If you have a few days to spend in Tokyo, I would highly recommend that you include in your itinerary a side trip to Hakone, either for a day tour or an overnight stay. I treated my parents for a Hakone day trip during the spring season in Japan and was so happy to have given them an amazing and unforgettable experience. 🙂
What to see
From exploring the modern and bustling city of Tokyo, Hakone will offer you a pleasant respite from a city setting on to a scenic tour of the Japan countryside.
Hakone is at the southwestern part of the Kanagawa Prefecture (note: Prefecture in Japan is comparable to Provinces; Kanagawa Prefecture is south of Tokyo) and it’s part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (source: Japan National Tourism Organization), so you will enjoy beautiful lake and mountain scenery, including the majestic view of the famous Mount Fuji.
This town is also well-known for its hot spring resorts (“onsen”), as well as its historical sites, museums and green parks, thus, the perfect getaway for nature lovers! Also, part of the adventure of going to Hakone is exploring the place through the different forms of transports available within the area. Here, you can have sightseeing experience while riding trains, buses, cable cars, ropeways and boats/ships all in one day. So fun!
How to get there
For convenience, we opted to get the 2-day Hakone Free Pass worth 5,140 Yen per person, which can be bought from the Shinjuku train station in Tokyo.
The pass covers a round trip transport from Tokyo (at Shinjuku station, West exit) to Hakone and back (ticket may be used only once) via the Odakyu Railways. Once you’re inside the Hakone area, the pass allows you to hop-on/hop-off in any of the 5 different modes of transports within Hakone including: train, bus, cable car, ropeway, boat/ship (note: this is via the Odakyu-affiliated transports within Hakone so the use of the Japan Railways is not included). But wait, there’s more… the pass also provides discounts in selected tourist attractions (e.g., hot springs, museums, restaurants, etc.). So, while the 2-day pass may seem a bit pricey, it’s really worth your money even if you’re only there for a day tour. For more information regarding the free pass, you may check out the website of Odakyu .
Planning your itinerary
You can plan for a whole day trip but most people I know (even the Japanese themselves) would recommend an overnight stay to experience the hot spring resorts and spas, which Hakone is really famous for.
Planning your itinerary is quite easy and you can follow the Hakone Model Sightseeing Course available at the Odakyu website, which is one of the recommended means of circling the whole area. The map of the round course is shown below. The suggested sightseeing course starts and ends at the Hakone-Yumoto point, circling the area in a counter-clockwise direction. In our case, we did the reverse track since we wanted to prioritize the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. The travel from Shinjuku to Odawara will take more than one hour so it’s best to leave Tokyo really early to be able to complete the whole course and make the most of the free pass (we probably left Shinjuku at around 6AM).
Our Hakone Journey
(1) Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, to Hakone-Machi : Hakone Tozan Train, Hakone Tozan Bus
So we left Shinjuku station super early in the morning and reached Hakone-Yumoto station via the Hakone Tozan Train. From there, we took the Hakone Tozan Bus until Hakone-Machi.
(2) Hakone-Machi to Togendai : Hakone Sightseeing Cruise
Upon reaching Hakone-Machi, we headed to the port area where we boarded the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise via a pirate ship! How cool is that? The cruise takes various routes and there is a specific timetable for the arrival and departure of the ships: Hakone Sightseeing Cruise Timetable and fares.
The ship traverses the calm water of Lake Ashi or Ashinoko Lake. On board, you can go up the viewing deck for a spectacular view of floating shrines, and surrounding mountains, including Mt. Fuji if the weather permits. The cruise takes about 40 mins.
(3) Togendai to Sounzan): Hakone Ropeway
The cruise terminates at the Togendai station and your adventure will then continue via the Hakone Ropeway. The aerial lift provides a different angle for enjoying the scenic panorama of Hakone, and if the weather is good, you can have another chance at seeing Mt. Fuji. Each lift is shared by 18 passengers.
From Togendai, the ropeway will reach Owakudani Station within about 15 mins, where you can see volcanic scenery. You can stop by Owakudani to observe volcanic actitivies and try the famous hard-boiled black eggs (“kurotamago”), the consumption of which, according to legend, can add 7 years into one’s life. From Owakudani, passengers are required to transfer ropeways and then travel for about 10 mins to reach Sounzan Station.
(4) Sounzan to Gora): Hakone Tozan Cable Car
The cable car is an interesting ride following a steep slope going down the mountain side from Sounzan to Gora. From the Gora Station, we headed to the Hakone Gora Park.
(5) Gora to Hakone-Yumoto, to Shinjuku): Hakone Tozan Train
From Gora Station, we took the Hakone Tozan Train going back to Hakone-Yumoto and then back to Shinjuku. Along this route, there are other famous attractions to stop by if you still have time, such as the Hakone Open Air Musem, which is at the Chokoku-no-mori Station.