Enjoy the Charms of Nikko in One Day! A Day-Trip Plan With Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Yuba Cuisine, and More

Located in northwestern Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is a popular tourist destination easily accessible in under two hours from Asakusa, Tokyo. Surrounded by mountains, the city offers beautiful landscapes, a majestic World Heritage Site, and delicious yuba (tofu skin) dishes. With all these attractions, it’s no wonder that tourists from all over are flocking to Nikko. For this special edition of our Area of Japan series, we visited Nikko in late autumn, touring historical sites such as Nikko Toshogu Shrine and the Shinkyo Bridge, eating food recommended by the locals, and enjoying the area’s charming autumn scenery. We hope that the details of our one-day excursion will help you plan your own trip to Nikko.

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy through them, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Feel the Breath of History in the Heart of Nature at Tochigi Prefecture’s Nikko City

Nikko is located north of Tokyo and bordered by Gunma Prefecture to the west and Fukushima Prefecture to the north. The scenery of the city is varied, ranging from flatlands 200 meters above sea level to mountainous areas in Nikko National Park reaching up 2,000 meters into the sky. The city is also known for its hot spring resorts.

Another highlight of Nikko is its historical heritage. Ever since the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo shogunate that reigned over Japan for over 250 years, was moved here in the 17th century, Nikko has become a sacred place to the Tokugawa family and an important center of their authority. Today, Nikko is known to travelers from all over the world as a popular tourist destination with beautiful natural scenery and a rich historical heritage.

Getting to Nikko from Tokyo

Nikko can be reached from Tokyo via the bullet train or Tobu Railway express trains in under two hours.

[Tobu Railways]

Limited Express SPACIA

Asakusa Station to Tobu Nikko Station: From 3,050 yen / Takes 1 hour and 50 minutes

Kita-Senju Station to Tobu Nikko Station: From 3,050 yen / Takes 1 hour and 50 minutes

Limited Express SPACIA X

Asakusa Station to Tobu Nikko Station: From 3,340 yen / Takes 1 hour and 50 minutes.
*Price differs depending on where you get on, what kind of train car you take, and type of seat.

The new SPACIA X limited express, which started in the summer of 2023, is a sightseeing train connecting Asakusa, Tokyo, with Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen. It has been specially designed to capture the unique beauty of Nikko. The cars’ noble white color, for example, is reminiscent of the gohun pigment used on the pillars of the Yomeimon Gate of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, making them look like porcelain. The design of the train, from the train car to the windows and even the seats, exudes pure luxury, creating a fusion of modern and traditional Japanese elements.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the train is its cafe offering unique drinks such as Nikko lager beer, sake, and blended coffee. The train also serves snacks made from smoked local Asano pork or Nikko-brand Itadakimasu trout, and sweets such as sake lees and cheese gelato, sake lees butter sandwiches, and yokan, a traditional Japanese confection. All are guaranteed to enhance your trip to the picturesque paradise that is Nikko.

SPACIA X has become very popular because it allows travelers to immerse themselves in Nikko's culture from the moment they board the train. Tickets for the limited express sell out quickly, so early reservations are recommended.

*SPACIA X Website: https://www.tobu.co.jp/spaciax/en/

Limited Express SPACIA Nikko

Shinjuku Station to Tobu Nikko Station: From 4,090 yen / Takes about 2 hours


JR Tohoku Shinkansen + JR Nikko Line

Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya Station (change to the Nikko Line here) to Nikko Station: From 5,480 yen / Takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes. It’s a 3-minute walk from Nikko Station to Tobu Nikko Station.


When traveling by bullet train instead of the SPACIA X, take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya Station and transfer to the Nikko Line, getting off at Nikko Station. The whole trip takes about two hours.

Save Money with the JR TOKYO Wide Pass! (Available Only to Foreign Tourists)

We recommend that you get JR East Railways’ JR TOKYO Wide Pass to score a great deal for traveling around the Kanto area. With this pass, you can ride the shinkansen and JR trains as many times as you want within a specified Kanto area for three consecutive days.

For example, with the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya, then change trains and get off at Nikko Station like we mentioned earlier. If you have some time to spare, you could take a one-day or overnight trip to Nikko and then visit other tourist destinations around Kanto.

Recommended Local Buses for Getting Around Nikko

Nikko has a well-developed sightseeing bus system with a total of four lines. All of them depart from JR Tobu Nikko Station, and besides a route centered around World Heritage Sites, there are also lines to Chuzenji Onsen and Yumoto Onsen, Kirifuri Falls and the Kirifuri Plateau, Kinugawa Onsen, and other destinations.

All of the buses leave every 20 minutes or so, heading to famous tourist spots such as Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Lake Chuzenji. You can, of course, get off at any of the stops along the way.

Nikko also offers Free Pass tickets that allow unlimited bus rides within a specified time period. Also available are set tickets that can be used on trains and buses which can make your trip a whole lot easier.

However, please note that during the autumn foliage season in October and November, when tourists flock to Nikko to view its beautiful, colorful leaves, traffic jams and delays are common.

If you’re planning to visit Nikko during the fall foliage season, we recommend that you plan your itinerary carefully and well in advance. If you’re driving, be prepared for heavy traffic, lack of parking space, and other potential problems.

Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Nikko Autumn Day-Trip Plan: Enjoy Autumn Leaves and Gourmet Food!

Nikko is a popular tourist destination that attracts visitors all year round, but the autumn foliage season is when the city is the most crowded. If you want your autumn trip there to go as smoothly as possible, here are some of our editorial staff's recommended sightseeing spots and restaurants and ways to get there:


Akechidaira Ropeway and Lookout: Panoramic Views of Lakes and Mountains

To reach the Akechidaira Lookout, the first stop on my Nikko trip, I got on a bus at Tobu Nikko Station bound for Chuzenji Onsen (Yumoto Onsen also works) and rode it for 40 minutes. I got off at the Akechidaira bus stop. It was a 3-minute walk from there.

Nikko is surrounded by high and majestic mountains. The Akechidaira Lookout, located 1,473 meters above sea level, is the highest point on Nikko’s second Iroha slope, making it the best place to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. With a large parking lot nearby, plenty of tourists come here to take a break and enjoy the spectacular vistas from the observation deck.

The ropeway ride from Akechidaira Station to the observatory takes about three minutes, allowing you to enjoy the landscape of Nikko spreading in front of your eyes like illustrations from an ancient scroll. To the northwest, you can spot Lake Chuzenji, the Kegon Falls, Mt. Nantai, and other famous Nikko landmarks. To the east, you can see the towering cliff known as Byobu-Iwa (Folding Screen Rock) and a chain of mountains in the distance. I visited the area at the end of autumn and was treated to the sight of trees sporting leaves of various shades of red, yellow, and brown between the mountain views. The lookout offers beautiful panoramic landscapes that change with the seasons, giving visitors something different throughout the year.

Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji: Famous Nikko Attractions That Are Just a Walk Away

Leaving the Akechidaira Lookout, I took the bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen and got off at the Chuzenji Onsen Bus Terminal. From there, I headed towards Nikko’s most famous natural wonders: Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji.

Due to Nikko’s unique topography, there are 48 waterfalls in the surrounding area, the most famous of which is Kegon Falls. The water from Lake Chuzenji cascades down a sheer cliff about 97 meters high and combines with the mist rising from between the rocks to create a truly spectacular sight. Together with Nachi Falls in Wakayama Prefecture and Fukuroda Falls in Ibaraki Prefecture, Kegon Falls is one of the three most famous waterfalls in Japan, and arguably the most famous among the three.

There are two viewing platforms from which visitors can enjoy Kegon Falls. One is free and is located above the falls where you can watch the waters of Lake Chuzenji flow between the trees, while the other is a paid installation that can be reached by a special elevator from the foot of the falls. At the second location, visitors can enjoy a view of the falls cascading right in front of them, feeling the droplets splashing all around them and being surrounded by towering mountains. It’s a very powerful and unforgettable experience.

Lake Chuzenji, the source of Kegon Falls, is a mountain lake 1,268 meters above sea level and measuring 25 kilometers in diameter. Located at the entrance to Oku-Nikko (the Nikko National Park plateau area west of Nikko, stretching from Kegon Falls to Senjogahara), it was formed during an eruption of the still active Mt. Nantai 20,000 years ago. Restaurants, stores, hotels, and hiking trails have been established along the shores of Lake Chuzenji, giving visitors plenty of things to do like going on hikes or taking a sightseeing boat ride to enjoy the beautiful scenery created by the lake and mountains. In the past, the lake was a popular summer resort for foreigners, and today is home to villas that once belonged to British and Italian embassies, both of which are open to visitors.

Aburagen: Enjoy a Yuba Lunch at This 150-Year-Old Restaurant

When visiting Nikko, we recommend the local specialty for lunch: yuba, which is tofu skin made from the thin film formed while boiling soybeans for soy milk.

I decided to have lunch at Aburagen, a local restaurant with a long history. Aburagen was founded in 1859 as a confectionery and gift shop, and now sells food and local specialties such as Nikko’s unique Sansho Wakaba-ni stew and ekiben (boxed lunches usually sold at train stations). Located next to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and the Shinkyo Bridge, the Aburagen main store also has an eat-in area where you can enjoy yuba dishes for lunch. The proprietress, Ms. Ochiai, recommended the “Yuba-zukushi” assortment made from premium yuba and other Tochigi ingredients.

According to one source, yuba dates back 1,200 years to when the famous Buddhist monk Saicho brought the dish back to Kyoto from China. Later, as the monk introduced Buddhism to other parts of Japan, yuba spread around the country. Because yuba is very nutritious and rich in protein, it became an important dish for the Imperial Family, monks, and later also commoners, who made it into a Nikko specialty.

“Yuba” is written with different kanji characters in various parts of Japan. In Kyoto, it’s written as “hot water leaves” (湯葉) while Nikko uses characters for “hot water” and “waves” (湯波). Nikko and Kyoto also prepare tofu skin in their own unique ways. Kyoto yuba is made by inserting a skewer through the edge of the thin soybean film to scoop it out, whereas Nikko yuba is made by inserting a skewer into the center of the film and folding it on itself, resulting in a thicker, firmer texture.

Kyoto yuba is soft and delicate, while the Nikko variety is a little more firm. The deep-fried rolled yuba (agemaki yuba) in the photo above is a typical example of Nikko’s take on tofu skin, made by deep-frying fresh yuba while it is still half-dry. According to the proprietress, agemaki yuba is always on the table when Nikko residents celebrate the new year.

Sashimi yuba is said to be made only from the first film that forms when boiling soybeans. It has a subtle bean aroma and tastes like heaven when enjoyed with soy sauce and wasabi. Other local delicacies you can find at Aburagen include shiso seed tsukudani, simmered Tochigi beef shigure-ni, and yuba unohana made with soy pulp, all of which are unforgettable culinary adventures. Every dish is made from seasonal ingredients, so the contents vary depending on the time of year, but you can always expect a unique Nikko dining experience at Aburagen.

Nikko’s World Heritage Shrines and Temples

After lunch, I took a leisurely stroll to Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Located up in the mountains of Nikko, the shrine has become a symbol of the city and is today a registered World Cultural Heritage Site along with 103 other Nikko buildings and ruins, including Futarasan Shrine and Rinnoji Temple. The World Heritage Sites are commonly referred to as the “Shrines and Temples of Nikko.”

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Edo shogunate (1603 – 1868), is enshrined at Nikko Toshogu Shrine. One year after he passed away in 1616, the shogunate moved his coffin to Tosho Shrine (now Nikko Toshogu) in accordance with his wishes. Since then, Nikko became a sacred place for the administration of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), and many people came from far and wide to visit the site and pray for success in business, triumph, and professional accomplishments. Over the years, Nikko Toshogu Shrine became a tourist destination known all over the world.

Walking along the cedar trees lining the roads leading to the shrines and temples atop Nikko’s ancient mountains, I felt as if I went back in time. My visit to Nikko Toshogu Shrine was exhilarating thanks to its grand architecture decorated with shiny gold leaf and finely detailed carvings like the famous “Three Wise Monkeys of Nikko” representing the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” which are not to be missed.

Another highlight of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko is the vermilion Shinkyo Bridge, part of Futarasan Shrine spanning the entrance to Nikko National Park. The arched wooden structure is considered one of the most unique bridges in Japan. It was designated a National Treasure in 1944 and a National Important Cultural Property in 1950. During autumn when I visited, the bridge looked especially beautiful surrounded by all that colorful foliage and history. During certain times of the year, the bridge is illuminated, creating magnificent scenery.

Kumoizu Nikko Store: Get Homemade Original Japanese Sweets

After visiting Nikko Toshogu Shrine and the Shinkyo Bridge, it was time to go home. While leaving the bridge behind and walking slowly along the Nikko Kaido route towards Tobu Nikko Station, I stopped by a sweets store with a simple yet chic atmosphere and a large monkey flag out front.

Kumoizu specializes in wagashi - traditional Japanese confectionery - inspired by the natural beauty of the Nasu area. Located along the Nikko Kaido, the Nikko location is famous for its "soppo-yaki" cakes that are baked at the store. The soppo-yaki are monkey-shaped as an homage to the Three Wise Monkeys of Nikko Toshogu Shrine, their casual, nonchalant expression whetting your appetite.

I ordered my soppo-yaki with red bean paste. Other choices include custard and more. The outer skin of the monkey cake was crispy and thick, while the inside was full of chunky and warm sweet bean paste goodness. It’s a perfect afternoon snack, as it is quite filling but small enough to eat with one hand.

The store also offers many exclusive Nikko specialties such as the Banrai milk bun and the original Tanabikikan yokan sweet that won the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award and is inspired by the sea of clouds in Nasu. All of the sweets at Kumoizu make for great souvenirs of your trip to Nikko.


Oku-Nikko Yumoto Onsen: Day-Trip Bathing and Lodgings!

I only stayed one day in Nikko at the end of the fall foliage season, which left me wanting more. If you would like to stay a little longer and take a hot spring soak, you may want to book a night at one of the many hot spring inns in the Oku-Nikko Yumoto Onsen area. Kyukamura Nikko-Yumoto, for example, not only offers overnight stays but also day-trip bathing plans.

Nikko: A Cultural Feast Where You Can Enjoy World Heritage Sites, Yuba Dishes, and Spectacular Views

During this trip, I enjoyed the solemn but lovely scenery of Nikko in autumn, visited a World Heritage Site where one can feel the breath of history and Japanese culture, wondered at the majesty of a famous waterfall, and tasted local yuba dishes. Nikko might be known for its autumn foliage, but its nature has so much more to offer, entertaining guests with magnificent vistas all year round.

▼If you want to enjoy Nikko stress-free, consider booking a tour!

Nikko Toshogu Shrine & Kegon Waterfall One Day Tour from Tokyo

Nikko Day Tour from Ginza: Nikko Toshogu, Kegon Falls, Nikko Onsen & Edo Wonderland

Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

tsunagu Japan Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter and we'll show you the best Japan has to offer!

Subscribe Now!
Get your Japan discounts here!

About the author

Fuchi Pan
Born in Taiwan, currently living in Tokyo. Yearning for a life surrounded by handmade goods and things she loves.
  • Check out our writers’ top Japan travel ideas!

Restaurant Search

Sign up to our free newsletter to discover the best Japan has to offer.