Written by Jasmine O
5 Weekend Getaways From Tokyo - Fantastic Views, Nature, And History
Tokyo is surrounded by places that reveal a completely different side of Japan deserving of an overnight stay. Get away from the metropolis and relax at the base of Mt. Fuji, in hot springs in Hakone, or in the middle of the woods in Nikko. Learn five ideal weekend destinations and where to stay.
Weekends Away! 5 Spectacular Side Trips from Tokyo
Photos by Pixta
As a modern metropolis, Tokyo offers a lot—but there are many other unique destinations full of character that are easy to travel to from the capital. From history-rich regions like Nikko, to natural landscapes and hot spring-filled areas of Hakone, there is much to be explored beyond Tokyo. To maximize your trip, treat yourself not just to one day, but a weekend for a relaxing refuge away from the crowds.
Continue reading to learn five great spots easily accessed from Tokyo that deserve an overnight stay when exploring Japan.
1. Lake Kawaguchiko - Enjoy Paradise by Mt. Fuji!
Seeing Mt. Fuji while in Japan is a goal of many. The Lake Kawaguchiko area is a fantastic place from which to gaze at this iconic mountain and enjoy a slower pace in Japan on a mood-refreshing weekend trip.
Filled with seasonal natural beauty, Lake Kawaguchiko is part of the five lakes region surrounding Mt. Fuji. Kawaguchiko offers beautiful views, boat rides, and local food, and is a convenient point for navigating to the other lakes and points of interest in the area.
Cycling around Lake Kawaguchiko. Photo by Pixta
There are many hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with lakefront Fuji views, making it an ideal place to stay. During the day, travelers can explore the charming lakeside at nature spots like the charming Oshino Hakkai, and go up the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway for a spectacular view day or night.
Photo by Pixta
For food, be sure to try hoto, the local specialty of wide noodles in a savory miso broth.
Fuji-Q Highland with its thrilling rollercoasters, and Oshino Shinobi no Sato, a fun park where visitors can learn and relive ninja history, are great places for those traveling in groups or with children. The famous Chureito Pagoda, where visitors can get the famous shot of Mt. Fuji and a five-story pagoda.
The Mt. Fuji Pass allows you to save money on transportation and receive discounts on tourist attractions.
2. Hakone - Famous Hot Springs and Fun Sightseeing
Photo by Pixta
Hakone is well-known for its onsen (hot springs), natural landmarks from its unique mountain topography, and museums, there are plenty of entertaining options for a two-day adventure. Staying the night allows you to take full advantage of everything this great retreat spot has to offer.
Owakudani. Photo by Pixta
Before or after dipping into the many hot springs here, head to Owakudani for an exciting view of a crater and unique blackened eggs, or Hakone Open-Air Museum for sculptures and art that seamlessly blends in with the natural surroundings. Spend the after on a relaxing cruise on Lake Ashi, which offers picturesque views of Mt. Fuji.
Recommended hot springs include Yunessun, a hot spring theme park, and Hotel Hatsuhana, a ryokan with beautiful outdoor baths.
Photo by Pixta
Hakone is great to visit during any season, but spring and fall, in particular, have gorgeous weather. There are also traditional festivals held year-round.
If you are accessing Hakone from Tokyo, the Odakyu Romancecar is a comfortable option, taking around two hours. Get off at Hakone-Yumoto Station, which is near many hot springs, traditional inns, and other lodgings, for a smooth transition to exploring after check-in.
Using the Hakone Kamakura Pass is a very convenient pass that will save yen and time on all forms of transportation in Hakone (including Odakyu trains) and offers discounts on popular facilities, including museums and onsen.
3. Nikko - Take in the History of Heritage Sites and Nature
History and nature-filled Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture takes about two hours to reach from Tokyo via train. With UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Toshogu Shrine and Futarasan Shrine, rugged outdoor scenery, and a national park, there is everything you need for a satisfying weekend.
The subdued, elegant Futarasan Shrine is much older than the Toshogu Shrine. Photo by Pixta
Nikko Toshogu Shrine is the burial site of Japan's military leader, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1563-1616), who helped unite Japan and started the Edo Shogunate. The shrine is very elaborate, covered in gold leaf and contains intricate, colorful carvings.
Next to Toshogu is Futarasan Shrine, which venerates mountain deities, was built around the eighth century. The buildings here are elegant, and much more subdued. An overnight stay allows you to appreciate the fine details in each, at a leisurely pace.
The next day, head just beyond the two shrines to Oku-Nikko, a mountainous region with Lake Chuzenji, waterfalls, and rich, international history. Part of one of the first designated national parks in Japan, this outdoor destination was used as frequently as a retreat from Tokyo’s harsh urban environment, by foreign diplomats and even some of Japan’s imperial family.
The fall is one of the best seasons to visit due to the gorgeous colorful foliage, creating a rainbow-like pattern on the mountains and hills in the area.
Nikko has two main stations on different lines. Use Nikko on the JR line if you have the convenient JR Pass. If you're coming from Asakusa or without the JR pass, ride from Asakusa Station on the Tobu line.
The Nikko Pass is a helpful discount ticket that allows transportation at a reasonable price. Lodgings are near both stations and allow for easy access to Nikko’s many sites and discounts on entry.
4. Kamakura - Visit an Ancient Capital with Sandy Beaches
Photo by Pixta
Travelers looking for a mix of sea, history, and outdoors should look no further than Kamakura. Accessible within about 1.5 hours via train from the modern capital, it is a popular day-trip destination, but there are so many sights and areas to see that an overnight stay is highly recommended.
Kamakura was the capital of Japan (between 1192 and 1333), so two days will allow visitors to take in more of what this old city has to offer, from the Daibutsu (giant Buddha statute) to smaller temples, hikes, and beautiful beaches.
Photo by Pixta
More time means rides on the Enoden, a local railway, to visit Enoshima's rugged terrain and famous cave.
Alternatively, one can enjoy Komachi Dori dressed in kimono and sample sweets at the charming shops, then take pictures on the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Spend the evening with peaceful coastal walks on Yuigihama Beach, and enjoying more local delicacies, like fresh seafood or vegetables.
Meigetsu-in Temple, Kamakura. Photo by Pixta
Kamakura is enjoyable year-round, with spring and fall having the mildest weather. Be sure to bring your camera if you come during these times, as the cherry blossoms and colorful foliage are one-of-a-kind sights. Hydrangeas bloom during Japan's rainy season in June––another great time to visit (just bring an umbrella).
There are a number of lodgings, ranging from ryokan and hotels to casual guesthouses. All types of travelers will be comfortable here.
5. Minakami - Relax at a Lesser-Known Haven for Outdoor Activities and Onsen
Minakami is a small town nestled in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. The plethora of things to do outside, from hiking to canoeing and skiing, will thrill nature enthusiasts all year long. To get here, take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Jomo-kogen Station. Use the Minakami Pass to travel around via bus efficiently
This nature-filled destination is home to the majestic Tanigawadake mountains and world-famous Takaragawa Onsen. In the spring and summer, visitors can enjoy these sights with white river rafting, canyoning, and even bungee jumping. For more relaxing activities, hiking and canoeing are also available. Minakami turns into a winter wonderland with its powder snow later in the year––visit to enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and other activities.
Lodgings including traditional ryokan and Western-style hotels are available throughout Minakami. Spend the evening relaxing at the soothing hot springs at Takaragawa Onsen or at Hotel Sunbird, which has rentable private outdoor baths.
Spend Time Exploring Outside Tokyo!
Japan outside of Tokyo provides a very different, new experience. With fewer people, more nature, and different histories, there is something everyone can enjoy. Spend a leisurely weekend escape discovering a new part of Japan.
Main image courtesy of Pixta