In our Places We Love series we feature some of our favorite places in Japan, including towns & cities, shops & restaurants, hotels & ryokans, hot springs and more.
Hakone is a beautiful national park area located just outside Tokyo. It’s most famous as an onsen (hot springs) destination, and on clear days offers stunning views of Mount Fuji.
Hakone is part of the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, which is also home to Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) and the Fuji Five Lakes.
Because it is so easily accessible from Tokyo, many tourists visit Hakone as a day trip from the city.
But the best way to experience Hakone is by spending at least a night or two here, and it’s a popular weekend and holiday escape for city dwellers seeking to escape and unwind.
One of the highlights of visiting Hakone is the chance to stay in a traditional ryokan, where you’ll enjoy onsen and a multi-course kaiseki dinner.
What to Do in Hakone
In addition to relaxing while soaking in rejuvenating onsen waters – and trying to catch views of the elusive Fuji-san – Hakone offers plenty to do.
The Hakone Open-Air Museum
If you love art, make sure to visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum.
With Hakone’s natural beauty as its backdrop, the Hakone Open-Air Museum features over 100 sculptures by renowned artists such as Rodin, Miro and Henry Moore. It also has an impressive Picasso Collection with over 300 of Picasso’s works.
The Open-Air Museum is also family friendly, with pieces where children can play and (in keeping with the spirit of Hakone) foot baths where you can rest your tired feet in rejuvenating onsen waters.
The Hakone Sightseeing Loop
One of the best ways to take in Hakone’s beautiful landscapes is on its famous sightseeing loop.
The Hakone Sightseeing Loop takes you around the Hakone region via a charming variety of modes of transport including:
- The Hakone Tozan Railway, a scenic mountain train
- The Hakone Tozan Cable Car, a funicular railway
- The Hakone Ropeway, a gondola offering panoramic views
- A cruise across beautiful Lake Ashinoko
Doing the entire loop with stops along the way can take anywhere from a half to a full day.
If you love food, get off the Ropeway at Owakudani to sample the locally famous kuro-tamago, black eggs boiled in onsen waters containing sulfur and iron.
The Old Tokaido Highway
If you’d like a pleasant hike with a dose of history, take a walk along the Old Tokaido Road.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), Hakone was an important checkpoint on the road between Tokyo (formerly Edo) and Kyoto.
Start your hike at Hakone-Machi, which is reachable by boat (via the cruise across Lake Ashinoko) or bus.
From here walk the scenic path along Lake Ashinoko until you reach the Hakone Checkpoint, just a short stroll away.
At the recently-restored Hakone Checkpoint you can see old soldier residences, a lookout tower and prison chamber.
As you continue walking from the Checkpoint towards Moto-Hakone, you’ll come upon the attractive and historic Cedar Avenue, lined with majestic cedars which were planted in the 17th century.
At Moto-Hakone it’s worth stopping to see Hakone Jinja Shrine, just a 5-minute walk away.
From Moto-Hakone the road turns east toward Hatajuku, and this is one of the loveliest stretches of the Old Tokaido Highway. Along the way pay a visit to the small but informative Tokaido Museum.
While it’s possible to visit Hakone as a day trip from Tokyo, the best way to experience Hakone is by spending a night or two here.
Getting Around Hakone
For our clients we almost always include the handy Hakone Freepass, which allows you to freely travel around the Hakone area.
The Freepass gives you access to all of the area’s transport options, including the buses criss-crossing Hakone, the Hakone Tozan Railway, Hakone Tozan Cable Car, Hakone Ropeway and the cruise across Lake Ashinoko.
Getting to Hakone
Hakone is located just outside of Tokyo, and is easily reachable from the city.
One of the easiest ways to get here is via the shinkansen (bullet train) from either Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station. The journey to Odawara Station, one of the two main gateways to Hakone, takes under an hour.
The other most direct route is from Shinjuku Station via the Odakyu Railways “Romance Car,” which takes you directly to Hakone-Yumoto Station, in the heart of Hakone. This scenic ride takes approximately 90 minutes.
Once you reach Odawara or Hakone Yumoto, you can use the Hakone Freepass to reach your accommodations, or take a taxi or private car.
Accommodations in Hakone
Hakone is blessed with countless onsen and dozens of excellent ryokans and hotels, and one of the highlights of visiting Hakone is the chance to stay in a traditional ryokan.
Two of our favorites are the luxurious Gora Kadan and Gora Hanaougi, although there are almost too many to choose from!
Both are gorgeous properties that masterfully blend traditional Japanese hospitality with modern comforts, amid breathtaking surroundings.
In the evening, soak in the restorative onsen waters and enjoy a multi-course kaiseki feast of local and seasonal specialties.
For a full look at the difference between staying in a ryokan versus a hotel, take our virtual ryokan tour.
While Hakone is certainly a year-round destination, if you have flexibility with your travel dates you may want to try to avoid national holidays and peak travel periods.
Ryokans and hotels in Hakone often fill up well in advance over 3-day weekends and other major holiday periods, such as Golden Week (typically the first week of May), Obon (in mid August) and over New Years. For more on when to visit Japan, see our guide on the seasons in Japan.