The easiest, fastest, and most luxurious way to get to Nikko is on the privately owned Tobu Line's Limited Express, called the Spacia, which departs every hour or more frequently from Tobu's Asakusa Station. The cost is ¥2,620 one-way for the 1-hour-and-50-minute trip on weekdays, and ¥2,720 on weekends and holidays (most trains require a transfer at Shimo-Imaichi Station). All seats are reserved, which means you are guaranteed a seat; if you're traveling on a holiday or a summer weekend, you may wish to purchase and reserve your ticket in advance. Another plus is that there's usually an English-speaking hostess on board who passes out pamphlets on the area and can answer sightseeing questions about Nikko.
To save money, consider purchasing Tobu's World Heritage Pass, which provides round-trip train travel between Asakusa and Nikko via Limited Express, unlimited bus travel in Nikko, and admission to Toshogu Shrine (excluding Ieyasu's mausoleum), Rinnoji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine. Cost of the pass, valid for 2 days and available only to foreign visitors, is ¥3,600 for adults, ¥3,200 for senior high students, ¥3,000 for junior high students, and ¥1,700 for children. You can purchase the pass online at www.tobu.co.jp/foreign or at the Tobu Sightseeing Service Center at Asakusa Station (tel. 03/3841-2871), open daily 7:45am to 5pm.
Otherwise, you can reach Nikko on Tobu's slower rapid train from Asakusa, which costs ¥1,320 one-way and takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, with trains departing every hour or more frequently. There is no reserved seating, which means you might have to stand if trains are crowded.
You can also travel to Nikko via JR train. There are four trains a day from Shinjuku, most requiring a change of trains in Shimo-Imaichi station for onward travel to Nikko. Trips take about 2 hours. If you're visiting Mashiko, you can save yourself the hassle of buying train tickets from different rail companies (Tobu and JR) by taking the JR Utsunomiya Line (also called Tohoku Honsen Line) from Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Ueno to JR Utsunomiya Station for the bus to Mashiko, and then continuing onward from JR Utsunomiya Station to Nikko (the Tobu Line does not travel btw. Utsunomiya and Nikko). Faster but more expensive is the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Utsunomiya (there are departures every 20-40 min. and the trip takes about 55 min.), where you change for the train to Nikko (45 min.).
Before leaving Tokyo, pick up the Nikko leaflet from the Tourist Information Center (TIC). It gives the train schedule for both the Tobu Line, which departs from Tobu's Asakusa Station, and JR trains that depart from Shinjuku Station. The TIC also has color brochures with maps of the Nikko area.
Nikko's Tobu and JR stations are located almost side by side in the village's downtown area. Nikko Tobu Station tourist information counter (tel. 0288/53-4511; www.nikko-jp.org; daily 8:30am-5pm), located inside Tobu Station, has staff who can give you a map, answer basic questions, and point you in the right direction. You can also make hotel and ryokan reservations here for ¥100. The Nikko Information Center (tel. 0288/54-2496; daily 9am-5pm), located on the left side of the main road leading from the train station to Toshogu Shrine (next to Eneos gas station), has English-speaking staff and lots of information in English about Nikko, including information on public hot springs.
Toshogu Shrine and its mausoleum are on the edge of town, but you can walk from either the JR or Tobu train stations to the shrine in about half an hour. Head straight out the main exit, pass the bus stands, and then turn right. English-language signs point the way throughout town. Keep walking on this main road (you'll pass the Nikko Information Center about halfway down on the left side, as well as souvenir shops) until you come to a T-intersection with a vermilion-colored bridge spanning a river (about a 15-min. walk from the train stations). The stone steps opposite lead up the hill into the woods and to Toshogu Shrine. You can also travel from Tobu Station by bus, getting off at either the Shinkyo (a 7-min. ride) or Nishi Sando (a 10-min. ride) bus stop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.