One of the things I love most about Japan is how simultaneously big and small it is. Geographically, it doesn’t cover a huge area, but all you need to do is hop on the Tokyo Metro or Shinkansen or even a local train, in some cases, such as when you take a Nikko day trip from Tokyo.
Even if you only travel a few stations, you get off and you’re on an entirely different planet. Or, as is the case when you travel from Tokyo to Nikko, in an entirely different time.
A UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back over a millennium, Nikko is famous in more recent Japanese history as the home of 17th-century Shogun Tokugawa, whose dying wish was to be enshrined as a God there. This wish, as you will see immediately upon crossing the Shinkyo bridge into old Nikko, was carried out.
Quite beautifully, I might add.
Where to Stay if You Extend Your Nikko Day Trip
I recommend taking a Nikko Japan day trip, but it’s a lovely place to spend a night (or longer!) if you have time in your Japan itinerary. Whether you stay at the boutique Nikko Senhime Monogatari or the budget Hotori-an, you’re sure to feel right at home in Nikko.
Yet another option would be to spend the day in Nikko, then head further north into the mountains of Gunma prefecture and spend the night at Takaragawa Onsen, which some (yours truly included) argue is the best onsen in Japan. You could also go super high-end in Nikko, and book a room at the Ritz.
Things to Do on a Nikko Day Trip
Explore Tosho-gu Shrine
The highlight of any Nikko day trip is Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine founded in the early 17th century. Located on a hilltop and massive in its expanse, this is where the majority of day trippers from Tokyo spend the entirety of their day in Nikko—and with good reason. Within Tosho-gu, the most picturesque places include the Five-Story Pagoda, the Three Wise Monkeys carving and the Kagura-den Dance Hall.
Visit an Imperial Villa
After you visit Tosho-gu, head back down to Shinkyo bridge (and walk across it, if you haven’t already) and explore more deeply. One option, which is walking distance from the shrine exit, is to visit Tamozawa Imperial Villa. Built in 1899 for the Emperor Taisho, its most notorious recent use was as a hideout for Emperor Hirohito during World War II. You may also choose to hike along Kanmangafuchi Abyss, or sit down to eat locally-made yuba, aka tofu skin.
Hike Through Nikko National Park
Other Nikko attractions have less to do with Nikko World Heritage and more to do with the city’s stunning nature. If you spend longer than a Nikko day trip (for example, two days in Nikko instead of just a Nikko day trip), you might decide to visit Nikko National Park, including its highlights Kegon Falls and Chuzenzji Lake, which are particularly beautiful during Japan’s autumn season.
How to Get to Nikko from Tokyo
A Nikko day trip is easy thanks to Japan’s amazing train network. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, take a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya, then transfer to the JR Nikko Line and ride it to the final stop. Total journey time is around 90 minutes, depending on how you work your connection.
If you don’t have a JR Pass (or if you do and don’t care about paying extra to ride a non-JR train) take the Tobu Nikko Line, which runs directly from Asakusa Station in northeast Tokyo. Click here to learn more about Tobu Nikko line prices and schedules. Yet another option would be to take a guided Nikko cultural day tour from Tokyo.
Should You Visit Nikko or Kamakura?
When you’re traveling in Tokyo, Nikko day trip seems like an obvious “yes.” However, I speak with a lot of travelers who have a limited amount of time in the Tokyo area (often three days in Tokyo or less), and feel stressed at having to choose a Nikko day trip or selecting Kamakura as a day trip destination. The unfortunate truth is that this is an apples and oranges issues, which is to say I love to eat both.
(TIP: If do you end up deciding to visit Kamakura, an illuminating way to contrast it with Nikko is with this awesome Kamakura walking tour.)
However, if I were to break it down in a way that might make it easier to choose, a day trip to Nikko exposes you to a more uniform array of heritage architecture (which is to say it all looks like it belongs together, more or less) in spectacular, mountainous nature that belies its distance from Tokyo. Kamakura has some amazing nature, too (in the form of Hokoku-ji Bamboo Forest), but offers a more eclectic range of activities, from Japan’s most famous Big Buddha, to Yuigahama Beach, to a trail of temples just outside the city center that range from a couple hundred to more than a thousand years in age.
Other FAQ About Visiting Nikko from Tokyo
Is Nikko worth a day trip?
Nikko is absolutely worth a day trip! Whether you simply make the jaunt from Nikko Station to Tosho-gu, or travel deeper into the wilds of Tochigi prefecture and visit Kegon Falls, Nikko feels a world away from Tokyo (in spite of being just 90 minutes from the capital).
How many days do you need in Nikko?
Most travelers visit Nikko on a day trip from Tokyo, but in reality you could spend a couple of days here. This is because that in addition to famous Tosho-gu Shrine (where you could easily spend an entire day), Nikko is home to wild nature such as Kegon Falls. Moreover, Nikko is the gateway to northeastern Japan, whether you visit onsen in the mountains of Gunma prefecture, head west into the Japanese Alps, or northward into the Tohoku region.
Is Nikko a day trip from Tokyo?
Nikko is an easy and popular day trip from Tokyo. To reach Nikko with a JR Pass, ride the Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno to Utsunomiya, then transfer to the local JR Nikko Line. If you’re paying cash, ride the Tobu Nikko Line from Tobu-Asakusa station to Tobu-Nikko station.
The Bottom Line
Considering a day trip from Tokyo to Nikko? Nikko is one of the easiest and most fulfilling day trips from Tokyo—Nikko is absolutely worth visiting! Whether you simply explore the Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine or venture into outlying areas like Nikko National Park to marvel at Kegon Falls or Lake Chuzenji, a day trip from Tokyo to Nikko is one of the most illuminating ways to break up the days you spend in Tokyo. Nikko is also an excellent place to stay overnight if you have time. Want to ensure your next trip to Japan is one for the record books? Hire me to plan it!