1. Shiraito Waterfall
    Photo: mi ru si/Photo-ACShiraito Waterfall
  2. Mampei Hotel
    Photo: Mampei Hotel
  3. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa
    Photo: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa
  4. Kumobaike Pond
    Photo: SHEEN7/Photo-ACKumobaike Pond

13 best things to do in Karuizawa: nature, restaurants, cafés and shops

Explore the best shops, cafés, hotels and sightseeing spots at this little town in Nagano prefecture

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner
Advertising

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway close to Tokyo, then Karuizawa should be at the top of your list. Hop on the shinkansen at Tokyo Station and you’ll reach this mountain town in Nagano prefecture in about 70 minutes.

The town is worth visiting year round, with plenty of activities to enjoy, ranging from golf, hiking and cycling in summer to skiing and ice skating in winter. It’s also a popular destination to enjoy the colourful autumn foliage.

In the late 19th century, Tokyo’s influx of foreign residents, including diplomats, scholars and even priests, began visiting Karuizawa as a summer resort due to its cool climate. You can still find a number of beautiful, cosy Western-style buildings and churches from that era around town. 

To get an idea of all the things you can do in Karuizawa, check our best picks below.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Kawagoe

Things to do

Explore Karuizawa’s many churches
Shaw Memorial Church (Photo: 原ヘッタリーナ/Photo-AC)

Explore Karuizawa’s many churches

When you walk towards the end of the Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping street, you’ll find the small wooden Shaw Memorial Church. Karuizawa’s oldest church, it was built in 1895 and founded by the Canadian missionary and Anglican minister Alexander Croft Shaw. He popularised Karuizawa as a summer resort in the late 19th century and since then, a number of other churches have been built in the area.

Within the Karuizawa Hoshino area, you’ll find the wooden Karuizawa Kogen Church set inside a lush forest, as well as the Stone Church next to Hotel Bleston Court. The one-of-a-kind design made from stone and glass arches is designed to symbolise the mutual support between two people – as you might imagine, many couples hold their wedding ceremonies in Karuizawa’s beautiful churches. 

Kumobaike Pond
Photo: SHEEN7/Photo-AC

Kumobaike Pond

Only a 15-minute walk from the Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping street, you’ll find this beautiful pond lined by trees. It’s especially picturesque during autumn, when it’s surrounded by blazing red maple leaves and other autumn colours, which are reflected in the water’s surface. You can walk around the lake and see the autumn foliage from different perspectives. The best time to visit is between the end of October and early November.

Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture

Advertising
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa
Main Exhibition Hall (Photo: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa)

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa

A five-minute drive from Karuizawa Station, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Karuizawa is surrounded by lush nature. The building was once a recreation facility for the employees of a Japanese corporation, but was renovated and turned into an art attraction in 2008.

The museum specialises in world-renowned Japanese artists. Currently the main exhibition hall on the first floor showcases works by 20-plus Japanese contemporary artists including Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, Kohei Nawa and Ayako Rokkaku as well as rising star Yukimasa Ida. The second-floor gallery features woodblock prints and sculptures, which are available for purchase. There’s also a space for solo exhibitions, where you’ll find works by nihonga artist Shiori Yajima (until September 5) and copperplate engravings by Akiko Matsui (September 8-November 23).

The museum also operates a gift shop and a sweet treat is included in the entry fee.

2052-2 Nagakura, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267 31 5141. 10am-5pm (last entry 4.30pm), closed Tue & Wed (open during Golden Week & summer holidays); closed from end of Nov to mid-April. ¥1,000, university and high school students ¥800, junior high and primary school students ¥500, free for younger children.

Shiraito Waterfall
Photo: mi ru si/Photo-AC

Shiraito Waterfall

Only a 23-minute bus ride from Karuizawa Station, the beautiful Shiraito Waterfall in the lush forest of Karuizawa measures 3m in height and 70m in width. The waterfall is made up of a number of white streams pouring down, resembling a curtain, hence its name, which can be translated as ‘waterfall of white threads’. The site is beautiful year round, with the waterfall surrounded by lush greenery in summer and colourful foliage in autumn. In winter, you can see lots of icicles around the site. Before heading back to Karuizawa Station, check out the little shops at the waterfall’s parking lot and try one of the specialities – a salt-grilled char fish (¥700).

Nagakura, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture

Advertising
Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort
Photo: SHEEN7/Photo-AC

Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort

One of the most easily accessible ski resorts from Tokyo, the Karuizawa Prince Ski Resort opens its slopes annually in early November for about five months. During the early season, only a few slopes with man-made snow may be open, however, as soon as snow starts to fall in Karuizawa, all 16 runs are available for lots of winter fun. Ski and snowboard rental starts from ¥5,000 per 4 hours (primary school students and younger ¥4,000). The resort also offers ski and snowboard lessons for kids (ages four and up) and adults. A two-hour lesson costs ¥4,000.

There’s a shuttle bus running between Karuizawa Station and the ski resort multiple times daily, see here for the schedule. The current winter season ends on April 3.

Restaurants and cafés

Café Suzu no Ne
Photo: Tabea Greuner

Café Suzu no Ne

This cosy café is located in the forest, just a short walk from the Kyu-Karuizawa shopping street. Suzu no Ne is open from 9am, and you can choose from four different breakfast options, such as a soup or quiche, while the lunch menu includes taco rice, pasta and curry dishes. However, we recommend the café’s french toast, topped with plenty of fruit.

The structure itself is a heritage listed building with a mysterious history. It’s not known exactly when it was built, but newspapers from the Meiji period (1868-1912) were found in the old structure during a renovation and the room layout is exactly the same as the summer residence of Alexander Croft Shaw, built in 1888. It’s also believed the building was relocated from the Kyu-Karuizawa shopping street to the forest at some point.

House 1138, 972 Kyu-Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267 31 6889. 9am-5pm, closed Wed. Note that Café Suzu no Ne is closed in winter.

Bakery and Restaurant Sawamura Kyu-Karuizawa
Photo: Tabea Greuner

Bakery and Restaurant Sawamura Kyu-Karuizawa

Opened in 2015, Bakery and Restaurant Sawamura is the best address in town to get your hands on some freshly baked goodies. About 20 different types of domestic and imported flour are used based on each bread’s characteristics. Make sure to try the espresso bread that’s made with coarsely ground coffee beans, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate chips; or opt for the S-shaped baguette with chocolate chips and small red beans kneaded into the dough.

You can pick up your favourite treats at the bakery counter, or have a more substantial meal at the on-site restaurant. During lunch hours, we recommend trying one of the store’s hearty calzone pizzas.

12-8 Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267 41 3777. Bakery 8am-8pm, restaurant until 9pm (last orders 8pm) daily.

Advertising
Cafe L'Opera
Photo: Tabea Greuner

Cafe L'Opera

Located close to the Kyu-Karuizawa shopping street, the exterior of Cafe L'Opera is inspired by William Shakespeare’s birthplace. Inside, the British Tudor-style architecture, with dark wooden pillars, visible plaster and stained glass, blocks out the rest of the world – as soon as you step inside, it feels like time has stopped. The cakes are homemade with regional fresh fruit and vegetables. As for drinks, opt for the store’s royal milk tea. It’s extremely delicious and served in a beautiful Royal Copenhagen tea set.

12-7 Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267-42-7833. 10am-6pm, holidays vary, check website for details. Note that Cafe L'Opera is on winter break until mid-March.

Shopping

Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping street
Photo: 自然/Photo-AC

Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping street

This shopping street marks the centre of the Kyu-Karuizawa area, which was originally a post town along the Nakasendo road between Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the Edo period (1603-1868). The Ginza shopping street runs along the old Nakasendo route and is home to a large variety of local shops. You can find souvenirs, local specialities such as fresh fruit and jam, art galleries and more. Make sure to drop by Icchodo, a furniture shop that’s famous for its beautiful sakura-shaped wood carvings. You’ll also find the main store of Boulangerie Asanoya, a Tokyo bakery that opened its Karuizawa branch way back in 1944.

Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
Photo: Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza

This large outlet mall is located right next to Karuizawa Station and is home to shops selling popular fashion and luxury brands, outdoor goods, sportswear, kitchen utensils, children’s clothing and more. You’ll also find a number of cafés and food courts. Most other Karuizawa attractions close around 5pm, but Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is usually open until around 8pm, so it’s a perfect place to visit in the evening. From November to March, the mall boasts a large illumination event with about 100,000 lights. You’ll have great views from the New East Deck, where the tree-shaped illuminations are reflected on the surface of the shopping centre’s large pond.

Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture (Karuizawa Station). 0267 42 5211. Hours vary by shop.

Advertising
Harunire Terrace
Photo: Hoshino Resorts Inc.

Harunire Terrace

Harunire Terrace is part of the Karuizawa Hoshino area, a cluster of hotels, shops, churches and onsen set amidst lush nature. The facilities are managed by luxury resort hotel chain Hoshinoya. Harunire Terrace is made up of 16 shops and restaurants on a large wooden deck next to the Yukawa River. The area is surrounded by many Japanese elms, (harunire in Japanese).

Stop by Kokopelli to shop for jams, sauces and vegetables and be sure to pick up a smoothie or apple juice made from local produce to enjoy on a bench next to the river. You’ll also find restaurants and cafés specialising in Japanese, Italian, French and Chinese cuisine, as well as shops selling furniture and decorative items.

2145-5 Nagakura, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture (Naka-Karuizawa Station). 050 3537 3553. Hours vary by shop.

Accommodations

Mampei Hotel
Photo: Mampei Hotel

Mampei Hotel

This beautiful classic Western-style hotel was established in 1894 and renamed the Mampei Hotel in 1896. The timber-framed exterior of its main building, built in 1936, resembles European half-timbered houses found in alpine regions. As soon as you step inside, it feels like travelling back in time – think retro furniture, stained glass, wooden ceilings and more. Mampei Hotel has modern guest rooms in its two annex buildings, but opt for a room in the main building to enjoy the fusion of Japanese and Western-style design. You’ll see glass shoji sliding doors, wooden furniture featuring Karuizawa’s sakura carvings, clawfoot bathtubs, tokonoma alcoves and more.

Several famous people have stayed at the hotel, including musician John Lennon, his wife Yoko Ono, and their daughter, who visited every summer. His room is the most popular in the main building  (tip: it’s room No 128).

You don’t have to stay at the hotel to take in some retro vibes. You can just visit the café terrace and enjoy a piece of traditional apple pie and a cup of royal milk tea, using a recipe provided by John Lennon himself. There’s also a little museum with lots of old photographs and furniture as well as Lennon’s old piano.

925 Karuizawa, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267 42 1234.

Hoshinoya Karuizawa
Photo: ©Hoshino Resorts Inc.

Hoshinoya Karuizawa

Hoshinoya Karuizawa resort village features a number of luxury apartments within the area’s vast natural surroundings. You can choose from three room types, Mizunami, Yamaroji and Niwaroji. Mizunami (pictured above) is the most popular, featuring modern and spacious guesthouses centred around a small pond. Each guesthouse has a terrace that’s perfect for relaxing or enjoying a meal. Come night, paper lanterns float on the water’s surface, turning the resort into a magical hideaway.

Make sure to enjoy a meal at the hotel restaurant Kasuke. Opt for a multi-course kaiseki meal, which features beautifully arranged dishes made from the freshest seasonal produce of the region.

Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun, Nagano prefecture. 0267 45 6000. There’s a shuttle bus from Karuizawa Station exclusively for hotel guests.

More getaways close to Tokyo

Advertising
Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising