Is there any end to the number of great places to visit in Hokkaido? Even though the northern island of Japan is best known as a winter getaway, it’s also home to some pretty wonderful cities as well. Sapporo and the city of Asahikawa are two destinations that are increasingly popular among international visitors. But one city that domestic Japanese tourists have hoped to keep to themselves is the southern port city of Hakodate.
Hakodate was one of the first Japanese cities to be influenced by the west when the country finally opened up for trade. It’s no surprise then that several of the best places to visit in Hakodate relate to this intriguing history. But there’s actually a lot more to a Hakodate trip than just that. To find out what to do in Hakodate, Hokkaido’s third largest city, you’ll need to read on.
What to Do in Hakodate
Although not especially well-known with international tourists, domestic tourists have been wise to the benefits of visiting Hakodate for some time. The various things to do in Hakodate might be quite spread out, but they’re sure to keep you entertained. Attractions in the city tend to focus on local history and the incredible natural scenery that Hokkaido is known for.
One of the coolest landmarks you’ll find in Hakodate is the immense Goryōkaku star fort. The fortress was built in 1864 for the brief Republic of Ezo in a distinctly western design. After losing any military use, Goryokaku was turned into a public park which is especially beautiful when decked out in cherry blossoms. But you can still clearly see the fort’s walls within its star-shaped moat, which is why it’s such a popular Hakodate attraction.
For the best views of Goryokaku fortress and to really make out its star shape, head up the nearby Goryokaku Tower. From the 90-metre-high viewing platform on the tower you’ll have the perfect panorama of the fortress, as well as the mountains near the city.
An interesting neighbourhood to explore in Hakodate at the foot of Mount Hakodate is the Motomachi area. Hakodate was one of the first ports in Japan to trade with the rest of the world and Motomachi is the part of the city where you find the first signs of foreign cultures. Two of the big landmarks of this nature are the Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church and the Motomachi Roman Catholic Church. You’ll also find many European-style buildings here and the former British Consulate.
Hakodate Morning Market
Local markets are always a good idea when travelling in Japan and the Hakodate Asaichi is no exception. This is the city’s morning market and boasts 300 different vendors, most of which are selling all manner of seafood. There are quite a few restaurants here that serve up fresh seafood if you’re looking for a special seafood breakfast or morning snack. Just remember that most shops close by noon.
Red-Brick Warehouse District
Since Hakodate was a major city of trade in the past, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are still quite a few warehouses around. The city’s 20th century warehouse district has become quite a popular tourist attraction thanks to the old red-brick buildings that stand there. In recent years the warehouses by the waterfront were renovated and repurposed to now house boutique stores, souvenir shops and places to get food.
Looming over the centre of the city you have Mount Hakodate which boasts the absolute best views of the city. That shouldn’t be shocking given the 334 metre height of the mountain. Whether you choose to hike up or simply take the ropeway cable car, you’ll find a superb vista in front of you. Many visitors choose to come up in the evening to see the city lights glimmering in the night sky.
Right down in the southeastern corner of Hakodate’s peninsula lies the scenic Cape Tachimachi. The cape is defined by its sheer cliffs that plunge down into the ocean below. From the cliffs, visitors can enjoy the view out to the Pacific Ocean, although you can sometimes also see right across the Tsugaru Strait to Honshu.
When to Visit Hakodate
While it may be located on the southern tip of Hokkaido, Hakodate isn’t spared the island’s chilly climate. You can expect incredibly cold weather in winter, with snow at its heaviest during February. Summers as a result are much milder than elsewhere in Japan and are actually the best time to visit Hakodate. Because Hokkaido as a whole is at its most popular during the ski season, the later in the year you visit the quieter Hakodate should be.
Getting to Hakodate with the Japan Rail Pass
If you’re travelling through Japan by train with a Japan Rail Pass, Hakodate is quite easy to add to your itinerary. To reach the city, you can take the JR Tohoku or JR Hokkaido shinkansen from Tokyo and then connect trains at the Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station. Alternatively, you can take the Super Hokuto from Sapporo if travelling around Hokkaido. Either way, all of these trips are covered with the JR Pass.