Sapporo Destination guide
Sapporo travel guide - What to do, see and visit in Sapporo
Table of contents:
Introduction to Sapporo
Known as one of the youngest cities in Japan, Sapporo is most famous for its beer, ramen, crabs, skiing and the annual Sapporo Snow Festival featuring enormous ice sculptures. It’s youthful energy draws visitors in with an atmospheric buzz, great food and spectacular winter scenery. Our Sapporo guide gives our top recommendations for what to do in Sapporo so that you can make the most of your visit.
When visiting the island of Hokkaido, don’t miss the opportunity to visit its capital which is the mighty city of Sapporo. This area was once a quiet hunting and fishing village inhabited by the Ainu people, until a canal was built, encouraging Japanese settlers to move to the region. In 1868 Sapporo was declared the capital of Hokkaido. Just 163 years ago the official population was just seven people, yet today it is Japan’s fifth largest city. It’s also famed for being the second snowiest city in the world, with an average of 4.85 metres of snowfall every year. Much of the history of the growth of the city can be attributed to its convenient location on the expansive Ishikari Plain, which offered a vast flat area in an otherwise mountainous landscape. It’s growth and development were carefully strategised, until it emerged as a major producer of agricultural products such as potatoes and onions. During the early 20th century, the city expanded to include universities and eventually Okadama airport. By the 1970’s, Sapporo became the fourth city in Japan to build a subway system and by the 1980’s the Tsugaru-kaikyo, a submarine tunnel was also being built.
Hokkaido’s Governor visited the United States in 1870 which was the inspiration for the city's design. Thanks to its grid system, Sapporo is simple to navigate, even though it covers a massive area. The city is exceptionally green and is known for its lush parks and wide, tree-lined avenues. During cherry blossom seasons, Asahiyama Park is one of the best places to enjoy the unforgettable hues of the flowers. The population of Sapporo has quickly expanded to over two million people today.
Getting to Sapporo might take a little extra time, but is definitely worth the effort for the fantastic experience that awaits. The fastest way to arrive would be by plane; from Tokyo the flight duration is around 90 minutes. Alternatively the train is an efficient and affordable way to reach Sapporo. From Tokyo take the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and then transfer to the Hokuto limited express to Sapporo. The entire journey will take around 7.5 hours and this route would be fully covered by the JR Pass.
Founded in 1876, Sapporo is the oldest brand of beer in Japan. Sapporo Premium is still brewed using the original recipe created by Mr. Nakagawa all those years ago and is the most popular Asian beer sold in the United States today. To learn more about the history, growth and production of Sapporo beer, head to the Sapporo Beer Museum. Don’t forget to unwind with a bottle of Sapporo after a long day on the slopes!
Winter Olympics 1972
The 11th Winter Olympics were held in 1972 in Sapporo, cementing the region's place on the world map as a top snow destination. A huge amount of money was spent by the Japanese government to create the most extravagant Olympics yet. Almost all of the 35 events were staged in Sapporo City, the exception being the downhill skiing events, which were held on Mount Eniwa in the neighboring city of Chitose. One of the legacies of the Winter Olympics is the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum, which exhibits precious memorabilia from the Sapporo Olympics.
Skiing In Sapporo
Sapporo Teine is made up of two interconnected ski areas; Teine Olympia and Teine Highland. Teine Olympia is perfect for beginners and kids, whilst Teine is reserved for the more experienced and adventurous. There’s a slope for everyone, no matter your level of skiing as well as sledding and tubing fun to be had! The Sapporo Snow Festival is a major snow and ice festival which is a must-see if you're in Japan when it is being held. Artists from different parts of the world gather here to build spectacular snow sculptures which are then lit at night, it’s quite a sight to see and one that will stick in your memory long after you’ve left.
Characterized by loads of vegetables, tangy noodles and a heavy, rich, miso soup, the flavours of Sapporo ramen have become famous all over the world. With an astonishing 1000+ ramen restaurants in Sapporo, this really is a ramen-lovers delight! Head to Ramen Alley Susukino (known locally as Ganso Ramen Yokocho) in Sapporo’s downtown area for a range of super high-quality ramen options for a great price.
Things to do in Sapporo
Hokkaido is an absolutely beautiful region year-round and offers something different each season. No matter the Sapporo weather, there really is no bad time to visit! Sapporo sightseeing is absolutely bursting with natural wonder whichever time of year you decide to visit.
Sapporo might also be the easiest city to navigate in all of Japan thanks to the grid-system. Odo-ri Koen divides Sapporo in half by North - South whilst Sosei-gawa splits the city from East - West. East-West streets are known as jo and those on the North-South are chome. The grid system means it’s always easy to find out exactly where you are. To get around the city there are options of subway lines, tram lines and many bus companies which provide efficient transport to all major tourist sites.
Odori, meaning large street, is located in the very heart of Sapporo, separating the city into North and South. No Sapporo visit is complete without soaking in the atmosphere of one of the most famous attractions in the city. Take a relaxing afternoon walk, enjoy a picnic with friends or just enjoy the great people-watching opportunities.
Set in Maruyama Park along the Cherry Tree Boulevard awaits the Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine, one of the most impressive Shinto shrines in the area. Hokkaido Shrine was constructed in 1871 to hold the deities, Ōkunitama, Okuninushi, and Sukunahikona, and also the soul of the Meiji Emperor. A number of early explorers of Hokkaidō such as Mamiya Rinzō are also enshrined here. On its grounds you will find lush nature and wild animals such as the Hokkaido squirrel, making for a great option when you’re planning what to do in Sapporo.
The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building
The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building, also known as the red brick building, is a charming place to visit. The old red brick building of the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building is an iconic landmark of Sapporo and a must-see to add to your itinerary.
Mount Moiwa and the Aerial Ropeway
Enjoy mesmerizing landscape views as you get to the top of Mount Moiwa on an aerial lift. The Mount Moiwa Ropeway climbs from the base of the mountain three quarters up the mountain to a transfer station. From here, a mini cable car will transport you to the summit where the observation deck offers unbeatable views of the city.
Sapporo Science Center
Looking for fun for the whole family? Don’t look past the Sapporo Science Center, with interactive exhibits on astronomy, robots & magnets, and even a planetarium. Spend a morning exploring the center where you can experience and learn about the universe and our place in it.
The Maruyama-koen park was modeled after the park with the same name sited in Kyoto. The park is home of a number of attractions such as, the Hokkaidō Shrine, the Maruyama Zoo, the Maruyama Baseball Stadium and the Maruyama Athletics Stadium. The enormous 60,000-square-meter area contains magnolias, maple, oak, Japanese Judas, cherry, and other varieties of trees. It has also been designated as a natural monument and makes for a wonderful afternoon of exploring, when you visit Sapporo.
Sapporo TV Tower
The Sapporo TV Tower stands at 147.2 metres tall, on the eastern edge of Odori park. It’s seen as an iconic landmark of the city and an important symbol of Sapporo tourism. For one of the best views in the city, head to the very top for a panoramic view of Sapporo.
A Wide Range of Great Museums
Sapporo has a range of interesting museums to intrigue any visitor, no matter what their interest! Some of the top museums to add to your Sapporo itinerary are the Sapporo Beer Museum, Sapporo Art Museum, Royce’ Chocolate World or the Otaru Museum, Bank of Japan.
Sapporo Clock Tower
Make sure you swing by the Sapporo Clock Tower, too. Built in the midwest American style in 1881, it is perhaps the city’s most distinctive building. The clock tower now serves as a museum where it houses exhibits, photos and information on the history of Sapporo’s development.
Side visits from Sapporo
The beauty of Sapporo is, unlike other popular Japanese destinations, the journey there can take almost a full day. This means that the crowds of travellers that you’ll find in cities like Tokyo or Osaka often won’t make it to this hidden mountainous gem. To make the most of your Sapporo travel, it makes sense to base yourself from here for at least four days. Hokkaido is a breathtaking region to visit and what better place to call home for a little while than the capital city. If you’re ready to see what else Hokkaido tourism has in store, check out these surrounding areas to experience as excellent day trips.
Shikotsu-Tōya National Park
Shikotsu-Tōya National Park has 1,000 square kilometres of beautiful scenery, hiking, onsen, lakes, and active volcanoes. It is a haven for hiking, camping and soaking in spectacular natural scenery. Being just an hour away from Sapporo, the national park is a great option to escape the city.
Just 30 minutes by train from central Sapporo you will reach Otaru, a small harbour city with a beautifully preserved canal area. Otaru is famous for its cuisine, especially its exceptional seafood given its close proximity to the harbour. It has a brilliant arts scene and beautiful traditional architecture. Whilst you’re there, treat yourself to one of the strangest ice cream flavours you might ever try- squid ink!
Jozankei Onsen Hot Spring
When planning your Sapporo travel, make sure to unwind at the Jozankei Onsen- the largest hot spring town in Hokkaido with about 20 ryokan inns. Often excellent hot spring villages are located far away from the city, however Jozankei is an easy 45-minute ride from the city centre. Treat yourself to a variety of hot springs baths, a sauna or a relaxing massage. Historic Village of Hokkaido
The Historical Village of Hokkaido is a must-see, open-air museum 40 minutes from Sapporo station. It includes fifty-two historical structures from the “frontier days” of the Meiji period to the Shōwa period that have been relocated and reconstructed or recreated. Take a glimpse into what life was like in the area during the 19th and 20th century.
Sapporo is undoubtedly an unforgettable destination, in and of itself. It was catapulted onto the world screens during the 1972 Winter Olympics and has had snow-seekers chasing the world-class powder ever since. However, it has so much more to offer than the incredible winter experience. A rich culture, a fascinating, albeit youthful, history and incredible food are all reasons that millions of travellers have made the journey to Sapporo. Take the time to make the journey here and see why it tops the list of many travellers' favourite places in Japan.
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