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Is Nikko Tokyo’s Best Day Trip?

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 Shin-kyo bridge into old Nikko, was carried out.

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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, which is on the shores of Lake Chuzenji.

How to Spend Your Day (or Longer) in Nikko

Cross a sacred bridge


Upon arriving in Nikko from Tokyo, I usually make a beeline for Shin-kyo, whose name literally means “Sacred Bridge.” Having existed in its current incarnation since around 1636, the bridge is the official entrance into the historical part of Nikko for me, even though you have to navigate through the more modern town center (whether via bus, or if it’s nice, on foot) to get there.

Get lost amid an ancient shrine


From here, I usually continue my Nikko day trip by heading up the hill to 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 time in Nikko—and with good reason. Within the shrine complex, the most picturesque places include the Gojunoto five-story pagoda, the Sleeping Cat Shrine and the dramatic, cedar-lined paths that connect these two distant points of the shrine.


BONUS: It’s at this point in my Nikko day trip that I usually like to sit down for yuba (tofu skin), the city’s most famous culinary delight, though whether or not you do so is totally up to you!

Be a guest at an imperial residence


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 along a turbid abyss


No matter where in Japan I see them, red-capped jizo statues always haunt and intrigue me. Among my favorite places to feel this energy is also Kanmangafuchi, a so-called “abyss” that’s actually just an especially fast section of the main Daiya River that flows through Nikko. This is especially beautiful in fall, when fiery maples seem to echo the yarn of the statues’ hats, but is gorgeous any time of year.

Admire a waterfall tumbling out of a lake


While truly digging into Nikko National Park from Tokyo is a tall order, you can get a feel for just how wild the nature on the town’s doorstep is. My favorite way to do this is by getting a bus up to Akechidaira, which in my opinion is Nikko’s best viewpoint. Here, you can see Kegon Falls thundering outside of Lake Chuzenji, which itself (in particular, its superlative Chuzenji Onsen) is a destination in and of itself.

How to Get to Nikko from Tokyo

While there isn’t (technically) a Tokyo to Nikko Shinkansen, you can ride the bullet train to get here. Specifically, you can ride a Shinkansen Yamabiko or Nasuno from Tokyo or Ueno to Utsunomiya, where you’ll take the JR Nikko Line the rest of the way to Nikko. This is the preferred way to get to Nikko using a JR Pass, although you should note that this pass is no longer a very good value after October 2023, when its price went up significantly.

Indeed, the most sensible Tokyo to Nikko train route is by riding the direct Tobu Nikko Line from Asakusa Station. Whether you ride a limited express train like the Revaty Kegon (or the newer, more luxurious Spacia X), or simply take a local Tobu train, this allows you to travel from central Tokyo (well, northeastern Tokyo) to Nikko without any transfers.


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 (ideally, a Spacia or Revaty Kegon Limited Express) from Tobu-Asakusa to Tobu-Nikko.

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!


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