Nowadays, a lot of people base their travel destination choice on whether or not it would look good on social networking sites (SNS) such as Instagram. For example, in Japan, tourists flock to “Instagrammable” spots like the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, the famed Glico Running Man sign in Osaka, and the path with thousands of vermilion shrine gates (torii) leading to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
However, aside from these well-known spots in Japan, there is another area filled with Instagram-worthy spots. Famous as a Japanese hot spring (onsen) town, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture offers beautiful nature, sightseeing spots, museums, and local gourmet food that any visitor would surely take pleasure in. But do you know the most attractive point of Hakone? It’s easily accessible from Tokyo, making it an ideal destination for a quick escape from the busy city life.
In this article, I will share the two-day itinerary that I used in visiting Instagrammable spots in Hakone. Check it out and feel free to use it for your own trip as well!
Take an exhilarating ride through Japan’s countryside
I started off my trip at Shinjuku Station where I rode the Odakyu Romancecar that took me to Hakone-Yumoto Station. Although the Romancecar requires an additional fee for its reserved seating that sits comfortably, it is conveniently faster than regular trains, taking only 75 minutes.
Once the train departed, I was able to enjoy lovely panoramic views of the countryside and mountains. I even saw Mt. Fuji, as I went on a clear day!
Enjoy a hearty traditional Japanese meal for lunch
I arrived at Hakone-Yumoto Station around noon – just in time for lunch.
Although ramen is probably the most popular Japanese noodle dish among foreigners, I wanted to try the more traditional buckwheat noodles (soba). Therefore, I visited a well-known soba restaurant with a history of more than 80 years, just a few minutes’ walk from the station.
I walked along the shopping street down the station and reached Hatsuhana Soba Honten within five minutes. When I arrived, there was already a reasonably long queue of local and foreign customers alike outside, as the restaurant is very popular.
After waiting for around 15 minutes, my name was called and I was led to the second floor of the restaurant. As soon as I entered the establishment, I immediately felt a unique atmosphere. Although I had to sit on the tatami mat, I was glad to have had the opportunity to eat a traditional Japanese dish in a traditional way.
I ordered the famous dish, Tenzaru Soba, which came with tororo (grated yam). It was delicious! The soba tasted different from the buckwheat noodles you can get in supermarkets or fast food chains in Japan.
Climb the mountain using three different modes of transport
After having my fill of yummy soba, I was ready to officially begin my Hakone adventure.
I walked back to Hakone-Yumoto Station and took the Hakone Tozan Train, the only mountain railway in Japan, for 40 minutes to Gora Station. If you visit during the rainy season, you can see hydrangeas along the route of the train, which makes for great photos.
From Gora Station, I transferred to the Hakone Tozan Cable Car that goes up a steep slope and reached Sounzan Station in 10 minutes.
Finally, from Sounzan Station, I rode the Hakone Ropeway for about eight minutes to reach Owakudani Station. The view of the valley from up above was breathtaking!
While on the ropeway, you can also see Mt. Fuji on a clear day – another awesome photo opportunity.
Experience the “Valley of Hell”
A popular tourist spot, Owakudani is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mt. Hakone. It is also called the “Valley of Hell” because of the clouds of sulfur and the volcanic gas it emits.
I wasn’t going to leave Owakudani without trying the famous black eggs (kurotamago)! This local specialty is boiled in the hot spring water of the valley, thus its black color. It is said that eating a black egg adds seven years to one’s life. There are also giant black egg statues in the area that you can take pictures with!
Take a sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi
After exploring Owakudani, I rode the ropeway again, but this time to Togendai Station. I then got on a pirate ship and went on a 30-minute sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi.
Inside the pirate ship are trick art photo spots, also perfect for posting on SNS.
From the ship’s deck, I saw majestic views of lush mountains and Mt. Fuji. Approaching the arrival dock, I was also able to see the torii gate of Hakone Shrine, as if it was magically floating on the lake.
Make a wish at a Shinto shrine
After getting off the ship, I made my way to Hakone Shrine, just a few minutes’ walk from the dock. This Shinto shrine on the shores of Lake Ashi is a known power spot to wish for traffic safety and good luck.
And of course, I wouldn’t dare miss the opportunity to have my photo taken under the large lakefront torii gate!
Cap off the day by relaxing at a beautiful hotel
After visiting several spots, I thought that it was about time to call it a day. I checked into Hotel de Yama, an upscale hotel conveniently located within a walking distance from Hakone Shrine, where I spent the night and recharged my energy.
Hotel de Yama has posh facilities such as hot spring baths, a garden, and even restaurants such as Salon de Thé Rosage, where you can savor delicious desserts while enjoying magnificent views of the lake.
Immerse yourself in the arts and culture of Hakone
After a good night’s sleep, I began the second day of my trip by venturing into the museums of Hakone.
I took the Tozan Bus to the Hyoseki/Hakone Garasu-no-Mori-Mae bus stop, where I visited the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum and the Little Prince Museum. Approximately 10 minutes by walk from each other, these museums are ideal for sharing on SNS as they both are very well designed and well thought out.
Visit one of the best scenic spots in Kanagawa
Recognized as one of the “Best 50 Scenic Spots in Kanagawa” and “Best 100 Spots to View Flowers in Kanagawa,” I knew I had to make a stop at the Sengokuhara Pampas Grass Fields, so I rode the Tozan Bus to the Sengoku-kogen bus stop.
This field is a famous autumn spot in Hakone, as it is entirely covered in pampas grass from September to November. The contrast of the green and light yellow colors of the field and the grass makes for a great Instagram photo!
Shop for souvenirs and enjoy local food around the train station
And for the last agenda on my itinerary, which is shopping, I rode the Tozan Bus back to Hakone-Yumoto Station and explored the shopping street. Along the street are several local shops selling a variety of souvenir and food items such as dried fish (himono), onsen manju, soft cream, etc.
There is even an Evangelion Store (Evaya), so if you’re a fan of the anime, make sure to drop by when you visit!
After buying souvenirs for my family and friends back home, I took the Romancecar again back to Shinjuku, which brings my two-day journey through the town of Hakone to an end!
Seeing the itinerary I shared above, you are probably thinking that it cost me a lot of money to visit all the places I mentioned, especially since I took different modes of transportation such as the Romancecar, cable car, ropeway, bus, and pirate ship. However, you’ll be surprised to know that the total transportation fee for two days only cost around 7,000 yen!
Wondering how I did it? Well, I purchased the Hakone Freepass, a convenient pass that allows users to save money while enjoying the Hakone area. I was able to go to Hakone from Shinjuku and back, and use various transportation networks unlimitedly to get around – all with just a single ticket! In addition, the pass also provides discounts at some locations and facilities throughout Hakone, meaning you can save even more money!
If you think two days is not enough for you to fully enjoy Hakone, you can also opt for the three-day Hakone Freepass with the same perks and benefits.
Being near to Tokyo, Hakone is the perfect destination for a quick getaway from Japan’s main cities. Various activities can be enjoyed in the area – nature, museums, sightseeing spots, shrines, hot springs, local food, etc. – all perfect for sharing on Instagram and other SNS.
If you are looking for the most cost-effective way to explore Hakone, check out the Hakone Freepass, especially if you have limited time. Not only will you save money, but buying a ticket every time you use public transportation is also one less thing for you to worry about. With everything it has to offer and how accessible it is from the capital, Hakone is a must-visit spot in Japan that no tourist should miss!
*This article was written in cooperation with Kanagawa Prefecture.