Home to major UNESCO World Heritage Temples and Shrines and nestled within stunning nature, Nikko needs to be on your Japan itinerary. If you don’t have more than a day to spare for a visit, however, this Nikko travel guide will tell you everything you need to know to build the ultimate Nikko 1 day itinerary.
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Nikko Travel Tips
Why Visit Nikko?
Nikko is a small city in the mountains north of Tokyo, Japan. The town is best known for Toshogu, a lavish Shinto shrine established in 1617 as a memorial for Tokugawa Ieyasu, but it offers so much more to explore beneath its famous surface.
Since there is so much to do in Nikko and the train from Tokyo takes just a few hours, it is best to spend at least two days in Nikko if you have the time. With one overnight stay, you get to visit both the local religious sites as well as do a hike up to some waterfalls.
How to Get to Nikko
Whether you drive with a rental car with Hertz or take the train up to Nikko, it’ll take about 2 hours and 15 minutes. You can use your JR Railpass on the trip up or get a regular train ticket. Check online for the times and prices on the connections.
Maybe you don’t care for organising everything by yourself. There are convenient tours taking you straight from Tokyo to Nikko and showing you around the area with expertise. Here are a few I’ve picked for you:
Tour 1: Shrine, Waterfall & Onsen Exprience
I’ve found a tour where you can get the best of both worlds, history and naure: UNESCO World Heritage site Toshogu Shrine and Kegon Waterfall.
You’ll be driven to these two beautiful sights by an English speaking guide, who will then also drop you off at either Lake Chuzenji or a Nikko Hot Spring afterwards.
The tour lasts around 10 hours and entrance tickets are included. You can reserve your spot here. And if you want to relax in an onsen after a long day, a great place for this is the area of Okunikko.
Tour 2: Essential UNESCO Sites
In case you want to spend more time at the main shrines of Nikko, there’s a tour dedicated to a visit of both Toshogu Shrine and Futara-san Shrine. Kegon Falls and a local lunch are included, too.
Again, the tour lasts around 10 hours and the guide is English speaking. It’s possible to reserve your ticket online and show it on your phone. One thing less to print out. Book it here.
Tour 3: Visiting the Old Edo
Nikko isn’t only a place where you’ll feel transported back in time thanks to its wonderfully preserved religious buildings. But you can actually visit the Old Edo at the local theme park Edo Wonderland.
Book a tour that will organise the round trip bus and entrance tickets for you. Skip the lines so you have more time to enjoy the experience. Get your ticket now and get instant confirmation.
How to Get Around
The best way to travel around is with a 2 day Nikko pass. It costs 2,600 yen and includes a round trip ticket from Tokyo, free access to buses in the area, and discounts to many sights.
Should you stay overnight?
The trip to Nikko takes a little more than two hours. To really do some extensive sightseeing, it’s of course best to stay overnight. Three days in Nikko will already give you a great edge in seeing temples, museums and beautiful vistas from the many hiking trails.
Should you be interested, check out my guide on which area and hotels to stay in in Nikko.
Three Nikko Day Trip Options
Option 1: Temples and an Onsen
During the day
A Nikko day trip is a travel dream come true for any temple lover. Start off your day by visiting Rinnoji Temple, which is the most important temple in Nikko. It was founded by Shodo Shonin, the monk who brought Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century.
In the main building you’ll find gold lacquered wooden statues, which are manifestations of Nikko’s three mountain deities. After visiting the main house, check out the treasure house and Shoyoen, a small but beautiful Japanese style garden.
A Nikko, Japan, day trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of the countless, beautiful shrines. When you’ve had your fill of Rinnoji Temple, check out the famous Toshogu Shrine.
This shrine complex consists of over a dozen buildings set in a gorgeous forest. For something a little more off the beaten path, stop by Futarasan Shrine, which is dedicated to the deities of Nikko’s three sacred mountains: Mount Nantai, Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro.
In the evening
After a long afternoon of sightseeing on your Nikko day tour, unwind with a long soak in a hot spring at one of the city’s many onsens. Not only is it relaxing, but soaking in these hot springs is said to have many medicinal benefits, including clearing up skin, relaxing muscles, and enhancing recovery from illness or fatigue.
The Kinugawa Onsen, Kawaki Onsen, and Yunishigawa Onsen are several of the best that Nikko has to offer. Please note that you need to cover up any tattoos you might have and check whether it is a mixed or separate onsen. Please follow the onsen etiquette as well.
Option 2: Museums and Amusement Parks
There are countless things to do in Nikko for museum lovers. The Kanaya Hotel History House provides a detailed window into Nikko’s past. This museum tells the story of the experience of some of the first European travelers in Japan after the end of Japan’s era of isolation.
If history isn’t really your thing, Nikko offers tons of quirkier museums as well. The Trick Art museum is a 3D art museum that gives you the opportunity to interact with the paintings in a unique way. It is a very fun place to take pictures and get a little silly.
The Ashio Environment Study Center is also well worth a visit to learn about the local environment and some of the problems it’s facing.
Edo Wonderland is an amusement park that takes you back to 17th century Japan. Here you’ll experience everything from surprise ninja action, to comedy sketches, to traditional Edo performance art.
This cultural theme park offers something for anyone of all ages, so it’s a great family activity. It is a very rare experience that offers delicious food, wild shows and an opportunity to dress up and dive deep into Japanese history. The entrance fee is 4,700 yen for adults and 2,400 yen for children.
Option 3: Hiking and Waterfalls
A Nikko day trip is a great opportunity to get out into nature. For hikers and nature lovers, the Kanmangafuchi Abyss should not be missed. This gorge is not far from central Nikko, and can be experienced from a gentle riverside walking trail.
Besides wonderful natural beauty, you’ll also find a row of 70 stone statues of Jizo close by. These typically wear red bibs, which expecting parents dress them up in to bless their unborn children.
From the walk, you might be lucky to see the stunning Nikko Botanical Gardens, but you’ll have to enter from outside the abyss.
For some more strenuous hikes, check out the various trail options at Nikko National Park. One of the most beautiful parts of the area is the Kirifuri Waterfall, a two tiered waterfall located below the Kirifuri highlands.
Kirifuri means “falling mist,” named for the majestic mist that surrounds the area from the water crashing onto the rocks at the bottom of the 75 meter falls.
The waterfall can be seen from a wooden observation deck high up in the mountains and across the valley. For the most stunning views, visit from late October to early November to experience the best of Japan’s fall foliage.
Alternatively, you can do a gentle hike from the Lake Cruise Boat Terminal around Lake Chūzenji. There are various hiking trails with different gradiants, such as around the southern part of the Nikko Lake and up a few hills. For a steep climb, try getting up Mount Nantai.
Combining a lakeside walk with moderate uphill hiking past Ryuzu Waterfalls, head up on the Senjogahara plateau. From here you can enjoy epic views around the protected area and easy wooden trails.
With the 2 day bus ticket, you can get up all the way to Yu River and to Yudaki Falls. When you get the ticket, you will also be given a map with a few suggestions for hikes and local onsen.
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