5 Winter Days in Sapporo
My recent trip to Sapporo in Hokkaido left me in a state of wondrous high, desperately trying to cling to any memory made from the trip. The smell of the corn butter ramen, the sound of hot mutton grilling on cast iron, and the relaxation of cascading amounts of fluffy snow next to me as I bathed in the hot waters of the onsen water. All seemed so far away while returning to the city life. I felt like my trip was a perfect one, so here is my recommendation for five magical winter days in Sapporo.
Day 0.5 - Land in New Chitose Airport
We flew into New Chitose Airport at night from Nagoya (costing less than $100). The airport is small, and very easy to navigate. Extremely legible signs lead to the train, where a quick 30 minute ride got us to Sapporo Main Station. Here we found all: retail shops, a floor of restaurants, and coffee shops while being conveniently located in the heart of Sapporo City. We enjoyed some wonderful nabe (Japanese hot pot) as we watched the snow falling below from stories above the ground.
Tip: Stay near Sapporo Station if you want to be centrally located. The area around Sapporo is known for not being as easily accessible by public transportation. However, during our trip we got around effortlessly taking trains, the subway and buses all originating from Sapporo Station.
Day 2 - First Full Day: Explore the City
Sapporo is walkable even in winter! There is plenty to do in Sapporo Station, but the nearby Susukino Station holds the infamous Ramen Alley. We woke up early in the morning, got pastries and coffee to start the day, and then headed on foot to Susukino Station. On the way we found Odori Park full of people playing in the snow (at night it looked beautiful with illuminations). After passing through the park we couldn’t miss Susukino’s main intersection with the large advertisements blaring music.
We found Ramen Alley, and feasted on the local speciality miso based corn butter ramen from Karyu Ramen (famously visited by Anthony Bourdain). After, we walked to the Sapporo Factory Mall and did some shopping. It was a great place to stop for a snack and warm up before heading to the Sapporo Beer Museum for dinner and beer tasting.
Tip: There are plenty of great ramen restaurants in Ramen Alley serving their own specialty. If you are a ramen fan, go more than once and try different shops. We went for three times in total, trying a different place each as equally delicious as the previous.
Day 3 - Explore Again!
We spent the full day walking around in Sapporo once again. This time we visited the Old Government Building which was absolutely stunning in contrast to the snow around it.
We also decided to see the large strip of mall located in between Susukino and Odori Park. Here you can locate the Mega Don Quijote for all your omiyage (souvenir) needs, and they sell kairo (hand warmers) in bulk, gloves, and other winter gears at discounted prices. We had to stay in Susukino for dinner to try the famous dish named Genghis Khan, or mutton fried on cast iron. We tried Daruma, one of the original shops, and it did not disappoint!
Tip: Don’t always like walking on the ice and snow? Us either! There is a large underground walkway cum mall connecting Sapporo Station to Susukino Station. If you are passing underground do not miss trying some cheese tarts and Hokkaido Cremia soft ice cream from Kinotoya Bake.
Tip: There are many locations of Daruma, but the one marked 'Daruma 6.4 Shop' in Google Maps (see below) was the least crowded!
Tip: Super hungry? Check out at Matsuo Genghis Khan for a 3000 yen all-you-can-eat special menu. It comes with a bowl of rice, veggies, noodles and of course, all the mutton you can dream of. Upgrades are available.
Day 4 - Ski!
We didn’t want to venture far for our skiing adventure. At the same time we didn’t want to miss out the experience of skiing in the world class powder snow so we chose Sapporo Teine Resort, host for the 1972 Winter Olympics. It was only about 40 minutes away (a quick 15 minute train ride, then transfer to a bus that terminated at the base of the elevator gates after about 20 minutes) and was very easy to access from Sapporo Station. There is only one bus every hour, so make sure you get there early to beat the crowd! To my surprise it was very cheap by my Californian standards. The cost for the rental fee for board and boots (skis, high end gear demos, gloves, goggles and outerwear were also available) and lift ticket combined was just under $100.
Tip: There are two different areas to ski, the lower Teine Olympia and the higher Teine Highland. We started at the Highland, and after lunch skied the mountain top to bottom from Highland to Olympia to see the large structure that held the Olympic torch. From there we caught the resort’s bus back up to the Highland since the gondola was closed.
Tip: The information center on the first floor of Sapporo Station has loads of great information on local snow resorts. Go there and ask the helpful staff for their recommendation. They will give you a print-out in English providing you with all options of skiing resorts.
Optional Ski Trip: A very popular place to go for better terrain is the nearby city of Niseko. It hosts multiple resorts and is world famous for mounds of fluffy powder snow. It is, in my opinion, just out of reach for a day trip using public transportation, but if you wanted to base your trip around skiing go there on day 3 and spend the night!
Day 5 - Onsen
We were very sore the next day, so wanted to relax by going to the onsen. We got a lot of information (again from the very helpful Information Center) and they led us to the nearby onsen town of Jozankei. A bus leaving from Sapporo Station got us there in just over an hour due to heavy snow. There were over 10 resorts in an area, all being fed by natural hot springs. Looking at the guide you receive from the Information Center pick the best onsen for you, and get off at the appropriate stop as the bus makes frequent stops in front of different resorts along the loop within Jozankei city.
Tip: Be careful and keep a track of time! Onsens do tend to close early, or have holidays on one of the days of the week. If visiting the onsen is a priority, then make sure you plan accordingly.
Day 6 - Leave
Slurp down your last bowl of ramen, and head to the airport with your last cremia ice cream in hand. Grab some omiyage (souvenirs) at the airport if you didn’t get enough from Don Quijote already. We took an early afternoon flight back to Nagoya (costing less than $60) and saw beautiful Mt. Fuji along the way (picture perfect!!).