10 Things to Do in Hakone
Located within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the area broadly referred to as Hakone is known for its hot springs, traditional guesthouses, museums, autumn colours and outstanding views of Mount Fuji.
Positioned between the mountain and Tokyo, Hakone is a popular destination throughout the year for both Japanese and international visitors, many of whom choose to stay at least one night to enjoy one of the area’s many hotels and ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses).
Anyone visiting Hakone should make time to enjoy at least one ‘onsen’ (hot spring), in combination with one of the area’s many attractions. Many visitors will of course want to see Fuji while in the area, making one of Hakone’s two ropeways a great daytime activity – especially on clear days when the views of Fuji can be outstandings.
The area is equally well-known for its museums, including some beautiful outdoor museums, and natural attractions including Lake Ashi and the brooding sulfuric ponds of Owakudani Valley.
Always beautiful, Hakone is enjoyable at any time of year however perhaps at its most stunning – and certainly, most popular – in autumn when the changing leaves transform the region into a mosaic of gold, red, amber and brown.
Located nearby Mount Fuji, Hakone is a popular hot spring area offering visitors plenty of fantastic attractions and activities, not to mention great views of the mountain. Many visitors heading to Hakone will do so directly from Tokyo or from areas around Mount Fuji. For travelers heading to Hakone from other points of origin, it may also be necessary to do so via Tokyo.
Here are our suggestions of 10 things to do while visiting Hakone:
1 / Stay at a Traditional Guesthouse / all year round
Hakone is a great overnight destination and with so many hotels and guesthouses to choose from, we recommend staying at least one night. Visitors will find a range of accommodation options catering to different budgets and needs, from Western-style hotels to more traditional guesthouses, known as ‘ryokan’.
Upon arrival at a ryokan, you step into Japanese tradition and all the comforts the country’s renowned dedication to service. The emphasis is on total relaxation with most providing traditional ‘kaiseki’ (multi-course) dinner service – often served in your room – and their own in-house hot springs for the exclusive use of guests.
For any international visitor, they should stay at a ryokan at least once during their visit to Japan and there is no better or more popular place to do so than Hakone.
For accommodation listings in Hakone, please refer to our ‘Hakone Onsen Area’ page.
2 / Soak in an ‘onsen’ / all year round
Known as ‘onsen’ in Japan, natural hot springs are found throughout the country and offer one of the most relaxing experiences you can have while here. Hakone is blessed with many natural sources of thermal water and for generations, has been a popular onsen getaway for people coming from Tokyo and beyond.
Most traditional guesthouses along with many other hotels will have their own hot springs – usually both indoor and outdoor and often with the option of booking a private onsen – for the exclusive use of guests. Enjoyable any time of year, onsen is perhaps best experience during autumn as the landscape turns red, yellow, and orange followed by winter, when snow softly falls.
Hakone also has a number of public hot springs, open to the public through the day. Most have the option of rental towels so even if you haven’t come prepared, you can still enjoy the most quintessential of Japanese experiences and soak in a natural hot spring.
While Hakone is not covered by the following, our ‘Onsen In & Around Nagano’ page provides lots of good information about what’s involved in enjoying an onsen, rules and etiquette and more!
3 / Museums of Hakone / all year round
The beautiful setting of Hakone and its popularity has an onsen town has encouraged many excellent museums to establish themselves in the area. The range of their exhibitions is broad and they are spread-out across the area, giving visitors plenty to see and do over a couple of days in the area.
Accessible via the Tozan Railway – see below for details – the Hakone Open-Air Museum mixes traditional indoor galleries with outdoor installations including artworks by many notable artists including Picasso, Rodin and Medarado Rosso. Visitors to the museum should allow a couple of hours, if not an entire morning or afternoon, to enjoy the museum to its fullest.
The POLA Museum of Art is set among a beautiful beech forest and displays the private collection of Tsuneshi Suzaki, the late-owner of the POLA cosmetics group. The museum houses notable artworks by Cezanne, Monet, Picasso and Renoir along with contemporary sculpture and paintings. The museum itself embodies striking architecture, set beautifully within its natural setting.
Opened in 2013, the Okada Museum of Art is another displaying a notable private collection, with pieces dating from antiquity to contemporary art. The museums extensive collection of East Asian ceramics, paintings, and sculpture is captivating with a Japanese garden, teahouse and café rounding-out what is an excellent museum.
The quaint Hakone Venetian Glass Museum or Hakone Glass no Mori includes a landscaped garden surrounding a canal-like pond and imitation Italian buildings housing a collection of more than 100 pieces of Venetian glassware.
While the collection may not cater to everyone’s taste, the on-site café restaurant and tranquil setting make it an enjoyable place to spend a few hours while in Hakone.
4 / Ride the Hakone Ropeways / all year round
Hakone boasts two ropeways, both of which afford fantastic views of Mount Fuji on clear days. The first of those is the suitably named:
The more popular of the two ropeways, the Hakone Ropeway operates from Sounzan Station to Togendai Station with the stations of Owakudani and Ubako in-between.
Gondolas depart every minute and can carry up to 18 people on a journey which, from one end to the other takes around 35 minutes. Visitors wanting to access the Hakone Open-Air Museum – see above for details – along with Owakudani or Ashinoko (Ashi Lake) – see below – can do so riding this ropeway.
On a clear day the ropeway affords great views of Fuji but it should be noted that poor weather, maintenance and increased volcanic activity can lead to unexpected closure of the ropeway.
Hakone Komagatake Ropeway / all year round
Running from Hakone-En Station on the shores of Lake Ashi to the Komagatake Chojo Station, the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway transports passengers close to the Komagatake peak of Mount Hakone.
Much like the Hakone Ropeway, when weather conditions are favourable the ropeway affords fantastic views of Fuji along with Ashinoko lying below.
Nearby Komagatake Chojo Station, the Hakone Motostumiya Shrine is a notable feature while walking trails span-out and lead back down to the lake or across to Owakudani Station – on the Hakone Ropeway – and ultimately, all the way back down to Sounzan Station.
5 / Owakudani / all year round
Accessible via the Hakone Ropeway, Owakudani is a dramatic volanic zone, characterised by boiling hot springs, hot rivers and sulfurous clouds drifting through the valley.
The area was formed around 3000 years ago when the Hakone volcano last erupted. Today, it draws many visitors who come to experience a landscape they will rarely have the chance to visit – and so close to major urban centres!
Walking trails lead around the volcanic zone with restaurants and souvenir shops also available. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy another fantastic view of Fuji from Owakudani.
6 / Ashinoko (Lake Ashi) inc. boat cruises / all year round
Accessible from Hakone using the Hakone Tozan Railway and then the Hakone Ropeway, ‘Ashinoko’ or Ashi Lake is a popular destination known for its beautiful view of Fuji and famous red ‘torii’ of Hakone Shrine.
When planning a visit to Ashinoko it should be noted that if the weather is overcast or its raining there may well be no view of the mountain.
Yet on a clear day, the view is beautiful and allows for some terrific photography. Two companies operate sightseeing boats on the lake. Expect to pay around JPY1000 with cruises lasting a relatively short 30 minutes.
7 / Hakone Shrine
Hidden within forest on the shore of Ashinoko, the Hakone Shrine is one of two Shinto shrines in the immediate area – the other being the Hakone Motostumiya Shrine accessible using the Komagatake Ropeway.
While Hakone Shrine is shielded by the forest trees, its location is revealed by the large red ‘torii’ gate sitting in the waters of Ashinoko. From that point, a steeply ascending staircase leads into the forest and onto the shrine, flanked by lanterns and tall cedars.
First consecrated in 757, the shrine was originally positioned near the summit of Komagatake but relocated to its current location in 1667.
In-keeping with almost all Shinto complexes, the main shrine will be closed at night but the surrounding grounds are always accessible.
8 / Hakone Tozan Railway / best: spring to autumn
Running from Hakone-Yumoto Station – in central Hakone – to Gora Station, the Hakone Tozan Railway is an enjoyable 35-minute ride on Japan’s oldest mountain train line. In doing so, the raiwaly provides access to and from the Hakone Ropeway – ascending to Ashinoko via Owakudani.
The railway is single track and in door to ascend the steep mountain incline, requires three switchbacks when the train pulls inside a side yard in order to switch tracks and continue onward.
Particularly beautiful in June and July when ‘ajisai’ (hydrangeas) line the tracks, and again in late-October to November when the stunning autumn leaves take hold, riding the Hakone Tozan Railway is a fun and relaxing experience.
9 / Hakone Tokaido Checkpoint / all year round
During the Edo Period (1603-1868) the ‘Tokaido’ was one of five major routes connecting Tokyo – then called Edo – with the old capital of Kyoto. Of those five routes – which also included the ‘Nakasendo’ – the Tokaido carried the most trade.
As such, movement along the route was tightly monitored, controlled and of course, taxed. The Hakone Tokaido Checkpoint is a recent but beautifully executed reconstruction of a former checkpoint that once stood in Hakone.
Located along the shore of Ashinoko, the reconstruction includes replicas of the Edo Period gates, fences, a look-out tower and quarters for the officers and soldiers once stationed there.
10 / ‘Koyo’ in Hakone / autumn
Known as ‘koyo’ in Japan, seeking-out the cherished leaves of autumn is a favourite national pastime. Typically occurring from October to November – depending on the location and weather conditions that year – Japanese will go great distance to see the beautiful leaves of autumn, including Hakone – considered one of Japan’s best spots to see them.
Hakone has long been known for its stunning display of autumn leaves, which can be enjoyed at numerous spots across the region.
While Hakone is not covered by the following, our ‘Autumn Leaves in Nagano’ page provides lots of good information about the culture of ‘momojigari’ (hunting for autumn leaves) and how to best plan your trip around it.
While there’s never a bad time to visit Hakone, there perhaps isn’t a better one than autumn!
Please refer to our ‘How to Get to Hakone’ page for details and information regarding how to reach Fukui using public transport.
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