Congratulations! You’ve touched down in Hokkaido ready to see the northern sights. First stop, Sapporo, Hokkaido’s biggest city. But wait…you still have to get into town. Sapporo’s main airport is New Chitose Airport (IATA code CTS), which is located about 50 kilometers southeast of the city.
You’ve got several options in varying degrees of convenience and cheapo-ness.
We thought you were a cheapo?! Regular taxis are your most expensive option, aside from chartering a private helicopter. A taxi ride takes about an hour (or more, depending on traffic), and costs around ¥16,000. If you arrive in winter, you’ll get to experience what feels like off-roading in the city, with drivers navigating some serious snowpack on the roads. Maybe you’ll get lucky—one time in a taxi in Sapporo, the driver busted out his rendition of “Hey Jude” and we all joined in and had some taxi karaoke, at no extra charge. #awkward
Cheapo-approved taxi: There is an exception in the form of this airport transfer by chaffeur car. Despite the fancy-sounding name, it costs ¥7,433, which works out to be reasonable if you’re traveling as a couple or group.
This is the option that most people use, and it certainly is convenient. Running from about 6 am to about 11 pm, the regular Hakodate line between Sapporo Station and New Chitose Airport Station takes about 50 minutes, while the Rapid Airport Service train takes just 37 minutes. The base fare for both is ¥1,070, and reserved seating on the rapid line costs an additional ¥520. Reserved seats can be booked up to a month in advance, though a few days is almost always sufficient, even in peak season. Tip: in the snowy north, not all train doors open automatically at each station like they do in Tokyo. There’s a button to the side of the door that passengers can press, letting the warmth out only when it’s necessary for disembarkation.
The airport shuttle bus is an even cheaper option, and with the savings, you could buy half a sale-priced onigiri. There are two bus companies running shuttles between Sapporo city and the airport—Hokkaido Chuo and Hokuto Kotsu, with buses departing every 15-20 minutes from about 5:30 am to 10:30 pm. Buses take about an hour and cost ¥1,030, departing from various stations and hotels around the city.
Rental cars are not a great option if you’re planning on staying in Sapporo, as the city is walkable, has great public transportation, and parking can be expensive. However, if you’re only passing through with plans to head out into the great wilds of Hokkaido, where vast swaths of the countryside cannot be easily accessed by train and bus, a rental car could be a good choice. Booking engines like Tocoo often have bargains. The cost from the airport to the city will be the price of the car (from around ¥3,000 per day) plus the cost of tolls if you use the highways (¥1,300 to Sapporo), plus a few liters of gas. Be careful not to hit any bears or deer; there are plenty!