The 4 Best Day Trips from Tokyo

by Oct 30, 2019Japan

Looking to take a day trip from Tokyo, but don’t know where to go. Here are THE 4 best day trips to take from Tokyo: Hakone, Kamakura, Mt. Fuji, and Nikko.

All of them can be reached in 1 or 2 hours by bus or train. All will reward you with tons of unique cultural experiences, stunning natural beauty, and exciting culinary adventures. You can’t go wrong with any of these 4.

BUT if you have time for only 1 of these unforgettable destinations, which is the best one for you? Read more to find out which day trip I would do if I had time for only 1 place.

BONUS: I've created a FREE detailed PDF version of this 3-week Japan itinerary. The guide also includes step-by-step instructions for buying and using your Japan Rail Pass.

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1. Mt. Fuji: Best Day Trip in Winter

One of the most popular day trips from Tokyo is a visit to Mt. Fuji. The Japanese consider the mountain to be its most sacred volcano. After Mt. Fuji erupted several times in the late eighth to the mid-ninth century, the Japanese believed an angry god lived in the volcano. And so, shrines were built dedicated to the Goddess of Mt. Fuji, Princess of Blossoms around the mountain, and it became a popular destination for people to pray for good fortune. Today people visit the mountain more to get a photo of it from a distance or to hike up to its summit.

The best way to visit Mt. Fuji is to go to the area around the mountain called the Fuji Five Finger Lakes region. This area consists of 5 lakes: Kawaguchi-ko, Sai-ko, Shoji-ko, Motosu-ko, and Yamanaka-ko. Kawaguchi-ko is the most popular, and Yamanaka-ko is the biggest. However, all have views of Mt. Fuji from their shore, where you can see the mountain reflecting off the lake’s surface. There are a variety of tourist attractions surrounding the lakes as well.

DIY Day Trip from Tokyo

If you’re doing a day trip from Tokyo on your own, I suggest taking a train or bus to Kawaguchi-ko Station (2-3 hours; ¥1,950-2,510) and making that as your base as you explore the area.

  • The station has a great tourist information center. There are lots of signs in English. When I visited, there was actually tourism staff standing outside the station guiding people to the appropriate buses. All that I spoke to had fluent English, so communication should not be a problem.
  • Kawaguchi-ko is also THE transportation hub for the region. Many buses from Tokyo terminate at its station. The station’s buses and trains connect to the other lakes and tourist attractions in the area.
  • If you’re staying overnight, it’s got a good selection of accommodations.

Tour Group Day Trip from Tokyo

While seeing Mt. Fuji on your own is easy to do, an alternative would be to join a group or private tour.  Then you won’t have to worry about the logistics, and you’ll probably get to see more than if you do it on your own. Voyagin and GetYourGuide have a variety of tour groups for the Mt. Fuji area.

Here’s a curated list (I have not tried these tours):

  • Join a group tour through Klook for a visit to Mt. Fuji Fifth Station, a visit to Mt. Tenjo-yama for views of Mt. Fuji, all-you-can-eat fruit picking, and a chance to try a dish from the local cuisine, Hoto.
  • Another option is to do a combined Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour from Tokyo.
  • Voyagin has a 2-day group tour for climbing Mt. Fuji. Not a day trip, but still worth checking out if you really want to climb Mt. Fuji. The next time I’m in Japan, I’d definitely do this tour.

When to visit Mt. Fuji

When to visit Mt. Fuji depends on whether you can even see the mountain. If it’s covered in clouds, visit Hakone, Kamakura, or Nikko instead. They have more interesting things to do and see than the lakes region does.

  • Winter – The best time to visit Mt. Fuji is in the winter from December to February. Not only are you have the highest chance to see the whole mountain, but it will also be capped with snow, making the views even more beautiful. From December to February 2017, Mt. Fuji was completely visible at 8:00 am 70-80% of the time. 
  • Summer – It’s rare that you will be able to see Mt. Fuji from June to August. Also, you won’t see it with its beautiful cap of snow. I went in August and did see it for a few minutes at 5:00 in the morning from the roof of my hostel, but during the day it was completely covered in clouds. The mountain was completely visible around 20% of the time at 8:00 am in June and August 2017 and 6% in July.  The reason Mt. Fuji is popular in summer is that July and August are the best times to climb it, so you’ll see a lot of climbers.
  • Spring – Spring is also not a good time to do a day trip to Kawaguchi-ko. Your chances of seeing Mt. Fuji are not good. In addition, tourist attractions and hotels might be closed. It was visible 20-48% of the time at 8:00 am from March to May 2017. 
  • Fall – Your chances of seeing Mt. Fuji in September (35%) are also not the best but increases from October to November (57% visibility in 2017). 

The best chance of seeing Mt. Fuji is in the early morning (8:00 am is supposedly the best) and late afternoon (4 pm). In the afternoon, you’ll have the worst of luck.

Here are live feeds of Mt. Fuji from different popular viewpoints:

What to do in the Mt. Fuji Area

  • 5 Lakes – View Mt. Fuji from the shores of any of the 5 lakes—you can get a map of the region that indicates the best places to view Mt. Fuji.
  • Chureito Pagoda – Climb to the top of this pagoda for the most iconic view of Mt. Fuji. It’s only worth going here if it’s a clear day and you can see Mt. Fuji.
  • Climbing Mt. Fuji – This is probably impossible on a day trip as it takes 4-7 hours to ascend, another 1.5 to walk around the crater, and 2-3 to descend.
  • Fuji Fifth Station – Here you can view Mt. Fuji up close. The Fifth Station is the beginning of the most popular climbing route to the top. I didn’t do this, but many of the group tours that go here.
  • FujiQ Highland – You can visit an amusement park with views of Mt. Fuji from the top of a roller coaster.
  • Hiking – You don’t have to go to Mt. Fuji to hike. There are plenty of other mountains and hiking trails in the area that you can hike on for the day. One hiking trail, Panorama Dai, has spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. There’s also a hike you can do from the top of the Kachi Kachi Yama ropeway to Mt. Mitsutoge. The Tokai Nature Trail is a popular course with multiple views of Mt. Fuji.
  • Hoto noodles – Try the area’s specialty: Hoto (Hotou) – flat noodles served with lots of veggies in a cast-iron pot (¥1,080). There’s a restaurant across from Kawaguchi-ko station called Hotou Fudo Kawaguchi-ko Station (11 am – 7 pm) – 3631-2 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0301,
  • Mt. Tenjo-yama – Take the Kachi Kachi Yama ropeway to the top of Mt. Tenjo-yama for views of Mt. Fuji. Again, if it’s a cloudy day, skip this activity.
  • Museums – There are several museums around Lake Kawaguchi-ko: Itichiku Kubota Museum (kimonos), Kawaguchiko Muse Museum (exhibits of doll maker, Atae Yuki), Kawaguchiko Museum of Art (paintings, prints, and photos of Mt. Fuji), and Fujisan World Heritage Center (displays on Mt. Fuji).
  • Fruit –I didn’t try any fruit from the region but another traveler I met while in the area raved about the peaches. Some tours offer an all-you-can-eat fruit picking activity.
  • Rent a bike and ride around the lakes – There are places around Kawaguchi-ko station to rent a bike. You can bike around Lake Kawaguchi-ko and to Lake Saiko, Motosuko, and Shojiko.
  • Saiko Bat Cave – You can walk around in the largest lava bat cave in the region. It was formed from flowing lava from volcanic eruptions. There are 5 species of bats who make the cave their home.
  • SAIKO Iyashi no sato NENBA – This is a recreation of a village of thatch-roofed houses that once stood the area until it was destroyed by a typhoon in 1966. It’s got beautiful views of Mt. Fuji in the background when the mountain is visible. I saw a smidge of the mountain when I visited. I felt it was tourist trappy with most houses turned into souvenir shop
  • Sengan-jinja Shrine – The shrine is dedicated to Princess Blossom, the goddess of Mt. Fuji. A shrine has been built on the same spot as the present day one since 807. It’s also the starting point of the Fuji Yoshida trail leading up to Mt. Fuji. It’s not used by hikers that much anymore.

How to get to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo

By Bus: The easiest way to get to Kawaguchi-ko is by bus. You can take a bus from Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, and Tokyo Station. I left from the Shinjuku Express Bus Station (near the South Exit of Shinjuku Station). It was very easy to find the station as there were tons of signs pointing the way from the JR Station at Shinjuku.

The bus from Shinjuku Express Bus Station to the Kawaguchi-ko costs ¥1,950 (2019) and takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on what time of day you depart (rush hour) and where you get off.

You can buy your tickets online from Willer Express. The destination prefecture is Yamanashi. I bought my bus ticket when I was buying my Fuji Hakone pass from Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station.

By Direct Train: You can take the new Fuji Excursion Limited Express train from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchi-ko Station. It takes 2 hours and 10 minutes and costs ¥2,510 (2019).

By JR Train: You can take a JR train to Otsuki station (¥1,340) and then take a non-JR train to Kawaguchi-ko Station (¥1,170). It takes 2 to 2.5 hours.

Tourist Passes for Mt. Fuji

Unlimited Ride Pass: The best pass to buy for a day trip from Tokyo is the Unlimited Ride Pass. You can buy the pass at Kawaguchi-ko Station and on the Sightseeing Buses. It costs ¥1,500 for adults and ¥750 for children. The Unlimited Ride Pass will cover the Sightseeing buses (red, green, and blue) in the following areas:

  • Lake Kawaguchiko
  • Lake Saiko
  • Narusawa
  • Lake Shojiko
  • Lake Motosuko

Fuji Pass: You might want to consider the Fuji Pass (1, 2, or 3 days) that covers a number of attractions and modes transportation including (please visit Klook for the whole list):

  • free admission to the Fuji Q Amusement Park, the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway, and other attractions
  • unlimited rides on Sightseeing Buses around the area
  • discounts on other attractions

Fuji Hakone Pass: If you want to do longer than a day trip, you can buy the Fuji Hakone Pass at Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station (look for signs to Odakyu Department Store) for ¥9,090 for adults and ¥3,250 for children. It’s good for 3 days. The Fuji Hakone Pass will cover the following:

  • bus trip to Kawaguchi-ko from Shinjuku,
  • all travel around the Fuji Five Finger Lakes region,
  • travel between Mt. Fuji area and Hakone,
  • travel around the Hakone area
  • return travel from Hakone to Shinjuku Station

2. Hakone: Best day trip for art and onsens

If you’re looking for a place with lots of natural beauty, history, and culture, then Hakone is the perfect place for you.

  • Only 1.5 hours from Tokyo by train, Hakone is a beautiful area surrounded by mountains, an active volcano, a beautiful lake several small quaint towns, and a plethora of hot springs. It’s considered among the top 5 hot springs places in Japan.
  • Hakone has also had an interesting role in Japanese history. It was the last checkpoint on the Tokaido Highway before entering Edo (Tokyo) and first major checkpoint after exiting Edo. You can still see stones from the old highway and a recreation of that checkpoint.
  • Hakone is also known for its traditional inns (ryokans) with their private hot springs, some of which are over 100 years old.
  • If you’re into art, Hakone has museums showcasing internationally famous art.

If you’re interested in staying longer than a day in Hakone, check out my Hakone Itinerary 2 days post.

DIY Day Trip to Hakone

If you want to visit Hakone on your own, get a 2-Day Hakone Free Pass to cover the cost of transportation to/from Hakone and around Hakone. The transportation system is extensive. You can learn how to use it with the detailed timetable booklet that you can pick up when you get your Hakone Free Pass.

Take a group or private tour of Hakone

Another option is to join a tour group. There are a few that leave from Tokyo. Doing a tour group is understandable considering the confusion in getting there and if you’re not used to navigating bus systems, it can be overwhelming.

  • Hakone and Mt. Fuji Day Trip from Tokyo group tour: This tour includes a trip to Tokyo 5th Station, a ride on the Hakone Pirate Ship and Ropeway, and a trip to Gotemba Premium Outlets.

What to do on your day trip to Hakone

  • Hakone Checkpoint – Explore the recreation of the Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone Barrier).
  • Hakone Jinja – Visit the floating torii gate at Hakone Jinja.
  • Hot Springs – Spend a few hours at a public hot spring like Yunessun, Tenzan, Ikkyu, or Hakone Yuryo.
  • Japanese traditional inns – Stay in a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan. You’ll get a kaiseki meal in your room along with a private hot spring.
  • Lake Ashi – Take a cruise on Lake Ashi.
  • Museums – My favorite was the Hakone Open Air Museum with its fun outdoor sculpture garden and a Picasso exhibition hall. Other Hakone museums, which I haven’t visited, include the Pola Museum of Art (famous western works of art), the Lalique Museum Hakone, Hakone Museum of Art, Hakone Venetian Glass Museum, and the Little Prince Museum.
  • Owakudani – Ride a ropeway up to Owakudani, a volcano. While at the top, try the eggs that have been blackened in sulphurous water.
  • Teahouses – Visit the 300-year-old Edo era Amazake-jaya Teahouse to sip some amazake (sweet sake without alcohol) and then onto the small nearby village of Hatajuku to see how the marquetry (the craft of making things out of small pieces of various colored wood) is performed.
  • Tokaido Road – Hike along the original stone path of the old Tokaido Highway.
  • Views of Mt. Fuji – If you’re here in the winter, you might be able to see Mt. Fuji peering over Lake Aishi.

How to get to Hakone from Tokyo

By JR Train: Use your JR Pass and take a JR train from Tokyo station to Odawara. Then transfer to a non-JR train to Hakone-Yumoto.

By Non-JR Train: For those without a JR Pass, it’s cheapest to take an Odakyu train from Shinjuku Station to Odawara and then transfer to another Odakyu train to Hakone-Yumoto.

By Direct Train to Hakone: You can also splurge for a direct train to Hakone-Yumoto on the Odakyu Romance Care line from Shinjuku Station.

By Bus: There is a bus that goes from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal via the Gotemba Outlet to Hakone, but it arrives at Togendai on Lake Ashi and not to the usual Hakone-Yumoto train station. Depending on where you’re staying, this could be really convenient or extremely inconvenient.

Tourist Passes for Hakone

Hakone Freepass – The best tourist pass for a day trip from Tokyo is the Hakone Freepass. You can get a 2-day or 3-day tourist pass that covers transportation to and back from Hakone and around Hakone. It’s worth it as bus fare can add up. You can get the pass from the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station or Odawara Station.

FujiHakone Pass – For those doing longer than a day trip, check out the 3-day combination Fuji and Hakone tourist pass. You can get the pass from the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station. 

HakoneKamakura Pass – 3-day combination Hakone and Kamakura transportation pass. You can get the pass from the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station. 

3. Kamakura: A Seaside Day Trip from Tokyo

Kamakura, a small seaside city of 173,000 people, has a nice laid-back surfer vibe that makes it the perfect day trip from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Since Kamakura is only 1 hour from Tokyo, it’s also the easiest and quickest day trip to take of all 4.

  • Kamakura has also played an important part in Japanese history. The city was once the ancient capital of Japan (1182 to 1333), a period referred to as the Kamakura Period. The de facto ruler of Japan, the Shogun lived in Kamakura, while the powerless Emperor resided in Kyoto.
  • Kamakura has so many historic buildings, Zen temples, and Shinto shrines that it is sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan. I preferred the Zen temples in Kamakura to the ones in Kyoto. In Kyoto, they come across as existing solely for tourists while the ones in Kamakura appear to be functioning ones whereby people still meditate in. There were less than 10 people at the Zen temples when I visited (Monday), so the atmosphere was quiet and contemplative.

DIY Day Trip from Tokyo to Kamakura

You can easily do a day trip to Kamakura on your own by taking a train from Shinjuku or Tokyo stations. It’ll take around 1 hour. Arrange your trip for a weekday to avoid the crowds of weekend visitors.

You can get around Kamakura by bus or train. Some temples are easy to get to, while others require navigating the bus system or walking 20 to 30 minutes. The people who work at the tourist information center at the Kamakura train station are knowledgeable and helpful. They gave me better directions to my accommodations than Google Maps did, saving me a lot of time.

Join a tour group for Kamakura

Another option is to join a tour group for Kamakura. This might be a good idea if you’re short on time and are unsure of taking public transportation around the city. It’s easy to get to Kamakura, but some of the famous temples are harder to get to on your own and require taking the local buses or walking long distances. This can waste a lot of time.

You can find tours of Kamakura through Voyagin, Klook, or GetYourGuide.

  • Group tour of Kamakura: A visit to the Great Buddha, several temples throughout the city and the island Enoshima.

When to visit Kamakura

From my visit, it seemed that Kamakura was more popular with Japanese than foreign tourists, so my advice is that in order to avoid crowds, visit on the weekday when the Japanese are working rather than the weekend.

Leave early in the morning at 7:00ish to beat the crowds and tour buses.

The best seasons are spring and fall. Summers are brutally hot. But in August there are fireworks and other festivals going on. When I was there in August, I got to participate in a lantern festival at the Hase-dera temple.

What to do in Kamakura

  • Great Buddha Statue (Daibutsu) – This is the #1 must-see in Kamakura. It makes for a very quick stop, too, as the statue is the only thing to really see.
  • Daibutsu Hiking Course – You can also do the 2.2 kilometer Daibutsu Hiking Course. It’s a hiking trail that leads from Daibutsu to the temples around Engaku-ji. While on the way, visit the Zeniarai Benten cave-shrine to wash your money for good fortune. I did just half the course from Daibutsu to Zeniarai Benten. I would have done the whole course, but this Japanese guy and I couldn’t find how to go the whole way as there were no signs once we got to Zeniarai Benten. In some places the trail is steep, but for most of the way it’s easy.
  • Enoshima island – A visit to sacred Enoshima Island is harder to do on a day-trip, but it’s possible. There’s a shrine, an aquarium, and a botanical garden on the island.
  • Food – Kamakura is on the ocean, so it makes for a great place to try seafood. Try the restaurant, Teishoku-ya shamoji (定食屋しゃもじ), near Hase-dera Temple. It’s a small restaurant popular with locals. It’s got English menus and a super friendly staff who speak pretty good English. They play good music with an awesome sound system. I ate there twice and the second time they gave me a free side dish. Try the seafood donburi bowls or the mackerel set meal for only ¥1,000. It’s not touristy at all!
  • Kamakura’s Temples. My favorites were Kencho-ji, Engaku-ji, Tokei-ji, and Hase-dera. If you have only time for one, visit Kencho-ji or Engaku-ji. Hase-dera is within walking distance of the Big Buddha statue. Sugimoto-ji is a small, interesting temple as well; Hokoku-ji with its bamboo forest was a disappointment;
  • Komachi-dori and Wakamiya-oji – Walk along the pedestrian only Komachi-dori and down Wakamiya-oji, the grand street that goes from the ocean to the entrance of Hacheman-gu. There’s a pedestrian only lane that divides the street into 2 lanes.
  • Tsurugaoka Hacheman-gu – Sitting right in the center of town near the train station, Hacheman-gu is the ruling Minamoto clan’s shrine. Not my favorite place in Kamakura, but it’s so close to the station and such an important historic site that it’s a must-see.

How to get to Kamakura from Tokyo

By Train from Tokyo Station: You can get a JR train from Tokyo Station directly to Kamakura. Check Hyperdia. The train takes around 55 minutes and costs around ¥910. Check Hyperdia for times. 

By Train from Shinjuku Station: You can get the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line for Zushi from Shinjuku station directly to Kamakura Station. It takes about 1 hour and costs ¥940. There are other lines that will get you to Kamakura but require transferring in Yokohama, Ofuna, or Totsuka. Check Hyperdia for times.

Tourist Passes for Kamakura

Kamakura Free Kankyo Tegata1-day pass to ride as much as you like on 5 bus and train lines that pass by the city’s major tourist attractions –You can get the pass at the tourist information center at Kamakura Station. ¥550 for adults and ¥280 for children; I think this is a good deal for a day trip from Tokyo.

Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass – ¥1,520 for adults; ¥770 for children; the Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass includes the following:

  • RT ticket on Odakyu line from Shinjuku Station to Fujisawa Station and unlimited rides on the Odakyu and Enoden train lines;
  • Getting this pass means you won’t be taking a direct train to Kamakura. To get to Kamakura, you’ll need to transfer from the Odakyu line to the Enoden line at Fujisawa Station.

Hakone-Kamakura Pass – If you’re doing longer than a day trip from Tokyo, there’s the 3-day all-you-can-ride transportation pass for Hakone, Kamakura, and Enoshima. ¥7,000 for adults and ¥2.250 for children. For more info on the pass, visit Odakyu Sightseeing Service. You can also buy your Hakone-Kamakura pass online here. 

4. Nikko: Best Overall Day Trip

Nikko is my favorite day trip from Tokyo. It’s got a great history, beautiful architecture, and lots of natural beauty (waterfalls!)

  • The first Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu Tokugawa’s, remains and his grandson’s bodies are buried here in a stunningly beautiful and intricately-designed set of buildings: Toshogu Shrine and Taiyuin Temple. Since Nikko escaped American bombing during World War II, the buildings you see are the original–a rarity in Japan.
  • Nikko also has a lot of natural beauty and hot springs (onsens). 11.5 kilometers outside of Nikko is the hot spring town of Chuzen-ji Onsen with its beautiful lake, waterfalls, and mountains. Thirty minutes away from Chuzen-ji Onsen is another onsen village called Yumoto Onsen where you’ll find more waterfalls, lakes, and hiking trails.

DIY Day Trip to Nikko

If you visit on your own, buy the Nikko World Heritage Area pass (¥2,040) with the extra limited express train fare (Roundtrip – ¥2,320). The train should get you to Nikko in around 2 hours. You can use the pass for traveling by bus to and from the World Heritage sites around Nikko.

If you tour Nikko on your own, you can’t see everything, meaning both the historical buildings and the natural sights. You’ll have to do one or the other or see a few of one and a few of the other. The waterfalls and lakes are 1 hour to 1.5 hours away from Nikko by bus.

I love history and architecture, so I found the historical places to be better than the natural sights, so I’d choose to see all of them over splitting up my time between those and the waterfall and lake. My opinion is probably affected by the fact that it was rainy and foggy when I was visiting Chuzen-ji and Yumoto Onsen villages. Kegon Falls was completely covered in fog and I got caught in a downpour on my way to the other falls.

Pro Tip: The historical sites don’t have any restaurants or stores nearby and taking the local bus requires a lot of time, so pack a lunch and/or take snack food with you. In this way, you don’t need to waste time leaving the historical sites to go to a restaurant and then returning to them. What’s even more frustrating is that tourist attractions in Japan close early at 4:30 pm.

Join a Group or Private Tour to Nikko

There are several group tours of Nikko that will allow you to see some (not all) of the historical sites and a visit to one of the onsen villages to see a waterfall and lake and even visit a hot spring. You might want to do this instead to avoid the hassle of a do-it-yourself trip. It also might be the best way to get in both history and nature.

You can find tours through Klook, Voyagin, or GetYourGuide.

What to do in Nikko

  • Chuzen-ji – About 50 minutes by bus from Nikko, Chuzen-ji is an onsen village located on a lake. Near the bus station there’s a beautiful waterfall called Kegon Falls.
  • Futarasan-jinja – This Shinto shrine is right next to Toshogu and Taiyuin-byo. Built in 1619, it’s the oldest shrine in Nikko. It’s in a beautiful setting, but overall, I found the shrine to be average.
  • Hot springs – You can stay in a traditional Japanese inn with a private hot spring or you can try one of the public hot springs.
  • Kanma-ga-Fuchi Abyss – This is a little gorge with a roaring river. There’s an easy-to-walk path along the river. The highlight of the abyss, though, is a line of over 70 Jizo statues along the path. It requires a 15-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, but so worth it. Make sure to schedule time to see this atmospheric sight.
  • Kinugawa Onsen village – This is another hot spring resort village with lots of traditional Japanese inns. It’s also the location of Tobu World Square, an amusement park of miniature sized famous world buildings and Edo Wonderland, is a recreation of a seventeenth-century Edo. People are dressed up in Edo era characters like samurai and courtesans. You can wear a kimono, eat Edo era food, and try out Edo-period jobs/crafts.
  • Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa – This is the restored villa of the imperial family. It’s closed on Tuesdays, which was the day I was in Nikko.
  • Rinnon-ji – This Buddhist temple is another sight on must-see lists. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see it. Rain, early closing times, and not bringing snack foods with me along the way caused me to miss this temple.
  • Shin-kyo Bridge – This is the red bridge that will be the first sight that you see before you come to the World Heritage area. It makes for a lovely photo op.
  • Taiyuin Temple – The next must-see sight after Toshogu is Taiyuin Temple, the shrine to Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu. Just as stunningly gorgeous as Toshogu Shrine but far fewer tourists visit it.
  • Toshogu Shrine – The highlight of your day trip from Tokyo should be the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years. It is stunningly gorgeous and should not be missed. There are a lot of buildings, lots of steps to climb to his tomb, and lots and lots of tourists. Hit this one first. Get the audio guide.
  • Waterfalls – There are 3 waterfalls that you can see around Chuzenji and Yumoto Onsen area: Kegon Falls, Yutaki Falls, and Ryuzu Falls.
  • Yuba – Yuba is tofu skin, a specialty of Nikko. It’s served many different ways. One popular way is Yuba soba.
  • Yumoto Onsen village – 5 hours from Nikko is the onsen village of Yumoto Onsen located on Lake Yunoko. There are some waterfalls on the way to the village.

How to get to Nikko

By JR Train: If you have a JR Pass, you can take a Shinkansen JR train from Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya and then transfer to an ordinary JR train to Nikko. Cost without JR Pass: ¥5,680 one way. It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

By Non-JR Train: You can also take a Tobu limited express train from Asakusa to Tobu-Nikko. Some trains go directly to Tobu-Nikko Station, while other trains stop at Shimo-Imachi, where you’ll need to transfer to another train. The cost is around ¥2,860 one way and takes around 110 minutes.

By Bus: You can take a bus from Tokyo Station to Tobu Nikko Station. The cost is ¥2,500 and takes about 3 hours. Go to the Willer Bus website and enter “Tochigi prefecture” as your destination.

Tourist Passes for Nikko

Tobu Nikko Pass World Heritage Area (2 days) – The best tourist pass for a day trip from Tokyo is the Tobu Nikko Pass World Heritage Area. The pass covers train travel from Tokyo to Nikko and local buses around Nikko (but not those to Chuzen-ji or Yumoto Onsen). You can depart from Asakusa Tobu Station or Tokyo Skytree.

  • For adults, it’s ¥2,040 for the pass plus ¥2,320 for round-trip limited express train tickets for a total of ¥4,360.
  • For children, it’s ¥600 for the pass plus ¥1,160 for the limited express train tickets for a total of ¥1,760.

Tobu Nikko Pass All Area (4 days) – The Tobu Nikko All Area pass covers train travel from Tokyo to Nikko and local buses around Nikko, Yumoto Onsen, Chuzen-ji Onsen, and Kinugawa Onsen areas. You can depart from Asakusa Tobu Station or Tokyo Skytree Station. Buy the pass and express train tickets from the Tobu Tourist Information Center at Asakusa Station. The pass costs ¥4,600 plus ¥2,320 for the limited express train tickets for a total of ¥6,840.

  • If you spend the extra money for the limited express tickets, the trip from Tokyo to Nikko should take around 2 hours. If you don’t pay extra for the limited express tickets, you’ll need to take express trains or local trains, and this requires changing many times and spending more time on the train. I bought a limited express fare ticket when I did the trip.
  • Bus Passes – You can also buy an unlimited ride bus pass for the day from the Tobu-Nikko Tourist Center at Tobu-Nikko Station or the JR Nikko Station Ticket Office. You can get a bus pass for just the World Heritage Sites for ¥500.

Conclusion- Which one is the best?

So, there you have it: 4 great day trips from Tokyo. If you only have time for 1 trip, which should you choose? That’s a hard question. All are great. Here’s my opinion:

If it were December through February, I’d choose Mt. Fuji just because I’d always wanted to see the mountain. However, to be honest, it’s better to stay overnight so you can be there at 8:00 am when you have the greatest chance to see it.

If it were other times of the year, I’d choose Nikko first and Hakone a close second. Nikko for its history and natural beauty and Hakone for its art and onsens.

However, out of all 4, I had the best time in Kamakura. I found a welcoming local restaurant with great food and met lots of Japanese people. And I just really liked the laid back vibe of Kamakura.

Of course, we’re all different, so here’s a breakdown of which places suit which interests. 

  • Natural beauty and outdoors: Fuji, Hakone, and Nikko
  • History: Hakone (Tokaido Highway), Kamakura (ancient Japanese capital), and Nikko (where the first Tokugawa Shogun is buried)
  • Art: Hakone (museums)
  • Architecture: Kamakura (Zen temples) and Nikko (shrines)
  • Hot springs: Hakone and Nikko
  • Food: Fuji (Hoto noodles-flat thick noodles with lots of veggies), Kamakura (seafood donburi—a bowl of rice topped with raw fish), and Nikko (yuba – tofu skins)

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section if you’ve been to any of these places. If you haven’t, I’d be happy to answer your questions

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Mt. Fuji with pagoda
a row of Japanese statues wearing a red cap and bib

6 Comments

  1. I didn’t realise that actually seeing the volcano was such an unpredictable thing. A dose of luck very much needed then given that I’d love to go either for the Japanese blossom or the autumn colours. Still you can have it all. Another great post to save for my bucket list trip.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s very unpredictable. I was able to see the mountain fully at 5:00 am until about 5:45 am and then it was nearly completely covered for the rest of the day.

      Reply
  2. Japan is so beautiful and love your photos! I would find it very difficult to choose one place for a day trip.

    Reply
    • I agree. They’re all great places. But if Mt. Fuji isn’t going to be visible, I’d say don’t go. T

      Reply
  3. Thanks for a great article 🙂

    I really love your iamges by the way, you have a great eye for composing images!

    Reply
    • Thank you!

      Reply

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history, heritage, and culture. Fun facts about me: I’m from a town so small that if you blink, you might miss it. I once owned my own language school in China.

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