Best Places To Visit in Hokkaido

Lake Katsurazawa, Mikasa, Hokkaido Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the second largest and northernmost island in Japan. The prefecture is especially famous for its rich nature including beautiful lakes, flower fields, and six (!) national parks to explore. In summer, many people try to escape the heat by making their way up north and enjoying the mountainous area. In winter there is no shortage of the famous Japanese powder snow that covers some of the best ski slopes in the world. Combine this with delicious local food including amazingly fresh prepared seafood and fruits like the Yubari melon, and you have no reason not to go to Hokkaido anymore.

When is the best to visit Hokkaido

Hokkaido is really a great destination all year round. The prefecture is mostly popular for its’ pure nature, which is amazing in all seasons, and its food like fresh fish which is also available all year round.

In short, when you visit in:

Spring: many cherry blossoms and beautiful flowers blooming
Summer: escape the heat and enjoy the greenery and ocean, feel the comfortable wind and engage in summer activity such as rafting and camping in magnificent natural landscapes
Autumn: autumn leaves & Gourmet festival (delicious foods)
Winter: beautiful scenery with a large amount of high quality snow that is perfect for winter sports such as skiing & snowboarding.

Here we have a list of best places to visit in Hokkaido.

1. Amazing ice sculptures at Sapporo Snow Festival

Held every February for a week long since 1950, this snow festival in Sapporo City, the capital of Hokkaido, is one of the largest and most famous winter festivals in Japan. The winter event features spectacular snow and ice sculptures and attracts more than two million visitors each year! As many as 200 snow and ice sculptures, depicting everything you can think of from temples to cartoon characters, are spread across three sites in Sapporo City, Odori Park, Tsudome, and Susukino. The sculptures are lit up daily until 10pm. Besides the sculptures you can also enjoy several concerts and other events.

You can get the best view of the Odori Park, the main site of the festival stretching 1.5km long, from the Sapporo TV Tower Observation Deck at the eastern end of Odori Park. 

8.30am – 10.30pm
¥720 adult (single visit)
¥1,100 adult (day visit & night visit)

How to access Sapporo Snow Festival

Odori Park is 1 minute walk from Odori Station or a 12 minute walk from Sapporo Station 

2. Escape the city life in Furano and Biei

Furano and Biei are the towns located in the center of Hokkaido. These towns are two of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in Hokkaido with breathtaking picturesque landscapes. If you’re visiting sometime around April to October, head over to the hills of Shikisai-no-oka and expect to see hectares of multi-coloured flowers or the lavender fields at Farm Tomita in Furano. You can explore the hills of Shikisai-no-oka with a golf buggy and also feed the alpacas that are living at the farm. During the winter season, the farm turns into a snowland where visitors can ride a snowmobile.

In Biei, outside the hot spring resort of Shirogane Onsen, there is a man-made pond with a natural bright blue color called Aoiike or blue pond. The pond has become a popular tourist spot in recent years, displaying various shades of blue depending on the season and the weather.

Blue Pond Hokkaido

The Furano Ropeway, one of the resort’s gondolas offering panoramic views over the valley, is open all year round. In summer and autumn you can enjoy the beautiful colours of the forest and the mountain, while accessing one of the well kept hiking trails!

How to go to Furano and Biei

If you fly into Sapporo Airport, you can purchase a Furano-Biei Free Ticket at the JR counter. This ticket costs ¥6,500 and includes a round trip to and unlimited free travel in the Furano and Biei area for four consecutive days

From June to August, there are direct JR trains from Sapporo station to Furano station, for Biei station you’ll need to transfer to a local train at Asahikawa station. There are tourist buses that connect between Furano, Biei and Shirogane Blue Pond. 

There are also several sightseeing tour buses which take you directly to Furano and Biei from Sapporo.

3. Otaru 

Otaru is a small harbour city about a 30-minute train ride northwest from Sapporo, making it a great day trip from Hokkaido’s capital city. Otaru served as a major trade and fishing port in the late 1800s. Present day, the city is famous for the beautifully preserved canal area and old buildings. The former warehouses and office buildings were once in use by shipping and trade companies.

Hokkaido Otaru

Every February, around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held. During the festival, the city gets decorated with the glittering lanterns and small snow statues which are lit up from 5pm until 9pm every day.

How to go to Otaru

From Sapporo Station, take JR Express Airport to Otaru Station (about 30 min)

4. Ski slopes in Niseko

Located southwest of Sapporo City, Niseko is Japan’s most famous ski resort due to tons of light powder snow. The best snow falls in January and February when the snow is most powdery. During this time more than half of the visitors are from overseas. Niseko offers kilometers of ski slopes along with other exciting winter adventures such as off-piste skiing with guided tours and helicopter tours. There are major resorts in Niseko; Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, Hanazono and Annupuri, which join together at the top of the mountain, making it possible to ski between them.

How to go to Niseko

From December to March, multiple bus companies run direct buses between Sapporo City and Niseko. The bus ride can take between 2.5 and 4 hours depending on pick-up location and destination. 

Alternatively, you can rent your own car, which will also give you the opportunity to easily visit other ski resorts and places of interest nearby!

5. Matsumae, the little Kyoto fo the North

Matsumae town, at the southernmost point of Hokkaido, is a former castle town and known as Little Kyoto of the North. Facing Tsugaru Strait only 20 km from Aomori prefecture, the town attracted merchants engaged in the shipping trade during the Edo period.

Matsumae Castle

Matsumae Castle (also known as Fukushima Castle) is the only Japanese style castle to have been built in Hokkaido. The current castle tower was constructed in the early 1960s and the former castle ground has been turned into the sprawling Matsumae Park, where over ten thousand cherry trees are planted!

Access to Matsumae Castle and Matsumae Park

Take Hakodate Bus bound for Matsumae from JR Kikonai station and get off at Matsujo bus stop (1.5 hrs). The park is a 7 minute walk from the bus stop. 

Kikonai station is served by the JR Hokkaido Shinkansen & South Hokkaido Railway. 

6. Explore Hakodate, the foodie city

One of Northern Japan’s major cities, Hakodate is known for its Western-style buildings, fresh seafood, and salt ramen, among other things. Named the city of gourmet food, Hakodate is bursting with different sorts of crab, tuna, squid, abalone, and other delights, due to the surrounding area being blessed with plankton. A dish worth trying is the kaisen-don, which usually features different kinds of sashimi in a single bowl. Try the sea urchin in Uni Murakami for a unique experience.

Visit the Russian Orthodox church, the former British Consulate, or the morning market where you can buy fresh produce. You can also ride the aerial gondola to the top of Mt. Hakodate where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city!

Also worth visiting is the Goryokaku Fort Park which features the region’s sakura trees, when they are in full bloom around the last weeks of April to the first weeks of May. The Goryokaku Observation Tower provides excellent views of the whole fort.

7. Lake Toya

Lake Toya is a part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park located in the south of Hokkaido, about 1.5 hour by car from the New Chitose Airport or about 2 hours by car from Sapporo. It is an almost perfectly round lake formed in a caldera. The picturesque lake was chosen as the location of the G8 Summit in 2008. Near the lake, there is Mount Usu, an active volcano which last erupted in the year 2000. You can take the Usuzan Ropeway to the summit of Mount Usu.

On the foot and Mount Usu, next to the lake, you can visit the hot spring resort Toyako Onsen. Stay overnight at one of many hotels, stroll along the promenade with foot baths (ashiyu), and in the evening from May through October enjoy the daily firework show. The promenade is also the departure point for sightseeing boat cruises of the lake.The sculpture garden borders the shoreline of the lake with 58 large sculptures.

How to go to Lake Toya

From Sapporo Station take the JR Hakodate Main Line to Toya Station (about 2 hrs). From Toya Station, take the Donan Bus to Toyako Onsen (about 20 minutes).

8. Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest national park in Japan which features the Daisetsuzan Mountain range. This range includes Mount Asahi (2,291 meters), the highest mountain in Hokkaido, and Mount Kurodake (1,984 meters), one of the most easily accessible major peaks in the Daisetsuzan National Park thanks to a ropeway and chair lift.

Many nature lovers start their hike from Mount Kurodake which is the entry point into the interior of the national park. Around the mountain range, there are several hot springs where you can relax and heal your fatigue after hiking and exploring the area.

How to go to Daisetsuzan National Park

Daisetsuzan National Park can be accessed from many different directions. The easiest way to get to and explore the park is to rent a car. 

9. Noboribetsu Onsen

Noboribetsu Onsen is the most famous hot spring resort in Hokkaido. There are many Japanese ryokan and hotels with hot spring baths. Not planning on spending the night? Many also offer drop-in onsen for non-staying guests.

Noboribetsu Onsen Hokkaido

Besides hot springs, the area offers several tourist attractions, the most famous being Jigokudani, translated as hell valley. White hot steam rises from the blow holes, sulphurous steams and other volcanic activity. Hell Valley is the main source of the onsen in Noboribetsu.

How to get to Noboribetsu Onsen

There are express busses from JR Sapporo Station (about 1 hr) and from New Chitose Airport (about 1 hr), taking you directly to Noboribetsu Onsen. 

10. Lake Mashu

Located in the Akan Mashu National Park in eastern Hokkaido, this caldera lake is considered to be the most beautiful lake in Japan. The lake water is even said to be the clearest in the world. It is also one of Japan’s deepest lakes – 212 m. Fog often forms close to the surface of the lake and it can be difficult to get a clear view of the lake. However, the weather around the lake is quite changeable and the fog can disappear as quickly as it forms.

Lake Mashu Hokkaido

You can see the lake from observation decks positioned around the rim of the caldera where you can drive to. Also, there is a hiking trail which leads you from the first of the observation decks to the top of Mount Mashudake through forest and grassland for about 7 km. When you’re up for a day of hiking, this is a great option with beautiful scenery along the way. 

How to go to Lake Mashu

The best way to visit Lake Mashu is by rental car. The public transportation connection is very poor. 

11. Shiretoko National Park

Shiretoko National Park, located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, is one of Japan’s most beautiful and unspoiled national parks. It is home to a large range of wildlife including brown bears, deer and foxes. The northern tip of the peninsula can only be viewed from boats or be reached on multi-day trekking tours. During winter, you can see drift ice floating in the Sea of Okhotsk.  

The picturesque Shiretoko Five Lakes offers stunning views of land, sea and lakes. Its’ easy hiking courses are suitable for visitors of all ages. Another attraction is a whale-watching cruise giving you opportunity to spot some of the 14 different species of whales that swim along the coastline. 

Shiretoko National Park Hokkaido

How to go to Shiretoko National Park

The main entry points are either Rausu or Utoro. 

  • Utoro is a 90-min drive from Memanbetsu Airport or Nakashibetsu Airport, or 2 hrs. by bus from Memanbetsu Airport or Abashiri. 
  • Rausu is a 1-hr drive from Nakashibetsu Airport or 100 min. by bus. 

12. Shizunai Nijukken Road

Enjoy strolling under an impressive row of cherry blossoms which stretches out 7 km. During the Cherry Blossom Festival in mid-May, the about 3,000 cherry blossoms lining both sides of the street are in full bloom and many people, tourists as well as locals, enjoy walking under the trees and having lunch under the blossoms. 

Shizunai Nijukken Road

How to go to Shizunai Nijukken Road

From Sapporo Station, take Hidaka Main Line to Shizunai Station (about 2 hrs), from Shizunai Station to Nijukken Road it takes about 20 minutes by car or taxi. 

Sakura cherry blossom

We think you should include Hokkaido on your itinerary, no matter what season. As you know by now, the prefecture has plenty of places worth visiting all year round. What do you think about Hokkaido, will you go there? We hope you have unforgettable experiences in Hokkaido.

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Happy travelling!

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