Hakone has a LOT to offer on a day or weekend trip from Tokyo. Hot springs (onsen) are, of course, what the town and its environs are most famous for, but they also have mountains, art museums, pirate ships and bountiful history. Here are a few pro tips on how to make the most out of the region, while keeping that budget nice and low.
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 3-in-1 bullet train, Mount Fuji and Hakone combo, try this ¥11,500 tour. For overnight options, two good ones are this Hakone combination transport and hotel package for two nights from ¥40,000, and the Hakone and Mt. Fuji package with onsen hotel, transport, and meals for two days and one night, which starts at around ¥52,800. 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 here are too numerous to count, and some spots are included as options in the tours mentioned above. 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 here.
Tenzan is a standard hot spring, with beautiful rock-lined rotemburo (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 at the hotel—day-trippers are welcome, and many come to soak in the big baths that overlook Lake Ashi. If you think that sounds good, you might want to consider getting your entrance ticket as part of this package that includes lunch at Japanese restaurant Nanakamado for ¥15,000. Getting a decent lunch in Hakone can be surprisingly difficult.
There are over a dozen museums in the area, 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, a large and 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.
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 after all.
The Great Boiling Valley
Seeing that this whole area is a hot spring hotspot, a visit to Owakudani (The Great Boiling Valley) is one of the must-visits on any Hakone tour. Riding a gondola up the mountain, you pass over 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 to Sounzan.
Note: There are various side trails and hiking routes around Owakudani, but as of June 2017, they were closed because of noxious volcanic gases. While the main gondola route 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.
Getting into and around Hakone
The Hakone Free Pass
We like the ¥5,140 Hakone Free Pass, a two-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 floating torii of Hakone Shrine.
Note that some of the most fun methods of transport 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. The 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.
Note: The Hakone Free Pass if your best bet for travel from Tokyo to Hakone, but there are other options. Read them here.
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. 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.
So many delights await—and all just a couple of hours away from Tokyo.
This article was last updated in June 2017 by Carey Finn.
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