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An Epic 1 Day Nikko Itinerary

Bridge in Nikko Japan

In the heart of Japan’s picturesque mountains lies Nikko, a haven of tranquility and historical richness waiting to be discovered .From the iconic Nikko Toshogu Shrine to the tranquil shores of Lake Chuzenji, this journey promises a perfect blend of history, spirituality, and natural wonders.

Nikko, while a relatively small town has so much to do and attracts nearly 12 million tourists annually. With so much to do, it is hard to visit everything in a day. That is why I decided to write this 1 day Nikko Itinerary to help make sure you don’t miss anything.

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Getting to Nikko

From Tokyo, getting to Nikko can take anywhere from 2 hours with no transfers using a limited express train, to over 3 hours and multiple transfers using the local line. If doing a day trip to Nikko I highly recommend the limited express train. It will only cost a few additional dollars and save you a lot of time and possible confusion when trying to transfer.

Tickets for the limited express train to Nikko can be bought online, or at the station. Tickets do tend to sell out in advance, especially for holidays and popular weekends. If possible it is best to get tickets early to secure a seat. If you have the Nikko Pass you can pay to upgrade from the local train to the limited express train (depending on the line, but usually ~1000 yen more).

Do I need the Nikko Pass for a Day Trip to Nikko

Nikko offers a special ticket when visiting, called the Nikko Pass. There are two different options. One being the Nikko World Heritage Pass, valid for 2 days and one being the Nikko All Area pass for 4 days. 

The Nikko Pass, although designed for longer stays, can save you money just on the train ride itself. I would suggest picking one up for a day trip as well. I have a full detailed guide on the Nikko Pass that you can read here. This will help answer other questions you might have about the Nikko Pass.

When is the Best Time to Visit Nikko

Nikko is a great destination to visit all year round. Summer months are warm and lush with green leaves and weather is predictable. The spring brings in the cherry blossoms around some of the shrines and Lake Chuzenji. Fall is full of vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds as the leaves change. Finally, winter covers Nikko in a snowy landscape.

In my opinion the best time to visit Nikko is during the fall. The vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges really make Nikko stand out. The best time for seeing fall colors is usually the end of October until the start of November. Every year Nikko puts up information on their website to predict the time fall colors will be best, so be sure to keep an eye out.

A 1 Day Nikko Itinerary

One question I hear a lot is, will 1 day in Nikko be enough time to see everything. While I would suggest trying to plan for a two day trip to Nikko, a one day trip is possible. Just be prepared to wake up early for that first train out to Nikko and a late night to take the last train back to Tokyo.

1 Day Nikko Itinerary - Morning

Nikko Toshogu Shrine – I recommend starting the journey from Nikko Toshogu Shrine, about a 18 minute bus ride or 30 minute walk from the Nikko Train Station. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the shrine captivates with its intricate carvings, sacred halls, and the famous “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” monkeys. Among the numerous structures at Toshogu, especially striking ones, is a five story pagoda near the front entrance.

Taiyuin- Just a 5 minute walk from Toshogu Shrine is Taiyuin. This structure is both a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto. Walking around Taiyuin you will get to Kamon gate, where you will see an amazing sculpture of a white dragon. 

Rinnoji Temple – Heading back towards central Nikko, a good area to shop for lunch is the Rinnoji temple. Buddhists consider the three deities as representations of Nikko’s three mountain deities, who are enshrined at Futarasan Shrine.

1 Day Nikko Itinerary - Afternoon

Shinkyo Bridge – After lunch I recommend stopping at the Shinkyo Bridge. This is a great time to see the bridge as many tourists stopped at this as the first part of their itinerary. There is a small fee to go across the bridge.

You can also take great pictures in front of the bridge without needing to pay any fees.

Kegon Falls – It is now time to head up the windy mountain to reach Kegon Falls. There is a bus stop near the Shinkyo Bridge that can bring you to the top of the mountain. From Shinkyo Bridge, it is about an hour bus ride.

Kegon Falls stands at an impressive 97 meters tall and 7 meters wide. There are two different areas to visit of the falls, an upper and lower area. The upper area does not cost anything to see, but views can be kind of limited. There is an elevator you can take down to the bottom of the falls that does require a small fee. 

Lake Chuzenji – Around 20,000 years ago, the volcanic eruption of Mount Nantai formed Lake Chuzenji by blocking the river that flowed through the valley below. This is the highest natural lake in all of Japan. While it has a great view from the shore, a day cruise is a must to see all the sites. These tours usually last about an hour.

1 Day Nikko Itinerary - Afternoon

Lake Chuzenji Onsen – It has been a long day, what other way to end it than with an Onsen. Yutorelo Nikko, just a 15 minute walk from Kegon Falls offers day trippers the chance to relax and soak in their onsen. If this is your first time visiting an onsen make sure to read up on onsen etiquette. 

After relaxing in the onsen it is time to have a nice dinner and head back home. It will be a bit of travel time back to Tokyo. About 3 hours in total including the bus ride from the mountain to Nikko Station and the limited express train to Tokyo.

Addition Activities for Your 1 Day Nikko Itinerary

This is just a sample of what you can see in Nikko on a 1 day itinerary. There are so many other things that can be done instead. Some of my favorites from my visit were the following: 

Hike Mount Nantai – If you want to do some hiking Mount Nantai is an option. The hiking trail is usually open between May and October and has a small entrance fee. The hike itself will take about 4 hours. Keep an eye out for wild monkeys; it’s quite a unique experience if you’re not accustomed to seeing them in your daily routine.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa – In 1899, they originally constructed this villa as a summer residence for Emperor Taishō. During World War II, Emperor Hirohito used it as a hide-out. The gardens located at the villa are a must see if you make the trek out this way. 

Kirifuri Falls – While not as tall as Kegon Falls, Kirifuri Falls stands at 75 meters tall. Although there is no longer a path leading to the base of the falls, a wooden platform has been constructed. It requires about a 10 minute stroll through a well maintained forest trail.

1 Day Nikko Itinerary Conclusion

From the Toshogu Shrine to the rushing sound of waterfalls Nikko is a great destination to visit while in Japan. A day trip to Nikko is a great way to visit this small city just north of Tokyo. Nikko can be experienced as a day trip, even though it requires an early start and a packed itinerary.

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