Sapporo City is the capital of Hokkaido and a popular gateway to the region for many travelers starting their Hokkaido adventure.
Served by the regional international airport of New Chitose, Sapporo’s excellent transport links make it the ideal base from which to explore Hokkaido’s other regional cities, but Sapporo itself is a proud, compelling destination in its own right.
In a city of almost 2 million people that sees a good amount of snowfall for many months of the year, Sapporo has developed its own unique culture. From arts and traditional culture to food and nightlife opportunities, this urban destination surrounded by fabulous natural environments provides a great balance of locations just waiting to be discovered.
Read on to explore 12 reasons why Sapporo should be on your travel agenda:
The entire Hokkaido region transforms into a winter wonderland from December each year. Niseko is an especially popular ski resort to the south that sees droves of visitors flock to Hokkaido prefecture. Yet Sapporo is dotted with a number of snow resorts itself — all with great access to an urban center that is brimming with food and nightlife opportunities. This is what makes Sapporo so great after a long, hard day on the slopes.
One of the venues at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, SAPPORO TEINE is located northwest of the city up in the mountains, from where you can see Ishikari Bay. Trails are spread across two distinct areas: the Highland Zone and Olympia Zone. The Highland Zone occupies the upper slopes from the 1,023m summit; more advanced courses and a snow park for jumps and tricks are also available. The lower Olympia Zone has more gentle courses suitable for intermediate and beginner users, as well as a family-friendly snow park. SAPPORO TEINE can be reached in just 45 minutes by train/bus from JR Sapporo Station.
Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort
Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort is nestled deep in the mountains west of Sapporo. Its location sees a good amount of powder snow which gives the resort a great deal of appeal. With only one advanced trail (with slopes up to 30°), most of SKS’s seven trails are more well suited to beginner- or intermediate-level riders. A Kids Park and dedicated beginner’s area are also available. It can be reached in about 90 minutes by bus from Sapporo Station Bus Terminal.
Sapporo Moiwayama Ski Area
Sapporo Moiwayama Ski Area is one of the closest to Sapporo’s city center at just a 30-minute journey by car. Visitors can enjoy a range of ten courses suitable for all difficulty levels — with most courses open up until 9pm allowing skiers to enjoy spectacular nighttime views of the Sapporo cityscape in the distance. Please note that this resort is ski-only, where snowboarding is prohibited. As well as on-site parking for those driving, bus services also run between Makomanai Station and both North- and South Slope entrances.
Sapporo Snow Festival
One of Sapporo’s most iconic winter events is the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place each February. Onlookers descend on central Sapporo to marvel at spectacular ice and snow sculptures made by local volunteers. The Odori venue is full of charms such as skating rinks, stage events, and stalls. More ice sculptures can be seen in the nightlife district of Susukino, with a third venue at Tsu Dome catering more to family-friendly activities. Come evening many of the displays are illuminated against the night sky, with many of Sapporo’s izakaya beckoning festival-goers inside to warm up with local fare, from Hokkaido crab to miso ramen.
Such is Sapporo’s strength as a winter destination, it should not surprise visitors that the city has much to offer throughout the year, with a range of outdoor, green environments that can be enjoyed during the warmer months
Mt. Maruyama & Hokkaido Shrine
When it comes to nature in Sapporo, Mt Maruyama is often recommended. This 225-meter high small mountain in the city’s western district is a great excursion, with several hiking routes and trailheads helping you make the 30-40 minute journey to the top. Pass through a primeval forest inhabited by more than 100 species of birds, small animals such as squirrels, and about 330 species of plants—dedicated as a natural monument—before reaching the summit that provides a unique, panoramic view over the rest of the city.
Back down on the ground, you can’t miss the nearby Hokkaido Shrine. This spiritual Shinto landmark enshrines 4 deities here. Explore the calm premises of the shrine grounds as you pass through the torii gate entrance. In spring, be sure to enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom; in autumn, the colored leaves are especially lovely.
An art park in the city’s northeast, Moerenuma Park is an innovative green space designed by famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi with a unique, horseshoe-shaped pond around its perimeter. Opened in 2005, Moerenuma’s undulating landscape here represents a fusion of nature and art, with geometric shapes combining with hills and fountains. The park is defined by its central sculpture, Glass Pyramid “HIDAMARI,” a multi-purpose space that invites both recreation and relaxation. Explore the works of art around the park and marvel at the former waste treatment plant site that was revitalized through the power of art.
Sapporo Art Park
The 40-hectare forest of Sapporo Art Park can be found in southern Sapporo. Take time to explore the park and its many artworks, but two facilities here deserve your attention: Sapporo Art Museum and the open-air Sapporo Sculpture Garden. The museum hosts special art exhibitions that rotate throughout the year, and exhibits works by local Sapporo and Hokkaido artists, as well as contemporary works from across Japan and the world. Enjoy artwork while strolling through nature’s embrace.
For creative types, there are also opportunities to get hands-on. Educational programs teach different arts and crafts, like pottery or printing, with studios that host workshops also to be found.
Hill of the Buddha
Located at the burial grounds of Makomanai Takino Cemetery in southern Sapporo (near Takino Suzuran Hillside Park), you’ll stumble upon a Tadao Ando-designed masterpiece that lies in wait. A lavender-decorated mound reveals the head of Buddha, cresting through the top of a well from where this 13.5m-tall statue silently sits.
The view of “Hill of the Buddha” against Sapporo’s nature makes for a serene landscape, with the modern Japanese architecture achieving a sense of harmony with the natural environment. For a closer look, visitors can pass a water garden and through a 40m tunnel before reaching an awe-inspiring view of the full statue, set against the sky and framed by the well.
No trip in Japan is complete without a local bite to eat and Sapporo is no exception. As we’re about to show you, Sapporo is home to a well-developed and unique food scene.
Being the capital of Hokkaido yet with great access to the ocean on both the north (up at Ishikari Bay) and further south, you can expect Sapporo’s fresh food markets to come up with the goods.
Nijo Market can be found in the city center and is a great stop for those looking for fresh produce or seafood. Open from 7 am with the freshest catches delivered in the early hours, it’s a popular thing to arrive early and enjoy seafood donburi (over rice) for breakfast at one of the on-site restaurants. Hokkaido crab, salmon roe, and sea urchin are popular toppings.
It’s a similar story at Sapporo’s Crab Market (next to the Central Wholesale Market), where sashimi- and sushi-topped rice bowls benefit from the morning’s freshest catches from Hokkaido’s ports.
No surprises here—Sapporo is home to Sapporo Beer, one of Japan’s most beloved beer brands and synonymous with its distinctive yellow star logo. Founded in 1876, Sapporo is the place where beer was first brewed in Japan, which makes a visit to the Sapporo Beer Museum a must. Learn about the history of the brand and enjoy a free tour around the facility, before sipping on the different Sapporo Beer styles at the paid tasting corner at the Star Hall.
After you’re done at the museum, enjoy a feast at one of the ‘Sapporo Beer Garden’ restaurants, including Kessel Hall, Garden Grill, and Lilac. Expect local classics like Genghis Khan—grilled mutton BBQ—and Hokkaido crab on the menu.
Susukino is Sapporo’s premier nightlife and entertainment district, located to the south of Sapporo Station and Odori Park. Brimming with bars, restaurants, karaoke shops among other nightlife establishments, foodies will be at home in Susukino.
First up, try looking for Ganso Ramen Yokocho, which was the first ramen alley. This tiny alleyway is lined with 17 shops serving up one of Sapporo’s most famous dishes, miso ramen. Sapporo is famous for the miso style of ramen, giving birth to this trend and the crinkly medium-cut noodles that go with it. The new, modern Shin Ramen Yokocho is also located a few blocks away beside Tsukisamu-dori.
Soup Curry is considered Sapporo’s soul food. The iconic combination of hot broth, spices, Hokkaido vegetables, and all manner of other toppings is such a hit with the locals, you won’t find any shortage of restaurants serving this classic dish. To get you started, look out for eateries like Soup Curry Garaku, Sapporo Rakkyo, Okushiba Shoten, or Picante — all with their own rich soup recipes, with broth simmered with different combinations of local ingredients.
After a long evening of eating, drinking, and enjoying Sapporo’s nightlife — you might be ready to head back to your hotel, but don’t forget your Shime Parfait before you do. The term ‘shime’ is applied to that round of food at the end of a night’s drinking, with ramen a popular choice around Japan. Here in Sapporo, you’ll discover the quirky choice of Shime Parfait: soft-serve ice cream topped with fresh cream. If you realize a third of Japan’s dairy farms are native to Hokkaido, it starts to make sense…almost. As they say, when in Rome…
Jozankei Hot Spring
The Jozankei Hot Spring area is located deep in the mountains southwest of Sapporo (about a one-hour drive). A total of 56 hot spring sources supply the spa resort which has developed on the banks of the Toyohira River. Try one of the many ryokans available or daytrippers can also visit the Hōheikyō Hot Spring (day spa).
The sodium chloride baths here are guaranteed to offer a relaxing soak to relieve aches and pains and is no doubt a recommended destination for those who have visited Sapporo to ski or snowboard. Although Jozankei is technically a part of Sapporo City, the landscape here couldn’t be anything more different, up in the mountains and surrounded by nature.