Hankone is located in the Mt. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is a mountainous town known as a onsen hot springs getaway and views of the iconic volcano Mt. Fuji. Within the park you can find Lake Ashi (Ash in Japanese, named after all the ash found at the bottom of the lake due to eruptions from Mt. Fuji), the red torii gate known as the Hakone Shrine, and the sulfurous vapors and warm rivers of Owakudani. Spending the day in Hakone is a peaceful, wholesome experience that will leave you wanting to come back for more.
Getting To Hakone from Tokyo
To get to Hokone you can use your JR pass from Tokyo's Shinjuku to get you to as far as Odawara station, which is just over an half an hour train ride. From Odawara, you will switch trains and take the local Hokone Tozan line to the Hokone Yumoto, which is an hour long ride. In total, the trip to Hakone from Tokyo will take you around 2 and a half hours. For JR Pass users, the JR Pass covers the cost of your train ride from Shinjuku to Odawara (normally a 3500 yen fare) but not the the ride from Odawara to Hokone Yumoto (which is an additional ~450 Yen fare).
An alternative to the JR Pass route though it comes at an additional cost is to take the "romance car" that operates on the Odakyu Railway between Tokyo and Hakone Yumoto. This expressway takes about 85 minutes and costs you right under 3000 Yen. There is also a slower express train (kyuko) which costs 1190 Yen that takes 2 hours and requires a transfer at Odawara station, similar to the JR line.
If you are interested in taking a day trip from Tokyo to Hakone, you can purchase a Hakone Free Pass that will cover your train rides to and from Tokyo, as well as all transportation costs in Hakone. You can purchase this pass at the Shinjuku station or at any station inside the free area in Hakone.
Hakone Free Pass
Issued by the Odakyu Railway, the Hakone Free Pass is a 2 day discounted pass that allows you to travel to and from Tokyo to Hakone, as well as covers any transportation costs within the free area. This includes everything from ropeways, cable cars, boats, buses, and trains. You can purchase this free pass either at the Shinjuku Station or at any station inside the free pass area at Hakone. Remember to note that any passes purchased inside the free area, such as Odawara Station, does not cover the Odakyu train rides from Odawara to Shinjuku. Below is a chart that show the pricing breakdown:
Ultimately, purchasing the Hakone Free Pass is beneficial for you in the grand scheme of things, making it more cost efficient all in versus taking the classic round trip course without it. If you plan on staying in the Hakone region for longer, look into purchasing the Fuji Hakone Pass as an alternative as it works just like the Hakone Free Pass but also gives you access to the Fuji Five Lake Region.
The Hakone Round Course (Loop)
While many will say that the Hakone Round Course is a tourist attraction, it is one of the best, most cost efficient ways to see the Hakone region. With your Hakone Free Pass, you're covered on all 5 different types of transportation that the loop offers. You can decide between going clockwise or counter clockwise starting at the Hakone Yumoto station (or if you're staying in Hakone, you can start or finish at your accommodation). If you leave from Tokyo in the early morning, completing the loop is possible, though we recommend that you spend a night at one of the Ryokan's in the region since Hakone is famous for their hot springs and onsens. Below is a map of the circuit and shows you how you can get around on each form of transportation.
While you can decide which route is best for you (depending on the location of your hotel if you stay the night), we'll give you a recommend path you should take from the Hakone Yumoto Station. The below chart will give you and idea of the average time it takes to get from one location to the next, as well as what form of transportation you will be taking. We will go into more details about specific stops you should make while on the circuit.
Activities in Hakone
During the course of the loop, there are several sites we recommend checking out. The Hakone Open Air Museum is Japan's first open air museum that was build in 1969, exhibiting different sculptures and installations by famous artists such as Picasso, Henry Moore, and plenty more. There's also a Picasso Exhibition Hall on site that showcases more of his work, as well as displays pictures of himself throughout his life. Whether you're an art lover or not, a stop by the Open Air Museum is a must.
Another stop is at Owakudani to not only get a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji (on a clear day), but to see the sulfur field on the mountain top and to try some "Black Eggs". Whether they're hard boiled or normal, these egg shells turn black due to being boiled in the hot sulfur pools. You can purchase as little as 2 eggs in a pack for fairly cheap and is recommended as local traditional says that each black egg consumed adds 7 years to ones life.
Sailing on Lake Ashi is a unique experience as you board a "pirate ship" which takes you to Moto-Hakone. When you arrive, there are several spots to grab lunch and make a pit stop by the Hakone Shrine Torii. This Torii is a short 15 minute walk from the port that sits on the shores of Lake Ashi and is visible when sailing in. Be prepared though as there is typically a long line to get your picture with the Torii. If you're looking for a suggestion for lunch and are looking to take a break from the ramon, Box Hotel and Restaurant has an incredibly cozy vibe and delicious menu of wagyu beef burgers and coffee/teas to recharge the batteries. Check out other Hakone food options here.
Lastly, if you have the time, it is highly recommended that you stay the night at a Ryokan in Hakone. This region is famous for their Onsen hot springs and while you can purchase a day pass to the hot springs at hotels, it doesn't include the amazing dinner and breakfast you would have. Check out the article we wrote here to show what an experience is like spending an night at a Ryokan.
Getting Back To Tokyo or Heading to Kyoto
Arriving back at Hakone Yumoto Station, take your next train to Odawara Station and from there either hop on back to Tokyo via the JR line or on down to Kyoto via the JR line. To Kyoto, it takes about 2 and a half hours. If you don't have the JR Pass, expect to pay almost 12,500 Yen for the trip. Below is a map of your train ride from Hakone Yumoto to Kyoto.