For the past year, a good friend and I have been talking about a trip to Nikko. She had been before and wanted to return. Unfortunately, we were unable to make that happen. However, when my mom came to visit earlier this summer, it was at the top of the list for us to explore together.
I loved Nikko and it is now one of my favorite spots in Japan. And while I also love Kyoto, I imagine Nikko is like Kyoto maybe 15 years ago before it became as popular as it is today.
Nikko is a two hour train trip from Tokyo. Easy to do in a day. But would also be a nice location for couples or girlfriends to spend a night or two.
Our day in Nikko was unbelievably (and unseasonably) cold and rainy. However, despite the cold rain, we both still really enjoyed Nikko and it would easily make a top 10 list of favorite places in Japan.
All of the famous temples in Nikko are part of UNESCO and are conveniently located in one park. There are 15 temples within the park. Beautiful Shinkyo bridge is at the entrance of the park. Legend says the bridge was created by two snakes when the river was too rough to cross. There is a fee to cross the bridge. My mom did it and I did not. We both agreed that it probably was not worth the fee. My favorite shrine in the park was Toshoqu Shrine. While it is famous because it is dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1867, it also has the See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys. I also really appreciated the simplicity of Takino-o Shrine.
Outside of town and up the 48 curves of Irohazaka (Iroha Slope) Chuzenji Lake, Kegon Falls, Ryuzu Waterfall and some less visited shrines. There are buses from Nikko up the mountain to see the falls and town.
Know that Nikko is in the mountains, so regardless of the weather it will always be cooler than Tokyo. Nikko is most popular in the fall for its fall leaves.