If you’re planning a trip to Japan, make sure you add Hokkaido to your destination list! It’s Japan’s northernmost island, yet it’s unlike anywhere else in the country.
Not only does the island offer incredible cuisine, but it has its fair share of attractions too.
If winter sports are your thing, Hokkaido has some of the best ski slopes in the world. How about attractive landscapes?
Well, the island is crammed with six national parks to explore! Take a look at our list of the very best things to do in Hokkaido below.
Watch the sunset from the Mt Moiwa observatory
Mt Moiwa can be found in Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido. It towers 531m above the glittering cityscape and makes for an incredible view in the evenings.
Make your way to the top by hitching a ride on a cable car (but be aware, there’s a fee for this), or hop on the free shuttle from Ropeway Iriguchi Station.
Be sure to get to the top 30 minutes before the sun sets- you won’t regret it! To appreciate the full beauty of Mt Moiwa, we recommend booking a guided tour.
Get in touch with art and nature at Moerenuma Park
A former landfill site, Sapporo’s Moerenuma has since been transformed into a huge public park that combines the natural world with contemporary art.
The park is the creation of Japanese-American sculptor and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. The 400-acre space is peppered with dynamic sculptures, man-made mountains, and an impressive pyramid.
The fusion of natural beauty with modern art creates a futuristic and extraterrestrial feel.
From the cherry blossoms in spring to the snowfalls of winter, the park is open all year round and looks beautiful in every season.
Witness the penguin walk at Asahiyama Zoo
Japan's northernmost zoo is one of the highlights of the Asahikawa region.
Primarily specializing in cold climate species, there are more than 700 animals housed in environments that are made to resemble and function like their natural habitats.
However, this zoo is best known for the penguin walk. This is a daily occurrence where all of the penguins waddle along in front of the crowd, resembling a tiny penguin army— adorable!
Learn about the indigenous Ainu people at the Nibutani Culture Museum
History hasn’t been kind to the Ainu people; an indigenous group that lives in Japan, primarily on Hokkaido. The Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum’s goal is to preserve the traditional practices of their culture.
The museum is packed with over 10,000 artifacts inside that display different aspects of the Ainu culture, including toys, clothing, tools, and literature.
Spend an entire day at the Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival is a must-see if you’re visiting Hokkaido in the winter. You could easily waste an entire day here as it’s packed full of excitement and festive magic.
You’ll see world-class snow sculptures that are the size of houses, in all sorts of shapes from Pokemon characters to the White House.
As the day draws on, grab yourself some authentic Sapporo ramen, scallops, and hot sake to keep warm.
As the sun begins to set, step back and witness the impressive light show- don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime celebration of winter.
Remember to bring some nonslip winter shoes or boots, or buy some strap-on spikes from a convenience store.
Walk around the rainbow flower fields at Shikisai no Oka
The fields of Shikisai no Oka look like they’ve been pulled straight out of a Van Gogh painting.
The magnificent rainbow effect is created by the strategic planting of various flower varieties.
However, the timing of your visit is essential in actually getting to see the flowers in bloom.
The flowers thrive from the end of June to mid-August every year, so plan accordingly! There’s even an alpaca farm on-site, too.
Enjoy the bustling nightlife of Susukino
One of Japan’s most famous entertainment districts, Susukino is teeming with noodle restaurants, clubs, shops, and pachinko parlors.
Pachinko is a cross between pinball and slot machines. If you’re looking for more hustle and bustle, then Susukino is the place for you. It truly comes alive at night with hundreds of pedestrians, blinding neon lights, and late-night shopping.
Susukino has plenty of bars and restaurants, and it's only a couple of subway stops from downtown Sapporo. It’s littered with hotels too, most of which are reasonably priced.
Take time out to reflect at Lake Toya
Located around 2 hours from Sapporo, Lake Toya provides the perfect postcard backdrop.
The beautiful vast blue lake is glorious in the summer, and truly magical when coated with snow in the winter. The volcanic Mount Yotei in the distance forms a stunning backdrop for vacation snaps.
It’s pretty quiet all year round, even during peak months and many people choose to visit Lake Toya to experience the calm and tranquility of the environment.
Brave the slopes at Furano Ski Resort
The Furano Ski Resort consists of 2 zones; Furano and Kitanomine. Each of these zones has 23 trails in total. You can reach the summit directly by hitching a ride on a 101 passenger ropeway, which is worth it.
The views at the peak are breathtaking, and you’ll be able to see the vast Daisetsu Mountain Range. The resort has a couple of hotels. Be sure to check out the natural hot springs located near the ski area, or go sightseeing in nearby Furano town.
Peer above the clouds at the Unaki Terrace
For a stunning, surreal experience, consider taking a gondola up to the Unkai Terrace at dawn.
Here, a waterfall-like sea of clouds created by trade winds rolls in over the mountains below (this is dependent on weather conditions).
The terrace is perched at 1,088m above sea-level, giving you a fantastic view over the clouds. The terrace has all kinds of cloud-related entertainment on offer, from the Cloud Bar to the Cloud Bed and the Cloud Pool.
It’s filled with novelty charm and will certainly provide a unique experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Step inside an old Prison in Abashiri
Abashiri Prison Museum is considered an open-air museum that dates back to the Meiji period. However, it’s so much more than just your average museum.
It covers quite a bit of Hokkaido history, telling the sad tale of how prisoners were used to help build roads and infrastructure in brutally hard conditions.
There’s a great audio guide to feed you information as you roam the prison, and plenty of quirky dioramas to help you get a sense of what life was really like for past inmates.
Witness the cherry blossoms from the heights of the Goryokaku Tower
The Goryokaku Tower is a gigantic, star-shaped, Western-style citadel, which dates back to the Edo Period and stands 107 meters tall.
Over one thousand cherry trees were planted alongside its motes, making it the perfect spot to marvel at them from a birds-eye view during springtime.
Situated on the first floor of the observation platform is an all-weather glass atrium filled with plants and greenery. This comfortable sunlit retreat offers a place to sit and rest during your trip to Hokkaido.
Connect with nature at Manabe Garden
This eight-hectare specimen park consists of European, Japanese, and forest gardens. Each has winding looped paths so you can enjoy them as you see fit.
The park is also bordered by a garden center and café. The garden is unique and most popular for its many conifer varieties.
It covers a total area of 25,000 square meters and consists of different themed gardens. Some of these include a Japanese garden, a Western garden, and a landscape forest garden.
All of the trails are easily accessible, just don’t forget to purchase a ticket before you head in.
Soak up the sun in Odori Park
Popular all year round, Sapporo’s central park offers twelve blocks of tree-lined walkways and open space for recreation and relaxation.
It is a huge and clean park with traditional snacks, restaurants, soft service ice cream, a bubble man, and shopping malls. It’s a great place to unwind and just people-watch while in the city.
It stretches a staggering 1.5km from east to west and many events and festivals are held here every year, including the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Visit the Tanaka sake distillery
The Tanaka distillery is located in the heart of Otaru, and it is the only remaining sake distillery in existence! Here you’ll learn the traditional methods of making authentic Japanese sake (sweet rice wine that’s great for cooking).
You’ll be shown the different stages of fermentation and you can even lend a helping hand to the chief brewer in the process.
The end of the tour involves a tasting session, with a huge variety of sake to choose from. Groups of more than 10 people will need to call and book in advance, but otherwise, you can just stroll in.