Hokkaido is known as a famous travel location to many, especially during winter season. The first thought that comes to mind when arriving in Hokkaido during the winter is skiing and winter sports but what can travelers do given one week to trek around?
Over the years, this prefecture has captured tourist’s hearts continuously with a wide variety of activities and attractions to visit all year round. Snow is abundant during the winter season and the temperature goes to well below 0ºC (yes, do expect some negatives in the temperature, no pun intended). I do advise a good pair of waterproof winter boots and heat-tech clothing to help during your stay in Hokkaido.
The ideal location to stay at is close to Sapporo or Shin-Sapporo station as most public transportation passes through these two stations. Ideal dates to travel are during the first to mid-week of February (in time for the snow festival that will be mentioned below). The recommended length of time of visit is between six to seven days.
Day 1: Make a Day Trip to Maruyama Park
As your body adjusts to the Sapporo chills, visit the Maruyama Park and take an easy stroll during the first day in Sapporo. It is less than a half hour to get to from Sapporo station to it's nearest station Maruyama-koen. Be amazed by the tranquility this huge park has to offer! Watch your step as you stroll through this heavenly park.
One of Maruyama Park's biggest attractions is a visit to Hokkaido Shrine, the Shinto Shrine located inside the park. Once there, be sure to get an English version of Omikuji (fortune telling paper strip) for only ￥100.
There is food too. At the entrance, treat yourself to an amazake (sweet barley rice wine) for ￥250 to warm yourself up in the cold winter snow. As the night draws in, do not forget to try Hokkaido’s soup curry to end your first night!
Day 2: Visit the Local Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
There are three different locations for the snow festivals here in Sapporo, Hokkaido. The snow festival I recommend is held at Odori Park, a 15-minute walk or a train ride away from Sapporo Station.
Be amazed at the incredible snow sculptures available at the festival. Be mindful of your step while walking around this huge park as most of the walkway are covered in ice. Lots of food stalls are also set up during this festival to keep visitors warm and full.
Stop by for lunch close to Odori Park. Try out Hokkaido’s extremely famous miso ramen with its rich broth and abundance in spring onions!
Whenever the opportunity rises, try out Hokkaido’s milk soft serve ice cream! A treat after a walk in the cold watching the beautiful snow sculptures.
Finish the day with an onsen bath; be sure to find an outdoor one. I especially enjoy soaking in the warm bath outdoors with snow in sight as I watch the Japanese television programmes with other bathers. A cold night ends well with a warm bath. Finish off your onsen experience with a nice warm bottle of Hokkaido’s fresh milk!
Day 3: Make a Day Trip to Lake Shikotsu
To access Lake Shikotsu, catch the bus from Chitose Station (a 45-minute ride from Chitose Station) for ￥930 (one way). I recommend getting a return ticket at the information counter at Chitose Station for more convenience and less stress.
Close to the lake lies a small village where souvenir shops, restaurants and tourist information are readily available for visitors.
During the first week of February, the ice festival takes place at this lake. Lots of fun family activities are available.
Be amazed by the ice buildings (experience both the day and night view) and enjoy your time strolling by the lake. If possible, stay around for the fireworks before you head back to Chitose Station. The sight is truly one not to be missed during your stay in Hokkaido. The timetable for the fireworks along with the bus schedule is given upon purchase of the bus tickets at the counter.
Day 4: Make a Day Trip Up North to Otaru
Otaru lies further north of Sapporo city center. A 45-minute train ride from Sapporo Station takes you all the way to Otaru Station. This little urban city has a huge mix of Western culture along with its traditional Japanese culture.
Have lunch by Sankaku Market with a wide variety of fresh seafood to choose from! Fresh sea urchin, crab and fish roe is a must try here!
Head over to the Otaru Canal for a breathtaking sight. Walk around the city close by the canal and visit the Otaru Taishou glass palace and Otaru Music Box Museum (one of my favorites). Be enchanted by the creative process and art in making both the glass products and music boxes. Purchase a souvenir or gift to remember Otaru!
Day 5 – 6: It Is Skiing Time
Depending on how much skiing is desired, either spend the day skiing or stay a night in a ski resort at one of Hokkaido’s many ski resorts such as Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort and Sapporo Teine Highland Ski Resort. Rental equipment is available on site if you do not have your own.
Enjoy the abundance of snow during these skiing adventures. Be wary of injuries and accidents.
Day 7: Unwind With Sapporo’s Famous Beer Museum
Take a short rest on the last day in Hokkaido with a visit to the Sapporo beer museum. A 15 to 20 minute walk away from Sapporo Station. While it used to be the headquarters of Sapporo Beer, it now serves as a museum and beer garden.
Try out the limited only Sapporo beers (draft for more kick!) in the cold to truly finish off your last day in Sapporo, Hokkaido. A cool night to end your travels here in Hokkaido during the winter season. Be sure to buy all your souvenirs before returning to your home country!