When we lived in Japan, we used to get a lot of visitors. Some used to visit for long periods of time, around two or three weeks. This would give us time to see the more popular sites further a field like Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, etc… which are highly recommended if you have the time and money.
However some visitors would only come for a week which meant we had to get creative when trying to provide them the full Japanese experience without leaving the Tokyo area. I would often research places to visit around Tokyo and found very little within the blogging community so after years of doing our own research and travelling with our guests we now have a comprehensive list of tips and ideas.
If you are someone who is planning on visiting Tokyo but you have limited time or funds, we have some ideas for you. All these places are within a 3 hour travel distance from the central Tokyo area and are good for a one night stay or just a day trip.
- Lake Kawaguchiko
Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the Fuji Five Lakes and the only one accessible directly from Tokyo. It is a popular tourist destination because of the incredible views of Mt. Fuji that you can witness here. Most tourists can make the mistake of using their Shinkansen Rail Pass to get here which requires a minimum of three trains and takes around 2hrs 40mins. If you don’t have a rail pass, this route will cost you at least 3,700yen one way.
The easiest way to get Lake Kawaguchiko is to take the Highway Bus which you can book easily via their website in English. It departs from Shinjuku bus station and takes around 1hr 45mins to reach Lake Kawaguchiko train station and only costs 2000yen one way.
Because there is so much to see and do here, I would recommend staying the night and there are numerous hotels that you can stay in around the lake, all easily booked through Booking.com. We have stayed in three different hotels during our trips to the lake, all beautiful, clean and in a good location.
Lakeland Hotel Mizunosato which offers traditional tatami rooms and some with private onsens on the balcony. Each stay came with half board included in the price.
Yamagisi Ryokan which was a bit more budget. Sits in the heart of all the shops and hotels around the lake and offers an outdoor public onsen. Great when it is snowing. All rooms are traditional tatami with futons and come with a half board package.
Hoshinoya Fuji Resort which a lot pricier but the views of Mt. Fuji from the heated blankets on the balconies all facing the lake are totally worth it. Food not included except for breakfast.
Besides the view of Mt. Fuji there is plenty to do here. There is a loop tourist bus which you can use to hop on and hop off. It stops at all the tourist destinations in the area including a number of caves and a cable car which offers views of the whole lake.
Yokohama is an easy day trip from Tokyo taking around a 40min train ride. It is a modern city with lots to offer including a pretty big China Town, the Raman Museum where you can make your own Cup a Noodle and plenty of shopping. There are regular events in Yokohama happening throughout the year. They are particularly famous for their beer festivals, Christmas Markets and one year they held a Light Festival.
If you fancy staying the night, we cannot recommend Hotel Edit enough, a budget hotel that has a really modern feel and free coffee.
Kamakura is a great place to visit and easy to pair up with a night layover in Yokohama. If you have very little time and you want to experience ‘old, traditional’ Japan, this is the place for you. Easily accessible by a 20min train ride from Yokohama, it is home to the Kamakura Daibutsu, a large bronze statue of Buddha and boasts 65 Buddhist temples.
There is so much to see here and lots of shops selling a variety of handmade wears. If you are spending the day here, you can add a walk down to the beach to enjoy the water to your to do list.
Nikko is the furthest destination on this list but should not be dismissed. It takes around 3 hours to get to here from Tokyo using the Shinkansen if you buy the Tokyo Wide Pass; a three day travel pass for 10,000yen. Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is well deserved. It is home to some of the most beautiful shrines including Toshogu and Lake Chuzenji and has a lovely street of restaurants and shops leading from the train station to the shrines. Most Japanese people will flock to Nikko in the October and November to witness the amazing colours of the changing season.
There are plenty of hotel options, all easily found on hotel booking websites if you want to extend your stay.
Atami is a seaside resort area located about 2hrs 25mins from Tokyo if you take the local trains. If you take a more direct route, 1hr 45mins. Atami is famous for its sea views but also for the abundance of onsens in the area and a popular destination for domestic travel during the summer. An easy day trip but if you would like to spend the night and experience a little bit of luxury, I would highly recommend the KAI Atami hotel which offers half board for the room rate and free access to their onsen.
Kawagoe is close enough to be a day trip from Tokyo but still gives you an old Japanese feel. It is also a good place to buy souvenirs away from the Tokyo tourist traps. It takes about 65mins using the local trains and will cost around 860yen one way.
The street from the station to the old part of town is quite modern; full of shops, restaurants and coffee places but at the end of the street you will find a much more traditional part of town, with handmade goods, old architecture and in the spring a lot of Yukatas.
Karuizawa is a town 65mins outside of Tokyo using the Shinkansen and the Tokyo Wide Pass. It is a a mountain resort town near Nagano very popular with hikers and skiers. There is an outlet shopping area, plenty of walking hikes in the summer and ski slopes in the winter. There are number of beautiful hotels in the area and worth a night over if the outdoors is something you enjoy.
We stayed at the Hoshinoya Karuizawa which was a treat with a huge range of activities such as onsens, ice skating and star gazing.
Shimoda I have left until last because it is a secret slice of heaven that not many tourist know about. Just under 3 hours away from Tokyo at very bottom of the Izu Peninsula, is the small coastal town of Shimoda. We decided to visit here one summer and were so mesmerised by the emerald green sea and the exotic feel. It has so much history and plenty to do to make this a worth while side trip from Tokyo.
We stayed at the Shimoda Tokyu Hotel which was offering a really good deal. We had beautiful sea views from our room, there was a relaxing outdoor onsen and outdoor pool area. There were plenty of food options including a cook your own outdoor BBQ.
So these are our top 8 side trips from Tokyo that are all accessible using public transport and under 3 hours travel time from Tokyo Station. All travel times and prices I found using http://www.hyperdia.com which is a free website I used during my 6 years living in Japan to plan all my train travel across the country.
You may have noticed that I mentioned the Tokyo Wide Pass a few times. This is a travel pass available to all non-Japanese passport holders which allows the user three consecutive days of unlimited travel on all forms of public transport. All 8 destinations listed above are covered by this pass but note, if you choose to use the Highway Bus service to get to Lake Kawaguchiko, this is not covered with the pass.
The pass costs 10,000yen which is about $100 or £65 at the time of writing this and can be bought at the tourist information at Tokyo Station. All you need is your passport as proof of foreign citizenship.
We loved exploring each one of the destinations above with our guests and we hope you will too. Leave a comment and let us know what you think if this post inspired you.