The ultimate Nikko guide from Tokyo

Take in the history, culture, and nature escapes of Nikko in central Japan, accessible from Tokyo with Tobu Railway’s non-stop train connection.

Train travel is a romantic way to travel across any country, especially Japan. The Tobu Railway is one of the most convenient ways to access not only Tokyo’s best sights but to travel further afield. It’s a very economical way to explore areas close to Tokyo for both day trips by train or overnight stays.

Nikko is a scenic area in central Japan steeped in history and nature, making for an excellent short-trip by train from Tokyo. It takes only two hours non-stop on Tobu’s Limited Express train. As it departs from Tokyo Skytree Station, you can explore the 634-metre Tokyo Skytree Tower and see cherry blossoms in Sumida Park before taking the train connection towards Nikko’s charming offerings.

Tokyo Tobu train in Japan
Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest broadcasting tower at 634 meters in height © Tobu Railway

But first, Tokyo

Start your journey from the most incredible of views at the Tokyo Skytree, at an epic 634 meters in height. It is the most elevated tower in Japan. Across two platforms, you can witness the most stunning views of Tokyo. On clear days, you can even spot Mount Fuji from its Tembo Deck at 350 meters. Or climb higher to the Tembo Galleria at 450 meters which also boasts the Sky Restaurant Musashi with its fusion of Japanese and French cuisine.

Tokyo Skytree is a short walk to the Sumida River and Sumida Park, famous for cherry blossoms that bloom every spring (the best time for this is late March to early April). Wander the ground before heading to Sensoji, the oldest, and one of Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temples, which is particularly stunning in springtime. With its gigantic red paper lantern, the temple’s Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) is one of Tokyo’s most well-known sights.

WATCH: Toyko to Nikko by train with Tobu Railway

Next stop, Nikko

Nikko is nestled in Tochigi Prefecture, approximately 160 kilometres north of Tokyo. Nikko has attracted visitors since ancient times and today is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations. But what makes this region so unique? You’ll find an area filled with natural beauty – from its waterfalls to lakes. Plus, it’s home to historic shrines – including the famed trio of Toshogu Shrine, Nikkosan Rinnoji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine which are so captivating they became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Things to do in Nikko, Japan

Hike along the Senjogahara trail

Nikko National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Japan and features volcanoes, plateaus, lakes, and natural hot springs over 1,148 square kilometres. Its wooded highlands, maple and cedar trees, and mountain paths make it ideal for hiking. And in spring it’s lush and incredibly green. A popular trail is the Senjogahara which leads from Yudaki Falls to Ryuzu over a raised wooden course covering six kilometres. It offers incredible marshland and mountains views and takes around three hours to complete.

Nikko National Park is popular for hiking
Nikko National Park is popular for hiking © Tobu Railway

Visit UNESCO heritage temples

Toshogu Shrine, built in the early 17th century during the Edo period, is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1524-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is filled with adornments, including 5,173 scultpures of flowers, dancing girls, Chinese sages and mythical beasts. The vast stone gate that marks the entrance to the temple is reached by Cedar Avenue. This epic 37-kilometre scenic road is lined with 300-year-old cedar trees.

Tobu train in Japan
Japan is renowned for its stunning temples © Tobu Railway

Get up close to Kegon Falls

Nikko boasts 48 stunning waterfalls that emerge from Lake Chuzenji with Kegon Falls, at 97 metres high, being the most dramatic. Alongside the main central falls are twelve minor falls, called the Junitaki. There are many ways to see these watery wonders up close, from free observation decks and hiking trails to leisurely lake cruises offering 360-degree views. Kegon Falls offers stunning views in every season. The trees turn from striking greens in summer to deep russet shades in autumn, while in winter, the water freezes as it drops, creating beautiful ice shapes that resemble crystal art.

The Akechidaira observatory, accessed by the thrilling Akechidaira Ropeway aerial lift, offers unparalleled, sky-high views over Lake Chuzenji, the towering Mt Nantai and the stunning Kegon Waterfall.

Kengon Falls and Lake Chuzenji Tobu Railway
Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji © Tobu Railway

Take a hot bath at Kinugawa Onsen

A spa town situated just north of Nikko in a picturesque ravine, Kinugawa Onsen is known for its open-air hot baths. These are surrounded by dramatic scenery whose foliage changes with the seasons. Worth a visit is the Kinugawa Hot Spring Shrine. And don’t forget to take the Kinugawa Onsen gondola to the top of Monkey Mountain, which is home to a population of adorable Japanese macaques.

Kinugawa Onsen Shrine
Kinugawa Onsen Shrine in spring © Tobu Railway

Visit Nikko Toshogu an Shinkyo Bridge

For autumnal colours with a side of historic architecture, check out the lavish Nikko Toshogu Shrine. The forest-surrounded shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

The Shinkyo Bridge is another spot that combines the natural beauty of Nikko with historic architecture. The red bridge that stands there now is a reconstruction built in 1904, crafted to recreate the one that had stood since 1636 but was destroyed by heavy floods.

Top 5 spots to enjoy the autumn in Nikko, Japan
Autumn is a spectacular time to visit Nikko, Japan

Drive the Irohazaka winding roads

Irohazaka is a scenic drive through Nikko’s lush forest. With 48 hairpin turns, the pair of winding roads connect the lower elevations of central Nikko to the higher elevations of the mountainous Okunikko region. The two roads are used for one direction of traffic each, and the uphill road offers an observation platform overlooking the magnificent valley. 

Top 5 spots to enjoy the autumn in Nikko, Japan
Irohazaka winding road makes for a breathtakingly scenic drive in Nikko

Discover stone statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss

Kanmangafuchi Abyss is a gorge near central Nikko that was formed after the eruption of nearby Mount Nantai. It offers a pleasant walking trail the trees, which are spectacular in both autumn and spring. Walkers along the trail will come across around 70 mystical stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased, clad in red beanies and pink aprons.

Top 5 spots to enjoy the autumn in Nikko, Japan
The 70 Jizo staues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss

Where to stay in Nikko

There are a number of fantastic hotels in Nikko, Japan. Here are just some of them.

The Ritz-Carlton, Nikko offers a lakefront setting and all the luxury hotel amenities you’d expect from the hotel group. It offers three restaurants, a spa, and a bar specialising in Japanese whiskeys.

Nikko Astrea Hotel is a one-hour drive from Nikko station set amongst the forest of Nikko National Park. The hotel is surrounded by gorgeous nature and features an open-air hot spring.

Nikko Kanaya Hotel, having opened in 1873, is one of the oldest resort hotels in Japan and has been enjoyed by many celebrities. It is conveniently located just minutes from Shinkyo Bridge and 15 minutes from the main temples by foot.

FUFU Nikko is a luxury resort hotel at the doorstep of tranquil mountains and winding rivers. The suites are sophisticated and spacious, with a blend modern and traditional styling.

Fairfield by Marriott Tochigi Nikko boasts panoramic views of the surrounding mountains with elegant, light-filled guestrooms. The hotel is just a five-minutes drive away from the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

Ritz-Carlton Japan
Ritz-Carlton Nikko offers a lakefront setting and a bar specialising in Japanese whiskeys © Tobu Railway

How to get to Nikko

The easiest way to get to Nikko is from Tokyo. Tobu Railway introduced the SPACIA X train in July 2023. This Limited Express train connects Tokyo and Nikko in just two hours with a new level of luxury.

The NIKKO PASS All Area includes a train fare between Toyko and Nikko, as well as unlimited Tobu buses and trains rides within the Nikko area and special discounts for certain sightseeing facilities.

The NIKKO PASS World Heritage Area is the ideal train pass in Japan for culture lovers who want to explore Nikko’s temples and the famous hot springs of Kinugawa Onsen.

SPACIA X is a new level of train travel luxury © Tobu Railway

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