Nikko or Hakone – when to visit and how to get there

Have you visited Japan before but just stayed in the capital?

Forget Tokyo! Change your itinerary and jot down Nikko and Hakone as your main destinations when visiting Japan.

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From Mt. Fuji, a wide array of Sakura trees, and forests carpeted in autumn colors to historical sites, numerous museums, onsens, traditional ryokans, imposing waterfalls, and crystal-clear lakes and creeks, you’d look forward to the adventures you’ll have when visiting these towns.

But where are these towns located? How do you get there? And when’s the best time to visit?

In this article, we will cover all the bases and answer your where, how, and when questions about Nikko and Hakone to guarantee you’ll create unforgettable fun memories during your stay. 

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Nikko and Hakone

You’ve most likely heard of Tokyo, but not much about Nikko and Hakone. So where are they located and how will you get there?

Nikko

Nikko is a picturesque town about 140 km north of Tokyo and is situated in the northwestern part of the Tochigi Prefecture. When you visit this place, you’ll cast away all doubts and understand why Japan is a good place to live.

It is a popular destination spot for those who are soul-searching, people looking to find some peace and quiet from the regular hustle and bustle of city life.

With its natural beauty, lush forest, scintillating waterfalls, undulating hills, sparkling lakes, refreshing hot springs, and many impressive Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, Nikko is well worth a few days’ stays.

There are a few ways to get to Nikko.

The JR and Tobu train lines are the most straightforward route from Tokyo to Nikko. It provides a scenic ride with comfortable reclining seats and a spacious leg area, allowing you to stretch.

The ride to the Tobu-Nikko station takes about two hours.

What’s notable with the Tobu-Nikko line is there is no need to transfer trains, while the JR lines will only get you to Nikko part of the way, and then you’ll have to hop trains to get to your final destination.

If you ride a train from the Haneda Airport or Narita Airport via Tokyo and then transfer to the Nikko line, it will take you about three and a half hours to get to Nikko.

You also have the option to drive a car to get to Nikko, but this might take you longer as you will surely be waylaid by the stunning sights along the way.

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Hakone

Hakone is a bustling town nestled in the mountains that is approximately 80 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. It is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is a part of the Kanto region’s Kanagawa Prefecture.

Unlike urban Tokyo, Hakone is surrounded by nature’s grandeur.

From its famous hot springs that offer a wide variety of different water quality, to the majestic Mt. Fuji, crater Lake Ashi, historical sites and shrines, and the traditional ryokan, everything spells tradition, culture, and nature.

There are different ways to reach Hakone from Tokyo.

  • You can reach Hakone from Tokyo by taking a 2-hour express bus ride from Shinjuku Station to Sengokuhara.

    Meanwhile, if you are traveling directly from Hanada Airport to Hakone, you can ride a Tokyo bus that will take you to the mountains in less than 3 hours.
  • Drive a car to Hakone is less than an hour by taking the Tomei Expressway and exiting at the Gotenba Interchange.

    This trip will allow you to enter Hakone highlands from the base of Mt. Fuji, and treat you to beautiful sceneries on the side.

  • By far, traveling by train is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Hakone.

    From Shinjuku station, you can either take the JR Tokaido line Shinkansen and change trains at Odawara Station, or the Odakyu Line which will take you directly to Hakone.

    Travel time takes about 85 minutes up to 2 hours depending on the train you will take.
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Comparison Between Nikko and Hakone

When it comes to choosing between Nikko and Hakone, travelers often find themselves in a dilemma. Both destinations offer unique experiences and attractions that are worth exploring.

Here is a comparison between the two destinations to help travelers make an informed decision.

Location and Accessibility

From Tokyo

Nikko is about 150 km north of Tokyo, while Hakone is about 100 km southwest of Tokyo.

Both destinations are accessible by train and bus, but Hakone is more easily accessible from Tokyo, located on the Tokaido Shinkansen line.

From Kyoto or Osaka

Both Nikko and Hakone are easily accessible from Osaka and Kyoto using the efficient Japanese rail network, offering a mix of historical sites, natural beauty, and hot springs for visitors to enjoy.

  1. Nikko:
    • From Osaka: Nikko is situated to the northeast of Osaka. The most convenient way to get there is by taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Shin-Osaka Station to Tokyo Station and then transferring to the JR Nikko Line to reach Nikko.
    • From Kyoto: Follow a route similar to that from Osaka, taking the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station and then transferring to the JR Nikko Line.
  2. Hakone:
    • From Osaka: Hakone is to the east of Osaka. Travelers can take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Odawara Station and, from there, transfer to local transportation options like the Hakone Tozan Railway or buses to reach Hakone.
    • From Kyoto: Similar to the route from Osaka, take the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Odawara Station and then use local transportation to reach Hakone.

Natural Beauty and Scenery

Hakone is known for its stunning views of Mount Fuji, the serene Lake Ashi, and the volcanic landscapes.

On the other hand, Nikko captivates with its pristine forests, enchanting waterfalls like Kegon Falls, and the serene Lake Chuzenji. Both destinations offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, and hot spring baths.

Cultural and Historical Attractions

Nikko is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The shrine is known for its intricate wood carvings and gold leaf decorations.

On the other hand, Hakone is home to the Hakone Open-Air Museum, which showcases contemporary art in a beautiful outdoor setting.

The Hakone Shrine is also a popular destination, known for its picturesque torii gate on the shores of Lake Ashi.

Also, as a friendly reminder, when visiting these places, avoid bringing counterfeit branded bags. The counterfeit item will be seized, and you might face legal charges when caught.

Food and Accommodation

Both destinations offer various accommodation options, from traditional ryokans to modern hotels.

Hakone is known for its hot spring resorts, while Nikko offers a more laid-back atmosphere.

Both destinations offer delicious local cuisine, including soba noodles, grilled eel, and wagyu beef.

In conclusion, both Nikko and Hakone offer unique experiences and attractions that are worth exploring.

Travelers should choose based on their personal preferences and interests.

Nikko and Hakone – when is it best to visit ?

Nikko and Hakone have something in store for you during all four seasons. But which is better to visit?

Nikko

The best time to visit Nikko is in Fall, when you get to see the dazzlingly striking autumn colors from any vantage point. The trees are covered in yellow, orange, and red leaves

But winter months also offer great possibilities like skiing and partaking in other snow-related activities. Nikko transforms into a winter wonderland where the lakes, springs, and treetops are blanketed in snow. 

Meanwhile, Spring offers a tantalizing view of cherry blossoms in full bloom, while Summer offers an enjoyable time outdoors when you can go hiking, walking unbeaten paths, or biking.

You can visit all the historic shrines and temples in Nikko during this time when the weather is so fine.

Also, if you are into quiet tours while enjoying scenic views, Nikko is a must-visit.

Hakone

As for Hakone, Summer is a wondrous time to visit as it offers a cool respite from the scalding heat of the summer sun.

The trees in the mountain, the water at Lake Ashi, and the natural springs and lakes surrounding the area provide Hakone with a cooler atmosphere.

What’s more, the locals kick off Summer with a week-long celebration on the shores of Lake Ashi.

The festivity includes fireworks and live music and is attended by many locals and tourists alike so expect the town to be crowded and lively.

If you want to escape the crowd, it is best to travel to Hakone in Spring when different types of Sakura and plants endemic to Japan are in bloom and showing off their fragrant and delicate flowers.

Meanwhile, Hakone is a bit busy during Autumn.

Tourists visit the area to enjoy the startling autumn mountain scenery where everything is laid with orange, yellow, and red colors from the changing leaves of the trees. As the night air cools, people visit onsens to relax in the hot springs.

On the other hand, Winter is a good time to visit when you are avoiding the crowd. This is when you can truly enjoy the crisp and clear winter air as you gaze at the wonderful views of Mt. Fuji.

You can also play in the snow if you visit the upper parts of Hakone while watching seasonal light-up events located throughout the town.

Now that you know what’s in store for you in Nikko and Hakone, you can now decide which one best suits your needs and which is better to visit.

In any case, both places are wonderful tourist destinations and you won’t be sorry no matter what your decision is.

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Where to go when in Nikko and Hakone

If this is the first time you are visiting Japan, Nikko, and Hakone in particular, here is a list of places and trips you should never miss:

Nikko

  • Shinkyo Bridge
  • Tobu World Square
  • Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park
  • Taiyuinbyo Shrine
  • Ryuokyo Canyon
  • Ryuzu Waterfall
  • Yudaki Falls
  • Lake Chuzenji
  • Nikko National Park
  • Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
  • Kegon Falls
  • Toshogu

Hakone

  • Open Air Museum
  • Owakudani
  • Hakone Hot Springs
  • Hakone Gora Park
  • Lake Ashi Cruise
  • Hakone Shrine and Heiwa no Torii (Torii of Peace)
  • Forest Therapy at Hakone Kuzuryu Forest
  • Onsens
  • Lake Ashinoko
  • Hakone Shrine
  • Hakone Ropeway
  • POLA Art Museum