For anyone looking for a great day trip from Tokyo, Hakone offers something for everyone. Gas masks are essential if you plan to get out atop the volcano, or advisable if sharing a cable car with anyone who’s recently had a ramen lunch.
Situated around 100km west of Tokyo, Hakone is one of Japan’s most famous onsen areas. It seems to be hugely popular with visitors from all over and is easy to access from Shinjuku. The Hakone Free Pass represents great value for money. For just ¥5,140 (about £32 or $46), you get return travel from Shinjuku to Hakone, plus: UNLIMITED travel for 2 days around Hakone, including the mountain train, cable car, ropeway to the volcano, all buses in the area, AND the famous Lake Ashi pirate boats; and discount on attractions in the area. The pass is valid for 2 days, although you can buy a 3 day pass for a little extra cash. It’s incredible value, especially if you’re planning on staying in the area for a night or two. However, even if you’re just going for the day it still represents great value for money and beats paying for each individual mode of travel.
You’ll do well to avoid the crowds (standard) and it can become extremely busy, especially at peak times and weekends. The best thing to do is to set off really early from Shinjuku. If you can get to Lake Ashi by 9am, you’ll not only beat the crowds, but – weather permitting – have incredible views of Fuji before it hazes over.
I’ve Guzzled about Hakone previously (see here), so I thought I’d list my top things to do in the area for anyone interested in visiting (in no particular order):
1 – Hakone Open Air Museum
You don’t need to be an arty farty critic or lovey to enjoy this awesome place. The museum is set in beautifully landscaped gardens and hosts some incredible pieces of contemporary art, including many pieces by the legendary Henry Moore. If you’re not into art per se, then just the wander around the gardens is worth the admission:
There’s also an awesome collection of Pablo Picasso’s work housed in a cool outhouse:
2 – Pirate boat on Lake Ashi
Make your way down to Lake Ashi crater lake. Here is proof of me attending said lake:
3 – Gora and Gora Park
Near to the Open Air Museum lies Gora, a sleepy little mountain town, where you can buy all sorts of touristy crap. You can grab some nice ramen or soba if you’re feeling brave enough to venture into a local eatery. Just up the hill lies Gora Park. Entry is free with the Hakone Free Pass. It was chucking it down when we went, but the flowers (and the rain!) reminded us of an English country garden:
4 – Hakone Shrine
5 – Hakone Tozan train, cable car and ropeway
The various travel modes included in the pass are a great way to get around. You can fall asleep on them as many times as you wish during the day:
6 – Hakone-Sekisho
This is an important site for the history of transport and communication during the Edo period and has been restored after 140 years (thanks Wiki). There’s basically nothing original here, and in all honesty it’s not a must, but it offers a beautiful view of the lake if nothing else! Take in Onshihakone Park too – it’s next door and probably even nicer. I say probably as it was raining cats and dogs as we wandered around, trying and failing miserably not to get wet.
7 – Wander around the lake at sunset
So that’s it. Looking back I’d say the list runs in no particular order, although the lake, museum and various modes of transport are must-dos. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything you can see. For example, you can take the ropeway and ascend the volcano, like we did last year. However, due to the recent volcanic activity, you can no longer go outside onto the volcano to see the eggs being cooked. The sulphur fumes reek and you can smell them from within the ropeway gondola (or at least, that’s what I was telling everyone inside the gondola. I’d had ramen for lunch an hour or so earlier).