Choose from 10 Fun Things to Do in Hokkaido
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Japan’s northernmost zoo is also among the most popular, thanks to its well-managed enclosures designed to exhibit natural animal behaviors rather than just the animals themselves. The zoo is home to more than 800 animal residents representing some 150 species, but the crowd favorites tend to be those hailing from the poles: polar bears and penguins.
A glass tunnel through the penguin enclosure allows visitors to see the aquatic birds “in flight” through the water, while a vertical underwater pipe for the spotted seal shows off the diving skills of this mammal. Both the polar bear and wolf enclosures have pop-up plexiglass domes that allow for viewing the animals from within the enclosures themselves.
Buses 41, 42 and 47 depart from Asahikawa Station twice per hour. The trip to the zoo entrance takes about 40 minutes.
Address: Kuranuma Higashi Asahikawacho, Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan
Hours: April to October 9:30am to 5:15pm; October to November 9:30am to 4:30pm; December to April 10:30am to 3:30pm
Admission: 820 yen
From $ 71
Escape from the city to explore the history and natural beauty of Hokkaido in the Nopporo Forest Park. The park includes untouched forests with more than 100 species of trees, 400 types of wild plants and nearly 200 wild mushroom species, which you can discover and explore along nearly 20 miles of nature trails.
Climb to the observation platform of the Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower to get an overhead view of the park, or visit the Historical Village of Hokkaido, an open-air museum with more than 50 historic buildings, which you can see by horse and wagon in summer or horse-drawn sleigh in winter. Then stop at the Historical Museum of Hokkaido to learn about the history of Hokkaido from prehistoric to modern times.
The Nopporo Forest Park sits about 10 miles east of downtown Sapporo, easily reached by public transit. During the summer you can hike the network of trails, and during the winter the site becomes a popular destination for cross-country skiing.
Address: 53-2 Atsubetsucho, Konopporo, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Japan
From $ 54
As one of Sapporo’s most popular outdoor hot springs, Hoheikyo Onsen is an ideal place to relax in healing, naturally heated waters while enjoying the beautiful forest surroundings.
Hoheikyo sits deep in a mountain canyon, and if you come during the winter time, you can soak in the volcanic hot springs surrounded by snowy peaks. During the summer, you can also spend time rafting and canoeing on the nearby Toyohira River. Hoheikyo Onsen has two separate baths, which are separated by gender and switch daily so both men and women can experience both baths. This is also one of the few outdoor hot springs in the area that allows alcohol in the bath, so you can sip a local beer as you soak. Also on-site is a popular Indian restaurant that is well known locally for authentic Indian curries and fresh nan bread.
Hoheikyo is an hour's drive south of downtown Sapporo. Buses leave on the hour from Sapporo Station, and when you arrive there, you can buy a ticket for both ways that also includes admission to Hoheikyo Onsen.
Address: Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
From $ 72
Some of the best views of Sapporo can be had from the Mt. Okura Observatory. The observatory got its start in 1972 as the site of the 90-meter ski jump competitions during the Sapporo Winter Olympics. Today, the facility still hosts ski jump events during the winter months, but during the rest of the year, the ski lift ferries visitors to the Viewing Point Lounge, located 1,007 feet (307 meters) above sea level.
Besides offering views of the city of Sapporo and the Ishikari Plain, the site also houses the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of winter sports in Japan and try simulators that immerse you in the experience of timing a ski jump or technical spin in figure skating.
The easiest way to get to the ski lift at the base of Mt. Okura Observatory is by catching a taxi from Maruyama Koen Station (a 10-minute ride) or from central Sapporo (a 20-minute ride).
Address: 1274 Miyanomori, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 064-0958, Japan
Admission: 500 yen
From $ 56
Despite the harsh winters of Hokkaido, Lake Shikotsu—a crater lake formed some 40,000 years ago—never freezes. In fact, it’s the northernmost ice-free lake in the country and a popular recreation area for locals and visitors alike looking to go fishing, camping or boating.
Shikotsu Kohan, a small town on the eastern shore at the mouth of the Chitose River, offers hotels, boats and other activities for the lake. On the north shore, you’ll find an onsen with open-air, volcanically heated hot springs overlooking the body of water. And just south of Shikotsu Kohan is Koke no Domon (Moss Canyon), a unique natural site where a narrow rock canyon's walls are adorned with a lush blanket of more than 20 species of moss. Access to the canyon is restricted, but you can view it from an observation platform.
Lake Shikotsu is located in southwestern Hokkaido, west of the city of Chitose. Bus service makes it easy to reach Lake Shikotsu from Sapporo. However, hotels and services are only available during the summer months, from April to November.
Address: Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan
From $ 91
The Toyohira River stretches for 45 miles (72.5 kilometers) through Hokkaido province, providing the city of Sapporo with its water before emptying into the larger Ishikari River. Sapporo, the capital of the province, got its name from the river’s original Ainu name, Sapporo Pet.
The region of Jōzankei along the upper Toyohira has long been famous for its onsen, hot springs resorts, which are particularly popular for winter relaxation. The river then flows north and parallels the city, offering some of the best parkland during the warmer summer months. The Sapporo Salmon Museum, located west of downtown, gives a history of the salmon industry in the Toyohira River.
The Toyohira River hosts two popular summer festivals, the Toyohira Fireworks and the Toyohira Rafting Festival. The former comprises an elaborate hour-long pyrotechnic show with some 4,000 fireworks lighting up the night sky. During the latter, competitors race to see who can make it farthest down the river in homemade rafts and amusing costumes.
If you’re looking for something free to do in Sapporo, head to the river banks where you’ll find a series of walking and biking trails to explore.
Address: Sapporo, Japan
From $ 72
Shiroi Koibito is a popular Japanese cookie consisting of milk or white chocolate sandwiched between two ladyfinger biscuits. The sweet-themed Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo takes visitors behind the scenes to see how Hokkaido’s most famous confection is made.
Entrance to the park includes a factory tour, Cookiecraft Studio where guests get to make their own Shiroi Koibito, toy exhibition, rose garden and a candy store selling a variety of sweet treats.
Each hour, the Chocolate Carnival takes place in the courtyard and involves a parade of mechanical dolls. Modeled after the Benkei steam train, the Shiroi Koibito Railway is a hit with young visitors, as is the Gulliver House play area.
Shiroi Koibito Park is located about 7 minutes on foot from Miyanosawa Station.
Address: Miyanosawa 2-jo 2-chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo, Japan
Hours: Open daily 9:00am - 6:00pm
Admission: Adults: 600 yen; Children: 200 yen
From $ 30
The Chitose River in Hookaido flows from Lake Shikotsu before eventually joining the Ishikari River past the city of Ebetsu. For visitors to Sapporo, the Chitose River offers myriad opportunities for outdoor recreation amidst the natural beauty of the region.
The gently flowing waters of the river are ideal for canoeing and kayaking, though you won’t find any rushing rapids. Sport fishing enthusiasts will find kokanee salmon, rainbow trout and whitespotted char in the waters of the river. Nature lovers looking to learn more about the ecology of the Chitose River can so just that at the Chitose Salmon Aquarium. This freshwater facility overlooking the river features native species, like salmon, in massive, lifelike tanks.
On shore, paths and trails through the countryside along the banks of the river offer the perfect setting for horseback riding and cycling in summer, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling in winter.
The town of Chitose, the jumping off point for exploring the river, lies 27 miles (44 kilometers) southeast of Sapporo.
Address: Sapporo, Japan
From $ 91
The hot-spring town of Jozankei is the perfect place to escape for a relaxing weekend soaking in the healing waters of myriad natural geothermal baths. This full-featured resort town just an hour outside of Sapporo has about 20 hotels, as well as a variety of restaurants and shops.
In the fall, Jozankei is also a popular base for foliage watchers looking to enjoy the scenery of the changing leaves. The onsens themselves are true volcanic hot springs laden with healing minerals, and during the winter, the nearby Toyohira River mixes with the spring waters, enveloping the town in inviting steam. As with most onsens in Japan, baths are divided into men’s and women’s sections, and bathing is done in the nude. The nearby Jozankei Dam and Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort are also popular attractions in the area.
Jozankei sits south of Sapporo along Route 230, which is a beautiful scenic route through the Toyohira River valley. If you’re not driving yourself, you can catch a bus from the Sapporo Station Bus Terminal, where buses depart a couple times an hour. Buses also connect to Jozankei from Makomanai Station, at the end of the Namboku Subway Line.
Address: Jonankei, Hokkaido, Japan
From $ 72
For most visitors, the single most recognizable product from Sapporo is the local beer of the same name. This region was the birthplace of beer in Japan, and Sapporo beer is not only the most popular in the country, but also widely produced, distributed and enjoyed around the world.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the origin of this local brew at the Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery, which offers free factory tours that include a beer tasting. The factory itself is outside of Sapporo, but once you’ve seen the factory and headed back to town, you can also stop at the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Sapporo Beer Garden to keep the tasting going.
The Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery sits outside the city, near Chitose. You can get there aboard the Chuo Bus, getting off at the Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery stop. Reservations are required for factory tours, which run six times a day. The tour takes about 40 minutes and includes two free beers. Tours are only conducted in Japanese, but there are signs in English.
Address: 542-1 Toiso Eniwa-shi, Sapporo, Japan
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed around New Year's Day
From $ 641