Top 12 Things to Do in Hokkaido
There is an abundance of things to do in Hokkaido. History, culture, nature, food - the list is endless. Explore with us.
Millennia ago, a remote island towards the southern edge of the Sea of Okhotsk was home to a people now known as the Ainu. The island, now popularly known as Hokkaido, was for centuries left to the Ainu, perceived as too bitterly cold and unforgiving by the Japanese. This changed in the late 19th century as the Meiji government began it’s imperialist adventures close to home. In this, the beginnings of modern Hokkaido were put in place.
Despite this, Hokkaido (lit. “north sea road” in Japanese) remains in many respects a vast and untamed wilderness, filled with rugged hills and blossoming lavender fields, subject to remarkably fierce winters and home to a wealth of history and culture all of its own. What you find in Hokkaido may surprise you, but there is no end to its charm. Year round, Hokkaido offers visitors unique festivals, exhilarating outdoor activities, spectacular nature, mouthwatering food and so much more.
Here is a taste of some of the best things to do in Japan’s final frontier:
1. Lake Shikotsu
Lake Shikotsu is certainly one for the nature lovers – a beautiful caldera lake formed by volcanic activity, which remains virtually untouched. Shikotsu Kohan is the nearest settlement, a quaint town with a helpful visitor’s center, bicycle rental and an abundance of accommodation options. Fill your lungs with fresh air by the shore, catch one of the glass-bottomed tour boats and gaze into the deep, or simply relax and unwind, the choice is yours.
Address: Chitose, Hokkaido Prefecture
Access: Chitose Station (30 minutes from Sapporo Station).
2. Odori Park, Sapporo
The perfect place for a gentle stroll in the heart of Hokkaido’s capital. Odori Park is a nice retreat from the hubub, with more than 92 different species of trees to block out the urban chaos. Various festivals, including the Sapporo Snow Festival (see below), take place here each year.
Access: 30 minutes on foot from Sapporo Station.
3. Former Hokkaido Government Office
This red brick structure, built in American neo-baroque style, is one of the island’s most identifiable buildings. Having housed the Hokkaido government for 80 years, the building now stands only as a reminder of that time, with a museum pertaining to all aspects of Hokkaido’s history, as well as a museum shop and libraries. A tour from one of the buildings volunteer members of staff is highly recommended, an experience that allows one to take the building in to the fullest.
Access: 8 minutes on foot from Sapporo Station.
4. Historical Village of Hokkaido
In this village, replicating the frontier period of Hokkaido from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, visitors are given the opportunity to see some beautifully recreated wooden and stone architecture. Moreover, tours can be taken by a horse-drawn tram for extra submersion into the area’s past.
Access: 30 minutes by bus from Shrinrinkoen Station.
5. Mount Hakodate
Mount Hakodate is one of the top three sightseeing spots for views in Japan, offering a fantastic spectacle of the town below. To reach the summit, there is a ropeway, along with a bus, but also a hiking path for those who want to rely on their feet. At night, this observatory is even considered to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world, but you don’t have to take our word for it!
Access: 5 minutes in foot from Hakodate Station (to the base)
6. Sapporo White Illumination & Snow Festival
Doubtless, Japanese winters are spectacular, perhaps most significantly in Hokkaido. Accordingly, many festivals and events revolve around winter, with the Sapporo Snow Festival one of the most unmissable. Also know as Yuki Matsuri, the festival takes place in Sapporo, turning the parks of Odori, Makomanai and close by Suskino into a wonderland of expertly crafted ice and snow sculptures.
If you arrive early enough, you might even get to see the artists working on their sculptures from scratch. If not, a simple stroll through the festival at night is impressive enough. Taking place simultaneously is the Sapporo White Illumination, a sublime event that fills the streets and parks of the capital with white light. The festivities last from mid-November until mid-February, attracting roughly two million onlookers each year.
Access: 30 minutes on foot from Sapporo Station.
7. Hokkaido Nature Sightseeing
It can never be emphasized enough just how wonderful the preserved, vast wilderness of Hokkaido can be. During the warmer months especially, taking in Hokkaido’s nature is a delight for the senses. Find some of our highlights below:
Farm Tomita in Furano-cho is the site of some of Hokkaido’s most breathtakingly colorful fields of lavender and other flower varieties. The flowers are in full bloom from early July through to late August, making this the best time to visit. The mesmerising colors and rapturous smells are a dream for any nature lover, so be sure to visit if this sounds like you.
Access: 25 minutes on foot from Nakafurano Station.
Onuma Quasi-National Park
National Parks on Hokkaido proliferate, outdoing any other Japanese island by a long way. An appropriate place to start exploring might be Onuma Quasi-National Park. The forests of this park are inhabited by deer and foxes, and wildflowers are abundant in the summer, as well as rare birds such as the Steller’s sea eagle, the ruddy kingfisher and the white-tailed eagle.
Access: By train from Onuma Koen Station
Daisetsu-zan National Park
A visit to Hokkaido wouldn’t be complete without having seen Daisetsu-zan National Park, the largest national park in Japan. There are wonderful alpine flowers to be witnessed in June and July, while the most dazzling autumn foliage can be seen from late August to September. The park is also home to Hokkaido’s tallest mountain, Mount Asahi. At 7,500 ft, the summit gifts the most picturesque views of the fields of wildflowers and rolling, wooded hills below imaginable.
Access: Asahikawa Station.
Akan National Park
Akan National Park is widely considered to be the most beautiful park in all of Japan. Within the park, Lake Akan is loomed over by a pair of volcanic peaks, one of which – Mount MeAkan – is even still active. The peak is well worth a day’s hike, though be warned, it can be a dangerous climb so precautions are necessary. The views, needless to say, are magnificent in any season.
Access: Kawayu Onsen Station.
8. Outdoor Activities
Mountaineers, hikers, cyclists, canoers and skiers are well catered for in Hokkaido. Find out how to get involved below:
Hiking in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is bursting with hiking opportunities for the amateur and professional alike. Daisetsu-zan (above), otherwise known as “the roof of Hokkaido”, for example, offers limitless hiking routes in some of the most spellbinding terrain imaginable. Muroran and the Shiretoko Peninsula are also well known for their suitability to hiking. Wherever you find yourself, however, a trail is sure to be just around the corner.
Cycling in Hokkaido
The roads in Hokkaido are tailor made for cyclists. With light traffic and wide, well-maintained surfaces, getting on a bike and hitting the road couldn’t be more enticing. A summer breeze in your hair and miles and miles of unforgettable country in front of you – what’s not to love?
Rafting in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is the outdoor leisure activity capital of Japan, including of course white-water rafting. The island has plenty of sites for this, with experienced English-speaking instructors on hand to keep you safe and (reasonably) dry.
Skiing in Hokkaido
Take advantage of the Hokkaido snow by taking to the slopes. Japan has arguably some of the finest snow in the world and its hilly terrain makes for spectacular ski runs. For more information, take a look at our full guide to skiing in Japan.
An onsen, or Japanese hot spring, is the perfect way to relax after a tough day’s sightseeing. Hokkaido is renowned for the quality of its onsens and for good reason – they are divine. Check out two of the best below:
Marukoma Onsen Ryokan
Marukkoma Onsen Ryokan, as the name suggests, is both ryokan and onsen. Book a stay and indulge yourself at this secluded spot and soak in its waters until your heart’s content. Just 11 km from Mount Eniwa and 36 km from the oceanfront town of Tomakomai, there is also plenty of opportunities to explore nearby.
Website: marukoma (Japanese)
Access: By car from New Chitose Airport (approx. 40 min.)
Yawaraginosato Hoheikyo Onsen
Approximately an hour away from Sapporo is Yawaraginosato Hoheikyo onsen. Overlooking fantastic hills of green in the warmer months, and voluminous snow in the winter, this is a very special place.
Access: 80 minutes by bus from Sapporo Station.
10. The Ainu Cultural Promotion Center
The culture of the Ainu is said to have originated between the 8th and 14th centuries in Hokkaido. When the Japanese began colonizing the island in the 1860s, much of the Ainu land was taken from them and as assimilation took place much of the received wisdom and cultural traditions of the Ainu people was forgotten. However, the language of the Ainu has not become extinct, and their customs have been experiencing somewhat of a resurgence thanks to the efforts of a dedicated few.
There are many preserved traditional Ainu villages across Hokkaido where one can observe Ainu architecture and learn about their culture and history first-hand. The Ainu Cultural Promotion Center in Shiraroi-gun gives one the most complete retellings of Ainu history available and showcases dazzling Ainu folk dances performed in traditional attire. Here is where the voice and lifestyle of the Ainu lives on.
Access: JR bus from Makomanai Station.
11. Hokkaido Food
Hokkaido has a unique culinary landscape that needs to be taken advantage of when exploring the island. We’ve got a few of the highlights below, but for a more comprehensive look at Hokkaido food, check out our dedicated Hokkaido food guide.
A Sapporo speciality, soup curry is beginning to garner nationwide popularity but remains best eaten in the place of its origin. Choose your broth type, spice level, vegetables and toppings and tuck into this Hokkaido food gem. The below restaurant, handily named Soup Curry, is one of the best places in the city to indulge.
Access: 25 minutes from Hosuisusukino Station on foot.
As an island, it’s surely no surprise that seafood is not lacking in Hokkaido. Always fresh and always delicious, whichever way you eat it you’re sure to not be disappointed. Ezo Seafoods (address below) is a great option to satisfy your fishy cravings, with their sashimi as a particular highlight.
Website: ego seafoods
Access: 30 minutes by bus from Hirafu Station.
In general, dairy is traditionally foreign to many diets in Asia. This is not so in Hokkaido, however. With its cool climate and fresh, high-quality milk, the conditions for making dairy products of all varieties are optimum. Hokkaido cheese is particularly notable, with a unique, distinctive taste and delicious creaminess. Take a tour of the Furano Cheese Factory (address below) and witness it being produced and of course, take advantage of the free samples.
Website: Furano Cheese Factory
Access: 10 minutes by bus from Furano Station
12. Sapporo Beer Museum
Here one can learn the history of Hokkaido’s oldest distillery. Beer was first brought to Japan from Germany following the Meiji Restoration and has gone on to become one of the nation’s favourite beverages. A visit to the Sapporo Beer Museum introduces visitors to the history of the distillery industry in Hokkaido and after all that learning, you’ll be rewarded by the freshest beer you’re ever likely to have.
Website: Sapporo Beer
Access: 25 minutes on foot from Naebo Station.