The pristine mountain landscape of Hakone, a town just southwest of Tokyo has long attracted travellers from all parts of the world. And while the natural landscape of the region is nothing short of mesmerising, the town has so much more to offer. The town's famed onsens or hot springs have become quite the crowd puller, and as it stands today, Hakone offers great vacation resorts, run both by the locals and some of the top brands in the hospitality business. The town has still managed to retain its village charm and some parts of Hakone still remain untouched from tourist interference, making it an ideal spot for a getaway vacation.
And if all of that wasn't enough, the train ride to the hill town will definitely give you a reason to start planning your trip. The cable car network that runs through most village neighbourhoods of Hakone offers sweeping views of the landscapes and is a complete experience in itself. With as many as a dozen villages offering a nice range in terms of staying options, making the right choice becomes a huge task. But we have you covered! Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Hakone and what they might have in store for you, traveller!
Yumoto, or the gateway to Hakone as it has come to be known, is the best neighbourhood for first-time travellers. And that's for good reason as the locale not only makes for a very tourist friendly environment, it also houses all the elements that one is looking for from a quintessential Hakone vacation. Yumoto has some of the best hot spring resorts in the area and are definitely worth a weekend stay. The streets are lined with souvenir shops (selling woodcraft and mosaic artworks) and shopping options that will keep you interested all day long. Do not miss out on trying out some of the take-out food while on the run from one store to the other.
The major commercial areas of Yumoto can get a little crowded, but luckily for you, the neighborhood also has a whole different side to it. With unparalleled access to the riverfront, Yumoto is one of the best parts of the town to discover on foot. Find your way to the riverbank and follow the trail until you find your ideal spot for a quick stopover. The neighborhood's historic streets are just as enticing an option for an afternoon stroll. And while you're on it, keep an eye out for some of the city's oldest attractions which include the Kumaro Shrine and Sounji Temple. Delve further into the history of the region with a tour of the Hakone Town History Museum or a quick stop at Antique Toy Museum.
The Hakone-Yumoto station is the first on the transit line, making the neighborhood closest to nearby city centres. And as the unofficial commercial centre of Hakone, Yumoto has many hotels and resorts for you to choose from. And while you're still in the area, take a moment to gasp at the view from the Ajisai-bashi bridge, which is a short walk from the train station.
The much larger Motohakone is home to Ashinoko Lake or simply Lake Ashi, which is one of the major attractions of Hakone. Cruises and boat rides in the lake are popular activities for travellers looking for a quiet getaway weekend, but those are not the only prospects. The Hakone Pirate Ship sightseeing cruise is a one of a kind tour of Lake Ashi in a custom pirate ship, with stunning views of Mt. Fuji in the offing. On the good-weather days, you can even indulge in a few water sporting activities at the lake, with paddleboarding being an increasingly popular option. The Hakone Shrine and the Torii gate overlooking the lake are must-visit spots, and walking trails and parks in the vicinity have served as great additions.
Add to that the overbearing presence of the Mt. Komagatake, which has some of the most exciting hikes at offer in the town and your options just expand. Even if you are not looking for the challenge of the hike, you can always take the ropeway up to the top of the mountain. Either way, the views from the summit are breathtaking ! Keep an eye out for the volcano systems that have been a significant part of the region's ecosystem. The geography of Hakone has really integrated into the culture of the region; so much so that the locals serve delicacies including eggs boiled on volcanic water. You should be able to find such unique cuisine at one of Motohakone's many hip restaurants and bars.
The area is serviceable through both bus and taxi service and the nearest major transportation hub is the Hakone-Yumoto station. And with the increasing tourism potential of the region, numerous hotels have sprung up and finding a suitable option should not be too much trouble in Motohakone.
If there is one place that you should try and reach through a cable car ride in all of Hakone, make sure it is the village neighborhood of Gora. Ride on the red coaches of the transit line from any of the preceding stations and enjoy the picturesque surroundings as you maneuver through the mountainous terrain and the many free standing bridges. The ride is an experience in itself, but nothing will prepare you for what awaits in the neighborhood. Gora has become the top choice for even the best known names in the hospitality business, as many have set up luxury hot spring resorts in the area. You will have plenty to choose from in terms of your staying options in Gora, with each resort offering their own unique brand of a complete onsen experience.
The public spaces and other attractions in Gora also attract travellers in large numbers. The Hakone Gora Park, which has a great collection of tropical plants and a stunning centrepiece fountain, is the perfect place for a day outing or a relaxing afternoon stroll. Museums and galleries including the Hakone Meissen Antique Museum and Hakone Museum of Photography are also great spots to visit on your days out in the neighborhood. Gora also has some great tea houses and ryokan inns which lend a distinctively local vibe to the otherwise tourist-heavy part of the town. Learn more about the popular arts of glassblowing and pottery at the neighbourhood's craft centre.
Other than the cable car access, the neighborhood's eponymous station also lies on the Hakone Tozan Line making faster access from other parts of the town just as simple. And as mentioned earlier, Gora is home to some of the best premier resorts in all of Hakone. Prices might be on the higher side, but there are no better options when it comes to onsen resorts here.
The vast grasslands of Sengokuhara in the northernmost part of Hakone offers a nice change of scenery, while still keeping you in the mix of things. The grasslands or the pampas as some would call them, are best in the autumn season with the rustic scenery turning golden orange. Outings in the area, which also offers serene views of the mountains in the backdrop, during the season have become increasingly popular with travellers looking for quaint vacation. Despite the reputation, the area is not as crowded as some other parts of the town, making it perfect for people looking for a quieter Hakone holiday, away from the bustling crowds.
Sengokuhara has all the perks at offer in the more mainstream parts of Hakone including some great hot spring resorts and beautiful outdoor gardens, so you will never miss out on anything. Add to that some unique galleries with marked Western influence, including Pola Gallery of Art (with exhibits by the likes Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir), the Hakone Venetian Glass, and Little Prince Museums (built in the honour of the hundredth anniversary of the book's author) and you have yourself a good mix of things to do. The local culture can be experienced through Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and the cuisine, with the restaurants in the area serving the best sushi in all of Hakone.
Sengokuhara is serviceable through the road and has bus stations at Sengoku and Senkyoro-mae, among others. Hotels and resorts are in plenty and not as crowded as some of the more mainstream options in other parts of Hakone.
The first station on the Hakone Tozan Line following Yumoto, Tonosawa lends its name to the compact mountain neighborhood. The area is perfect for a quiet getaway vacation, with its many walking trails and hiking options. The best way to explore Tonosawa is to arrange for a stay in a nice forest trail cabin or one of the mountaintop hotsprings right in the heart of the woods. That way, you can enjoy the comfort of an accomodation and the hot springs not far off from your strolls in the woods. Also, a considerable number of home-grown eateries and restaurants and a few traditional spas have cropped up in the area and nicely complement the great leisure resorts.
The neighborhood is also great for exploring the culture of the region. Many walking trails in Tonosawa lead to historic shrines, temples and castle complexes that stand out in these rustic surroundings. The Fukazawa Zeniarai Benten shrine, the Amidaji Sanmon Gate, Kumano shrine and the ruins of the Yusala Castle are amongst some of the most compelling visits that you will come across in all of Hakone. And aside from all the sightseeing and hiking, there's other ways to get the adrenaline pumping around the neighborhood as well. You can go wall climbing or zip lining over the Haya river at the nearby Forest Adventure Hakone, which has become an increasingly popular choice for travellers.
The Tonosawa station is at walking distance from most significant sights in the area as well as some of the more mainstream hotels and resorts in this part of the town. The more remote resorts and forest cabins, however, require more effort in terms of getting there, but are definitely better for a quieter vacation.
That's all from our side, traveller. Choose the neighborhood that best suits you and get packing for your trip to Japan's hot spring capital!