Day Trip to Nikko [Full Guide for 2024]


It’s 6pm on a Monday evening, my feet hurt after nearly 22,000 steps, but I’m sitting here with a big smile on my face after taking a day trip to Nikko.

I love my UNESCO Heritage Sites, so this was another one of those day-long adventures to tick another one off my list (this was number 69 if you’re interested!).

It was a bit of a trek (Nikko is 150km from Tokyo, and for me that was just under 2 1/2 hours from leaving the hotel), but well worth it, and was a real contrast to Tokyo where we’d spend our first few days in Japan.

If you want to replicate this Nikko one-day itinerary, then I’ve got good news! I was taking notes (and photos), so this guide will help you get there, and see as much as you can in the time you have.

I also want to call out Nele from Navagatio.com, whose post I used to build my own one-day Nikko itinerary. Whilst my post is not identical, and it includes different details, it was heavily inspired by reading their site, so if you want the original (and many would argue the best!) Nikko day trip itinerary, then head over to her site.

馃М MY NIKKO STATS:

  • 22,000 steps walked in the day.
  • 3 1/2 hours spent in Nikko.
  • 1st trip on a bullet train.
  • Three memorable words: Mossy, Ancient, Autumnal.

OUR JAPAN CREDENTIALS

The Reeves Roamed for 25 days through Japan, taking notes as we went. Our route was based on our typically thorough research, though we also found some surprises along the way. We only write about places we’ve actually been, so you can be confident that the details are first-hand.

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Ben Reeve
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Nikko Day Trip Itinerary

1. Train Journey to Nikko

There are a number of options for how to get the train to Nikko (see full guide later on in this post).

We have a JR Pass, as we will be using it later in the trip to head further into Japan, so I decided to go the bullet train route (plus, it was my first time on a buller train, so that was pretty cool too!). Our apartment is near Asakusa Station, I opted to pick up the train from Ueno, but Tokyo Station is more central for most.

I got to the station in good time and reserved a seat. If you haven’t reserved a seat, head for carriages 1-3 as these are the unreserved carriages.

The train trip was very smooth, with one change. Stations were announced in English, so there was little chance of going wrong (unless you fall asleep!). There is also WiFi on board if you need it.

  • Left Ueno at 0904
  • Arrived at Utsonomiya at 0946
  • Left Utsonomiya at 0953
  • Arrived at Nikko at 1032

2. Walk Through Nikko

picture of japanese town in autumn, nikko japan
The more modern part of Nikko

COST: Free

On arriving at Nikko, pick up one of the many free maps available (or download my Google Map).

picture of a leaflet, walking map of nikko
This leaflet had the best map I could find

The walk from Nikko Station to the first sight, Shinkyo Bridge is 1.7km. I did the walk (though it wasn’t very exciting, Nikko is a fairly nondescript town until you reach the UNESCO area) but there are buses available too, which are free if you have the Nikko Pass (more info later in the post)..

3. Shinkyo Bridge

a red japanese style bridge over a gorge
The iconic Shinkyo Bridge

COST: 楼300 if you want to go on the bridge, no cost for photos!

If I had one image in my head of Nikko before arriving, it was the Shinkyo bridge, its iconic red arch spanning the Daiya River.

It’s the first thing I hit as I approached the UNESCO Heritage Site Area, and was easy to spot thanks to the mass of buses and tour groups.

You can pay 楼300 to have a walk across the bridge (I did), but it’s not needed, the best photos are from the road.

ABOUT THE SHINKYO BRIDGE:

  • It is believed to have been initially constructed in the early 17th century.
  • It has undergone restoration and renovations over the centuries to maintain its structural integrity and historical significance.

4. Walk Up To Temples

a mossy green staircase
The staircase up to the main temple zone

COST: Free

Once finished at the bridge, head over the zebra crossing and up the stairs into the main temple zone.

I really enjoyed this part, disappearing into the forest, up the ancient steps. There are a couple temples to see on either side of the path, before it opens up to a large square (again, full of coaches, how did they get up here!?).

5. Rinn艒-ji Temple

a huge japanese temple, with red trees in front. toshugu shrine, nikko
Rinnoji Temple

COST: 楼400

The first sight you’ll be hit with as you enter the main temple area is the huge Rinn艒-ji temple.

Head over to the main stairs in front of the temple to buy a ticket for access. Inside are three huge gold-covered wooden statues, which are Buddhist representations of Nikko’s mountain deities.

ABOUT RINN艑-JI TEMPLE:

  • The oldest and most important temple in Nikko.
  • First built in the 8th century by a Buddhist Monk Shodo Shonin.
  • The first temple was small and had a thatched roof.

6. Rinn艒-ji Treasure House & Garden

COST: 楼300

If you’re visiting at the right time of the year, it’s worth heading in to the gardens (through the treasure house) attached to Rinn艒-ji, as the trees that surround the little pond are spectacular when the leaves change colour.

7. Walk the Avenue Towards Toshugu Shrine

a crowd of people walking down a big avenue line by red autumn trees in nikko japan
The walk up to Toshugu Shrine

COST: Free

You can head out of the treasure house and straight up into the Okariden, Temporary Shrine, but I would suggest doubling back and walking the main avenue towards Toshugu Shrine, as it makes for a more striking first impression when walking through the main gate.

8. Five Storied Pagoda

fize storied red pagoda, flanked by trees. nikko, japan
The Five Storied Pagoda, check out this great photo spot in the Okariden section

COST: 楼300

As you head through the gate, on the left you’ll see the 36-metre Five Storied Pagoda, with a little hut to the side of it where you can buy a ticket.

It’s well worth a look inside, even if just to see the clever solution out in to keep it upright in the case of earthquakes.

ABOUT FIVE STORIED PAGODA:

  • First built in 1617, what you see is now is a reproduction put up in 1818 after a fire destroyed the original.
  • A huge pillar is suspended from the top floor, cutting through the floors to sit a few centimetres above the ground. It is designed to act as a counterweight in the event of an earthquake.

9. Okariden – Temporary Shrine

Opposite the Five Storied Pagoda (to the right of the gate as you walk in), is a staircase, up the Temporary Shrine.

I loved this place for two reasons, firstly because it was quiet and no-one seemed to come. up here, and secondly because from the top of the steps you can get a fantastic photo of the Five Storied Pagoda with the stone gate in front of it.

ABOUT OKARIDEN:

  • Built as a temporary shrine in the 1,600s.
  • Now it sits in a quiet garden of its own.

10. Toshugu Shrine

a japanese style building with gold roof, flanked by two huge trees and with a crowd of people on stairs in front of it. nikko, japan
The Yomeimon Gate

COST: 楼1,400 (grounds) | 楼2,100 (ground & museum)

If you decide to only come to one place in Nikko, this should be it.

entrance ticket to nikko toshugo shrine
My entrance ticket

Toshugu Shrine is overwhelming. There is so much to take in, and it’s incredibly busy. I took the approach of going slow, and trying my best to notice the small details.

We started in a wide courtyard, surrounding by buildings and the first of the 121 huge lanterns that are dotted around the site. The eye is naturally drawn up to the Yomeimon Gate, which (which its 508 carvings) a sign told me is the most heavily decorated in Japan.

Through the gate, we entered a much smaller courtyard, with small corridors either side, one of which was filled with hundreds of paper lanterns.

paper lanterns with japanese writing, in a shrine at nikko, japan
Incredible Japanese lanterns

I headed off to the right (with the crowd!) towards the entrance to Tokugawa leyasu’s final resting place. Look out for the famous Sleeping Cat carving above the door before heading outside.

img 9911

The next bit isn’t for the feint of heart, 207 steps up the mountain to the tomb of the great Shogun. There are lots of places to rest on the way up if needed.

the steps up to tokugawa ieyasu tomb

When I came back down, I then went and had a look around the main Toshugu Shrine. For this part we took our shoes off and put them in wooden racks, before heading into the atmospheric and incredibly detailed shrine.

On your way out, check out the temporary building on the right at the bottom of the stairs called Shinyosha. It is now the oldest surviving building at Nikko, standing since 1617.

a huge stone japanese gateway, with crowd underneath it. nikko, japan
The view looking out of Toshiba Shrine. back towards the main walkway

ABOUT TOSHUGA SHRINE:

  • Toshogu Shrine was built to honour Tokugawa Ieyasu, a powerful leader in Japan’s history.
  • The shrine is famous for its detailed and ornate architecture, with beautiful carvings and decorations.
  • Two famous carvings to look out for are the Three Wise Monkeys and Sleeping Cat.
  • There are big 121 lanterns at Toshugu Shrine.
  • Look out for Shinyosha, the oldest build at Nikko from 1617.

11. Futarasan Shrine

gardens of futarasan shrine, nikko, japan

COST: Free (grounds) | 楼300 (gardens)

After walking back down the steps out of Toshugu Shrine, take a right down a long alleyway, with stone lanterns on one side.

walkway to futarasan shrine, nikko, japan

Futarasan is less ornate than Toshugu, but I enjoyed it as much, because it was calmer. Pay the 楼300 to get into the gardens at the far end, they are serene.

ABOUT FUTARASAN SHRINE:

  • Futarasan Shrine is one of Japan’s oldest shrines, founded in 767 AD.
  • The shrine is dedicated to sacred mountain deities, including Mount Nantai and Mount Nyoho.

12. Kanmangafuchi Abyss

stone statues with red hats and bib on. taken at kanmangafuchi abyss, nikko, japan

COST: Free (+ the last of your energy!)

Kanmangafuchi Abyss was my personal highlight of Nikko.

I’m a country boy at heart, so to get away from the big bus tours, walk alongside the river, past teahouses and onto the mossy, autumnal pathways of ancient Nikko was a real pleasure.

It’s a 1.5km walk from Futarasan Shrine, but after 300m is the main town, where there are coffee shops for refreshment.

The good bit of the walk starts after than, cutting down towards the river and towards the Abyss (a phrase that sounds like it came straight out of a Tolkien novel).

At the end is a little tea house, and then the path to where the real magic starts, with one of the most recognisable images of Nikko, the little Mizo statues dressed up in red, against the mossy green background.

ABOUT KANMANGAFUCHI ABYSS:

  • The legend goes that the number of statues change every time you count them. I think I got to 70.
  • The statues are Jizos, who take care of children and protect travellers.

13. Train Back to Tokyo

After a walk back to the station from the Abyss (I will never tire of saying that), I hopped on the 1421 train back to Tokyo.

  • Left Nikko at 1421
  • Arrived Utsonomiya 1505
  • Left Utsonomiya at 1521
  • Back into Ueno at 1608

Nikko Day Trip Map

one day in nikko map

I have built a custom Nikko day trip Google Map which includes all the points mention in this post, including the walking routes.

You can easily access it on your phone to use as you’re exploring Nikko (if you need access to data, then we used Ninja Wifi, 10% off with this link).

GET THE MAP HERE

How To Get To Nikko

JR Pass

If you’ve prepaid for a JR Pass, this is your best option, as the line goes to Nikko with a single change at Utsonomiya.

The JR train to Nikko from Tokyo leaves from either Tokyo station or Ueno Station.

Reserving a Seat with JR Pass

This was my first time using the JR Pass, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expert.

In short, the paper pass we got issued when registering your JR Pass works exactly like the tickets for the subway. If you just want to hop on a train on a JR Line, just feed the pass through the gates.

However, for longer trips, it’s worth reserving a seat (there are still non-reserved carriages, usually carriages 1-3, however on busy routes you may end up standing).

To reserve a seat, head to one of the green JR Pass electronic booths.

a man getting a ticket from a green jr pass ticket machine

RESERVING A SEAT ON JR RAIL:

  • Turn to English and choose select QR code
  • Scan QR code on your JR pass
  • Input your passport number 
  • Search for and choose your destination
  • Reserve seat
  • Your JR pass is your ticket, but you鈥檒l get an extra one with the seat reservation
reserved seat ticket for jr rail to nikko

Nikko Pass

If you don’t already have a JR Pass, your best option is definitely buying a Nikko pass, as it is a direct route to Nikko, and is cheaper.

ABOUT THE NIKKO PASS:

  • Purchasing the Pass: The first step is to obtain a Nikko Pass. You can purchase it at Tobu Nikko Station, Asakusa Station, or online before your trip. There are different pass options, such as the All Area Pass and World Heritage Pass. Choose the one that suits your travel plans.
  • Activating the Pass: Your Nikko Pass will have an activation date. Make sure to activate it on the day you plan to use it. This can be done at the ticket counter or gate at the station.
  • Unlimited Train Rides: The Nikko Pass allows for unlimited train travel between Asakusa (or Shimo-imaichi) and Nikko. You can hop on and off trains within the validity period without worrying about individual ticket purchases.
  • Unlimited Bus Rides: In addition to trains, the pass also covers local buses in Nikko. Buses are crucial for reaching many of the attractions in the area, and the pass ensures hassle-free transportation.
  • Entry to World Heritage Sites: If you have the World Heritage Pass, you gain free access to the Toshogu Shrine, Rinn艒-ji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine.

JR Rail vs Nikko Pass Cost Comparison

AreaNikko Pass (World Heritage Pass)JR Rail Route
Nikko Pass Cost2,120 JPY
Return Train TicketsIncluded in the pass楼4,600 JPY
Local Buses in NikkoIncluded in the pass楼200-500 JPY (depending on rides)
Admission Fees to World Heritage Sites (Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine, and Rinn艒-ji Temple)Included in the pass楼2,000 JPY (for all three sites combined)
Total Estimated Cost楼2,120 楼7,100
*all approximate costs

Nikko Day Trip – Final Thoughts

Well, what a day that was!

I’ll remember Nikko for a long time, and I’m glad I took the time to take a day trip to see it.

If you’ve visited Nikko too, leave us a comment and let us know what you thought (feel free to share links to your own posts about Nikko too).

Our full guide to Japan is our first-hand guide to the time we spent in Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hisoshima. If you’re planning your first Japan trip, it’ll give you everything we learned on our first Japan adventure.

the reeves family picture

AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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