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Where to Stay in Niseko: Guide for First-Time Visitors

Where to Stay in Niseko: Guide for First-Time Visitors

Date published: 20 February 2020
Last updated: 15 September 2022

Niseko is known as Hokkaido's go-to place for winter sports lovers. Its world-renowned powdered snow attracts people from across the globe, so you'll meet people from all walks of life. Niseko is also famous for its summer activities, such as rafting, hiking, and bouldering, making it perfect for visiting all year round!

We will introduce everything you need to know about getting to and around Niseko, as well as where to stay.

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Getting to and from Niseko
  2. 2. What is Niseko like?
  3. 3. Where is the best area to stay in Niseko?
  4. 4. Types of accommodation in Niseko
  5. 5. When is the peak season for visiting Niseko?
  6. 6. Where to search if Niseko is booked?

1. Getting to and from Niseko

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

a. Ease of access to/from New Chitose Airport
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Niseko from New Chitose Airport is to take the Hokkaido Resort liner bus, which can take you directly to some of the major ski resorts. These run throughout the day from the beginning of December to April. It takes approximately three and a half hours to get to Niseko, and an adult fare costs 4,500 yen and for children 3,500 yen.

Another option is to take the JR Rapid Airport train to Otaru, which costs 2,750 yen one way. From Otaru, you can ride the JR Hakodate Line all the way to Niseko for 1,680 yen. However, if you hold the JR Rail Pass, you can ride it for free. Most of Niseko’s sightseeing spots are located around the Hirafu area, so we recommend getting off at Kutchan Station. From Kutchan, there are multiple buses and shuttle buses that can help you get around, which we will get to later on in the article.

The final option is to go by car. You can either rent a car at New Chitose Airport or hire a taxi, which will cost approximately 25,000 yen to 30,000 yen one way.

b. Ease of getting to sightseeing spots outside Niseko
Niseko is quite a secluded area with limited train service and bus service in and out. Many of the popular sightseeing spots are up in the mountains, which will require a car. There are a few car rental spots in Niseko, such as Toyota Rent-A-Car in Hirafu or Peak Niseko Car Rental. Alternatively, you can rent a car at New Chitose Airport upon arrival.

c. Getting around Niseko
Within the major ski resort areas such as Hirafu and Annupuri, it is easy to get around by foot. Throughout the winter season, there are multiple buses to get around Niseko.

Between December and April, the Niseko United Shuttle bus runs between Hirafu, Annupuri, and Hanazono. From December to the end of February, Hirafu Shuttle Bus runs all around the Hirafu Area, so you can easily get in and out of the slopes for free!

The Niseko Bus runs between Niseko Village and Kutchan Town and costs between 160-600 yen, depending on the distance. The Donan Bus is also available but runs between Kabayama and Kutchan and costs between 150-400 yen.

2. What is Niseko like?

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Niseko is known for its powder snow, so many people across Japan and even the world travel there during the winter months. Many Australians and other foreigners have settled down in the town so you can meet many people that speak English. The town is lively during winter, with people enjoying skiing, snowboarding, and partying. During the summer months, it is much quieter, but you can still enjoy Niseko's nature.

What's nearby?
The Hirafu area has many restaurants, hotels, and condominiums. Generally, it is lively during the winter and quieter during the rest of the year. You can enjoy local Hokkaido cuisine and many other types of food thanks to the cultural diversity in Niseko. For the most part, the area is filled with hotels, luxury apartments, and condominiums to house all the people wanting to ski or snowboard. Annupuri and Hanazono are quieter, but you can still find many places to stay as well as several restaurants and cafes.

3. Where is the best area to stay in Niseko?

Following are the best, most convenient areas to stay in Niseko, listed in rough order by priority, with the most convenient places first.

Downtown Hirafu (Photo: PIXTA)
Downtown Hirafu (Photo: PIXTA)

a. Hirafu: Perfect for people that enjoy the slopes and nightlife
Hirafu is split into two halves - Lower Hirafu and Grand Hirafu. Lower Hirafu is primarily used for accommodation, with many staff houses and condominiums available. Grand Hirafu is where you can find the majority of the hotels, restaurants, and access to the slopes.

i. Why stay in Hirafu?
Hirafu is the hub of Niseko, with Grand Hirafu Ski Resort being the go-to spot for skiers and snowboarders. You can also find many of the country's best hotels in Hirafu, and its location is perfect for getting around other areas of Niseko.

ii. Access
Hirafu is built on a slope, so it can be pretty tiresome to walk from lower Hirafu to Grand Hirafu. However, it is manageable. Otherwise, there are many buses and shuttle buses in the winter to help you get around. Otherwise, we definitely recommend a car!

iii. Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
Hirafu is unlike any other town in Japan. You will find that there are many foreigners and Japanese people that can speak English. It has an atmosphere as if you are in a foreign country, where you can enjoy the friendliness of the people, the fantastic winter and summer activities, as well as the lively nightlife.

iv. Popular spots and points of interest
Grand Hirafu Ski Resort is the central spot for winter sports. It boasts views over the stunning Mt. Yotei (also known as Ezo Fuji for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji). In the summer, you can also ride the gondola, which offers a different but just as beautiful a view over Niseko. NAC is also a popular spot for people that love summer activities. You can enjoy rock climbing, rafting, and many other activities.

Recommended hotels in Hirafu

Mishima's Shibazakura Garden in Kutchan. (Photo: PIXTA)
Mishima's Shibazakura Garden in Kutchan. (Photo: PIXTA)

b. Kutchan: Niseko's largest town
Kutchan is the most established "town" in Niseko that is very convenient to live in. Kutchan has multiple supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, and small other shops, which makes it easy to stay for an extended time.

i. Why stay in Kutchan?
We recommend staying in Kutchan for those who do not have access to a car. The close supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes are convenient, and taking the train from Kutchan Station means you can get to places like Sapporo or Otaru easily. The slopes may be a little far away, but the numerous buses available means you should have no problem at all!

ii. Access
Kutchan is the most manageable area to access if you do not have a car. Kutchan Station connects to the JR Hakodate Line from Otaru Station. Most of the supermarkets and restaurants are within walking distance. Otherwise, the Niseko Bus and Donan Bus run from Kutchan Station.

iii. Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
Kutchan is a very typical town you might find elsewhere in Hokkaido. You will be able to find many cafes and restaurants that are filled with Niseko locals - both Japanese and foreign. The town is quiet during the green season but really does come to life, like the rest of Niseko, as the snow starts to fall.

iv. Popular spots and points of interest
During the early summer, Mishima's Shibazakura Garden is a beautiful spot to see pink moss phlox. Lake Hangetsu is also a popular spot for nature lovers and hikers. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even hike around Mt. Yotei!

・Recommended hotels in Kutchan

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

c. Higashiyama - Niseko Village: Enjoy the peaceful nature of Niseko
Higashiyama is a little more secluded than Hirafu but is perfect for winter sports lovers and people that love nature.

i. Why stay in Higashiyama?
Higashiyama's abundance of hotels makes it ideal for skiing/snowboarding in and out. If you are looking to enjoy winter sports, the surrounding nature, and the comfort of your hotel, Higashiyama is a great option.

ii. Access
As it is a little secluded, we recommend renting a car so you can travel between areas around Niseko. However, the Niseko Village Shuttle Bus is also available for this who are unable to rent a car.

iii. Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
At Higashiyama, you can enjoy the beautiful nature of Niseko, with views of Mt Yotei. The area is primarily filled with hotels so that you can enjoy the company of other travelers.

iv. Popular spots and points of interest
Niseko Village Ski Resort is the main attraction, where you can enjoy the finest powder snow and scenery. A little outside the area is Niseko Takahashi Dairy Farm, where you can enjoy Hokkaido's delicious dairy products. From ice cream to pizza, it is a great place to get some food and take some pictures!

Recommended hotels in Higashiyama

View of Mt Yotei. (Photo: PIXTA)
View of Mt Yotei. (Photo: PIXTA)

d. Hanazono: The best place to enjoy activities throughout the year
Much like the rest of Niseko, Hanazono has been continuously growing and becoming one of the finest spots to enjoy Niseko's powder snow. It is home to many fantastic hotels, condominiums, and apartments, as well as diverse restaurants and cafes.

i. Why stay in Hanazono?
Hanazono is on the northeast side of Mt Annupuri, standing tall at 1,308 meters. The mountain has over eight different courses, from beginner to advance, making it friendly for everyone!

ii. Access
Again, we recommend renting a car, but the Hanazono Shuttle bus runs every 30 minutes from Hirafu. If you arrive by train at Kutchan Station, you can get to Hanazono by taxi in 15 minutes!

iii. Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
Hanazono is similar to Niseko Village, which is occupied by tourists wanting to get a bit of Niseko's powder snow.

iv. Popular spots and points of interest
Mt. Annupuri is the main attraction for winter sports but also for hiking in the off-season! You can also enjoy tree trekking, horse riding, and rafting along the Hanazono River. From July 2022, you can also enjoy new mountain illuminations by internationally renowned artist Bruce Munro and Hanazono Zip World in the summer!

Recommended hotels in Hanazono

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

e. Annupuri: Perfect for all levels of skiers and snowboarders
Annupuri is the shortened name for Niseko Annupuri Kokusai. It is located on the west side of Mt. Annupuri and is known as one of Niseko's top ski resorts alongside Hirafu, Hanazono, and Niseko Village.

i. Why stay in Annupuri?
If you love to ski or snowboard, Annupuri is the place for you. The accommodation is often less expensive than in other areas of Niseko. It is also less busy than the popular Hirafu but still has just as high-quality powder snow.

ii. Access
We recommend a car, but the Niseko United Shuttle Bus and Moiwa Shuttle Bus can be taken for a small fee depending on the distance. If you have a Niseko United lift pass, you can take the Niseko United Shuttle Bus for free!

iii. Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
As Annupuri is known for its fantastic skiing and snowboarding courses, you will find many powder lovers from across the country and the world in the area. It has a resort atmosphere, which is lively but also relaxed at the same time. However, it has an "old-school" Niseko vibe as many buildings have retained their Japanese style.

iv. Popular spots and points of interest
Niseko Annupuri Kokusai Ski Area and Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort are the main attractions for winter sports. For the hardcore and more adventurous skiers and snowboards, Moiwa G6 Backcountry is a fantastic option. Annupuri is close to Konbu Onsen, a hot pot of onsen hotels.

Recommended hotels in Annupuri

4. Types of accommodation in Niseko

With golf, hiking, and a variety of other fun activities, Niseko is popular in the green season, too!
With golf, hiking, and a variety of other fun activities, Niseko is popular in the green season, too!

a. Ryokan

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, that is much more than your traditional hotel. Ryokans are a place to experience traditional Japanese culture, lifestyle and hospitality. Typically, the rooms include tatami rooms, futon beds as well as shared, and sometimes private, onsens. For breakfast and dinner, local cuisine is provided and in some cases, a Kaiseki course is provided in the evening. They are typically a little more expensive but come with a unique experience in Japan.

b. Condos & Serviced Apartments

Many sophisticated condos are found in the Niseko Hirafu area. These spacious living rooms and well-equipped kitchens allow a long-term stay with friends and family. This style of condominium is increasing as its popularity is growing with visitors from abroad coming in for a fun and long vacation.

c. Guesthouses

Niseko hotels are not the only option for a long stay. A hostel or guest house is also a popular option as you can spend time while deepening friendships with other tourists. The rooms are similar to a dormitory where you can enjoy a private room or shared room, with the living room, and bathrooms shared among the guests.

Niseko guesthouse owners tend to be quite friendly, and, along with the other guests, often hope to communicate with others. This open atmosphere leads to many fun memories to be had. Here, the exchange of information creates a more fulfilling experience in Niseko. Moreover, the cost of lodging is comparatively lower than the other Niseko hotels and condominiums.

5. When is the peak season for visiting Niseko?

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Niseko has a plethora of activities to do throughout the year.

Throughout spring, you can enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms and cool weather. In summer, there are so many activities such as rafting, hiking, and mountain biking, with a much cooler climate than in the rest of Japan. And in autumn, the abundance of nature with the colorful autumn leaves is breathtaking.

In winter, Niseko is at its most beautiful. The whole town becomes a winter wonderland, thriving with people from all across the globe. The powdered snow is a paradise for all winter sports lovers, with beautiful views of Mt Yotei from the slopes. Many of Niseko's bars and restaurants are also open just for the winter season, so you can enjoy Hokkaido's delicious food and Niseko's lively nightlife.

6. Where to search if Niseko is booked?

Niseko will get very busy during winter and the Japanese holidays throughout the other seasons. Don't worry; there are a few other alternatives close by, and they have just as good snow for all you powder lovers.

The small town of Rustsu is just a 30 to 40-minute drive from Niseko. It also has its own ski resort with powder just as formidable as Niseko without being as busy! There are also many other activities available such as dog sledding, snow rafting, and an indoor wave pool, making it an excellent option for families. Rusutsu also has its own amusement park, which is perfect for all thrill seekers!

Rankoshi is a small town, 20 minutes west of Niseko by car. The town has several onsens and hiking spots, so it's a great place to stay outside Niseko. Its location allows easy access to Mt. Annupuri, Hirafu, and all the other major mountains in Niseko.

Written by:

Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng

Growing up with a Japanese mother, Andy has extensive knowledge of Japanese culture, life, and food. Originally from the UK, Andy started training to be a chef after graduating from university and moved to Japan to begin his culinary journey. Having studied under famous chefs Namae Shinobu and Akihiro Nagao, Andy aims to share his love for Japanese cuisine and culture with the rest of the world.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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