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.
Things to do
Nearby Mt Moiwa has an observatory at its peak that’s a popular place to watch the sun set over Sapporo and take in the nighttime views. The observatory is reached by ropeway and is home to a lovely restaurant if you want to enjoy the close of day with some nibbles and a beer.
Dough re mi
Shiroi Koibito cookies, also known as 'white sweethearts', are a popular souvenir. They’re made by sandwiching white chocolate between two langue de chat cookies. Visit the factory where they’re made, Shiroi Koibito Park opens in new window, a Willy-Wonka-esque palace of kitsch and confection adoration. Kids will enjoy making their own cookies, while young people of more advanced years will enjoy taking ridiculous selfies.
The must-try local speciality in Sapporo is Ghengis Khan, mutton and vegetables grilled on a tabletop convex skillet. The name purportedly derives from the shape of the skillet, which is said to resemble a Mongolian hat, and the perception that mutton was a popular dish among Mongol warriors. The most popular spot to try it is Sapporo Beer Garden, a lovely, ivy-covered brick building that seats 2400.
Otaru, on the Sea of Japan coast, makes for an easy day trip from Sapporo. The rapid train will get you there in about 30 minutes. Otaru’s red brick buildings and canal system appear to be straight out of Holland, making for a pleasant walk on sunny days. The city is famous for its glassware and hand-made music boxes. Try the local Otaru Beer opens in new window at the brand’s Bavarian beer hall.
Park it here
The park around which Sapporo is built is called Odori and it divides the city into north and south. The park is a block wide and 1.5km long, and offers views of the nearby mountains. The park hosts all manner of events, including the Snow Festival in winter and the beer festival in summer. Buy local specialities like corn on the cob and steamed potatoes from vendors year-round.
Travel time 1 hour
Taxi Approx JPY ¥13,000 plus the express toll of JPY ¥1,000
Train The Airport Express takes about 35 minutes and costs JPY ¥1,040The bus fare to downtown Sapporo is about JPY ¥1,030.Taxi fare is about JPY ¥13,000 plus the express toll of JPY ¥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 JPY ¥1,040. There are also slower local trains. Back to top
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.Back to top
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 JPY ¥800 if you’re going to be moving around a lot. The streetcar connects Susukino with Mt Moiwa and charges a flat rate of JPY ¥170. The JR trains are mainly for travel outside of the city.Back to top