Nikko Travel Guide: Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko

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  • From the world heritage shrines and temples to the Imperial Villa, we’ll show you in this travel guide the best way to spend a day exploring places to go and things to do in Nikko.

    Shinkyo Bridge 日光二荒山神社神橋 - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nikko’s beautiful scenery is reason enough to visit the area. However, there are many places to visit and things to do in Nikko as well. We’ll share our experiences with you and help you plan the best trip in this travel guide.

    Nikko Itinerary

    1. Nikko Futarasan Jinja 日光二荒山神社
    2. Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin 日光山輪王寺大猷院
    3. Nikko Toshogu 日光東照宮
    4. Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple 日光山輪王寺
    5. Shinkyo Bridge 日光二荒山神社神橋
    6. Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park 日光田母沢御用邸記念公園
    7. Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵

    The first thing to keep in mind is there will be a lot of walking in Nikko so wear comfortable shoes. The historic UNESCO Shrines and Temples of Nikko are located on a hill so our recommendation is to start Futarasan Jinja at the top of the hill and make your way down. This way it’s easier on your legs.

    You can take the Nikko World Heritage Loop bus from Nikko Station to take you to Futarasan Jinja. If your goal is to take lots of pictures without too many people in them, then start at Toshogu first and then make your way to Futarasan Jinja. Our recommendation is regardless of which one you start at, begin your day early if you are going to follow our suggested itinerary.

    Nikko Futarasan Jinja 日光二荒山神社

    Nikko Futarasan Jinja dates back to 782 and is dedicated to the mountain gods. It was established by monk Shodo Shonin who founded the nearby Rinnoji Temple and Shinkyo Bridge.

    child standing in front of Nikko Futarasan Jinja stone monument - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    entrance gate into Nikko Futarasan Jinja - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    On the shrine grounds, there are a number of smaller shrine buildings and special trees for praying and worshiping. Each of the shrines or trees for worshipping has a different purpose, from the relationship with children or between the couple to friendship.

    Nikko Futarasan Jinja husband and wife tree - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    The majority of the shrine building are all recognized as part of UNESCO World Heritage.

    world heritage shrine built in 1745 Nikko Futarasan Jinja - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    child standing in front of a long sword on display at Nikko Futarasan Jinja - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    friendship jinja at Nikko Futarasan Jinja - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    two child next to a hallowed out tree at Nikko Futarasan Jinja - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    The main shrine was under repair during our visit so we couldn’t enter.

    Futarasan Jinja main shrine under repair - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    view of the roof at Futarasan Jinja main shrine under repair - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin 日光山輪王寺大猷院

    Right next to Nikko Futarasan Jinja is Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin. It is the grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光), the third ruler of Tokugawa Shogunate. He was responsible for transforming Toshogu into a grand shrine.

    entrance gate at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Even though Taiyuin isn’t mentioned as much as Futarasan Jinja, Toshogu, or Rinnoji, it is absolutely gorgeous (Taiyuin is administered by Rinnoji). The layout of the gates and path leading to the tomb closely resemble Toshogu but not as grand or ornate. This is by design as Iemitsu wanted to pay respect to his grandfather.

    Niomon at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Niomon 仁王門
    stone lanterns on the grounds of Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Stone lanterns

    The layout of the gates and walking path are similar to Toshogu. As you head to the main shrine you’ll go further and further up the hill.

    children standing in front of Nitenmon at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nitenmon Gate 二天門
    the view from the top of the shrine at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    View from the top of the shrine

    The gates are not as elaborate as Toshogu’s but nonetheless still breathtaking and amazing works of art.

    Yashamon at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Yashamon 夜叉門
    gate to the main shrine at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Gate to the main shrine
    main shrine in gold and red at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Main Shrine 本殿

    Unlike Toshogu, visitors are not allowed to view the actual grave area behind Koukamon Gate.

    Koukamon gate at Nikkosanrinnoji Taiyuin - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Koukamon Gate 皇嘉門

    Nikko Toshogu Shrine 日光東照宮

    We did a detailed write up on Toshogu Shrine so please check it out here. When visiting Nikko, expect the most crowds at Toshogu.

    Nikko Toshogu Yomeimon - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple 日光山輪王寺

    As you stroll down the hill, head into the Rinnoji Temple. It was founded by the same monk (Shodo Shonin) who founded Futarasan Jinja. The main shrine is currently under repair until 2021 but visitors can still head inside to view the three giant Buddha statues. Each one is over 8 meters (25 feet tall) representing the three mountain gods. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the temples so we can’t share them here.

    Sourinto 相輪塔 Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sourinto 相輪塔

    Nikkozan Rinnoji - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nikkozan Rinnoji under repair - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nikkozan Rinnoji under repair

    Shinkyo Bridge 日光二荒山神社神橋

    Continue to head down the hill and walk to Shinkyo Bridge. The beautiful vermillion bridge crossing Daiya River is considered one of the most beautiful in Japan. The original build date of the bridge is unknown but a major renovation happened in 1636 by Tokugawa Iemitsu (the same shogun laid to rest in Taiyuin).

    Shinkyo Bridge - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Shinkyo Bridge

    The legend has it that monk Shodo Shonin came to Nikko to teach Buddism but was unable to cross the river. He prayed for divine help and a god appeared on the other side of the river. God threw two snakes which turned into the bridge for Shodo to cross. The bridge was washed out by a flood in 1902 but rebuilt 2 years later with the same method and materials. For a fee, visitors are allowed to cross the bridge and back.

    family standing in front of Shinkyo Bridge - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Shinkyoan Soba Shop 神橋庵

    By now you’re probably getting hungry from walking around. For lunch, we had duck soba noodles at Shinkyoan right next to the bridge. It was quite tasty and in addition to duck soba they also have yuba soba, ramen, and tempura.

    Duck soba noodles at Shinkyoan Soba Shop 神橋庵 - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Duck soba noodles

    Kanaya Hotel Bakery

    If you just want to grab some pastry and continue exploring Nikko, the historic Kanaya Hotel Bakery is just off to the right of Shinkyoan soba noodle shop. They are known for their pastry and Royal Bread. We tried some of their pastry as a snack and they were delicious.

    Kanaya Hotel Bakery - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kanaya Hotel Bakery
    Kanaya Hotel Bakery Royal Bread - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kanaya Hotel Bakery Royal Bread

    Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa 日光田母沢御用邸記念公園

    Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park 日光田母沢御用邸記念公園 - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park 日光田母沢御用邸記念公園

    Hop back on the World Heritage Bus at Shinkyo Bridge and get off at Tobukanko Center Zen Bus Stop. Continue walking west for about 5 minutes and you will arrive at Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa. The large villa was constructed in 1899 for Emperor Taisho as a retreat and used by the Imperial family until 1947.

    children looking into the garden of Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Plan to spend a bit of time here as there are over 106 rooms in the villa. However, it’s easy to self-guide through the various rooms and exhibits.

    Imperial Family crest on wood beam at Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Imperial Family crest
    exhibits on how the villa was utilized by the Imperial Family at Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Exhibits inside the villa

    Japanese art panel on display at Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

     

    one of the rooms inside the villa with table and chair Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    looking through a circle window into the garden at Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵

    One of the places in Nikko we visited off the beaten path was the Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the stone jizo statues. It about a 15 min walk from the villa but it’s worth it as you can see beautiful scenery and 80 jizo statues by the river bank.

    Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵- Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵

    family in front of jizo statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵- Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Jizo statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵- Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Jizo statues

    beautiful moss and trees near Kanmangafuchi Abyss 憾満ヶ淵- Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nikko Castella 日光カステラ

    As it’s getting late in the day, stop by Nikko Castella to pick up some tasty treats. Among all the castella shops we’ve tried in Japan the quality and taste of Nikko Castella is among the best. Stop by to pick up some souvenirs for the trip or bring some back for friends.

    Nikko Castella - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Nikko Castella 日光カステラ
    Honey castella with gold flakes at Nikko Castella - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Honey castella with gold flakes

    Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa 奥の院 ほてるとく川

    After a long day, it’s time to rest the legs and relax in the onsen. We stayed at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa and highly recommend the hotel based on our experience.

    Exterior of Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa

    When we first arrived, we were a bit concerned since the front of the hotel didn’t look like a ryokan and had an industrial feel.  Guests also had to walk up steps to enter. To be honest, compared to other ryokans we’ve stayed at the exterior wasn’t welcoming.

    Garden at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Garden at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa

    However, as soon as we enter we could see that the interior of the hotel was beautiful and updated. The lush garden was well-manicured and relaxing to look at. While guests are checking-in, the hotel also invites them to sit in the lounge for a complimentary drink while waiting.

    inside the room at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    For those of you who aren’t comfortable bathing nude in public onsen, many of the rooms at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa have their own private onsen on the outdoor deck. The room we had was surprisingly large and spacious, with a dining table and four chairs (our only time to see one), a Japanese sitting room area, a western sofa seating area with a massage chair, and an outdoor deck.

    Private onsen on balcony at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Private onsen tub on the balcony

    You can order room service sake to sip on while soaking in the private onsen tub. The deck in the back looks out onto the garden with greens and flowers.

    Sake set floating on top of onsen tub at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sake set

    The meals at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa were served in a dining room and the quality of both dinner and breakfast were both high. Dinner was kaiseki ryori and breakfast was Japanese style. We loved our stay and the hotel was better than we had expected in every way.

    Sashimi dish at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sashimi dish

    appetizers at Okunoin Hotel Tokugawa - Places to Visit and Things to do in Nikko | www.justonecookbook.com

    Helpful Links for Visiting Nikko

    Thank you for reading our recommended itinerary for visiting Nikko. It is a beautiful place to visit surrounded by rich green forest and makes one feel at peace when they’re there. We’ll see you soon in the next post at Kegon Falls. Here are some helpful links for visiting Nikko.

    1. Visit Tochigi
    2. Niko Kinugawa Travel Guide
    3. Tobu Sightseeing Bus Map

    Nikko Travel Guide

    1. Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura 日光江戸村
    2. Kinugawa Onsen 鬼怒川温泉
    3. Tobu World Square 東武ワールドスクウェア
    4. Nikko Tosho-gu 日光東照宮
    5. Places to visit in Nikko 日光
    6. Kegon Falls 華厳の滝
    7. Lake Chuzenji 中禅寺湖
    8. Oya History Museum 大谷資料館

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