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!