Attracting fans from across the globe, the magical northern landmass of Hokkaido has become one of Japan’s top destinations. Boundless panoramas of untouched nature, beautiful oceans brimming with seafood, a plethora of mountains begging to be explored, and, of course, some of Japan’s best food offerings!
To help you plan the best Hokkaido adventure, we've picked out 25 Hokkaido gems. Whether you're a first-timer or a veteran, the ultimate Hokkaido itinerary awaits below!
1. Ski on Powder Snow
Hokkaido's smooth and fluffy powder snow is second to none! Ideal for busy travelers, the skiing meccas of Niseko and Rusutsu offer stress-free access from New Chitose Airport, while the central Mt. Kurodake and Furano are an opportunity to ski off the beaten track.
If you're in a rush, there are also plenty of slopes within a day-trip's distance of Sapporo, and, with most offering complete rental packages, you can turn up virtually empty-handed!
2. Check Out the Sapporo Snow Festival
Running every year for a week from early February, the ever-anticipated Sapporo Snow Festival draws in over 2 million sightseers from across the world every year. Including the main venue, the festival takes place across 3 locations in Sapporo, with beautifully crafted and astonishingly massive snow and ice sculptures complemented by fun activities - including a huge slide!
While the 2021 Sapporo Snow Festival has been canceled due to coronavirus, fans can still get their fix through a special online festival packed with events!
3. Walk on an Ocean of Drift Ice
From late January, an army of drift ice will nudge up against the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, creating a compelling demonstration of the raw power of winter.
Registered as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2005, February and March in the Shiretoko Peninsula is home to the 'Drift Ice Walk,' allowing adventurers the rare opportunity to see, touch, lie on, and even walk on drift ice. A true Hokkaido experience!
4. See the Wonders of Winter
Even during the day, midwinter in Hokkaido regularly drops below freezing. While extremely dangerous if unprepared, those willing to brave the cold will be treated to magnificent sights.
This includes 'diamond dust' and 'light pillars,' natural phenomena caused by crystallizing water vapor in the air, 'steam fog,' a surreal sight resulting from cold air over warmer water, 'rime ice,' which covers trees in sparkling ice, and 'frost flowers,' which appear like little shrubs on top of frozen lakes. And this is just scratching the surface! A whole world of magic awaits during the midwinter of Hokkaido!
5. Fish on a Frozen Lake
Fishing for pond smelt, a small fish known as wakasagi in Japanese, on a frozen lake, river, or pond is a classic Hokkaido image! In addition to the central Hokkaido areas, which can be easily accessed from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo, other off-road gems like Tokachi and Doto offer a great escape into the wilderness!
Most of these establishments provide rental gear, allowing you to fish without spending a fortune. And if you're not confident in your skill, the staff can provide insider tips on how to secure your catch! If you do catch something, you'll be able to have it cooked into tempura or fried to instantly enjoy the fruits of your labor!
6. Soak in an Onsen Surrounded by Snow
Hokkaido is a treasure trove of natural thermal onsen hot springs! While Sapporo's Jozankei, Noboribetsu, the Tokachi River, and Kawayu are some of the most well-known, each of Hokkaido's regions offers an equally distinct onsen (hot spring) experience!
Most have both accommodation and day-trip plans, allowing you to relish the waters your way. And while they are worthwhile visiting all year round, their beauty peaks in winter, where you can bathe in outdoor rotenburo surrounded by a silvery world of snow. It doesn't get more luxurious than this!
Accommodations with outdoor snow-viewing rotenburo baths:
Noboribetsu Onsen-cho 55 , Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 059-0595
Noboribetsu Station （Muroran Main Line）
Vacancy search, reservation
from 17,600JPY 1room, 2adults
Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.
- Address Noboribetsu Onsen-cho 55 , Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 059-0595
Tokachigawa Onsen Minami 12, Otofuke, Hokkaido, 080-0263
Satsunai Station （Nemuro Main Line）
Vacancy search, reservation
from 32,000JPY 1room, 2adults
Check with our partner site as the latest rates, rate details, and guest room requirements may vary.
- Address Tokachigawa Onsen Minami 12, Otofuke, Hokkaido, 080-0263
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
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
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
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
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
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. While there are plans to renovate the terrace in August 2021, other locations like Lake Mashu, Lake Kussharo, and Rusutsu offer equally stunning alternatives.
13. Stroll Through the Lavender Fields
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
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!
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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