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What to Do in Hokkaido: 25 Must-See Tourist Destinations For Your Next Visit

What to Do in Hokkaido: 25 Must-See Tourist Destinations For Your Next Visit

Last updated: 17 February 2021

If you're looking for unforgettable things to do in Hokkaido, Japan, you're in for a treat. Hokkaido's magical northern landmass draws visitors from around the world with its boundless panoramas of untouched nature, breathtaking mountains to explore, and of course, some of the country's best food offerings.

Here, we've curated 25 Hokkaido gems to help you plan the ultimate adventure. Whether you're a first-timer or a veteran, our comprehensive Hokkaido itinerary has something for everyone.

1. Ski on Powder Snow

1. Ski on Powder Snow

For travelers seeking the ultimate winter experience, Hokkaido's smooth and fluffy powder snow is a must-try. With world-class ski resorts like Niseko and Rusutsu, skiing in Hokkaido offers stress-free access from New Chitose Airport. Meanwhile, Mt. Kurodake and Furano offer a chance to ski off the beaten track, with breathtaking views and unique terrain. Whether you're a seasoned skier or a beginner, skiing is one of the top things to do in Hokkaido.

Short on time? No problem. Hokkaido offers plenty of slopes within a day trip's distance of Sapporo, making it easy to fit skiing into your itinerary. With most ski resorts offering complete rental packages, you can show up virtually empty-handed and still have a great time on the slopes. Skiing is just one of the many things to do in Hokkaido during the winter months.

2. Check Out the Sapporo Snow Festival

A massive snow sculpture in Sapporo's Odori Park. Credit: Hokkaido Shimbun
A massive snow sculpture in Sapporo's Odori Park. Credit: Hokkaido Shimbun

If you're planning a winter trip to Hokkaido, the Sapporo Snow Festival should be at the top of your list of things to do. Running for a week every February, this highly-anticipated festival draws in over 2 million sightseers from around the world each year. Spread across 3 locations in Sapporo, the festival features beautifully crafted and massive snow and ice sculptures, as well as fun activities like a huge slide.

3. Walk on an Ocean of Drift Ice

3. Walk on an Ocean of Drift Ice

From late January, the coast of the Okhotsk Sea becomes host to a mesmerizing display of the raw power of winter, as drift ice nudges up against the shoreline. This natural phenomenon is a must-see for anyone looking for unique things to do in Hokkaido.

The Shiretoko Peninsula, a registered World Natural Heritage Site, offers an opportunity for adventurers to get up close and personal with the drift ice. In February and March, visitors can take part in the 'Drift Ice Walk', which allows you to see, touch, and even walk on the ice. It's a rare and unforgettable experience that truly embodies the essence of Hokkaido.

4. See the Wonders of Winter

4. See the Wonders of Winter

Even during the day, midwinter in Hokkaido can drop below freezing, making it an incredible destination for those seeking unique winter experiences. If you're prepared for the cold, you can witness natural phenomena that create stunning visual displays.

In midwinter, crystallized water vapor in the air can create 'diamond dust' and 'light pillars,' while 'steam fog' can result from cold air over warmer water. Additionally, 'rime ice' can cover trees in sparkling ice, and 'frost flowers' can appear like little shrubs on frozen lakes. And there's so much more to see and experience! Hokkaido in midwinter is a magical wonderland waiting to be explored.

5. Fish on a Frozen Lake

retirementbonus / Shutterstock.com
retirementbonus / Shutterstock.com

A quintessential Hokkaido experience is fishing for pond smelt, a small fish known as "wakasagi" in Japanese, on a frozen lake, river, or pond. Not limited to central Hokkaido areas easily accessible from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo, off-road destinations like Tokachi and Doto offer a unique opportunity to escape into the wilderness.

Most of these establishments provide rental gear, making it possible to go fishing without breaking the bank. Additionally, if you're unsure of your skills, staff members can offer expert advice on how to successfully catch your fish. Once you reel in your catch, you can savor it instantly by having it cooked into tempura or fried for a truly authentic Hokkaido experience.

6. Soak in an Onsen Surrounded by Snow

6. Soak in an Onsen Surrounded by Snow

Hokkaido is a true natural wonderland, and one of its biggest treasures is its plethora of thermal onsen hot springs. While well-known spots like Jozankei and Noboribetsu in Sapporo, the Tokachi River, and Kawayu are popular, every region of Hokkaido offers its own unique onsen experience.

Whether you prefer a day-trip or a longer stay, most hot springs offer both accommodation and day plans. These geothermal pools are worth a visit at any time of year, but they truly shine in the winter months, when you can luxuriate in outdoor rotenburo, surrounded by a stunning snowy landscape. This is the ultimate in relaxation and luxury, and one of the must-do things in Hokkaido.

Accommodations with outdoor snow-viewing rotenburo baths:

  • Dai-ichi Takimotokan
    Dai-ichi Takimotokan
    第一滝本館
    • Address Noboribetsu Onsen-cho 55 , Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 059-0595
    • Nearest Station Noboribetsu Station (Muroran Main Line)

7. Feast on Fresh Horsehair Crab

7. Feast on Fresh Horsehair Crab

Once the drift ice clears, the sea is open again, and the fresh umiake horsehair crabs caught during this time are the best of the best. Thriving undisturbed on the nutrient-rich seabed covered by drift ice, these crabs brave the cold and feast unabated, making them plump and super sweet!

March to April is considered the peak time to enjoy this delicacy freshly boiled straight off the boats! You can also relish it in teppo miso soup along with a huge variety of other local dishes.

8. Meet Adorable 'Tonekko' Horses

8. Meet Adorable 'Tonekko' Horses

A lesser-known side of Hokkaido is its thriving horse breeding culture. Particularly concentrated in Shizunai, Hidaka-Mombetsu, and Urakawa in the Hidaka Subprefecture, a surprising amount of stables can be spotted from the road.

Once the seasonal breeding time of spring arrives, cute little one-year-old or younger horses, known in the local dialect as tonekko, can often be seen. Outside Hidaka, sightseeing farms around Tomakomai and Chitose allow visitors to get up close with these cuties while experiencing horse-riding lessons.

9. Bask in the Cherry Blossoms at Goryokaku

9. Bask in the Cherry Blossoms at Goryokaku

One of Hokkaido's most famous attractions, the iconic five-starred fortress of Goryokaku in Hakodate is consumed by flowering cherry blossoms between late April and early May. The view is best taken in from Goryokaku Tower, which boasts a 90-meter bird's eye view of the entire scene.

The fortress itself played a very important role in marking the turning point between the Edo and Meiji periods. History buffs, don't miss this!

10. Savor the Local Flavor with Jingisukan

10. Savor the Local Flavor with Jingisukan

You've got to try jingisukan! Mutton and vegetables are fried on a specialized grill, forming a simple, yet satisfying meal perfected with a hit of exquisite tare sauce! Interestingly, the different regions of Hokkaido each boast a slight variation in how they enjoy jingisukan.

Residents of Sapporo fry the meat then add the tare, those in the Sorachi area marinate their meat in tare then grill it, and people of Obihiro marinate, fry, add more tare, then eat! Within these trends are dozens of more variations, so definitely try jingisukan everywhere you go to see the differences!

11. Frolic in Stunning Moss Phlox

Over 10 hectares (24 acres) are completely covered by blooming moss phlox in Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park.
Over 10 hectares (24 acres) are completely covered by blooming moss phlox in Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park.
The legendary Shibazakura Takinoue Park, where the moss phlox took over half a century to cultivate.
The legendary Shibazakura Takinoue Park, where the moss phlox took over half a century to cultivate.

Contrasting from the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms, moss phlox offers flower lovers a much longer period to appreciate their charm. Covering the surface of the ground, the shape of their flower appears strikingly similar to that of Japan's beloved cherry blossom.

While each flower on its own is small and delicate, they bloom together to form an overwhelming force of pink and white. Blooming between May and June, you can enjoy this magical display for at least a whole month! The two most famous moss phlox sights are Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park in the town of Ozora and Shibazakura Takinoue Park in Takinoue.

12. Stand Over a Sea of Clouds

12. Stand Over a Sea of Clouds

A 'sea of clouds,' known as unkai in Japanese, occurs most often during the early mornings of sunny days when the remaining clouds or heavy fog clings to the earth. Looking over it from a mountaintop or outlook, it'll appear as a mesmerizing ocean of white.

Hokkaido is particularly famous for unkai, with dozens of picture-perfect spots, including Hoshino Resort Tomamu's Unkai Terrace, which is carefully positioned to allow the sensation of standing over the sea of clouds. Other locations like Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, and Rusutsu offer equally stunning alternatives.

13. Stroll Through the Lavender Fields

The Hinode Lavender Field in Kamifurano. You can take in the entire scene, including views of Mount Tokachi, from the nearby observation tower.
The Hinode Lavender Field in Kamifurano. You can take in the entire scene, including views of Mount Tokachi, from the nearby observation tower.

When it comes to summer in Hokkaido, the purple lavender fields of Furano often come to mind for most. The flowers begin to bloom in late June, with July marking their peak beauty.

Appearing as if a lavish purple carpet has been laid across the entire region, your nostrils will be filled with the pleasing aroma of lavender, instantly relaxing tired travelers.

Visitors to Furano can also try their hand at lavender picking, adventure to a nearby mountain to take in the view from above, or purchase lavender goods and sweets. While Furano is the most famous, Sapporo also offers its own hidden lavender fields if you're lacking time.

14. Feast on Yubari King Melon

14. Feast on Yubari King Melon

Yubari King Melon is a much sought-after delicacy created and cultivated in the town of Yubari.

Painstakingly prepared by the strictest standards, the melon boasts a rich fragrance and high-quality sweetness considered to be a taste of heaven. The period between picking and ripening is short, making export impossible and therefore limiting it to Japan.

During its summer season, the 2nd floor of the Yubari Agricultural Center holds the 'Melon Terrace' with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet boasting endless Yubari King melon! This is one Japanese delight you definitely can't get back home!

15. Go Rafting in Hokkaido!

Peppy Graphics / Shutterstock.com
Peppy Graphics / Shutterstock.com

With ample rivers and rapids, summer in Hokkaido is all about rafting! Thrill-seekers can enjoy the intense rapids around Niseko and Rusutsu, while the calmer waters of Sorachi and Furano offer more family-friendly options. With Tokachi, Hidaka, and Kushiro also full of action-packed river adventure, there's a bounty to choose from no matter where you base yourself!

Offering the chance to escape the cities and throw yourself deep into untouched nature, you'll see a side of Hokkaido unreachable by car or even trekking. Those looking to put their skills to the test can try rafting between mid-May and June, where the freshly melted snow increases the water level to its max!

16. Treat Yourself to Fresh Milk Ice Cream

16. Treat Yourself to Fresh Milk Ice Cream

Hokkaido is Japan's capital of milk! With ample land allowing productive farming, almost every region of Hokkaido is dotted by cows living freely and peacefully, naturally producing a higher standard of milk. While it's hard to say no to Japanese convenience store ice creams, once you've had a taste of farm-fresh dairy, you won't want to go back! In addition to the renowned Furano and Sorachi, easy-to-access farms in Sapporo City and its suburbs provide a fix without the travel!

17. Chill Out with Animals at Asahiyama Zoo

17. Chill Out with Animals at Asahiyama Zoo

Asahiyama Zoo is favored by both locals and tourists alike for its 'active exhibits' providing animals with a living space resembling their natural habitat. Allowing a happy and healthy lifestyle, Asahiyama Zoo showcases animals at their best.

Boasting over 100 different species, including polar bears, penguins, and seals, it's become a huge hit with animal lovers. The zoo also has multiple cafes and shops selling all sorts of adorable animal-related goodies!

18. Gorge on a Fresh Seafood Bowl

18. Gorge on a Fresh Seafood Bowl

For seafood lovers, Hokkaido is a paradise offering unrivaled freshness and phenomenal presentation. This is best relished through a kaisendon seafood bowl at one of the island's many bustling seafood markets.

Sapporo's Crab Market and Nijo Market, Hakodate's Morning Market, and the Kushiro Washo Market, where you can customize your own seafood bowl, are the highlights, striving to provide locals with seasonal seafood straight from the boats.

19. Drive on the 'Road to the Sky'

19. Drive on the 'Road to the Sky'

Hokkaido is favored by driving enthusiasts for its long, breezy tracts of wide road. One of the most renowned is the romantically-named 'Road to the Sky,' a long stretch of straight road cutting through the lush countryside.

Starting in the Natural World Heritage Site of the Shiretoko Peninsula, the Road to the Sky continues in a perfect line as far as the eye. If your timing is right, you'll also be able to witness the evening sun sinking into the horizon - a magical sight indeed!

20. Take the Ropeway Up Mt. Kurodake

20. Take the Ropeway Up Mt. Kurodake

Covered by lush snow in winter and alpine plants in spring and summer, Mt. Kurodake radiates throughout the year. However, above all else, taking the ropeway to the top and seeing the colorful foliage of autumn spread out below is when the mountain is at its prime. While there is an observation tower at the station, if you transfer to a further lift and head to the 7th stop, you'll be able to take in the entire scene in all its glory from 1,520 meters above sea level!

As one of the earliest recipients of autumn, the entire landscape will be covered with foliage as early as September! After your adventure, the hot spring town of Sounkyo Onsen awaits your tired body!

21. Wander the Coral Grass

Sango grass flourishing around Lake Notoro. / Photo courtesy of: Abashiri City Tourism Association
Sango grass flourishing around Lake Notoro. / Photo courtesy of: Abashiri City Tourism Association

Named due to its similarity to coral, sango grass often appears around coastal marshes due to its affinity for salt. Beginning in August and continuing to late September, the fleshy stem turns a stark red, creating a vivid sight that feels like another planet.

The best display is at Lake Notoro in Abashiri City, which boasts a roughly 3.8 hectare marsh turning a fiery scarlet in Japan's largest collection of sango grass. Also a delight is Mombetsu City's Lake Komuke and Lake Saroma's Wakka Gensei Flower Park.

22. Greet Cute Red Foxes

22. Greet Cute Red Foxes

Inhabiting the whole island, the mascot of Hokkaido is the utterly adorable ezo red fox. You can see their fuzzy tail, pointy ears, and playful personality any time of year at the Kitakitsune Fox Farm in Kitami's township of Rubeshibe. Here lives around 50 foxes frolicking freely in their natural habitat across the farm's spacious grounds. However, as foxes are naturally nocturnal, if you want to see them at their most active, visit after 3pm.

(*Do not touch or approach any wild fox you encounter in Hokkaido.)

23. Drive Through Forests of Foliage on the Mikuni-toge

23. Drive Through Forests of Foliage on the Mikuni-toge

The Mikuni-toge is Hokkaido's premier drive! Deep inside the Daisetsuzan National Park, this national highway reaches a height of up to 1,139 meters! From your car window is a sea of trees extending as far as the eye can see, with the fresh greenery of spring deepening in summer before turning red, orange, and yellow in autumn.

While each season is a marvel, the foliage of autumn is truly a sight to behold. You can take it all in slowly at the Mikuni-toge Lookout Platform, so don't hesitate to stop your car and take a breather!

24. Explore the Dynamic Hell Valley

24. Explore the Dynamic Hell Valley

Hokkaido's Hell Valley is home to numerous onsen villages and sightseeing spots. Over an enormous 11 hectare area dotted by craters opened by the Kuttara volcano gushes 10,000 tonnes of thermal water a day, feeding the renowned Noboribetsu Onsen hot spring resorts. The springs on the side of the valley rumble with boiling water and steam, resembling the entrance to hell itself. A raw illustration of the power nestled inside our earth!

25. Treat Yourself to Local Ramen!

25. Treat Yourself to Local Ramen!

Each of Hokkaido's dynamic regions boasts their own take on ramen. Most famous is Sapporo's miso ramen, a rich, deep dish known to warm up bodies on even the coldest of days.

Equally loved is <@Asahikawa soy sauce ramen|a=article:a1000029>, which is often served with the flavorful 'W-soup' made from the stock of seafood and meat. Meanwhile, <@Hakodate ramen|a=article:a1000213> presents a clear salt broth, preferred by those craving something a little lighter.

Together, these are known as Hokkaido's 'Big Three Ramen.' But don't stop there - uncovering all the ramen hidden across the island is one of Hokkaido's greatest joys!

Hokkaido is truly the land of a thousand views - and tastes! No matter how many times you've set foot on its bountiful shores, you'll surely never be satisfied. While these 25 things to do in Hokkaido make for a good start, they're just scratching the surface of what the northern paradise has to offer. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your next Hokkaido adventure today!

Text by: Minna no Kotobasha

The information presented in this article is accurate as of January 2021. Confirm the latest information on official websites before visiting.

*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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