Japan is a wonderful place where culinary delights dance on your taste buds, zen gardens whisper serenity, pop culture permeates youth culture, and ancient traditions live on.
You’ll find modern towns with skyscrapers lit up by bright lights, traditional towns that’ll transport you back to the olden days of Japan, as well as coastal communities and even those based up in the mountains.
On top of all that, Japan is known for its beautiful onsen towns, where visitors can relax and rejuvenate in the natural hot springs that dot the country.
These towns offer a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, all of which are centered around Japan’s onsen culture. For anyone looking to experience the best of Japan’s bathing culture, these destinations should most definitely pique your interest!
In this post, I’ll dive into a number of amazing onsen towns you can consider for your next ryokan experience! Along with each onsen town, I’ll provide you with a few tips on what to do and where to stay as well.
With these additional tidbits of information, you can easily determine which onsen towns fit your style the most.
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Table of Contents
What Is An Onsen?
An onsen is what a natural hot spring found in Japan is called. It’s a traditional form of both relaxation and entertainment, providing travelers an opportunity to enjoy the healing properties of the minerals contained within thermal waters.
For centuries, people have been taking time out to relax in one of Japan’s many onsens. And usually, because of where hot springs are located, onsen towns also feature traditional inns (ryokans), remote atmospheres, and endless opportunities to enjoy nature.
What Is A Ryokan?
In a nutshell, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that provides guests with a unique and authentic Japanese overnight experience.
Staying at a ryokan generally involves sleeping on futons on tatami mats, and wearing yukata robes while relaxing in the common areas.
Other activities that guests can enjoy while staying at a ryokan include soaking in an onsen hot spring, taking part in a tea ceremony, and dining on kaiseki cuisine.
When staying at a ryokan, visitors can expect to enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine and hospitality. Truly, the food and staff are both an experience of their own!
Ryokans are typically located in scenic areas such as by the ocean or in the mountains, and many offer views of nearby gardens or temples. Whether you’re looking for a place to relax and rejuvenate, or simply want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, staying at a ryokan is an unforgettable experience.
What You Need To Know: Most onsen are separated by gender and bathing suits are not allowed. Shower thoroughly before entering the baths and don’t swim or put your head under the water.
👉 Pro Tip: Enjoy the local tradition of gulping down a bottle of ice-cold milk after your bath! Also, look out for local products such as fruits and vegetables that are sometimes sold in the lobby.
Best Onsen Towns In Japan To Visit On Your Next Trip
Kusatsu Onsen is one of the most famous onsen towns in Japan, and for good reason. Located in Gunma Prefecture about 200 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, Kusatsu is known for its therapeutic hot springs and charming little town center.
Kusatsu Onsen boasts the largest flowing water volume of all hot springs in Japan. It’s also been chosen by Japan’s top travel agents as the country’s #1 hot spring for 18 consecutive years in the 100 Best Hot Springs in Japan.
Worth an overnight visit? I’d say so.
One of the most popular attractions in Kusatsu Onsen is the Yubatake, or “hot water field.” This large, open-air hot spring is a hub of activity, with people soaking in the warm waters or enjoying a leisurely soak in a private bath.
The Yubatake is surrounded by a number of traditional ryokans (Japanese inns), many of which offer guests the opportunity to experience a traditional onsen bath and eat like royalty. The town itself is small and charming, with traditional wooden buildings and narrow streets that give it a rustic feel.
Things To Do In Kusatsu
- Visit the Yubatake – This is a large hot spring field in the center of town where hot water flows out of the ground. You can walk around the field and see the steam rising up from the hot water.
- Visit the Netsu-no-Yu Bathhouse – see demonstrations of yumomi and traditional dance done to a local folk song.
- Go hiking in the surrounding mountains – The area around Kusatsu is beautiful, with plenty of hiking trails that lead through forests and up to mountain peaks.
- Try the local food – Kusatsu is known for its soba noodles, maitake (mushroom) tempura, and other local dishes that are made with ingredients from the surrounding mountains.
- Visit the Shirane Shrine – This shrine is located in the center of town and is a popular place to visit for its beautiful gardens and peaceful atmosphere.
- Take a walk around town – Kusatsu is a small town with a charming atmosphere. Take a leisurely walk through the streets and explore the local shops and restaurants. Don’t miss Sai-no-Kawara Street!
- Sai-no-Kawara Park – the park has numerous wells where hot water sprouts out to form a flowing river of hot water with large clouds of steam.
- Visit the Kusatsu Ski Resort – If you visit Kusatsu in the winter, you can go skiing or snowboarding at the local ski resort.
- Take a trip to the nearby town of Manza Onsen – This is a small hot spring town located just a short drive from Kusatsu. You can visit the hot springs here or take a hike up to the nearby Mt. Shirane.
Where To Stay In Kusatsu
You may also like: 4 Best Ryokans With Private Onsens In Kusatsu, Japan
Kinosaki is another popular onsen town, located in Hyogo Prefecture. This charming town is known for its traditional atmosphere, with wooden ryokan and onsen baths dotted throughout the area.
Kinosaki Onsen is particularly popular with tourists due to its convenient location, as it is easily accessible from both Osaka and Kyoto. Kinosaki Onsen is located just 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto and 3 hours by train from Osaka.
One of the most unique aspects of Kinosaki Onsen is its “onsen-hopping” tradition. Visitors can purchase a special “onsen-hopping” pass, which allows them to experience a variety of 7 different hot spring baths throughout the town. This is a great way to fully experience the variety of onsen that Kinosaki has to offer, and to discover new favorites.
Most local ryokans and hotels will provide a ticket that gives you access to all seven for free with your stay. These hot springs allow all types of visitors, even those with tattoos!
Very close to Kinosaki Onsen are additional things to explore, including beaches, a historical castle town, and adventurous highlands.
Things To Do In Kinosaki
- Visit the seven different onsen (hot springs)
- Take a walk along the Kinosaki Onsen promenade in a yukata (traditional Japanese robe) — it’s totally normal!
- Stroll through Kiyamachi Street
- Go hiking on the ropeway hiking course – leads through forests and up to mountain peaks
- Visit the Onsenji Temple
- Try the local food – Kinosaki is known for its seafood, and there are a number of restaurants in the town that serve local specialties like crab and squid
- Visit the Kinosaki Marine World Aquarium
- Enjoy floating lanterns at the annual Toro Nagashi event in August
- Take a trip to the nearby town of Toyooka – known for its beautiful gardens and temples
Where To Stay In Kinosaki
Kurokawa Onsen is a lesser-known onsen town located in Kumamoto Prefecture. This small, quiet, and undeniably attractive town is known for its peaceful traditional atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings.
The town doesn’t just look this way without effort. The maintenance of Kurokawa’s pleasant, traditional townscape has been well coordinated by the community. Rather than being filled with neon lights, overbearing advertisements, and concrete buildings, the town’s scenery consists of natural materials, traditional buildings, earth-tone buildings, and stone steps.
Should you choose to visit, you’ll get an onsen town with pure and simple Japanese aesthetics, surrounded by lush forests and picturesque mountain views.
One of the best things about Kurokawa Onsen is the wide variety of onsen baths available. The town’s lanes are lined by ryokans and public bath houses, as well as cute shops and cafes. From traditional indoor baths to outdoor baths with stunning views, there is something that suits every type of onsen seeker.
Many of the ryokans in the area also offer private onsen baths, which are a great way to relax and unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
Things To Do In Kurokawa
- Go onsen-hopping (‘Rotemburo Meguri’) – Buy the Onsen Hopping Pass, which allows the holder to visit up to three different onsens
- Take a hike in the surrounding mountains, which offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape (Hitotsu-ya Nobori or Maruba Nobori are great options)
- Visit Nabegataki Falls
- Try a local delicacy — basashi (horse meat sashimi)
Where To Stay In Kurokawa
Yufuin Onsen is a personal favorite of mine! This onsen town is located in Oita Prefecture and is known for its beautiful mountain scenery (with Mt. Yufu surrounded by green fields) and traditional Japanese atmosphere.
Yufuin Onsen is particularly popular with couples and families, as it offers a more relaxed and intimate atmosphere than some of the larger, more touristy onsen towns.
One of the most popular attractions in Yufuin Onsen is the Yufuin Floret, an outdoor hot spring bath with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. This is a great place to relax and soak in the warm waters while enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
Yufuin is most accessible via bus and train for those coming from Fukuoka Prefecture or other locations in Oita Prefecture, like Beppu Onsen for example.
Things To Do In Yufuin
- Stroll along Yunotsubo Street, the main shopping street (don’t miss Yunotsubo Alley too)
- Visit the Comico Art Museum
- Don’t miss Snoopy Village Tea House or Donguri no Mori (for Ghibli lovers)
- Enjoy the picturesque Kinrin Lake, one of the few lakes in Japan where hot springs flow out from its bottom and create a hovering mist
- Visit Yufuin Floral Village, a theme park based on the Cotswolds area of England
- Try local foods such as Bungo Beef, croquettes, and Swiss rolls
Where To Stay In Yufuin
You may also like: 5 Best Ryokans With Private Onsen In Yufuin, Japan
Beppu is a city located on the eastern coast of Kyushu island in Japan. It is one of the largest hot spring resorts in all of Japan and is known throughout the world for its healing hot springs.
Beppu’s history as an onsen town has been longstanding, attracting tourists from around the world since ancient times.
The town is particularly famous for its “hells,” a series of hot springs with water so hot it is said to resemble boiling lava. How it got its name? During ancient times, people assumed the area was cursed upon seeing the gas and water bubbling up from the land violently!
The city of Beppu offers more than just hot springs and relaxation; it also offers plenty of attractions such as Jigoku-dani, an area with eight different types of boiling pools, Tsurumi Mountain (perfect for day hikers and nature lovers) and Takasakiyama Monkey Park where visitors can observe wild monkeys living naturally in their habitat.
There are many other natural wonders to explore within this city such as beautiful beaches, nature parks, lakes, volcanoes and waterfalls!
Things To Do In Beppu
- Tour the Hells of Beppu
- Explore the Beppu Tower, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape
- Try soft-boiled eggs cooked in the Jigoku Mushi way – a traditional way of cooking using the steam of a hot spring
- Take a sand bath at Beppu Beach
- Visit Kitakoka Shotengai Shopping street
- Visit the Oita Art Museum – which is home to a collection of modern and contemporary art
- Visit Mount Tsurumi by ropeway and go hiking
- Spend a day at Kijima Kogen Park amusement park
- Takasaki Monkey Park – see monkeys in their natural habitat
- Umitamago Aquarium – Attractive aquarium next to the monkey park.
- Take day trips to Yufuin, Kunisaki Peninsula, or Usuki
Where To Stay In Beppu
You may also like: 7 Best Ryokans In Beppu, Japan (With Private Onsen)
Hakone, a mountainous region in Japan, has long been known for its natural beauty, iconic views of Mount Fuji, and of course–hot springs. This famous onsen town is located in Kanagawa Prefecture, just a short train ride from Tokyo. One of the reasons why this onsen town is so popular is because of its ultra-convenient location.
Don’t feel like staying overnight? No problem–many visitors like to see Hakone and Mount Fuji on a day trip from Tokyo (we still recommend an overnight stay in order to truly experience the town!).
Hakone is home to a number of ryokan and onsen baths, each offering its own unique experience. Many of the ryokans in the area even offer private onsen baths that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own room!
From the historic Lake Ashi to the lush flora and fauna of Hakone National Park, there is something in Hakone for every type of traveler to enjoy.
Take a cruise on one of the traditional boats (called Pleasure Boats) or take a cable car up to one of several lookout points along the lake. Afterward, explore nearby attractions like Onshi-Hakone-Koen Park before sampling some delicious local cuisine! For nature lovers, Hakone National Park is not to be missed.
Things To Do In Hakone
- Visit the Hakone Open-Air Museum
- Take a boat ride on Lake Ashi
- Explore the Hakone Shrine
- Take a ride on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car
- Visit the Hakone Sekisho Checkpoint Museum – a historical site that serves as a reminder of the days when Hakone was an important checkpoint on the old Tokaido road, which connected Tokyo and Kyoto.
Where To Stay In Hakone
You may also like: 7 Best Ryokans With Private Onsen In Hakone, Japan
Gero Onsen is a small town south of Takayama, located between mountains and rivers in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. This resort town is known for its hot springs, beautiful nature and traditional Japanese culture.
Gero Onsen is particularly famous for its incredibly smooth quality of water, which when soaked in, makes your skin equally as smooth! As such, Gero is home to a number of ryokans, many of which offer guests the opportunity to experience a traditional onsen bath. You won’t be able to get enough of that silky-smooth water.
The town is also home to a number of public baths, which are a popular attraction for overnight guests and day trippers. One of the most fun and relaxing things to do is to enjoy a stroll through the town center in traditional garb and soak in the free public foot baths scattered all around!
Looking for a more intimate experience? A good way to sample some of the town’s more private baths is to purchase a Yumeguri Tegata (spa pass), a wooden tablet that can be bought all around Gero. This pass gets you three visits to any participating ryokan and is good for six months.
Aside from the hot springs, the area also offers breathtaking views of Mount Hakusan and Mount Ontake and many other picturesque sites that are perfect for sightseeing and outdoor activities such as trekking or fishing. Moreover, Gero has numerous shrines and temples such as Sensoji Temple and the Osenji Temple for you to enjoy.
Things To Do In Gero
- Explore the Gerohatsu Onsen Museum
- Gero Gassho Folk Village – experience traditional Japanese culture at this open-air museum by painting ceramics, making Japanese handmade paper, and participating in other hands-on activities.
- Shrasagi-za Theater – watch a beautiful “shadow play” that depicts Japan’s different seasons
- See Osakacho Waterfalls
Where To Stay In Gero
Nestled in a valley between two mountains is Noboribetsu Onsen, located in Hokkaido Prefecture.
The history of Noboribetsu dates back to the Edo period when it was first developed as an inn town to provide lodging for travelers who were visiting the nearby lakes. Today, it remains one of the most popular destinations in southwestern Hokkaido.
Visitors flock here year-round to bathe in its natural hot springs or try out some local dishes like jingisukan (grilled mutton) and ramen.
One of the most popular attractions in Noboribetsu Onsen is the Jigokudani, or “Hell Valley,” which is home to a series of hot spring baths with water so hot it is said to resemble boiling lava. The Jigokudani is a popular spot for tourists to experience the unique hot springs of Noboribetsu Onsen.
If you consider yourself a nature lover, then you’ll love Noboribetsu–the city is also a tourist base for the nearby Shikotsu-Tōya National Park!
Things To Do In Noboribetsu
- Visit the Noboribetsu Jigokudani (Hell Valley) – a series of boiling hot spring baths
- Explore the Noboribetsu Bear Park – features a variety of bears, including brown bears, polar bears, and black bears
- Visit the Noboribetsu Date Jidai Village – a theme park devoted to Edo-period history, with traditional performances, food & games.
- Visit the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe – an aquarium home to a variety of marine animals, including dolphins, seals, and sea lions
- Take a ride on the Noboribetsu Ropeway – offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape
Where To Stay In Noboribetsu
Arima Onsen is a small onsen town located in Hyogo Prefecture, just outside of Kobe. The town is known for its traditional atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings, with a number of ryokan and onsen baths dotted throughout the area.
One of the most unique aspects of Arima Onsen is the fact that it is home to two different types of hot spring water: a yellow, sulfur-rich water known as “kin-no-yu,” or “golden hot water,” and a clear, sodium-rich water known as “gin-no-yu,” or “silver hot water.” Visitors to Arima Onsen can experience both types of hot spring water at the various ryokan and onsen baths in the area.
Things To Do In Arima
- Visit the Arima Onsen Shrine
- Explore the Arima Onsen Kinen Park
- Visit the Arima Toy Museum – dedicated to the history of traditional Japanese toys!
- Take a hike in the surrounding mountains
Where To Stay In Arima
Dogo Onsen is a famous onsen town located in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It is known for its historical and cultural significance, as well as its beautiful natural surroundings.
One of the most iconic landmarks of Dogo Onsen is the Dogo Onsen Honkan, or main building, which is a traditional wooden structure built in the Meiji era (1868-1912). This building is a designated National Important Cultural Property, and is known for its beautiful architecture and traditional design. You can’t miss it!
Dogo Onsen is also known for its therapeutic hot springs, which are said to have a number of health benefits. As with any other onsen town, you won’t have a hard time finding an amazing ryokan to stay in overnight!
In addition to its hot springs, Dogo Onsen is also known for its cultural and historical attractions, including lots of temples and shrines to take in and learn about.
Overall, Dogo Onsen is a beautiful and historic onsen town that offers a unique blend of culture, history, and natural beauty. It is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in experiencing the best of Japan’s onsen towns.
Things To Do In Dogo
- Enjoy the Sora-no-Sanpomichi – sky promenade and footbath
- Botchan Karakuri Clock – when the time comes, the lights come on and the clock rises to the sound of taiko drums.
- Shiki Museum – highlights the life of Masaoka Shiki, a poet from Matsuyama.
- Dogo-Koen Park – see cherry blossoms in the spring, water lilies in the summer, colored leaves in the autumn, and camellia in the winter. Don’t miss the Yuzuki Castle Ruins here too.
- Enman-ji Temple, Hogon-ji Temple, Isaniwa-jinja Shrine
- Dogo Shopping Arcade – lots of shops dedicated to souvenirs and trinkets, plus Studio Ghibli store!
- Minakuchi Sake Brewery – sake brewery that dates from the early Meiji period.
- Hanahimero Geisha Teahouse – where you can enjoy geisha entertainment at much more reasonable prices than in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Where To Stay In Dogo
Additional Onsen Towns To Consider For Your Trip To Japan
Kumano Hongu Onsen-Kyo – Kumano Hongu Onsen Village, situated in the mountains of Kumano in Wakayama Prefecture, is known for its three hot spring hamlets: Yunomine Onsen, Kawayu Onsen and Wataze Onsen. Explore the small villages and choose from a tiny bath for two or a river-sized bath big enough for hundreds! This area is home to the World Heritage site Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.
Ryujin Onsen – Ryujin Onsen is a hidden, historical hot spring settlement situated deep in the Kii Mountain Range. The resort’s popularity stems from its water properties, thought to make skin smooth and supple. The outdoor baths here offer amazing mountain views!
Katsuura Onsen – this onsen has a number of hot springs, all of which offer super unique settings such as bathing in a rock bath within a cave or in an outdoor hot spring with fantastic ocean views!
Shirahama Onsen – one of the oldest onsen resorts in Japan’s Kansai region. You can experience a variety of therapeutic baths including Saki-no-Yu Onsen where you can feel the spray of crashing waves as you soak!
Wakayama Kada Onsen – Situated on the eastern coast of the Kii Peninsula in the southern part of Honshu, this onsen resort looks out onto picturesque Kada Bay. Watch the sunset and spot the Tomogashima Islands in the distance while bathing in one of the outdoor hot spring baths.
Map Of Onsen Towns Featured In This Post
Japan Travel Insurance
This is a no-brainer. When traveling internationally, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance.
I’ve heard of too many unfortunate experiences where friends and family have had baggage lost/stolen, hotels canceled, or have had unexpected medical emergencies while traveling where they’ve had to cut their trips short.
True story alert — in 2022, my partner even had his shoulder completely dislocated while surfing in Mexico, resulting in a $950 USD emergency room bill that we had to pay out of pocket for! Not fun… and most definitely not cheap.
Without travel insurance, you would have to pay out of pocket for these mishaps. This is why I get travel insurance for all my international trips now!
One of the best budget-friendly travel insurances for those traveling outside their home country is SafetyWing.
SafetyWing Insurance provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. This means that if you get ill or injured, they will cover the medical expenses.
In addition, it provides emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation (much needed if you like to go hiking / trekking in the wild), travel delay, and lost checked luggage.
With all the onsen towns that exist within Japan, I hope you were able to find the one you liked most! Once you visit one, you’ll be hooked and want to visit a million more. I’m sure of it–happy travel planning!
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