Tapanese tourists travel from all over the country to visit the sacred shrines and temples of Nikko, but it has never been quite as big a draw for foreign visitors. Nikko’s close proximity to Tokyo (in relative terms), however, is one of its main selling points for those visiting Japan’s capital.
Located within Tochigi Prefecture and lying about 150km north of Tokyo, Nikko makes for a great trip from Tokyo that can be visited in just one day or as part of a multi-day excursion to the heartland of Honshu. Here’s how to get from Tokyo to Nikko:
Train from Tokyo to Nikko
Without a doubt, taking the train to Nikko offers the most alternatives and at the best prices, but it can be a slightly confusing one. Tokyo is obviously a massive city and as such, there are several possible starting points to begin your journey to Nikko, without having to navigate the city first.
There are also several different companies with which you can travel as the Japanese railways are privatized. For this particular trip, the two main routes involve either Japan Rail (JR) or the Tobu company. Finally, there are multiple end destinations within Nikko as though it is a small town it has two distinct stations – Nikko (JR) and Tobu Nikko – that are nevertheless, very close together.
Those in the west of the city may find it easiest to proceed directly from Shinjuku, Tokyo’s busiest station, using a joint venture of both the JR and Tobu companies. Limited Express trains that use both companies tracks take 2 hours between Shinjuku and Tobu-Nikko Station, at a cost of 4,000 Yen (ca. 40 USD). This train is direct which makes it perfect for anyone staying in western Tokyo; simply board one train in Shinjuku and arrive in Nikko two hours later for a reasonable fee.
For those in the east of the city, the easiest way to reach Nikko is to travel via Asakusa. One of Tokyo’s main sight-seeing districts, Asakusa is also where a major Tobu station is located. From here, you can purchase one of two different discount passes to Nikko, offered by Tobu.
The first is the Nikko ‘City Area Pass’ which is valid for two days. For 2,670 Yen (ca. 26 USD), this includes return travel between Asakusa and Tobu-Nikko, unlimited travel on the train line as far as Shin-fujiwara and unlimited bus rides within Nikko. The one-way journey takes approximately 2 hours 10 minutes, and a further 10 minutes if you wish to visit Kinugawa Onsen.
The second is the four-day long ‘All Area Pass’ which as you can imagine, grants access to the wider Nikko region outside of the city, known as Oku-Nikko. For 4,520 Yen (ca. 45 USD / between April and November) and 4,150 Yen (ca. 41 USD / between December and March), this pass gives you everything that the ‘City Area’ pass does, plus unlimited use of the bus services around Nikko. It may seem like a lot more money but if you have any plans to visit the greater Nikko area, it pays for itself.
For example, a return ticket to nearby Lake Chuzenji (the closest tourist attraction on the bus route) costs over 2,000 (ca. 20 USD) so it is definitely good value.
Bus from Tokyo to Nikko
There are few direct bus options to get from Tokyo to Nikko, but there is one option available from Haneda airport. The ‘Limousine’ bus company offers a 3 hour service to the JR Utsunomiya Train Station in Tochigi Prefecture, and from there you can transfer onto a train on the Nikko line. The bus costs 3,600 Yen (ca. 36 USD).
Tour from Tokyo to Nikko
As Nikko is becoming more and more popular, there are tour companies that provide return transportation from Tokyo as well as entrance to all the shrines within Nikko.
Best way to get from Tokyo to Nikko
Regardless of what part of Tokyo you’re staying in, the discount Tobu passes are the best way of reaching Nikko and ensuring you can get around it comfortably. Reaching Asakusa may be the most strenuous part of the journey but from here, everything is taken care of and you will arrive in Nikko in just over two hours.
The two day pass is perfect even for those who only plan on going for one day, while the four day pass is good for anyone who wants to see what else Nikko has to offer, besides its famous shrines and temples.