50 Best Things to Do in Hokkaido: From Stunning Landscapes to Gourmet Delicacies
- Published: Oct 08 2021
- Last updated:
Hokkaido, Japan’s largest and northernmost prefecture, teems with pristine nature, vibrant cities, mouth-watering cuisine, and exciting activities. With such a diverse assortment of culture and history, limiting Hokkaido’s charm to a selection of just 10 or 20 simply won’t do! That’s why we’ve pooled together our resources to curate a whopping collection of 50 things to do, see, and eat in Hokkaido, providing all the ammo you’ll need for the ultimate Hokkaido itinerary!
What to See in Hokkaido
1. Sapporo Snow Festival: Over 200 Works of Frozen Art!
Running for a week in early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival sees three locations across Hokkaido's capital of Sapporo transformed by a streetside gallery of jaw-dropping ice and snow sculptures. Reeling in over two million visitors each year, the event’s primary location of Odori showcases a breathtaking array of creativity and craftsmanship through over 100 sculptures of all shapes and sizes. The nearby neighborhood of Susukino also exhibits roughly 100 sculptures while “Tsudome” Sapporo Community Dome ramps up the fun with a huge slide carved from ice. Alongside the statues are light-ups, concerts, and plenty of fantastic side events to enjoy!
2. Shirogane Blue Pond: A Breathtaking Man-Made Accident!
The Shirogane Blue Pond can be found nestled within the deeply forested Biei region of central Hokkaido. Adorned by a scattering of withered birch trees in the centre, the stark turquoise hue of the Blue Pond has become a worldwide sensation due to its enchanting color and aura. Fed by an offshoot of water formed by a man-made dam on the Biei River, the pond is packed with particles deposited from nearby hot springs that reflect against the sunlight to produce this otherworldly glow.
3. The Furano Lavender Fields: Gorgeous Rows of Enchanting Color
From early July, gorgeous fields of lavender paint the rolling hills of Furano with lavish color and nourishing aromas. While there are numerous lavender and other flower fields dotting the region, the most famous is at Farm Tomita, which boasts rows of immaculate multicolored flowerbeds enhanced by a backdrop of the Tokachi mountain range.
4. Susukino: The Bustling Heart of Sapporo’s Nightlife
One of the largest entertainment hubs outside of Tokyo, Sapporo’s red-light district of Susukino bursts with a colorful tapestry of shops, restaurants, bars, karaoke joints, and nightclubs. With a friendly atmosphere and lively party vibe, the streets here feel safe even late into the night. After partying, don’t forget to relish a bowl of world-famous Sapporo ramen at the Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho street.
If you’re unsure of where to start, this Sapporo bar hopping tour will take you to the hidden gems only the locals know about!
5. Mt. Hakodate: One of Japan’s Best Night Lookouts!
The 334-meter-high Mt. Hakodate offers a jaw-dropping sweeping panorama of Hakodate City and its narrow peninsula. While daytime views are fantastic, the lookout is most noted for its breathtaking views at night, which are ranked amongst the top 3 in Japan. The Mt. Hakodate Observatory is easily accessed by car or ropeway.
6. Unkai Terrace: A Sea of Clouds
A sea of clouds, known as “unkai” in Japanese, is a natural phenomenon occurring during early mornings in high-altitude regions or upon bodies of water. One of the best places to witness this enchanting miracle is at the Unkai Terrace in the Tomamu ski resort. Of course, there’s no guarantee a sea of clouds will appear, so you’ll need to check the forecast on the Hoshino Resorts Tomamu website in advance (Japanese).
7. Mt. Yotei: The Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido
The almost perfectly symmetrical volcano of Mt. Yotei closely resembles Japan's legendary Mt. Fuji, leading to its nickname “Ezo Fuji,” with “Ezo” being the original name of Hokkaido. Mt. Yotei’s climbing season begins in early June, with several trails of easy/intermediate difficulty leading to the summit. There’s also lots to see around the mountain, including massive fields of alpine plants and a pleasant array of ponds, lakes, springs, and more. If it’s a clear day, wait around until sunset to witness the mountain bathed in the fiery red of the evening sun.
8. Shakotan Peninsula: Gorgeous Ocean Views and Hidden Coves
Known for its turquoise oceans and oddly-shaped rocks, the Shakotan Peninsula in east Hokkaido offers nature-lovers a vast expanse of pure Japanese wilderness begging to be explored. The most iconic location is Cape Kamui, a precipitous cliff jutting out into the sea said to resemble the spine of a dragon. There is also an assortment of campgrounds and swimming beaches lining the coast.
9. Lake Mashu: One of the Clearest Lakes in the World
The ancient caldera of Lake Mashu is said to possess some of the clearest waters in the world. While the lake itself is dangerously steep and off-limits, the jaw-dropping views and natural wonder encompassing the area makes it well worth visiting. Along with the two nearby peaks of Mashu-dake and Nishi-betsu-dake, both of which can be climbed by hikers of all levels, there are four different observatories to soak in the scenery in comfort.
10. Asahiyama Memorial Park: Stunning Sapporo Panoramas
Opened in 1970 to celebrate Sapporo’s 100th anniversary, Asahiyama Memorial Park perfectly captures all of Sapporo’s dynamic cityscape in a vast panorama. With an elevation of over 130 m, the scene is worth checking out both day and night. Surrounded by nature, it also serves as a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of Sapporo without venturing outside city limits.
11. Sapporo TV Tower: Incredible Sapporo Views From the Top
The Sapporo TV Tower is an iconic Sapporo landmark that looks out over Odori Park in the heart of Sapporo. With an observation deck 90 m above ground, the captivating view allows one to see Sapporo in all its glory without missing any of the detail lost in higher-altitude lookouts.
12. Mt. Moiwa: Sweeping Sapporo Scenery From a Cable Car
Just 15 km southwest of Sapporo Station, Mt. Moiwa is a perfectly positioned natural lookout towering 531 m over Sapporo. Equipped with a ropeway and mini cable car, getting to the summit couldn’t be easier! The mountain is also dotted with a number of facilities, including an observation deck, restaurant, planetarium, theater, and ski resort.
13. Okhotsk Drift Ice: Cruise Through a Frozen Sea
After the temperature plummets from late October, masses of frozen sea water will break away from the Russian coast of the Sea of Okhotsk bound for northeastern Hokkaido. Spotted from early February, the ice first appears in Monbetsu and Abashiri before continuing towards the Shiretoko Peninsula and Rausu. While drift ice can be easily viewed from the shore, the best way to appreciate this wonder is on a boat cruise or ice-walking tour.
14. Cape Soya: Japan’s Most Northern Point
With the coast of Russia visible on clear days, Cape Soya in the city of Wakkanai holds the title of Hokkaido’s, and therefore Japan’s, northernmost point. While there isn’t a huge range of attractions nearby, those with an adventurous heart will surely want to conquer this significant geographical landmark. The area is dotted with various historical monuments honoring peace and prosperity also worth a look.
15. Shiretoko: Untouched Nature Bursting With Wildlife
The Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido is one of Japan’s most immaculate wildlife preserves. With the northern tip viewable only from the ocean via boat, this vast ecosystem has been largely left alone to grow into a diverse environment rarely matched elsewhere. This includes a population of around 500 magnificent brown bears, along with the spotted sika deer, the adorable Japanese sable, Ezo red foxes, Steller sea lions, dolphins, whales, and the incredibly rare red-crowned crane. For those seeking to leave their comfort zones and seek a true off-road adventure, the Shiretoko Peninsula is where to go!
16. Abashiri Prison Museum: The Home of Hokkaido’s Most Notorious Convicts
Constructed in the 1890s, Abashiri Prison once confined thousands of Japan’s most feared criminals. After the prison was modernized in 1984, much of the original structure was relocated to create the Abashiri Prison Museum around 3 km away. This includes the sophisticated European-inspired administration building, several prison wards, the central guard house, and the lecture hall. Each section is filled with strikingly realistic life-sized dioramas showcasing the lives of inmates, including the daring escape of “Japanese Prison Break King” Yoshie Shiratori!
17. Goryokaku Park: An Incredible Western-Style Fortress
Goryokaku Park is centered around the sprawling star-shaped Goryokaku citadel, which was constructed in 1864 to bulk up Hokkaido’s defence capabilities during the final years of the Edo period. The citadel’s eye-catching design, which was inspired by the work of renowned French architect Vauban, is complemented by a display of lush cherry blossom forests, scenic walking trails, and illumination events in winter. The entire park complex can be overlooked from the Goryokaku Tower Observatory, which costs 900 yen for adults. Also worth checking out is the Hakodate Magistrate's Office, which was used as the army headquarters during the Hakodate War. While the original was demolished in 1871, it has been painstakingly rebuilt to resemble the original architecture and layout.
18. Moerenuma Park: Design Intertwined with Nature
The brainchild of Japanese-American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, Sapporo’s Moerenuma Park is a sprawling assortment of landscapes and art forming a single interconnected parkland sculpture. Once a waste disposal site, the area was reinvigorated over the course of 23 years to become one of Sapporo’s most celebrated sightseeing spots. Highlights include the towering “Glass Pyramid” (pictured), the simplistic beauty of “Moere Hill,” and the interwoven light and water of the “Sea Fountain.”
19. Hokkaido Shrine: Hokkaido’s Spiritual Heartland
The construction of Hokkaido Shrine was ordered by Emperor Meiji in 1869 to enshrine the three pioneering gods whilst providing a safe haven for pioneers to gather and pray. Completed in 1871, it now also enshrines the soul of Emperor Meiji himself and has remained as Hokkaido’s most prominent center of shintoism. Bustling with events throughout the year, including “hatsumode” during New Year’s, cherry blossom festivals in spring, and the Sapporo Festival in summer, Hokkaido Shrine is constantly abuzz with locals and visitors.
20. Lake Kussharo: Scenic Hikes and Outdoor Adventures
Located in the Akan Mashu National Park, Lake Kussharo is a huge caldera lake hosting a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, cycling, and fishing during the warmer months. It is also brimming with geothermal activity, gorgeous hot springs, and the pungent smell of sulfur and surreal steam-spurting geysers on the south-eastern side. During winter, the lake will freeze over and come alive with hoards of migrating swans, who often congregate around the Sunayu area due to the warm water from the underground hot springs.
21. The Otaru Canal: Enchanting Romance of a Bygone Era
Originally built to further stimulate maritime trade in the prospering Otaru harbor, the Otaru Canal is a fantastically preserved showcase of early 20th-century nostalgia and romance. The canal-side promenade is adorned by quaint antique warehouses, many of which have been masterfully renovated into restaurants, museums, and shops, making it feel like you’ve slipped back in time. This effect is amplified at night when the streets are bathed in the light of authentic gas lamps while the warehouses are illuminated by spotlights. If you happen to be in Otaru during early to mid-February, don’t miss the much-anticipated Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, an extravaganza of light shows and snow statues elevating the city’s beauty to another level!
22. Rishiri and Rebun Islands: A True Off-Road Adventure!
The isolated islands of Rishiri and Rebun lie off the coast of the northern tip of Hokkaido and are renowned for their pristine, untouched wilderness and rare endemic flowers and plants. The most iconic sight is Mount Rishiri, a 1,721-meter-tall stratovolcano closely resembling Mt. Fuji. You can access these islands via ferry from the Wakkanai Ferry Terminal.
23. Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park: A Carpet of Luscious Pink Flowers
Once May rolls around, eastern Hokkaido’s Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park soon becomes engulfed in a flowery carpet of blooming moss phlox, known as “shibazakura” in Japanese. Covering an area of roughly 10 hectares, these velvety flowers infuse the air with a calming aroma, inviting visitors to fritter away the day enveloped in their charm. Celebrating this wonder is the annual Higashimokoto Shibazakura Festival, which treats visitors to a number of stage events and a smorgasbord of local delicacies.
24. Lake Notoro: A Surreal Alien Landscape of Red
Connected to the Sea of Okhotsk, Lake Notoro is an expansive oval-shaped salt lake situated less than 10 km from Abashiri Station. The area’s main claim to fame is its sprawling network of glasswort, a kind of succulent plant that thrives in salt marshes. While it grows all year round, it becomes dyed with a fiery crimson between early September to early October, forming a surreal environment reminiscent of an alien planet. It mostly grows on the southern shore of Ubaranai, which is facilitated by a series of boardwalks protecting the environment from being disturbed.
25. Kushiro Shitsugen National Park: Expansive Wetlands Packed with Wildlife
Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is the largest wetland in Japan and the home of over 1,300 species of wildlife. This includes the exotic red-crowned crane, which was saved from the brink of extinction thanks to the preservation efforts of the park. Most of Kushiro Shitsugen is characterized by wet, marshy grassland dotted with lakes that come alive during the warmer seasons. There are plenty of trails to explore here, including the 2.5 km Kushiro Marsh Observatory Track and the 3 km Onnenai Wooden Path.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.