50 Best Things to Do in Hokkaido: From Stunning Landscapes to Gourmet Delicacies
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!
Oct 08 2021 (Dec 15 2022)
What to Do in Hokkaido
26. Hakodate Morning Market: Browse Through a World of Fresh Seafood
Spread out over several buildings and streets, the Hakodate Morning Market is a maze of restaurants, wholesalers, and fishmongers supplying Hakodate with fresh seafood. Boasting unrivaled quality, visitors can wander the market and soak in the hectic yet jovial atmosphere while feasting on the famous crab, salmon roe, shrimp, sea urchin, and all varieties of fish. The market is held from 5:00 AM to noon and is conveniently located just a minute’s walk from the west gate of JR Hakodate Station.
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27. Niseko: Ski at One of Japan’s Leading Winter Resorts
With a virtually limitless supply of powder snow in winter, the Niseko area of eastern Hokkaido is the home of many of Japan’s most beloved ski slopes. Over half a million people visited during the ski season of 2019-2020, many of whom are part of a loyal following of passionate snowboarders and skiers willing to make the journey to enjoy the unrivaled conditions. Niseko also allows more experienced skiiers to get off the trails and into the “back-country” to discover untouched slopes and hidden gems. The three major resorts of Niseko are the Grand Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annupuri, all of which are located on Mt. Niseko-Annupuri.
28. The Rollercoaster Road: A Thrilling Ride in the Countryside
Located in Kamifurano, the Rollercoaster Road is a 2.5 km stretch of straight highway with steep, rolling hills reminiscent of an amusement park ride. The fun begins at a point 9.7 km from Kami-Furano Station on a road known as “Nishi-11-sen.” While lots of fun in a car, it’s also a great challenge for confident cyclists seeking a stimulating workout. Just be aware that there are a few crossings on the road, so don’t get too carried away.
29. Rusutsu Resort: Snowboard at Hokkaido’s Mega Resort
Covering three mountains, Rusutsu Resort is another contender for Hokkaido’s best ski resort. Located near Lake Toya on the opposite side of Mt. Yotei from Niseko, the resort boasts an incredible assortment of skiing and snowboarding courses with lengthy runs and high-quality powder snow. Rusutsu also prides itself in offering a complete entertainment package, including an amusement park, tours, activities such as snow rafting and ice fishing, and a wide selection of food from over 30 restaurants. Rusutsu is suitable for both beginner and experienced winter sports enthusiasts alike.
30. Noboribetsu: Unwind in a Hot Spring Paradise
Boasting as many as eleven natural thermal water sources, Noboribetsu is one of Japan’s leading onsen hot spring resort towns. First opened in the mid-1800s, the region simmers with the smell of sulfur while its hydrogen sulfide-rich waters work to make one’s skin feel nice and smooth. Also nearby is the “Hell Valley,” a fitting name for a barren landscape filled with steam vents, sulfur odors, and other traces of volcanic activity. You’ll be certain to stumble upon numerous gems hiking through the surrounding area too, including natural footbaths, lush greenery, and boiling mud ponds.
31. SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen: A Steam Train Ride Through the Snow
The SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen is a limited-service, winter-only steam train running through the plains of the snowy Kushiro Wetlands. Originally built in 1940, the imposing jet-black exterior and beautifully crafted wooden interior offers an authentic trip back into pioneering times. From the windows you may even spot some of the rare wildlife inhabiting the area, including Japanese cranes and the Steller's sea eagle.
32. Lake Shikotsu: Kayak on a 40,000-Year-Old Caldera
Formed by a volcanic eruption over 40,000 years ago, Lake Shikotsu is a pristine, crystal-clear body of water home to a thriving ecosystem encompassed by forest and mountains. The most environmentally friendly way to get up close with this beauty is through a Lake Shikotsu kayak tour, which can be found here. Running during all four seasons, the stunning water transparency of up to 30 m will make it feel like you’re floating on air!
33. Tokachi Plain: Dog Sledding Across the Snow
The Tokachi Plain is an open expanse in central Hokkaido encircled by the mountains of the Daisetsuzan National Park and engulfed by luscious snow in winter. This makes it perfect for the art of dog-sledding, which sees participants navigate their way through a 12 km trail on a sled driven by a pack of friendly, enthusiastic dogs! Accompanied by a professional guide, it’s totally safe and anyone is free to join! You can find out more about Hokkaido dog sledding here.
34. Teshio River: Canoe Down One of Hokkaido’s Longest Rivers
Running from northern Hokkaido to the Sea of Japan, the pristine waters and lush forestry of the 256-kilometer-long Teshio River is home to a fascinating assortment of wildlife - including the exceedingly rare Japanese stringfish. A gentle, obstacle-free 158 km run from the riverhead offers adventurers fantastic canoeing opportunities suitable for all skill levels. The calming current provides a relaxing, unobstructed tour of Hokkaido’s natural bliss, allowing one to thoroughly zone out and forget the rest of the world.
35. Glass Atelier Nakamori: Make Your Own Glass From Scratch
Located in the famed glass-manufacturing city of Otaru, Glass Atelier Nakamori allows enthusiasts and amateurs alike to experience making a glass masterpiece from scratch. Guided by a professional, you’ll perform each step of the glass-making process by hand, from selecting a color and style, dipping the tube into molten glass, and finally to the actual glass blowing itself. The course takes just 20 mins to complete and starts at 2,700 yen. However, your piece won’t be ready to take home until later in the day, so it’s best to make Glass Atelier Nakamori the first stop on your Otaru itinerary.
36. Mt. Asahidake: Snowshoe on Hokkaido’s Tallest Mountain
At 2,291-meters-tall, the barren, volcanic landscape of Mt. Asahidake holds the title of Hokkaido’s tallest mountain. Come winter, the region is completely buried under meters of snow, attracting adventurers donning specialized snowshoes looking to challenge themselves to a winter hike. Easy to master and with all gear provided, snowshoeing tours offer a genuine off-road experience full of enchanting winter views. Guided by a professional at a leisurely pace, virtually anyone willing to brave the cold can participate in the fun of snowshoeing on Mt. Asahidake!
37. Asahiyama Zoo: Check Out the Wildlife at Hokkaido’s Largest Zoo
Asahiyama Zoo is a sprawling complex housing a diverse collection of animals from across the globe. With enclosures and activities encouraging intimate experiences, including an underwater tunnel in the penguin pool, a glass dome amongst the polar bears, and the much-anticipated daily wintertime penguin stroll, visitors can gain deep insight into each animal’s life and mannerisms. It's also a good chance to get familiar with the native Hokkaido wildlife without venturing deep into the wilderness itself.
38. Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park: Uncover the Fascinating Culture of the Ainu People
Before Hokkaido became a prefecture of Japan, it was home to a thriving indigenous culture known as the “Ainu.” Located in Shiraoi City next to Lake Poroto, Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park was the first facility in Japan to be entirely dedicated to the history and culture of the Ainu. The facility’s centerpiece is the National Ainu Museum, which boasts dozens of exhibitions and a sizable theatre showcasing the traditional Ainu way of life. Surrounding facilities also offer a myriad of hands-on experiences and insightful demonstrations, including cooking and tasting of Ainu cuisine, a reconstructed Ainu village, traditional dance shows, and much more. The park itself is very spacious and green during the warmer months, making for a great place to unwind during the day.
39. Ice Fishing: Catch Wakasagi on a Frozen Lake
The subzero temperatures of Hokkaido’s winter transform many of its lakes into frozen plains completely safe to walk, skate, and even camp on! One fun activity to make the most of this is ice fishing, whereby a hole is drilled into the ice allowing direct access to delicious “wakasagi” smelt fish swimming underneath. Many frozen Hokkaido lakes are equipped with tents or small huts to keep out the cold while providing all necessary fishing gear, allowing one to turn up virtually empty-handed. After fishing, cooking equipment can be often rented to instantly roast or fry your haul, providing a satisfying and instant reward for all your hard work! There are numerous ice fishing courses throughout Hokkaido, including at Lake Abashiri, Lake Akan, the Barato River, and Lake Shinotsu.
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What to Eat and Drink in Hokkaido
40. Kaisendon Seafood Bowls: The Best of Hokkaido’s Seafood
Kaisendon is a type of “donburi” bowl made with raw seafood rested upon rice and flavored with soy sauce and other condiments. Common ingredients include tuna, salmon, sea urchin, squid, crab, and salmon roe. While they can be found all across Japan, the quality and freshness found in Hokkaido’s seafood markets, such as the Hakodate Morning Market, is second-to-none. Prices generally range from 1,000 to 3,000 yen for a decent size and quality.
41. Hokkaido Ramen: A Different Style in Every City!
The fastest cure for freezing bodies is a steaming hot bowl of oily ramen! From the thick to the thin, Hokkaido is a paradise for ramen-lovers, with almost as many styles of ramen as there are cities. The most well-known is the luscious miso and butter ramen of Sapporo, which is considered one of Japan’s ramen capitals, along with the fatty soy sauce and seafood ramen of Asahikawa and the light, clear salt ramen of Hakodate.
42. Yoichi Distillery: Sample and Discover the Origins of Nikka Whisky
Yoichi is a small, quaint town neighbouring the city of Otaru and home to the distillery of Nikka Whisky. The Yoichi Distillery was established by the father of Japanese whisky Taketsuru Masataka, who introduced whiskey production to Japan after studying it in Scotland. The Yoichi Distillery retains many of its original facilities, including most of the stone buildings and copper distillation tanks, which can be viewed on a free guided tour (Japanese only, requires advance reservation) or self-guided tour. Most impressive is the preservation of traditional coal-fired distillation - an art rarely seen in the modern world. Naturally, tasting courses are available!
43. Soup Curry: Rich, Hearty, and Packed with Nutrition!
Along with ramen, the locals of Hokkaido turn to hearty bowls of soup curry to warm their bodies and nourish their souls. Substantially more flavorsome and creamier than regular curry, this soupy rendition is made from a broth of pork, chicken, vegetables, and seafood dashi with an assortment of spices and chunky ingredients such as chicken, pork, vegetables, seafood, and eggs. Brimming with nutrients, soup curry is the ultimate defence against travel and cold fatigue!
44. Sapporo Odori Beer Garden: A Celebration of Summer and Beer
Held from mid-July until mid-August, this jaunty outdoor festival sees Sapporo’s iconic Odori Park transformed into a summer beer extravaganza! With up to 13,000 seats running for over half a kilometer, Japan’s leading beer brewers Suntory, Asahi, Kirin, and of course, Sapporo, gather to serve their brews during the most-anticipated event of Sapporo’s summer. Even if you don’t drink, the happy atmosphere and pleasant summer vibes will fill you with joy!
45. Sushi Trains: A Different League From Mainland Japan
The incredible sushi trains of Hokkaido boast top-tier local seafood brought in fresh and cut into thick, juicy slices rivaling the quality of even the fanciest sushi establishments. With all the classics like tuna, salmon, and shrimp alongside Hokkaido specialties like sea urchin and crab, if you’re hankering for a hit of Hokkaido seafood, don’t overlook the sushi trains! The side menu is equally worth a look, with local delicacies such as zangi karaage, miso ramen, soup curry, and more! Prices are all shockingly reasonable, allowing travelers to relish good food on a tight budget.
46. Furano Cheese Factory: Dairy Lovers Rejoice!
Amongst the rolling hills and lavender fields of Furano and Biei lies a prosperous dairy industry producing high-quality cheese, milk, desserts, ice-cream, and more. All this can be found and tasted at the Furano Cheese Factory, deep within the countryside of central Hokkaido. The factory is set up with free tastings, cheese history exhibitions, and a shop stocking a range of local dairy products. Visitors with more time on their hands can also participate in cheese-making workshops using fresh Furano milk!
47. Jingisukan: Grill-It-Yourself Lamb BBQ!
Alongside soup curry and ramen, jingisukan is another one of Hokkaido’s nourishing soul foods helping one pull through the agonizing cold of winter. Using a specialized mountain-shaped grill said to resemble a warrior’s helmet, diners are served platters of raw lamb amongst a variety of other ingredients to grill themselves. The lamb is placed on the peak of the grill, allowing the juice, fat, and marinade to run down and be absorbed by the vegetables. Other ingredients to complement the lamb include mutton, lettuce, onion, corn, carrot, pumpkin, and more. After cooking, dip your meat into the specially made jingisukan sauce for a final kick of flavor.
48. Sapporo Beer: Sip on Limited Edition Brews
Complementing the cherished taste of the trademark “Black Label,” Sapporo Breweries offer an enticing lineup of limited-edition, Hokkaido-only beers providing extra incentive to journey up north! This includes the renowned “Sapporo Classic,” which also comes in limited seasonal renditions each with a different quality and taste. Also keep an eye out for the “Sorachi 1984,” which uses a unique strain of hops cultivated in the Sorachi district, along with the “Kaitakushi Beer,” a super-rare brew made to resemble the original taste of Sapporo Beer during its founding in 1876.
49. Shime Parfait: Cap Off Your Night with Ice-cream!
With the night-life district of Susukino packed with partiers until morning, Sapporo is known as one of Japan’s premier party towns. But before heading home after a big night out, Sapporo locals always remember to do one thing: devour a parfait! Known as the “shime parfait,” these delightfully arranged towering glasses of ice-cream, fruits, nuts, yogurt, and cream allow one to sober up and settle down before hitting the sack. A welcome preventive measure for next-day hangovers, you’ll find numerous bars, izakaya, and ice-creameries offering shime parfaits late into the night!
50. Hokkaido Crab: Feast on Local Crustaceans!
Saying “crab” in Hokkaido is like asking for “fish” at a sushi joint - you’ll have to be a bit more specific! The sea that surrounds Hokkaido teems with flourishing crab populations seldom seen elsewhere, allowing for fresh, in-season catches of various species all year round. The most well-known are the gigantic red king crab, the hairy horsehair crab, the sweet and juicy snow crab, and the rare and pricey Hanasaki crab. Different crabs are in season at different times throughout the year, so research what’s fresh before you visit!
A Lifetime of Adventure Awaits in Hokkaido!
Whether it be relaxing in the countryside, dining on scrumptious dishes, photographing jaw-dropping views, or challenging oneself on an action-packed escapade, the sheer variety of landscapes and culture in Hokkaido is able to accommodate every kind of traveler. Best of all, with bullet trains directly connecting Tokyo with Hakodate and flights across Japan to New Chitose Airport near Sapporo, getting to this once-remote paradise has never been easier.
Top image: Kit Leong / Tanya Jones / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.