Table of Contents Hide
So you’ve got a few day’s trip to Tokyo, Japan, and want to visit some historic towns. Excellent choice – you can’t go wrong with Nikko or Kamakura. They are one of the best day trips from Tokyo you’d surely enjoy.
But with limited time, you’ll have to pick one. Decisions, decisions.
We’ve explored both and compiled a handy comparison guide to help you decide which aligns better with your tastes and interests.
After this, you’ll choose between immersing yourself in the ancient shrines, stunning nature, and traditional Nikko or Kamakura street life.
The only downside? You might find yourself wishing you had time for both, but, as they say, you can’t see it all in one trip.
Read on, and we’ll make this decision easier for you. Safe travels!
Introducing Nikko and Kamakura: An Overview
Nikko is located in Tochigi Prefecture and is a testament to Japan’s ancient elegance.
The Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvel of architectural brilliance and historical significance. It serves as the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a pivotal figure in Japanese history.
In Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura boasts historical grandeur, which is evident in iconic landmarks like the Great Buddha and Hase-dera. Each step in Kamakura feels like a stroll through the annals of Japanese history.
Accessing the towns from Tokyo is easy. Nikko is about 2 hours north of Tokyo by train, while Kamakura can be reached in under 1.5 hours.
Accommodation and dining options in both places suit a range of budgets. If you only have time for a day trip, Kamakura may have a slight edge due to its proximity.
But for an overnight getaway to reconnect with nature, Nikko’s mountain scenery and hiking trails are hard to beat.
Whether you seek culture, adventure, or a relaxing escape, Nikko and Kamakura have you covered.
Compare and contrast what they offer to determine the experience that best matches your interests.
Either destination promises to delight with its distinct charms and natural surroundings. The only difficulty will be deciding where to start!
Comparing the Sightseeing and Attractions in Nikko vs. Kamakura
If you’re trying to decide between visiting the popular towns of Nikko or Kamakura for your trip to Japan, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s how these two destinations compare in terms of sightseeing and attractions:
Scenery and Nature
Nikko is set amidst stunning natural scenery, surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. The landscape transforms into a vibrant autumn canvas of reds, yellows, and oranges.
You can see the scenic Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji, go hiking, or visit the scenic Iroha-zaka winding road.
Kamakura also has beautiful nature, like the Daibutsu Hiking Trail through the hills. Both places will give you a taste of Japan’s natural beauty.
Temples and Shrines
Nikko is home to the lavish Tosho-gu Shrine complex, with intricate wood carvings and gold leaf details. Kamakura has over 65 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, like the Great Buddha and Hasedera Temple.
If you want to experience traditional Japanese culture and architecture, either destination would be perfect.
Great Buddha in Kotokuin Temple Visit Kamakura’s Great Buddha, also called Big Buddha, at Kotokuin Temple, a colossal bronze statue dating back to 1252.
Standing at 13.35 meters, it signifies Kamakura’s historical grandeur and rise as a cultural center, marking a shift in Buddhist art.
Moreover, despite earthquakes and tsunamis, the Great Buddha has stood the test of time, providing a tangible link to Kamakura’s past.
Explore Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine, a significant resting place for Tokugawa Ieyasu, offering insights into the Tokugawa shogunate era (1603–1868).
The shrine’s unique blend of Shinto and Buddhist elements showcases Ieyasu’s governance approach, emphasizing harmony between belief systems.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toshogu Shrine displays Edo-period craftsmanship.
Capture the details, including the iconic “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil” monkeys, immortalizing the fusion of culture and spirituality in the shrine’s design.
Adjacent to the shrine is the mausoleum of Tokugawa, adding another layer to your historical exploration.
A visit to Toshogu Shrine unveils the historical significance of Tokugawa Ieyasu. It delves into the intricate tapestry of Japan’s cultural and political past, including the influential era of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Other Interesting Places
In Nikko, you can visit the Edo Wonderland theme park to experience life in the Edo period. Kamakura has the Kamakura Museum of Literature and beaches along the coast.
Nikko may have a few more quirky attractions, but both places offer a good mix of culture, nature, history, and leisure activities.
While the natural scenery and specific attractions differ, Nikko and Kamakura share a similar traditional Japanese vibe with many opportunities to experience the culture.
Whichever you choose, prepare for a memorable trip filled with stunning sights, cultural wonders, and natural beauty.
Getting Around: Transportation Options in Nikko and Kamakura
Getting around Nikko and Kamakura is straightforward. Both areas have good public transit options to help you explore without a car.
From Tokyo, the primary way to visit and leave Nikko is via train. Ride a train from Tokyo Station, taking the Tobu Nikko Line from Asakusa Station. The rapid train railway transit takes about 2 hours.
Once in Nikko, busses can take you to scenic spots like Toshogu Shrine, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji. An All Nikko Bus Pass covers rides around the city.
You can also get around parts of Nikko on foot. The area near Nikko Station and Toshogu Shrine is walkable. For longer treks, hiking is popular, especially following the historic Nikko Cedar Avenue.
Biking is another option for covering more ground, with rentals available near the train station.
The JR Yokosuka Line takes you from Tokyo to Kamakura in about an hour. Kamakura Station is centrally located; hence, you can walk to many attractions. For further spots, the Enoden line trams and local busses provide transport.
A popular way to sightsee in Kamakura is by bike. Rent one near the station and pedal, enjoying the nice weather and coastal scenery. You can follow suggested cycling routes by ancient temples, shrines, and beaches.
Scooter rentals are also available if you prefer motorized transport.
Some walking trails, like the Daibutsu Hiking Course, take you through scenic mountain forests, hidden shrines, and statues. The walk from Kita-Kamakura Station to Engaku-ji temple is incredibly picturesque in spring and fall.
With fewer crowds and a more compact area, Kamakura can feel more relaxed than Nikko for getting around and exploring at your own pace.
Both destinations offer stunning natural scenery in a historic setting, so you can’t go wrong with either for your trip from Tokyo. The ease of transportation in each place makes it possible to visit both in one getaway!
Accommodation Options: Hotels, Ryokans and More
Accommodation Options: Hotels, Ryokans and More
When choosing where to stay during your trip to Nikko or Kamakura, you have several options based on your budget and desired experience.
Hotels and Airbnb are popular, familiar choices, ranging from budget-friendly spots to luxury resorts. Nikko and Kamakura have hotels within walking distance of major attractions, so you can’t go wrong here.
People visiting historic towns who want a traditional Japanese experience stay in a ryokan, a traditional inn.
Ryokans provide tatami-matted rooms, futon bedding, yukata robes, and slippers. Many serve delicious multi-course kaiseki meals made from fresh, local ingredients.
Immerse yourself in the charm of the hospitality of ryokans, some of which include access to rejuvenating onsen or hot spring baths.
For budget travelers, consider a Japanese-style business hotel that offers basic yet comfortable rooms at lower prices.
Capsule hotels are also an option, with small individual pods for sleeping. These are ideal if you plan to be out exploring all day.
Vacation rentals are great for extended stays, families, and groups. Rent an entire house, condo, or traditional Japanese home. Some offer amenities like a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and patio.
- Camping under the stars surrounded by nature is an appealing choice for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Nikko’s mountainous national parks.
Most campgrounds provide restrooms, showers, and amenities. You’ll need to bring your tent, sleeping bag and supplies.
- Minshuku are family-run bed and breakfasts, usually located in scenic natural areas. They offer a chance to experience rural life and homestyle cooking. Bookings are recommended.
With so many beautiful options in Nikko and Kamakura, you can tailor your stay to match your desired comfort level, budget, and experience.
Whether staying at a ryokan, hotel, or vacation home, you’ll find the perfect base for exploring these captivating destinations.
The Verdict: Which City Is Best for You, Nikko or Kamakura?
So which city is the right choice for you? It ultimately comes down to what kind of experience you’re looking for.
If you want a relaxing escape surrounded by nature…
Head to Nikko. With its mountain vistas, hiking trails, and secluded ryokans, Nikko is ideal for a rejuvenating retreat into nature.
You can spend days exploring the national park and discovering hidden waterfalls and scenic viewpoints. The slower pace of life here will have you forgetting city stress in no time.
If you’re interested in culture and history…
Kamakura is probably your best bet. As the center of politics during the Kamakura Shogunate, Kamakura is filled with well-preserved temples, shrines, and other historic sites and cultural treasures.
You’ll get a glimpse into Japanese architecture and Zen Buddhism.
The giant Buddha statue at Kotoku-in Temple is an awe-inspiring sight. With over 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines, there are centuries of history to uncover in Kamakura.
If you want a nice mix of both…
Either city would satisfy you. While Nikko leans more natural and Kamakura more cultural, both offer a blend of outdoor attractions and historical sites.
You could easily split your time between the two places, enjoying the best of both worlds.
The train ride between Nikko and Kamakura only takes around 90 minutes, so you can base yourself in one city and take day trips to the other.
Add a Nature Trip
While exploring Kamakura or Nikko, consider stopping at the Fuji Five Lakes or Lake Ashi in Hakone.
Diversify your historical exploration with a detour to these natural wonders. Immerse yourself in the serene beauty of the Fuji Five Lakes, where the tranquil waters reflect the majestic presence of Mount Fuji.
Take the time to enjoy the majestic view of Mt Fuji.
Alternatively, discover the landscapes surrounding Ashi Lake in Hakone, complete with the iconic torii gate partially submerged in its waters.
This pause adds visual delights to your journey, blending cultural immersion with the tranquility of Japan’s natural scenery. Capture the views, allowing nature to enhance your historical adventure.
Side Trip: Yokohama on Your Way Back to Tokyo
On your way back to Tokyo, consider making a side trip to Yokohama.
This vibrant city offers an array of attractions. You can see the futuristic architecture of Minato Mirai and the historic charm of Chinatown.
Use this opportunity to buy memorabilia from souvenir shops and explore the city. Ensure you’ve seen everything on your checklist before concluding your memorable journey in Japan.
If you still have time left, you should also visit Nogeyama Zoological Gardens, one of the few places in Japan where you can see real-life red pandas.
Route for Photography Enthusiasts
While visiting Kamakura, I recommend starting in Kita-Kamakura and heading south along the main road from the center of town. You’ll find about a dozen beautiful temples on each side, each worth capturing.
Past the Kamakura Museum, you’ll be right behind Tsuruoka Hachimangu – Kamakura’s main temple.
Check out Komachi-Dori on the right, but the real charm is in the alleys, revealing Kamakura’s true character. The Enoshima line runs through a residential area, adding a unique touch to your experience.
Take it to Hase for the giant Buddha or Enoshima, a lively island with a temple on top. Having explored Kita-Kamakura and followed this southward route, I vouch for this town’s diverse photographic opportunities.
From shrines and temples to hidden alleys and the Enoshima line’s unique charm, Kamakura is my favorite for capturing a mix of history, culture, and authentic daily life.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either of these fantastic destinations.
Whether you want to connect with nature, dive into history, or both, these two destinations have you covered. The only difficulty will be deciding where to start!