Kyoto Vs Hakone – Which One Should You Visit?

Kyoto Vs Hakone – which one is worth adding to your Japan itinerary? Read on to find out!

When it comes to planning a trip to Japan, deciding which cities to visit can be a challenging task.

Two popular destinations that often captivate travelers are Kyoto and Hakone. Both cities offer unique cultural experiences and breathtaking natural beauty. 

In this article, we will compare Kyoto and Hakone in various aspects, helping you make an informed decision on which city to prioritize during your visit to Japan.

Kyoto Or Hakone – Which One Should You Visit?

Things To Do In Kyoto Vs Hakone

Choosing between Kyoto and Hakone hinges on your travel desires. Both offer unique experiences, and the “perfect” one depends on your priorities. Let’s delve into the top things to do in each location:

Kyoto:

Step back in time:

  • Stroll through the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, adorned with thousands of orange torii gates.
  • Wander through the charming Gion district, where geishas might grace your path.
  • Witness a traditional tea ceremony, a calming and meditative experience.

Tantalize your taste buds:

  • Savor a multi-course kaiseki meal, a showcase of Japanese haute cuisine.
  • Sample local specialties like okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and mapo tofu (spicy tofu dish).
  • Explore bustling markets like Nishiki Market, a foodie paradise.

Find inner peace in ancient gardens:

  • Walk the Philosopher’s Path, a scenic canal lined with cherry blossoms.
  • Find serenity in the Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion), known for its moss garden.
  • Unwind in the Ryoanji Temple, famous for its zen rock garden.

Immerse yourself in vibrant culture:

  • Watch a captivating kabuki play, a traditional form of Japanese theater.
  • Witness a geisha dance or maiko dance, showcasing graceful movements and colorful costumes.

Hakone:

  • Indulge in rejuvenating hot springs:
    • Relax in a traditional onsen, a natural hot spring bath, and revive your body and mind.
    • Embrace breathtaking views of Mount Fuji from an open-air onsen.
    • Try a unique black egg, cooked in the volcanic waters of Owakudani Valley.
  • Embrace the scenic beauty:
    • Take a cruise on Lake Ashi, a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains.
    • Ride the Hakone Ropeway, offering panoramic views of the volcanic landscape.
    • Hike through Owakudani Valley, a geothermal wonderland with fumaroles and hot springs.
    • Visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum, featuring sculptures amidst stunning natural scenery.
  • Explore charming towns:
    • Wander through the quaint streets of Gora, a traditional hot spring resort town.
    • Discover artistic treasures in Hakone Toge, a mountain pass with galleries and workshops.
    • Sample local delicacies at the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a hot spring theme park with themed pools and slides.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Kyoto offers a deep dive into Japanese history and culture, while Hakone provides a tranquil escape amidst nature’s beauty. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable Japanese adventure!

Accessibility Kyoto Vs Hakone

Accessibility is an important factor to consider when deciding between Kyoto and Hakone.

Kyoto

Kyoto is a major transportation hub and is easily accessible from various parts of Japan. The city is served by Kyoto Station, which is well-connected to major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

  • By Air

The nearest international airport to Kyoto is Kansai International Airport (KIX), located approximately 100 kilometers away. 

From the airport, you can reach Kyoto by taking a direct train or bus, which typically takes around 75-90 minutes.

There are also domestic flights available to Itami Airport (also known as Osaka International Airport), which is closer to Kyoto and offers convenient access.

  • By Train

Kyoto is well-connected by train, and the Shinkansen (bullet train) is an efficient and popular way to reach the city. 

The Tokaido Shinkansen line connects Kyoto with major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima. From Tokyo, the journey to Kyoto takes around 2.5-3 hours on the fastest Shinkansen trains. 

Additionally, there are regular train services that connect Kyoto with other parts of Japan.

  • By Bus

Kyoto is also accessible by long-distance buses, which are a more affordable option compared to trains. 

Various bus companies operate routes to and from Kyoto, connecting it with major cities and tourist destinations across the country. Bus terminals are usually located near Kyoto Station, making it convenient for travelers.

  • Within the City

Kyoto has an extensive public transportation system, including buses and subway lines, which make it easy to navigate the city and reach its major attractions. 

Buses are particularly convenient for exploring the city, as they cover a wide network and offer multilingual signage and announcements.

Kyoto also has a bicycle-sharing system, allowing visitors to rent bicycles and explore the city’s sights at a leisurely pace.

Hakone

Hakone, while not as centrally located as Kyoto, is still relatively accessible and offers various transportation options to reach the area.

  • By Air

The most convenient airport to reach Hakone is Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND), which is a major international and domestic airport. From Haneda Airport, you can take a direct train or bus to Hakone. 

The journey typically takes around 2-3 hours, depending on the mode of transportation chosen.

  • By Train

Hakone can be reached by train via the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. The Odakyu Romancecar is a limited express train that offers a direct route to Hakone-Yumoto Station, the main gateway to the Hakone area. 

The journey takes approximately 1.5-2 hours, depending on the train service chosen. Once you reach Hakone-Yumoto Station, you can transfer to local transportation options to explore different parts of Hakone.

  • By Bus

Buses are a convenient option for reaching Hakone from various locations. There are direct highway bus services available from Tokyo, Yokohama, and other major cities. 

The buses usually terminate at Hakone-Yumoto Station or other key points within the Hakone region.

  • Within the Region

Once you are in Hakone, the Hakone Tozan Railway, buses, cable cars, and ropeways form the local transportation network. 

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These modes of transportation allow you to explore the different attractions within Hakone, such as Lake Ashi, Owakudani, and various hot springs.

The Hakone Free Pass is a popular option for visitors, as it offers unlimited travel on designated transportation within Hakone for a specified period.

Summary

  • Both Kyoto and Hakone are accessible destinations, with Kyoto having more direct transportation options and being well-connected to major cities.
  • Hakone, although located further from major urban centers, still offers convenient access via trains and buses from Tokyo.
  • Once in each respective destination, both cities provide reliable local transportation networks to explore the surrounding areas.

Related: Hakone Or Beppu: Which is the better destination

Accommodation Options In Kyoto Vs Hakone

The accommodation options in both Kyoto and Hakone cater to a range of preferences and budgets. Here’s an elaboration on the accommodation options in each destination:

Kyoto

Kyoto offers a wide variety of accommodation options, ranging from luxury hotels to traditional ryokans and budget-friendly guesthouses. 

Here are some of the common choices:

  • Hotels

Kyoto has numerous hotels that cater to different budgets and preferences. From upscale international chains to boutique hotels and traditional Japanese-style accommodations, there is a wide range of options available throughout the city. 

Hotels in central areas such as Kyoto Station, Gion, and downtown Kyoto provide convenient access to major attractions, transportation hubs, and dining options.

  • Ryokans

For a truly authentic Japanese experience, staying at a ryokan is highly recommended. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that offer a unique blend of comfort, hospitality, and cultural immersion. 

These establishments typically feature tatami-matted rooms, futon bedding, and communal baths (onsen). 

Some ryokans serve kaiseki (traditional multi-course) meals, allowing guests to savor exquisite Japanese cuisine.

Ryokans can be found in various parts of Kyoto, including Arashiyama and Higashiyama districts, offering a serene atmosphere amidst the city’s historical sites.

  • Guesthouses and Hostels

Kyoto also has a range of guesthouses and hostels, which provide budget-friendly accommodation options, particularly for solo travelers or those on a tight budget. 

These establishments often offer dormitory-style rooms or private rooms with shared facilities, providing a social atmosphere and an opportunity to meet fellow travelers.

  • Machiya Townhouses

Machiya is a traditional wooden townhouse that has been converted into accommodations. These historical buildings offer a glimpse into Kyoto’s traditional architecture and lifestyle. 

Staying in a machiya allows guests to experience a blend of modern amenities and traditional aesthetics. Some machiya accommodations come with self-catering facilities, making them suitable for families or longer stays.

Hakone

Hakone offers a range of accommodation options that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and hot springs of the region. Here are some popular choices:

  • Ryokans and Onsen Resorts

Hakone is renowned for its onsen (hot springs), and many accommodations in the area feature their own hot spring baths. 

Ryokans in Hakone provide a traditional Japanese experience with tatami-matted rooms, futon bedding, and kaiseki meals.

Some ryokans have private open-air baths (rotenburo) where guests can relax while enjoying views of the surrounding nature.

These accommodations often offer a tranquil atmosphere and beautiful views of Mount Fuji or Lake Ashi.

  • Western-Style Hotels

Hakone also has a selection of Western-style hotels, including luxury resorts and boutique hotels. These accommodations provide modern amenities, comfortable rooms, and a variety of services and facilities to cater to different tastes. 

Some hotels offer scenic views of Mount Fuji or Lake Ashi, allowing guests to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

  • Guesthouses and Hostels

Budget-conscious travelers can find guesthouses and hostels in Hakone as well. These accommodations typically offer dormitory-style rooms or private rooms with shared facilities, making them affordable options for solo travelers or groups.

Summary 

  • Both Kyoto and Hakone offer diverse accommodation options to suit various preferences and budgets.
  • Kyoto presents a mix of hotels, traditional ryokans, guesthouses, and machiya townhouses, providing a range of choices for travelers.
  • Hakone’s accommodations focus on onsen resorts, ryokans, and Western-style hotels, allowing guests to indulge in the hot springs and natural beauty of the area

Related: Hakone Vs Nikko

The Local Food In Kyoto Vs Hakone

The cuisine in both Kyoto and Hakone showcases the flavors of Japan with unique regional specialties. 

Kyoto 

Kyoto is renowned for its traditional and refined cuisine, which reflects the city’s historical and cultural heritage. Here are some highlights:

  • Kaiseki

Kyoto is known for its kaiseki cuisine, a multi-course dining experience that showcases the seasonal flavors and artistic presentation of each dish. 

Kaiseki meals typically consist of small, beautifully arranged dishes prepared with local and seasonal ingredients. The emphasis is on balance, harmony, and the appreciation of each ingredient’s natural flavors.

  • Yudofu

Yudofu is a simple yet flavorful dish that Kyoto is famous for. It consists of soft tofu simmered in a kombu (kelp) broth and served with dipping sauces or condiments. Yudofu is a vegetarian-friendly dish that highlights the delicate flavors and textures of tofu.

  • Obanzai

Obanzai refers to the traditional home-style dishes of Kyoto. These dishes often feature seasonal vegetables, tofu, seafood, and simmered or grilled preparations. Obanzai showcases the simple yet refined flavors of Kyoto’s local ingredients.

  • Matcha and Wagashi

Kyoto is known for its matcha (green tea) culture. You can enjoy matcha in various forms, such as matcha tea ceremonies and matcha-flavored desserts like matcha-flavored wagashi (traditional Japanese confections). 

Wagashi are often made with sweet bean paste and are beautifully designed to reflect the seasons.

  • Kyo-kaiseki and tea houses

Kyoto is also known for its historic tea houses where you can enjoy kyo-kaiseki, a more elaborate and luxurious version of kaiseki cuisine. These dining experiences often include cultural performances such as tea ceremonies and traditional music.

Hakone

Hakone offers a different culinary experience, influenced by the local ingredients and the region’s natural surroundings. Here are some culinary highlights:

  • Black Eggs
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One of the iconic food items in Hakone is the “black eggs” or “kuro-tamago.” These eggs are boiled in the region’s natural hot springs, turning their shells black due to the mineral content of the water. It is believed that consuming these eggs can extend one’s life by seven years.

  • Hakone Cuisine

Hakone’s cuisine often incorporates ingredients sourced from the region, including freshwater fish, mountain vegetables, and locally grown produce. You can find various dishes such as grilled fish, tempura, and hot pot dishes that highlight the flavors of the local ingredients.

  • Soba Noodles

Hakone is known for its high-quality soba noodles made from buckwheat flour. You can enjoy these noodles in various preparations, including hot or cold dishes. Soba noodles are often served with a dipping sauce or in a broth with toppings.

  • Hakone Beer

Hakone is home to several craft breweries that produce local beers. You can visit breweries and pubs in the area to sample a range of craft beers, including seasonal and specialty brews.

  • Hot Spring Cuisine

Many ryokans and accommodations in Hakone offer kaiseki-style meals that incorporate local ingredients and showcase the flavors of the region.

These meals often feature seasonal ingredients and are designed to complement the relaxing atmosphere of the hot springs.

Summary

  • Both Kyoto and Hakone offer distinct culinary experiences. Kyoto presents refined and traditional cuisine with its kaiseki, yudofu, and matcha culture.
  • Hakone, on the other hand, provides a taste of local specialties such as black eggs, Hakone cuisine, soba noodles, and hot spring-inspired meals.
  • Exploring the unique flavors of each destination adds an enriching dimension to your visit.

Comparing Tourist Crowds In Kyoto Vs Hakone

The tourist crowds in Kyoto and Hakone can vary depending on the time of year and popular attractions. 

Kyoto

Kyoto is a popular tourist destination and can experience significant crowds, especially during peak seasons. The city’s historical significance, iconic temples, and traditional charm attract visitors from around the world. 

Here are some factors to consider regarding tourist crowds in Kyoto:

  • Peak Seasons

The peak tourist seasons in Kyoto are during the cherry blossom season (late March to early April) and the autumn foliage season (late October to early December). 

During these periods, the city can be crowded with tourists, particularly in popular spots like Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Fushimi Inari Shrine. 

It is advisable to expect larger crowds and plan accordingly, such as visiting popular attractions early in the day or exploring lesser-known spots.

  • Golden Week and Holidays

Golden Week, which typically falls from late April to early May, is a series of public holidays in Japan. During this time, Kyoto can experience a surge in domestic tourists. 

Other major holidays like Obon (mid-August) and New Year’s (late December to early January) can also attract increased numbers of visitors.

  • Weekends and Japanese School Holidays

Kyoto can be busier on weekends and during Japanese school holidays, as local visitors often take the opportunity to explore the city’s attractions. If possible, consider visiting on weekdays to avoid larger crowds.

  • Off-Peak Seasons

Visiting Kyoto during the off-peak seasons, such as winter and summer (excluding major holidays), can result in fewer crowds. While some popular attractions may still have visitors, the overall tourist volume tends to be lower compared to peak seasons.

Hakone

Hakone is a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists, particularly due to its natural beauty and hot springs. 

However, the crowds in Hakone are generally less dense compared to Kyoto. 

Here are some factors to consider regarding tourist crowds in Hakone:

  • Weekends and Holidays

Like any tourist destination, Hakone can experience increased visitor numbers on weekends and during Japanese holidays. It is advisable to expect more tourists during these times, especially at popular attractions like Lake Ashi and Owakudani.

  • Day Trippers

Hakone is a popular day trip destination from Tokyo due to its proximity. Visitors often come for a day to enjoy the hot springs, cruise on Lake Ashi, and take in the views of Mount Fuji. 

As a result, the crowds in Hakone tend to peak during the daytime, particularly in the areas close to major transportation hubs like Hakone-Yumoto Station.

  • Timing

Planning your visit during non-peak hours, such as early morning or late afternoon, can help avoid larger crowds. 

Additionally, exploring less popular areas or off-the-beaten-path attractions in Hakone can provide a quieter experience.

  • Seasonal Variations

The tourist crowds in Hakone can also vary depending on the season. For example, the cherry blossom season and autumn foliage season can attract more visitors seeking to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Summary

  • While both Kyoto and Hakone can have tourist crowds, Kyoto tends to be busier and more crowded, particularly during peak seasons and holidays.
  • Hakone, while still popular, generally offers a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, especially during weekdays and non-peak times.
  • Planning your visit strategically and considering the factors mentioned above can help you navigate the tourist crowds in both destinations.

Side Trips and Nearby Attractions In Kyoto Vs Hakone

Both Kyoto and Hakone offer excellent opportunities for side trips and exploring nearby attractions. 

Kyoto

Kyoto is centrally located in the Kansai region of Japan, making it a convenient base for exploring other nearby cities and attractions. 

Here are some popular side trips from Kyoto:

  • Nara

Located just a short train ride away from Kyoto, Nara is known for its historical and cultural significance.

It is home to the famous Nara Park, where you can encounter friendly deer roaming freely, as well as iconic landmarks like Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

  • Osaka

Osaka, a vibrant and modern city, is easily accessible from Kyoto. It offers a contrasting urban experience with attractions such as Osaka Castle, Dotonbori district known for its lively food scene, Universal Studios Japan, and the vibrant nightlife of Umeda and Namba.

  • Kobe 
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Known for its scenic waterfront, delicious Kobe beef, and the iconic Kobe Port Tower, Kobe is another city worth exploring.

It has a distinct cosmopolitan atmosphere and offers attractions like the Kobe Harborland, Mount Rokko, and the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens.

  • Hiroshima

While it requires a longer journey, Hiroshima is accessible from Kyoto via the Shinkansen (bullet train). This historic city is famous for the Peace Memorial Park, the iconic Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, and its moving history related to World War II.

Hakone

Hakone is nestled in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, surrounded by stunning natural landscapes and iconic Mount Fuji. While it is a destination in itself, there are also nearby attractions and side trips you can consider:

  • Lake Kawaguchi

Located near Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi offers breathtaking views of the iconic mountain. Visitors can enjoy boat cruises, visit museums like the Kawaguchiko Museum of Art, and explore the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park.

  • Gotemba Premium Outlets

For shopping enthusiasts, the Gotemba Premium Outlets, situated at the foot of Mount Fuji, is a popular destination. It features numerous international and local brands, offering a wide range of shopping opportunities.

  • Hakone Open-Air Museum

This outdoor museum showcases an extensive collection of sculptures and artwork set amidst beautiful gardens and natural scenery. It is a unique cultural attraction that combines art appreciation with the tranquility of nature.

  • Izu Peninsula

If you have more time, you can explore the nearby Izu Peninsula, known for its scenic coastlines, hot springs, and beautiful beaches. It offers attractions such as the Jogasaki Coast, Shimoda City, and the stunning Atami Onsen.

These are just a few examples of the side trips and nearby attractions you can consider when visiting Kyoto and Hakone. 

Whether you’re interested in historical sites, natural beauty, or cultural experiences, both destinations provide a gateway to explore other captivating places in Japan.

Budget Considerations Traveling To Hakone Vs Kyoto

Budget considerations are important when planning a trip to Kyoto or Hakone.

Kyoto

Kyoto, as a major tourist city, offers a range of options to suit different budgets. 

Here are some budget considerations to keep in mind when planning a trip to Kyoto:

  • Accommodation

Accommodation prices in Kyoto can vary depending on the type of lodging and location. While luxury hotels and ryokans can be more expensive, there are also budget-friendly options such as guesthouses and hostels. 

Staying in accommodations slightly away from the city center or popular tourist areas can often be more cost-effective.

  • Transportation

Getting around Kyoto is relatively affordable. The city has an efficient public transportation system, including buses and trains, which offer reasonably priced fares. 

Consider purchasing a Kyoto City Bus Pass or using a rechargeable IC card like Suica or ICOCA for convenience and potential cost savings.

  • Food

Kyoto offers a wide range of dining options to suit various budgets. You can find affordable eats at local restaurants, street food stalls, and food markets. 

Exploring the local neighborhoods and trying local specialties like street-side takoyaki or ramen can be a more budget-friendly dining experience.

  • Attractions

While some popular attractions in Kyoto may have entrance fees, there are also numerous temples, shrines, and gardens that can be enjoyed for free or at a nominal cost. 

Additionally, consider taking advantage of discounted combination tickets or passes for multiple attractions to save on admission fees.

Hakone

Hakone, being a resort town, can have a range of budget considerations to take into account. 

Here are some factors to consider when planning your budget for a trip to Hakone:

  • Accommodation

Hakone offers a variety of accommodation options, ranging from luxury ryokans to budget-friendly guesthouses. Prices can vary depending on the type of accommodation, location, and amenities. 

Consider staying in accommodations slightly away from the main tourist areas or considering mid-range options to help manage your budget.

  • Transportation

Getting to Hakone from Tokyo can involve additional transportation costs, such as the Hakone Free Pass or separate train and bus fares. 

The Hakone Free Pass, which includes transportation within Hakone and access to various attractions, can be a cost-effective option for exploring the area.

  • Food

Dining in Hakone can range from affordable local eateries to high-end restaurants. Exploring local markets or trying local specialties like soba noodles or onsen tamago (hot spring eggs) can provide a more budget-friendly dining experience. 

It’s also worth considering accommodations that include meals, as some ryokans offer half-board or full-board options.

  • Attractions

Hakone offers a range of attractions, including hot springs, museums, and scenic spots. Some attractions may have entrance fees, so it’s advisable to plan your itinerary and consider any additional costs. 

The Hakone Free Pass can offer value by including transportation and discounted or free entry to select attractions.

It’s important to note that personal spending habits and preferences can greatly impact overall expenses.

Being mindful of your budget and researching cost-effective options in advance can help ensure a more affordable and enjoyable trip to both Kyoto and Hakone.

Conclusion

Choosing between Kyoto and Hakone depends on your preferences, interests, and the type of experience you seek during your visit to Japan. 

Kyoto offers a deep dive into Japan’s history, culture, and spirituality, with its temples, shrines, and traditional atmosphere.

On the other hand, Hakone provides a peaceful retreat amidst stunning natural beauty, hot springs, and magnificent views of Mount Fuji.

Consider the historical and cultural significance, natural landscapes, accessibility, accommodation options, cuisine, and tourist crowds when making your decision.

If time allows, combining both destinations will provide a well-rounded experience, showcasing the best of Japan’s historical heritage and captivating landscapes.

Ultimately, whether you choose Kyoto or Hakone, or even both, your visit to Japan will be a memorable journey filled with cultural immersion, natural wonders, and warm hospitality.

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