Two-Day Nikko Itinerary

Shinkyo Bridge

Two-Day Nikko Itinerary

We visited A LOT of places during our three months in Japan, but Nikko was one that left quite an impression on us. We decided to spend two days in Nikko and even came back for one more so we could create a comprehensive Nikko itinerary of our favorite things to do in Nikko, where to stay in Nikko, and places to eat in Nikko.

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links which we may make commission from. As always, we only recommend products and places we love.


Where is Nikko?

Nikko is a town that is about 2 hours north of Tokyo. It is full of gorgeous scenery with waterfalls, mountain passes, lakes, and terrific hiking trails. When visiting Nikko we were surprised by the history of the World-Heritage temples and shrines as well as the tranquility that lies just outside of a few bustling cities in Japan.


How To Get To Nikko & Transportation in Nikko

Train ride to Nikko, Japan
Romantic railway to Nikko from Tokyo.

If you happen to have an active JR Pass the best way to get to Nikko is via the Tobu-Nikko Line from Tokyo’s Asakusa station.

For those who are not current JR Pass holders, there are also two other passes you can consider (which JR Pass holders might also want to consider too!).

Nikko All Area Pass (valid 4 days)

Includes one round-trip ticket from Tokyo and unlimited rides on trains and buses in Nikko and Kinugawa onsen area. If you are planning to travel to a lot of different places in the Nikko area, this pass is probably your best bet. 

PRICES: April 20 – November 27 Adults: 4600 yen, Children: 1180 yen, November 28 – April 19 Adults: 4230 yen, Children: 1060 yen

Nikko World Heritage Area Pass (valid 2 days)

The World Heritage Area pass also includes one round-trip ticket from Tokyo but only covers unlimited rides for train and bus services for certain areas. These areas include Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine, and Rinnoji Temple.

PRICES: Adults 2040 yen, Children 610 yen


Where to Stay in Nikko

Budget: Nikko Station Hotel II – This is the hotel we stayed at in Nikko because it was close to one of Nikko’s train stations, bus stops, and a grocery store. It was also pretty budget-friendly while still having a nice amount of space and a comfortable space to sleep and relax.

Mid-range: Asaya – Has extremely high ratings for comfort, relaxation, and hospitality. It is also a family-friendly hotel in Nikko too.

Luxury: Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa – There are a number of luxury hotels and onsen ryokans in Nikko that are perfect for a romantic getaway. This is one of the top-rated luxury hotels in Nikko.


The Best Time To Visit For Your Nikko Itinerary

While there isn’t a bad time to visit Nikko, we believe that summer and autumn are the two best times to visit. In the summer, cooler temperatures surround Nikko making it more tolerable during a hot summer in Japan. Waterfalls are typically at their best during this time and the surroundings are full of greenery. In autumn, Nikko has beautiful, mild temperatures as well as some of the best fall foliage to view in Japan.

Key Things to Know Before You Visit Nikko

  • Much of Nikko’s history with Buddhism goes back to a Buddhist monk named Shodo Shonin who introduced Buddhism to Nikko. You’ll see his name mentioned frequently when talking about many of the World Heritage Sites in Nikko.
  • Most of the sites and attractions in Nikko include a lot of walking. It’s best to wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in for long periods of time and distances.
  • This Nikko itinerary is pretty full so we brought some snacks with us in a backpack in case we got hungry. Stopping by a convenience store for onigiri (Japanese rice ball) or other snacks and water will help you prepare for your Nikko itinerary.

DAY 1 – NIKKO ITINERARY

The first day in Nikko will be spent in central Nikko where you can visit many of the shrines and temples. It’s going to be a full day so be prepared with some water and snacks. Good walking shoes wouldn’t hurt too. 😉

Shinkyo Bridge

Shinkyo Bridge
Shinkyo Bridge

Shinkyo Bridge is a stunning, vermillion footbridge that is set over the turquoise hue of the Daiyagawa river and at the foot of the mountains of Nikko and Nikko National Park.

Legend has it, Shodo Shonin, a Buddhist monk, was unable to cross the river and asked for help from the deities. After pleading, two snakes appeared and created a bridge.

The Shinkyo Bridge you can see in Nikko today was constructed in 1636. Though it used to be closed to foot traffic you can now cross for a small fee.
Hours: 8am-5pm (April – September), 8am-4pm (October – mid-November), 9am-4pm (mid-November – March)
Cost: 500 yen


Rinnoji Temple

Construction at Rinnoji Temple in Nikko
Sadly, when we visited Rinnoji Temple was under construction.

Rinnoji Temple has a history of over 1,200 years and was founded by Shodo Shonin. The main building of Rinnoji Temple is Sanbutsudo Hall which houses a number of Buddhist statues including the three mountain deities, Amida, Senju-Kannon, and Bato-Kannon. Nearby Sanbutsudo Hall is the temple’s treasure house and Shoyoen garden which has a beautiful path around a small pond.

Sadly, while we were in Nikko, Rinnoji Temple was under heavy construction which is scheduled to last until March 2021. Due to this, we were unable to view Rinnoji Temple from the outside and much of the inside was also under construction. However, a recent update said that they have opened a special path to view parts of the temple before renovations are complete and Sanbutsudo Hall has reopened as of spring 2019.
Hours: 8am-5pm (April – October), 8am-4pm (November – March)
Cost: 400 yen (Sanbutsudo only), 900 yen (Sanbutsudo and Taiyuin), 300 yen (Treasure House and Shoyoen Garden)


Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan
Toshogu Shrine

The most popular shrine in Nikko is Toshogu Shrine. Inside the shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled for over 250 years in Japan.

Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan
Toshogu Shrine has many intricate details.

Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu respected his grandfather greatly and wanted to create a beautiful place to honor the late Shogunate. At Toshogu Shrine, there are 12 or so buildings encased with intricate carvings and gold leaf making it the most lavishly decorated shrine in Japan.

Because Toshogu Shrine has a number of different buildings and fine details, be sure to look for the following while you’re visiting.

  • Five-Story Pagoda: At the entrance of the shrine and there are times where visitors can enter the pagoda for an additional fee.
  • The “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey carving on one of the storehouses by the main entrance.
  • Yomeimon Gate: One of the grandest, decorated spots on the grounds.
  • The main shrine building where visitors can enter and wonder at the marvelous details inside (keep in mind, no photos are allowed).
  • After, look up at the Sakashitamon Gate, where the carving of Nemurineko, a sleeping cat lies.
  • The mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu is through the Sakashitamon Gate and is about a five-minute walk uphill.

Hours: 8am-5pm (April – October), 8am-4pm (November – March)
Cost: 1300 yen (shrine), 1000 yen (museum), 2100 yen (shrine and museum)


Futarasan Shrine

Close to Toshogu Shrine is Futarasan Shrine, which is the oldest shrine in Nikko going back to 782 when founded by Shodo Shonin. Although it isn’t as sumptuously decorated as the other nearby shrines, the nature that surrounds Futarasan Shrine is very peaceful. 

Futarasan Shrine dedicated to the deities of Nikko’s most sacred mountains, Mount Nyoho, Mount Taro, and Mount Nantai. It is also a place where people come to pray for good luck, healthy pregnancies, and marriages.
Hours: 8am-5pm (April – October), 8am-4pm (November – March)
Cost: 200 yen


Iemitsu Mausoleum (Taiyuinbyo)

While Toshogu Shrine is the final resting place for Ieyasu, the founding Tokugawa Shogunate, Taiyuinbyo is the mausoleum where the remains of Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu and 3rd Tokugawa Shogun are kept. When visiting, we noticed a number of similarities to Toshogu Shrine, although slightly less luxurious in appearance out of Iemitsu’s respect for his grandfather.

At Iemitsu Mausoleum there are two halls. The first one we came across was Haiden, the praying hall. At Haiden there is a sculpture of a white dragon at the entrance. It’s a relatively small space, but visitors are allowed to enter the haiden where there is more beautiful decor and carvings to behold. The other hall at Iemitsu Mausoleum is Honden, the main hall. This hall cannot be entered but can be viewed from the outside.

Of course, after visiting the two halls, we then went to view Tokugawa Iemitsu’s mausoleum which is noted by many intricate details and a white gate over the doors.
Hours: 8am-5pm (April – October), 8am-4pm (November – March)
Cost:
550 yen (Taiyuin only), 900 yen (Taiyuin and Sanbutsudo from Rinnoji Temple)


Shiraito Falls

Hidden behind Toshogu Shrine, Shiraito Falls can be easily missed. Though it isn’t as boastful as Kegon Falls, which we’ll cover later in this Nikko itinerary, it is set back far enough that it’s the perfect place to escape some of the crowds and view two smaller shrines as well. 

Hours: While there are no set hours to visit Shiraito Falls we suggest going during the daytime for safety. During winter months, snowfall might make it more difficult to access.
Cost: Free to visit


Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa
Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa

After making our way back down to the entrance of Nikko National Park by Shinkyo Bridge we walked to Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa (there is also a bus that can take you to the entrance as well). We aren’t sure if this Nikko attraction is normally busy, but we happened to visit while no other guests were there!

Inside of Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa
Inside of Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa

Tamozawa Imperial Villa was originally brought to Nikko from Tokyo in 1899 and combines traditional Edo and Meiji architecture. But before being moved to Nikko, it served as the Tokyo residence of the Tokugawa family and later, the Imperial Palace. Once in Nikko, it became the summer residence of the Imperial Family but suffered extreme neglect after World War II. It was later opened to the public in 2000 after extensive repairs.

Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa
Outside grounds of Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa remains one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan and serves as a museum with multilingual displays for guests. While we were visiting, we couldn’t help but take note of the attractive gardens outside the residence and the elegantly decorated interior.
Hours: 8am-5pm (April – October), 8am-4:30pm (November – March)
Cost: 550 yen


Kanmangafuchi Abyss 

After visiting the Imperial Villa we walked through a residential area to Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Once a more hidden spot in Nikko, Kanmangafuchi Abyss is now becoming more popular. Although, like Tamozawa Imperial Villa, we were also completely along during our time here.

Kanmangafuchi Abyss
Waterway at Kanmangafuchi Abyss.

Kanmangafuchi Abyss was formed by an eruption of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s most prominent mountain and is set along a casual walking trail with scenic waterways and rocks. This abyss is also known for the rows of stone statues known as Jizo, 

Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko
Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko

Kanmangafuchi Abyss is also known for a row of stone statues with red, head coverings and bibs that sit on the side of the river. These stone statues are known as Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for those who have passed away. These Jizo statues are specifically Bakejizo or “Ghost Jizo” because when walking in and out of the abyss you cannot count the same number of statues.  Though slightly ominous, there’s something about Kanmangafuchi Abyss that draws you in. 
Hours: No set hours, although we recommend visiting during daylight.
Cost:
Free to visit 


DAY 2 – NIKKO ITINERARY

Irohazaka Winding Road

Irohazaka Driving Route in Nikko.
Irohazaka Driving Route in Nikko.

After spending a day in central Nikko we decided to head into western Nikko. We rented a car to drive up Irohazaka, a windy driving road. But the bus drives up this road as well. You might want to take some motion sickness medication but be sure to look out the window at this crazy winding road!


Akechidaira Plateau & Observatory

Akechidaira Ropeway in Nikko, Japan
Akechidaira Ropeway

At the top of the Irohazaka winding road, there is a parking lot and a rest house that sells tickets for the Akechidaira Ropeway. The ropeway carried us to a viewing platform that has views of both Kegon Waterfall and Lake Chuzenjiko.

Akechidaira Observatory in Nikko
View from the top of Akechidaira Observatory.

It’s also a very popular spot to view the autumn foliage. If you’re interested in hiking, you can also follow the two-hour hiking trail (one-way) from Lake Chuzenjiko.
Hours: 9am-3:30pm
Cost:
410 yen (one-way), 740 yen (round trip)


Kegon Falls

View from the lower observation deck at Kegon Falls in Nikko, Japan
View from the lower observation deck at Kegon Falls.

Kegon Falls is one of Japan’s top three waterfalls and the most popular to visit in Nikko. Standing at nearly 100 meters tall, it is the only exit for the waters of Lake Chuzenji, which is viewable from the Akechidaira Observatory. We visited in the summer when it was prime time to see the waterfall in full force.

Upon arriving, we noticed that there are two observation areas. We first went to the top lookout which is free to visit. After, we took an elevator to the experience of the waterfall from below on a multi-level viewing deck.
Hours: 8am-5pm (March, April, November), 7:30am-6pm (May – September), 7:30am-5pm (October), 9:00 to 16:30 (December to February)
Cost:
570 yen


Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise

Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise in Nikko, Japan
Boarding area for the Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise.

Lake Chuzenji was formed over 20,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption of Mount Nantai. Most of the shores of Lake Chuzenji are untouched nature with the exception of Chuzenji Onsen, a small hot spring town. When visiting Lake Chuzenji we recommend taking a boat ride around the lake from the Chuzenji Onsen cruise terminal to make your way to the next destinations in this Nikko itinerary. 

Views from the Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise in Nikko, Japan
Views from the Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise.

The boats make hourly departures and loop around the lake stopping at Shobugahama (20 minutes) and Chuzenji Temple (50 minutes). There are also occasional stops between Chuzenjiko Onsen and Senjugahama from June-September. 
Hours: 9:30am-3:30pm, hourly departures (April-November, closed June 18)
Cost: 1250 yen (Lake Loop), 1150 yen (Funenoeki Chuzenji – Tachiki Kannon), 600 yen (Funenoeki Chuzenji – Shobugahawa)

Ryuzu Falls

Ryuzu Falls in Nikko, Japan
Ryuzu Falls

Ryuzu Falls also known as “dragon head waterfall” due to the shape of the falls resembling a dragon’s head. Though not as impressive as Kegon Falls, there is a small observation platform that allows visitors to look over the waterfall.

If visiting during the fall, Ryuzu Falls is another terrific spot to view the autumn leaves since it’s surrounded by so many trees.
Hours: Open 24 hours
Cost: Free


Senjogahara Marshland

The Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail in the Senjogahara Marshland has some of the best hiking in Nikko. Like many other Nikko attractions, it is most stunning in the fall when the grass turns a reddish-gold color while the leaves on the trees surrounding turn bright yellow. If following the Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail is the Yukawa River and takes roughly 2.5-3 hours to complete.
Hours: Open 24 hours
Cost:
Free


Yudaki Falls

Viewing platform of Yudaki Falls in Nikko, Japan
Viewing platform of Yudaki Falls.

Although Kegon Falls is the largest waterfall in Nikko, Yudaki Falls follows close behind at 70 meters high. Though you can’t go directly by the waterfall, there is an excellent viewing platform from the side of the waterfall. While visiting be sure to grab some grilled mochi and salted grilled fish. 

After visiting all of the places on day two of your Nikko itinerary you’ll make your way down Irohazaka on the opposite side.


What to Eat in Nikko & Places to Eat in Nikko

Yuba

Because Nikko is a temple town and Buddhist monks eat a vegetarian diet, there are a number of vegetarian and vegan dishes and restaurants in the area. The most popular traditional dish is yuba. Yuba is made by boiling soy milk and picking up the skin that forms on the top of the water. 

Around Nikko, you’ll find yuba used in a variety of ways such as yuba ice cream, yuba on soba noodles, and even yuba sashimi. It’s an extremely versatile ingredient which is another reason it is so popular. 

A few of the popular restaurants that serve yuba dishes include:

  • Yubakomachi: Has a number of yuba dishes as well as other dishes (more versatile menu)
  • Nikko Yubamaki Zen: A sushi restaurant that offers set meals with yuba.

Komekichi Kouzushi

Plate of various sushi at Komekichi Kouzushi in Nikko
Komekichi Kouzushi

While this is one of the most popular restaurants in Nikko, Komekichi Kouzushi lived up to the hype. It had some of the freshest sushi we had while in Japan and was our favorite restaurant in Nikko, which is why we had to recommend it for our Nikko itinerary. We suggest fatty tuna, squid, salmon, and yuba sashimi.
Hours: 11am-4pm, 5-9:30pm, Closed Thursdays

Kakigori (Japanese Shave Ice)

Japanese Matcha shave ice
Kakigori (Shave Ice)

Nikko prides themselves on their clean, natural water. In fact, Nikko houses 3 out of 5 ice houses that are currently in Japan. Because of the softness and cleanliness of their water, shave ice in Nikko is a creamy delicious treat to enjoy, especially during the summer. There are a number of shave ice shops in Nikko, each with their own special flavors.


Other Things to Add to Your Nikko Itinerary

Edo Wonderland

Edo Wonderland is a Japanese cultural theme park near Nikko that showcases life during the Edo period (17th century) of Japan. At Edo Wonderland you can dress up in traditional clothing while being entertained by theater performances, and enjoy a number of Edo period experiences such as wooden boat cruises, ninja training, and a samurai swordsman experience. There are also a number of Edo period delicacies to enjoy at one of the three restaurants in the park.

Hours: 9am-5pm (March 20 – November 30), 9am-4pm (December 1 – March 19), Closed Wednesdays
Cost: 4,700 yen (One-Day Pass), 4,100 (Afternoon Pass)


Nikko Water Activities

From mid-April to mid-November you can enjoy a number of different water activities in Nikko such as:

  • Canyoning: If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure consider canyoning at the Kinugawa River. You can slide down natural chutes and ride over small waterfalls with a trained guide!
  • Kinugawa River Boat Tour: During this 40-minute boat tour, a guide will take you to scenic spots Kinugawa River.
  • Rafting: A more adventurous boat tour in Nikko is rafting. These rubber boats fit for 7-8 people following the waves and bumps of the river.

It’s safe to say that Nikko is a beautiful place to visit outside of Tokyo. Please let us know if you found this Nikko itinerary useful!
Like this post? Save it on Pinterest!
Nikko, Japan is a great day trip from Tokyo or is also perfect for a two-day stay. This comprehensive Nikko, Japan itinerary and guide includes many things to do in Nikko, where to stay in Nikko, and places to eat in Nikko.
Nikko, Japan is a great day trip from Tokyo or is also perfect for a two-day stay. This comprehensive Nikko, Japan itinerary and guide includes many things to do in Nikko, where to stay in Nikko, and places to eat in Nikko.
Nikko, Japan is a great day trip from Tokyo or is also perfect for a two-day stay. This comprehensive Nikko, Japan itinerary and guide includes many things to do in Nikko, where to stay in Nikko, and places to eat in Nikko.

No Comments

Leave a Reply