The city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, home to the impressive Toshogu Shrine and its famous evil-averse monkeys, is a popular choice for day trips from Tokyo, what with its World Heritage sites and easy train connections. But if all you’re doing is popping in for an afternoon of temple hopping, you are missing out on a lot of what Nikko has to offer. Take our advice and take a couple of days to check out what everybody else is missing.

  • Get your camp on


All of Nikko, plus bits of surrounding Gunma, Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures, is a massive national park. With all that area, there is a wealth of places to hike and camp. We recommend the Lake Chuzenji and Kinugawa areas, especially during the autumn, but bring your warm woolies, as it gets much colder than Tokyo.

  • See how the 1% lived at Tamozawa Imperial Villa


This sprawling 23,000m² property belonged to the famous Tokugawa clan before it was presented to the imperial family in 1872 as a summer retreat. It even hosted the current emperor when he was evacuated from Tokyo in 1943. Now it’s open to the public, who are free to roam many of its 106 rooms and pretend to be royalty.

  • Get a taste of old Japan in Nishi-Machi


Within walking distance of Tamozawa is the old town area known as Nishi-Machi, where many of the shops have been around for close to a century, like the sake shop pictured above with the posted phone number of 28 and the original Nikko Jingorou Senbai shop. The area is now becoming a hub for young artists and craftspeople, so expect galleries too. Don’t miss the amazing Nikko Coffee, a cafe that serves up not only a mean cup of joe, but also spectacular kakigoori made from natural ice brought in from the mountains, all in a picturesque old wooden building.

  • Channel your inner Jay Gatsby at the Old Italian Embassy

800px-Italian_embassy_villa_nikkoImage: uraomote_yamaneko

In the Meiji era, Nikko was a popular summer escape for non-Japanese living in the capital. The muckety-mucks made the area around Lake Chuzenji their especial playground and some of their villas have been preserved, including one that was used by the Italian Ambassadors. The building itself isn’t all that interesting unless you are really into architecture, but you can have a drink on the veranda overlooking the lake and ponder how to finally win Daisy.

  • Nosh on wild game at Ieyasu no Sato

dsc_7768Image: Scott Fukuyama

Foodies won’t want to miss a small mountain village called Ieyasu no Satothat’s Ieyasu Tokugawa, for you Japanese history fanswhere your lodging will cook you dinner around a traditional irori hearth. Ieyasu no Sato still maintains the matagi hunting culture of living off the land, so the cuisine includes lots of locally grown and foraged vegetables, but also freshly caught wild game like deer, boar, pheasant, bear and even salamander.

OK, those are our favorite stops in Nikko. What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

Top photo: Michael Maggs
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