The small lakeside town of Hikone is a landscape photographer’s dream. It’s a popular day trip from the city of Kyoto, being in the prefecture next door. It’s home to a plethora of attractions including one of four of the country’s national treasure castles.
The one thing, however, that people think of first when Hikone is mentioned, is Lake Biwa.
Lake Biwa is considered by many as one of the most beautiful and majestic lakes in all of Japan. Views of the lake alone draw people to Hikone. Along with castles and other historical landmarks to admire, you can spend an entire day just taking in gorgeous sights.
Kyoto is the great ‘traditional Japan’ escape for many travellers but sometimes it does get claustrophobic with all the crowds. Hikone offers that actual quiet escape that you need. With the abundance of activities and sights to experience, it’s the perfect day trip to squeeze into your itinerary.
How To Get To Hikone
This picture-perfect location is located only less than an hour away from Kyoto. From Kyoto station, hop on a JR line for Maibara and alight at Hikone. It should take around one hour. It will cost 1,170 yen one way. Check out Hyperdia for the train departure times.
Where To Stay in Hikone
If you’re planning to stay overnight in Hikone, nothing says ‘low-key getaway’ more than a humble ryokan accommodation. The Tobaya Ryokan provides almost all the amenities for a comfortable stay. It’s also affordable and is centrally located – it’s close to the station and to Hikone Castle itself.
All guest rooms feature simplistic yet gorgeous traditional decor. You can experience sleeping on a futon on the Japanese tatami mat flooring here. If you’re keen, you can also request a delicious breakfast for a small additional fee. The small size of the ryokan means you’ll receive the utmost attention from the friendly hosts.
Guest Tips: If you’re looking for a decent restaurant, turn right outside the ryokan, and then right again at the next intersection. There is a small restaurant maybe 50m down on the right that is excellent.
Book It Now: Tobaya Ryokan
For a luxurious stay in Hikone, look no further than Hikone Castle Resort and Spa. This wonderful hotel offers a great location that’s within distance to many attractions and facilities. It boasts an in-house restaurant, free Wi-Fi across the lobby, and even free bicycle rental for all guests!
All guest rooms come with air-con and an LCD TV screen for your comfort. There are also private bathrooms attached to all guest rooms. If you’re traveling via public transport, you can also arrange with the hotel to be picked up for free.
The best thing about this hotel? The stunning views of Hikone Castle. You absolutely can’t beat the unobstructed views from certain rooms, the hotel’s public bath, as well as certain areas of the lobby.
Book It Now: Hikone Castle Resort and Spa
The 5 Best Things To Do in Hikone
Now that you know how to get to Hikone and where to stay, let’s check out the 5 best activities you should not miss!
- Visit Hikone Castle
- Hyakusaiji Temple
- Explore Nagahama, a nostalgic Japanese town
- Chikubu Island
- Lake Biwa
1. Visit Hikone Castle
Of course, the number one attraction in Hikone would be the Hikone Castle. This castle is one of the very few original castles in Japan that hasn’t been destroyed over the many centuries that it’s been standing. What you see is what the Japanese saw when it was first built about 400 years ago.
How cool is that!
You can explore the entire castle from the three-layer main keep to the Genkyuen Garden on the same grounds. We recommend taking photos of the castle from a distance as its pure white exterior is quite a sight to behold.
If you happen to be around during the cherry blossom season then you’re in for a treat. It is quite a popular spot to capture the beauty of the flowers without running into massive crowds. The grounds are quite expansive so you might be able to find a private little spot to take some nice photos.
- Address: 1-1 Konkicho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0061, Japan
- Access: From Hikone Station, it is a 15-minute walk.
- Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
2. Hyakusaiji Temple
Located just a little outside of Hikone, the Hyakusaiji Temple is also known as The Temple of a Hundred Colors. The temple itself was established in 606, making it one of the oldest temples in all of Japan. It is part of the trio of famous Koto Sanzan temples alongside Saimyoji and Kongorinji.
The beauty of Hyakusaiji Temple is unmatched, especially in autumn. It truly lives up to its name of The Temples of a Hundred Colours during the peak of fall, when the trees surrounding and towering over it burst into magnificent colours. This generally happens towards the end of November.
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Don’t forget to take a photo with its famous sandal entrance gate!
- Address: 323 Hyakusaijicho, Higashiomi, Shiga 527-0144, Japan
- Access: From Hikone Station, take the Omi Tetsudo line towards Yokaichi station and alight. From there, take a taxi for 20-minutes to Hyakusaiji Temple. During the peak leaf season in November, you can actually hop on the shuttle bus which goes between three temples as well as Hikone and Yokaichi station.
3. Explore Nagahama, a nostalgic Japanese town
If exploring small and traditional Japanese towns is your thing, then a trip to Nagahama must be on the books. This scenic town is only a 15-minute train ride away from Hikone. It is made up of a smattering of old and new buildings, local merchants who have been selling food and wares for years, and old warehouses.
There is a special area called Kurokabe Square where restaurants and small shops are now standing. This is one of the main attractions here. It sits where clusters of old-school warehouses and merchant houses used to sit.
If you’re around here during mid-April, you might want to plan your trip around the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival. This is one of Japan’s biggest float festivals. In fact, it’s been designated as one of the Three Great Float Festivals of Japan. You will be able to witness extraordinary kabuki performances by kids on the floats. These are pulled through town throughout the festival period.
Access: From Hikone Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo line to Maibara and alight. From Maibara, take the Hokuriku Line to Nagahama. This will take roughly 20-minutes and cost 240 yen one-way.
4. Chikubu Island or Chikubushima
If your itinerary allows it, pop in some time to explore Chikubu Island. This island is also known as The Island of the Gods. It’s a small but hilly island that can be accessed via just a short ferry ride away from Hikone. It’s uninhabited and is a popular day trip for those who want to immerse themselves in some nature exploration.
There is a short hike on the island that you can do which will bring you to Hongonji. Hongonji is a small Buddhist temple which dates back to 724. Next to it is Tsukubusuma Jinja Shrine. The architecture of both structures is simply stunning. It is reflective of authentic traditional Japanese values and makes for beautiful photographic opportunities.
Access: You can access it via the Hikone port.
5. Lake Biwa
Lastly, why not check out Lake Biwa from a different perspective? The lake itself can be viewed from the magnificent Hikone Castle after all. Whilst the majority of people will explore the lake from the western side, you can also participate in activities on the eastern side as well. They include hiking, stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing, and cycling. In winter, there is the Biwako Ski Resort on the north western side of the lake which is popular amongst locals.
This small, unassuming city is a great escape from the bustling city of Kyoto and Osaka. You’ll feel the much slower lifestyle pace here the moment you step foot off the train. It’s a great way to explore what lakeside life is like in Japan without having to travel to the middle of nowhere.
If you’re itching for somewhere out of the ordinary to explore, we highly recommend giving Hikone a go!