Looking for a day trip from Tokyo? Jean Snow recommends Nikko.If you’re looking to get out of Tokyo for a day or two -- and in this case, an overnight stay is certainly recommended, if not necessary -- then hop on the Tobu-Nikko line from Asakusa or the “Spacia” limited express (tokkyu) and head to the charming town of Nikko. Although mostly known for the Tosho-gu shrine complex -- a World Heritage site -- it’s a great break from the city with its cozy small town appeal, with some terrific trails if getting your boots dirty is more your idea of fun.
After having left the station and as you walk up the main road heading towards the Tosho-gu complex -- you could take a bus, but it’s a 15-20 minute walk that you’ll want to take -- do make a point of stopping by the recently opened Meguri Cafe. It’s a true vegan cafe run by a married couple who source all of their organic vegetables locally, and even grow some of it in their own garden. Try to make it there before 2pm for a wonderful lunch set on some days, and vegetable ramen on others.
Once you get to the end of the road, passing the red-lacquered Shin-kyo bridge to your left, just start walking up the hill to enter the vast Tosho-gu complex (you’ll pass through the Rinno-ji compound first). By far the biggest draw in the area, the main shrine was built to honour Tokugawa Ieyasu following his death, and it’s a wonder to see. Expect crowds on weekends or during holiday season, but weekdays shouldn’t be much of a problem. There’s certainly a lot to see in this sprawling complex, and you’ll be greeted at the entrance with a variety of ticket options that give you access to various parts.
Taking time to carefully take in the Tosho-gu complex can easily take up most of your afternoon if you really make a point of visiting all of the shrines and museums found inside, but if you have time, hop on one of the local buses that run along Route 120 and head to the lakeside resort of Chuzenji. Here, you can spend time in the area taking in the Chuzenji Lake or the nearby Kegon Falls. Another option is to continue on the bus to the onsen village of Yumoto -- stopping along the way when you get near the Senjogahara plateau is a good idea if you’d like to get some trekking done in the area.
When it comes to finding a good place to stay, you could go upscale and stay at the classic -- and maybe even legendary -- Nikko Kanaya Hotel, filled with old world charm (but at modern prices). For a more cozy and personal stay, try the Turtle in Nikko. Although first impressions may come as too homey, all of the rooms have been recently renovated, and the private onsen rooms (there are two of them) will let you end your day with a relaxing soak. You can also order a breakfast for the following morning -- it’s simple, but tasty. Another good option is the Turtle Inn’s newer Hotori-an annexe -- right at the start of the lovely Ganman-ga-fuchi abyss trail -- with an onsen that offers a stunning view of the Daiya river.
The first thing to do when you arrive in Nikko and start making your way up the main road that leads to the Tosho-gu complex is to stop by the town’s main tourist office- you’ll reach it after a 5-minute walk, on the left side of the road -- where you’ll be able to pick guides and maps of the area, some of them in English.