Hakone have been so much fun and these are the 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 cancelled and we had to hike down to Togendai. I love hiking, but not in surprises. And then we cancelled our plan to visit the detached palace due to having not enough time to catch our ride back to Shinjuku. Having not enough time is always a challenge for me in Japan, especially when I want to visit all places in an area. Then the budget issues which I need to control since I have other places to visit on my 2 week visit in Japan.
I compiled below some fun and cheap things to do in Hakone that you might wanna try. 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 on and tell me if there are some secret places or activity that is worthy to be added, let's improve this list!
LET’S KNOW MORE ABOUT HAKONE FIRST
Hakone is internationally well-known for its hotsprings and where one can view Japan’s symbolic mountain, Mt. Fuji. Not only the place is popular for its natural beauty, 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 go dipping in the hotsprings
For tourists, this is a perfect place to enjoy the historical and cultural tour in Japan with its open-air museums, historical landmarks, pirate 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
This is my personal list of fun and cheap things to do in Hakone that I hope you find to your interest as well..
- Ride the Romancecar
- Cross the mountains and volcano via the Hakone Ropeway**
- Sail across the lake on a pirate ship**
- Get a leisure ride on a steep mountain railway on Hakone Tozan Train**
- Experience the uphill slope while riding a cable car**
- Get a glimpse of Owakudani, the ‘Great Boiling Valley’
- Eat some Volcanic Black Eggs
- Go Swan Paddling
- Rent a bicycle and tour the city of Odawara
- Tour the Ancient Castle of Odawara
- Relive the Samurai Era
- Sit back and relax at Miyukinohama Beach
- Shop till you drop at Gotemba Premium Outlets or just do window shopping**
- Relax at the French style garden at Hakone Gora Park **
- Get some Pottery Lessons at Gora Park's Craft House
- Collect Discount Coupons at the Stations
- Visit Hakone Shrine
- Pamper yourself in an Onsen or Ryokan
- Check out an Art Museum**
- Get some Cheap Ice Cream in Sounzan Ropeway Station
** 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: How to Use Hakone Free Pass and Travel on a Budget and learn more on other exhilarating transportations you can ride.
1. RIDE THE ROMANCECAR
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 are an observation deck where you can get front row seats for the train ride so, better reserve those seats fast!
Did you also 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 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 which is perfect for capturing photos or videos of the scenery.
- 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 THE MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANO VIA THE HAKONE ROPEWAY
Price: ¥730 - ¥1370 one-way, unlimited rides with Hakone Free Pass | Hours: 9am to 5pm
Go for a heavenly sky ride on the Hakone Ropeway! The cabins are large enough for the passengers to move around 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-slash-samurai-war-ship. Yes, a PIRATE/WAR SHIP!
3. SAIL ACROSS THE LAKE ON A PIRATE SHIP
Price: ¥360 - ¥1840, unlimited rides with Hakone Free Pass | Hours: 9:30am to 5:30pm
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. Anyway, there are 3 splendid sightseeing ships that you can ride:
- The Red Royal II: as the name states, it’s the red and golden colored ship
- The sophisticated Victory: the cool black pirate ship
- The Vasa: the green ship with elegant sculptures inside
Enjoy the panoramic view of Mt. Fuji when the weather is clear and the stunning skyline of Hakone. A single ride on the ship ranges from ¥360 - ¥1000 but when you have the Hakone Free Pass ticket, you can have unlimited cruise rides, so I definitely recommend buying this pass. You can opt to buy a First Class Cabin sit for a comfortable ride and better view, you sometimes can’t get a seat when there are too many passengers on the ship. The ports where you can ride are at:
- Togendai Port
- Hakone-machi Port
- Moto-Hakone Port
4. GET A LEISURE RIDE ON A STEEP MOUNTAIN RAILWAY ON HAKONE TOZAN TRAIN
Price: ¥270 - ¥670 one-way, unlimited rides with Hakone Free Pass | Hours: 8am to 9pm
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 Hakone-Yumoto to Gora station as it lets you enjoy the breathtaking view of the wilderness while it crosses railroad bridges. And in the summer season you can gaze upon the rows of blooming hydrangeas along the tracks.
5. EXPERIENCE THE UPHILL SLOPE WHILE RIDING A CABLE CAR
Price: ¥80 - ¥400 one-way, unlimited rides with Hakone Free Pass | Hours: 8am to 9pm
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 hotsprings plus the whole ride from the first station up to its last point is just 10 minutes. As an advice, get a ride at the front of the first car where you can get the best view of the ride as it ascend uphill.
6. GET A GLIMPSE OF OWAKUDANI, THE ‘GREAT BOILING VALLEY’
How to get here: Ride the Hakone Ropeway in Togendai or Sounzan station and get off at Owakudani station | Hours: 9am to 5pm
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.
A tourist trail is avaiable in Owakudani leading to a hotsprings site, a number of steam vents and shops where you can purchase black eggs and delicious premium ice creams costing ¥450. 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 a fog. This affects the activity of the ropeway and some days they cancel it as it might lead to accidents.
7. EAT SOME VOLCANIC BLACK EGGS
Where to buy: They are sold almost everywhere in Hakone.
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 good. It has the perfect blend of saltiness in it that makes you want to eat more.
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 hotspring 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 hotspring. Oh, and it still has the smell of sulfur when you eat them.
8. GO SWAN PADDLING
Price: ¥1400 for 30 minutes | Location: can be rented at any ports in Lake Ashi
There are swan paddle boats at the port areas in Lake Ashi that are available for rental for a minimum of 30 minutes. This is both a unique and exciting activity to take your beloved! Swan paddling is a strenuous leg exercise but there are some normal boats for rent and I think this swan version is more of a must-try. The areas where you are allowed to roam are large, 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. Although, I think it was worth it as I get to capture a close-up shot of the cruise ship. Like the picture on the bottom right. The passengers kept waving at us, such friendly tourists.
9. RENT A BICYCLE AND TOUR THE CITY OF ODAWARA
Price: ¥300 | Where to rent: Rekishi-kenbukan Museum or Odawara station east exit parking | Hours: 9am to 4:30pm (last rental at 3:30pm)
Japan is not only famous for trains, hotsprings and cherry blossoms. If you are a fan of anime’s too, they always show characters riding a bicycle while going to school like it’s a norm for them. Well, it actually is. 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! And specifically in Odawara, for a cheap price of ¥300 you can rent a bicycle for 4 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 up to the soothing Miyukinohama Beach. There are some mishaps along our way finding the beach, but still nothing beats the pleasure of riding a bicycle in Japan.
10. TOUR THE ANCIENT CASTLE OF ODAWARA
Price: Free entrance | How to get here: 10 minute walk from Odawara station east exit along Ohoribata Street | Hours: 9am to 5pm
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
Price: ¥300 | Location: Odawara Castle | Rental Hours: 9am to 3:30pm
A thing that perked our interest is we get to rent costumes at a much affordable rate in Odawara Castle! Our challenge is to travel on a budget, but there are certain experiences that you don’t want to miss, one of it is wearing a kimono. And 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
Price: Free | How to get here: From the main entrance of Odawara Castle head straight towards the south, around 10-15 minute walk
Just a few minutes away from Odawara Castle is Miyukinohama beach. Some time in 1873 the Emperor of Japan visited this beach of Odawara where fishermen used to dry and sell their fish. The people then started calling Odawara beach “Miyukinohama” meaning “the 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 to the south from the main entrance of Odawara Castle. Miyukinohama beach is not very crowded, which makes it a perfect spot 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
Hours: 10am to 8pm
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 boutiques of international 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 Gotemba is still fun and you can try out some shoes from Timberland, Nike, Adidas 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
Entry Price: ¥550, free with Hakone Free Pass | Hours: 9am to 5pm (entry until 4:30pm) | Location: 5 minute walk from Gora station
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 where you can also bring your own food and have a picnic in the area.
Gora Park is a French themed garden 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 1900’s?
15. GET SOME POTTERY LESSONS AT GORA PARK’S CRAFT HOUSE
Activity Price: Ranges from ¥1000 to ¥5000 | Hours: 9am to 5pm | Location: Gora Park
There’s a hands-on workshop in Gora Park, where they will 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, 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 2 to 3 days before you can pick up your finished product.
16. COLLECT DISCOUNT COUPONS AT THE STATIONS
Location: Almost every stations
One thing I noticed when in Hakone is, almost every station we get off too has some discount coupons lined up over their counters. Most of it are discounts on hotspring resorts and museums where they have 100-200 yen off. Check out some brochures just lying around the stations to, it might perk your interest to visit one.
17. VISIT HAKONE SHRINE
Price: Free admission | Hours: Always open | Location: 5 minute walk from Moto-Hakone boat pier
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 a dense forest of Moto-Hakone and the path to the shrine is stunningly lined with lanterns and huge cedar trees. You can have your picture taken at the shores 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 hotsprings, complete your visit by pampering yourself in an onsen. There are various onsen resorts to choose from and most of them you have to be nude, but if you’re too bashful, there are hotsprings 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 to bathe in. 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.
19. CHECK OUT AN ART MUSEUM
Definitely not a cheap thing to do but it is a fun activity for art lovers or those who just appreciate beauty in all forms. 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 glass works 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 the Venetian museum, 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 when 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 and inside of its grounds.
20. GET SOME CHEAP ICE CREAM IN SOUNZAN ROPEWAY STATION
Price: ¥150 | Location: Sounzan Station
This is the cheapest ice cream I found in Japan and you can buy this tasty ice cream at the souvenir shop in Sounzan ropeway station. The shop is an open store where you can avail items such as fans, black eggs and badges where you can have your name embedded on it.
UNWINDING IN HAKONE
Take a detour to Hakone...
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!
- Is my list of things to do in Hakone helpful to you? I hope it is.