Hokkaido may be best known for its snow, but there is much more to discover in Japan’s northernmost region. Abundant in fresh produce, blessed with a unique history and home to the indigenous Ainu people, the island today has embraced elements of modernity while appreciating its roots and past.
Attracting many outdoor enthusiasts, Hokkaido has pristine nature and uninhabited wilderness. There are notable sites like Mount Yōtei, also known as Hokkaido’s Mount Fuji, national parks, markets, and festivals.
When it comes to weather, Hokkaido experiences all four seasons, including hot and sunny summers where you can see beautiful flowers and eat sumptuous seasonal fish. However, winter is one of the best times to experience this frigid prefecture, with many attractions attracting both Japanese and foreign visitors.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s a five-day itinerary to embark on a great indoor and outdoor adventure.
Day 1: Sapporo
We begin our adventure in the capital and largest city of Hokkaido, Sapporo. Discover some of the most iconic elements of the city, such as snow, ramen and its namesake beer.
Sapporo Snow Festival
The week-long Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million tourists a year is a must-see! While it celebrates all things snow and ice, the festival is a brilliant extravaganza of art, culture, sport, and food. It happens in February in three important places; Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome. You’ll see hundreds of ice sculptures and rides like snow slides and mazes while enjoying regional dishes from all over Hokkaido.
Eat miso ramen at Ramen Alley
After enjoying the Sapporo Snow Festival in Susukino, take a walk down an alleyway near Susukino Subway Station. Here you will find the birthplace of miso ramen on a famous street where you can fill your belly with the rich umami noodle soup. There are many restaurants to choose from, so follow your heart and nose until you find one you like. You can also go there after a night of drinking, which is the busiest time to visit.
Sapporo Beer Museum
Learn all about the history of beer in Japan at its birthplace. Originally a brewery, this museum is where you can find out how beer is made and can even participate in beer tastings. Home to one of Japan’s iconic beers, there’s the Sapporo Beer Garden right next door. Take the Loop 88 Factory bus from Odori Station to the museum, walk yourself, or pay a small fee for a guided tour.
Bar Hopping in Susukino
When the sun goes down, the pulse of Sapporo’s nightlife quickens in the Susukino area. Head south from Odori Park until you find yourself among the neon lights at the intersection of Susukino Crossing. Home to cafes, bars, and izakayas, you’ll have your pick of places to immerse yourself. If alcohol isn’t for you, restaurants serve delicious desserts and restaurants serve Sapporo soul food made with fresh lamb and meat sauce.
Day 2: Furan
A picturesque city in the center of Hokkaido, Furano boasts famous lavender fields in summer and a snowy paradise in winter. It’s very cold, so bundle up and have fun.
Winter activities: dog sledding, hot air balloon rides, skiing
The options for winter action seem endless. Snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding are heavenly in the well-developed ski area with fresh powder snow creating ideal conditions. You can rent everything you need to ride the 950 meters of hilly trails for beginners and advanced athletes.
If you want a different experience, why not try dog sledding? You can take a lesson and run a trail with dogs running from 14 to 20 kilometers per hour on different routes that range from relaxing to exciting.
Reach new heights of up to 1,000 meters above the Furano Basin, Mount Tokachi, and Mount Taisetsu in a hot air balloon. There are free and captive flights available; both are safe and make for an unforgettable experience. Hot air ballooning is ideal in Furano, with its vast open fields.
In the Furano forest you will find wooden cabins where you can buy or make handicrafts. When it gets dark, the area lights up to create a dreamlike landscape. Take a moment to watch the artisans at work and admire the beauty of the chalets and trees. It’s a perfect way to end a busy day walking in nature while shopping for unique souvenirs.
Day 3: Otaru
Next, head to the port city of Otaru. Located northwest of Sapporo and on the way to Niseko, it’s a great stopover for local seafood and a visit to the historic cityscape.
Enjoy seafood at Sankaku Market
It’s time to try some of the delicious seafood that Hokkaido, especially Otaru, is famous for. Located near Otaru Station, the market offers many types of cuisine such as crab, scallops, salmon, and mackerel. January and February are the best times to visit when you can also try the delicious herring. Open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, you can eat some of the freshest catches from the nearby sea. You can’t go wrong buying a donburi plate so you can try several types of delicious seafood at the same time.
Navigate through the original gate to Hokkaido. The Otaru Canal is the most famous tourist spot here, and it’s easy to see why. In the city center you can see historic warehouses, many of which have been converted into museums, shops, cafes and pubs. You can enjoy a cruise during the day or at night, but doing it at night when the buildings are lit up gives it a more romantic atmosphere. Take a walk along the canal before or after your cruise and you can visit one of the open buildings.
More fresh powder snow awaits at Niseko Village. Home to excellent ski slopes, onsens, and restaurants, Niseko is also where you’ll find Mount Yōtei, a smaller version of Mount Fuji.
Mount Niseko Annupuri is reputed to be the best ski mountain in Japan, and it’s easy to see why. With stunning views, pristine snow, and a peak elevation of 4,000 feet, anyone can ski or snowboard here, regardless of skill level. There are level slopes for beginners and backcountry terrain for advanced skiers. For extreme sports enthusiasts, experience the thrill of skiing right into the crater of this active volcano. Rent equipment or bring your own and hit the trails.
There was too much to do in one day in Sapporo, so come back here to end your Hokkaido vacation. After the exciting and sporting activities of Furano and Niseko, a visit to a market and a park is a nice and delicious way to relax.
Head to where locals and visitors shop for fresh local produce and seafood. Nicknamed “Sapporo’s Public Kitchen,” the market spans a city block. In addition, there are restaurants to enjoy fresh food immediately. Check out the main dining room, ‘Noren Yokocho’, and start your day with a delicious donburi-based breakfast to fuel you for shopping and exploring. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the vendors as you sample some of Hokkaido’s most famous and delicious produce. In addition to seafood, you can buy fruits and vegetables such as melon and corn, for which the region is well known.
Shiroikoibito is not just any park; It’s a chocolate amusement park. Indulge in a sweet fantasyland that is a marriage of British and Japanese cultures. Operated by the Japanese candy maker that makes Shiroi Koibito white chocolate cookies, this is a must for any sweet tooth. With a chocolate factory, shop, and museum, you can see how chocolate is made, bake cookies, and buy souvenir sweets that are famous in Hokkaido. Different tours are offered to learn about chocolate and get an idea of the park. There is no better way to end a trip than with a full belly and high sugar.
Hokkaido has so much to do and see that it’s impossible to cram it all into five days. It’s one more reason why having an itinerary is a valuable way to refine your plans so you can get the most out of it. If you have something else in mind, feel free to book a Sapporo day trip that you can customize to your liking with Japan Wonder Travel.
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