You’ve landed, grabbed your bags, and gotten through customs and immigration. What now? You could take the JR Hokkaido to Sapporo. But do you want to spend 40 more minutes of traveling right after getting off the airplane?
If you stay near the airport for a night, you can have time to recuperate and explore the airport’s shops. Airports are usually bleak places, but not Shin-Chitose. There are so many things to do that even the locals go when they aren’t flying!
Families love the Doraemon Waku-Waku Sky Park, which features a cafe, kids play area, a walk-through attraction, and more. You can also dine on Sapporo's miso ramen at the Hokkaido Ramen Dojo, which features tons of restaurants to choose from.
In Chitose City, you can hit the Northern Horse Park and interact with racehorses and retired thoroughbreds on a ranch. Don’t miss the humourous Happy Pony Show, which performs two to three times a day.
Hokkaido’s reputation for delicious food is so strong, some travelers go there just to sample the cuisine. Ranking among the most desirable ingredients is Hokkaido milk, and you can try a variety of local dairy products at the Furano Cheese Factory.
A tour through here includes watching the production process of camembert and sampling unusual cheeses like wedges topped with squid ink. Next to the factory is a pizzeria, an ice cream parlor, and a workshop where you can make butter, bread, and more.
At the Furano Winery, you can sample a selection of reds, whites, and rosés from its collection of local wines. The city of Furano’s climate is similar to southern France, which is ideal for growing grapes.
As you cross the grounds to the winery, a small lavender field will greet you. These blossoms reach their peak in mid-July, and they're consistently the first to bloom among Furano's famous flowers.
A summer vacation in Hokkaido isn’t complete without a stop at the Farm Tomita. Tomita is among the most well-known and oldest lavender farms throughout the island of Hokkaido.
Nearby, you’ll see the Irodori Field, where rows of multi-colored blooms create a scene straight out of an impressionist painting. The full-bloom for the lavender typically happens between mid-July and early August.
In Japanese, “Aoi” means “blue” and “Ike” means “pond.” When you see Aoiike in Biei, you’ll understand why this is quite an apt name. The sky-blue hue of the water might seem artificial, but it's natural, though no one knows precisely why.
Some theorize that naturally occurring minerals color the pond, but there’s one thing for sure. The mysterious Blue Pond is one of the most beautiful sights in the world!
Idyllic pastures and sunsets will pass you as you traverse Panorama Road. With Mount Tokachi in the background, the rural scenery beckons you to explore its fields and farms. Despite its name, Panorama Road doesn’t refer to a single street, but an area with different destinations, such as Shikisai Hill and Takushinkan.
From far away, you might confuse Shikisai Hill for a rainbow. Several dozen different varieties of flowers and grass flourish across the 37-acre field, including lavender. You can explore the spectacular gardens by riding a tractor, on foot, or take in the view and fresh fragrances as you drive by.
Opened in 1987, the Takushikan photo gallery features works by prominent Japanese photographer Shinzo Maeda and his son Akira. Maeda’s landscapes put Biei on the world map in the 1970s, leading to the little town becoming the sightseeing spot it is today. As you pass through the gallery’s exhibits, see if you can find the places you’ve visited, and scout out new destinations for your next trip to Hokkaido!
The gorgeous Sounkyo Gorge has plenty of waterfalls to see, but the two you can’t miss are the dueling Ginga and Ryusei Falls. The pair come from the same source but divide over a sheer cliff in opposing formations. Ginga gracefully trickles down like a silk thread while Ryusei powerfully thunders down the rockface. You can catch a view of both from a parking lot on the way to Sounkyo's hot springs and Taisetsu Lake.
From 1890 to 1984, the notorious Abashiri Prison served as Japan’s first maximum security facility. Only the most hardened offenders found themselves in this daunting place set near the Okhotsk Sea.
At the museum, you can learn about famous prisoners, now lauded as folk heroes. Walking through the exhibits, you’ll be able to clearly picture the crowded cells, severe working conditions, and strict surveillance the convicts experienced.
Just because you’ve arrived in Hokkaido in summer doesn’t mean you can’t experience a little winter fun! Okhotsk Ryu-Hyo Museum offers the chance to learn about Abishiri’s ecosystem and wildlife, but most importantly, the ice floes that form in mid to late January.
From the museum’s observatory, you can get a 360° view of the surrounding area, but the pièce de résist-ice is the drift ice exhibit. Inside of a -15°C (5°F) room, you can touch frozen clumps that formed in the Okhotsk Sea. Bring a jacket inside! It’s so cold that if you wave a wet towel, it instantly freezes!
The untouched “Waterfall Kingdom” of the Shiretoko Peninsula is a mountainous wilderness filled with natural treasures. It's possible to hike through this area, but for the most one-of-a-kind views, hop aboard one of the national park's boat tours. Depending on which course you take, you can ride from a half hour to three hours. Each season offers different attractions, but in summer you might get lucky and spot a few of Hokkaido’s brown bears.
Lake Mashu has the cleanest water in the world. The color is so distinctive that it has its own name—Mashu Blue! There are multiple places where you can look down upon the 7,000-year-old lake.
The three main points are Observation Deck 1, Observation Deck 3, and the Uramshu Observatory. (We didn’t skip a number. Observation Deck 2 closed some time ago.) The indigenous Ainu people call this place the “Lake of the Gods,” and when you see it for yourself, you’ll have a hard time disagreeing.
In both Japanese and Ainu traditions, the red-crowned crane is an important mythological symbol. However, in 1950 there were only about 40 surviving birds. A farmer started feeding the birds that came to his field, and the local tradition of providing food for the cranes began.
Now, the species is slowly recovering! At the Akan International Crane Center, you can learn about their biology, but most excitingly, you can see the (literally) rare birds in protective captivity.
If you can’t get enough of the red-crowned cranes and want to see them in the wild, head to the Kushiro Marshlands. Measuring at 183 square kilometers, it’s the largest nature preserve of its kind. Trekking-lovers will have plenty of trails to hike through, but if you’re more of a water-type, consider canoeing through the area. If outdoor sports aren’t for you, get a view from above in a hot air balloon!
The indigenous Ainu people from the north have distinct traditions from the rest of Japan. The Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum features 10,000 artifacts related to their daily lives, including hunting tools, clothing, and handicrafts.
You can also enjoy videos of sacred dance performances and learn a few words from the Ainu language. Upon reservation, the museum offers hands-on embroidery and sculpture workshops.
Summer is the best time of year to explore Hokkaido’s bountiful nature. Start your hiking adventures at Jigokudani in Noboribetsu! Here, you can watch hot steam spewing from the vents of a geothermal crater.
While there, you can take a boardwalk through the valley to Tessenchi geyser, or follow the paths through different pools and ponds of boiling water. If your feet start to get a little sore, make a stop near the Oyunuma River to soak them in the onsen foot bath.
Lake Toya is almost an entirely perfect circle that measures 11 km east to west and 9 km north to south. Before you climb Mount Usu to see it from above, board one of Lake Toya’s sightseeing cruises to the Nakanoshima Islands. Wild Yezo sika deer live on Oshima Island, Kannon Island houses a statue of the god of economy, and Benten Island enshrines the god of marriage.
To the south of Lake Toya, you can visit one of Japan’s most active volcanoes—Mount Usu! Unusual from most volcanoes, Mount Usu doesn’t spew lava, it creates new land formations. Don’t worry about getting caught up in an eruption. Volcanists work around the clock to keep an eye out for any dangerous warning signs. From the foot of Mount Usu, you can take a ropeway to see a panoramic view of Lake Toya and the neighboring peak Showa Shinzan.
Otaru is a small port town near Sapporo. From the early to mid-twentieth century, Otaru’s fishing industry boomed, and its canals served a vital role in transporting goods. Now, Otaru Canal is a reminder of the not-so-distant past.
During the day, you can walk along the canal and see historic buildings. At night, soft lamps light your way for a romantic stroll with your special someone.
Around the same time Otaru’s fishing industry grew, so did its glassware making. The Kitaichi Garasu Group once made glass fishing gear, but now they own two stores selling glass home goods and a museum. Their most well-known shop, Kitaichi Sangokan, is inside of a converted warehouse and features the grand Kitaishi Hall, which has over a hundred one-of-a-kind oil lamps from around the world.
Down the street from Kitaichi Sangokan, you’ll come across the charming Otaru Music Box Museum. A steam clock on the outside of the main entrance welcomes you with a song every fifteen minutes. Inside, you’ll find approximately 20,000 handcrafted music boxes made from a variety of materials—including fabric! You’re sure to find your favorite song (or perhaps even a new favorite) among the selections.
Walking through downtown Sapporo is a breeze compared to most other cities you’ll visit in Japan. The roads follow a grid system, and by walking along North 1 West 2 Street, you’ll pass three of Sapporo's most beloved destinations.
Heading from Sapporo Station, you’ll first come across the Sapporo Clock Tower, which is the oldest and most symbolic building in town. Continuing south, you’ll see the Sapporo TV Tower to your left, and Odori Park stretching out to your right. You can view Odori Park from the TV Tower’s observatory, or walk through the many blocks of the park until you reach the courthouse.
By day, Susukino is one of the main shopping areas for young Sapporo locals. You can find several duty-free and souvenir stores in the Tanuki Kouji shopping arcade. At night, Susukino is the largest red-light district north of Tokyo. Featuring night clubs, traditional Japanese pubs, Western-style bars, and restaurants, you’ll find plenty of things to do at all hours of the night.
Hopefully, you didn’t stay out too late in Susukino, because it’s best to go to Nijo Market as early as possible. The one-hundred-year-old market opens at 7:00 am and closes at 6:00 pm, but you’ll find the best deals in the morning.
If you’re a budget traveler, you can haggle with the vendors, which is a rare practice in Japan. Not interested in buying fresh seafood? Stop by one of the restaurants and try the classic Hokkaido dish, uni ikura donburi—sea urchin with salmon roe on rice.
Okurayama Ski Jump hosts several competitions throughout the year, but during the off-season, you can experience skiing on it yourself—in a virtual sense. At the foot of the “Large Hill” ski jump, you can play simulation games for free at the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum. Afterward, take the chair lift up the 90-meter ramp to catch one of the best views of the Sapporo City.
Sapporo is the birthplace of Japanese beer, and if you've never tried a Sapporo-style lager, now is your chance! The Sapporo Beer Museum is inside of a historic brick Akarenga-style building. Inside, you can learn about the brewing process and sample a collection of Sapporo Beer. Some of these include seasonal releases and varieties that are only available for purchase in Hokkaido.
Ready to learn about how the Japanese developed Hokkaido into its modern form? The Historical Village has around sixty Meiji era buildings that recreate Japan's final frontier. From stately and imposing structures to farmhouses that everyday people lived in, the Historical Village has it all. As a bonus, you can make your experience more authentic by riding around in a horse-drawn trolley!
Shiroi Koibito is Hokkaido’s leading confectionery, and when you see its factory, you can expect a lot more than a “how it’s made” tour. After observing expert bakers creating the chocolate and biscuit cookies, you can try your hand at it.
Other areas of the park feature chocolate-related exhibits and artifacts, a cafe-restaurant that uses chocolate in almost every dish, and a soccer field where the Sapporo Consadoles practice. But wait, there’s more! The whimsical theme park also has a rose garden and a play area for children with miniature buildings loosely based on Gulliver’s Travels.
Now that you’ve seen all of Hokkaido’s main attractions, it’s time for a day to finish up your souvenir purchases. Thankfully, you’re in Sapporo, which is a shopper’s paradise!
Start at the Sapporo Factory shopping mall, which is only a five-minute walk from the Sapporo Beer Museum. Then, check out the Daimaru, Stellar Place, and Esta department stores that connect to Sapporo Station. In the basement of Esta, you’ll find several small shops and stands selling omiyage boxes, which have Hokkaido-specialty snacks inside.
Speaking of food, did you try Sapporo's ramen or soup curry during your travels? If not, now is your chance! Also in Esta, you can go to the Sapporo Ramen Republic food court which features eight of Sapporo's top ramen restaurants. Or, head back to Susukino where you'll find several shops specializing in Hokkaido-original dishes. Above all, look out for soup curry, roux-less curry with vegetables, and Jingisu-Kan, barbecue mutton!