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Enjoy the Cold and Snow! Top 10 Things to Do in Sapporo in Winter

Enjoy the Cold and Snow! Top 10 Things to Do in Sapporo in Winter

Date published: 1 February 2021
Last updated: 18 February 2021

Sapporo's first snowfall is in November, and the snow begins to accumulate in December, with the city remaining blanketed through mid-March. Chilly days are the norm from December to February, with maximum temperatures below freezing, yet it's still a season in which you can fully enjoy the uniqueness of Sapporo.

Here are ten of Sapporo's fun winter traditions, seasonal experiences, and special events to help you take advantage of the cold.

Table of Contents
  1. 1. Enjoy playing in the snow-covered country
  2. 2. Take photos among the lights
  3. 3. Experience the artistry of the Sapporo Snow Festival
  4. 4. Encounter cold-weather animals at the Maruyama Zoo
  5. 5. Head to Okurayama and feel like a ski jumper
  6. 6. Take a skiing day trip
  7. 7. Relax with a Yukimi bath at Jozankei Onsen
  8. 8. Eat warm Sapporo ramen in the cold winter
  9. 9. Relax in a cafe with a wood-burning stove
  10. 10. Enjoy seasonal seafood

1. Enjoy playing in the snow-covered country

If you're visiting Sapporo in winter, you'll definitely want to have fun in the snow. Even if you don't ski or snowboard, there are places where you can still play in the soft, cold snow.

Photo courtesy of Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park, about 30 minutes from downtown Sapporo by car, was designed by Isamu Noguchi and is an excellent location for sledding and snowshoeing.

Photo courtesy of Moerenuma Park

When the snow gets deep, Mt. Moere in the center of the park is perfect for sledding and skiing. The sledding zone is safely surrounded by a protective net, and skiing and snowboarding can be enjoyed in other areas.

From January to March, sleds can be rented at the park's glass pyramid (300 yen), so you can have fun sledding even if you don't have a sled of your own.

Photo courtesy of Moerenuma Park

In 2021, rentals are limited to sleds and snowshoes (300 yen) to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in other years boots and cross-country skis are available. For more information, be sure to check the Moerenuma Park website.

Moerenuma Park
Phone: 011-790-1231
Hours: Rentals from 10:00 - 16:00 (final return time) January 5th - March 7th, 2021 (closed on Mondays or the Tuesday following a Monday national holiday)
Admission: Free
Website: https://moerenumapark.jp/

At Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill, about a 10-minute bus ride from Fukuzumi Station on the Toho Subway Line, a snow play area called Snow Park is open from January to March. For those looking for a fast ride, tubing down the large hill is an exciting experience.

It's a thrill to feel the wind in your face and the air is full of cheerful shouts. There are also areas for building snowmen, diving in fresh snow, and cross-country ski trails, so you have plenty of ways to frolic in the snow.

Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill
Phone: 011-851-3080
Hours: Open daily 9:00 - 17:00 (October - April) *Varies depending on the season
Snow Park hours: 10:00 - 16:00 (last reception 15:45) *The opening of Hitsujigaoka Snow Park in 2021 has been postponed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For more details, check the official website, SNS, or contact directly by phone.

Admission: Adults 530 yen, children 300 yen, preschoolers free
Website: https://www.hitsujigaoka.jp/

2. Take photos among the lights

2. Take photos among the lights
Odori Park

Sapporo White Illumination is Sapporo's largest winter lighting event. In addition to the main venue, Odori Park, the trees lining Ekimae-dori and Minami 1-jo-dori and Sapporo Station's south exit square are also lit up so you can enjoy a fantastic view simply walking in the heart of Sapporo.

Kita 3-jo Plaza (Akapura)
Sapporo Station South Square

Due to the cancellation of the Sapporo Snow Festival in 2021, Odori Park and the station square illumination season will be extended, and so you'll be able to enjoy the lights longer than usual.

Sapporo White Illumination
Phone: 011-281-6400 (Sapporo White Illumination Executive Committee)
Season: November 20, 2020 - March 14, 2021 *Last day varies depending on venue. The final days of the Odori Park and Station Square venues are currently undecided as dates are scheduled to be extended. For more information, visit the HP Minami 1-jo-ori, Kita 3-jo Plaza Akapura, or Sapporo Station South Exit Square venues
Website: https://white-illumination.jp/

Miyanomori Frances Church, a wedding hall located about a 10-minute walk from Nishi-Nijuhatchome Station on the Tozai Subway Line, is also one of Sapporo's top winter illumination spots when the garden is lit up with over 10,000 lights.

The beautiful display is a past winner of Walker Plus magazine's Hokkaido Illuminations ranking. It's an impressive sight and you'll get beautiful photos no matter where they're taken, including a 2020-2021area called "Moon Photo Spot," perfect for artistic pictures.

Hours: November 1, 2020 - March 31, 2021 Sunset - 20:00 (light-viewing hours); closed Mondays, Tuesdays, New Year holidays, and for events and weddings
Admission: Free

  • Miyanomori Frances
    宮の森フランセス教会
    • Address 10-3-25 Miyanomori 3-jo, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido 064-0953
    • Phone Number 011-641-0707

There are other winter illumination events in Sapporo's Minami Ward, including the Sapporo Art Forest's snow-lighting festival. Although cancelled in 2020, the lights in Shiroi Koibito Park are also very popular.

3. Experience the artistry of the Sapporo Snow Festival

3. Experience the artistry of the Sapporo Snow Festival
©HTB
© Hokkaido Shimbun Press

Held annually for about a week in early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival has a history of more than 70 years and in recent years has attracted more than 2 million visitors from all over the world.

The 2021 snow sculpture exhibition has been canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and is, instead, being held as an online event. The official website is hosting videos to convey the charms of winter in Sapporo and presenting the history of the Snow Festival, as well as a photo contest.

Local brand crafts for sale and online workshops further make it possible to enjoy the Snow Festival in a different way this year.

Susukino venue
Tsudome venue
© Large Snow Sculpture / HBC Poland Square © Hokkaido Broadcasting 2020

Every year, in cooperation with Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, the festival's main Odori Park venue is lined with massive, finely detailed snow sculptures. At night the sculptures are lit up, and in recent years projection mapping has added a new way to experience them.

In addition to the main site, the festival also includes rows of ice sculptures in Susukino and a snow play area at the Tsudome location.

4. Encounter cold-weather animals at the Maruyama Zoo

4. Encounter cold-weather animals at the Maruyama Zoo
Photo courtesy of Maruyama Zoo, Sapporo

Sapporo's Maruyama Zoo is easy to get to with bus stops in front of its main and west gates, or just a 15-minute walk from Maruyama Station on the Tozai subway line. It's a popular destination for those who want to see the animals up close, and winter is a prime opportunity to observe animals from in cold regions becoming more active.

Photo courtesy of Maruyama Zoo, Sapporo

You can see lively polar bears, snow leopards, and red pandas.

Snow leopard
Red panda / Photo courtesy of Maruyama Zoo, Sapporo

Of course, if you get cold, you can always warm up indoors while looking at animals from tropical and temperate zones. With a cafe and a gift shop full of unique items, there's plenty to make a trip to the zoo worthwhile, even in the cold.

5. Head to Okurayama and feel like a ski jumper

5. Head to Okurayama and feel like a ski jumper

Okurayama Lookout is the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics ski jumping venue. Only about 30 minutes by car from downtown Sapporo, you can both enjoy a spectacular panorama of winter scenery and get a taste of winter sports.

The observation lounge is at an altitude of 307 meters, and overlooking Sapporo, you'll get the same view as a ski jumper while experiencing some of the same exhilaration.

The Sapporo Olympic Museum showcases the history of the Winter Olympics and has an area where visitors can try simulations of sports from an athlete's point of view, making the museum a fun learning experience for all ages.

Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium
Phone: 011-641-8585
Hours: Observatory 9:00 - 17:00 (ticket sales end at 16:45), Sapporo Olympic Museum 9:30 - 17:00 (last entry 16:30) *All hours November 2020 to March 2021; may vary depending on the facility
Admission: Lift ticket 1,000 yen (round trip), Sapporo Olympic Museum 600 yen, combined ticket (observatory lift & Sapporo Olympic Museum) 1,200 yen *All prices are for high school students and above
Closed: Year-end and New Year holidays *Lifts are not available during bad weather, competitions, or official practice days. The Sapporo Olympic Museum has a monthly maintenance closure day. The restaurant is closed on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.
Website: https://okurayama-jump.jp/

6. Take a skiing day trip

There are several ski resorts near Sapporo within a 30-minute to 1-hour drive from the city center. They're well-stocked with rental equipment, so you can enjoy a day of skiing even if you don't own any gear. All areas have taken thorough precautions against the spread of infectious diseases per Hokkaido's official policies, so you can ski safely.

Sapporo Moiwayama Ski Resort is easily accessible – about 20 minutes by bus from Makomanai Station on the Namboku Subway Line and about 30 minutes by car from Sapporo Station. There are ten courses suitable for beginners to advanced skiers. Equipment rentals are available and no advance tickets are required, so it's easy to hit the slopes anytime you want.

Mt. Moiwa night skiing
  • Moiwayama Ski Resort
    札幌藻岩山スキー場
    • Address Moiwayama Ski Resort
    • Phone Number 011-581-0914
    • Hours: December 18, 2020 - January 1, 2021 & March 1-28, 2021 9:00 - 16:00 (There are closed days during March. Please check website for details); 2021 January 2nd - February 28th 9:00 - 21:00 *Varies depending on snowfall and snow conditions;
      Lift tickets: Adults 370 yen, children 280 yen (1 time); 2,700 yen (3-hour ticket) *Other ticket types/hours available; *Lift tickets and rentals are cash only.
      Closures: Open daily all season

Sapporo Bankei Ski Area is about 20 minutes by car from Sapporo Station and about 10 minutes by bus from Maruyama Koen Station on the Tozai Subway Line. The resort has half pipes, moguls, and an area to play in the snow. Rental equipment is available in a wide range of sizes and includes top brands like Salomon. Credit cards and E-payment are accepted.

Play in the snow at Waku Waku Snow Land

Sapporo Bankei Ski Area
Phone: 011-641-0071
Hours: From mid-December to March *Subject to change depending on snowfall and snowfall conditions
Lift tickets: Adults 350 yen, junior high school students and younger 300 yen (1 time); 3,300 yen (2-hour ticket) *Other ticket types/hours available. There are other set tickets with meals, equipment rentals, etc.
Waku Waku Snowland admission: 900 yen (700 yen with lift ticket purchase), Parent-child pair (1 adult, 1 child) 1,400 yen
Closures: Open daily all season
Website: https://www.bankei.co.jp/

Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort is about an hour's drive from downtown and is easily accessible by bus (90 minutes) from Sapporo Station. With one of the largest rental equipment inventories in Hokkaido, you can choose from the latest gear and clothing and start gliding down the slopes in no time. Skis or snowboards can be exchanged for free if you decide to try the other, and the wide range of rentals also includes sleds and tubes.

Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort
Phone: 011-598-4511
Hours: December 1, 2020 - March 2021, 9:00 - 17:00 (Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 8:30 - 17:00); April 1, 2021 - Last day 9:00 - 16:30
Lift tickets: 1-day 4,600 yen, 4 hours 3,900 yen; 1-day Snow Escalator ticket 1500 yen * Prices vary depending on type and season. Other advantageous ticket packages available.
Closed: Open daily all season. *Subject to changes depending on weather, snowfall, etc.
Website: https://www.sapporo-kokusai.jp/

7. Relax with a Yukimi bath at Jozankei Onsen

7. Relax with a Yukimi bath at Jozankei Onsen

Jozankei Onsen is located in Sapporo's Okuzashiki district, about 50 minutes by car from central Sapporo. The hot spring village is a popular destination, where bathers can enjoy the beauty of the valley. If you go in winter you can enjoy a refreshing Yukimi (open-air snow-viewing) bath.

Jonzankei Onsen’s “Hana Momiji” open-air bath
Hoheikyo Onsen

There are about 20 hot spring inns in the Jozankei area to suit different tastes, including Koganeyu Onsen, Hoheikyo Onsen, and Usubetsu Onsen. Many have open-air baths and bathhouses with outdoor views, and you can experience a different atmosphere at each.

Some offer day-trip packages, making it fun to visit a few hot springs in a day. There is also a convenient direct bus from Sapporo Station that takes only an hour to get to the hot spring town.

February's Snow Candle Way event brings further winter wonderment to Jonzankei as snow candles are lit around Jozankei Shrine, creating a fantastic scene.

Phone: 011-598-2012 (Jozankei Tourism Association)
Website: https://jozankei.jp/

8. Eat warm Sapporo ramen in the cold winter

8. Eat warm Sapporo ramen in the cold winter

Ramen noodles are Sapporo's local delicacy, and the traditional thick, rich miso ramen doesn't cool quickly and will warm you to the core. There is a wide variety of flavors, from those with the deep sweetness and richness of the uniquely prepared miso, to those with tongue-tingling spiciness or plenty of garlic.

In recent years, shops offering non-miso ramen have increased and gained popularity. In winter, spicy dandan noodles are also highly recommended. Since each restaurant offers something unique, it's fun to try a few and compare.

9. Relax in a cafe with a wood-burning stove

9. Relax in a cafe with a wood-burning stove

Heating is indispensable during Hokkaido's cold winter, and among the appliances available, wood-burning stoves not only warm a room, but also soothe the heart with their flickering flames.

Morihico's limited Mori no Shizuku" blend (748 yen)

Morihico is a popular family-owned cafe in Sapporo's Maruyama neighborhood, which is full of unique shops. The cafe itself is a renovated classic wooden house, and in winter the wood stove is always lit.

You can slow down and enjoy a view of the snowy scenery outside while sipping fragrant home-roasted coffee and enjoying homemade baked goods.

  • Morihico
    森彦
    • Address 26-2-18 Minami 2-jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido
    • Phone Number 0800-111-4883
    • Hours: Open daily, weekdays and holidays 10:00 - 21:00 (last order 20:30), Saturdays and Sundays 8:00 - 21:00 (last order 20:30) * To prevent the spread of COVID-19, business hours are temporarily shortened to 10:00 - 19: 00 (last order 18: 30)

10. Enjoy seasonal seafood

10. Enjoy seasonal seafood

In winter, ocean temperatures drop and seafood becomes especially delicious due to its increased fat content. Of course, crab is the king of seafood and from December to March, horsehair crab is in season off the coast of Kushiro in the Pacific Ocean. Steamed crab is common, but dashi soup stock also adds a unique taste, so crab is tasty in hot pots and Teppo-jiru soup, too.

Ishikari Nabe, another Hokkaido dish, warms the body by pairing the tastes of salmon and miso. Cod is also representative of seasonal winter seafood and a popular hot pot ingredient, while collagen-rich fish like sculpin and gokko can also be found in hot pots unique to Hokkaido. Kinki, delicious either boiled or as sashimi, and sweet shellfish like scallops and surf clams are also eaten in winter.

Winter in Sapporo has a lot to offer amidst the cold and snow. With impressive events, fun ways to play in the snow, and delicious food, there are plenty of ways to make your own list of "what to do in Sapporo in winter"!

Text by: Minna no Kotobasha
English translation by Gabriel Wilkinson

*Information accurate as of January 2021. Please check official websites for latest information.

*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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