HOME Hokkaido Hokkaido Otaru Otaru Travel Guide: Inside Hokkaido's Leading Destination (Sightseeing, Food, and Shopping Tips)
Otaru Travel Guide: Inside Hokkaido's Leading Destination (Sightseeing, Food, and Shopping Tips)

Otaru Travel Guide: Inside Hokkaido's Leading Destination (Sightseeing, Food, and Shopping Tips)

Last updated: 27 March 2024

Otaru is a quaint port town in Hokkaido, Japan. If you're planning a trip to Hokkaido and are seeking a unique experience beyond Sapporo, Otaru is the perfect place to explore.

Otaru offers something for everyone. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a food connoisseur, or simply seeking a memorable vacation, this city won't disappoint. You can go for a long walk along the canal and admire its Victorian-style lamp posts while enjoying the atmosphere of a bygone era, go browsing in Otaru’s glassware shops, or savor fresh fish and seafood dishes from the local market. So, let's delve in and uncover what this captivating area has to offer!

(Main image: PIXTA)

Table of Contents
  1. Getting to Otaru from New Chitose Airport and from Sapporo
  2. Discovering Otaru: A Quick Overview
  3. Otaru's Top Attractions and Activities
  4. A Taste of Otaru: Exploring the Local Cuisine
  5. Shopping in Otaru: Discover the Perfect Souvenir
  6. Choosing the Perfect Accommodation in Otaru
  7. Otaru's Events and Festivals
  8. Otaru Tours & Activities
  9. Recommended Side Trips from Otaru

Getting to Otaru from New Chitose Airport and from Sapporo

Getting to Otaru from New Chitose Airport and from Sapporo

Otaru is located on Ishikari Bay about 40 km northwest of Sapporo. By train you can get there in just over 30 minutes, making Otaru the perfect location for a day trip or overnight trip from Sapporo.

  • Train: From New Chitose Airport to Otaru, it takes 80 minutes by the direct JR Rapid Airport train. Note that your ride is included if you hold the Japan Rail Pass, or the JR Hokkaido Rail Pass.
  • Train: From Sapporo Station you can take the same JR Rapid Airport train, which takes about 34 minutes, or the Hakodate Line (local train) which takes 45 minutes and is cheaper. The Kitaca and all major IC cards are accepted on all of the above train routes.
  • Bus: You can also take the New Chitose Airport Limousine Bus from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo Station, then take the Chuo Bus line to Otaru Station. All IC cards are accepted for both routes.
  • Rental Car: If you are planning to rent a car, take the Sasson Expressway from New Chitose Airport, or from Sapporo, all the way to Otaru. The trip is approximately 70 minutes from New Chitose Airport and 50 minutes from Sapporo.
  • Recommended Rail Passes: JR Pass for Whole Japan, JR Hokkaido Rail Pass.

Discovering Otaru: A Quick Overview

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Located on the northwestern coast of Hokkaido is Otaru, a bustling city filled with charm and authenticity. Otaru offers a delightful blend of old-world charm and modern attractions with its picturesque canals and stunning architecture.

Otaru played a significant role in Hokkaido's economy and trade as a major port in the late 19th century.

For a significant period of time, it was one of the richest cities in Japan thanks to its abundant herring fishing and status as an international trade port.

Many of the beautifully preserved stone buildings along the port and the canal were in fact herring warehouses. In turn, many of the beautiful old mansions between the canal and mountainside were built by families who were made wealthy by Otaru’s fish resources and the trade that passed through the city.

One example of this is the Old Aoyama Villa, a designated historical residence, which was built by the Aoyama family, who had gathered a fortune through herring.

Old Aoyama Villa (Photo: PIXTA)
Old Aoyama Villa (Photo: PIXTA)

Otaru also offers breathtaking views and a variety of experiences across different seasons. Moreover, it serves as an ideal base for traveling further afield to the Shakotan Peninsula and its magnificent views of the sea, or to Yoichi and its world-famous Nikka Whisky Distillery.

Otaru's Top Attractions and Activities

Otaru is rich in attractions and activities, offering a unique blend of history, nature, and culture. It's a relatively small city, so most of the major sightseeing spots are within a 30-minute walk of each other.

Alternatively, Otaru Stroller's Bus runs between all the major sightseeing spots. For adults it costs 220 yen and for children 120 yen per ride. A one-day bus pass is also available.

Sightseeing tips
  • Otaru Canal (“Otaru Unga”) is the central sightseeing spot in Otaru. It is 10 minutes by foot from JR Otaru Station.
  • The main tourist attractions are all concentrated around the canal and Sakaimachi Street. They are easily accessible on foot.
  • The best time to visit Otaru is in the summer, but the illuminations in winter are also well worth seeing!

1. Otaru Canal

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Referred to as Japan's Venice, the picturesque Otaru Canal is a must-visit. It is a 10-minute walk from JR Otaru Station and is the central sightseeing spot in this city. Many of the main tourist attractions are concentrated around the canal and Sakaimachi Street.

Completed in 1923, the canal was built to help facilitate transport for all the goods flowing into the port. Today, warehouses dating back to the Meiji Era have been repurposed as cafes and restaurants. With these historic buildings still lining the canal you almost feel like you have traveled back in time.

In the evening the canal is lit up by gas lamps, which really creates a romantic atmosphere. You can take a stroll over the bridge or along the promenade next to the canal, and you can also go on a boat ride along the canal.

Plan your trip to Otaru with these related articles

2. Otaru “Orgel Doh” and Music Box Museum

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Step into a world of enchantment at the Otaru Music Box Museum and be welcomed by the fairytale sight of thousands of beautifully designed music boxes. This museum showcases an extensive collection of music boxes ranging from traditional to modern designs, and even allows you to create your own music box as a unique souvenir.

The Otaru Music Box Museum is located in a building that was originally constructed in 1915 as the main office for a rice merchant. The museum opened its doors to tourists in 1989, and that same year it was designated as a historical building, so aspects of the building, such as the ceilings, are exactly as they were over a hundred years ago.

Plan your trip to Otaru with these related articles

3. Sakaimachi Street

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Sakaimachi Street is a historically preserved merchant street filled with shops selling local crafts, glassware, and delicious sweets.

A 15-minute walk from Otaru Station, this street was developed over a hundred years ago with office buildings for the city’s merchants. The street stretches out for around 800 m, and is lined with shops such as Taisho Glass, Otaru Candle Studio, Kitaichi Glass Sango-kan, Otaru Music Box Museum, and various cafes and restaurants. Many shops close up around 6-7 PM, so the best time for shopping is during the day.

However, among all of the cafes and restaurants, be sure not to miss the famous Otaru LeTAO cheesecake!

4. Otaru Aquarium

Otaru Aquarium (Photo: PIXTA)
Otaru Aquarium (Photo: PIXTA)

Otaru Aquarium houses a wide variety of marine life ideal for families and animal lovers. The aquarium is one of the oldest aquariums in Japan that has 5,000 animals from 250 different species and an amusement park with a ferris wheel. Enjoy entertaining shows featuring dolphins, penguins, and sea lions, and get a chance to interact with some of the creatures.

The first Otaru Aquarium originated at the 1958 Hokkaido Expo and moved to its current location in 1974. It is a 15-minute drive by car from Otaru's city center, or 25 minutes by public bus. However, from April to October it is possible to get to the aquarium via a sightseeing boat!

  • Otaru Aquarium
    • Address 3 Chome-303 Shukutsu, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0047
    • Website: http://otaru-aq.jp/

5. Mt. Tengu Ropeway (Cable car)

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

If you're an outdoor enthusiast, a hike up Mount Tengu is a must-do. Enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city, the sea, and the surrounding mountains from the summit. There's also a ropeway for a more leisurely ascent.

Mount Tengu is 532 m in height, and the ropeway goes all the way to the observation deck at the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain there is a restaurant, a museum, and more.

If you go on the hiking path you can walk around the top and experience spectacular views of the landscape around Mount Tengu—though the view over Otaru and the Sea of Japan is particularly awe-inspiring. If you hang around until evening, you can watch as the sun sets over the beautiful city of Otaru. In winter, this area is a ski resort.

A Taste of Otaru: Exploring the Local Cuisine

Be sure to check out the fresh seafood at the bustling Sankaku Market (Photo: PIXTA)
Be sure to check out the fresh seafood at the bustling Sankaku Market (Photo: PIXTA)

If you're a food lover, Otaru is a paradise waiting to be discovered. The city is renowned for its delectable cuisine, with a variety of traditional Hokkaido dishes and unique local specialties to try.

1. Fresh Seafood

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

For seafood lovers, Otaru offers an array of fresh seafood and local delicacies such as uni (sea urchin), ika meshi (squid stuffed with rice), and shako (mantis shrimp).

Because the restaurants have easy access to freshly caught fish, their seafood dishes tend to be of a very high quality. Make sure to try a seafood-don at lunchtime (these can be found at many of the restaurants closer to the port).

Don't miss the local seafood markets and the city's famous sushi restaurants, such as Sushiya Daisaku and Otaru Masazushi.

In addition, Uomasa is a popular Otaru restaurant, serving excellent sushi and sashimi, as well as various cooked dishes.

2. Meats: Jingisukan and Wakadori hanshin-age

Wakadori hanshin age (Deep fried half-chicken) (Photo: Shutterstock)
Wakadori hanshin age (Deep fried half-chicken) (Photo: Shutterstock)

Be sure to try 'Jingisukan', a grilled lamb dish served with vegetables that's a delicacy of Hokkaido. Check out Otaru Kita Tougarashi to get your own Jingisukan lamb dish!

Wakadori hanshin-age is the signature dish of a shop called Naruto, which first opened in 1965. A whole half chicken is deep fried, so the skin is crisp and crunchy, and the meat inside is juicy. Order this as single dish or as part of a set menu.

3. Ankake Yakisoba

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

This dish first became popular in Otaru around 60 years ago, and has been on the menu in Chinese restaurants in the city ever since. Crispy fried noodles are topped with a thick sauce of seafood and vegetables, flavored with soy sauce. The actual ingredients and flavors of the dish vary depending on the restaurant.

You can enjoy ankake yakisoba at Otaru New Sanko, a well-known restaurant that is over 60 years old.

Plan your trip to Otaru with these related articles

Shopping in Otaru: Discover the Perfect Souvenir

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Otaru offers a fun shopping experience with several charming shopping streets worth exploring, such as Sakaimachi Street.

Temiyasen Kaijo Street, along the Otaru Canal, offers another great shopping experience with a beautiful backdrop.

On Sakaimachi Street you’ll find the LeTAO confectionery store, as well as other well-known Hokkaido confectionery and patisserie names, such as Kitakaro and Rokkatei. These stores have their own cafés, so they’re also a great place to stop for a break. Otherwise, there are plenty of options for food that you can take away and eat while you’re out and about.

For souvenirs, consider Otaru's famous glassware, hand-painted fans, wooden kokeshi dolls, and locally made snacks. There are also many traditional restaurants serving dishes like ramen—a must-eat during the winter!

1. LeTAO “Double Fromage” cheesecake

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

This is LeTAO’s flagship product. Their Double Fromage Cheesecake features two layers with both cheese mousse and baked cheese. Made using fresh thick Hokkaido cream, this cake literally melts in your mouth.

The LeTAO main store is located at Marchen Square 10 minutes from the canal. On the ground floor you can buy sweets and cakes to take away, but on the second floor they have a café where you can sit down and enjoy some amazing cheesecake straightaway.

In Otaru there are actually another five LeTAO stores—each selling a distinctive twist on chocolates, pastries, and more.

2. Kamaei Age Kamaboko

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Kamaei age kamaboko (deep-fried fish cake) is a well-known Japanese delicatessen brand located a short walk from Otaru Canal. Age kamaboko is made from processed fish paste and is a kind of surimi (minced fish) which is deep fried. Age kamaboko has various kinds of filling, such as cheese, vegetables, or seafood and comes in all sorts of flavors and shapes. The Otaru Kamaei Fish Cake Factory store is basically fish cake heaven for anyone who loves fish cake. Browse their various products and be sure to take some home to enjoy yourself or with friends and family.

3. Glassware from Kitaichi Glass

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

There are many stores selling glassware in Otaru, but the long-established Kitaichi Glass, Sango-kan (Emporium No.3) is one of the most famous because of its handcrafted glassware. Kitaichi Glass has been creating beautiful glass oil lamps and other products since 1901 and was one of the reasons Otaru prospered during the Meiji period. The No. 3 building is a sight to see because the inside is softly lit by 167 oil lamps handcrafted by Kitaichi Glass craftsmen. The shop opens at 9 am, but visitors can enter 15 minutes early to watch the shopkeepers light all 167 lamps—even the ones in the chandelier. The shop is officially open when the electric lights around the shop are turned off.

The store interior is divided into three sections: Japanese, Western, and “rustic”. It also sells glass brooches and Japanese-style accessories.

4. Other shops

Notwithstanding its nostalgic old-style buildings, Otaru has many new and recent shops. Otaru's best-known shopping spot is Sakaimachi Street, but there are many great places to shop all over the town.

a. Nagasakiya Shopping Center

In front of JR Otaru Station is Nagasakiya Shopping Center, which is home to a variety of fashion boutiques, a Daiso, several eateries, and a Don Quijote. Don Quijote is a popular discount chain store in Japan known for its wide range of products, from groceries to electronics, at low prices.

LIVE JAPAN is now offering a coupon for up to 10% Tax-Free and an added 5% off* your purchase at Don Quijote. To redeem it, tap the coupon below and present it to the cashier.

(*10% tax-free rate + 5% off on purchases of tax-free items of 10,000 yen (excluding tax) or more.)

  • Nagasakiya Otaru shop
    長崎屋 小樽店
    • Address 2 Chome-20-1 Inaho, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0032
    • ・Hours: Open daily 9 AM - PM

b. Wing Bay Otaru

Use this coupon at the AEON Shopping Center to get 500 yen off purchases of 5,000 yen or more, or a free novelty item
Use this coupon at the AEON Shopping Center to get 500 yen off purchases of 5,000 yen or more, or a free novelty item

Finally, in front of JR Otaruchikko Station is a massive 1.5 km long shopping mall called Wing Bay Otaru. Here, you'll find a sizable selection of over 90 shops, boutiques, restaurants and more selling unique Japanese items, plus a movie theatre, NAMCO game center, AEON Shopping Center, and more.

Choosing the Perfect Accommodation in Otaru

When visiting Otaru, choosing the right accommodation is essential. We recommend staying near popular attractions like the Otaru Station, Minami Otaru, and Asari. These areas offer convenience and easy access to the city's major sightseeing destinations, ensuring you make the most of your Otaru visit. In this city you can find hotels, hostels, and ryokans that suit a variety of budgets.

  1. Otaru Station Area: Otaru Station is the city's transportation hub, with Sankaku Market and Otaru Canal nearby. It's a convenient location for both solo and group travelers due to its proximity to hotels and public transportation.
  2. Minami Otaru Area: Minami Otaru is a peaceful location away from the city's hustle and bustle, yet still providing easy access to popular tourist spots. It's just one stop from Otaru Station on the JR Rapid Airport line. You can take a taxi or a bus from the station to travel around the city.
  3. Asari: Asari, located southeast of Otaru, is surrounded by nature, making it perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. You can find lodging options near the station area or hotels in Asarigawa Onsen, a 15-20 minute drive from Asari.

    In winter, visit Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort for winter sports, or Asarinomori Camping Ground in summer for camping. From Otaruchikko Station, the Number 13 bus takes 20 minutes to Asarigawa Onsen Village. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get there without a car, so we recommend renting one.

Otaru's Events and Festivals

Otaru hosts vibrant events and festivals throughout the year, offering a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions. Attending these local celebrations will certainly enhance your visit!

  1. Snow Light Path Festival (February) - Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held every February and it normally attracts more than half a million visitors every year. More than 100,000 candles light the streets and the canal, giving the buildings of the city a warm glow amid the snow.
  2. Otaru Spring Festival (May) - The Otaru Spring Festival is held for three days toward the end of May. It is a large festival held across a number of shopping streets with many stalls selling some of the best food that Otaru has to offer.
  3. Otaru Ushio Festival (end of July) - The Otaru Ushio Festival is a three-day festival held every July which is full of great events such as dance parades, shrine parades, and boat parades. On the final day there is a special fireworks display near the center of the city. See http://otaru.ushiomatsuri.net/ (in Japanese) for details.
  4. Otaru Shukutsu Fireworks Festival (September) - The Shukutsu Fireworks Festival is part of the Otaru Fireworks Festival. The fireworks are handmade by the residents of Otaru. This festival also marks the end of summer and features stalls lined up in the local area.
  5. For details on events in Otaru, visit the Otaru Tourism Association website (https://otaru.gr.jp/).

Otaru Tours & Activities

When planning your Otaru trip, consider joining one of the following tours.

Recommended Side Trips from Otaru

Discover the hidden gems surrounding Otaru with these highly recommended side trips, offering everything from breathtaking nature to unique cultural experiences.

  1. Yoichi: Home to the famous Nikka Whisky Distillery, Yoichi offers a fascinating journey through the history and craft of Japanese whisky-making. Visitors can tour the distillery, sample whiskies, and explore the charming town steeped in history.
  2. Shakotan Peninsula: Known for its dramatic coastline and crystal-clear waters, the Shakotan Peninsula is a paradise for nature lovers. The area is perfect for scenic drives, hiking, and enjoying some of the freshest seafood, especially uni (sea urchin).
  3. Sapporo: Just a short train ride away, Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, offers urban explorers a mix of modern and traditional experiences. From the historic Sapporo Beer Museum to the lively Snow Festival, Sapporo is a bustling city with something for everyone.
  4. Niseko: Renowned worldwide for its powder snow, Niseko is a premier destination for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. Beyond winter sports, Niseko offers hot springs, gourmet dining, and outdoor activities year-round in its stunning mountainous landscape.

With these tips in mind, you're all set to make the most of your Otaru visit. Enjoy exploring the city's unique attractions, relishing the local cuisine, and experiencing the warm hospitality!

*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.

Share this article.