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Visiting Sapporo: 9 Essentials to Know Before Traveling to Japan's Northern Capital

Visiting Sapporo: 9 Essentials to Know Before Traveling to Japan's Northern Capital

Date published: 9 January 2020
Last updated: 4 November 2021

Thinking of traveling to Sapporo for the first time? This guide is for you. We’ve compiled the perfect guide to the weather, proper attire, transportation, and tourist attractions you should be aware of when traveling to Hokkaido and Japan’s popular northern tourist city!

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Table of Contents
  1. 1. Quick facts about Sapporo
  2. 2. When is the best time to visit Sapporo?
  3. 3. Transportation: Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo and getting around Sapporo
  4. 4. Accommodations: Where to stay in Sapporo
  5. 5. Must-try foods in Sapporo
  6. 6. Cultural things to see in Sapporo
  7. 7. Recommended activities and things to do in Sapporo
  8. 8. Enjoy shopping in Sapporo
  9. 9. Sightseeing spots near Sapporo

1. Quick facts about Sapporo

1. Quick facts about Sapporo
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Sapporo is the largest city on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and one of the country’s major tourist destinations.

New Chitose Airport, the gateway to Hokkaido, has many flights from Tokyo and several direct international flights. Sapporo is the hub of Hokkaido’s transportation network, making it the access point for other parts of the island like Niseko and Furano.

Sapporo’s climate is one of the coolest in Japan and each season has its own charms. In spring and summer, flowers are in full bloom, the autumn leaves are vibrant, and winters are a snowy wonderland. The Sapporo Snow Festival takes advantage of the heavy snowfall and is a world-famous annual event visited by tourists from all over the globe.

Sapporo offers an excellent pairing of nature and cuisine. After some outdoor leisure like mountain climbing or skiing in the morning, you can head downtown to enjoy Sapporo cuisine made with fresh local ingredients day or night. It’s a city full of highlights all year round.

2. When is the best time to visit Sapporo?

2. When is the best time to visit Sapporo?
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Recommended sightseeing seasons in Sapporo
Although Sapporo has many attractive points throughout the year, February and August are the peak tourist seasons.

People come for the snowy scenery, skiing and other winter sports, and the Sapporo Snow Festival in February. In August, the weather is crisp and comfortable, and visitors enjoy the refreshing atmosphere and the city’s beer gardens.

May through July, when flowers are in full bloom, and October, when the autumn leaves are at their best, are the other top times for traveling to Sapporo. In May, cherry and plum blossoms bloom in Sapporo, and visitors can see the famous cherry blossoms in Nakajima Park and Maruyama Park. Hiraoka Park is known for its plum blossoms, and Hokkaido Jingu Shrine has a combination of both.

In June, the lilacs in Odori Park and Yurigahara Park are popular, and Horomitoge’s lavender is the star of July. Mid-October is leaf season in Sapporo, and the area around suburban Jozankei Onsen is a famous spot for autumn leaf viewing.

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Sapporo’s climate and what clothes to wear
It usually begins to snow in late October or early November. Around mid-December, accumulated snow on solidifies on the roads, almost turning them into skating rinks until mid-March!

It can be difficult to walk with ordinary shoes at this time of year, so non-slip shoes and boots or special attachments for regular shoes become essential for avoiding emergencies.

Even local residents often slip and fall in winter, resulting in broken bones and other injuries, further emphasizing the importance of choosing the right shoes for winter visits.

When choosing what to wear, it’s best to go with layers that are easy to put on or take off throughout all four seasons. In winter, the outdoor temperature is below freezing even at noon, but room temperatures are high, and the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors is often 20°C or more.

In summer, the daytime temperature is over 30°C, and while you may get sweaty even with short sleeves, the temperature drops below 20°C on summer nights.

3. Transportation: Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo and getting around Sapporo

3. Transportation: Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo and getting around Sapporo
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Access from Tokyo to Sapporo

If you want to get to Sapporo in the shortest amount of time, flying is, of course, your best option. It takes about 90 minutes from Haneda Airport or Narita Airport in Tokyo to Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport.

Buses run from New Chitose to Sapporo with fares around 1,100 yen. That price is comparable to train fares along the same route. The bus ride takes twice as long as going by train, but since there are many hotel bus stops in Sapporo, it’s a convenient way to get directly from the airport to your accommodation.

Take note that Tokyo’s two airports are quite far apart, so be careful not to make a mistake. Haneda Airport is conveniently close to central Tokyo and has a large number of flights. Narita Airport has slightly fewer flights to New Chitose Airport but offers reasonably priced tickets due to LCCs (low-cost carriers) in service there. Narita also has more international flights than Haneda, making it convenient if you are in transit.

Airfares vary considerably depending on the airline, flight time, and time of year. Flights from Haneda are generally about 9,000 to 27,000 yen one way, while Narita’s range is roughly 4,500 to 18,000 yen one way.

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If you’re using the JR Group’s unlimited ride Japan Rail Pass for international travelers, you can also reach Sapporo by train.

From Tokyo Station, take the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station, the final stop, and switch to a limited express train to reach Sapporo Station with only a single transfer.

However, be aware that there aren’t many departures and the trip takes more than 8 hours, so going by train is only recommended for fans of rail travel and longer trips.

In winter, flights may be canceled due to adverse weather conditions, and trains are often delayed. When taking a winter trip, it’s a good idea to plan your itinerary with plenty of time to allow for delays and interruptions.

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Transportation when traveling around Sapporo
You can walk to the majority of Sapporo’s most famous sightseeing spots. The city’s iconic Sapporo TV Tower, Odori Park, historic Sapporo Clock Tower and Former Hokkaido Government Office (“Red Brick Government Building”), and downtown Susukino district are all within a 10- to 20-minute walk from Sapporo Station.

When heading to other popular tourist draws like the Mt. Moiwa night view overlook, the dessert-themed Shiroi Koibito Park, and sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s Moerenuma Park, the subway, streetcars, buses, or taxis all offer convenient service. Unless you want to reach the suburbs and or more mountainous areas, you won’t need to rent a car since public transportation provides easy access to most of Sapporo.

・Economical free pass
If you’re planning to travel a lot within Sapporo itself, be sure to take advantage of passes for unlimited use of the subway or streetcar system. The subway’s “Donichika Kippu” is especially useful on weekends and holidays. On weekdays it’s 820 yen for adults but is discounted to 520 yen on weekends and holidays and pays for itself with just a few subway rides. Please be aware that the Japan Rail Pass is not valid for use on Sapporo’s subway and streetcar systems.

There are multiple bus companies in Sapporo, and each has its own “free-ride” ticket. We recommend the “One-day Norihodai Ticket” sold by JR Hokkaido Bus, a blue bus that runs in and around Sapporo. All-you-can-ride options within Sapporo and to other locations like Otaru and Ebetsu are also available as day passes.

The passes are particularly advantageous if you plan to visit multiple sightseeing spots away from the station, like the open-air Historical Village of Hokkaido museum and the Okurayama Jump Stadium ski jumping facility and its great view of the city.

4. Accommodations: Where to stay in Sapporo

Sapporo has four major areas where you’ll be able to find plentiful accommodation options.

Sapporo station area

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The Sapporo Station area is recommended for accommodation on the day of arrival or departure, whether you’re headed to the airport or other parts of Hokkaido. There’s a wide variety of hotels in Sapporo, from reasonably priced economy hotels to high-class hotels. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes so finding a place to eat is not a problem. However, many aren’t open late since the area is also home to offices and universities.

Odori Park area

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The Odori Park area is recommended for travelers who want to spend a couple of nights in Sapporo and enjoy sightseeing throughout the city. From Sapporo Station, you can walk to the “Chikaho” underpass in about 10 minutes or take the subway to centrally situated Odori Station, one stop away in about two minutes.

In addition to Sapporo Station, the city’s top downtown area, Susukino, is also nearby and within walking distance. Odori Station is a convenient base for traveling around Sapporo, as all Sapporo subway lines run through it.

As a standard tourist destination, hotels are scattered around Odori Park, with many economy and high-class options. There are also bargain-priced guesthouses just a short way away. There are more restaurants in the area than there are around Sapporo Station, and they have a more local feel and serve distinctly Sapporo-style food.

Susukino / Nakajima Park area

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Recommended for those who want to enjoy great food and Sapporo's nightlife, Susukino and Nakajima Koen stations, are the entry points to this area and can be reached from Sapporo Station in about 5 minutes by subway (3 stops), or in about 20 minutes on foot.

Susukino is the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo. There are countless sushi restaurants, ramen shops, and bars that are open until midnight and into the morning (as of September 2021, many close at midnight to prevent the spread of COVID-19). Here, you’ll never have a problem finding a delicious meal.

There are numerous reasonably priced and high-class hotels in the area, and some even have their own hot spring facilities. The area around Susukino Station has a lively atmosphere, while Nakajima Koen Station is surrounded by a calmer atmosphere, lush Nakajima Park, and nearby Toyohira River, where salmon can be seen swimming upstream.

Jozankei Onsen hot spring area

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The Jozankei Onsen hot spring area is perfect for anyone who wants to be away from the city and enjoy Japanese hot spring culture while being surrounded by nature. Located in Sapporo’s suburban mountains, it’s about an hour from Sapporo Station by car and about 80 minutes by bus.

There are several hotels in the valley, almost all of which have hot springs. Room rates vary from low to high, depending on the hotel, and many have Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats. The autumn leaves are superb around mid-October, but, be warned, the number of leaf-viewing visitors can make it difficult to make a reservation.

5. Must-try foods in Sapporo

5. Must-try foods in Sapporo
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Sapporo is a treasure trove of fresh seafood, vegetables, meat, and Hokkaido dairy products! As Hokkaido’s largest city, foodstuffs from all over the island find their way to Sapporo, making it another of Japan’s culinary capitals.

Seafood is one of the city’s signature dishes, served in the form of seafood bowls and sushi at famous restaurants near the outdoor Nijo Market.

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Many cuisines and a unique food culture have originated in Sapporo, with specialties that are always relished by tourists.

Among them, Miso ramen and “soup curry” are staples, and you’ll find many specialty shops scattered throughout the city.

Ramen salad” is a little-known dish that originated in Sapporo and consists of a combination of ramen noodles and salad. It’s often found on hotel restaurant menus or in bars.

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There are two main food cultures unique to Sapporo: “Shime Parfait” – having a parfait after drinks, and “Jingisukan” – mutton and vegetables cooked on a round iron hot plate and served with beer.

There are many Shime Parfait parlors in Susukino, and Jingisukan and draft beer restaurants can be found all over the city. In summer, there are lots of outdoor places to enjoy Jingisukan and draft beer, found on the rooftops of department stores and even right under the TV Tower.

6. Cultural things to see in Sapporo

6. Cultural things to see in Sapporo
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Sapporo’s most iconic image is the Sapporo TV Tower, as seen from Odori Park. There are flower beds and gardens throughout Odori Park, and the view of the seasonal flowers, autumn leaves, and the TV Tower is always beautiful. Conversely, the view of Odori Park from the Sapporo TV Tower observation deck is also refreshing!

Sapporo was planned out systematically in the late 1800s, and due to its relatively short history, many historic buildings and sites remain from its early days.

Famous examples that have become popular photo spots include the Sapporo Clock Tower, which used to be a performance hall, and the Hoheikan, which was built as a Western-style hotel.

In the Historical Village of Hokkaido on the city's outskirts, buildings from more than 100 years ago have been relocated for exhibition and offer a peek inside the lives of Sapporo’s earliest pioneers.

When it comes to Sapporo culture, the giant snow sculptures that line Odori Park in mid-winter cannot be missed. They’re the main event of the Sapporo Snow Festival, held annually in early February and visited by participants and onlookers from all over the world.

7. Recommended activities and things to do in Sapporo

7. Recommended activities and things to do in Sapporo
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Sports and activities that take advantage of Sapporo’s cold, snowy winters are a major tourist draw, and there are several ski resorts in the suburbs of Sapporo.

Sapporo Bankei Ski Area
About 20 minutes by car from Sapporo Station. You can also take the subway and bus to these slopes, which are the closest to the city.

Sapporo Teine
About 40 minutes by car from Sapporo Station. The view of the city and the sea from the summit over 1,000 meters above sea level is superb!

Sapporo International Ski Resort
About 1 hour by car from Sapporo Station. It has a long season, lasting from mid-November to early May.

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Another of Sapporo’s characteristics is the several mountains nearby, including Mt. Hakken, where you can go climbing or light trekking on a day trip. You can also enjoy horseback riding and fruit picking in the Hakkenzan area, and canoeing in the Jozankei hot spring area.

The easiest mountain to climb in Sapporo. From Odori Station, take the subway to Maruyama Koen Station, 3 stations away, and then you can reach the summit in 40 to 50 minutes.

Mt. Moiwa
A famous peak in Sapporo that can be climbed in about 75 minutes. The view of the city from the summit is superb! Alternatively, you can also take the ropeway up, and there’s public transportation for your descent as well.

You can climb it in about 40 minutes, but there are many rocks and cliffs near the summit, making for a short but thrilling climb.

8. Enjoy shopping in Sapporo

8. Enjoy shopping in Sapporo
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Sapporo has two main shopping districts: the Sapporo Station and Odori Park areas.

The area around Sapporo Station is home to large commercial facilities such as Sapporo Stellar Place, Esta, Daimaru, and Tokyu Department Store, all of which feature many domestic and international fashion brand stores. Since the shopping area is directly connected to the station, you can conveniently shop without getting wet on rainy or snowy days.

The Odori Park area is home to department stores including Mitsukoshi, Marui Imai, PARCO, and Mega Don Quijote, as well as Tanukikoji Shopping Street, which has a history of more than 100 years. There are plenty of long-standing stores and many that originated in Sapporo, so it’s easy to find both Sapporo-themed items and products from all over Hokkaido.

Additionally, if you go further from Sapporo, there are two popular outlets: Chitose Outlet Mall Rera near New Chitose Airport and Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo Kitahiroshima in Kitahiroshima on the way from the airport to Sapporo.

9. Sightseeing spots near Sapporo

9. Sightseeing spots near Sapporo
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A large number of the sightseeing spots around Sapporo are areas with beautiful natural scenery and a comfortable climate, as well as towns where you can experience the historical culture. Here are some options for a day trip from Sapporo:

About 40 minutes by train from Sapporo. Gourmet sushi and sweets are popular in this port town, which features many buildings that are more than 100 years old.

Lake Shikotsu
About 1 hour by car from Sapporo. Surrounded by mountains, the lake has a circumference of about 40km, and you can further appreciate the highly transparent waters in glass-bottomed canoes and tour boats.

About 70 minutes by limited express train from Sapporo. Here you’ll find Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, where you can learn about the history and culture of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people through exhibits and interactive activities.

Approximately 2 to 2 hours and 30 minutes by car from Sapporo. At this world-famous ski resort, you’ll be treated to excellent powder snow. In summer, you can go rafting and trekking.

About 2 hours and 30 minutes from Sapporo. This tourist destination is famous for its skiing and lavender, and is quite busy in mid-July when the lavender is in full bloom.

Sapporo is a hub city in every sense, making it a convenient base for sightseeing in Hokkaido. There are many attractive sights and a wide variety of gourmet foods, and even if you’re planning a longer itinerary that combines sightseeing in Sapporo with day trips around the city, it’s impossible to get bored. Head north to Sapporo, and you’re sure to be satisfied!

Text by: Nobuka Kawashima
*The information in this article is accurate as of October 2021.

English translation by Gabriel Wilkinson

*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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