Hakone have been so much fun and there are many places I have been to within the span of three days. Which I can say is a lot, considering that on the third day we didn’t get to do much because of some unforeseen events. The ropeway suddenly got canceled, we got stranded and we had to hike down to Togendai port. I love hiking, but not in surprises. Because of this, we canceled our plan to visit the detached palace, which is easily accessible in Hakone-Machi due to having not enough time to catch our ride back to Shinjuku.
Having not enough time is always a challenge in Japan, especially when you want to visit almost all the places in an area.
I compiled below some fun and cheap things to do when you visit Hakone. There are more worthy things to list here, but I went to Hakone in the summer and didn’t bother going to some places since they are best visited at a different season.
READ MORE: How to travel in Hakone on a budget!
Hakone is internationally well-known for its hot springs and where one can view Japan’s symbolic mountain, Mt. Fuji. Not only is the place is popular for its natural beauty but the accessibility of Hakone makes it a perfect destination for the tired and weary of the urban life, to immerse themselves in the natural landscape of Lake Ashi, Owakudani, oversee Mt. Fuji or just go dip in the hot springs.
For tourists, this is one of the perfect places to enjoy a historical and cultural trip in Japan with its museums, historical landmarks, cruise ships and so much more.
Hakone is also one of the places designated as a Geopark by UNESCO, which means its geological heritage is of ‘international’ significance thus regarding it a traveler’s destination. Will this place be your next destination to travel as well?
FUN AND CHEAP THINGS TO DO IN HAKONE
More info here on how to use and where to buy Hakone Free Pass
Did you know that there’s a discount ticket you can avail so you can have unlimited rides on the ropeway, cruise ship and more? With this pass, you have no problems wasting some yen when you get lost in Hakone too! Yay for that!
Check out my post about Hakone Free Pass and learn more on other exhilarating transportations you can ride.
1. RIDE THE ROMANCE CAR
Enjoy a scenic ride on the front car by riding the limited express train Romancecar going to Hakone! That aside, it’s a faster option to get to Hakone in only 85 minutes, the trail of the Romancecar lets you see some of the best views of the countryside in Japan.
Want to ride a Romancecar? Reserving a seat is required, and to get the best seats, booking in advance is recommended. The front and back seat of the cars is an observation deck where you can get front row seats for the train ride so, better reserve those seats fast!
Did you know that there are four models of Romancecar that you can ride? And their availability depends on the time schedule you chose. The available train models right now are:
Type 60000 (MSE): Noticeable as the shiny blue train, the glasses are painted with blue, making the view from the outside in the shade of blue too.
Type 50000 (VSE): Called Vault Super Express. Personally, I think this has the perfect observation deck, it features really wide windows, perfect for capturing photos or videos of the landscapes.
Type 30000 (EXE): This model has a more sophisticated design compared to the others and has a larger passenger capacity.
Type 7000 (LSE): The oldest in service since 1980. The LSE has won awards as the best train model.
2. CROSS A VOLCANO VIA ROPEWAY
Go for a heavenly sky ride on the Hakone Ropeway! The cabins are large enough for the passengers to move and be taken above a breathtaking 130-meter view of Hakone. The ropeway crosses over the mountains and Owakudani volcanic valley, where you can stop by near the active volcano zone.
The trip also takes you on a 30-minute ride from Sounzan to Togendai on Lake Ashi. After you get off at Togendai, you can get a view of the lake where you can ride on a pirate ship. Yes, a PIRATE SHIP!
3. SAIL ACROSS LAKE ASHI ON A PIRATE SHIP
After riding the ropeway, get off at Togendai station, you can immediately see the lake and the pirate ship just after getting off the cabin. They were attempted to look like samurai warships but are often mistaken as pirate ships, personally I think they are closer to pirate ships. And now, they are named like that.
There are 3 splendid sightseeing ships that you can ride:
The Red Royal II: as the name states, it’s the red and gold ship
The sophisticated Victory: a black pirate ship
The Vasa: the green ship with elegant sculptures inside
Enjoy the panoramic view of Mt. Fuji on clear weather and the stunning skyline of Hakone. A single ride on the ship costs ¥1000 but when you have the Hakone Free Pass ticket, you can have unlimited cruise rides. I definitely recommend buying this pass.
You can opt to buy a First Class Cabin sit as well for a comfortable ride and better view. Do note that you sometimes won’t get a seat when there are too many passengers on the ship.
4. RIDE ON A STEEP MOUNTAIN RAILWAY
Another exciting way to ride up a mountain is thru Hakone Tozan Railway. The railcar’s direction switches back and forth as it climbs up a steep mountain, the steepest pitch in Japan for an adhesion railway. The train travels from Odawara to Gora station as it lets you enjoy the breathtaking view of the wilderness while it crosses railroad bridges.
During the summer season, you can gaze upon the rows of blooming hydrangeas along the tracks.
5. RIDE A CABLE CAR
Ascend the mountain on a short cable car ride from Gora to Sounzan station where you can ride the ropeway. The cable car connects Gora to popular sightseeing spots like museums and hot springs plus the whole ride from the first station up to its last point is just 10 minutes.
As a piece of advice, get a ride at the front cabin where you can get the best view of the ride as it ascends uphill.
6. VISIT OWAKUDANI, THE ‘GREAT BOILING VALLEY’
Owakudani is an active volcano zone located around the crater that was formed after an ancient eruption of Mt. Hakone from 3000 years ago. This volcanic valley keeps fuming sulfuric gases, which should be avoided by those who have respiratory problems or heart diseases.
There’s a tourist trail in Owakudani leading to a hot springs site, a number of steam vents and shops where you can purchase black eggs and delicious premium ice creams. Mt. Fuji can also be viewed in Owakudani on a clear day, but when it rains, the smoke from the heat of the valley rises and creates fog. This affects the activity of the ropeway and some days they cancel it as it might lead to accidents.
7. EAT VOLCANIC BLACK EGGS
These famous boiled black eggs are a local specialty in Owakudani, definitely one of the things you should not miss eating when in Hakone.
Legend says that eating an egg adds seven years to your life, true or not, these eggs taste so good. It has the perfect blend of saltiness in it that makes you want to eat more. I’m not a fan of eggs but this is a yummers!
What made them black?
It was the manner of how they are boiled which makes them special. They are cooked by boiling, then steaming them in hot spring ponds containing sulfur and iron. Thus, giving them their unique look, so no worries on what animal it came from. They are just regular chicken eggs boiled in a sulfuric hot spring. Oh, and it still has the smell of sulfur when you eat them. If you’re ignorant like me, you’ll think it came from a very special kind of bird. Lol.
8. GO SWAN PADDLING IN LAKE ASHI
There are swan paddle boats in Moto-Hakone area that are available for rental for a minimum of ¥600 for 30 minutes. This is both a unique and exciting activity to take your beloved!
Swan paddling is a strenuous activity but there are some normal boats for rent and I think this swan version is more of a must-try. There is a huge are you can roam around, but our swan boat seems to love getting idle on the docking ports. There was twice a time when we were shooed off the area because a ship is about to dock and we were in the way. But thanks to that I get to capture a close-up shot of the cruise ship. Like this one. The passengers kept waving at us, such friendly tourists.
9. TOUR ODAWARA CITY BY BICYCLE
You know your trip ain’t complete without riding a bicycle in Japan!
Japan is not only famous for trains, hot springs, and cherry blossoms. If you are a fan of anime’s too, they always show characters riding a bicycle while going to school. Don’t you just want to recreate that kind of moment?
Cycling is also one famous mode of transportation for the Japanese and what makes a visit more thrilling? The experience of riding a bike in the streets of Japan is a must-experience! Somewhere near Odawara station, you can rent a bicycle for a cheap price for 5 hours. Just make sure you won’t damage the vehicle or get into any accidents.
Our ride went smoothly from Odawara station to the ancient fortress of Odawara Castle and up to Miyukinohama Beach. There are some mishaps along our way searching for the beach, but still, nothing beats the pleasure of riding a bicycle in Japan.
10. TOUR THE ANCIENT CASTLE OF ODAWARA
Entrance is free and no trip would be complete in Odawara without a visit to this historic fortress. The now well-maintained ancient castle is said to have been the largest in Japan during the Warring Stated period. Its history dates back to the Muromachi period with it having very strong defenses to repel attackers from outside. Once a stronghold in the days of old, Odawara Castle is now a park proclaimed as a preserved national historic monument. Odawara Castle is also listed as one of the 100 Finest Castles of Japan.
11. RELIVE THE SAMURAI ERA
A thing that perked our interest is the costume rental in Odawara Castle. We get to rent them at a very affordable rate.
Our challenge is to travel on a budget, but there are certain experiences that you don’t want to miss, one of them is wearing a kimono. Renting one is expensive, but luckily we saw an alternative way of wearing something similar and I think this is more exciting than just a kimono. And that is, wearing thematic costumes like a ninja, samurai or even a Japanese princess!
12. SIT BACK AND RELAX AT MIYUKINOHAMA BEACH
Just a few minutes away from Odawara Castle is Miyukinohama beach. Sometime in 1873 the Emperor of Japan visited the beach of Odawara where fishermen used to dry and sell their fish. The people then started calling Odawara beach “Miyukinohama” meaning “beach visited by the Emperor”.
Swimming on the beach is allowed and there’s also a lifeguard overlooking the area for possible accidents. The area is accessible by bike and it’s a straight road on the west exit of Odawara Castle. Miyukinohama beach is not very crowded, which makes it a perfect way to just sit back, relax and view the serene place.
If you’ve got the time why not see the sunset at this beach?
13. SHOP TILL YOU DROP AT GOTEMBA PREMIUM OUTLETS OR JUST DO WINDOW SHOPPING
Shopping in Gotemba Premium Outlets may not be cheap, but it can be fun window shopping here. This popular outlet mall is located in Gotemba at the base of Mt. Fuji, it features shops, boutiques of internationally well-known brands such as Ralph Lauren, Anna Sui, Burberry, Gucci and many more.
If you’re on a luxurious shopping spree, Gotemba Premium Outlets is your go-to shopping mall when in Hakone. For the window shoppers like me, sightseeing in Gotemba is still fun and you can try out some clothes, shoes or just splurge on eating snacks.
You can also view Mt. Fuji on a clear day on the bridge here, sadly I was not able to and it’s almost night time when we visited.
14. RELAX AT THE FRENCH STYLE GARDEN AT HAKONE GORA PARK
You can enter Gora Park for FREE if you show your Hakone Free Pass at the counter. If you prefer a nature course for your adventure, I recommend visiting Gora Park. The place is just a few hikes away from Gora station. You can bring your own food and have a picnic in the place.
Gora Park is a French-themed garden that opened in 1914 that was initially built for the upper-class families during the Taisho Era. You can try out some pottery lessons at their craft house or visit the Tea Garden which is registered as a tangible cultural property of Japan.
Another significance of Gora Park is that the garden is the only existing example of a Formal-type French garden of the Meiji and Taisho era. Can you believe you’ll be stepping on a piece of land that dates back in the 1900s?
15. GET SOME POTTERY LESSONS AT GORA PARK’S CRAFT HOUSE
There’s a hands-on workshop in Gora Park, where they can teach you the art of pottery and glass blowing. If you are keen on learning how to make Japanese crafts, then this is the best place to learn. The instructors inside the Craft House will give you the best learning experience as they teach you your chosen craft.
All activities are safe for children, and the stuff you made can be delivered to your home country for an additional fee or you can wait for 2 to 3 days before you can pick up your finished product.
16. COLLECT DISCOUNT COUPONS ON STATIONS
One thing I noticed when in Hakone is, almost every station we get off has some discount coupons over their counters. Most of it is discounts on hot spring resorts and museums where they have 100-200 yen off when you show your coupons. Check out some brochures just lying around the stations, it might perk your interest to visit one. Collecting is fun. You might not know when you will use them.
17. VISIT HAKONE SHRINE
If you type in images of Hakone on Google, you’ll particularly see a picture of this eye-catching red torii gate along the shores of Lake Ashi. It’s interesting to visit this shrine as it’s located amidst dense forest of Moto-Hakone. The path to the shrine is stunningly lined with lanterns and huge cedar trees. You can have your picture taken at the shore of the gate, but arrive early as there are usually crowds lined up to take photos there.
Do note you will be climbing up the stairs a lot!
18. PAMPER YOURSELF IN AN ONSEN OR RYOKAN
Since Hakone is the land of onsens or what we popularly call as hot springs, complete your visit by pampering yourself in an onsen.
There are various onsen resorts to choose from and most of them you have to bathe nude. If you’re too bashful, there are hot springs where you can bathe wearing a swimsuit. One of them is at Yunessun Spa Resort where there’s an available swimsuit area that you can choose. Yunnesun is a popular and unique resort around the area where you can bathe in coffee, Japanese sake or even a wine spa.
There are discount coupons of their resort in Gora station, which you should definitely check and get ¥100 off when you show it at the resort. (as of 2017)
19. CHECK OUT AN ART MUSEUM
There are a number of museums in Hakone that you should try to visit when you have time and cash to spare. Some popular museums in Hakone are the following:
Venetian Glass Museum: Also called the Hakone Garasu no Mori. The museum exhibits corridors with sparkling crystals and the architecture is reminiscent of a medieval noble’s house. Inside are the Venetian glassworks of artisans from the 15th to 19th century to today. Apart from the glass exhibits inside is the garden decorated with thousands of crystal glass beads, imagine when the sun lights upon them.
The Little Prince Museum: Moving on from Venice, if you’re a fan of Saint-Exupery’s, the author of “The Little prince”. Then this should definitely be on your list. This is the only museum devoted to the book where you can get a taste of France in Japan, even I can’t believe how diverse Hakone is. You can feel the landscape of France, Italy. and Japan within Hakone, it’s just too cool!
Hakone Open Air Museum: Do you love art and nature? The Hakone Open-Air Museum creates the perfect balance of both by exhibiting various sculptures outside of its grounds.
20. GRAB SOME CHEAP SNACKS & FOODS
MOW – this is the cheapest ice cream I found in Japan! Located in Sounzan, the ropeway station in Hakone, the ice cream can be found before you board the ropeway. You can easily see it since you can purchase it at the souvenir shop. An open store where you can avail items such as fans, black eggs, and badges where you can have your name embedded on it.
For one of the cheapest meal, you can find it at Odawara station. It’s a Japanese restaurant selling fried snacks, udon, curry and other Japanese dishes.
Are you in love with Hakone yet? I can almost call it a paradise for relaxation. Hakone has too much to offer us travelers and it’s truly a destination worth your visit. Since Hakone is just a few hours away from Tokyo you might want to take a detour and visit it now.
THINGS TO KNOW
Hakone is easily accessible from Tokyo using Hakone Free Pass, an excursion ticket that offers unlimited rides in Hakone. The best way to travel around in Hakone is by using this pass. To get the cheapest available plane fares, check out Skyscanner. This has also been my go-to app for searching my cheapest last-minute flights.
If you're a Filipino a visa is required prior your travel to any destinations in Japan. Japan is by far the current easiest visa to get for Filipinos. Requirements for visitors are easy to get!
Before going to Japan, it is best to learn some of the basic often-used terms like migi, hidari, arigatou, sumimasen and etc. Some Japanese have a hard time talking in English and they will explain back to you in their languase. And of course, with lots and lots of gestures to details what they mean.
Currency in Japan is called Japanese Yen (JPY, ¥)
Trains. Yes, trains are the most basic mode of transportation in Japan, and they can be quite expensive. Buying an excursion ticket for tourists is the way to go especially if you're on a budget. Some of these tickets are the Osaka Amazing Pass, Hakone Free Pass, Kintetsu Rail Pass and many more!
VOLCANO OR THE HOT SPRINGS?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The name’s Fiorucci (pronounced as Fee-yoh-ru-chi), I’m not Italian but I can eat pasta for a whole week…or a month…or more. Hop on my story as I travel the world ‘one destination at a time’ while juggling with my full-time work, freelancing and building my own business to gain freedom from this monotonous corporate society.