Once the rainy season is over, summer finally comes and the bright sunshine encourages us to go out. Although summer in Japan sometimes gets too hot and humid, there are perfect summer destinations where you can spend a memorable time away from crowds and the sweltering weather. Karuizawa is a beautiful mountainous area in Nagano prefecture, which is widely recognized as one of the most popular summer retreats in Japan. It boasts not only refreshing nature but also a wide range of outdoor activity options as well as great shopping experiences. It is also conveniently located close to other famous tourist destinations such as Nagano city and Kusatsu Onsen area. Here is the ultimate guide to a weekend trip to Karuizawa, Nagano and Kusatsu Onsen!
- Hot to Get to Karuizawa from Tokyo?
- Best Tourist Attractions & Must-try Activities in Karuizawa
- Best Nature Attractions around Karuizawa
- Great Tourist Attractions in Nagano City & Kusatsu
- Tours & Vacation Packages in Nagano
- Where to Stay in Karuizawa
- Other articles you might enjoy
Hot to Get to Karuizawa from Tokyo?
From Tokyo station, it is probably the best way to take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to get to Karuizawa station. It takes about an hour and you need no transfers. Highway bus is also available, but it is not suitable for a weekend trip as it takes more than 3 hours.
Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Karuizawa
Fare: ¥6,020 (Reserved seat)
Time: 1 hour
Best Tourist Attractions & Must-try Activities in Karuizawa
The Kyu-Karuizawa area is a center of both shopping and cultural experiences with a great number of shops, dining spots and tourist attractions. Start from Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Shopping Street, a lively shopping spot which is home to a variety of shops, boutiques, gift shops, cozy cafes and restaurants. Try local specialties such as tasty jam and honey made from locally sourced fresh fruits. Get traditional hand-made crafts or accessories as a memorable gift that you can bring back home.
After walking around the lively street, visit Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church, which is known as the oldest church in the area with a history of over 100 years. Suwa Shrine is another place to visit which is a small shrine silently nestled in peaceful nature.
Naka-Karuizawa area offers a peaceful and quaint atmosphere surrounded by lush green nature. Take the Shinano Railway Line from JR Karuizawa station and it is about a 5 min ride to reach the Naka-Karuizawa area. Karuizawa Hoshino Resort is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area which boasts a wide range of facilities. Get unwind in the 100% natural hot springs supplied directly from the source.
You can also easily spend hours exploring HARUNIRE Terrace, a lovely modern shopping spot with a limited number of shops, but definitely offers a satisfying dining and shopping experience with carefully-selected shops and restaurants. Picchio offers a range of nature tours with both Japanese and English guides for an affordable price. Joining their tour will allow you to take a leisurely walk around the National Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest which is home to a diverse wildlife!
If you are an art lover, or planning a family trip to Karuizawa, the Minami-Karuizawa area could be a perfect destination. This beautiful area extensively encompasses the south of JR Karuizawa station with a wide variety of experiences that are suited for everyone’s needs and budget. Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a giant shopping complex which is home to approximately 200 shops, including World-famous brands, high-end shops outlets, restaurants and tax-free shops. Family-friendly facilities such as a free parking, kid’s playground, food court and spacious lawn area are also available.
Forest of Muse stimulates your curiosity in art with a large collection of picture books including first prints by world-famous modern authors. Impressive works by Senju Hiroshi, a talented Japanese-style painter, at Senju Hiroshi Museum built with a unique exterior design which perfectly matches the surrounding landscape of Karuizawa. It is also enjoyable to spend a relaxing time with your family and pets at Karuizawa Taliesin which is peacefully nestled by Lake Shiozawa. Outdoor activity options include tennis, boat paddling, go-karts, mini golf, bouldering and more!
Best Nature Attractions around Karuizawa
Mt. Asama is a symbolic 2,568m peak which is also known as an active volcano with a number of historic eruptions in record. There are hiking trails that visitors can enjoy, but they could be occasionally closed when the volcanic alert level is high.
Onioshidashi Park is a scenic spot which is said to be originally formed by the eruption of Mt. Asama in the late 18th century. The giant lava rocks scattered across the landscape are just stunning, and they offer an incredible view of Mt. Asama along with the surrounding mountain ranges!
Beautiful waterfall which is about a 25min bus ride from JR Karuizawa station. Thousands of crystal-clear water threads create a stunning scenery along with the lush greenery surroundings in summer. It is also known as a popular autumn color spot where you can enjoy colorful leaves in fall.
Great Tourist Attractions in Nagano City & Kusatsu
If you have time to travel to Nagano or Kusatsu, here are our recommendations that you shouldn’t miss!
Best tourist attractions in Nagano City
Designated as a National Treasure in 1953, Zenko-ji Temple is widely recognized as one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan. The establishment of the temple goes back to the 7th century, and it has served as a symbolic tourist attraction in Nagano prefecture for over centuries. The main hall was rebuilt in 1704 after being burned down by fire, and the authentic architecture is often described as a masterpiece back in the 17th century.
Try Local Specialties
Nagano fascinates everyone not only with its beautiful nature but also with a range of delicious food options. Enjoy fruit picking at Morino Hatake which specializes in growing blueberries and selling a variety of blueberry products such as jam and juice. Another specialty from Nagano is soba, a Japanese traditional noodle made from buckwheat. The simple and healthy taste is loved by all ages, and it is enjoyable both in cold and hot, making it a popular national food all year round!
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
You might probably have seen a picture of wild monkeys soaking in an open-air bath in Japan’s guide books before. It is here Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park which attracts numerous international tourists every year. Winter is definitely the best time to watch monkeys relaxing in a warm hot spring with snow.
Best tourist attractions in Kusatsu
Kusatsu Onsen Resort
Kusatsu is one of Japan’s most famous Onsen resorts located in the western part of Gunma prefecture. Bus services are available which connect between Karuizawa and Kusatsu area in 1 – 2 hours. It is home to a number of traditional Japanese Ryokan which are conveniently situated at the center of the city along with famous tourist attractions such as Yubatake, a symbolic hot water field!
Hiking at Mt. Shirane
Mt. Shirane is a 2,578m peak which lies on the borders between Gunma and Tochigi prefecture. For experienced hikers, there are challenging trails which take about 5-6 hours to reach the top of the mountain. If you want to get to the top more easily and quickly, Mt. Nikko Shirane Ropeway is also available which conveniently takes you up to the observation spot in 15min while you enjoy the view of beautiful lakes and surrounding peaks out of the window. Sky Terrace Café is located by the Ropeway Summit Station and offers light meals, refreshing drinks and a free foot bath!
Tours & Vacation Packages in Nagano
Where to Stay in Karuizawa
If you feel you need to slow down and relax in nature, Karuizawa is a perfect weekend trip destination. It offers great opportunities for everyone to refresh in nature, enjoy shopping, appreciate impressive art works and to spend a memorable time with their families, friends or partners. If your itinerary is not too tight and you can spend a couple of days or longer, Nagano and Kusatsu could also be a great option which is worth visiting!
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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