Hakone has a LOT to offer on a day or weekend trip from Tokyo. The hot springs (onsen) and views of Mount Fuji are, of course, what the town and its environs are most famous for, but they also have their own mountains, art museums, pirate ships and bountiful history. Here are a few pro tips on how to make the most out of Hakone, while keeping that budget nice and low.
Hakone package deals
There are many ways to enjoy Hakone, and you’ll find a range of package deals on offer for cheapo travelers. For a low-cost Mount Fuji and Hakone combo, try this hugely popular ¥11,800 tour from Tokyo.
There is also a one-day mountain biking tour of Hakone, if you feel like doing something different.
Hakone day trip to-dos: Start with the hot springs
Onsen in Hakone are too numerous to count. However, two picks that may be of particular interest to international guests are Yunessun and Tenzan.
Yunessun is a kind of hot spring theme park, with sprawling grounds and baths both inside and out. They have lots of fun baths, including tubs filled with wine, coffee, and herbs (separately, of course), as well as a water slide.
The most important thing to note is that this is a co-ed, swimsuit-wearing onsen. It’s a good choice for those who want to try the hot spring experience but are just too shy to go starkers, or those who want to share the experience with friends or family of different sexes. Read more about Yunessun. For admission, you can buy discounted tickets online.
Tenzan is a standard hot spring, with beautiful rock-lined rotenburo (open-air baths) against the mountainside. The onsen offers a free shuttle bus from Hakone-Yumoto Station, but what makes this spa notable is its acceptance of tattoos, somewhat rare in the world of Japanese baths. The official policy is that inked patrons aren’t officially welcomed, but they aren’t exactly booted out, either. Just be discreet, and you should be fine.
Another hot spring that deserves a mention is Kohan-no-yu, which you’ll find attached to the Prince Hakone Hotel. You don’t have to stay overnight at the hotel—day trippers are welcome, and many come to soak in the big baths that overlook Lake Ashi.
Amazake-chaya: A traditional teahouse
If you’ve ever wanted to sip a cup of tea on top of a mountain, now’s your chance. Amazake-chaya is a rustic little teahouse that has served as a pit stop for travelers to the region since before Tokyo was, well, Tokyo. Hakone was once a stop-off point on the Old Tokaido Highway that connected Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto, and you can still see (and walk along) part of the road between Hakone-Yumoto and Moto-Hakone.
A fun way to spend a few hours is to take a bus up to the teahouse from Hakone-Yumoto Station and enjoy a cup of the warm, sweet, nutritious rice drink known as amazake (it’s not actually tea), together with some homemade mochi (sticky rice cakes). Then, instead of taking a bus back, you can hike down through the trees. It takes a couple of hours, but if you get tired, you can get back onto the road and hop onto a bus the rest of the way.
The Great Boiling Valley in Hakone
Seeing that the whole Hakone area is a hot spring hotspot, a visit to Owakudani (The Great Boiling Valley, not to be confused with the snow monkey haunt of Jigokudani) is one of the must-visits on any Hakone tour. Riding a gondola up the mountain, you pass over an ominous, sulfuric landscape that looks like the lair of Smaug.
Once you reach the top, you are invited to try the area’s signature black eggs—hard-boiled eggs that have been cooked in the steaming mineral-laden water. Supposedly they’re lucky and you can add years to your life by eating them, but mostly it’s the novelty of it, the hell fire and brimstone surroundings, and the distinctive smell that make it worth the trip.
To get to the gondola, better known as the Hakone Ropeway, take the Hakone Tozan Railway from Hakone-Yumoto, transferring at Gora Station and heading toward Sounzan.
Note: There are various side trails and hiking routes around Owakudani, but they are sometimes access-restricted because of noxious volcanic gases. While the main gondola route generally remains open, people with asthma or other respiratory conditions might want to give Owakudani a wide berth. For more trail options, see our guide to these 3 stunning hikes in Hakone.
Even those without a botanical bent will appreciate this delightful mountainside park. The views across to the steep and sometimes misty mountains opposite makes for a great setting in which to appreciate the glasshouses of tropical plants, trees and shrubberies.
There’s also a traditional teahouse for you to enjoy a cuppa the Japanese way. Gora Park scores bonus points for being quiet with no lines of tourists, and has free entrance with the Hakone Free Pass.
Noteworthy museums in Hakone
There are over a dozen museums in Hakone, but our favorite has to be the Hakone Open-Air Museum, an expansive outdoor sculpture museum on the side of a mountain, with lots of fun interactive art and a breathtaking setting. Also of note are the Museum of Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince, and the Pola Museum of Art, a beautiful facility with a good Impressionism collection.
To get to these museums, you can take a bus from Hakone-Yumoto Station—more on this gateway to greater Hakone later.
Getting into and around Hakone
The Hakone Free Pass
We like the Hakone Free Pass, a two- or three-day transport voucher that gets you to Hakone from Tokyo and lets you freely access eight methods of transportation—including the funicular railway, bus, ropeway, and pirate ship that sails across Lake Ashi with stunning views of Mt. Fuji and the famous floating torii gates of Hakone Shrine.
The Hakone Free Pass gives you discounts on dozens of attractions, including restaurants, hot springs, museums and historical landmarks. You’ll without a doubt get a lot of bang for your buck with this bargain ticket. The two-day pass costs ¥6,150 and the three-day pass ¥6,536 if you buy them online. Otherwise, they’re a few hundred yen cheaper if you buy them from Odakyu travel centers and ticket machines (at Odakyu Line train stations). You’ll need to click on English, then the grey “tickets” button, then the “Free Pass” tab on the top right, and select Hakone.
Note that some of the most fun methods of transport in Hakone shut down rather early in the day, so make sure to check the relevant timetables before setting out in order to get the most for your money (and to avoid getting stranded).
Taking the train to Hakone
The full Hakone Free Pass gives you a round-trip from Tokyo to Hakone (as far as Odawara Station) on the Odakyu Line, but if you want to take the special “Romance Car” train, you’ll need to buy a separate limited express ticket for about ¥1,110 each way. We recommend doing this, as it can be a fun sightseeing experience.
At the ticket machine, click on English, then the red “Limited Express” button, then set the destination (Hakone-Yumoto) and your starting station, and the number of adults/children. Your tickets will include seat reservations.
There are two types of Romance Car, neither of them dodgy. The VSE model is the more romantic-looking train (with observatory seating), while the EX is a little faster, say 10 minutes or so.
The coveted front and rear “observation” seats are usually booked up in advance, but you can search online and make a reservation for a panoramic view. You’ll likely need to book a week or more in advance, but on weekdays and later in the day it is much easier to find seats available.
The Hakone Free Pass is your best bet for travel from Tokyo to Hakone, but there are also other transport options.
Using buses in Hakone
Pretty much all of the buses running between the main Hakone sights are inluded in the Hakone Free Pass. You don’t need to pick up a ticket when you board; just show your Free Pass to the driver when you get off the bus. See how to board the Hakone buses.
Go beyond Hakone-Yumoto
Most likely, you’ll end up getting off your train or bus from Tokyo at Hakone-Yumoto Station. Known as the gateway to the region, this terminus is a jumping-off point for most of the sights of Hakone. It is about 15 minutes on from Odawara Station (consider popping out to see Odawara Castle).
While there are lovely hot springs and a couple of shrines to see in Hakone-Yumoto itself, most visitors go on to board either the Tozan Bus or Railway to access the cool spots mentioned above.
Pro tip: Make time to stop by Hakone Shrine, a serene spot featuring torii gates in the water of Lake Ashi. It’s about 35 minutes by bus from Hakone-Yumoto. It reminds us of Miyajima down in Hiroshima.
How to avoid the crowds
Visit Hakone during the week, when all the Tokyo locals are hard at work in the city. This could mean arriving on a Sunday afternoon and staying overnight, as most weekend visitors head home by Sunday evening.
You can also visit the popular spots in Hakone differently from everyone else. The most typical Hakone trip is: arrive at Hakone-Yumoto late morning, hop onto the Tozan Line, ride the ropeway to Owakudani, go down to Lake Ashi. So you might find more space if you: arrive very early, arrive in the afternoon, or start your Hakone trip from Lake Ashi. You could also plan to visit the more popular spots like Owakudani earlier in the morning (which means staying overnight nearby).
So many delights await—and all just a couple of hours away from Tokyo.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This article was first published in January, 2015 and has been contributed to by Carey Finn and Chris Kirkland. Last updated in February 2021 by Adriana Paradiso.