Hakone is a very popular tourists spot with many things to do. It has one of the best views of Mt. Fuji and is surrounded by forested mountains and beautiful lakes. Located deep in the ravines with the rumbling Owakudani (the Great Boiling Valley), Hakone gives off a dramatic beauty to behold in awe. In the feudal era, this is a checkpoint that safeguarded Edo (now Tokyo) as the seat of Shogunate. The highlights here are the Lake Ashi with the mirroring image of Mount Fuji, Owakudani and numerous hot springs in natural settings.
There are many tourist attractions here in Hakone, not surprising since it is such a popular place. Moreover, there are many people who would take a day trip from Tokyo just to visit here, as it only takes 1 hr 30 mins from Shinjuku or Tokyo station. But I must say one day will be tough to cover everything that Hakone has to offer. If you have a few days to enjoy yourselves here, then let us recommend you the Top 10 Must See and Things to Do in Hakone:
Lake Ashi – Mt Fuji viewpoint
First up for places to visit is Lake Ashi, famous as one of the top Mount Fuji viewpoint in Japan. Relaxing by the lake while staring at Mt Fuji and its almost equivalently beautiful reflection on the lake, I must agree that it is one of the best viewing location for this iconic mountain. Also the rolling mountains on the horizon and the few locals angling nearby leisurely adds to the entire atmosphere that makes Japan, Japan. Lake Ashi has a circumference of 21 km and is rich with black bass and trouts.
Open Air Museum
One of the most popular museums to visit in Hakone among the many here is the Open Air Museum, also known as the Chokoku-no-mori-museum located along the Hakone-Tozan Rail. This museum houses collections of culture by Western and Japanese artists of the late 19th and 20th century. Step into this open area and get transported into a surreal world, where everything is weird yet it seems real. One of an experience if you like this kind of things but it came with a steep admission price of 1600 (as of 2015).
This small waterfall of 3 meters high and 25 meters wide flows quietly and hangs like many strings which inspires its name Chisuji, which means 1000 lines. It is probably one of the best kept secret places to visit in Hakone. The surrounding landscape surrounding this fall is mesmerizing, with its ever-changing landscape according the to the season from glowing summer to fiery autumn leaves.
Owakudani, a very active volcano, lies in the heart of Hakone and serves as the main tourist attraction here. It is known by the local as the Great Boiling Valley and rightly so with its constant volcanic activities. Owakudani are always surrounded by sulphurous steams and smells of rotten eggs. Many come here to boil eggs in the natural 100 C spring waters. These eggs are known as kuro tamago (black eggs).
Attention: The area was restricted since last year in 2015 when I was there and also up to recently. As per the announcement from the authorities, the ropeway is reopened for operations but there are still hiking trails that are partially closed around the area.
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Things To Do
Ride Hakone Tozan Railway
When one is in Hakone, you must try and ride the amazing Hakone-Tozan Railway. This railway travels from Odawara to Gora, passing through the wilderness with breathtaking views from railroad bridges. Its steepest pitch in Japan is the part between Hakone-yumoto and Kowakdani with a gradient of 80/100. The railcar climbs this steep incline in a zig-zag manner with changing directions back and forth. Stay alert during this ride to enjoy the engineering geniuses of the Japanese and be delighted by the constant “have I seen this part before?”
Hiking the old Tokaido road of Hakone – Cedar Avenue
Get away from the tourist’s crowds onto this road less traveled in Hakone, literally and not. It is personally my favourite among the things to do in Hakone. This historic Tokaido road is known as the Cedar Avenue, and walking along this nature path will bring you cedars from over 350 years old. After that, you will pass the Hakone stone buddhas and monuments surrounding the Shojin pond, dating back to seven centuries. Then it will lead you through Ishidatami, the stoned paved road built in the beginning of Edo period for the smooth travel of the royals and commoners. This nature walk will encapsulate the captivating scenery of Hakone back in the days of Edo pilgrims, priests, poets and people.
Ride the Hakone Ropeway
Enjoy the view of the amazing Owakudani volcanic valley with a backdrop of the magnificent Mount Fuji from the ride on the Hakone Ropeway. The ride takes 30 min across 4 km between Sounzan and Togendai station and will take you up to the top of Mt. Komagatake. From the peak, you will get to enjoy the full view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashino. You can also view all the way to Sagami Bay and Izu Peninsula. Hakone Motomiya Shrine is located at this peak.
One cannot be in Japan and not have Onsen as one of the must do things. Pamper yourself and relax in one of the ubiquitous Onsen (natural hot springs) here in Hakone. The Onsens here are well known across Japan, mainly for its glorious view of Mt. Fuji while relaxing in a hot bath. You will be spoiled for choice here and you can be sure to have one of the best Onsen experience in Japan.
Also as a final note, if you are looking on whether to get the Hakone Free Pass, I would only recommend it to those who have a short and limited time here in Hakone and would like to cover many attractions in 2 or 3 days (the pass’ validity days choices), as the transports itself here is expensive per ride. But if you are staying longer and would like to do things in leisure time then this pass may be too expensive to be fully utilised in my opinion. Especially, we did lots of hiking and trekking and end up covering a lot on foot.
Hakone had been a nice, quiet and relaxing respite for me out of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, even with the occasional rumbling volcano! I would recommend visiting here, for just the view of Mt. Fuji over the lake and also the many beautiful hikes. What other things have you done here?
Where to stay in Hakone
Finding a place to stay in Hakone * would be easy as it is a top tourist destination.
For a private luxury surrounded by beautiful mountain views, stay at Mizunoto * or luxury with a blend of modern and traditional Japanese touch, Laforet Club Gora Hakone *.
For a ryokan experience, stay at Mount View Hakone * where its onsen comes with a breathtaking view or Fukuzumiro * with its authentic Japanese architecture.
For the budget conscious, there is of course hostel options such as K’s House Hakone * and Fuji Hajone Guesthouse *
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