Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and is famous for its seafood, skiing, beer, and magical snow festival. Hokkaido’s culinary capital has its own style of ramen that’s popular throughout Japan, an obsession with ice-cream and chocolate, and a lamb dish named after Genghis Kahn. Balancing natural escapes like vast parks and mountains with a sprawling urban landscape, this is an exciting, busy city that still manages to keep a relaxed and spread-out atmosphere. Sapporo truly has a wealth of activities suited to every kind of traveler; here are some of the top things to do, including attractions, experiences, and must-try cuisine.
Discover Local Artists at Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
The greatest modern art collection in Hokkaido has more than 4,800 pieces of art. The space has been open since 1977 and showcases everything from glasswork to sculpture and paintings. Through their permanent and temporary exhibitions, you can get to know both local and international artists' work. The permanent exhibits include works by artists such as Eien Iwahashi, Tamako Kataoka, Kinjiro Kida, and Nissho Kanda. The museum's grounds offer an experience in itself with a large landscaped space that features modern sculptures to seek out. Keep up with their exhibitions on their website.
Visit Odori Park
It’s hard to miss Odori Park as it marks Sapporo's center, separating the north from the south of the city, and stretching like a street for twelve blocks. Truly an oasis from the bustle of the city, the park contains 92 types of trees, including lilac and elm trees, which mark the changing seasons with vibrant pink, purples, and reds. For this reason, most of the city’s seasonal festivals are held here. The iconic Sapporo TV Tower can be found on the Eastern side, which provides an amazing view of the city from the observation deck. The easiest way to reach the park is from Odori Subway Station.
Learn About Japanese Brewing at the Sapporo Beer Museum
Sapporo is easily one of Japan’s most beloved and famous beers, so a visit to the brewery that started it all is necessary. Established in 1987, in a former Meiji-era brewery, there’s a lot to learn from a visit to the museum aside from sampling their beer offerings. This is also the only museum dedicated to beer in Japan, so it’s a perfect place to understand brewing techniques and the history of beer in Japan. Besides the Sapporo Beer Museum, you can enjoy Sapporo Beer Garden, where you’ll find grill restaurants and, of course, more beer.
Marvel at the Sapporo Snow Festival
Held predominantly within Odori Park, this is one of the most famous snow festivals in Japan and easily the grandest in terms of scale. The festival attracts over two million domestic and international visitors. The festival, held in February, is relatively recent in terms of origins as it began in the 1950s when students started building snow sculptures in the park. The trend soon caught on and quickly became a commercial event held across three sites in Sapporo, with the biggest illuminated sculptures often reaching 25 meters wide and 15 meters high. Aside from the park, you’ll also find sculptures on the Susukino Site and Tsu Dome Site. This is truly a magnificent event and, if you can, try and catch a magical view from above, such as from the Sapporo TV Tower, which extends its opening hours during the festival. For updates on the festival and events, you check out their official website.
Buy Unique Sapporo Confectionary
Hokkaido is known for its delicious sweet treats, small cafes with impressive dessert sections, and specialty confectionery shops that have been by generations of the same family. Many of these treats are found in and are best tried in Sapporo. Shiroi Koibito (white lover) is a famous one, made with light, melt-in-the-mouth butter cookies sandwiched with a piece of white chocolate. Don’t miss out on the Sapporo Times Square colorful collection of sponge cakes, which have a variation of delicious creamy fillings, and make sure to try Sapporo chocolate, beloved throughout Japan. These items can also be bought in boxes to take away, making fantastic souvenirs for yourself or gifts for others.
Take a Trip to Shiroi Kobito Park (Ishiya Chocolate Factory)
Speaking of chocolate. Shiroi Koibito Park, a vast theme park with shops and restaurants run by the Ishiya Chocolate company, is a wonderfully unique thing to do in Sapporo. Entry to the park is free, but there’s a small fee if you want to enter the chocolate factory itself and take a tour. Wandering the factory is as close as it gets to a real-life Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory seeing as everything is designed colorfully and with joy in mind. Don’t miss the Aurora fountain inside, designed in 1870 by the English Royal Doulton Company. Naturally, you’ll be able to try and buy their chocolate as well as their flagship product Shiroi Koibito chocolate biscuits. You can learn more about their facilities and opening times on their website.
Try Delicious Sapporo Ramen
Being able to dive into the ramen world is one of the best parts of visiting Japan, especially with so many regional varieties to sample. Hokkaido, specifically Sapporo ramen, is beloved across Japan and comes right at the top of the list of favorite ramen varieties after Tokyo-style ramen. Sapporo ramen is characterized by crinkled noodles with a medium thickness soaked in miso broth, and toppings include pork belly, bean sprouts, and onion. There’s no end to Sapporo's ramen joints, being one of Japan’s top ramen cities. Still, a couple of great ones to get you started include the Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q and Aji no Sanpei, which is thought to be the restaurant that started the Sapporo miso ramen trend.
Stroll Around Kaitaku-mura
Step into historical Hokkaido in this open-air museum found in the suburbs of Sapporo. You can wander around over fifty relocated and restored traditional buildings from around Hokkaido, dating back to the Meiji and Taisho Periods (1868 to 1926). These buildings are separated into four ‘villages’ showcasing this prefecture's fishing, farming, and mountain living traditions. The main Hokkaido Museum can also be found under ten minutes away, which makes for a perfect combination for anyone looking to learn all about Hokkaido's interesting culture.
Visit the Chitosetsuru Sake Museum
Hokkaido is better known for its vineyards than sake, so much so that this is the only sake brewery in Sapporo and was the first to produce sake in Hokkaido in 1872. The brewery and museum make for a fascinating visit whether you want to learn more about sake brewing traditions or pick up some fantastic sake to take home with you. Chitosetsuru’s sake is made from Hokkaido water and has a uniquely deep flavor. The museum allows you to sample different sakes and even try the water they use in the brewing process, pumped from 150 meters underground.
Escape the city and get views of Sapporo from above by climbing up Mount Moiwa, a forested mountain south-west of the city. You can reach the observation deck by taking the ropeway three quarters up the mountain. From there, you hop on the cablecar, which takes you to the summit located at an elevation of 531 meters. At the top, you’ll find the observation deck as well as restaurants, a theatre, and a planetarium. Deciding whether to catch the day or dazzling nighttime view from the top of Moiwayama is one of the hardest decisions about this trip.
Go Skiing at the Sapporo Teine Ski Resort
Skiing in Hokkaido is infamous, and you don’t need to go far outside Sapporo to hit the slopes. Sapporo Teine Ski Resort takes just forty minutes to get to and is the largest of the nearby ski resorts. This is the ideal spot if you want to go skiing but don’t want to travel for hours outside the city. The resorts consist of two zones (Highland and Olympia), which are conveniently connected by lifts and trails so you can quickly switch between zones. The courses range from beginner to intermediate and advanced, so there’s something for everyone, as well as lessons and sledding and tubing options. Other facilities include a restaurant, cafe, and shopping.
Relax in an Onsen
Visiting an onsen is high on most people’s Japan bucket list, and luckily Sapporo boasts some fantastic hot spring resorts for when you need some rest and relaxation. Whether you’re looking for a public bath or a private onsen set within tranquil foliage, there is something for everyone. Some notable hot spring resorts include Kohannoyado Shikotsuko Markoma Onsen, an outdoor bath with Shikotsu Lake spread out in front of you, making for unparalleled views. Or for some luxury and wonderful food, try Jyozankei Tsuruga Resort Spa Morinouta with views over the forest. Finally, one of the most beloved onsen in Sapporo, open since the Meiji-era, is Yumoto Koganeyu, which offers stunning views and a traditional atmosphere.
Visit Sapporo Clock Tower
One of Sapporo's major attractions, the Clock Tower was built in 1878 as a drill hall before a clock from Boston was added in 1881. The building's wooden structure resembles something you’d find in New England and is striking against the city tower blocks surrounding it. Today, the clock tower serves as a Sapporo museum with exhibitions spanning the first two floors, including a walkthrough of Sapporo’s history and a history of clocks.
Try Fresh Seafood at Nijo Market
For seafood lovers, coastal Sapporo is a haven, and the best place to go to try all the local delicacies and the famed Sapporo seafood bowls is Nijo Market. The public market is centrally located near Odori Park and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., making it a perfect spot for a seafood breakfast or lunch. Aside from seafood stalls, you’ll also find many restaurants and places for drinks. A great place to start is Oiso, a small restaurant in the market that offers thirty different types of seafood bowls and sushi and sashimi.
Wander Hokkaido Shrine
A famous cherry-blossom viewing spot with more than 1,500 trees, this magnificent shrine can be found in Maruyama Park. It was built to hold the deities Ōkunitama, Okuninushi, and Sukunahikona and also honors the soul of the Meiji Emperor. During the spring, Hokkaido Shrine is also where many of Sapporo’s hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) parties are held which, combined with the pink hues, celebrations, and colorful yukata, make for a stunning scene.