The Izu peninsula offers endless fun and a lot of activities to entertain even the most difficult visitor. It is easily accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka via the Shinkansen bullet train. The entry hubs are Mishima or Atami, which are stations on the Shinkansen line. Atami is also on the JR Tokaido line, which runs from Tokyo. From those stations, one can continue via local trains or buses, or car hire.
Here below are 16 suggestions of activities to do on a visit to Izu.
16. Check Out the Hot Springs in Atami
The entire peninsula is blessed with natural hot springs, actually. But Atami is special, as the town is built right on top of a geothermal well. This ensures that all the water that flows in the spas and baths is not channeled from somewhere far, but is directly pumped by the ground pressure. There is so much pressure that here and there around Atami, one can spot geysers. They are definitely worth the wait and a picture with the steamy hot water spray.
Foot spa outside Atami Station
15. See the Ocean View from Atami Castle
Another reason to visit Atami is its castle. Built on a promontory at one end of the town, looking over the sea and the town itself, this castle was meant to be a tourist attraction. In fact, the city has never, historically, had one. The view from it is very beautiful, though, and there is a museum on Japanese castles inside. To reach the castle, people can either hop on a sightseeing bus or, most recommended due to the view, take a short ride by ropeway.
Atami Castle seen from the marina
14. Visit the Orchid Resort in Dogashima
The city of Dogashima is on the west coast of Izu peninsula. It is famous for the coast and nearby rocky islets conformation, where old lava rocks have been shaped by water and winds to create unique landscapes. There are even caves carved through the rocky coast, some of them can be explored on a boat tour. But there is another sight worth visiting, besides the natural beauty. In Dogashima there is an orchid resort, or also called orchid sanctuary, where thousands of different species of orchids are kept. People can enter the greenhouses, there are about 5 of them, and admire varieties of orchids. And if the sight is too overwhelming, visitors can stop by the resort spa to relax.
Orchids in Dogasihma Resort
13. Climb to Cape Irozaki
The south tip of Izu is rugged, its coast is made of volcanic rock cliffs. It is quite a sight, for sure, with a high promontory overlooking the ocean. Cape Irozaki is reachable by road, cars and buses stop at a parking lot and then people walk through some bushes and woods until they reach the cape. A narrow walkaway is cordoned and leads to the tip, sitting high above the waves. The symbol of Cape Irozaki is a uninhabited white lighthouse, which sticks out from the blue of sky and sea. The Izu coast can be seen from there, people can have a good idea of how rough the coastline is from there, and also the Izu island are visible, even those further away on a specially clear day.
Cliffs view from Cape Irozaki
12. Trek Along Kawazu's Waterfalls
The city of Kawazu il located more or less in the center of Izu peninsula. This part of Izu is mountainous, and several hiking trails can be found. One of those goes along the famous seven waterfalls (Nanadaru), whose heights range for 30 meters down to 2 meters. Other than for the beauty of the scenery, these waterfalls became famous thanks to a story written by Yasunari Kawabata, who also won a Nobel Prize. The story, titled "The dancer of Izu", is about a student who likes a young girl in a dancers' group. Along the hiking trail that follows the waterfalls stream, there are references to this story, like for example a bronze statue that depicts the student and his beloved dancer.
One of the seven waterfalls in Kawazu
11. Swim in Shimoda Beaches
I still think that the best place for beaches and swimming is Shimoda, in the south of Izu. That's because the city boasts several beaches, all of them good and more or less accessible, which means that some are less crowded than others, and the bother to find them pays off. Wavy and loud Shirahama beach is ideal for young crowds, surfers and those who like animated places. Sotoura beach is instead ideal for families, as its shallow and calm waters allow for safe swimming. Ohama, Kujuppama, and several others are surrounded by beautiful cliffs and give people great sceneries.
Shimoda’s central beach
10. Learn a Piece of History in Shimoda
Beach hopping can be the activity of choice in Shimoda, but there is a lot more than just swim. Shimoda is in fact an historical milestone for Japan, as it was theatre of the arrival of American commodore Perry. That event made Japan open to the rest of the world and start trade, commerce and alliances. References to that period in history are found throughout the city, there is a beautiful street called Perry road that runs along a canal and is very picturesque. Houses have bridges on the canal, vines grow around them, the road is paved and cute little shops and cafe can be found all along.
Sightseeing boat “Black Ship” Commanded by Commodore Perry
Road light along Perry Road
9. Visit Shimoda Aquarium
This aquarium is somewhat unique. It is circular in shape, and floats entirely on the water. It is home for hundreds of different fish species, including pools with turtles, where people can actually touch their shells and see them swimming very close. There are also dolphin and sea lion shows. The area where the dolphin shows take place is outdoor, it basically made by enclosing a piece of sea between the shore and the floating aquarium. People can even walk into the water and play with dolphins. It is a great place to take the kids, when on a family trip.
A turtle in Shimoda Aquarium
8. Surf Big Waves in Niijima
If surfing is the sport you're after, then a trip to Niijima, one of the seven Izu islands, is a must. The island is a narrow and long strip of land, with calm and shallow beaches on the west coast and with white high cliffs beaten by the open ocean on the east coast. This side of the island is famous for excellent surf conditions. There is a campsite in the island, that compensates for the shortage of accommodation. Niijima island can be reached either from Tokyo by fast service ferry, or from various ports in Izu, like Atami and Shimoda.
Nijima beach for surfers
7. Izu Islands Hopping
Since we are mentioning islands, the seven Izu islands are all worth a tour. They stretch north to south, not too far off the coast of Izu peninsula. Upon some good planning (ferry services run clockwise or anti-clockwise on alternate days), all islands can be explored, either as a tour from Shimoda port or from Tokyo. To say the truth, there are more than seven islands that comprise the archipelago, but only seven of them are inhabited and serviced by public transport. Each of them offers different kinds of entertainment: Oshima, the biggest one and the closest to mainland, is actually a volcano. Swimming and hiking are available at this island. Snorkeling and swimming is also possible in Niijima (other than surfing), the close-by Shikinejima and Kozu-shima. Miyakejima and Mikurajima are famous for dolphin watching other than snorkeling and swimming. Hachijojima is the furthest south, and it also a spot where one can watch whales during their seasonal migration. The remoteness and the geographical position of these islands make them ideal escapes from the busy life.
View of Hachijojima – photo by Hidetsugu Tonomura on Flickr
6. Scuba Dive Around Izu Peninsula
There are several excellent diving spots all around Izu peninsula. Thanks to its geographical position, Izu is blessed with mild weather year-round and the waters are a mix of hot and warm seas, which makes them perfect for many different species of fish, corals, algae and shell fish. Even if you don't have a scuba diving license, you can take a one or two days basic course. You can scuba dive every season of the year, and you can go as close as Atami, or head more south to Shimoda, or choose any of the Izu islands. In alternative, simple snorkeling will be more than enough to surprise swimmers. Whatever your choice, it will be a good one.
School of fish – photo by makiko315 on Flickr
5. Dolphin Watching in Miyakejima
Speaking of sea activities and scuba diving, there are tours departing from Tokyo or Atami or Shimoda to watch dolphins off the coast of Miyakejima and also Mikurajima. There is also a type of tour that allows swimming together with dolphins. Just keep in mind that dolphins are not there waiting for people to jump in the water, so whenever a tour is arranged, people might not see dolphins on that day, or if there are dolphins around, maybe they won't be so friendly. They are smart animals, but also keep in mind that it's human beings invading their territory, so if they feel somewhat threatened, they will react or go away.
Dolphins off Miyakejima – photo by k1rou on Flickr
4. Cycle Around the Peninsula
Those who love to combine holiday and sports activities can think of a bicycle tour of Izu peninsula. The roads along the coast offer stunning views of cliffs and oceans, pretty fishing towns, lovely beaches and more. The best way to do this is to pack your own road bike, hop on a train and pick your favorite start point. I would recommend starting already from Odawara or Manazuru, on the JR Tokaido line, and ride your way along the panoramic road 135 that goes all the way to Shimoda. From there, take road 136 and slowly ride tour way up from the west coast. The advantage of riding a bicycle is that one can manage time accordingly to need or whim, one can stop at several places tor est or just take pictures, and can make as many detours as needed. Imagine a one week tour to discover hidden temples, hot springs, waterfalls and secluded beaches.
Cycling off the beaten path – photo by likeablerodent on Flickr
3. Hirizo Beach, the Southernmost Beach in Izu
This beach looks like a postcard from a tropical getaway. The coast is all rugged and white stone high cliffs covered with vegetation are the prominent sight. The waters there are emerald green and bustling with life. Hirizo is one of the best snorkeling spots in Japan and is truly amazing. Because it is slightly far from the main trafficked roads, Hirizo beach can still be quieter than other beaches; however, the stretch of sand where people could sit down is not large, and it gets crowded by the locals in summer months.
Hirizo beach – photo by XBS on Flickr
2. Admire Joren Waterfalls
More or less in the center of Izu are Joren waterfalls, reachable by bus from Shuzenji station. The central part of the peninsula is mountainous, with lush forests that keep cool even in the hottest summer days. Trekking into one of these forests, those around mount Amagi, one will stumble upon those 25 meters waterfalls. They are beautiful, their waters very very clear and refreshing. All along and near the water stream that forms those waterfalls, there are many other sights, like a very very old cedar tree, a stone road tunnel that's considered the oldest man made tunnel (it also features in the Izu dancer story). The scenery all around is beautiful any time of the year. Around October, forest leaves start to become red, perhaps the best time to visit this natural beauty. Because Amagi area is considered to be the first wasabi producer, a lot of horseradish fields can be found there, too.
Joren Waterfall – photo by jaybird210 on Flickr
1. Eat Great Fish All Over the Peninsula
Last but not least, the food experience. Although there is good food all around Japan, each region has their own specialty. Izu's best dishes are, of course, seafood dishes. There is great sushi in Atami, or artfully cooked sea snails in Shimoda and all arount the coast. Shimoda is famous also for a red snapper cooked in a thick sauce that is so good one never wants to stop. Central Izu is also famous for producing wasabi (horseradish), and that's a souvenir that can be found everywhere, as is dry squid. Delicious sashimi and especially shellfish, everything super fresh (caught daily), are also common all over the coast.
Nigiri sushi in Atami
Red snapper in sauce and grilled in Shimoda