Sapporo—often called the Tokyo of the North for its bright neon-lit streets, outstanding restaurant scene, and modern bustle—is also a perfectly located capital. Despite being located so far south on the island, many of Hokkaido’s biggest and best historical and natural sites can be easily enjoyed on a single day trip from Sapporo. From iconic towns like Furano and Otaru to ski resorts and onsen, so much excitement and beauty can be reached from Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo, and these are the best of them.
Otaru: Wander the Canals
The historic harbor-city of Otaru is an ideal day trip from Sapporo. Once a major trade and fishing port, Otaru features characteristic former office and warehouse buildings that have been converted into museums, restaurants, and bars. This industrial aesthetic makes it very different from other cities in Japan and offers a host of unique things to do. This includes a cruise or a walk down the famous Otaru Canal which takes you past some of the city’s most historic areas. Make sure to catch Otaru Steam Clock, one of the few steam-powered clocks in the world, and Sakaimachi Street, a preserved merchant street that is great for souvenir shopping.
Getting There: Take the train from Sapporo Station to Otaru Station. The express train is 30 minutes and the cheaper local train is 49 minutes.
Travel Tip: Don’t leave Otaru without trying some fresh seafood at Otaru Sankaku Market near the train station.
Ainu Museum: Learn about Hokkaido's Heritage
A quick and easy day trip from Sapporo, you can visit the new Ainu museum and learn about a vital part of Hokkaido’s heritage. This is the first museum dedicated to the indigenous Ainu people. The museum is also named The Upopoy, which comes from the Ainu word for "singing together." The museum highlights indigenous Ainu culture and their way of life and customs such as traditional costume and dance. You’ll also be able to see a traditional Ainu village with outdoor re-creation. Find out opening times and how to book tickets on the museum website.
Getting There: You can drive to the museum or take the train to Shiraoi taking just fifty minutes each.
Travel Tip: The museum is set on the expansive Lake Poroto so make sure to set aside some time for a walk.
Noboribetsu: Enjoy Thermal Waters
Step away from Sapporo into a completely different world of hot springs, geyzers, and sulfur. Hokkaido’s volcanic geothermal area is peppered with brightly colored, steaming hot pools that contribute over nine types of mineral water to the surrounding baths at Noboribetsu Onsen. There are two main observation points where you can take in the combination of thermal valley and nature from above and you can also walk the Noboribetsu Jigokudani Loop which takes around an hour.
Getting There: The journey will take just under two hours by train from Sapporo Station to Noboribetsu Station.
Travel Tip: Make sure to take time to find the eleven demon statues scattered around the onsen and enjoy the dining and shopping of the area.
Furano: Famous Flower Fields
With its sweeping flower and lavender fields, expansive vineyards, and ski scene, Furano is a wonderful escape from the bustle of Sapporo. Surrounded by the Daisetsuzan Mountains and rural landscape, there are endless things to enjoy in Furano, including a visit to the Cheese Factory, Furano Winery, and Tada Vineyard and Farm. Make sure to wander through Ningle Terrace, a forest path lined with fairy light and wooden chalets sporting the work of local creators.
Getting There: Catch the two and a half hour train from Sapporo Station to Furano Station.
Travel Tip: To extend your day trip, you can also visit the unique Blue Pond, which is forty minutes outside Furano. This ethereal pond takes on different hues depending on the weather and season and is truly one of the most unique scenes in Japan. The pond is situated near Daisetsuzan National Park and Mount Tokachi.
Shikotsu Toya National Park: See the Two Famous Lakes
Hokkaido is famous for its national parks and one of the easiest to visit on a day trip from Sapporo, arriving in under two hours, is Shikotsu Toya National Park. Named after the park's two famous lakes, Toya and Shikotsu, the dramatic volcanic mountain scenery draws thousands of visitors every year. The park boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country with views of caldera lakes, mountains, and waterfalls. Hiking, followed by a relaxing bath in the hot springs, is a perfect way to spend a day outside the city.
Getting There: Catch the train from Sapporo Station to Toya Station. You can then catch the bus to Lake Toys from the station. The whole journey will take around two hours.
Travel Tip: Though popular at any time of year, visiting during the winter rewards you with icy views from the onsen and snowy walks through the woods.
Sapporo Art Park: Get Lost in Nature and Art
Explore 74 works created by 64 artists for free in a 99-acre forest just south of Sapporo Station at the Art Park. The space is dedicated to art and offers a number of workshops to get involved like pottery, weaving, and woodwork. There is also a collection of family-friendly activities for anyone visiting with children. While you can spend most of the day exploring the free artwork, you can also visit the Sapporo Sculpture Garden and the Sapporo Art Museum for a small fee as well as visit the cafe and restaurant.
Getting There: Taking just 20 minutes to reach Geijutsu no Mori Center by bus or train, this is the ideal day trip for anyone not looking to leave the city.
Travel Tip: In winter, the activities in the area extend to sledding, skiing, and skating for a truly dynamic winter's day out.
Shakotan Peninsula: Hike the Cape
Take a trip to the West coast to enjoy uninterrupted views of the Sea of Japan, nicknamed "Shakotan Blue" for its intense color, and hike the rugged hills and cliffs of Cape Kamui—one of the most popular places to visit along the coast and part of Japan’s only national sea park area. Catch a view of Kamui Rock, a striking candle-shaped rock in the ocean which can best be seen by walking the Path of Charenka trail on Cape Kamui. For those who love being on the water, the Shakotan Peninsula also offers opportunities to dive and snorkel in the Blue Cave.
Getting There: Shakotan Peninsula is a two-hour drive from Sapporo using National Road 229 or you can catch a bus to Cape Kamui from Sapporo Station.
Travel Tip: The area is renowned for its sea urchin so make sure to pay a visit to seafood restaurants such as the famous Misaki and Nakamura-ya who popularized the dish of sea urchin roe over rice.
Historical Village of Hokkaido: Step Back in Time
Get to know Hokkaido’s history in an interactive setting at the Historical Village of Hokkaido. The open-air museum showcases 52 restored buildings from around Hokkaido spanning the Maiji period to the Showa period. Grouped by industry and culture, you can see working antique printing presses and sewing machines inside. You arrive in the village through the old Sapporo Railway Station and the history continues as you walk the extensive grounds which includes a traditional fishing village, a mountain village, and a farming town.
Getting There: A 15-minute bus to the museum can be caught from Shin-Sapporo Station or a five-minute bus from Shinrin Koen Station.
Travel Tip: Make sure to take your shoes off at the door and use the slippers provided before stepping into the buildings.
Sapporo Teine Ski Resort: Hit the Slopes
Skiing in Hokkaido is a must and you don’t need to go far outside Sapporo to hit the slopes, making for a perfect day trip. Taking just 40 minutes to reach, Sapporo Teine Ski Resort is the largest in the area. Consisting of two zones, Highland and Olympia, which are conveniently connected by lifts and trails, you can quickly switch between zones to make the most of the day. The courses range from beginner to advanced so there’s something for everyone.
Getting There: The easiest way to reach the resort is by bus from Sapporo Station which can be found at stand seventeen.
Travel Tip: Skiing is also available outside of the winter season making this a great trip, any time.