A young city with a North American feel, Sapporo may fool you into thinking you’ve left Asia entirely
Sapporo has a decidedly Western feel, with its broad streets laid out in a grid around a central park, but that's probably not surprising, considering it was designed with help from Americans. A relatively new city by Japanese standards, Sapporo is compact and easy to navigate with an international flavor derived both from its roots and its proximity to international shipping port Otaru. Though winter temperatures are brutal, many tourists brave the cold to attend the Snow Festival in February or visit nearby ski resorts. During the rest of the year, it's a pleasant city to stroll in, whether you’re after a bit of fresh air in Odori Park or a bit of indulgence in Susukino, the one-stop shop for dinner, drinks and dancing.
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When to go
Hokkaido is known for its cold, snowy winters. On the Sea of Japan side, snowfall is far heavier than it is on the Pacific side, and Sapporo averages about 6m a year. Temperatures are below freezing in the winter months.
For the rest of the year, it’s cooler and drier than it is in the rest of Japan, with no summer rainy season. This makes it a popular getaway destination for residents of sweatier southern climes. Temperatures are generally in the mid-20s in the summer months while staying in the teens in late spring and early fall.
If you can arrange it, visit during the first week of February, when the Sapporo Snow Festival sees the creation of gigantic snow and ice sculptures around town.
From mid-July to August, Odori Park is turned into a gigantic beer garden for the annual summer beer festival.
Flying with Jetstar
There are at least 5 daily flights from Sapporo to Tokyo, where Jetstar offers flights to other cities in Japan and to Australia. There are also direct flights twice daily between Sapporo and Nagoya and twice daily between Sapporo and Osaka.
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Downtown Sapporo is fairly compact and it’s possible to visit many tourist sites on foot but there are also three subways lines, Japan Rail lines, a streetcar and lots of buses. Subway fares are charged based on the distance travelled but there’s also a one-day unlimited pass for ¥800 if you’re going to be moving around a lot. The streetcar connects Susukino with Mt Moiwa and charges a flat rate of ¥170. The JR trains are mainly for travel outside of the city.
The bus fare to downtown Sapporo is about ¥1,030.
Taxi fare is about ¥13,000 plus the express toll of ¥1,000.
Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport is about 50km south-east of the city, but is well-connected by train. The Airport Express takes about 35 minutes and departs every 15 minutes. The fare is ¥1,040. There are also slower local trains.