With picturesque landscapes and relaxing hot springs, a weekend or day trip to Hakone is a must for any traveler. Getting to Hakone from Tokyo on the bullet train is a snap, especially if you have a JR Pass or the Hakone Free Pass. With one of these, you can ride the local train lines, buses, ships, ropeways, and cable cars at no extra charge.
To make things even more convenient, most of the sightseeing destinations in Hakone conveniently circle Lake Ashi. The “Hakone Round Course” starts and ends at Hakone-Yumoto Station, which you can reach by taking the Romancecar via Odakyu Railways. Most people move in a counterclockwise direction from the station, but some say that if you go clockwise, you can avoid crowds.
Here are our favorite places to visit in Hakone. To keep this article user-friendly, we’ve listed these locations as they appear counterclockwise of Hakone-Yumoto Station.
Hidden in a dense forest along the shores of Lake Ashi stands Hakone Jinja. Although trees isolate the buildings from the rest of the word, you’ll have no problem finding the massive torii gates that lead the way to the Main Hall. The shrine is beautiful throughout the year, but it’s particularly captivating when mist settles on the grounds, giving it a magical atmosphere.
One of the shrine’s torii gates juts out from Lake Ashi and makes for an idyllic viewing point. You'll get the best visibility in winter or on chilly mornings and evenings because thick fog can settle on the water when it's warm. However, visitors going to Hakone Shrine at the end of July and the beginning of August can attend the main summer festival. Celebrations include a fireworks display that uses 18,500 rockets.
Between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-Machi, a looming gate marks one of Japan’s most historical highways. The Old Tokaido road connected Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period, and visitors had to stop at the Hakone Checkpoint before entering the capital. The reconstructed checkpoint features fences, housing for foot soldiers and officers, a prison, and a lookout tower. It doesn’t take long to get through the area, but it’s possible to take local tours to learn more about the hardships travelers faced.
A cedar-lined path leads you away from Hakone Checkpoint onto Old Tokaido road. Walking on the original highway will take up most of your time at this location. Travelers who love hiking can make hours-long journeys, or you can shorten your trek to a 20-minute stroll. As you wander the centuries-old stone path, look out for a thatched roof teahouse where you can take a break with a cup of amazake (sweet non-alcoholic sake).
From either Moto-Hakone or Hakone-Machi, you can board a cruise ship to your next destination, but the ride is more than just a way to get around. Lake Ashi is a caldera that formed 3,000 years ago during Mount Hakone’s last eruption. Stunning forests and hills surround the water, and a cruise is one of the best ways to take in the sights.
You can make your trip more exciting by boarding themed boats like a pirate ship, but for many people, the breathtaking nature is enough without the added flair. During the fall, it’s one of the best ways to see Japan’s gorgeous autumn foliage. You can also see Mount Fuji on sunny days, but clouds form on her peak in warm temperatures. The best time to see unobstructed views of Fuji is in December.
If you’re following this article like an itinerary, you can take a boat to Togendai Station, where you can access the Hakone Ropeway. The ride up offers panoramic views of Lake Ashi and the lush forest below. At the peak, you’ll reach the Owakudani volcanic valley where vents spew plumes of sulfur gas.
As you explore the grounds, stop by the visitor’s center to try one of Owakudani’s famous kuro tamagos. These are eggs that get hard-boiled in the area’s sulfur water until the shells turn black. According to local legend, eating one extends your life expectancy by seven years!
Modern art and nature lovers can’t miss this distinctive museum where statues and dazzling forests and valleys come together in harmonic balance. There are different sections with exhibits inside and outside, so you can enjoy this location even when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Outside, abstract statues by contemporary artists dot a verdant lawn. One of the most exciting pieces is the Symphonic Sculpture, which is a spiral staircase surrounded by stained glass that you can ascend. Indoor facilities include the Pablo Picasso Hall, which features two stories of his works and biographic photos. Other attractions include rotating exhibitions, installations for children, and an onsen footbath.
Thanks to the area’s volcanic activity, Hakone’s onsen resorts are some of the most popular destinations in Japan for hot springs. There are over a dozen high-quality water sources, and even more ryokans and traditional Japanese public bathhouses. Yumoto Onsen is one of the most well-known areas to stay and offers a wide variety of luxurious resorts and budget hotels.
If you don’t want to stay overnight, many inns open their baths to the public for a nominal fee. Visitors enjoy bathing at Hakone Yuryo for its rustic charm and Tenzan Onsen with its notable cave-like tubs. If you're looking for the ultimate rejuvenation experience, book a stay at Hakone Kamon where you can get a room with a private hot springs bath.
If you stay in Hakone overnight or want a few alternative locations, here are our recommended places outside of the Hakone Round Course.
The Gotemba Peace Park (or Fuji Bussharito Heiwa Park) is one of the most beautiful places to view cherry blossoms in spring, foliage in fall, and Fuji in winter. In summer and during swing-seasons, it’s still worth the trip to see the ivory stupa and statues that fill the grounds.
The stupa holds some of Buddha’s ashes, which the late Indian Prime Minister Nehru gifted to Japan. You can also see thirty-three images of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, at the nearby monastery. The park is also home to an authentic Japanese garden that changes with the seasons.
Gotemba Premium Outlets is the most popular outlet mall in the entire country. If you’re a savvy shopper, there’s no better place to pick up Japan-exclusive goods and souvenirs than here. The mall features over two hundred shops, including international luxury brands like Burberry, as well as household goods and electronics stores. The prices aren't super low, but much cheaper than what you find in other retailers.
If you’re not interested in shopping, there are still plenty of other things to do. Among the clothing stores, you can find numerous restaurants and sweets shops. Some places you might be familiar with, and others you’ll see for the first time. There’s also a fifty-meter-high Ferris wheel.
Visitors coming in summer won’t see cherry blossoms or autumn leaves, but they will have the opportunity to see hydrangeas. Hakone’s famous flowers begin to open in mid-June, and the bloom lasts through July. The best way to see them is by boarding the Hakone Tozan rail, which runs between Hakone-Yumoto and Gora Station.
Although the Hakone Tozan isn’t an official sightseeing train, the route that it goes through is so beautiful you could mistake it for one. It gradually climbs Hakone Mountain at a pace that’s slow enough for you to take in the scenery of the trees and thousands of hydrangea. The peak bloom typically happens at the beginning of July, depending on the weather.