Karuizawa, one of Japan’s leading highland resorts, is a great place to stay for a day or overnight trip from Tokyo. Since the Meiji period, the post town, Karuizawa-Shuku, has received many foreign visitors, which is why the traditional township now has several Western-style villas and churches. The town, filled with delicious cafes and restaurants, also is rich in natural scenery. So between eating and shopping, you can hike or cycle into nature to bathe in the negative ion-rich forest with a few waterfalls scattered!
The area around Karuizawa Station is just one part of the town. Karuizawa can be largely divided into the six areas below. While Kyū-Karuizawa Area is where most tourists would visit, other areas are also gaining popularity!
- Kyū-Karuizawa Area (旧軽井沢エリア)
- Kita-Karuizawa Area (北軽井沢エリア)
- Minamigaoka ・Minamihara Area (南ヶ丘・南原エリア), also known as the Shin-Karuizawa Area (新軽井沢エリア)
- Naka-Karuizwa Area (中軽井沢北エリア)
- Minami-Karuizawa Area (南軽井沢エリア)
- Oiwake Area (追分エリア)
A List of Attractions in Karuizawa
- Minamigaoka ・Minamihara Area (南ヶ丘・南原エリア)/Shin-Karuizawa Area (新軽井沢エリア)
- Kyū-Karuizawa Area (旧軽井沢エリア)
- Yagasaki Park (矢ヶ崎公園)
- Karuizawa New Art Museum (軽井沢ニューアートミュージアム)
- Kumoba Pond (雲場池)
- Old Karuizawa Ginza Street
- Mampei Hotel (万平ホテル)
Tip: Refer to our article on The Recommended Cafes and Restaurants in Karuizawa for places to dine when you are in Karuizawa!
Explore Karuizawa With a Guided Tour
If you prefer a tour guide to introduce you to the charms of Karuizawa, how about joining one of the below tours?
- Karuizawa Half-Day Tour with a Private Car
- Karuizawa Half-Day Private Trip with Government-Licensed Guide
- Karuizawa Full-Day Private Trip with Government-Licensed Guide
- Karuizawa Cycling Tour
- Karuizawa Shinanoji Nature Trail Trekking Tour
- Karuizawa Suigaki Pass Hiking Tour
- Old Nakasendo Trekking Tour from Karuizawa
- Mt. Asama Trekking Tour
- 2D1N Obuse & Karuizawa Tour With Fruit Picking and Onsen from Osaka
You can also book to participate in one of the workshops/activities below!
- Karuizawa Fruit and/or Vegetable-Picking Tour
- Rice Ball-Making at a Local House
- Soba Making in Karuizawa
- Flying Squirrel Watching Tour
- Karuizawa Snowshoe Tour: Snow Mountain Hiking
- Ski Lessons in Karuizawa
The Best Time to Visit Karuizawa
- The cherry blossom season in Karuizawa is in April.
- The light green spring color covers Karuizawa from May to July.
- For fall foliage, visit Karuizawa from mid-October to mid-November.
- In December, the town’s illumination makes Karuizawa a winter wonderland!
How to Get to Karuizawa by Public Transportation
By the Bullet Train
The bullet train is the easiest way to get to Karuizawa from Tokyo. It will only take you around 60 minutes. You can take the Asama-gō (あさま号) or Hakutaka-gō (はくたか号) that run on the Hokuriku Line. But note that a couple of Hakutaka-gō services do not stop at Karuizawa.
A List of JR Passes that Covers Karuizawa
Below is a list of JR passes covering Karuizawa and other regions. Please keep in mind that depending on your itinerary, a JR pass may or may not be worthwhile for your trip. You can estimate the transportation cost using Google Maps and compare the total price to a JR pass.
- JR Pass (7-Day, 14-Day, or 21-Day)
- JR Tokyo Wide Pass
- JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) / 5 Days
- JR Hokuriku Arch Pass (7 Days)
- JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass (6 Days)
While it takes around 3 hours to get to Karuizawa from Tokyo by bus, it is the cheapest option. Bus services depart from Shinjuku Bus Terminal or Tokyo Station, and it will only cost you around 2,000 yen.
You can book your bus ticket HERE.
How to Get to the Attractions in Karuizawa
- For attractions not close to JR Karuizawa Station, you can take a bus from the station and get off at the closest bus stop. The two bus companies that operate in the area are:
- You can also rent a bicycle from one of the rental shops around Karuizawa Station. However, please bear in mind that you cannot park in front of the shops and cafes on Old Karuizawa Ginza Street. Please utilize the free bicycle parking lots instead.
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza (軽井沢・プリンスショッピングプラザ)
Just opposite Karuizawa Station’s south exit, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is Japan’s biggest outlet. Divided into 10 areas, more than 200 stores, restaurants, and cafes are combined! The plaza, surrounded by lush greenery, doesn’t just have high-end branded stores. There are also a couple of discounted item stores for you to hunt down amazing bargains. Karuizawa souvenirs can also be bought there.
But because the plaza is so big, it is best to plan ahead for efficiency even if you have plenty of time to kill. Walking for an entire day can be tiring!
For those who are a Moomin fan, visit the Moomin Cafe (ムーミンカフェ), newly opened in late April 2023!
Yagasaki Park (矢ヶ崎公園)
Just a 5-minute walk from Karuizawa Station, Yagasaki Park is a relaxing park with a big lake that reflects the surrounding mountains. If you are waiting for the next train, how about taking a relaxing stroll around the lake? Especially in summer, resting on the benches in the leafy area where nice breezes blow through will surely cool you down.
In spring and autumn, you can also visit Yagasaki Park for the cherry blossoms and fall foliage. And in mid-August, it is where Yagasaki Park Fireworks Festival is held!
In 2023, the Yagasaki Park Fireworks Festival will take place at 7:30 pm on the 16th of August.
If you plan to visit Karuizawa with young children, there are playsets to keep them entertained. They will also love seeing the ducks and maybe even the ducklings that live in Yagasaki Park!
Tip: If you want to feed the ducks, check with the cafe in Karuizawa Ohga Hall (軽井沢大賀ホール) on the north side of the park. They might still be selling duck feeds.
Karuizawa New Art Museum (軽井沢ニューアートミュージアム)
If you enjoy contemporary arts, Karuizawa New Art Museum is the spot you will want to visit. The museum that originally focused on artworks from Japanese artists since World War II now also have special exhibitions of international artists. It is a facility where your imagination will be stimulated!
As the entire art museum is not completely free to enter, you can check out the fee-free zone on the 1st floor and decide if you want to enter the paid zone on the 2nd floor.
Of course, Yayoi Kusama’s works can be found within the collections of works of internationally recognized Japanese contemporary artists at Karuizawa New Art Museum. You might also enjoy examining the Meissen on display.
The staff there are friendly. So if there is anything you are unsure about, talk to them!
Besides the artworks inside the museum, the architecture is another thing to check out at Karuizawa New Art Museum. The buildings and interiors designed by famous architects and artists are definitely worth your attention too. For example, the chapel area in the courtyard was designed by Kengo Kuma (隈研吾). While the area is usually closed to the public, tours are held twice daily for 15 minutes.
- The Chapel Tour is held at 11:30 am and 3 pm. It has a capacity of 10 people. If you are interested, reserve your spot at the reception.
- It is free to join the tour if you have also purchased an exhibition ticket on the day. Otherwise, the tour costs 300 yen to join.
Karuizawa New Art Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Karuizawa New Art Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
- It closes late at 6 pm from July to September.
- If Monday is a public holiday, it will close the next business day.
- The last admission is 30 minutes before the museum closes.
- The admission fee is:
- 2,000 yen for adults
- 1,000 yen for senior high school and university students
- 500 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- Karuizawa New Art Museum is around an 8-minute walk from Karuizawa Station.
Bon Okawa Karuizawa Chocolate Factory (ボン・オーカワ 軽井沢チョコレートファクトリー)
For those who love chocolate, discover the amazing chocolate made with Nagano Prefecture’s apples. Many of the chocolates and rusks are made in the store. Peeping into the workshop space where chocolate products are made through the shop’s glass panels is another reason that attracts tourists to Bon Okawa Karuizawa Chocolate Factory.
The Karuizawa Chocolate Ball (軽井沢チョコレートボール) is one of the most popular items sold at the chocolate factory. Amongst the six flavors, several are not commonly found on supermarket shelves. Of course, the apple flavor is a must-try because Nagano is an infamous apple-producing prefecture!
If you love biscuits, grab a few packs of Karuizawa Rusk (軽井沢ラスク). The caramel and almond-flavored rusk is loved by its customers. They also have unique flavors, such as Olive Basil (オリーブバジル). The bite-sized rusk has a refreshing basil aroma, which is great for snacking. It also goes well with beer!
Bon Okawa Karuizawa Chocolate Factory also has an eat-in space with free coffee and tea, perfect for those who want to take a rest after shopping. Besides chocolate, you can also order ice cream.
Tip: Check with the staff before purchasing to see if they still give out free samples.
Bon Okawa Karuizawa Chocolate Factory’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Bon Okawa Karuizawa Chocolate Factory is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
- The shop is around a 15-minute walk from Karuizawa Station.
Kumoba Pond (雲場池)
While many scenic natural spots are not usually close to a train station, Kumoba Pond in Karuizawa is just a 20-minute walk from Karuizawa Station! The spot that was nicknamed Swan Lake (スワンレイク) by Westerners is a place with a very calm atmosphere that you will surely love!
Watercress and other aquatic and wet plants can also be observed on the north side of the pond.
The best way to enjoy what Kumoba Pond has to offer is by strolling on the 1-km-long promenade around the pond. The promenade is flat, so even prams and wheelchairs can travel on the road. The view of white birch, larch, and maple trees reflected on the pond surface, with the occasional scene of the ducks swimming peacefully across, is perfect for destressing ourselves from the daily hustle and bustle. So even the Japanese imperial family would visit Kumoba Pond at least once during their stay in Karuizawa!
If you walk upstream from Kumoba Pond for about 10 minutes along the river, you will find clear water that springs out (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ. This water source has been called Gozensui (御膳水) since the Edo period because it was used to prepare meals for the feudal lords and court nobles. The water was also used to cook Meiji Emperor’s lunch when he visited Karuizawa.
The Best Season to Visit Kumoba Pond
- From late May to July, there is a higher chance of spotting ducklings following their parents at Kumoba Pond.
- The fall foliage season at Kumoba Pond is from late October to early November.
- Karuizawa will likely experience morning fog until around 9 am in autumn. So while Kumoba Pond will be more crowded in the late morning, it might be a better time to visit the pond for more stunning scenery.
☛ Kumoba Pond is a popular tourist spot in Karuizawa. Arrive as early as possible. The lighting in the early morning is great for photography.
☛ It is best to visit Kumoba Pond on a day that isn’t windy so the scenery around the pond can be reflected clearly.
☛ There is a free toilet facility at Kumoba Pond.
How to Get to Kumoba Pond
- Kumoba Pond is a 20-minute walk from Karuizawa Station (軽井沢駅).
- You can also take Seibu Bus’ service bounding for Kusatsu or Karuizawa Town Loop Bus (軽井沢町内循環バス東・南廻り線) and get off at Roppontsuji/Kumobaike (六本辻・雲場池).
Old Karuizawa Ginza Street
Old Karuizawa Ginza Street (軽井沢銀座通り) is the must-visit spot when you visit Karuizawa. The 750-meter-long street is lined with long-established shops that preserve both traditional and trendy boutique stores. Even if you plan on just window-shopping through the bakeries, cafes, and local speciality shops, we are sure you will still have a lot of fun!
For more information, refer to our article on The Recommended Spots to Visit on Old Karuizawa Ginza Street!
Mampei Hotel (万平ホテル)
Important: Mampei Hotel is closed for renovation and repair work until 2024’s summer.
Whether you are after an accommodation facility or not, Mampei Hotel, close to Old Karuizawa Ginza Street, is worth a visit. With its top-quality hospitality, the well-kept hotel re-opened in 1894 after partial Westernization, is still one of the best hotels in Karuizawa. In addition, it is the hotel that John Lennon loved!
Unlike most hotels in Japan, the guestrooms in Mampei Hotel are elegant and spacious. The carefully prepared meals are decent too.
For more information, refer to our article on Mampei Hotel!
Church Street Karuizawa (チャーチストリート軽井沢)
Towards the end of Old Karuizawa Ginza Street, there is a two-story shopping mall called Church Street. It is a “street” filled with around 20 cafes, restaurants, and boutique stores that leads to Karuizawa St. Paul’s Catholic Church. When events such as flea markets are not held in the courtyard, it is a nice space to take a break from all the shopping you might have done the last few hours. So if you love shopping, Church Street Karuizawa is definitely the spot that should be on your itinerary!
If you are a foodie, stop by Creperie Angelina (クレープリー・アンジェリーナ). The crepes there are amazing!
During the Christmas season, a 7-meter Christmas tree and 100,000 lights are used to create a magical atmosphere!
Important: 100 yen is charged if you want to use the toilet facility here.
Church Street Karuizawa’s Business Hours
- Church Street Karuizawa’s shops and cafes are open from 10 am to 6 pm.
- The last order is taken at 5:30 pm.
- Restaurants are open from:
- 11 am to 3:30 pm for lunch
- 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm for dinner
- The last order is taken 30 minutes before the closing time.
- Refer to Church Street Karuizawa’s calendar HERE for the days it closes from December to March (greyed out).
- If you plan to take a bus, get off at St. Paul Catholic Church-mae (聖パウロ教会前).
Karuizawa St. Paul’s Catholic Church (軽井沢聖パウロカトリック教会)
In addition to Uchimura Kanzō Memorial Stone Church (石の教会 内村鑑三記念堂) in Naka-Karuizawa‘s Hoshino Area, another church that can excite architectural buffs is Karuizawa St. Paul’s Catholic Church. Designed by the famous American architect Antonin Raymond, the church is another landmark in Karuizawa.
It was where the first Christian wedding for non-Christians was held in Japan, and nowadays, a venue where many celebrities hold their weddings.
For more information about Karuizzawa St. Paul’s Catholic Church, refer to our Guide to the Must-Visit Churches in Karuizawa!
Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church (軽井沢ショー記念礼拝堂) and Alexander Croft Shaw House (ショーハウス記念館)
Beyond the Old Karuizawa Ginza Street, close to the Nitebashi Bridge in a forest, you will encounter Karuizawa’s oldest church. The church was renovated from the first villa built in Karuizawa, home of a Canadian Anglican missionary, Alexander Croft Shaw.
Shaw is well-respected in the area because not only did Shaw successfully spread Christianity in the area, but he was also the person who spread the name of Karuizawa to the world as a summer resort.
For more information about Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church and Shaw, refer to our Guide to the Must-Visit Churches in Karuizawa!
Usui Pass Observation Platform (碓氷峠見晴台)
Karuizawa’s natural spots aren’t just about waterfalls and lakes. Driving up the Usui Pass, there is a park close to the summit at 1,200m. The observation deck in the park offers a spectacular panoramic view of the ragged mountain ranges close by, including Mt. Asama, Japan’s Southern Alps and the mountains of Nikkō. In addition, it is also the prefectural border line between Gunma and Nagano!
For more information about the lookout and a few more tourist spots close to it, refer to our article on the Usui Pass Observation Platform!
Kumanokōtai Shrine (熊野皇大神社)
Kumanokōtai Shrine, close to the Usui Pass Observation Platform, is a rare shrine you will want to visit. Not only does it sit on a prefectural borderline, but the central watershed (中央分水嶺) can also be found in the precinct! Because the shrine’s precinct is across two prefectures, the shrine consists of two religious institutions (宗教法人). The first half in Nagano Prefecture is Kumanokōtai Shrine, and the other half in Gunma Prefecture is Kumano Shrine. Each religious institution has its responsible person, shrine staff, donation box, and shrine office. This is why Kumanokōtai Shrine is designated as one of the four Special Shrine in Japan (特別神社).
For more information about what else is interesting about the shrine, refer to our Kumanokōtai Shrine article!
Mikasa-dōri Street (三笠通り)
Mikasa-dōri Street starting from the intersection close to Kyu-Karuizawa (旧軽井沢) bus stop to the Former Mikasa Hotel (旧三笠ホテル), is the perfect street to escape from the heat during the warmer season. It is also the road leading to Kose Onsen (小瀬温泉) and Karuizawa Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝).
Once you pass through the commercial district, the 2km Mikasa-dōri Street is lined with tall larch that isn’t just scenic but blocks the strong summer sun, bringing you the coolness Karuizawa is known for.
The street is flat and usually without much traffic, making it perfect for cycling. The fresh cool breeze that blew on our faces was just refreshing when we cycled along Mikasa-dōri in late September.
If you decide to take a stroll instead of cycling, you will notice the height difference between the left and right lanes. This higher lane was Kusakaru Electric Railway’s track that served between Kusatsu Onsen and Karuizawa in the first half of the 20th century.
Even if you visit Karuizawa in winter, venture out to Mikasa-dōri for some stunning photos!
Former Mikasa Hotel (旧三笠ホテル)
Important: Former Mikasa Hotel is closed for renovation and repair work until 2025’s summer.
If you are after a spot that can provide you with a good understanding of the life of Westerners in Japan during the early 20th century, visit the Former Mikasa Hotel! It is a purely Western-style wooden hotel completed in 1905, designed and completed by the Japanese. As you walk around the hotel, which is more than 100 years old, you can examine the furniture and its elegant interior design. A clear snapshot of the past isn’t hard to gather from each room, especially the ones with photos of the time hung.
For more information, refer to our article on the Former Mikasa Hotel!
Karuizawa Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝)
Karuizawa’s most renowned waterfall has to be Karuizawa Shiraito Falls. While the vegetation around the waterfall and the cliff where the water falls down has had human touches, the artificial element of the waterfall doesn’t make it any less amazing. If you come to Karuizawa to escape from the heat, Shiraito Falls will surely cool you down, both visually and physically!
For more information about this enchanting waterfall, refer to our Guide to Karuizawa Shiraito Falls & Ryūgaeshi Falls!
Ryūgaeshi Falls (竜返しの滝)
Ryūgaeshi Falls, also known as Suzuga Falls (珠数ケ滝), is the hidden spot 2.5km downstream of Karuizawa Shiraito Falls. It is another waterfall loved by those who have visited it. In addition, it is one of the few waterfalls that are only partially frozen!
For more information, refer to our Guide to Karuizawa Shiraito Falls & Ryūgaeshi Falls!
Discover Other Attractions in Naka-Karuizawa
Similar to the Kyu-Karuizawa and Shin-Karuizawa areas closer to Karuizawa Station, the Naka-Karuizawa area also has many attractions and cafes that can make the area more exciting. If you are an architecture buff, this is also the part of Karuizawa Town you must visit.
So refer to our article on Naka-Karuizawa to plan your visit!
Post Town: Oiwake-Shuku (追分宿)
Remaining unknown to many, the old post town, Oiwake-Shuku, is just two stations away from Karuizawa Station. As the area is filled with many historical buildings, it is a perfect spot to escape from the crowd in Karuizawa’s town center for a calm and traditional ambiance.
In one of the museums in Oiwake-Shuku, there is even a mini Nakasendō where you can experience the 500km route in just 15 minutes!
For more information, refer to our article on Oiwake-Shuku!
Festivals in Karuizawa
Karuizawa Wakaba Festival (軽井沢 若葉まつり)
When spring is finally here after the long winter, Karuizawa celebrates the arrival of the warm weather by holding a festival, Karuizawa Wakaba Matsuri. From late April to early June each year, events such as birdwatching, hiking, and half marathons would take place. Discounts and perks are also offered by many small businesses and facilities in Karuizawa. So remember to stop by the tourist information center to get the Karuizawa Coupon (軽井沢クーポン) pamphlet!
The 2023 Karuizawa Wakaba Festival was held from the 29th of April to the 5th of June.
In Karuizawa, there are a few fireworks events held in summer:
- Early July: Nagakura Fireworks Festival (長倉納涼花火大会) that takes place around Nagakura Shrine (長倉神社) in the Naka-Karuizawa Area.
- In 2023, Nagakura Fireworks Festival took place at 7:30 pm on the 8th of July.
- Mid-August: Yagasaki Park Fireworks Festival (矢ヶ崎公園花火大会) that takes place at Yagasaki Park (矢ヶ崎公園), a 5-minute walk north of Karuizawa Station.
- In 2023, Yagasaki Park Fireworks Festival will take place at 7:30 pm on the 16th of August.
- Mid-August: Suwa Shrine Fireworks Festival (諏訪神社花火大会) that takes place at Suwa Shrine (諏訪神社) close to Old Karuizawa Ginza Street.
Karuizawa Autumn Festival (軽井沢 紅葉まつり)
Late September to early November is when the Karuizawa Autumn Festival is held. Various events are held where you can enjoy arts and sports. Because autumn is when a variety of crops are harvested, rituals, farmer’s markets and temporary stalls are set up for you to discover the delicious local food! Live events are on selected days too!
Again, local businesses usually offer discounts and perks during the festival period, so remember to stop by the tourist information center!
Taking the Sightseeing Train Rokumon to Nagano Station
Remaining unknown to many, one sightseeing train runs between Karuizawa and Nagano Station. Taking Rokumon is the best way to adore the prefecture’s stunning natural scenery in a stylish manner! While you can certainly take the bullet train to get to Karuizawa from Nagano Station or vice versa, taking the sightseeing train will definitely make this train trip more memorable!
For more information, refer to our article on The Sightseeing Train Rokumon!
Discover the Awesomeness of Zenkōji Temple and the Surrounding Attractions Around Nagano Station
Nagano Prefecture, where Karuizawa is located, has many more tourist destinations you can consider visiting. Because a couple of them are suitable for a day trip from Nagano Station, basing around the station may be a good idea, depending on your itinerary.
If that is your plan, you can allocate half a day to explore the nearby attractions, especially around Zenkōji Temple.
For more information, refer to our article on Zenkōji Temple!