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48 Hours in Sapporo
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48 Hours in Sapporo

You arrive in Sapporo - the largest city on Japan’s northernmost island - with 48 hours to see as much as you can. What should you do? Find out here! 

A Brief Introduction to Sapporo
Top Ten Activities and Attractions in Sapporo
Getting to Sapporo
Bonus Recommendations


This is the premise. You’re travelling across Japan using the Japan Rail Pass and arrive in stunning Sapporo - capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. You have 48 hours to see as much as you can. What should you do? Where should you go? We’re here to tell you. Welcome to 48 hours in Sapporo, the latest in a series of new blog posts focussed on getting the best out of your time in Japan’s most special locations. Next up, Sapporo. We’ll give you our recommendations for the most unmissable things to see and do, the best activities and attractions, cultural highlights, and more, as well as how to get there with the JR Pass. There’s also never been a better time to visit Sapporo as it’s just been rated as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2024. Okay, let’s get started. We’ve got 48 hours so we better move quickly. Welcome to Sapporo.

A Brief Introduction to Sapporo

Japan’s fifth largest city and home to more than two million people, Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, the nation’s northernmost island and an increasingly popular destination for those looking to experience a different side of this unique and unforgettable country. Sapporo is among Japan’s younger cities - as recently as the 1850s it had less than 10 inhabitants - but it has grown quickly over the last century. The city’s fame grew considerably in 1972 when it hosted the Olympic Winter Games and in recent years, the popularity of the Sapporo Snow Festival has attracted millions of visitors and helped introduce the world to this special city. Today, Sapporo describes itself as a metropolis surrounded by incredible nature - it is known for being lush and green during the summer months and magically white with snow in the winter. The city sees an impressive five metres of snow fall every winter, making it a true winter wonderland during the colder months. It’s also famous for its seafood, as being a gateway to the great outdoors of Hokkaido, for its vibrant art, culture, and shopping, hot springs, proximity to skiing and winter resorts, and more. In recent years, Sapporo and Hokkaido have become more accessible than ever before thanks to the launch of the high-speed Hokkaido Shinkansen bullet train which has turned a seven-hour journey from Tokyo to Sapporo into a four-hour journey. It’s fully covered by the JR Pass too. Incredibly, once the experimental Alpha X Shinkansen train launches in years to come, this journey will be reduced to just three hours! Get ready for 48 hours in Sapporo. 

Top Ten Activities and Attractions in Sapporo

As a dynamic, cosmopolitan, and exciting capital of the north, Sapporo has a huge amount to see and do, and with just 48 hours you’ll need to be organised to fit everything in. Here’s our Top Ten Recommendations for 48 Hours in Sapporo. 

1. Sapporo Snow Festival

Naturally, you’ll have to time your 48 hour trip to Sapporo just right to ensure you’re around for the snow festival, but it’s a very good reason to do so. Arguably Sapporo’s most famous event, the Sapporo Snow Festival has been running annually for more than 70 years. Since it started in 1950, it has gradually transformed into a massive winter carnival that revolves around snow sculptures, ice statues, illuminations and other seasonal activities. Given that the snow festival, known as Yuki Matsuri in Japanese, now attracts over two million visitors every year, it’s hard to believe its humble origins. Back in 1950, the first Sapporo Snow Festival was simply a small group of high school students making six snow statues. Incredibly, this small display amassed a crowd of fifty thousand people and so a Sapporo tradition was born. Today, the snow festival is one of the most famous in Japan and around the world. The festival takes place every February in Sapporo across three main sites - Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. 

One of the most important parts of the snow festival nowadays is the International Snow Sculpture Contest. If you’re lucky enough to be spending your 48 hours in Sapporo during the snow festival dates then you’ll witness nine teams from around the world competing at the event. It’s worth noting that this contest is only one part of the Sapporo Snow Festival. While the international teams will each be making their own sculptures, there are also hundreds of other snow sculptures and ice statues found throughout the city. Odori Park - one of the three main sites we mentioned above - is the traditional home of the snow festival. It’s where the first festival took place some 70 years ago. Positioned in the heart of the city, the park stretches for 1.5 km and is packed to the brim with a sea of hundreds of snow sculptures, some that reach as high as 15 metres.

Then there are the illuminations that go on late into the evening and clever projection mappings that add another element to the wonder. If you didn’t know, Japan really loves its illuminations and usually they’re pretty phenomenal. You’ll also find a large ice skating rink as well as the snow sculpture contest we mentioned above. While walking through Odori Park lets you see the incredible sculptures one at a time, there is a way to see them all at once. For a stunning view of the festival, head up the nearby TV Tower, which has extended opening hours specially for the festival. For even more of an in-depth guide read our blog post dedicated to Visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival

2. Ramen Alley

Sapporo’s famous ramen alley (Ramen Yokocho) first opened in 1951 and is said to be the birthplace of ‘miso ramen’. Located in the Susukino district of the city, it’s also home to more than 17 ramen restaurants and in our humble opinion, it’s a must-visit during your 48 hours in Sapporo. Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular dishes. What is ramen? Well, if you’ve been living under a rock, let us tell you. Ramen is essentially a bowl of noodles and broth. It is a relatively simple dish on the surface, but its apparent simplicity is a serious part of its genius and when prepared by masters, it is a meal full of little subtleties, expertise and incredible depths of flavour. For example, depending on the soup base, choice of noodles, toppings, and sides, ramen can have a huge number of different variations. Naturally, every region and every city has its own ramen specialities and Sapporo is no different. In fact, it might just have the most famous ramen street in the world. Ganso Sapporo Yokochu is regarded by many as the original ‘ramen alley’ and was visited by the late American chef Anthony Bourdain who braved the snow to eat at the famous Aji No Karyu restaurant. You can follow in the legendary chef’s footsteps by visiting 3 Minami 5-Jo Nishi, Chuo, Sapporo 064-0805, Hokkaido. You can read much more about this delicious dish in our Beginners Guide to Ramen. With 48 hours to experience Sapporo, the famous ramen alley must surely be on your list! 

3. Sapporo Beer Museum

With a history dating back to 1876, Sapporo beer is the oldest brewery and beer brand in Japan. Dating back to the Meiji era when Japan was rapidly industrialising by taking examples from the West and inviting highly qualified individuals from around the world to help build the future of Japan. So too with Sapporo Beer, that became a marriage between local craft, inspired by German brewing tradition and American industrialism.

The museum is the original brewery building that was in service between 1876 and 1965. A visit takes you through the beer brewing process, the history of Sapporo beer and what makes the beer taste special. Admission to the museum is free, and there’s a beer tasting option after completing the museum course. Tours in Japanese and English are also available. Attached to the museum is a large traditional beer hall that serves local Hokkaido dishes. The beer hall is famous for its all you can eat and drink menu options. Including the local meat heavy dish called Jingisukan (called after the Genghis Khan). The museum is closely located to the JR Naebo station, and can be reached on foot in about 5 minutes. JR Naebo station is just one stop away from Sapporo station and is included in the Japan Rail Pass. Read our full guide to Sapporo Beer Museum for more. 

4. Odori Park

One of the main sites of the Sapporo Snow Festival, the 1.5km Odori Park in the heart of the city looks like Osaka’s answer to New York’s Central Park in many ways, stretching the length of 12 city blocks. It is a beautiful green space in the city centre that’s well worth a visit all year round.

One of the park’s highlights is the 150 metre tall Sapporo TV Tower, which looks over the park (and over the city) and which features an observation deck with spectacular views. It’s also illuminated at night making it an even more beautiful landmark in the dark. 

5. Incredible Seafood and Fresh Food Markets

Hokkaido is known for its incredible and plentiful seafood as well as speciality dishes unique to the region. If you have 48 hours in Sapporo, you’ve simply got to experience the city’s food scene. For many travellers Japan’s cuisine is a big part of the experience of visiting the country and Sapporo’s wintry weather doesn’t get in the way of that. As with every region of Japan, Hokkaido has its own special dishes and local produce with plenty of choices to keep you busy. As we mentioned above, Sapporo is also very into seafood, with crab being especially popular. In Sapporo’s restaurants, you’ll be able to try all sorts of crab dishes as well as different types of crab, from snow crab to king crab and blue king crab. So, if you like crab, you’ve basically found heaven. As well as the many restaurants to choose from, don’t miss the likes of Curb Market for its fresh seafood or Nijo Market for a wide range of other fresh foods.

To go along with all this food, the city is quite well known for its alcohol. The city is of course home to Sapporo Beer, one of Japan’s most popular international beer labels. It’s possible to visit the Sapporo Beer Brewery, as we mentioned above, and taste-test some of its different brews. Alternatively, you could also visit the nearby Tanaka Sake Distillery, where you can see where this brand of Japanese rice beer or, nihonshu, is brewed. For more on Japan’s incredible food scene read our Beginners Guide to Japanese Food and Regional Specialities.

6. Skiing and Winter Resorts

Hokkaido is famous for its dramatic snowfall and for the amazing ski and winter sports opportunities this provides to residents and visitors alike. Sapporo, as the capital of Hokkaido, is no exception and you might be surprised to discover that you’ll be able to enjoy winter sports in the city considering it’s a metropolis of two million people. Sapporo has a ski resort just outside the city centre called Teine Ski Resort and even has a ski jump overlooking the city in Okurayama Ski Jump, a former Olympic skiing jump stadium. There’s also Sapporo Kokusai which is a winter resort in the mountains just outside Hokkaido so you’re spoilt for choice for skiing and snowboarding if you visit Sapporo and it’s definitely achievable in a 48-hour stay in the city.

7. Jozankei Onsen

During your 48 hours in Sapporo, could there be anything better than soaking in a hot spring while the snow falls around you in this winter city? Hot springs, known as onsen in Japanese, are a traditional and integral part of Japanese culture. They’re something you’ll want to experience no matter the time of year you visit Japan. It just so happens that the chilly depths of winter are a particularly great time to soak away in Sapporo’s onsens. The region of Hokkaido is home to a number of onsen and the city of Sapporo is no exception. One of the closest and best is Jozankei Onsen, which is just an hour from the city centre. Located in the beautiful Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Jozankei is a gorgeous attraction in itself, on the cliffs of the Toyohira River, and is well known for its stunning colours in autumn. The hot springs there were first discovered in 1866 and make a lovely way to unwind during any trip to Sapporo.

8. National Parks

Sapporo is a wonderful gateway to Hokkaido’s incredible national parks. The closest to the city is Shikotsu-Toya National Park - which is also home to Jozankei Onsen discussed above. The closeness of this national park makes it popular with visitors to Sapporo as it’s the easiest to reach from the city for hot springs and hiking, caldera and volcanic mountain views. It is also lush and beautiful and is home to two lakes, two onsen towns, and Mount Yotei, a volcano near Niseko. 

Further north, you’ve also got two of Japan’s most spectacular national parks if you’re willing to travel from Sapporo as part of your 48 hour visit to the city. Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park is Japan’s northernmost national park and is blessed with rugged mountains, beautiful alpine flowers, and stunning coastal views along Rishiri Island and Rebun Island. It is ideal for hiking, nature photography and geology lovers. Take the train from Sapporo to Wakkanai and then the Sarobetsu Service, which runs between Asahikawa and Wakkanai. If you’re also interested in visiting the islands there is also a Heart Land Ferry to Rishiri and Rebun.

Shiretoko National Park is also home to a beautiful and diverse array of wildlife, including spotted seals and Sika deer, you can also undertake activities such as brown bear watching in the summer months and whale watching and drift ice cruises in the winter when ice flows down from Russia’s River Amur. For more on this subject read our post on Japan’s National Parks.

9. Shopping and entertainment

The city has a number of entertainment districts and shopping areas for you to indulge in a bit of retail therapy. Sapporo Factory, with its curved glass roof, is a large shopping and entertainment complex located on the site of Japan’s first ever beer brewery. It features more than 160 shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as a cinema and more. You’ll shop until you drop! Once you’re done shopping and sightseeing for the day, head to Susukino to experience some of the best nightlife Japan has to offer. From drinking with locals, to eating local foods, seeing night entertainment, and exploring shops, bars, restaurants, karaoke, and pachinko parlours, you’ll find it all around the Susukino district. The area is also home to Ramen Yokocho ‘ramen alley’ as mentioned above and one of the key sites for Sapporo’s Snow Festival.

10. Moerenuma Park

This beautiful and unique city park, located on the outskirts of Sapporo and designed by Isamu Noguchi features a stunning pyramidal glass structure (pictured below) called Hidamari as one of its focal points. There is also a 62m high man-made Mount Moere, which offers views over the park and local area, a sea fountain with water shows, a man-made beach, play areas, and more, making it an excellent space for families to explore in particular. 

Naturally, there’s much more than just 10 things to see and do during any 48 hour visit to Sapporo, but we’ve done our best to focus on the big hitting highlights. Bonus recommendations would include the views of the city from Mount Moiwa, a visit to Sapporo’s historic Clock Tower, the botanic gardens and Ainu museum, Shiroi Koibito Park and chocolate factory, and the observation deck at Sapporo station.

Getting to Sapporo

If you plan on spending 48 hours in Sapporo as per our guide or taking a longer rail journey around Hokkaido with the JRailPass, then getting to the capital (and travelling onward from there) couldn’t be easier. First, you’ll want to take the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Shin-Aomori on Honshu to Sapporo. This journey is all covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Next, you could travel to Asahikawa, the region’s second city, which connects to other parts of Hokkaido, like Biei, Wakkanai and Abashiri making it a common transit point on Hokkaido trips. And of course, as we mentioned above, thanks to the launch of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, and in the future with the launch of the Alpha X Shinkansen, Sapporo will be just a three hour journey from Tokyo. 

Bonus Recommendations

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