30 Best Things to Do in Hakone: Owaku Valley, Hakone Pirate Ship, Gora Onsen, and More!
Hakone is a scenic mountain resort in Kanagawa Prefecture, right next to Tokyo, and one of the most visited vacation destinations in Japan. The bountiful natural environment consists of the pristine Lake Ashinoko and its surrounding highland forests with a view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. The area offers multi-sensory experiences from photogenic landscapes and artsy museums to heavenly onsen (hot springs) and local delicacies. This article offers a brief overview of some of the best things to see and do in Hakone. Make sure to check out the more detailed articles linked at the end of each section if any of these spots piques your interest!
Dec 04 2018 (Jan 30 2020)
1. Owaku Valley
A valley with barren red earth and volcanic vents spewing out hot steam and sulfuric gases. One of the highlights of Owaku Valley (Owaku-dani) is its black eggs, which are cooked in the hot spring!
2. Lake Ashino
A beautiful caldera lake in the middle of Hakone, it really is the perfect photo spot! If you're lucky, you might even get a view of Mt. Fuji in the backdrop!
3. Hiryu Falls
Hiryu Falls (Hiryu no Taki) is relatively unknown, so if you're looking for something a little off the beaten track, this is it. It is said to look like a flying dragon, and can only be reached by trekking up a steep trail.
4. Tamadare Falls
Tamadare Falls (Tamadare no Taki), in contrast to the Hiryu Falls, is much more famous and easier to access. This scenic waterfall is characterized by its pleasant and soothing sounds.
5. Otome Pass
Otome Pass (Otome Toge) offers a breath-taking view of Mt. Fuji. As if that wasn't enough, there is plenty of delicious food to be had at the closest viewpoint, Fujimi Chaya!
6. Sengokuhara Plateau
On one of the mountains surrounding Mt. Hakone is a rolling plateau called "Sengoku", renowned for its glorious field of Japanese pampas grass. The vast field is covered in tall grass that changes color throughout the year, from bright green in early summer to golden yellow in the fall.
7. Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands
Breathe in the fresh air as you stroll through the marshy grasslands, swamps, streams, hills, and alpine forests of Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands (Hakone Shissei Kaen), and observe the unique species of native plants that are unique to each biome.
8. Onshi Hakone Koen Park
On the small peninsula that protrudes out onto Lake Ashino is the former Imperial villa, which has now been converted into a scenic park for the public. Onshi-Hakone Park offers stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Fuji, and visitors can enjoy the seasonal flowers and greenery throughout.
9. Hakone Gora Park
In Hakone's Gora area lies Japan's oldest French-style garden, which dates back to 1914. Hakone Gora Park was built on a slope amongst boulders and mountainous terrain, creating a unique landscape dotted with steps and inclines. The park also hosts events and workshops throughout the year.
10. Stone-Paved Road of Hakone Kyukaido
In the Edo period (1603 - 1867), people used the "Tokai Road" (Tokai-do) to travel between eastern and western parts of Japan. It is said that around 1680, the Tokugawa Shogunate set stones on the path to make it easier and safer for travelers using the road. A portion of it still remains today as the Hakone Kyukai Road (Hakone Kyukai-do, old Tokai-do).
11. Hakone Ropeway
If the weather is good on the day, take to the air and ride the Hakone Ropeway! For the duration of the approximately 25-minute journey, you'll be able to enjoy a panoramac aerial view of Hakone, including the crystal blue water of Lake Ashino and the majestic image of Mt. Fuji.
12. Komagatake Ropeway
The Komagatake Ropeway runs between Lake Ashino and the peak of Mt. Komagatake. The ride is only 7 minutes long, but the splendid landscape of the now dormant volcanic topography and the beauty of Lake Ashino are worth every minute of it.
13. Hakone Tozan Railway
Hakone Tozan Railway (Hakone Tozan Densha) will escort you on a gentle ride through the deep forests of the highlands. The railway is known to have the steepest incline in Japan, and you can experience this through its special method of climbing the hilly terrain in a series of switchbacks.
14. Hakone Tozan Cable Car
The Hakone Tozan Cable Car connects Gora and Sounzan, a 208m difference in elevation! The cable car route extends 1.2km between the two locations to provide a leisurely 10-minute ride with wonderful views of the lush nature.
15. Hakone Pirate Ship
Ship ahoy! How about taking a sightseeing cruise on a pirate ship at Lake Ashino? Hakone Sightseeing Cruise (Hakone Kanko-sen) offers three types of ships adorned in a pirate-themed decor.
16. Hakone and Kuzuryu Shrines
Hakone Shrine (Hakone-jinja) has long been believed to possess positive energy, and welcomes endless visitors who seek blessings for traffic safety and good fortune.
Just off to the side of the main shrine is the Kuzuryu Shrine (Kuzuryu Jinja Shingu), which enshrines the dragon deity of water, who is said to bring good luck in money, business, and marriage.
17. Hakone Sekisho
Hakone Sekisho, is a historical attraction that replicates the checkpoint from the Edo Period whose function was to regulate traffic on the Tokaido, one of the major highways in Japan. There are various facilities including a lookout post, a shooting range, and a guardhouse.
18. Hakone-en Aquarium
On the shore of Lake Ashino, at 723m above sea level, is Hakone-en Aquarium (Hakone-en Suizoku-kan), a seawater aquarium with the highest elevation in Japan. One of the most popular attraction here is the Baikal Seal Plaza where you can observe the cute seals swimming casually in the pool and lounging comfortably by the water.
19. Forest Adventure Hakone
Forest Adventure Hakone is located within the native forest of Hakone Yumoto. You will be fully clad in harnesses and head protection before climbing high up into the trees to walk across beams from one tree to another, swing Tarzan-style or zip-line through the forest at high speed.
20. Hakone Open-Air Museum
Hakone Open-Air Museum (Hakone Chokoku no Mori Bijutsu-kan) showcases works of art in the open, where they are in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The verdant 70,000 square meter garden is dotted with permanent displays of roughly 120 works created by legendary sculptors of the modern and contemporary eras.
21. Pola Museum of Art
Pola Museum of Art (Pola Bijutsu-kan) showcases the private art collection of the second generation owner of Pola Art Foundation, Tsuneshi Suzuki. The collection includes paintings by notable artists like Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Léonard Foujita, and Sugiyama Yasushi, in addition to other paintings, sculptures, glassworks, ceramics, and cosmetic utensils from all over the globe.
22. Hakone Museum of Art
Revel in the collection of ancient earthenware and Japanese-style gardens at Hakone Museum of Art (Hakone Bijutsu-kan). The museum mainly displays Japanese pottery and ceramics which were created sometime between the prehistoric Jomon Period (approx. 14,000 BCE - 300 BCE) and the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). Make sure to allow enough time to walk through the various gardens on the premises and to enjoy a cup of matcha (powdered green tea) in the teahouse.
23. Narukawa Art Museum
Located just near Lake Ashino is the Narukawa Art Museum (Narukawa Bijutsu-kan), dedicated specifically to modern nihonga (Japanese-style painting). The museum boasts an extensive collection of paintings by Japan's most accomplished artists. Enjoy the breathtaking views from the panorama lounge as well as the garden.
24. Okada Museum of Art
The Okada Museum of Art features works of art from Japan, China, and Korea, including nihonga, ceramics, lacquerware, and religious artwork, that date back as far as the ancient past to the present. Available in multiple languages, the informative descriptions are educational and culturally inspiring.
They also have a footbath with natural hot spring water!
25. Lalique Museum Hakone
René Lalique was a French jeweler and master glassmaker. His exquisite works range from fine jewelry and perfume bottles to interior decorations and decorative ornamental pieces. At the lovely cafe of the museum, Le Train, you can enjoy a leisurely teatime in the Orient Express passenger car, whose glass panels were designed by Lalique.
26. Hakone Venetian Glass Museum
Delight in the fascinating world of glass art at the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum (Hakone Garasu-no-Mori Bijutsu-kan). From the entrance, you'll pass through a corridor made of crystal that captures the sunlight and releases it as sparkling rainbows everywhere. The museum houses valuable pieces including goblets, flower vases, and compote dishes, with some dating back to the 1500s.
27. The Little Prince Museum
The Little Prince Museum (Hoshi-no-Ojisama Museum) is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to the renowned novella, "The Little Prince", and its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The museum is set in a French townscape with actual photographs, letters, and cherished items of Antoine on display in the main hall.
28. Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun
A trip to Hakone isn't complete until you have experienced its natural onsen, and you can indulge to your heart's content at Yunessun! It's an onsen amusement park with exciting attractions such as the all-season water slides, an open-air bath, an onsen pool, and even wine and coffee baths!
29. Yumoto Onsen
Hakone's onsen culture began 1,200 years ago in the district currently known as Yumoto Onsen, which is the oldest natural onsen amongst the seven major sources in Hakone. The water of Yumoto Onsen is said to be gentle on the skin, and beneficial for sensitivity to the cold, shoulder stiffness, and back pain. The streets are lined with various onsen ryokan and bathhouses as well as local restaurants.
30. Gora Onsen
The Gora district boasts one of the most spectacular and vibrant vistas in Hakone, thanks to its elevated location and the surrounding natural environment. The 5 different types of onsen in the area also add a touch of color to the scenery.
Gora is the place to go if you want to spend some quality onsen time in a pleasant, upscale ambience.
Can't wait to get to Hakone? Book yourself on this handy 1-day tour, which takes in Mt. Fuji and Hakone!
From shrines, onsen, and ropeway to museums and natural landscapes, there are so many things to see and do in Hakone. It can be a great destination for a day trip from Tokyo, but stay a night or two if you want to delve deeper into the natural and cultural wonders of Hakone. Why not add Hakone to your travel itinerary and discover why it is so well-loved by tourists from Japan and the rest of the world?
Header credit: JHENG YAO / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.