Every person who has been to Hakone always says the same thing – they love it. It’s not surprising either. After all, the city of Hakone is entirely lovable and offers some of the most incredible experiences that the country has to offer. Hakone also makes a great side trip for travelers in Tokyo since it’s easily accessible by a quick train ride. Ready? Here are our top 20 things to do in Hakone.
1. Relax at a Sengokuhara Open Air Spa
With such a great wealth of natural hots springs, it’s no surprise that tourists and locals alike flock to Hakone when the frigid winter season approaches. Dating back to 738 AD, Sengokuhara is of 17 ancient hot springs in Hakone. Not only is this place absolutely relaxing, but the open-air style of the facility also means being able to enjoy an incredible view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. Ahh, what more could you ask for?
2. Try Kamaboko Fish Cake
Although it’s made in the neighboring city of Odawara, Kamaboko has quickly become tied to the local foodie scene of Hakone. Essentially a fish cake, what makes Kamaboko special is its springy texture that can be enjoyed fried or steamed. Can’t get your head around how popular this dish is? Locals love it so much that a Kamaboko amusement park was built between Odawara and Hakone to celebrate the tasty treat.
3. Take A Ride on the Hakone Tozan Railway
Enjoy the countryside of Hakone with a trip on the oldest mountain railway of Japan, the Hakone Tozan Railway. This scenic train ride will take through lush and dense forests, interesting mountain tunnels and across bridges above beautiful gorges. This is the perfect trip to take for those who want to enjoy the mountains of Hakone without the luxury of time to hike through them.
- Name: Hakone Tozan Railway
- Price: ¥400
4. Explore the Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Fields
On Hakone Mountain’s west slope, situated in the Sengokuhara district of Hakone, is a sprawling field of pampas grass. Referred to simply as the Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Field, this part of the mountain is covered with tall grass and provides a fantastic view when visited during the autumn season. A long pathway stretches from the base of the mountain, far up into the hillside, for a slightly challenging but thoroughly enjoyable walk.
- Name: Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Fields
- Access: Walk 5 minutes from the Sengoku Kogen bus stop
5. Eat Locally Made Tofu
Hakone is blessed with a natural wealth of clean and crystal clear water. The quality of the water is so good that the residents of Hakone have taken to using it to locally make tofu. Tofu in Hakone is so popular that dozens of restaurants have popped up that specialize in making various tofu centered dishes. If you’ve never tried tofu, Hakone is the place to do so.
6. Journey to Hakone Shrine
The walk to Hakone Shrine is, without a doubt, a truly mystical one. Often shrouded in fog, mist or even, at times, strange glowing lights, Hakone Shrine is hidden at the end of a old forest path by Lake Ashinoko. On your way to the shrine, be sure to enjoy the magical atmosphere that the journey alone provides.
- Name: Hakone Shrine
- Address: 80-1 Motohakone, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0522
- Price: Free admission
- Access: 5 minute walk from the Moto-Hakone Boat Pier
7. Taste Hakone Soba
Another one of Hakone’s specialties, thanks to its abundance of gorgeous quality water, are soba noodles. Despite its status as a Japanese staple, there’s something very unique about the taste of Hakone soba that is very hard to describe. All we can say is, you definitely have to give it a try yourself to figure out what we’re talking about. Slurp away!
8. Discover the Little Prince Museum
Who would have thought that you could find such a magnificent taste of France within the heart of Hakone. If you’re a fan of the Little Prince, then you are sure to enjoy this museum. Step into the pages of the book at the Little Prince Museum which is not only dedicated to the novel, but completely embodies it. See recreated buildings from the book and view a gallery full of the novel’s many foreign language translations.
- Name: Little Prince Museum
- Price: ¥1600
- Access: Take the Tozen Bus to the Kawamukai bus stop
9. Explore Lake Ashinoko
How do you feel about cruising a huge volcanic crater and lake from a giant boat that’s been made to look like a warship for Japan’s Edo Period? If that sounds like an awesome idea to you, it’s best to head to Lake Ashinoko and enjoy all of the stunning views that it’s so well known for. You’ll even catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji peeking out from behind the hills and mountains of Hakone.
10. Delight in Hakone Sushi
Feast on sushi prepared from freshly caught fish at the nearby Odawara or Suruga ports. There’s something very satisfying about knowing that your food is so fresh that it was probably swimming around the nearby bay just a few hours before hand. If you want to try sushi made from fish specific to this region, ask for kinmedai.
11. Walk Along the Old Tokaido Road
Make your way to one of Hakone’s top tourist destinations, the Old Tokaido Road, and transport yourself back to the Edo Period. Historically speaking Tokaido Road had a great impact on Japan’s commerce as prior to the making of the road, travel was largely reserved for samurai and bandits. After its completion, Tokaido Road was well guarded and policed, thus making it the first safe road to travel on in the country. A trip to this well preserved portion of Hakone will treat you to visits to a lookout tower and even a recreated prison.
12. Explore the Small Town of Moto Hakone
Nestled in the middle of woodland, the small town of Moto Hakone is a tourist hot spot by the stunning Lake Ashinoko. A large percentage of Hakone’s top tourist destinations can be found in or around Moto Hakone, so it’s no surprise that the town almost always bustling with activity. See giant torii gates around the area or walk amongst towering cedar trees that were planted in 1618. Whatever you decide to do, this town is guaranteed to be filled with awesome sights and activities.
13. Feast on Wakasagi Smelt
Lake Ashinoko isn’t just beautiful, it’s also home to delightful little fish called wakasagi smelt. The fish is often served either skewered or deep fried and enjoyed with shredded vegetables on the side. It’s subtle flavor is mind blowing and we’re so sure that once you start eating, you’re going to have a hard time stopping.
14. Visit the Hakone Detached Palace
Have you ever been curious about where Japanese royalty liked to enjoyed their vacations? If so, make a visit to the Hakone Detached Palace a priority and see one of the old summer homes used by the Imperial family. Although the palace on its own is, for the most part, unremarkable, the true beauty of the palace lies in its surrounding landscape, which is rich in vibrant green moss and gardens. You can even enjoy a view of Lake Ashinoko from the palace grounds.
- Name: Hakone Detached Palace
- Price: Free admission
- Access: 10 minute walk from Moto-Hakone
15. Head to the Hakone Open Air Museum
The Hakone Open Air Museum is home to an impressive permanent collection of works in the middle of a very touristy town. Spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the grounds of the museum and strolling around the complex while admiring various sculptures. Interesting fact? You can even find a small collection of Picasso works at the museum.
- Name: Hakone Open Air Museum
- Address: 1221 Ashigarashimo District, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0493
- Price: ¥1600
- Access: 5 minute walk from the Chokoku No Mori Station
- Opening hour: 9:00 – 17:00
16. Eat Hakone Style Curry
For a meal that’s just considered a Hakone specialty yet still friendly to your wallet, head out in search of a nice big serving of Hakone style curry. It’s distinctly unique to Hakone in that it uses the refreshing spring water that Hakone is so very well known for. Some locals even say that Hakone’s spring water prolongs life. With that said, all that’s left to do is dig in.
17. Hike Around Owakundi
Home to the local delicacy, Kurotamago, Owakudani is a massive crater that was formed by the most recent eruption of Mount Hakone. To this day, the landscape of Owakudani emits sulfuric gas from the ground and exudes an atmosphere that could be likened to the underworld by some. For avid hikers, the trail from Owakudani to Lake Ashinoko provides a great balance between challenging terrain and fantastic views.
18. Buy Handmade Kokeshi Dolls
Arguably the most popular kind of souvenir bought by tourists to Japan are kokeshi dolls. These little wooden dolls were first created during the Edo Era and have since been a symbol of tradition and culture, especially in Hakone. The best kokeshi dolls to buy are those that are authentically made by hand, especially since the decorative item is already being mass produced by various places around the country. To get your hands on the most prized kokeshi dolls in Hakone, visit Rokuro-Kobo-Katase.
- Name: Rokuro-Kobo-Katase
- Address: 102 Ochiba, Moto Hakone
- Price: ¥300 – ¥25,000
- Access: 5 minute walk from Moto-Hakone bus stop
19. Try Kurotamago
Sure, eating a black egg might not sound very appealing, but in Hakone, black eggs aren’t just a delicacy, they’re said to extend the eater’s life by exactly seven years. Apart from the folklore and their blackened exterior, however, what makes Kurotamago special is the way they are cooked. Vendors cook the eggs in the underground heat of the Owakudani Valley’s volcanic crater.
20. Visit the POLA Museum
Founded by a skin care and beauty product company, the POLA Museum of Art featured the impressive private collection of the late owner, Suzuki Tsuneshi. The museum sits quietly in the midst of a dense 300 year old forest and directly contrasts with its surroundings thanks to its glass and concrete construction. See various works of art from Japanese and European artists and even spot some paintings by heavyweights like Picasso, Monet and Renoir.
- Name: POLA Museum
- Price: ¥1800
- Access: Take a bus to the Pola Bijutsukan bus stop
- Opening hour: 9:00 – 17:00
While Hakone might not be a hidden gem of Japan’s tourist destinations, the very fact that the city is such a well known tourist destination the number one reason to go visit. After all, people keep coming break for a reason, right? Make it a quick side trip from your trip to Tokyo or plan an entire vacation around Hakone’s attractions. Either way, we’re sure you’re going to have a great time!
Have a good trip and travel!