Winter is already here. If you are looking for something new to do this coming winter, then enjoy a sightseeing tour or enjoy a thrilling skiing adventure in Hakodate, one of the main towns on Hokkaido, Japan. Home to Mount Hakodate, which is awarded three stars by Michelin, the city boats a laid-back international atmosphere. But no matter what time of the year, you will surely have tons of things to do. This 3-day suggested itinerary is for those who are short on time, but still want to get a good taste of what Hakodate has to offer.
Things to know before traveling to Hakodate, Japan:
Language – Japanese (Nihongo) is the official language of Japan. For foreign visitors, the language barrier can be intense but this should not be a cause for concern. Every railway stations, bus stations and other transportation options have English signage. Even if you had any difficulty navigating, the Japanese people are very helpful to foreigners. There are also plenty of tourist information center, usually located in JR offices. It is, however, recommended to learn a few words and phrases because this can go a very long way in Japan, just like in any other countries.
Etiquette – The Japanese people are warm and very welcoming to foreign visitors but it’s important to remember some do’s and dont’s to enjoy a faux pas free journey. When entering temples or castles, it is a must to take off your shoes. If there are rows of footwear by the door, it’s a clear sign to remove your shoes. If you are going to visit temples and shrines, remember to dress modestly. On trains and buses, it is considered rude to speak loudly or to speak on your phone.
Currency exchange – Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan. Cash remains king in the country. Even though Japan first popularized the use of “e-wallets”, majority of transactions are still through cash. But fret not, because exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere i Asia. You may transact with banks, foreign exchange bureaus, post offices and international airports. There are also plentiful of ATMs available throughout the country, so you will surely have easy access to cash.
Getting around – If you plan to cover most of the famous attractions in Hokkaido, then you can purchase the Hokkaido Rail Pass. Valid for 3, 5, 7 consecutive days or Flexible 4 days, it provides unlimited rides on JR trains (excluding Hokkaido Shinkansen) as well as JR buses. This pass will pay off if you plan to travel long distances. If you are traveling in other parts of Japan, prepaid cards like ICOCA and SUICA can also be used in most transportation options like the streetcar network, subway and trains. In Hakodate, you can get around by local bus, Shuyu-go Bus (a continuous loop bus between Hakodate Station and Bay Area & Motomachi District), trams, taxis, and bicycles.
Where to stay – There’s a great variety of accommodation in Hakodate, ranging from small family-run pensions to five-star luxury hotels. In almost any neighborhood, there’s something for every level of comfort and budget. If this is your first time in the city, it is recommended to stay in the historical Bay Area to get easy access to the city’s famous attractions and get plenty of accommodation and dining options. If you would like to be in the center of party scene, especially during summer, then the area around Motomachi District is a fantastic option.
Hotels to consider in Hakodate:
Yunokawa Prince Hotel Nagisatei
Hakodate Yunokawa Onsen Hotel Banso
Day by day itinerary: 3 days in Hakodate, Japan
Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Nice or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. Upon arrival, check into your chosen accommodation and get your bike. Biking is an extremely popular activity among locals and tourists as it is a great way to see the city without spending too much money on transportation. At the Kiralis Hakodate Bike Rental in front of JR Hakodate Station, you can get you rental bike for a minimal fee. You may also get a 1-day Tram Pass at Tourist Information Center inside the station.
There is no better way to get to know the city than visiting the Old Fort Goryokaku. This part of the city steeped in history is a classic example of a western-style star-shaped fort surrounded by a giant moat for defense. Inside you will find the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office, once a government office used by the samurai. Adjacent to the port is the 107-meter Goryokaku Tower Observatory, the best place to marvel the panoramic view of the fort and surrounding moat. During spring, you may be lucky to witness thousands of Sakura trees in full bloom.
Celebrate your first night in the city with the jewel-like night views of Hakodate on top of Mount Hakodate. This three-star attraction by the Michelin Green Guide gives you a front-row seat to “million-dollar view” that you won’t be able to see anywhere else in Hokkaido. With time remaining, go for a stroll through Bay Area or Motomachi District and hangout at one of its al fresco bars and restaurants.
On day 2, come to grips with the local culture by taking a stroll through the Hakodate Morning Market, located outside of Hakodate Station. See where the locals flock to shop for their favorite local ingredients and seafood such as scallop, squid, sea urchins, salmon eggs, and many more. Do not miss to try some local specialties like the Tomoe-don (bowl of steamed rice topped with various types of fresh seafood). Burn those calories!!!
Once you’ve done your share of exploring the city’s top attractions, it’s time for some pampering at the Yunokawa Onsen, a 17th century hot spring believed to have healing properties. Another interesting alternative is the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden, where you can see the Hot-tubbing monkeys in winter.
After breakfast, check out from your hotel and leave your luggage at the receptionist for the day. Then, enjoy a full day at leisure to continue your fun in Hakodate. Check out town attractions you might have missed or enjoy an exciting ski holiday at one of the ski resorts in the region like Hakodate Nanae Snow Park. Enjoy a delicious Onuma beef steak and craft beer at one of the restaurants along JR Onuma Park Station. With the time remaining, enjoy a leisurely stroll along Lake Onuma.
Have you been to Hakodate or anywhere else in Japan? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan dawn skyline in winter (Sean Pavone / Shutterstock)