Nikko by Car — Explore Like a Local

Japan’s public transportation is known worldwide for its efficiency and reliability. Nikko is an excellent example of this, particularly when coming from Tokyo or farther afield. But for travel within Nikko — especially its rural outer reaches — renting a car gives you the freedom to fully explore the region at your own pace.


Why rent a car?

Travel Nikko by car to reveal its most hidden charms. Get farther off the standard tourist path and deeper into the mountains, forests and onsen villages with the independence a rental car provides. You’re no longer bound to irregular rural bus schedules on fixed routes, so feel free to book a night at an isolated ryokan, hike to a secluded waterfall or stop at a charming dairy ranch for fresh ice cream. A car can be just as convenient for seeing Nikko’s major sites — they’re fairly spread out, so driving between them at your own pace will let you structure your day as you desire.

No matter where you go, driving in Nikko is relatively stress-free. Traffic is minimal and parking is cheap and plentiful.


Where to go

Much of Nikko, particularly the less urbanized areas, is relatively inaccessible without a car. This remoteness keeps many of the area’s gems unspoiled. Surround yourself with nature at Urami and Jakko Falls, both difficult to reach without your own wheels, or soak in traditional Japanese culture at an out-of-the-way onsen retreat. Stay at Okukinu Onsen Village for rustic, rejuvenating baths far away from major development. Even for those staying in central Nikko, a car can be a great time-saver. Hop from the World Heritage sites to the natural beauty of Kanmangafuchi Abyss and onwards to Lake Chuzenji without needing to wait for buses.


How to rent a car

Rental car outlets from the major national chains are available near Nikko, Tobu-Nikko, Kinugawa Onsen and Shimo-Imaichi stations. Advance reservations are recommended and can be made online. If you’re planning on covering some ground, it’s possible to drop off the car at another store of the same chain for an extra fee. Although many of these rental agencies don’t have English-speaking staff, the pick-up and drop-off process is relatively seamless even with limited Japanese ability.

Most visitors simply need to have their license and an International Driving Permit issued in their home country by their national automobile association. A handful of countries differ, and visitors instead need a Japanese translation of their original license. Be sure to check which regulations apply to you before you arrive.

Areas of Nikko