5 Unmissable Day Trips from Tokyo
When the neon lights of Shinjuku become too dazzling and trips around the Yamanote line are starting to make your head spin, you know it's time to get out of Tokyo. The good news is there are a myriad of day trip escapes from the capital perfect for nature lovers, culture vultures and history buffs.
Visit Hakone and experience perhaps the most diverse day trip on the list. Hakone has it all: boat trips, cable cars, hot springs, Mt.Fuji views, surreal museums and weird ice cream.
Grab yourself a Hakone freepass from the Odakyu train company to save time and money on the numerous attractions and transport links in the area. Highlights include enjoying the sight of Mt.Fuji from the deck of a pirate ship as it sails across Lake Ashi and trying egg ice cream in the volcanic valley of Owakudani. Cap off your day with a walk through the weird and wonderful world of the Hakone Open Air Museum. The outdoor museum is sprinkled with delightful abstract sculptures, hilariously bizarre statues and an exhibition containing the works of Picasso. Entrance to the museum is an extra 1600yen, or 1400yen with the Hakone-freepass.
Hakone Open Air Museum Gallery
Get to Hakone in style on the Odakyu Romance Car. If you're not the romantic type, don't let the name put you off. There are no candlelit dinners, but you can buy snacks, store large luggage, enjoy free Wi-fi and sit in the extremely comfortable seats that spin around 180 degrees so you can sit facing your family and friends. Sure, you can save a few yen by taking the regular train, however the extra you pay on the Romance Car, you save in comfort and experience.
“ Hakone has it all: boat trips, cable cars, hot springs, Mt.Fuji views, museums, surreal art and weird ice cream.”
Seats on the Romance Car are reservation only, costing 2,330yen each way buying you a guaranteed seat and access to a bathroom all the way. From Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto, it takes 80 minutes on the Romance Car compared to 120 minutes standing on the regular train, so spend the extra 1,110yen for the Romance Car and save your feet, your bladder and your sanity.
If you haven't got time to make it to Kansai, you can still experience the special atmosphere of Kyoto by visiting Kamakura. The seaside city is blessed with Zen Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, immaculate parks and iconic statues serving visitors with a fine taste of the traditions of old Japan.
Kamakura and Kyoto are also both former capitals of Japan, but the similarities don't end there. You can find a mini bamboo forest at Hokokuji Temple which exudes the same magic feeling as Kyoto's famous Arashiyama Forest. Kamakura is also home to a giant Buddha statue, only second in size to the Daibutsu in Todaiji temple in Nara.
As well as the notable sightseeing spots, there are hikes and walks for visitors to enjoy the nature of the surrounding area. In the summer, the wider coastal area offers beaches for bathing and surfing at Enoshima and Zushi. Many Japanese people only visit the beach during a late July-August. In May, June and September
the weather is certainly hot enough for a day on the beach but you'll likely have it all to yourself.
Take the JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station
to get there in just under an hour.
3. Ashikaga Flower Park
The Ashikaga Flower Park has hundreds of types of beautiful flowers all year round. The park celebrates "eight floral seasons" with perhaps the most famous and striking season being mid-April to mid-May when you can see the "most beautiful wisteria in the world". During the winter, the park opens at night warming visitors with festive themed illuminations.
Take the Nikko-Kinugawa train line from Kita-Senju. At Tochigi, change to the JR Ryomo Line and get off at Ashikaga Flower Park Station. It costs 2480 yen each way. There are bus trips to the park that combine with the Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture. From more info on that, please read on.
4. Hitachi Seaside Park
Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki Prefecture is another stunning flower park that offers a different experience season to season. The most striking flowers of the year have to be nemophilia, also known as "baby blue eyes". Millions of baby blues awash the hills making the park look like an otherworldly blue wonderland and leaving your friends blue with Insta-envy when they see your photos.
The park is a brilliant place to take kids in the summer not only for flowers but the park's 28 other attractions, including a BMX course, air trampoline, family golf park and a pool plaza to name but a few.
Entrance fees, opening hours and the flowers on show change from season to season so be sure to visit the park's official website for latest info before you go.
Hitachi Flower Park and Ashikaga Flower Park Bus Tour
A 1-Day bus tour can be taken to see both Hitachi Flower Park and Ashikaga Flower parks on the same day. Having done the tour, I recommend visiting the parks on separate days to make the most of your time there. I felt the tour didn't give us enough time to enjoy either place. We were rushed back to the bus at both parks and everyone agreed it would be better to visit them separately. If you hire a car, you could see both parks in one day easily as our tour wasted some time taking us to a seafood market for lunch; time that could have been spent enjoying the parks. The other option is to take the train, but it's impossible to see them both in a day this way, so if you're short on time and transport alternatives, the day tour is still worth it.
Feel the atmosphere of the Edo Period (1603-1867) by taking a day excursion up to the old town of Kawagoe. A 35 minute train ride from Ikebukuro takes you up through Saitama to the once important Edo trading town, now famous for spectacular annual festivals, sweet potatoes and its very own craft ale. Festivals in the town run throughout the year with the highlight being the Kawagoe Festival in October when musical floats face off for musical supremacy at the street corners of the historic Warehouse District. Enjoy the festivities with a pint of Coedo, a delicious craft ale brewed locally. Coedo takes its name from Kawagoe's nickname, 'Ko Edo' meaning 'Little Edo' due to the town's significance in the Edo Period. If booze is not your thing, visit Candy Alley for something a little sweeter.
-Take the JR line or Tobu Tojo Line to Kawagoeshi Station. -Alternatively take the Seibu Shinjuku Line to Hon-Kawagoe Station.
Both stations are a short walk from the old town.
Visit the Kawagoe Tourist Association website for up-to-date information about annual festivals and more.