Make the most of a day out in the lush mountain town of Nikko, located just under 2 hours away from Tokyo, with our Nikko Day Trip Itinerary.
Shinkyo Bridge, which is part of Futarasan Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
The small town of Nikko is one of the most stunning places you can visit near Tokyo for the autumn colours. An easy 2-hour train journey from Tokyo, Nikko is most famous for Toshogu Shrine, the nation’s most ornately-decorated shrine and mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nikko is also the gateway to Nikko National Park. It’s home to many great hiking trails and natural wonders, andit is especially worth visiting during autumn when the fall foliage in this area is at its best. While it’s impossible to cover Nikko National Park in a single day, this day trip is a good place to begin.
Wisteria at Shoyoen in May. - image © Florentyna Leow
Notes Before You Go
- A direct, one-way journey from Tobu Asakusa Station costs JPY2700 one way. You will need to purchase tickets from the machines, or better yet, from the ticket counter. The journey is just under two hours each way.
- We suggest leaving on a reasonably early train from Asakusa and aiming to arrive by around 9:15am. This will give you a full day there, with ample time to explore at leisurely pace.
- You will want to have breakfast beforehand, and perhaps even bring snacks you like. While there are lunch options, Nikko is not exactly brimming with great eateries, and the tourist-oriented snacks sold here do leave something to be desired.
- Besides the specific express train mentioned, itinerary timings are approximate. Adjust them to suit your schedule. It’s an excellent idea to check train times at the Tobu website and at the train station again to make sure you’ll have enough time to travel between Tokyo and Nikko.
- This itinerary is a guideline. If you wish to make this day trip more leisurely, stick to exploring the shrines and temples, and forgo the bus journeys out towards Lake Chuzenji. But Nikko does in fact have a great deal more to offer, especially if you like hiking. If that’s the case, stay overnight, and head further into the mountains on a second day to explore Oku-Nikko.
- If you are staying overnight, you may want to stay in an onsen town such as Kinugawa Onsen to enjoy the hot springs and surrounding area. See our accommodation recommendations at the end of this itinerary for more information.
- This is a walking itinerary. Although there are several bus rides between destinations in the afternoon, there’s still plenty of walking involved, especially in the shrine complex. Put on your most comfortable shoes and give it a shot.
A moss-capped stone lantern at Toshogu Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
Here is our full one-day itinerary. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find a Google map which has the whole route and all the places mentioned marked on it.
Tobu Asakusa Station. - image © Florentyna Leow
7:00am Tobu Asakusa Station
Start at Tobu Asakusa Station. If you are arriving from the Metro, you will need to follow the signs that say Tobu – this will be towards Exits 6, 7, and 8.
The ticket to Tobu-Nikko Station. 3号車 is the car number, and 5D indicates the seat number. - image © Florentyna Leow
Buy a 有料特急 express ticket headed to Tobu-Nikko Station. The earliest train at a reasonable hour you can take departs at 7:30am. It’s an early one but it will have you arriving at Nikko in good time to make the most of a day there. Those who prefer a more leisurely day overall can take the 9:00am train, but it may only give you enough time to explore the Toshogu Shrine complex area.
Towards the platform. - image © Florentyna Leow
Head up the stairs/escalator and onto platform 4. Find your seat and embark on your journey to Nikko.
A ticket for Toshogu Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
9:20am Purchasing Bus Passes and Tickets
Once you’re out of the ticket barriers, veer left and head into the Tourist Information Centre. If you’re planning on visiting Toshogu Shrine – which is the whole point of coming to Nikko – we recommend purchasing entrance tickets at the station rather than at the shrine, so you don’t have to stand in line later in the morning. This is especially useful during busier seasons. A little planning goes a long way.
The Chuzenji Onsen Free Pass. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you are following the itinerary as is, or even planning to stay overnight, we suggest picking up the Chuzenji Onsen Free Pass for JPY2000, which allows you to ride the tourist buses as often as you like between JR Nikko Station (Stop 1) and Osaki (Stop 31). You can pay for each ride if you want, but given that a one-way trip to see Kegon Falls will set you back JPY1,150, this is already a good deal. You’ll also receive a map of the area.
Bus Stop 2B – or not 2B? - image © Florentyna Leow
9:30am Shinkyo Bridge
Exit Tobu-Nikko Station and cross the road to the bus stands. Wait for the next bus at 2B.
Bus Stop 7, Shinkyo - image © Florentyna Leow
Take the bus to Stop 7, Shinkyo.
Shinkyo Bridge. - image © Florentyna Leow
The famous bridge is right ahead in the direction of the river. Shinkyo Bridge stands at the entrance to the shrine complex and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine, which you’ll visit later in this itinerary. You’ll see people taking a photo of it from a distance. Join them. If you want to actually cross it, you’ll have to shell out an additional JPY300, since it has been cordoned off from the general public.
Entering the shrine complex. - image © Florentyna Leow
10:00am Temple Complex
It’s time to begin your explorations of Nikko’s famous temples and shrines. Spend as much or as little time as you like in each place; but you probably won’t need more than two hours before you head out for lunch. Cross the road and head up the stone stairs leading through a forest.
拝観順路 means “Suggested viewing route” - most public sites in Japan have arrows and signs leading you in particular directions. - image © Florentyna Leow
Follow the path upwards.
Your first stop. - image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll eventually arrive at a large clearing with a temple hall to your right, another temple gate ahead, and a building to your left.
The ticket office for Rinno-ji Treasure House. - image © Florentyna Leow
Rinno-ji Treasure House
We suggest beginning with the building on your left – the Rinno-ji Treasure House. Entrance is JPY300 but entirely worth it. While the artworks inside are indeed quite stunning, especially if you enjoy classical Japanese art, it’s the Japanese-style garden, Shoyoen, that’s the star of the show.
Inside Shoyoen. - image © Florentyna Leow
This strolling garden is a fine example of its kind, though it seems to be overlooked by most visitors in favour of the more resplendent temples and shrines in the vicinity.
A view inside the garden. - image © Florentyna Leow
As with the rest of Nikko, Shoyoen is a popular spot for the autumn leaves, with its maples bordering the central pond. But don’t discount visiting it at other times of the year when there are other glorious flowers blooming, such as azaleas and irises. In May, the new spring greenery is particularly lush, and there are bunches of white wisteria hanging near the teahouse.
The entrance to Rinno-ji Temple’s main hall. - image © Florentyna Leow
After the garden exit and head to the ticket office opposite (next to the stairs) and pick up a JPY400 ticket for the main hall of Rinno-ji Temple. If you want to visit the mausoleum as well, it will cost JPY900.
Founded in the 8th century, Rinno-ji Temple is reputedly Nikko’s most important temple. No photography is allowed inside the main building, the Sanbutsudo. This is a small blessing in disguise. Take your time looking at the fantastic, imposing gold-lacquered statues of Amida Nyorai, the Thousand-Armed Kannon, and the Horse-Head Kannon. There are other smaller ones inside to look at as you walk through.
A building in Toshogu Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
After you exit the main hall, you’ll walk past a mausoleum on your right. Turn right when you reach the sloping incline. Toshogu Shrine is just up ahead. If you didn’t purchase tickets at the station, you’ll have to do this now – the ticket office is just past the 5-storey pagoda to the left of the stairs leading up to the shrine.
Stunning painted wooden carvings decorating the buildings in the complex. - image © Florentyna Leow
Toshogu Shrine enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate that ushered in over 250 years of relative peace until 1868. With over a dozen buildings located in a lush forest, it is one of Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine complexes, and unsurprisingly is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Imagined Elephants carvings. - image © Florentyna Leow
There’s much to see and observe here. Take some time to look closely at the fantastic plasterwork and wooden carvings, such as “Imagined Elephants” and “Sleeping Cat.” The moss-covered stone lanterns are also rather beautiful.
Nemuri Neko, or the Sleeping Cat. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you have the energy, you may head to the Inner Shrine, located past the Sleeping Cat.
Climbing up to the Inner Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
This involves climbing over 200 steps up. Don’t worry, it’s not as arduous as it seems!
The final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. - image © Florentyna Leow
Here you’ll walk around Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grave.
The gate to Futarasan Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
After exploring Toshogu Shrine complex, exit the way you came. There’s a path lined with stone lanterns to the right of the pagoda leading to Nikko Futarasan Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the deities of Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho, and Mt. Taro, which are Nikko’s three most sacred mountains. Futarasan is another name for Mt. Nantai.
A section of moss-covered wall. - image © Florentyna Leow
Don’t forget to look at the moss-covered wall on the way!
The main hall of Futarasan Shrine. - image © Florentyna Leow
The shrine itself is much older than Toshogu Shrine, but is far less lavishly decorated. Still, it’s a pleasant stopover, and usually makes a nice breather from the visitor numbers at the previous shrine.
The pork black curry lunch set at Nikko Coffee. - image © Florentyna Leow
12:15pm Lunch at Nikko Coffee, Goyoteidori
After spending the morning walking around a large temple complex, it’s time to find some grub. Excellent eating options in Nikko aren’t exactly abundant, but there are still a number of places to choose from. Exit Futarasan Shrine. Take the nearest path leading downhill, which will take you to an area with some souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. Some of them are located in what seems to be a more nondescript residential area across the road.
A number of restaurants serve either yuba-themed meals – soymilk skin is a local specialty – or soba. But, there are other choices too. We’ve marked some restaurants on the Google Map, which can be found at the end of the itinerary.
Outside Nikko Coffee. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you like eating in stylish surroundings, however, the place hit up is Nikko Coffee. Located in a renovated machiya (traditional Japanese-style wooden house), they serve delicious curry and omurice set lunches in rather stylish surroundings. Nikko Coffee is also known for their seasonal kakigori (shaved ice), using fine ice made from mountain spring water and rippled through with gorgeous fruit syrups.
Relaxing inside Nikko Coffee. - image © Florentyna Leow
To get here from Futarasan Shrine, follow the road down to the main road. Cross the road at the traffic lights and turn right. Walk along the main road until you see Lawson’s up ahead on your left. Take the nearest left turn before Lawson’s and walk downhill. Take the next right. Nikko Coffee will be just on your right.
Chocolate gateau, ice cream, and a rich, dense, whipped cream. - image © Florentyna Leow
The pourover coffee is excellent, and the 3-day simmered pork black curry over rice makes a satisfying and hearty meal. If you opt for a cake, make it the ultra-dense chocolate gateau. The not-so-secret ingredient is miso, which adds an extra delicious layer of umami to the entire affair. We recommend lingering a while at Nikko Coffee.
Kegon Falls as viewed from the paid observation deck. - image © Florentyna Leow
1:15pm Bus to Kegon Falls
After lunch, it’s time to head further into the Nikko area for a dose of nature. Nikko National Park has many gorgeous hiking trails, but this typically requires a little more time than is possible on a day trip. Instead, we suggest heading in the direction of Lake Chuzenji to see Kegon Falls.
Clocking in at almost 100 metres tall, Kegon Falls is ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful falls, alongside Nachi Waterfall in Wakayama Prefecture and Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture. It is named for a nearby temple belonging to Kegon Buddhism, which was transmitted from China. “Kegon” derives from the Sanskrit word “avatamsa” or “flower adornment,” and the word is used as a metaphor for becoming a Buddha.
Kegon Falls is rather magnificent throughout the year, but it is especially popular during autumn when it is surrounded by glorious reds and orange foliage. It’s even worth visiting in winter when the waterfall is almost completely frozen solid, and surrounded by snow-covered branches.
Bus Stop No. 9. - image © Florentyna Leow
From Nikko Coffee, turn left. Take the next left and walk out to the main road. Turn left and straight ahead. Bus Stop No. 9 is right outside Lawson’s. Ride the bus all the way to Stop 26.
Towards Kegon Falls. - image © Florentyna Leow
Alight at Stop 26 and walk away from the lake (which will be behind you) and past the Nikko Natural Museum on your right.
The sign to Kegon Falls. - image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll see a sign for Kegon Falls up ahead. Follow it and you’ll arrive at an area with souvenir shops and cafes.
Follow the sloped road at the end to the left for the free observation platform. - image © Florentyna Leow
The free observation platform is to the right, as pictured above; while there is a paid platform at the base of the falls accessible via a 100 metre-deep elevator. The views from the base are indeed quite impressive, but you will have to decide whether it is worth the additional JPY550 you’ll pay just to access it.
Lake Chuzenji. - image © Florentyna Leow
A note about the bus ride: it is approximately 30 minutes to Kegon Falls via the Irohazaka or Iroha Pass. This consists of 48 hairpin bends winding up and down through a mountain in order to reach Lake Chuzenji. It’s a beautiful ride through the mountains, but it can be very slightly bumpy – we strongly recommend a trip to the bathroom before your bus ride!
Ryuzu Falls in spring - there are still cherry blossoms around in May! - image © Florentyna Leow
2:15pm Bus to Ryuzu Falls
After visiting Kegon Falls, it’s time to hop on a bus to Ryuzu Falls. Ryuzu Falls, or “Dragon Head Waterfall,” is so named for its resemblance to – you guessed it – the head of a dragon. The bus ride takes you halfway around the perimeter of Lake Chuzenji and makes for a scenic, leisurely journey.
Enjoying Ryuzu Falls from the cafe. - image © Florentyna Leow
As with many locations in Nikko, Ryuzu Falls is particularly popular during the autumn for the fall colours, and one of the best times to visit is during early October. Nevertheless, it’s a charming spot at all times of the year, and there’s even a little cafe from which you can watch the waters.
Bus Stop 26A. - image © Florentyna Leow
To get here from Kegon Falls, walk back to the Chuzenji Bus Terminal to Stop 26A. Board the bus headed for Yumoto Onsen. Ride it to Stop 37.
The sign to Ryuzu no Taki 竜頭ノ滝 - image © Florentyna Leow
Alight, cross the road, and walk a little ways back, veering to the path on the left towards Ryuzu Falls.
If you have purchased the bus pass suggested earlier, note that the bus ride here is not covered by the pass as it’s slightly out of the geographical range - it costs an additional JPY320 in cash each way.
A view of Kegon Falls. - image © Florentyna Leow
3:00pm Bus back to Tobu-Nikko Station
At this point, it’s about time to begin heading back to Tokyo - especially if you want to reach in good time for dinner. Walk back to Bus Stop 37, this time heading in the direction you came from. Board the next bus and ride it all the way to Tobu-Nikko Station; and take a numbered ticket from the small machine next to the door when you board the bus.
If you purchased the bus pass suggested above, you will need to show them both the pass and the numbered ticket. This means you will pay JPY320 for the return journey from Ryuzu Falls to the area covered by your bus pass.
Visiting Shoyoen in spring. - image © Florentyna Leow
4:05pm Train back to Asakusa Station
Once you reach Tobu-Nikko Station, purchase a ticket heading back to Tokyo. You can return to Asakusa Station for JPY2700, or depending on train times, you may wish to head to Shinjuku. The express train back to Shinjuku Station costs JPY4000 and will take you approximately 2 hours.
Nikko Day Trip Map
View the full size version of our Nikko map which has each of the places discussed above marked on it
Recommended Accommodation for Nikko
Although Nikko is an easy day trip from Tokyo, you might want to slow down and spend a night there. This will give you a break from the city and allow you to explore the area in more depth. Here are some recommended accommodations.
- Nikko Station Hotel II
(View on Booking.com or Agoda.com.)
Located a 3-minute walk from Tobu-Nikko Station, this is a comfortable and convenient Western-style hotel. The staff are friendly, helpful, and speak decent English. All the amenities you need from a hotel are included here, such as hairdryers, electric kettles, free WiFi, and air-conditioning. As a bonus, all rooms are non-smoking. Should you arrive earlier and need to store your luggage, lockers are available for free - just ask the front desk. The breakfast buffet has a reasonable selection of Western and Japanese options, and is very decent for the price. There’s also a supermarket nearby if you need to pick up snacks.
- Nikko Station Hotel Classic
(View on Booking.com or Agoda.com.)
This Western-style hotel is conveniently located just steps away from JR Nikko Station, and is a good option for anyone looking for a hotel with that extra touch. It might not be five stars, but with clean, comfortable rooms, indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, free WiFi, and a fabulous breakfast buffet that includes superb French toast, who’s complaining? A good place to stay, especially if you don’t want to trek all the way out to a mountain ryokan but still want to soak in an onsen.
- Hotel Shirakawa Yunokura
(View on Booking.com or Agoda.com.)
Should you want to relax in an onsen town for a night or two while exploring Nikko, Kinugawa Onsen is the district to head to. There are a number of options in the town; one we like is Hotel Shirakawa Yunokura. A well-managed, gorgeously decorated ryokan, many of the rooms have riverside views, and it’s fabulous soaking in the outdoor onsen hot spring baths while enjoying the scenery. We strongly recommend booking with dinner and breakfast included, as pickings in town for both are slim. Luckily, their cooking is superb.
- Kinugawa Onsen Hotel
(View on Booking.com or Agoda.com.)
Located right by Kinugawa Gorge, this lovely hotel is popular with Japanese travelers looking for a weekend getaway. Unusually, you have a choice of Japanese-style or Western-style rooms. Make sure you include breakfast and dinner - the food is excellent and worth the price. The indoor and outdoor hot spring baths are rather luxurious, and you can also shell out a little extra for a private bath. This hotel is a 40-minute drive from Toshogu Shrine, but the town itself is accessible by train on the Tobu Nikko line. For an additional charge, the hotel offers a shuttle service from Tobu-Kinugawa Onsen Station, which is a 7-minute drive away. It’s great if you need an escape into nature, and also if you want a spot of rafting and canyoning in the surrounding areas along with your hot spring baths.
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
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- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
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- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with a Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
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