25 Things To Experience In Nikko, Japan

Morning scenery of village surrounded with colorful autumnal trees in Kinugawa onsen area of Nikko, Japan (Kritchanut / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Chelsea Davis
by Chelsea Davis
Last updated: 6:00 AM ET, Sun January 19, 2020

Discover the Best of Nikko

For national forests, World Heritage sites, hot springs, ornate temples and shrines and more, head to Nikko, a peaceful respite from busier tourist destinations of Japan. Less than two hours away from Tokyo via Tobu Railway, a private train service that features reclining seats and a scenic ride across five prefectures, the Tobu-Nikko station is the final stop beginning at Asakusa Station. Here are 25 ways to discover the rich culture, history and nature of Nikko.

Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park

Blending traditional Edo and early Meiji Period architecture, the Tamozawa Imperial Villa is a stunning wooden building originally constructed in 1899. Formerly the summer residence and retreat of the Imperial Family, guests can visit this pristine property which includes a Japanese garden, ancient cherry tree and a stream flowing through its manicured grounds. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the 160 rooms which includes the Emperor's bedroom, dining room and family dining room.

Yuba (Tofu Skin)

You can't visit Nikko and not try its specialty: yuba. This local delicacy is made from the skin that forms on the top of soy milk when it gets heated. The film is dried and rehydrated creating a unique, chewy texture that's enjoyed in a variety of ways such as fried, fermented or fresh. Yuba is made from the famous Nikko natural springs and is a known favorite food of monks who live on strict vegetarian diets. Head to the charming family-run shop, Shizen Saryo Meguri, for authentic yuba.


Nikko soba is a type of buckwheat noodle that this area is known for. This local specialty is served at Takumian, a specialty restaurant that offers soba noodles using three types of local buckwheat flour, Nikko's aforementioned famous natural hot springs water and no preservatives. Nikko is one of the best places to try soba noodles given that it produces high-quality buckwheat seeds thanks to its natural spring water and climate. There's over 100 soba noodle spots in Nikko, but this is one of the best!

Nikko Toshogu Shrine

This shine is known to be the most ornately decorated shrine in all of Japan. Toshogu Shine is the resting place of the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled Japan for over 250 years. The shine complex is home to over a dozen buildings within a dense forest. Each is decorated with endless wooden carvings, gold leaf accents, vibrant colors and intricate detailing. Notable buildings include a colorful five-story pagoda at the main entrance; a storehouse with the famous "see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil" monkey carving; and Yomeimon Gate, perhaps the most ornate out of all the structures here.

Nikko Kanaya Hotel

For a stay that incorporates both Japanese and Western culture, check-in at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel, Japan's oldest resort and first hotel in Nikko. First opened in 1873, it has accommodated many notable people throughout its history including Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller. In addition to its formal restaurant, it also has BAR DACITE, a cozy bar that features over 200 types of single malt whiskey.


This special restaurant specializes in shojin, a vegetarian and vegan cuisine eaten by traditional Buddhist monks that utilizes seasonal vegetables and tofu prepared in a variety of ways. Shojin ryori takes into account harmony with nature in its ingredients and preparation. Monks consider this meat-free diet as one that furthers their spiritual practice. For everyone else, it's a unique, cultural dining experience, in addition to being healthy and tasty. This is the only restaurant in Nikko that features the traditional cooking method of "Shijo Shinryu."

Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel

Located right by the scenic Lake Chuzenji, this hotel features modern, western-style rooms in addition to special amenities that include an incredibly relaxing all nature outdoor onsen, as well as an indoor onsen. The property features an art space, complimentary tea and coffee and a fireplace lounge to relax in. The dining room offers guests unobstructed views of the lake, along with fine dining and traditional Japanese breakfast in the am.

Tobu Chuzenji Cruise

This scenic lake is located at the base of Mount Nantai, Nikko's volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley thus creating the lake about 20,000 years ago. This lake is particularly beautiful in the fall due to the vibrant foliage that surrounds its shores. Jump aboard the new pleasure boat, the Tobu Chuzenji Cruise, which launches from Funenoeki and goes to Shoubugahama and Tachiki Kannon, before returning back. It offers a 55-minute tour of the lake and gives guests great photo opportunities from its outdoor decks.

British Embassy and Italian Embassy

To enjoy views of Lake Chuzenji, stop by both the British and Italian Embassies, located within walking distance from one another. From the mid-Meiji period to the early Showa period, this area received an influx of foreign visitors who came to vacation on the lake. Visitors can learn about the history and culture of these summer resorts and their ambassadors.

Ryuzu Falls

Ryuzu Waterfalls translates in to "dragon head waterfall" due to the fact that its shape resembles a dragon's head. This waterfall can be found on the Yukawa River before it pours into Lake Chuzenji. The twin falls run down 210 meters over slopes of cooled lava that originated from the eruption of Nantaisan.

Cedar Avenue

This special street in Nikko is lined with about 13,000 (originally 200,000 were planted) Cedar trees and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest tree-lined avenue in the world. Matsudaira Masatsuna, a feudal lord serving Tokugawa Ieyasu, donated these trees to Nikko 400 years ago. This unique 37-kilometer trail smells incredible and is a sight to see for those who love the outdoors. Cedar Avenue leads to the Toshogu Shrine and is designated as a Special Historic Site and a Special Natural Monument in Japan.

Odashirogahara Moor

This scenic marshland is about 2 kilometers in circumference, making it a perfect place to take in the natural beauty of Nikko. You can follow the wooden footpaths around the wetland of Odashirogahara to enjoy views of transient lakes, birch trees and mountainous terrain in the distance. Be on the lookout for occasional red-faced Japanese Macaque monkeys and Sika deer. Nearby are other notable, scenic wetlands that include Yunoko, Yukawa and Senjogahara.

Katayama Shuzo Brewery tour

This family-ran and owned brewery was founded in 1880 and to this day uses traditional sake making practices to brew its award-winning sakes. For over six generations, this family has used the centuries-old shibori pressing technique in which brewers stuff the fermented rice into cloth bags, stack them in wooden crates and use weight to slowly extract the liquid. Though it's not the quickest method, Katayama believes it produces the highest quality sake.

Kegon Waterfall

Kegon Waterfall is Nikko's most famous and beautiful of its many falls. It's almost 100 meters tall and is the only departure for the water from Lake Chuzenji. The waterfalls are at its most scenic during the fall when the trees are an array of orange, reds and green. In the winter the waterfall nearly freezes completely solid. Enjoy views of the falls from the Kanbakudai, or the designated observation spot.

Tobu World Square

For those who love history, make a stop at Tobu World Square, a theme park that features over 100 1:25 scale mini-replicas of the world's most famous buildings, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can explore the whole world (so to speak!) in a few hours. Each replica is complete with detailed scenery such as trees, transportation structures and over 140,000 mini people. From the pyramids to Big Ben, every mini-structure is more than impressive.

Edo Wonderland

Ever want to dress up like a samurai or Japanese princess? How about learn how to throw ninja stars, shoot a bow and arrow or put on traditional geisha make up? If the answer is yes, head to Edo Wonderland, a cultural theme park that recreates life as it was back in the Edo Period. History buffs will love learning all about the 17th century in Japan in costume through activities, shows and demonstrations.

Akechidaira Plateau

The Akechidaira Plateau is situated at the top of the Irohazaka Winding Road. Here you can take in panoramic views of the Irohazaka and surrounding valley. Jump on the Akechidaira Ropeway to soak in even more scenic views just up the mountain of both Kegon Waterfall and Lake Chuzenjiko. If the weather permits, visitors can also take a two-hour hike from Lake Chuzenjiko to this observation deck.

Yudaki Falls

This waterfall is 70-meters-high and 110-meters-long. Situated on the southern part of Yunoko Lake, it's a popular waterfall known for its breathtaking beauty. For the best view, go to the viewing platform which gives visitors a great angle to take in the power of the falls. While visitors can get up close to the gushing waters, they can also view it from the nearby café.

Yumoto Onsen

This hot spring resort is located within the Nikko National Park in a small town in Okunikko. Those dreaming about soaking and relaxing in some of Japan's nicest hot springs don't need to look any further. Situated next to Lake Yunoko and surrounded by tranquil beauty, there are several ryokans with hot spring baths. These are known to make your skin smooth and supple. People also say the water alleviates nerve pain and fatigue.

Nikko Futarasan Shrine

This shrine was founded in 782 by a Buddhist monk who also founded the nearby Rinnoji Temple. The shrine grounds include a forested garden, shrine halls, a spring, old sacred trees and views of the main hall that's located behind the offering hall. While it's not as ornate as other shrines in Nikko, Futarasan Shrine does have impressive mountains behind it which acts as the main place of worship. Next door is a grand mausoleum, Toshugu Shrine, which shouldn't be missed.

Shinkyo Bridge

This bright red bridge stands out as the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples. The bridge was originally constructed in 1636 and has since been renovated to allow visitors to walk across the bridge and back for a fee. The bridge is built over a rushing river and is surrounded by lush forestry making it a great spot for photos. The Shinkyo Bridge belongs to the Futarasan Shrine.


This marshland spans the plateau between Lake Chuzenji and Yumoto Onsen and features top notch hiking in the Nikko National Park. Fall is one of the best times to explore the marshlands when its grasses transform into a reddish yellow color. There's a nice selection of nature trails surrounded by mountains and peaceful scenery. The Senjogahara Plateau Nature Trail is a popular one that follows Yukawa River between the Yumoto Onsen and Ryuzu Waterfall.

Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple

This temple is Nikko's most important one, founded by Shodo Shonin who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century. On the grounds is the temple's main building, Sanbutsudo, which is home to gold lacquered statues of Amida and Bato-Kannon. Other points of interest include the temples treasure house, a Japanese garden and its pond.

Taiyuin Mausoleum, Rinnoji Temple

The mausoleum complex of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, features a mix of Buddist and Shinto structures. Ornate and lavishly decorated structures include the Nitenmon Gate, which is surrounded by two impressive structures, a drum tower and a belfry; the Karamon Gate, which stands in front of the prayer hall; and the main hall. Guests should step into the haiden to view the elegant décor such as the coffered ceiling, and gold lacquered pillars and walls.

Nikko Natural Science Museum

This prefectural museum features videos, models, photos, displays and more to highlight the culture, history and nature of Nikko. The top thing to see is the "Nikko-no-Shiki", or four seasons in Nikko, which is a video shown on a three-faced multi-screen. The museum is conveniently located nearby by the Kegon Waterfall and Lake Chuzenji.

From national forests to World Heritage sites to ornate temples and more, Nikko has something to offer every traveler searching for a bit of culture.

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