The capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo is a vibrant and energetic city. Easily the best way to experience the city is to visit Sapporo in winter. Layered in several feet of snow, the temperature in winter rarely gets above a few degrees. Fuelled by an array of fantastic food, Sapporo powers through the cold and snowy wintertime with ease.
With a population just shy of two million people and a layout based on an American-style grid system, Sapporo is easy to explore. Whilst the brash and bold neon and pachinko parlours are all here in abundance, Sapporo has a unique identity that distinguishes it from other cities in Japan.
Compared to Tokyo or Kyoto there are relatively few temples or Buddhist shrines in Sapporo. Instead the most notable historic buildings in the city are of a classical New England style of architecture, inspired by the Americans who were asked to help develop the city in the late 1800s.
In winter, the city is caked in snow and the Sapporo Snow Festival brings millions of visitors to town from all over the world.
Sapporo comes alive at night, when the city’s cafes, bars and restaurants provide much needed sustenance. The heart of Sapporo is situated between Sapporo station and the vibrant district of Susukino.
Sapporo is served by New Chitose Airport. If you’re flying from overseas you’ll most likely need to transfer at either of Tokyo’s international airports to reach Sapporo.
A flight from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport takes around an hour and a half.
New Chitose Airport is around a 30 minute train ride from the centre of the city. There are four trains an hour to Sapporo Station, costing 2000 yen one way. Trains depart every 15 minutes
→ To find the best deals on flights to Sapporo on Skyscanner click here.
There is a huge variety of accommodation in Sapporo, especially around Sapporo Station and the Susukino area in the centre of the city.
Though cheap accommodation is generally hard to come by in Japan, there are plenty of options to suit most budgets.
You can search for accommodation in Sapporo here but if you need some suggestions, here are a few of our recommendations:
Easily one of the best of the more affordable hotels in Sapporo, Tmark City Hotel Odori is located just on the edge of Susukino. Rooms are predictably small but clean and comfortable. If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep at an affordable price this is the hotel for you.
Right in the heart of Susukino, the Sapporo Tokyu REI Hotel is within walking distance of all of central Sapporo’s key sights. Susukino station is also less than a minute’s walk away. Standard rooms are modern if a little cozy, and there’s a huge choice of excellent local and Western cuisine served at breakfast.
Top of the Range
Just a 3 minute walk to Sapporo JR station’s north exit, we can also recommend the excellent Keio Prelia Hotel. A stylish and modern hotel, the Keio Prelia’s rooms are slightly larger than average and come with super comfortable beds and fitted with all mod cons.
Along with the best food and where to eat it, here’s the complete lowdown of the best things to do in Sapporo in winter.
First held in 1950, today the Sapporo Snow Festival attracts over two million visitors a year. Now comprising three different venues across the city, the Sapporo Snow Festival takes place over a single week each February.
Winter in Sapporo sees a huge amount of snowfall. The Sapporo Snow Festival is most famous for its range of incredibly elaborate large scale snow and ice sculptures that are created by teams from all over the world. Each year sees over 200 sculptures on display.
The vast majority of sculptures are displayed at Odori Park underneath Sapporo’s TV Tower. Around 60 sculptures are displayed at the festival’s site along Ekimae-dori in Susukino and another 20 at the Tsudome site to the north of the city.
Each year sees a temporary ice-rink set up alongside the sculptures in Odori Park. Meanwhile the Tsudome site features a whole host of extra snow-based activities, mainly aimed at families with young children. Activities include various snow and ice slides, snow golf and various snow-based photo opportunities.
Odori Park is a beautiful wide kilometre-long expanse of green space that dissects a section of the city between Sapporo Station and the area of Susukino. In the run up to Christmas Odori Park is illuminated at night by festive lights.
If you visit Sapporo in December don’t miss the Bavarian Christmas market that takes place here every year, a nod to Munich, one of Sapporo’s twin cities. Held in Sapporo since 2002, the Christmas market takes place between late November and the end of December in Odori Park every year.
Stalls sell a wide range of traditional Christmas trinkets and ornaments, as well as typically German Christmas fayre, such as bratwurst with sauerkraut and hot mulled wine.
At the far eastern end of Odori Park is Sapporo’s TV Tower.
A shorter replica of Tokyo’s more famous landmark, Sapporo’s TV Tower was built in the late 1950s and features a viewing tower that looks down over Odori Park as well as panoramic views of the centre of the city.
The view from Sapporo TV Tower is especially beautiful at sunset when a pink sky glows around the mountains around the edge of Sapporo.
→ You can buy discounted tickets for the TV Tower in advance here.
The Sapporo Clock Tower is Sapporo’s oldest building and is the symbol of the city.
The Sapporo Clock Tower is a beautiful and elegant white wooden building, originally built as an agricultural college in 1878. The clock was added in 1881, bought from Boston, adding a touch of New England elegance to the tower’s already impressive appearance.
Designated as a National Important Cultural Property in 1970, today the Sapporo Clock Tower is home to a small museum that documents the history of the city.
Even grander still is the Former Hokkaido Government Building, the dome topped red brick building that resembles a mansion in the middle of the city.
Built in 1888, the building is a glorious example of Neo-Baroque architecture rarely seen in Japan.
Both the Clock Tower and the Former Hokkaido Government Building are slightly at odds with the sleek modern office towers and shopping malls that now surround them. Both now house small exhibitions that contain information about the history of each building.
From the viewing platform on the 38th floor of the JR Tower – the tallest building in Sapporo by some distance – is where to go to find the best view of Sapporo from within the city.
From 160 metres above ground level the entire city unfurls as far as the eye can see beneath a blanket of snow.
The city’s grid system, which seems oddly out of place in Japan, rolls out in parallel lines in every direction.
The dramatic peaks of the snow capped mountain ranges to the south-west seem close enough to touch as the sun burst through the clouds.
There’s also an excellent café on the same floor which is a wonderful place to while away some time and stare at the magnificent view with a coffee and slice of cake.
→ You can buy tickets for the observation deck at the top of JR Tower in advance here.
Tanukikoji shopping arcade and Susukino at night
Running almost parallel to Odori Park a few streets to the south is the covered shopping street called Tanukikoji.
This one kilometre stretch of shops has a little bit of everything, including antique shops, Japanese megastore Don Quijote and even pet shops selling tiny dogs (that cost a small fortune).
Tanukikoji also has a number of very good souvenir shops specialising in excellent delicacies from Hokkaido, as well as a wide range of excellent vintage clothing stores. There are also plenty of hotels, a tourist information centre and a myriad of places to eat.
The two sides of Sapporo: the torii gate at the entrance to the Hokkaido Shrine and a nightclub in Susukino
Packed with a myriad of pachenko parlours and night clubs, Susukino is where Sapporo unwinds and is the beating heart of the city.
Susukino is to Sapporo what Shinjuku is to Tokyo, or Dotonbori to Osaka, albeit on a smaller scale. Susukino is crammed with bars and restaurants and in this part of town it is very easy to eat very well.
The most popular restaurants in Susukino are easy to spot – just look for a long queue of people snaking out on to the street on a cold winter’s night, waiting patiently for a table to become free. That’s the sign that the food inside is seriously good.
Though there are far fewer temples in Sapporo than in other cities in Japan there are still a few impressive examples to be found here.
The grandest is the Hokkaido Shrine to the west of central Sapporo in Maruyama Park, which dates from 1871.
Hokkaido Shrine is built from a beautiful dark wood, with a large sweeping roof adorned with glistening gold detailing which shines bright against winter’s snowy surroundings.
Around each May the temple is a popular place when the thousands of cherry blossom and plum blossom trees that surround it burst into colour.
During winter the whole park and the Shrine are covered in several feet of snow, resulting in a beautiful serene winter scene.
From Maruyama Park a huge dark wooden torii gate marks the way to the Shrine. A path leads past smaller shrines, through tall pine trees and around to the front of Hokkaido Shrine.
Just south of Susukino is the beautiful Nakajima Park. A green oasis just a few minutes from the heart of the city, Nakajima Park is a wonderful place to wander.
There is plenty to explore within Nakajima Park. As well as a large picturesque lake there are three Shinto shrines towards the southern end of the park which are amongst the oldest in Sapporo.
At the northern end of the park is Hoheikan, another fantastic example of Hokkaido’s historic Western-inspired architecture. Originally a hotel, Hoheikan was built in 1881 and relocated to Nakajima Park in 1958.
Officially designated as an Important Cultural Property, the grand interior of Hohekian is faithfully laid out as it would have been when it first opened, decorated with plush carpets, gleaming chandeliers and period furniture.
Easily one of the very best things to do in Sapporo in winter is to head for the summit of Mount Moiwa.
Reached by a combination of the Mount Moiwa Ropeway and then a short funicular ride, on clear days the view of the city is simply astonishing.
In winter be sure to pick a clear day to go to Mount Moiwa – if you’re unlucky enough to reach the top when the clouds descend there is virtually nothing to see of Sapporo.
However, when the weather is clear, the view of the entire city and the mountains that surround Sapporo is phenomenal. As with the view from the JR Tower, it is incredible just how close the city feels from the top of the mountain.
It’s worth aiming to reach the top of Mount Moiwa shortly before nightfall, as the view as Sapporo lights up is truly spectacular.
Hokkaido is famous for its ski resorts that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every winter. The amount of snowfall during the winter in snowfall makes Hokkaido one of the most popular skiing locations in Japan. Yet you don’t even need to leave Sapporo to get out on the slopes.
Bankei Ski Area is less than a 20 minute taxi ride from the centre of Sapporo, or an easy bus ride from Maruyama-koen station.
Open from early December to April each year, there are 17 ski slopes at Bankei, plus the largest half pipe in Japan for snowboarders. Open until 10.00pm at night, all ski equipment can be hired on site.
If you’re a complete beginner ski and snowboard lessons are held each day with several lessons conducted by English speaking instructors.
The Historical Village of Hokkaido covered in snow in Sapporo in winter
To the east of the city is the fascinating Historical Village of Hokkaido.
Here, dozens of historically significant buildings of various architectural styles from all over Hokkaido have been relocated and reassembled brick by brick and placed together in this hugely impressive outdoor museum.
Office buildings, shops, homes, a school, a gymnasium and a whole host more have been perfectly preserved and laid to form a small town, divided into different sections and eras.
Together they paint a wonderful portrait of life in Hokkaido from the 19th century onward. In winter the old buildings look beautiful amongst the deep snow.
To get to the Hokkaido Historical Museum take the number 22 bus from Shin Sapporo station which stops right outside the museum’s entrance.
Though it’s a train and a bus ride away from the centre of the city any art lover will not want to miss the Sapporo Art Park. Inside the Art Park is the Sapporo Art Museum and the neighbouring Sapporo Sculpture Garden. The Sapporo Art Museum holds several exhibitions of modern and contemporary art a year.
The exhibitions frequently features artworks by prominent Japanese artists as well as world famous international artists, such as Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.
In the huge grounds outside the Sapporo Art Museum is the Sapporo Sculpture Garden. Over 70 sculptures by a wide range of international artists are dotted amongst the hills and trees of the park. In winter the sculptures are decorated with a thick layer of fresh white snow.
To reach Sapporo Art Park take the Namboko Subway Line to the last stop at Makomanai station. Then take any bus from bus stop number 2 just outside the South Exit of Makomanai station.
The bus timetable from Makomanai station to Sapporo Art Park can be found here. It’s around a 15 minute bus journey from Makomanai Station to the entrance of the park.
By far one of the best things to do in Sapporo in the winter is to eat. Sapporo is stuffed with great food, and Hokkaido is famous for a wide variety of dishes and ingredients that are not always associated with Japan.
Here are the best places to tuck in to some of the best food in Sapporo.
One of Sapporo’s most popular tourist attractions is the Sapporo Beer Museum. The museum is dedicated to Hokkaido’s most famous beer, which has been brewed since the 1870s, and is housed inside beautiful red brick former brewery around a kilometre to the east of Sapporo JR Station.
As well as the brewery, also here is the Sapporo Beer Garden, a beer hall that specialises in classic dishes from Hokkaido. The main draw is jingisukan, also known as Genghis Khan lamb barbecue, a wintery dish popular in Sapporo of thin strips of lamb and a variety of vegetables cooked over a skillet at your table.
There are several restaurants at the Sapporo Beer Museum, most notably the Genghis Khan Hall, next door to the main museum.
There are two huge dining areas within the Genghis Khan Hall – the Trommel Hall on the 1st floor or the Kessel Hall on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Both are extremely popular and you may need to book in advance to guarantee a table.
→ You can book tickets for dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden in advance on Klook here.
Seafood and sushi are a speciality of Hokkaido all year round. The very best in the city can be found at Nijo Market, Sapporo’s daily fish market, just a few blocks to the south of the TV Tower.
Around the outside of the market are stalls selling all varieties of freshly caught fish, salmon roe and bright red crab all packed in ice. Look for a narrow doorway between the shops which leads into the inner sanctum of the market.
Inside are a handful of restaurants that prepare some of the freshest sushi and sashimi in the city. Donburi and sushi dishes made from locally caught sea urchin, herring and salmon roe are extremely popular.
Crab is also abundant here, with huge hairy and king crabs on sale at a host of seafood restaurants throughout the city.
Head to the cozy and characterful Donburi Chaya for the freshest and most mouthwatering sushi, sashimi and donburi you’ll find in Sapporo.
Ramen is king in Sapporo, the perfect dish to protect against the harsh winters. There are hundreds of ramen restaurants to choose from in Sapporo, each with their own variation of the dish.
The very best ramen in the city can be found at Ganso Ramen Yokocho (map here.) This narrow alley in Susukino is packed with a plethora of long established and tiny ramen restaurants that each serve their own take on the classic Hokkaido staple.
Alternatively head up to the 10th floor of the Esta Tower next to Sapporo Station for the Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku (literally ‘Sapporo Ramen Republic’).
Here several of the city’s best ramen restaurants, including Ajisai and Yoshiyama Shouten, have set up smaller outlets that sit side by side, each with their own signature ramen dish.
Alongside ramen and Genghis Khan barbecues, soup curry is also synonymous with Hokkaido.
Made using ingredients from Hokkaido, each section of the meal is customisable, from the choice of soup, the main ingredients, the level of spiciness and the amount of rice.
Just as potent as ramen when it comes to fighting off the cold, filling up with soup curry is a must during the long winter in Sapporo.
The best soup curry restaurants in Suskino are Suage and Garaku, where you can often expect to find long queues waiting for a free table. Curry Savoy near Sapporo station is also well worth investigating.
Hokkaido produces the vast majority of Japan’s dairy products and Hokkaido’s cheeses and milk are both incredibly flavourful. Hokkaido is also famous for its silky smooth soft serve ice-cream and many varieties of rich and fluffy cheesecake.
The best soft serve ice-cream can be found at Sapporo Niikuraya in Tanukikoji, best enjoyed in one of the cafe’s vintage booths on the 1st floor.
For a boozier ice-cream experience try Milk Mura, where soft serve ice-cream can be paired with a multitude of spirits.
A full list of restaurants ranked from high to low in user reviews from TripAdvisor can be found here.
Sapporo is an incredibly easy city to navigate. The straight lines of the city’s grid system make walking around the centre of the city a doddle.
There are three subway lines that operate in Sapporo, as well as one tram line that operates in a loop from the centre to the south west of the city. There’s also a number of bus routes for places a little further outside the city centre.
Much more information on transport in Sapporo can be found here.
If you’re staying for a few days then it is a good idea to buy a Sapica card. Sapica cards can be bought directly from ticket machines in any subway station. The Sapica card is a prepaid card with a stored credit that you use to swipe in and out of subway stations.
The Sapica card can also be used on buses and trams. On buses, tap the card on the reader at the rear door when you get on and again on the reader next to the driver at the front of the bus when you get off. On trams, swipe the card on the reader at the front next to the driver when you get off at the end of your journey.
If you run low on credit you can top up the Sapica card easily at the same machines that you buy them from inside any subway station.
There are very few guidebooks specific to Sapporo or Hokkaido. Instead the island tends to be covered in a chapter or two in books covering all of Japan, of which those by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are the two best available.
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