Sapporo is Japan’s newest city. Up until a little over 150 years ago, the northernmost island of the archipelago was not inhabited by the Japanese. It was still home to the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. In fact, a mere seven people held up the Edo outpost called “Sapporo” back in those days.
That all changed with the modernization of Japan at the turn of the last century—and voila! Now we have a city of almost 2 million people. It’s neatly laid out on a grid, much like North American cities, which makes getting around really easy. So let’s take a look at where exploring Hokkaido’s capital can take you with this Sapporo sightseeing itinerary.
Arrive in the morning after a 90-minute flight from Tokyo. The airport to the city is not exactly close, so see our guide on how to travel from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo. Once, you’ve arrived, drop off your luggage at your accommodation (see below for hotel recommendations).
Next, rent a bicycle to explore the city. There are rental stations conveniently located around most of the popular tourist spots, so pick one close to your hotel or get your bike at your first stop: the famous clock tower of Sapporo, which is within walking distance of Sapporo Station. Get this must-see photo op in the bag right away so you can feel like an accomplished traveler early on in your exploration.
Sapporo Clock Tower (Tokeidai)
From here, head north for a few hundred meters until you reach Nakajima Park. This surprisingly vast expanse of greenery in the middle of the city is famed in spring for its cherry blossoms and in autumn for koyo, the changing of leaves.
Top tip: Pick up a bento on the way here, and turn this exploration into a picnic lunch in the warmer months.
For those with boundless energy, make your way over to Mt. Moiwa. It’s one of the most celebrated night views in Japan, and getting here before dusk lets you soak up first the natural scenery, then, after nightfall, the glittering lights of Sapporo stretching all the way to the Sea of Japan.
A ropeway will take care of most of the ascent for you. From there you can switch to a small cable car that covers the last stretch. The automated climb sets you back ¥1,700 for the round trip.
Mount Moiwa Ropeway
For those who want to save the cost of the ropeway or just enjoy a hike, there’s a not-so-well-advertised hiking path. Mt. Moiwa is 531 meters high and the trail is 2.9 kilometers long, so most people make it up in an hour max. But take your time and smell the flowers! The trail leads you through a beautiful forest, and small Buddhist statues called ogizo-san line the path (the numbers on them tell you how much farther you have to go).
Top tip: The second half of the path gets steeper and a bit rocky/potentially slippery after rain, so bring sturdy footwear, preferably proper hiking boots.
To find the trailhead, take a streetcar to South 14 West 15, which means getting off two stops before the ropeway station. From here, it’s a 20-minute walk to find the start of the path which is located behind a temple, but is clearly marked with a trail map at the start. The easiest way to find it is to punch in these GPS coordinates: 43.036617, 141.322055.
Time to go where the action is—Susukino is the Kabukicho-slash-Shibuya of Sapporo, all rolled into one. The area’s rather questionable establishments add to the overall buzzing atmosphere of blinking neon signs advertising an endless array of bars, clubs and restaurants.
Don’t get distracted. Head straight for Ramen Alley and sample one of Sapporo’s signature dishes. The street is called Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho in Japanese, and pretty much guarantees you a tasty and reasonably priced fix. The original Sapporo-style miso ramen was conceived here. A bowl will cost you under a ¥1,000, depending on how elaborate you like your toppings to be. There are 17 shops to choose from.
Ganso Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alley)
For those looking for some serious craft beer to rival that of Sapporo’s sister city Portland, Oregon, stop by Beer Bar North Island after dinner, also located in the Susukino district. Here, you can savor some unusual and excellent brews, including their coriander black beer. Prices start at ¥600 for a small glass.
Beer Bar North Island
Rise and shine for the Nijo fish market that’s said to rival Tsukiji! Though much smaller, Hokkaido is famous for its exceptionally tasty and high-quality seafood, owing to its cold waters that produce fatty, delicious fish. Sample some here or just enjoy checking out what is on display. (Check out our guide to eating sustainable seafood in Japan.)
Added bonus: The seafood is not only described as the best quality throughout Japan, but it’s also cheaper on average than in Tokyo. A donburi (rice bowl dish with various toppings) with sea urchin and salmon roe would be the classic choice for a seafood breakfast. Winning on all fronts, and it’s only 9 am. Free admission.
Nijo Fish Market
Fed and impressed, are you ready for a very different side of Sapporo? Hokkaido art and design scene has gained quite a following in Japan in recent years, and you can experience some of its finest in the Museum Building, just a few minutes’ walk from Nijo Market. Check out the Clark Gallery on the 2F and enjoy a glimpse at a cool fusion of modern and traditional Japanese art created exclusively by Hokkaido-based artists. As it’s a commercial gallery, entrance is free.
If you want to stick with the art theme, make your way over to the Sapporo Art Park. Basically a theme park for art lovers, it houses ateliers, studios, exhibitions, a museum and an outdoor sculpture park. It was conceived to celebrate the artistic expressions of Northern Japanese artists.
The admission to the park is free, but the sculpture park has a ¥700 entrance fee. The museum’s admission fee varies depending on the exhibition. Please note that during the winter months some of the facilities are closed, so check ahead.
Sapporo Art Park
If history is more your thing, don’t miss out on Pirka Kotan Ainu Cultural Promotion Center. It’s about an hour bus ride from the city center, but well worth the effort. The Ainu people are Hokkaido’s (and parts of Northern Honshu’s) indigenous inhabitants. The park is a great display of their culture and traditions, which were greatly diminished due to colonization. The center showcases a small Ainu village outside and exhibitions inside. Admission is ¥200 for adults.
On some days, there are also events, workshops and performances, so check their website before going.
The bus that takes you there continues further on to Jozankei Onsen, so make a day trip out of it and soak in the spa after. Take bus #7 or #8 for Jozankei Onsen from Odori Nishi 1-chome in the center. Get off at Koganeyu Onsen and walk for 5 minutes. Buses run about twice an hour.
Pirka Kotan Ainu Cultural Promotion Center
It’s (probably) Saturday night, and even if not—you’re on vacation and Susukino never sleeps. Experiencing the Hokkaido equivalent of the Tokyo’s Kabukicho red light district and Shibuya clubs and bars all rolled into one is a must on your trip here. It’s up to you how much of the dirty underbelly you want to explore, but may we suggest you start your night with some Genghis Khan?
Yep, that’s right. Spelled jingisukan in Japanese, it’s one of Hokkaido’s most famed dishes and in essence a mutton version of yakiniku. Try Menyotei Gojo, located in the heart of Susukino. As it’s quite spacious, they usually have a table available. Dinner is around ¥2,500 per person.
Appetite satisfied? Explore the bars and clubs of Susukino at your leisure.
Depending on the state and size of your hangover, decide to sleep in or head over to Saturdays Chocolate Factory Café. This modern and stylish space opened in 2015 and houses a Scandinavian-style café. Enjoy a sweet breakfast of chocolate drinks, whoopie pies, and other delicious creations or take a tour of the in-house bean-to-bar factory.
The shop sells well-designed and stylish chocolate bars that make great souvenirs. The café shouldn’t set you back more than ¥1,000. It has just 16 seats so it can get a bit crowded on weekends.
Saturdays Chocolate Factory Café
Otaru day trip
You can finish your Sapporo adventures here or add a day trip to Otaru.
This port town on the Sea of Japan is famous for its beautiful canal that especially shines during the winter months—quite literally so during the Snow Light Path Festival when the canal is decorated with snow lanterns and small illuminated snow sculptures. Conveniently, it’s held each year at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival.
The former warehouses lining the canal were repurposed and now house shops, galleries and restaurants and are worth checking out at any time of the year.
The picturesque town is a 45-minute train ride from Hokkaido Station with a JR express train leaving every 20 minutes or so.
Budget around 4–6 hours to get there, enjoy the scenery, have lunch and get back.
After your return, wrap up your Sapporo trip with either an evening flight back to Tokyo—90 minutes will get you into Haneda in a breeze—or head to your next Hokkaido destination (may we suggest Hakodate, the prefecture’s third largest city, or Niseko for some skiing?
Accommodation options in Sapporo
Below are some Sapporo hotels to suit every budget.
The capsule hotel
Spa Safro has separate floors for men and women and is located right in the center. The onsen facilities are beautifully designed in a minimalist modern Japanese style that mixes wood with unfinished concrete. The spa is open 24 hours and there is free wifi in the property. Nights start from around ¥3,600, making this a perfect option for solo travelers.
The budget option
A good option for couples or small groups of friends is Hotel Mystays Sapporo Susukino. A modern, clean business hotel in the center with single, double and triple rooms. Guests get a special deal on a nearby spa too. Nights start from ¥4,300.
The northern and cozy option
Hotel Unwind is a unique hotel located just a bit out of the center. Its theme is that of an urban lodge—with sleek but warm wooden elements, atmospheric lighting and sheepskins casually thrown onto the sofas in the lounge.
The 10th floor bar offers free wine for guests every day during happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm. In summer, enjoy the rooftop terrace.
Prices start from a little under ¥10,000 per person in a double room.
Enjoyed this Sapporo itinerary? Try this Kyoto weekend itinerary next.