Experience the magic of Otaru in winter, with snowy canals, illuminations, hot springs, ski resorts, and more! Our local Otaru writer shares a curated list of the best 10 winter activities to help make your next trip magical.
1. CANAL SIDE HOTEL FURUKAWA: A Wonderful Winter View of the Canal from Your Room!
CANAL SIDE HOTEL FURUKAWA, a unique inn, is conveniently located just a 13-minute walk from Otaru Station. Immerse yourself in the charm of old-time Otaru as you step into this concept inn, evoking the nostalgic ambiance of the Meiji Period. The entire building exudes a sense of nostalgia, featuring a front desk area designed to resemble an old merchant home, adorned with retro decor. The lounge is a delightful sight with its beautiful lamps, stained glass, and the pleasant backdrop of classical music.
Every guest room at the hotel has its own unique personality, ensuring that each stay promises a fresh and distinctive experience. The front-facing guest rooms boast windows that frame picturesque winter views of the enchanting Otaru Canal and the serene Sea of Japan.
For relaxation and rejuvenation, the hotel features a spacious public bathing area. Inside, you'll find a soothing indoor bath crafted with Otaru freestone, while outside, an open-air bath awaits, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural surroundings. It's the ideal retreat to ease any fatigue or soreness from your journey.
(*Note: Day trip bathing not available)
The kaiseki dinner course is a three-course meal featuring delicious dishes made with local Otaru and Hokkaido ingredients. You can also try the popular à la carte seasonal dishes!
Official website is available in English. English-speaking hotel staff are also available, so don't hesitate to ask any questions, or for more info about Otaru!
2. Otaru Snow Story: A Winter Cityscape, Painted Blue
Otaru Snow Story is a colorful winter event that started in 2013 to attract more tourists during the colder season. The Blue Canal light-up began in 2014, illuminating the entire canal area with blue LED lights at sundown, stretching all the way out toward the sea.
The railings of the bridge and along the edges of the shore are also decorated with beautiful lights. However, these decorations must be handled with care. If even one bulb is damaged, the entire display will short-circuit, and all the lights will go off!
Restaurants dot the edges of the canal, so you can watch the glittering lights outside your window as you enjoy your warm meal indoors.
Otaru Snow Story小樽ゆき物語
- Address 1-9 Ironai, Otaru-City, Hokkaido 047-0031
・Period: November 1, 2022 to January 31, 2023
・Illumination Time: Sunset to 10:30 p.m.
3. Yuki Akari no Michi: A Local Event with Over 20 Years of History
Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi ('Snow Light Path') is a winter festival and one of Hokkaido's signature events. Held during the winter season when tourism tends to slow down, locals have kept this event alive for over 20 years, decorating the entire city of Otaru with countless candles in the snow.
The concept is 'connecting hearts' and 'sharing feelings.' Candles are lit by local and overseas volunteers, neighborhood associations, and various organizations, then lined up along the historical streets of the Otaru Canal and the Temiya Line ruins. It's a fantastic display you won't want to miss!
Hundreds of glass globes drift down the canal, lit by candlelight, resembling a gorgeous recreation of the Milky Way on the water's surface. The innumerable lights represent every person's prayers and wishes, drifting downstream. Please note it gets rather chilly around the canal at this time, so remember to dress appropriately for the weather before visiting!
Otaru Snow Light Road小樽雪あかりの路
- Address 1-9 Ironai, Otaru-City, Hokkaido 047-0031
・Period: February 11-18, 2023
4. Tenguyama Night-time Illumination: A Dazzling Display of Lights At Night
Otaru Tenguyama, or Mount Tengu, is a popular symbol of the city, standing at the height of nearly 532.4 meters above sea level. From there, you'll be able to see a view of Otaru Port and Ishikari Bay. On especially clear days, you may even see the Shokanbetsu Mountain Range and the Shakotan Peninsula in the distance.
The tengu is a legendary creature from Japanese folklore, known for its bright red face and long nose, and wings to fly through the skies. There are various theories about the origin of Mount Tengu, but some say it gets its name from the shape of the rocks on the mountain, which resemble a tengu's face. Others say that the steam rising from the mountains makes it look like a place where the tengu might live!
A ropeway runs every 12 minutes from the foot of the mountain to the summit (a total length of 735m) and takes about four minutes. From February 1-28 (tentative schedule), an annual, month-long event is held at the summit called the Tenguyama Snow Illumination.
Lights illuminate the approach to Otaru Tenguyama Shrine, the famous Tenguyama cherry tree, and the snowy terrace. There's also a register where you can buy message candles to write your wishes on, which you can then arrange carefully inside the kamakura hut outside. So light one up, and make a wish!
Ropeway: Official website available in English, Chinese (Simplified/Traditional), and Korean.
5. City Sightseeing By Rickshaw: Dashing through the Snow in Otaru's Winter Wonderland
If you really want to get a taste of winter in Otaru, a rickshaw ride through Otaru City is the way to go! The shafu (rickshaw driver) will pull you through the city while giving you a guided tour of the Otaru canal area, as well as hidden spots you won't find online or in guidebooks!
Don't let the cold stop you from hopping on. The rickshaw is covered with a hood and includes seat warmers and blankets for a comfortable sightseeing ride, regardless of rain, snow, or the cold winter air.
Hear the snow crunching under your feet, see the icicles dangling from under the eaves, and feel the chilly wind on your face as it pushes the snow back up from the ground. Especially for tourists visiting from countries that don't get much snow, wintertime in Otaru offers several unique sights and experiences, sure to fill you with awe!
If you'd like to take a rickshaw ride, simply call out to one of the shafu waiting around Asakusabashi and Chuobashi. There are several course options to choose from, varying in content, time, and budget.
Feel free to ask about each, and select according to your preference. The one-section canal sightseeing course is a perfect choice for those who want a sample of what an Otaru tour has to offer. The rickshaw is a two-seater, and ideal for friends, couples, and anyone wanting to create fun or romantic memories.
Customers may request a foreign language-speaking shafu for an extra 1,000 yen.
- Address 2-8-7 Ironai, Otaru-City, Hokkaido 047-0031
- Phone Number 0134-27-7771
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to sunset
Closed: Open daily
6. Ajidokoro Takeda: Your Stop for Fresh and Delicious Seafood!
Ajidokoro Takeda, located in Otaru Sankaku Market (literally 'triangular market'), is a seafood restaurant just one minute away from Otaru Station on foot, perfect for first-time visitors looking for a casual place to drop by. Otaru Sankaku Market, which gets its name from the triangular shape of its land and roof, started around 1948 when a handful of street vendors decided to set up shop in front of Otaru Station.
Ajidokoro Takeda is directly managed by Takeda Sengyoten, a great spot to enjoy fresh seafood all year round. Its top-selling dish is the Uni-don (sea urchin rice bowl; sold at market price), and although this dish may invoke images of summer, Takeda Sengyoten gets their urchin from various parts of Hokkaido with different fishing restrictions, making it possible to enjoy delicious sea urchin dishes all year round!
In addition to uni-don dishes, there are plenty of other fresh, delicious meals on the menu, including seafood rice bowls, sashimi, and grilled fish. One of Otaru's seasonal winter catches is a white-fleshed type of herring called 'hakkaku', which is also sold and served as sashimi. So be sure to stop by this market, and indulge in the many delicious flavors of Otaru!
Menu includes illustrations and English descriptions.
- Address Sankaku Market, 3-10-16 Inaho, Otaru City, Hokkaido 047-0032
- Phone Number 0134-22-9652
・Hours: 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
・Closed: Open daily
7. Yunohana Asariden: Soothe Your Cold, Tired Body With A Warm, Relaxing Soak
The Asari District is a resort area located about 20 minutes by car from downtown Otaru. Here you'll find Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort, where you can ski against a backdrop of the ocean, as well as Asarigawa Onsen, a hot spring that will soak away your fatigue.
You'll also want to check out the day-trip hot spring facility, Yunohana Asariden. To get there, take the Asarigawa Onsen-bound bus from Otaru Station or Otaru Chikko Station, and ride to Shinko 5-chome.
The springs are of sodium-sulfate-chloride quality (hypotonic, weakly alkaline, and high-temperature). There are ten baths of varying sizes and varieties, including open-air baths and waterfall baths, as well as automatic loyly saunas and dry saunas. Relax to your heart's content as you unwind from your sightseeing trip with a sauna and a soak.
In addition to the hot springs, there's also a co-working space and a manga corner. You can even treat yourself to a haircut or shave, massages, pedicures, and other aesthetic treatments. Afterwards, enjoy a meal at the restaurant, such as Hokkaido's specialty dish, the Zangi Meal Set, or Otaru's local specialty, Ankake Yakisoba. This inn is surely one of the finest spots to settle down with a relaxing soak and delicious food!
While there isn't any particular foreign-language support available, signs such as bathing etiquette include illustrations. Please be mindful of those around you when entering the baths.
Yunohana Asariden湯の花 朝里殿
- Address 5-12-24 Shinko, Otaru City, Hokkaido 047-0152
- Phone Number 0134-54-4444
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Adults: 770 yen
Children (ages 6 to 12): 350 yen
8. Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort: Skiing Straight Toward the Sea of Japan
Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort is conveniently located within walking distance of the accommodation facilities in Asarigawa Onsen town. There are five lifts and 11 ski courses of varying lengths and difficulties, from beginner to advanced skiers, with the longest run at about 3km. The ski areas are also divided into compacted and non-compacted snow zones.
One of the highlights of this spot is the viewpoint at an altitude of 660m that overlooks the Sea of Japan. Cruise down the slopes as you take in the scenery of the vast blue sea. On clear days, you may even be able to see the Mashike Mountains and Cape Ofuyu out beyond Ishikari Bay.
Discount bundles are also available, so you don't have to worry about bringing your own gear. Bundles include a lift ticket, and a full skiing set (ski wear, skis, boots, poles) or snowboarding set (wear, board, boots). There's also a child- and beginner-friendly area called the Safari Park, separated from the more advanced courses by a net. For those who don't want to hit the slopes, you can go sledding and play in the snow for free, so don't hesitate to get out in the snow, and create some new, fun and fantastic winter memories!
Website available in English and Chinese (simplified/traditional).
Asarigawa Onsen Ski Resort朝里川温泉スキー場
- Address 1-394 Asarigawa Onsen, Otaru City, Hokkaido 047-0154
- Phone Number 0134-54-0101
Weekdays: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (December 17 - February 26)
Saturdays/Sundays/holidays: 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Other days: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Ends December 31 at 4:00 p.m.
January 1: 9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
1-Day Lift Ticket (valid during lift operating hours)
Adults: 4,000 yen
Children (Elementary school students): 2,500 yen
・Closed: Open daily during season
9. Otaru Aquarium: A Paradise for Cold-Loving Winter Animals
The Otaru Aquarium originally started as the Otaru City Aquarium in 1959. Located just 25 minutes by bus from Otaru Station, this is one of the largest aquariums in Hokkaido and is home to nearly 5,000 animals of 250 species in 62 tanks, many of which inhabit Hokkaido and other cold regions.
This is the only breeding exhibition in Japan for porpoises, which are small cetacean creatures that inhabit the coast of Hokkaido. There are also a total of five species of seals on display here, all of which inhabit the seas near Japan. With the exception of black seals, about 50 seals of the other four species are bred and raised here.
You'll also want to catch the winter-only event, the Penguin's Snow Walk. These playful penguins are super energetic, and sometimes get so excited, they end up straying off course. If you visit this aquarium, be sure to pay a visit to the curious and adorable gentoo penguins. Watching them strutting through the snow is sure to bring a smile to your face!
Website available in English, Chinese, (Simplified & Traditional), and Korean.
10. Otaru Western Confectionery LeTAO Main Branch: An Otaru-Born Sweets Shop Serving Only the Finest Ingredients
Otaru Western Confectionery LeTAO Main Branch is a Western confectionery shop located at the Marchen Intersection, about a 7-minute walk from Minami-Otaru Station. Founded in Otaru in 1998, this spot goes by its brand adage of 'Northern Sweets Manner' and 'Nostalgic Modern.'
LeTAO's sweets use only the finest, carefully-selected ingredients. The fresh, unpasteurized milk used in their fresh cream is all locally produced in Hokkaido. Their plentiful, tasty treats are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth, including their cheesecake, born from a combination of special fresh creams and cheeses from around the world, and their double fromage, which is so delicious, it even sparked a big boom throughout the country!
Head to the second-floor cafe, and sit down for a nostalgic coffee break while gazing out at the romantic, snowy scenery of popular tourist attraction, the Marchen Crossroads. The cafe's specialty is a fragrant, 100% Ceylon black tea, made with flavored tea from Mlesna, Sri Lanka, and blended with flavors from Switzerland. So lift your teacup, and enjoy a flavorful sip together with a delicious cake set or a fresh, double fromage.
Chinese and English speaking staff available at main branch. (Please note that Chinese-speaking staff may not always be available). Cafe menu also available in English and Chinese.
Enjoy a Winter Experience in Otaru This Year
In Otaru, you'll find something new to experience with each passing day. From the brilliant illuminations that light up the city and the softly falling snow, to the welcoming warmth that awaits back at your hotel, you'll find everything around you dramatic and inspiring. So head out this winter, and enjoy an unforgettable trip in Otaru.
Information in article as of December 2022. Please see official websites for the latest updates & information.
Text by: Masakazu
English translation by Krys Suzuki
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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