In this Hokkaido travel guide, I’ll go over my favourite things to see and do in Hokkaido - one of my favourite places to travel in Winter.
Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and northernmost island, known for some of the finest snow in the world, the best dairy produce in the country, Miso ramen, and some absolutely stunning landscapes.
It’s not usually on the itinerary for most tourists travelling to Japan unless you’re into snow sports, mostly because of how far out of the way it is. But if it’s your second or third time travelling to Japan, this Hokkaido travel guide will show you just how many things there are to see and do in Hokkaido, and why it should be a part of your next itinerary.
But before we get into it, a little tip: rent a car. Unlike much of Honshū, many parts of Hokkaido just aren’t all that accessible by train or bus, so it’s highly recommended that you rent a car to get around.
Okay, let’s get into my favourite things to see and do in Hokkaido.
Eat ramen at the Ganso Ramen Yokocho (aka, ramen alley)
Of course when in Japan, one cannot truly say they’ve visited until they’ve had a bowl of ramen, for sure. Ganso Ramen Yokocho started over 70 years ago with 7 ramen shops setting up next to each other and is now home to over 15 of some of the best ramen you can get in Sapporo.
This is also the place where Miso ramen was born, and of course is a speciality you just can’t miss when you’re in Sapporo. After all, there’s nothing that beats a soulful, warm bowl of ramen on a snowy Winter’s night.
Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine
While the head Inari shrine - Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto - gets all the fame and glory, many people don’t know that there are many Inari shrines all across Japan.
These Inari shrines are places of worship to the deity Inari; a deity associated with prosperity, foxes, rice, and general wellbeing. Usually, these Inari shrines are marked with Vermillion Torii gates at the entrance of the shrine, and Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine is no different.
It is, however, beautiful; a sight worth seeing if you happen to be in Sapporo.
The entrance features 27 red Torii gates in a row that lead up to lines of lanterns and the main shrine.
If you can, it’s even more spectacular in Winter, covered by snow. Try to get there early in the morning to beat any crowds.
Wander around Moerenuma Art Park
Along the outskirts of Sapporo lies Moerenuma Art Park; a huge park designed by Japanese artist, Isamu Noguchi. It’s a huge open space that features sports fields, a forest, playground equipment, but best of all, it features a plethora of interesting, sometimes interactive, sculpture and urban art strewn all across the entire 1.8km2 area.
It’s probably the nicest park you’ve ever been to, thoughtfully designed, beautiful to look at, peaceful to wander around.
Check out the Play mountain, Music shell, and my favourite, the Glass Pyramid if you get a chance to go here.
Parking is free, and it’s fairly accessible by bus from downtown Sapporo.
Visit Sapporo TV Tower
One of my favourite things to see and do in Hokkaido, but just about any city I visit, is to check out the views from observation decks in the tallest towers I can find.
Sapporo TV Tower features the classic Sapporo view that overlooks the city’s main park, Odori park. It’s a view you’ve probably seen many times before on social media, but it’s still worth a peek while you’re there.
The 5 story-tall tower will cost you ￥720 to get to the observation deck, which is kind of pricey, but the view is great. Consider timing your visit during golden hour into the blue hour, where you can watch the sunset behind Mt. Moiwa and surrounds.
Sapporo snow festival
Probably Japan’s most popular winter event, the Sapporo snow festival is held every year around the start of February.
It’s a festival that has traditions that harken back to the 1950s, originating when high school students first made sculptures for fun in Odori park. A few years later, military from a nearby base joined in and made huge sculptures, which is what the now commercialised event is famous for.
It takes place across 3 locations every year: the Odori site, Susukino site, and Tsu Dome site. Across all these sites, every year there are between 300-400 sculptures to look at and enjoy.
Eat soup curry
While you’re in Sapporo, it wouldn’t be a Hokkaido travel guide if I didn’t mention the other dish the northern island is famous for, Soup Curry.
It’s a mouth-watering concoction of rich curry spices, vegetables and meat, and it’s unlike the normal Japanese curry you might find in popular Japanese curry shops and chains like CoCo curry.
Rather, it’s more like a soup; less viscosity, but packed full of flavour. It’s a dish that’s now quickly becoming popular with tourists, after having been a local favourite for such a long time.
My personal favourite is Suage. Check them out if you’re in Sapporo.
The minimal landscapes of Biei and Furano during Winter
Moving out of Sapporo now and into more central Hokkaido, the regional towns of Biei and Furano are some of the most diverse and spectacular sights in Hokkaido.
In the Spring, the farmlands are covered in flowers and colours as far as the eye can see. In the Autumn, warm hues of red, orange, and yellow make it their home. In the winter, the thick, soft snow creates a minimal backdrop against lone trees.
The landscapes of Biei and Furano are worth visiting at any time of year. This is a true nature fix.
You can get here by car, or by bus. It’s recommended you drive here though so that you can make the most of your time driving around to all the various farms in the surrounding area; it’s a pretty large one.
Visit Shirogane Blue Pond
A classic Hokkaido location no Hokkaido travel guide should be without.
Ordinarily, it’s just a pond in the middle of nowhere. But what makes it special is the colour of its water; it’s blue. Like, a light blue. Thus the name.
But it’s also that this location is in the middle of a forest, and it’s fairly serene, even though it’s been thoroughly developed as a tourist area now. Visit the website to catch times where they do illuminations at night. Also, don’t come during winter where the lake gets frozen over; there’s not much to see then.
Sea of clouds at Unkai terrace
I’m a huge sucker for clouds. I could stare at clouds all day, especially a sea of clouds.
Unkai (雲海) literally means “sea of clouds” in Japanese, and in this very particular part of Hokkaido lies the perfect topological confluence for a high possibility of unkai throughout May to October.
There’s nothing quite like watching a sea of clouds roll gently over mountains. It’s probably my favourite natural phenomenon, and if you’re in this part of Hokkaido, it’s definitely worth testing your luck to see if you can experience it.
Unkai Terrace is a part of Hoshino Resorts Tomamu, and the observation deck is free to those who stay there, otherwise, there’s a variable price for the public.
Go skiing or snowboarding at Niseko Ski Resort
Famous for its super-soft powder, amazing backcountry, and being foreigner-friendly, Niseko is Japan’s most famous ski resort and has been gaining incredible recognition throughout the world in the winter sports arena.
There are 3 main resorts: Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri, and a couple of other smaller resorts beside them. The main area here is the bustling town of Hirafu, where you can get everything you need from gear rental, nice places to eat, accommodation and just about everything else.
You can get to Niseko from Sapporo or New Chitose Airport via train or bus, although sometimes it can be a little hard to navigate, and you may have to stop by the local town of Kutchan and transfer, so watch out for that.
Visit the northernmost point of Japan, Cape Soya
Just to say you’ve been there.
It’s kinda crazy, Cape Soya is so north and so close to Russia that on a good day, it’s possible to see the closest Russian island of Sakhalin, just a mere 43km away.
And although there’s not much to see or do at the actual cape itself, it’s fun to know that you’ve been to the northernmost point of Japan. Also, the surrounding areas and coastline all the way to the nearest town of Wakkanai feature some of the most beautiful, diverse landscapes in Japan, so it’s definitely worth the venture up there.
Visit a shrine on the water (Shosanbetsu Toyosaki Konpira Shrine)
While Japan has thousands of pretty shrines across the country to appreciate, not many of them are in the water, and not many of them are this big.
Shosanbetsu Toyosaki Konpira Shrine isn’t going to be on most (if any) Hokkaido travel guides, but when it comes to my favourite things to see and do in Hokkaido, this shrine is pretty up there for me.
If you’re a photographer, this is a must go. There are a plethora of amazing compositions to be had here, and if you time it right, because this side of Hokkaido runs north/south, you can catch some amazing sunset action here too.
Roam the Otaru Canal
Just over an hour’s train ride from Sapporo lies a quiet little port town called Otaru.
It’s a charming little town, quiet, calm, peaceful. Especially in the north part of it, where the Otaru Canal is.
The Otaru Canal is a picturesque little canal flanked by old warehouses and with an endearing vibe. It’s especially romantic when it snows heavily.
Visit Hell Valley (Jigokudani)
For an otherworldly, unique experience, visit Jigokudani, or in English, so lovingly called ‘Hell Valley’.
As the source for the nearby Norboribetsu Hot Springs, it’s a geothermic playground, with plenty of gases, colours, and strange formations to experience. Scenically, it’s quite nice, a unique departure from most of the landscapes most people are used to. However, some people may find the strong sulphur smell a little too much as you venture into the Mars-like landscape.
Definitely worth a visit if you’re around this area.
What are your favourite things to see and do in Hokkaido?
If you’ve already been to Japan once or twice before, consider visiting Hokkaido! There are so many more things to see and do here that aren’t listed, and every season offers something unique.
Let me know if your favourite things aren’t here so I can add them to this Hokkaido travel guide!