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

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

Date published: 6 October 2022

Historically, Otaru was a thriving port city that was vital in linking Hokkaido with the rest of Japan. Now, Otaru is known for its historic cityscape with beautiful stone-built warehouses, banks and canal. It is the perfect getaway when visiting the northern island of Hokkaido.

We will introduce everything you need to know about how to get to and the best places to stay in Otaru as well as other areas interest you may not know about!

Main image: PIXTA

1. Getting to and from Otaru

Otaru is filled with cute boutiques, restaurants, and food stalls, like these in Otaru Denuki Koji. Photo: PIXTA
Otaru is filled with cute boutiques, restaurants, and food stalls, like these in Otaru Denuki Koji. Photo: PIXTA

a. Ease of access to/from New Chitose Airport
・Train: From New Chitose Airport to Otaru, it takes 80 minutes by the JR Rapid Airport train (2,750 yen o/w). Note that if you hold the Japan Rail Pass (or JR Hokkaido Rail Pass), you can ride it for free.

・Bus: You can also get the New Chitose Airport Limousine Bus from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo Station, then take the Chuo Bus to Otaru Station (total of 1,780 yen o/w).

・Rental Car: If you are planning to rent a car, take the Sasson expressway from New Chitose Airport all the way to Otaru, which takes around 70 minutes (tolls total 2,250 yen o/w).

b. Ease of getting to sightseeing spots outside Otaru
Otaru Station provides easy access to sightseeing spots outside Otaru. The JR Airport Train allows you to easily get to Sapporo within 40 minutes (750 yen o/w).. You can also take JR Hakodate Line to Niseko, which takes approximately 2 hours (1,510 yen o/w).

c. Getting around Otaru
Otaru is a relatively small city, so most of the major sightseeing spots are within a 30-minute walk of each other. On foot, you can explore some of the lesser-known spots, smaller roads, and charming buildings that you might not see by vehicle.

Within Otaru's city center, it is very easy and pleasant to walk around and enjoy the historic cityscape, various shops and restaurants.

Alternatively, Otaru Stroller's Bus runs between all the major sightseeing spots. For adults, it costs 240 yen and for children 120 yen per ride. A one-day bus pass is also available - adults 800 yen and children 400 yen. This is also a fantastic way to roam Otaru all day without getting too tired! (Please note this pass is only available for the Stroller buses.)

For areas further out, there are the Chuo Bus and other local buses. The fare starts from 210 yen and increases depending on the distance traveled.

2. What is Otaru like?

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

Otaru is a quiet city, but the sightseeing spots have become very popular with local tourists and travelers. Otaru is rich with history from its port trading days, with a beautiful historic cityscape. The stunning canal is carefully preserved acting as a spine of the city, with many of the quaint shops, cafes and restaurants accessible by walking. It is also famous for its glass making, so you might hear some of these chiming echoing throughout the streets.

3. Where is the best area to stay in Otaru City?

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

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

a. Otaru Station: Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city
Otaru Station is the city's hub, with many of the top sighting spots within walking distance. It is a convenient spot for anyone traveling in a large group or solo as many of the major hotels are located close by.

Why stay in the Otaru Station Area?
We recommend the Otaru Station Area for travelers who like to have easy access to public transport and be in the city's center. It is the gateway to the city, and although it can get quite busy with people and vehicles, the location and convenience outweigh the disadvantages.

Access
Hotels, restaurants, and cafes are close by, making it easy to walk to. Just outside the station, there are many taxis and a bus station, so you can easily get to other areas around Otaru. Otaru Station links to the JR Hakodate Line, making trips to Niseko straightforward as well. It also connects to JR Hokkaido's Airport Rapid train, allowing convenient access to Sapporo and New Chitose Airport.

Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
Being in the heart of the city, it may get a little noisy with passing vehicles. However, you can experience the liveliness and charm of the historic city. There are many major stores, such as Don Quijote, to get any essentials; this area is also close to the Miyakodori Shopping Street and Sankaku Fish Market, which breathe the life of Otaru.

Popular spots and points of interest
The Otaru Station area is a busy area. Still, within a few minutes, you can get to the famous sightseeing spots. Slightly north of the station is Sankaku Market, which is the perfect spot to enjoy some seafood. To the east and just a 10-minute walk is the city's most famous spot, Otaru Canal, as well as a popular photography spot, the Former Japan National Railways Temiya Line.

Recommended hotels near Otaru Station

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

b. Minami Otaru: Enjoy the quieter side of Otaru
Minami Otaru is located just a little south, one stop from Otaru Station. While still close to the city's heart, it is a more relaxed and quiet area to stay in, making it perfect for large groups or even solo travelers.

Why stay in Minami Otaru?
If you want to stay somewhere a little quieter, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Minami Otaru is perfect for you. You can enjoy the local neighborhood as well as easy access to the popular sightseeing spots as well as many of the smaller shops selling Otaru goods. A little north of the station are many whole apartment rentals, which are great for couples, families and people looking for an extended stay.

Access
Minami Otaru is just one stop away from Otaru Station on the JR Rapid Airport line, which is the only train line available at the station. There are several taxis waiting outside the station to use, as well as a Minami Otaru Bus Stop, so you can easily get to other spots around the city. However, Minami Otaru may be inconvenient for people that want the ease of access using trains.

Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
In contrast to the Otaru Station area, you can enjoy a quieter and relaxed atmosphere. You can enjoy some of the local restaurants, izakayas and cafes, which is a great way to get to talk to some of the Otaru locals!

Popular spots and points of interest
A 15-minute walk to the south from the station is Wing Bay Otaru shopping mall, which has a wide selection of shops, restaurants and also a cinema. To the north is Kitachi Glass Otaru, a famous set of shops selling items made from glass. You can also find the Otaru Music Box Museum here as well, north of the station. Along the roads are many small shops and restaurants selling local Otaru food as well as trinkets and souvenirs.

Recommended hotels in Minami Otaru

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

c. Asari: Perfect for people that love nature
Asari is located southeast of the center of Otaru. It is surrounded by Hokkaido's wonderful nature, so it is perfect for people that love the outdoors.

Why stay in Asari?
In Asari, there is lodging near the station area, and also several hotels around a 15-20 minute drive south, in Asarigawa Onsen. Here you can find Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort for visitors that want to enjoy winter sports or Asarinomori Camping Ground for the campers in summer.

Access
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. At the village, there is no rail access and only buses running to and from Otaruchikko Station. Some hotels in the area offer a free shuttle bus service, so please check in advance when planning your trip.

Type of neighborhood/atmosphere
Asari is a quiet area where you can enjoy Hokkaido's nature. The northern area of Asari is a typical Japanese suburb with local restaurants and shops as well as houses. However, southern Asari is more of a resort, tucked away in the mountains, with a countryside vibe. Several hotels here cater to winter sports and camping, so some visitors enjoy extended stays in the area.

Popular spots and points of interest
The main attraction is Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort so if you are looking to ski or snowboard, this is the place for you. A little further south, there is the Asari Sky Loop, Asari Dam, and Otarunai Lake closely, which are great for a scenic walk, whatever time of the year. Furthermore, around a 20-minute drive away is Sapporo's famous Kokusai Ski Resort!

Other Areas of Otaru

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

Shukutsu: Enjoy the seaside views of Otaru
Shukutsu is a coastal area boasting views of the Sea of Japan. It is located north of Otaru Station with minimal access, so it is suitable for travelers with a rental car. The spectacular views and many scenic spots are great for solo or group nature lovers. The Otaru Aquarium and Marine Land also make it a great place to visit with family.

Access
Access to Shukutsu is minimal, with just the number 11 bus running from Otaru Station to Otaru Aquarium. Otherwise, you will need a car to get around Shukutsu. This is the most convenient way to enjoy many of Shukutsu's scenic spots.

Popular spots and points of interest
There are lots of scenic spots to discover, so we recommend going on drives around Shukutsu. The Otaru Shukutsu Panorama Observation Deck is one of the most scenic spots in Otaru, looking over the Sea of Japan and the harbor. It is a magical place for sunset views. The Otaru Aquarium is also a great place to visit with family! As Shukutsu is next to the coastline, you can enjoy many of Otaru's beaches and coastlines.

Recommended hotels in Shukutsu
Despite its location on the coast, there are limited hotels in the Shukutsu region. If you have a car, we recommend you stay in the center of Otaru and drive here throughout the day. If you would like to stay in Shukutsu, these are the hotels we recommend!

4. Types of accommodation in Otaru

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.

c. Hotels & Business hotels
Business hotels are great for people that are on a budget but also like to have their own room. They are very economical with the rooms being small and basic but perfect for people who don't mind much about the hotel's facilities. If you want your own room and care just about a place to sleep, business hotels are for you.

Standard hotels tend to be larger and offer more services than their budget-minded cousins.

d. Hostels & guesthouses
Guesthouses and hostels offer fantastic housing for a reasonable price. They generally have shared rooms making it great for groups or solo travelers who want to meet other people!

f. Vacation Rentals
It is common for groups of friends or families to stay at vacation rentals. These can include entire apartments, which are spacious, have their own kitchen, bathroom and other facilities. It is perfect for longer stay vacations. However, they can be more expensive than regular hotels and you will have to follow neighborhood rules such as noise restrictions and garbage disposal.

5. When is the peak season for visiting Otaru?

Photo: PIXTA
Photo: PIXTA

Otaru is beautiful throughout the year. During the summer, you can enjoy pleasant walks along the canal and seaside. Throughout spring and autumn, you can enjoy the beautiful sakura and fall foliage.

Winter is perhaps the most popular season for visiting Otaru. Hokkaido sees high snowfall from November to March, turning Otaru into a winter wonderland. Many of the small shops build cute snow characters and sculptures outside, as well as beautiful illuminations in the evening. There is something about the old, traditional style brick and wooden interiors that is warming on a cold winter's day, making it so special to Otaru.

The Otaru Canal is a stark contrast to the summer scenery as the cobbled pathways are covered in snow. In the evening, they are illuminated by romantic snow candles during the Otaru Snow Light Path - a winter tradition.

Other areas, such as the Former Japan National Railways Temiya Line, are also illuminated, turning Otaru into a winter paradise. Accordingly, if you plan to visit Otaru in the winter, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance.

6. Where to search if Otaru is booked

If you can't find a place to stay in Otaru, do not worry! The ease of access makes it perfect for day trips so you can stay in neighboring cities and towns.

Yoichi
To the west of Otaru is the neighboring town of Yoichi. It's a popular sightseeing spot known for its whiskey factories, wineries, delicious seafood, and fruit picking. Yoichi is definitely the place to stay if you would like to experience more of Hokkaido's nature. Not to mention that it takes just 25 minutes by train on the JR Hakodate Line from Otaru Station.

Sapporo
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and has everything you need in a major city. From entertainment to delicious food and beautiful nature, the city provides the perfect hub to access other areas of Hokkaido. Using the JR Rapid Airport line, it takes just 30 minutes from Sapporo Station to Otaru Station, making it easy to access and explore all in one day. You can also enjoy the beautiful ocean view on the train!

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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