Known for its breathtaking mountain views, oldest beer brand in the country, world-class ski resorts and annual snow festival, Sapporo in Hokkaido boasts several attractions to enable visitors experience a one-of-a-kind winter holiday. With all the other wonderful seasons to travel to Japan, why visit in the winter? With a 5-day visit to Sapporo, you will understand why the city charms everyone who visits. Depending on your interests and travel priorities, you can certainly mix and match destinations, activities, and attractions to create your own itinerary.
Things to know before traveling to Sapporo, 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 station, 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 in the Asia. You may transact with banks, foreign exchange bureaus 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 travelling in other parts of Japan, prepaid cards like ICOCA and SUICA can also be used in most transportation options in Sapporo like the streetcar network, subway and trains.
Where to stay – Sapporo boasts a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budgets and comfort levels. The most frequent question from first time travelers is, “What’s the best area to stay in when visiting Sapporo?” Without a doubt, the best area to stay in is Odori Park, which is the main site of the Sapporo Snow Festival. Please note, the week of the festival is the peak season in the city so make sure to book your hotel ahead of time.
Hotels to consider in Sapporo:
Detailed itinerary: 5-day winter adventure in Sapporo, Japan
Take an international flight to New Chitose Airport, the gateway to Hokkaido. If you are coming from other parts of Japan, the airport is connected by direct flights to at least 30 cities. The Tokyo (Haneda) – Sapporo (New Chitose) route is the most popular, which takes less than 2 hours, with round-trip direct flight starting at JPY 10,000 (USD 90). To get to downtown Sapporo from New Chitose Airport, take the JR Airport Express Train to JR Sapporo Station. Travel time is approximately 30 minutes and one-way fare is JPY 1,070 (USD 10).
Get settled then make your way to Nijo Market for a real-world cultural insight of Sapporo’s food scene. See where the locals flock to shop for their favorite local ingredients and seafood such as king crabs, sea urchins, salmon eggs, and many more. Do not miss to try some local specialties like the Uni Ikura Donburi (bowl of steamed rice topped with fresh sea urchins and salmon eggs). Burn those calories or just walk to generate body heat to Hokkaido Shrine in Maruyama Park, which is Sapporo’s biggest and main Shinto shrine. Then, celebrate your first night in the city with delicious draft beer and unlimited “Genghis Khan” at Sapporo Beer Garden. All-You-Can-Eat and All-You-Can-Drink costs approx. JPY 4,000, which provides unlimited draft beer and unlimited grilled lamb and vegetables. For more information, please visit Sapporo Beer Garden’s page.
On your second day, you can check off the next thing on your wanderlust wish list, which is to participate in the many exciting events during the Annual Sapporo Snow Festival (January 31, 2019 to February 11, 2019). The Odori Site is the main highlight of the festival, which is held in the 1.5-kilometer-long main street of Sapporo. Susukino, the city’s red-light district located in the heart of Sapporo, hosts to a number of giant ice sculptures. Tsudome, on the other hand, is located off the city center but a great venue for families because of giant snow slides of children.
If your travel date is too early for the Sapporo Snow Festival, fret not because the city offers other interesting sights and activities like the Jumbo Christmas Tree at Sapporo Factory (November 3 to December 25), Sapporo White Illumination (Mid-November to Late December) and the German Christmas Market (Late November to Late December). End the day with snow-covered night views of Sapporo at the Sapporo TV Tower Observation Deck. Admission fee is JPY 720 (USD 6) for adults and JPY 100 (approx. USD 1) for children.
On day 3, experience a great value ski holiday in Teine Ski Resort, which is one of the best ski resorts in Sapporo. Skiing in the city has gained worldwide attention because of the fresh, powder snow that you can ski on every day during the winter season. The resort offers a wide variety of ski slopes with a range of terrains for beginners, intermediate and experts. Moreover, Teine Ski offers other winter activities like winter trekking, snow tubes and sledding. For rates and lift passes, check out the resort’s official website.
On your fourth day in Sapporo, continue to enjoy the great outdoors by experiencing a thrilling snowmobile at Snowmobile Land. Two mountain courses can be chosen which are the Dynamic 60-minute course and the Exciting 90-minute course. The former is perfect for beginners and children which costs JPY 11,000 or USD 100. The latter is for intermediate and experts, which ventures deep in the city’s back-country and cost JPY 15,000 or USD 130. Please note, these fees include the rental of snowmobile, guide fee, helmet, winter boots, gloves and snow suits. For more information, you may visit their official website.
If you still have time before the sun sets, pay a visit to Historical Village of Hokkaido, an open-air museum and park which features historical buildings dating from the Meiji Period. This popular attraction takes you back into the past and gives you a glimpse of the Japanese life and culture during the 19th to early 20th century.
On your last day in the city, check out from your hotel/hostel and leave your stuff in the reception before you do a day trip of Otaru, a historical port city located northwest of Sapporo. Its beautifully preserved canals, old warehouses and herring mansion create an experience of a time warp back to the city’s heyday. Do not miss to check out Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery, one of Japan’s top producer of whisky. In the evening, enjoy a leisurely walk at Snow Light Path (Early February to Mid-February).
Have you been to Sapporo or anywhere else in Japan? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Entrance of Illuminated ice cave in Snow Festival Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan (Supermaw / Shutterstock)