This national park less than two hours from Tokyo has been a famous, idyllic getaway for both tourists and locals alike. With these top 10 places to visit, complete your Tokyo itinerary with a stop by for a day, or even two!
It’s no secret that Hakone is one of the most popular and accessible day trip destinations from Tokyo, together with Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji), Kamakura, Yokohama or even Tochigi.
But what keeps people coming back is its famous hot springs and vastly untouched nature. Not to mention, on a lucky day, visitors can get a perfect glimpse of Mount Fuji from afar. Perhaps most strikingly, Hakone is heaps quieter, which is why even locals come here for a respite from the busy city on weekends.
As we’ve written before in our Hakone Day Trip Guide, Hakone is a little world of its own with its fair share of quirks, from pirate ships and volcanic valleys to the iconic torii gate that’s all over Instagram (pictured above). But here’s the thing: one day is not enough to explore everything! Hakone deserves more than a day trip.
In fact, we’ll be featuring some things that only opened as recently as last year — further highlighting that Japan is truly an ever-changing country that always switches things up. Here’s how you can easily turn your Hakone visit into a two- or three-day stay for a more relaxing sojourn, with these top 10 places to visit.
1) Queen Ashinoko — Hakone’s Latest Sightseeing Pirate Ship on Lake Ashi
Taking the sightseeing cruise in Lake Ashi is like covering two of Hakone’s iconic attractions in one. Cruise along Lake Ashi in this Disney-esque pirate ship from Moto-Hakone Boat Pier to Togendai-ko Station — with a new ship joining the lineup!
In addition to the Vasa, Victory and Royal II ships, the 541-seater Queen Ashinoko will start its service from 25 April 2019. What’s unique about this ship is its floor-to-ceiling wooden interior and a gold-painted hull, giving off a majestic glow that reflects against the water surface. Basically Pirates of the Caribbean, but 100 times fancier.
The cruise passes by the famous torii gates at Hakone shrine on the way, and on lucky days you may even see Mount Fuji in the background (we heard the skies tend to be clearer in the colder seasons).
The sightseeing boats leave about 1–2 times an hour so check the boat schedule to plan your trip.
Cost: ¥1,000 (one way)
Opening Hours: Refer to the seasonal schedule here
Ship Dock Address: Hakonemachi-ko, 161 Hakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa 250-0521
2) Ninja Bus Water Spider — Hakone’s New Amphibious Bus
It’s a bus! It’s a boat! It’s… both! Only in business for about a year, the Ninja Bus Water Spider is like a Universal Studios ride without actually being one. I mean, its name is enough to get me sold.
This 42-seater amphibious bus runs from Moto-hakone along Lake Ashi before entering the waters around Hakone-en — certainly a better way to seeing the whole town than typical hop-on-hop-off buses.
To avoid disappointment, make an online reservation at least two days in advance to secure your seat.
Cost: ¥2,800 (~S$34)
Departure Times: Varies
Meeting Point: Izuhakone Bus Hakone-en Information Office, 139 Motohakone, Hakonemachi, Ashigarashimogun, Kanagawa Prefecture
3) Pampas Grass Fields at Sengokuhara (仙石原すすき草原)
You especially can’t miss this if you’re in Hakone for the autumn season. Frolic around the open fields of nothing but golden pampas grass (susuki in Japanese) at Sengokuhara, which is touted as one of the most scenic spots in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The Japanese even take massive efforts in keeping these fields pristine — every spring, they actually burn (not haphazardly, but in a controlled manner) the field to weed out other intruding plants (yikes) and to help the susuki regrow after dying in the winter.
Coming in early November isn’t half bad either — the pampas grass will turn a magical whitish gold by then!
How to get there: Take the Hakone Tozan Bus from Hakone Yumoto station to Sengoku Kogen Bus Stop (30 min).
4) Yunessun Onsen Theme Park & Ryuguden Onsen
Hakone is most known for its abundance of onsen hot springs, but why not take it up a notch and soak in them theme park style? Yunessun Spa Resort boasts a total of 23 baths, both indoor and outdoor, with all sorts of quirks you can imagine.
Fellow alcoholics can take a dip in wine or sake-themed indoor baths, while the more sane, zen ones can chill in their 40m-long open air bath overlooking mountainous views.
*Pro-tip: Bring your own swimwear (for indoor baths), toiletries and loungewear so you don’t have to rent them at a fee.
Entrance Fee: ¥3,500 (access to both indoor and outdoor areas)
Opening Hours: 9AM – 7PM (Outdoor bath opens 11AM – 8PM)
How to get there: Take the free 10-minute shuttle bus from Gora station (Hakone Tozan Railway / Hakone Tozan Cable Car), which leaves in 30-minute intervals. Check timings here.
Or, opt for that classic ryokan onsen experience that leaves Kawaguchiko ryokans booked out all year round — an open-air bath overlooking Lake Ashinoko and Mount Fuji, at Ryuguden Onsen. You can book a stay there for the complete package, or drop by the general admission hours that’s open to all!
It’s in fact one of the only traditional inns in Hakone that allows you to see both Lake Ashi and Fuji-san at once. And after achieving tangible cultural property status (think of it as Japan’s version of a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the now-protected area also means there won’t be any man-made artefacts blocking the glorious nature view anytime soon.
Opening Hours: 8AM – 8PM (Last entry 7PM)
Address: 139 Motohakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigara-shimo-gun Kanagawa, 250-0522 Japan
5) Gora Park (強羅公園)
Don’t scroll down just yet thinking Gora Park is just any other park — besides its distinctive French-styled landscape with two huge greenhouses housing seasonal flowers, most visitors come here to take part in indoor activities instead!
We’re talking cool stuff like glass blowing (to make your own glass or bowl for ¥3,800), sandblasting (¥2,100), and even pottery painting opening in April 2019. The best part is that if you won’t be hanging around long enough to collect it in person, they’ll ship it to your home! Talk about a real nifty souvenir.
Entrance Fee: ¥550
Opening Hours: 9AM – 5PM (Last entry 4:30PM)
How to get there: Walk 5 mins from Gora Station along the Hakone Tozan Railway.
6) Fresh Seafood at Sakana Cuisine Ryo
When in Japan, you jump on every chance to savour fresh sashimi, no questions asked. If you’re ever spoilt for choice, Sakana Cuisine Ryo boasts a farm-to-table concept that doesn’t even break your wallet.
Lunch rice bowls start from just ¥1,180 (~S$14.30), like the All Stars Rice Bowl that boasts over 10 different chopped/sliced fish. For dinner service, it’s izakaya style with sharing plates of sashimi or grilled meats at reasonable prices, with draft beers, wine and cocktails available.
Opening Hours: 11:30AM – 2:30PM, 5PM – 8:30PM (Closes at 9PM on Sun & PH)
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Odawara-shi, Sakaecho. 1 Chome 1-14-57 1-3F
7) Hakone Shrine (箱根神社)
This grand torii gate is usually the starting point for everyone’s Hakone itinerary. This famous “floating” gate isn’t even the actual shrine! The actual Hakone shrine complex behind it is huge — with flights upon flights of stairs to boot — so if you’re only doing a day trip you may be better off giving the shrine a miss. Otherwise, exploring the whole complex could easily take you two hours or more.
Note that you’ll have to climb down a flight of stairs in order to reach the photogenic spot pictured above!
How to get there: From Hakone Yumoto, take the Hakone Tozan Bus to Moto-Hakone Boat Pier (35 minutes).
Read also: Hakone Travel Guide — The Most Scenic Day Trip From Tokyo
8) The Hakone Open Air Museum and Museum of Saint Exupery & Little Prince
The Hakone Open Air Museum is Japan’s first ever outdoor art museum of any sort, and experienced Japan travellers might liken this to Niigata’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Field with a similar concept where artworks are surrounded by mountains and nature.
This 70,000 square metre space houses over 100 modern and contemporary pieces, as well as an indoor exhibition selected from 300 of Picasso’s collection! Perhaps the centrepiece of it all is the Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire (pictured above) that’s actually a spiral staircase within a stained glass column, leading to an observatory on top with panoramic views of the park and mountains.
Entrance Fee: ¥1,600
Opening Hours: 9AM – 5PM (Last entry 4:30PM)
How to get there: From Hakone Yumoto station, take the Hakone Tozan Railway to Chokoku no Mori station (30-min ride). If coming from Gora, it is a 10- to 15-minute walk.
If you’re a fan of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Hakone is the only place in the world that has a museum dedicated to the character.
Housed within a European-themed garden with French architecture shrouded by nature, the interior exhibition celebrates the life of the author and his journey towards creating the character. English audio guides are available for rent (¥200).
Entrance Fee: ¥1,600
Opening Hours: 9AM – 6PM (Last entry 5PM). Closed second Wednesday every month, except Mar and Aug
How to get there: From Hakone Yumoto station, take the Hakone Tozan Bus to the Kawamukai Museum of The Little Prince bus stop (30-min ride).
9) Hakone Ropeway (箱根ロ－プウエイ)
The Hakone Ropeway is most popularly used to get to the Owakudani volcanic valley (see point #10) from Togendai Station, but Ubako Station (the second stop) also houses one of the 17 hot springs in Hakone, Ubako Onsen! Not only does it get you to the attractions fast, you also get to soak in gorgeous nature views at the same time (we think autumn would look amazing!).
The ropeway closes by 5PM most of the year, so visitors usually take the ropeway early in the day to be safe. If you don’t wish to queue and wait, you can opt to leave it towards the end of your day and take it around mid-afternoon (check out our Hakone day trip guide for a suggested route).
Cost: ¥1,400 – 2,550 (depending on where you stop)
Opening Hours: 9AM – 5PM (Closes 4:15PM from Dec 1 – Jan 31)
How to get there: The first station, Togendai, is located at the same place as the Hakone Pirate Ship, Odakyu Hakone Highway Bus and Hakone Tozan Bus. It’s hard to miss!
10) Owakudani Valley (大涌谷)
Another possible Mount Fuji viewpoint on a clear day, this picturesque volcanic valley looks better than it smells — no thanks to the sulphuric gases that emit from the hot spring pools (okay, fine, they don’t actually smell so bad)!
Interestingly, Owakudani is known for cooking eggs in these sulphuric pools which turn their shells black — still safe to eat though! In fact, eating each egg supposedly adds seven years to your life. That just might be the secret to the Japanese’s longevity.
There’s also a hiking path that leads up Mount Kamiyama, although it’s currently closed due to strong volcanic gasses.
Opening Hours: ~9AM – 5PM (depends on operation hours of the Hakone Ropeway — point #9)
How to get there: From Togendai-ko, take the Hakone ropeway up to Owakudani station (16 minutes). If you’re coming the other way around it’d be from Sounzan station (8 minutes).
BONUS: Get to Hakone from Tokyo via the New Romance Car 70000 GSE Series
Train fanatics, you’ll want to check this off your list. The Romance Car is probably the most premium way to get quickly to Hakone, built for the most comfortable riding experience while allowing you to sightsee along the 1.5-hour journey. Some of the features are “saloon” seats, private compartments, panoramic windows and even observation decks for you to get a nice picture (plus onboard WiFi, so you can immediately post it on Instagram Stories)!
This train also travels direct from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto station, so you won’t have to change trains at Odawara.
Cost: Express Fee ￥1,090 + Regular Fare￥1,190 ＝ ￥2,280
Train Timings: View timetable here (in Japanese only)
Hakone — More Than Just A Day Trip
As much as we love Tokyo, there’s only so much you can do in one spot! I personally make it a point to venture beyond more than one city every time I return to Japan. For starters, I strongly recommend pairing your Tokyo itinerary with a trip to Hakone and Mount Fuji, and the more seasoned travellers can head out further from Tokyo to Osaka. That way, you’ll make the most out of your Japan trip (and limited annual leaves), and have a taste of every city’s highlights!
Even though most would only make Hakone a day trip, you’ll most likely have to wake up early, rush about and touch and go most places (and scramble for the ropeway that closes at 4/5PM). Staying two or three days is better for those who could afford a more laidback trip, which would also make your Hakone experience as peaceful and serene as its surroundings.
So how can you stretch your Hakone itinerary for a more relaxing trip? Get good walking shoes to explore the entirety of the Hakone shrine, or dedicate at least a day to soaking in Hakone’s many hot springs (I, for one, want to try out the Yunessun Onsen Theme Park someday) — it’s the perfect place for us Singaporeans to truly blow off some steam. And trust me, good hot springs are hard to find in Tokyo!
Even if you’ve already been to Hakone, it’s a good time to try out some of the new stuff like the Queen Ashinoko cruise and Ninja Bus Water Spider, or any other new discoveries you may have found here!
Featured image credit: Vivid Creations
Which of these do you want to visit most in Hakone? Let us know in the comments!
This post was brought to you by Kanagawa Prefectural Government.