When visiting Japan for the first time, I highly recommend taking a trip from Tokyo to Hakone. This beautiful mountainous town, located about two hours from Japan’s capital city, is best known for its hot springs (onsen), boiling sulphur springs and iconic views of Mount Fuji.
It is a gem that must be experienced during your trip and as it is a top-rated destination among local and international visitors, how you choose to visit could affect your overall experience.
It is possible to make a day trip from Tokyo to Hakone. However, I suggest staying at least one night in the town to fully experience and enjoy all that it has to offer. This will allow you to relax and make the most of your time there.
In this article, I will tell you how to plan a fantastic overnight trip from Tokyo to Hakone, where to stay, what to do and the best times to visit the top-rated sites.
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How To Travel From Tokyo to Hakone – Option 1: Hakone Free Pass
It’s not news that Japan has one of the most advanced and sophisticated transportation network systems in the world. Therefore, getting to Hakone is very easy with several options available to get you there from the major cities.
One of the best options comes with the purchase of the Hakone Free Pass. This pass gives you discounts on several services and attractions, access to all public transportation in Hakone as well as a return ticket from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Hakone Yumoto Station.
With the free pass, you can ride the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station to Odawara Station, then transfer to Hakone Yumoto Station. The trip takes a little under 2 hours.
How To Travel from Tokyo to Hakone – Option 2: JR Pass/Shinkansen
If you have already purchased the JR pass, you can ride the Shinkansen to Odawara Station, and transfer from there to Hakone Yumoto Station. The journey to Odawara Station takes about 35 minutes, making this the overall fastest way to get there.
You can still ride the Shinkansen if you don’t have the JR pass by purchasing individual tickets via the SmartEX app or at the station.
How To Travel from Tokyo to Hakone – Option 3: Romancecar
The last option I recommend to travel from Tokyo to Hakone is via the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar. This train takes you directly from Shinjuku Station to Hakone Yumoto Station. The total journey is 1h 25m and this is the option with the least amount of transfers.
This was the option I went with and I found it to be a relaxing and efficient way to travel. But be aware that taking this train comes at an extra cost, even if you have already purchased the Free Pass with a return trip to Tokyo (more on this below) or the JR pass.
You can visit the Odakyu Rail website to purchase the free pass and the Romancecar surcharge. (Price details are below).
PS: There’s also the option to travel by car, bus or via an organized tour like this one.
Is the Hakone Free Pass Worth Getting?
Whether the Hakone Free Pass is worth getting will depend on your itinerary. For mine, it was certainly worth the purchase. More than the cost savings, it was a convenient and efficient way to move around the town.
I didn’t have to worry about purchasing individual tickets all the time, I received discounted fees in multiple places and was able to skip the line in a few places.
If you plan to stay overnight during your trip from Tokyo to Hakone, I certainly recommend getting this pass. You get unlimited rides on eight modes of transportation, round-trip tickets from Tokyo (if selected) and discounts in many establishments.
How and Where To Buy Hakone Free Pass?
You can purchase this pass from Odakyu Sightseeing Service Centre counters and vending machines at the train stations in Tokyo, Odawara and Hakone. You can also get it online from Klook or directly from the Odakyu Rail website.
A 2-day pass (needed for this overnight itinerary) with a return Tokyo trip costs 6,100 yen for adults and 1,100 for children. It is also possible to buy it without a round trip if you plan to head on to other cities apart from Tokyo.
I opted for this as I travelled onward to Kyoto via Odawara. Without the return ticket, the free pass costs 5,000 yen (about $40). I bought the free pass + a limited express ticket on the Romancecar for my trip.
Where To Stay in Hakone – Moto-Hakone
Choosing a place to stay in Hakone can also greatly affect your overall experience. Since the attractions in this town are quite spread out, you would need to weigh your preferences, budget and mobility options when deciding which areas to base yourself in.
For me, the choice was simple. I wanted to see Hakone Shrine and Torii Gate without the crowd and also stay close to Lake Ashi. Therefore, I chose to stay at Hotel de Yama in Moto-Hakoneko.
Odakyu Hotel de Yama Mini Review
I loved my stay here for many reasons. First, the hotel is located within a 5-10 minute walk from the shrine. Needless to say, when I arrived, save for a couple from the hotel, who left as soon as I got there, I had the place to myself for over an hour and enjoyed watching a beautiful sunrise over the lake.
Another reason why I chose this hotel was because of the free shuttle service from Moto-Hakoneko bus station. This was extremely convenient for my arrival and departure.
Lastly, I enjoyed the beautiful views of the garden, Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji from my room and the hotel premises, as well as the delectable public onsen, where I spent the evening winding down.
Some other hotels to consider that are within a short drive or walk from the Hakone Shrine include Ryuguden – Luxury Ryokan (Japanese-style bedrooms) – 7 minutes drive or half an hour walk and The Prince Hakone Lake Ashinoko – 8 minutes drive or half an hour walk.
Where To stay in Hakone – Gora or Hakone Yumoto
Alternatively, if you prefer to stay somewhere more centrally located, then the Hakone Yumoto or Gora areas will be best. Some top recommended hotels in this area include Emblem Flow Hakone (best budget option), Kinnotake Tonosawa (adult-only hotel), Fujiya Hotel, and Gora Kansuiro.
Overnight Trip from Tokyo to Hakone – Top Things To Do!
One of the things I loved about visiting Hakone was its well-established tour circuit, aka the Hakone Loop. I’m certain that there are several places to visit outside this circuit, but I think this gives a sweet introduction to the town.
Getting around the entire circuit is covered by the Hakone Free Pass and here’s how I visited the tourist attractions.
The first thing I did after arriving at Hakone Yumoto Station was to use the luggage delivery service to ship my bag to the hotel. This gave me more freedom to explore without having to lug my bag around or go to the hotel to drop it off first.
From the station, I took a bus to Moto-Hakoneko. The bus was quite packed and I was so glad that I only had a small bag with me.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be tempted to go directly to the Hakone Shrine and Torii gate when you arrive at Moto-Hakone, but if you’re staying overnight, I recommend saving this stop until the next morning.
Take a Boat Cruise on Lake Ashi
Instead, start your day and circuit with the short boat cruise on Lake Ashi. Different ships do the cruise, including regular ferries and pirate-themed ships.
I rode on one of the pirate-themed boats from Motohakone to Tegendai. This boat ride was included in the Hakone Free Pass, so I didn’t have to pay anything extra for it. There is an option to upgrade your ticket to first class for a fee but I don’t think this is necessary, especially if you’re riding the first set of ships out.
PS: I’ve heard that the lines to board these ships tend to get incredibly long, however, this was not my experience. Because I arrived around 9:30 am, the lines were reasonable, the boat was sparsely populated and I quite enjoyed the ride.
We were also lucky to have favourable weather conditions and enjoyed views of the Shrine Torii Gate and even Mount Fuji!
Ride on the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani
After the boat arrived at the port in Tegendai, I transferred to the Hakone Ropeway and enjoyed stunning views of the valley and volcanic area before arriving at Owakudani.
Here, I walked around the area and checked out the views of the steaming sulphur springs. I indulged in one of the popular things to do here which is eating black-coloured boiled eggs (Kuro-tamago). These eggs get their distinctive colour from being boiled in sulphurous waters causing the shells to turn black.
There are also several black-coloured treats to try here including black egg ice cream and pasta. Overall, this was a fascinating stop for me and I enjoyed my time here.
Next, I got back on the ropeway and rode the car from Owakudani to Sounzan Station, then transferred to the cable car heading to Gora. From there I boarded the Hakone Tozan train to complete the loop, stopping at Chokoku-no-Mori Station, which was a few minutes walk away from the Hakone Open Air Museum.
Visit the Hakone Open Air Museum
The Hakone Open Air Museum was my final stop for the day and with the Hakone Free Pass, I got a small discount on the entry fees. This was a cool open-air exhibition, featuring sculptures from several artists, as well as a gallery with works from Picasso himself!
Relax in an Onsen
I returned to the hotel afterwards and was glad to find my backpack safely stowed in my room. Then I spent the rest of the day walking around the hotel’s beautiful garden, enjoying a relaxing bath in the onsen and having a fantastic Japanese dinner.
Visit the Hakone Shrine and Heiwa no Tori
The next morning, I got up just before sunrise and walked a short distance to the Hakone Shrine and Torii Gate (Heiwa no Tori). I had seen this Torii Gate in several photos but let me tell you, I was stunned by its beauty in real life.
I had also seen images of the gate with tourists standing in long queues, albeit well-organized, before getting the opportunity to snap their iconic photos. Honestly, I don’t fault them, I found this place to be extremely beautiful, simplistic and gorgeous!
However, the last thing I wanted to do was to stand in line for hours. Therefore I chose to visit first thing in the morning and it was the best thing I could have done!
As I mentioned earlier, I watched a stunning sunrise over Lake Ashi for over an hour and enjoyed the quietness of the morning here. I had many worthwhile experiences in Japan, however, this is the one that stays with me the most.
It took a great deal of effort to pull myself away from this spot but I eventually did and crossed to the other side of the road to visit the shrine itself, which was just as beautiful.
Other Things To Do…
After breakfast, I planned to visit Odawara Castle before heading to Kyoto but in my rush to catch the Shinkansen, that fell off my itinerary. I hope to visit Hakone again sometime in the future and when I do, these places that I missed out on will be on my itinerary:
- Odawara Castle
- Hakone Mototsumiya Shrine
- Hiryu Falls
- Pola Museum of Art
So, if you’re considering visiting this beautiful town, here are the best times to visit and the periods to possibly avoid:
Tokyo to Hakone: The Best Time To Visit
Spring and Autumn are generally considered to be the best times to visit Hakone. During these months, the temperature is cooler, and the scenery is exceptionally stunning. You also have a higher chance of seeing Mount Fuji during these months.
I’ve also read that winter could be an excellent time to go as well for clearer views of Mount Fuji.
I visited in Autumn and found it to be an excellent time to go. The weather was a little cold but not uncomfortable – I could still get by in shorts. Fall colours were starting to show while I was there, making the scenery even more spectacular.
As for the best time to visit the popular places, I’d say the Torii Gate is the only place you should aim to visit before 8:00 am.
Tokyo to Hakone: Avoid These Times…
As Hakone is a very popular destination, plan to visit on a weekday and if it can be helped, avoid visiting on a weekend and any public holiday in Japan. Even then, it is worth starting your day early for the best experiences.
My Final Recommendations for Maximizing Your Tokyo to Hakone Trip
Many people who visit Hakone whether as a day trip or visit for longer love it. However, I have read a few accounts from travellers who think it is better off skipped.
I had the option to choose between Hakone or Fujiyoshida and the Lake Kawaguchiko area. I chose Hakone and I don’t regret that choice. I do wish I somehow accommodated both places in my itinerary but I guess that’s one more place to look forward to visiting when I go back to Japan.
So if like me, you have favoured visiting Hakone, here are my top recommendations:
- Stay at least one night – While it is possible to do a day trip from Tokyo, it can feel rushed and exhausting, especially if you choose to do the entire tourist loop.
- I recommend starting your day early even if you’re staying overnight. Enjoy visiting the tourist attractions with fewer people around.
- Get the Hakone Free Pass: if you plan to do the entire tourist loop, then this pass is essential. Not only will it save you some money, but the time savings and convenience will be worth it! I got a few passes like this in Japan, but this was the one that felt like it was the best value for money.
- If you don’t have the JR pass, consider travelling via the Romancecar: This is a reservation-only train that gets you from Tokyo to Hakone in 85 minutes. You’re guaranteed a seat on this train and won’t have to stand or be squeezed in with other passengers during peak hours. Book early to get a seat on the observation deck or simply enjoy the ride in the normal carriages.
- Use the coin lockers at the train station to stow your luggage if you’re visiting on a day trip or the luggage delivery service to send your bags ahead of you, saving you some time.
- You don’t have to return to Tokyo to travel to other cities. You can transfer to other cities via Odawara Station.
- In Japan, many public onsens do not accept guests with visible tattoos. Therefore, if you have one, it will be best to book accommodation with a private onsen.
- Check the schedules and status for all activities you’re interested in as officials often close the ropeway and even the Torii Gate entrance from time to time for maintenance purposes.
I hope that you have found this guide helpful in planning your travels to this beautiful town. If you have any questions about visiting, do leave them in the comment section below and I’ll be sure to get back to you!
Have you visited Hakone or Japan in general? I would love to read about your experience in the country and your favourite cities!