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What is the Best Nikko Day Trip Itinerary and Is It Worth the Journey?

Take a Nikko day trip by train from Tokyo. Explore a Nikko one day itinerary. Find out if Nikko is worth visiting for a day from Tokyo Japan.
Nikko is a fantastic UNESCO Heritage listed destination for an ambitious day trip from Tokyo in April. Nikko is a town located in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo. 

Nikko's main attraction is the historic shrines and temples hidden within the forested paths just outside of town and sitting alongside Nikkō National Park. 

Wear layers if you visit Nikko in the Spring. It can get quite chilly in the mountains. Because of Nikko's elevation (1437 meters above sea level), you may even see a bit of residual snow on the ground in April. 

Read on for a one day Nikko day trip itinerary that covers the traditional sites as well as the more modern parts of Nikko town.

Nikko Day Trip: Three wise monkeys see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Getting from Tokyo to Nikko

You may be asking yourself: is Nikko worth visiting and how do I get there? Take the Shinkansen high speed rail from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya (about 50 minutes) and then catch the historic, albeit slower, JR Nikko line (45 minutes) to arrive in Nikko in time for lunch. 

Spend five to six hours exploring Nikko on foot before reversing your route to return from Nikko to Tokyo in time for dinner.

Walk Instead of Taking the Bus

You can take a bus from Nikko Station to the bridge leading to the UNESCO Heritage temples and shrines but this bypasses the sights of Nikko city itself. I suggest walking from the train station in Nikko to the temples. 

Find a place for lunch and check out places you might like to stop later after exploring the more historic areas of Nikko. In about 20 minutes you can walk between Nikko Station and Shinkyo Bridge.  

Yakitori Set Lunch

On our leisurely walk from the train station to the more historic parts of Nikko we decided to stop for lunch at Irohaya Nikko situated at about the halfway point on our walk between Nikko Station and Nikko's temple and shrine complex. 

The restaurant is small and features a large communal table. We opted for the Yakitori set lunch which came with 3 kinds of chicken skewers served over rice. 

Irohaya Nikko also serves some bottles of Japanese craft beer (although the artisanal beers are pricey so you may want to stick with the free hot tea especially on a cold Spring day in Nikko).

Nikko Day Trip: Yakitori lunch at Irohaya Nikko

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Wondering what to eat on your trip to Japan? We've got you covered with this helpful blog post.

Explore the Shrines of Nikko's UNESCO Heritage Site

We resumed our walk post-lunch and soon arrived at Shinkyo Bridge. You'll see a big carved stone just past the Shinkyo Bridge marking the entrance to Nikko's UNESCO heritage site and highlighting the set of stairs you'll need to take.
Nikko Day trip from Tokyo: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Climb the steep sets of stairs and continue uphill through the quiet forested area until you reach the carpark associated with Nikko's temple complex. The carpark itself isn't pretty but we did spy an awesome dragon fountain in Nikko sitting at the edge of the parking lot.
Nikko day trip from Tokyo: Dragon fountain

Nikkō Tōshō-gū

Nikkō Tōshō-gū is a historic Shinto Shrine and is the mausoleum of Ieyasu, the first Shogun. You can't miss it: the entrance is marked by a five story pagoda that was originally built in 1650 but then rebuilt over 150 years later in 1818. 

Take time to admire the details of the ornate and colorful carvings. One of the more popular carvings at Nikkō Tōshō-gū is the three wise monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. 

The three wise monkeys can be found adorning the sacred stable. You have another climb ahead of you at Nikkō Tōshō-gū. Steep staircases seem to blend into the hillside. 

On the top terrace you'll find a small building with a back courtyard guarded by a unicorn. There were still scattered pockets of snow on the ground when we visited Nikko in April, particularly on the higher terraces.
Nikko Day Trip:  three wise monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil

Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin

Tokyo to Nikko day trip: Guardian statue at Taiyuin Temple
Taiyuin Temple is not quite as flashy as Nikkō Tōshō-gū but was actually built using the original shrine as a model. Ieyasu's grandson, Iemitsu, is buried at Taiyuin. 

Keep an eye out for the intimidating guardians of the temple as you pass through the different gates. The architectural details are what make Taiyuinbyo Shrine and mausoleum so special.


You may be tempted to stop at Rinnō-ji upon arrival at the Nikko temple complex. Don't get distracted though. Saved Rinnō-ji for the end and only if you have time. 

Dating back to the 8th century, it has been argued that Rinnō-ji is Nikko's most important temple. It's definitely worth taking a quick pass around the temple to admire the three large Buddhas. 

You have less ground to cover at Rinnō-ji than at Taiyuin or Tōshō-gū (no major staircases to climb) so I recommend going further, exploring Tōshō-gū and Taiyuin and using what energy you have left over for Rinno-ji before you return to Nikko town.

Monkey Cake at Soppo

On our way from the Nikko train station to the Nikko's UNESCO Heritage listed complex, we'd noticed a few fun looking shops. The Nikko shrines are mostly outdoors with very little opportunity to go inside and warm up (I can't emphasize this enough: bring a warm jacket and layers if you visit Nikko in the Spring). 

On our return to the Nikko train station, we stopped at adorable Soppo. We were woo'ed in the door by the custard-filled monkey cake. 

We were even more impressed when we sat down inside on a little bench to eat our treat and the staff brought us some complimentary green tea. Soppo definitely warmed my body and my heart :-) 

We are definitely glad that we walked between the train station and Nikko temples or we would have missed this experience.
Tokyo to Nikko day trip: Soppo cake and green tea

Murmur Biiru Craft Beer

We passed a tiny craft beer bar on our way to the shrines of Nikko and vowed that we would stop in on our return to the train station. Murmur Biiru Craft Beer Stand turned out to be one of the absolute highlights of our day trip from Nikko to Tokyo. 

The beer is brewed on the premises. We sampled the cinnamon brown ale and coffee stout which were respectable brews. 

We enjoyed chatting with the owner (he speaks a tiny bit of English). We even made it onto the photo wall. I love that we were able to leave a little piece of ourselves in Nikko.
Tokyo to Nikko day trip; Murmur Biiru craft beer

Marvel at an Origami Vending Machine

Vending machines in Japan are super-popular. Not only do they sell snacks, coffee, and water, but you can find vending machines selling various bespoke products. 

When we saw a "Made in Nikko" vending machine, we just had to check it out. This vending machine focused on origami and I just had to give it a try. The vending machine wasn't cheap but I got myself a coaster and 2 cute origami pieces for the equivalent of about 5 USD.

Nikko day trip itinerary: origami vending machine

Is Nikko Worth Visiting on a Day Trip from Tokyo?

Sitting on the train on the return to trip to Tokyo, I reflected on the question: "Is Nikko worth visiting on a day trip from Tokyo?" 

I've come to the conclusion that even though Tokyo to Nikko is an ambitious day trip, it is worth it. Getting there and back by riding the train with a Japan Rail Pass is an adventure in and of itself. 

By doing Tokyo to Nikko as a day trip, we avoided having to carry our heavy luggage around on the train with us so we were unencumbered as we enjoyed the train rides and transfer at Utsunomiya much more than we would have with suitcases rolling behind us. 

In addition, Nikko is small and really is a one day city in my opinion. Yes, we could have explored more temples or taken a hike in Nikko National Park. 

However, we had one week for this springtime trip to Japan which meant that we'd have to cut things short elsewhere on the itinerary if we had stayed in Nikko longer. A day trip from Tokyo to Nikko was a good trade-off. 

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for ideas of the places to see in Japan? You can start by exploring the best of Japan by train. May I suggest:
Let all your preconceived Japanese stereotypes be tested with these amazing destination ideas.

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Tokyo to Nikko Day Trip ItineraryTokyo to Nikko Day Trip Itinerary

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What is the Best Nikko Day Trip Itinerary and Is It Worth the Journey?
What is the Best Nikko Day Trip Itinerary and Is It Worth the Journey?
Take a Nikko day trip by train from Tokyo. Explore a Nikko one day itinerary. Find out if Nikko is worth visiting for a day from Tokyo Japan.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog