rest here where you will find a food kiosk and souvenir shop. If time permits, you can even trek upstream for about 300 meters (984 feet) along a walking trail and enjoy more impressive views of the river gushing towards the lake. Do take extra caution as the trail may be slippery.

Ryuzu Waterfall (竜頭ノ滝)

Address: Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Price: Free

Opening Hours: Always open

Access: 10-minute bus ride from Chuzenji Onsen to Ryuzu no taki bus stop towards Yumoto Onsen (covered by the free pass)

Contact: +81 288-22-1525

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Bonus: Take a short cruise along Lake Chuzenji

Source: ytani0323

Depending on whether you are heading back to Asakusa or Shinjuku via Tobu Railways or Japan Rail, you may have some time left for a short cruise along Lake Chuzenji, after returning from Ryuzu Waterfall. If so, don’t miss the great opportunity to cruise along the fascinating lake located in Nikko National Park. Marvel at the grand Mount Nantai – a 2,486-metre-high (8,156-foot-high) volcano and enjoy the cooler climate due to its higher elevation at 1,269 meters (4,163 feet) above sea level.

Lake Chuzenji Cruise

Address: Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Price: varies according to different courses. Please refer to official website.

Opening Hours: 9 am to 5 pm.

Access: 8-minute walk from Chuzenjiko Onsen bus terminal.

Contact: +81 288-55-0360

Lake Chuzenji Cruise

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A fruitful day trip in Nikko

If you are heading back to Shinjuku Station from Nikko, note that the last train back to Tokyo will depart at 5.02 pm for the 2-hour JR direct limited express train. On the other hand, the last rapid train to Asakusa will depart Tobu-Nikko Station at 5.36 pm and the last limited express SPACIA train at 7.35 pm. Thus it may be worthwhile to consider taking the last train out to Asakusa for more time to explore the marvellous sights in Nikko. Nikko is a wonderful place for nature and cultural lovers, especially if you are a photography buff. Hope this detailed itinerary will help you in planning your fruitful day in the charming city!

This article was originally published on Sep 26, 2016
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Rachel has forgotten when and exactly how she caught the travel bug. What she does remember is the triumphant feeling she enjoys when she sees the fascinating world out there with her own eyes. She...Read more

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