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The mystical region of Nikkō sits high in the mountains of North Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture and is known for its gentle spirituality and spectacular scenery. In its treasured national park there are waterfalls cascading from the cedar forest slopes and hiking trails weaved around picturesque lakes. Explore the opulent shrines and ancient temples before relaxing in one of the many onsen hot springs. Over steaming bowls of noodles paired with the native delicacy of yuba (soy milk skin), foodies will discover why Nikkō is nicknamed ‘the town of soba’.
Nikkō hostels give a taste of traditional Japanese life. You can sleep in a typical tatami room with a futon bed or choose a lodge where travellers mingle over authentic Zen meals washed down with saké (alcohol made from rice) and locally brewed beer. Pick a Nikkō hostel that’s right on the river and you’ll find snorkelling kits and floating tubes for fun in the water. Most hostels have free Wi-Fi and include both private rooms and standard dorms. One capsule-style hostel is even female only.
Japan’s Romantic Road runs through the centre of Nikkō, where you can admire the 200-year-old cherry blossom trees and pick up traditional Japanese manju sweets. From the Tobu Nikkō Station, a 30-minute walk or short bus ride up the main street will take you to the gardens, stairways and dazzling gates of the city's main sights. The Yumoto Onsen is west of Nikkō and home to hot sulphur bathing springs on the edge of Lake Yunoko.
Nikkō’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of sacred temples is one for the bucket list. Within this trove of 103 ancient structures there's the Buddhist Rinnoji Temple, the ornate Toshogu Shrine and the Futarasan Shrine – featuring the historic Shinkyo Bridge. A boat cruise is a relaxing way to see the waters of nearby Lake Chuzenji with Mount Nankai beyond. From here, head to the 97-metre-tall waterfall of Kegon. At Kinugawa, Tobu World Square's miniature wonders of the world and the cult theme park of Edo Wonderland, are quirky attractions.
Most travellers arrive from Tokyo International Airport, 125km south of Nikkō. The easiest and most popular way to make the journey is on the Tobu Railway Line from Tokyo’s Asakusa Station. The Limited Express Spacia Kegon train will get you to Tobu-Nikkō station in under 2 hours. Nikkō’s buses service the entire region and you can pick up a 2-day pass from Nikkō's two train stations. Look out for the World Heritage Meguri bus that loops around the temples.