Everyone knows Tokyo but have you heard of Hokkaido? Japan’s second-biggest island after Honshu, Hokkaido is lesser known but equally enchanting, if not more. Located in the nation’s northernmost region, it neighbours Russia to the north and shares the country’s icy climate. Sports fans know the area for its famously world-class skiing opportunities on powder snow. However, Hokkaido is an all-year-round destination and has something for all seasons. Head to Hokkaido this spring or summer and see it in all its glory. Here’s the ultimate Hokkaido guide to help you plan your upcoming Japan trip.

Niseko, Sapporo and the greater Hokkaido region are wonderful during the warm months. Many visit Japan’s north for skiing but it is also the perfect natural escape in any season. Why not explore something new this year? Because there’s no question you’ll fall in love with this diverse corner of the country. Here’s an outline of just some of the island’s many highlights.

Sapporo: The capital city

If you’re heading to Hokkaido there’s a high chance you’ll travel through Sapporo at some point. It’s a major transport hub and the capital of the prefecture. Many people pop through without exploring the city in-depth. Oh, how they’re missing out! Sapporo deserves a visit by itself.

It’s a young city by Japanese standards. In fact, in 1857, the population of Sapporo was just seven people. Since then, it’s grown to become the country’s fifth-largest city and arguably one of the most diverse. It is well known for The Sapporo Snow Festival. However, the stunning Moerenuma Park, Curb (seafood) Market and dedication to Sapporo beer keep things interesting.

Moerenuma Park is a lush and expansive park designed by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The most eye-catching feature of the park is the 62 m tall Mount Moere, a human-made mountain from the top of which you can see the entire park in all its panoramic glory.

No Hokkaido guide is complete without a visit to Sapporo Beer Factory. The factory is both an educational destination, complete with museum-style exhibits, and a place for plenty of rowdy fun. Grab a table at the European-style beer hall and order the local speciality ‘Jingisukan,’ it’s a Japanese take on the lamb BBQ.

Seafood fans will discover ultimate bliss in Sapporo. The city is home to some of the most delicious and fresh seafood in Japan (and that’s saying a lot). One of the city’s key specialities is kaisen donburi, a bowl of fresh seafood served on a bed of rice. It often features the area’s best current catches including shrimp, crab and uni (sea urchin).

From Niseko: Sapporo is just under a three-hour ride on the JR Hakodate Line.

Otaru: A fairytale wonderland

While this may seem like a big call given the beauty of Niseko and Sapporo, Otaru is perhaps Hokkaido’s most scenic city. This richly European-influenced town is a popular location for domestic tourists and neighbouring Asian nations. However, it remains a well-kept secret in western travel circles. It’s an accessible day trip from Sapporo and a wonderfully romantic weekend vacation destination. At 243.1 square kilometres, about a quarter of Sapporo, it’s an easy place to explore in a short time, so next time you have a little extra time up north, don’t forget to add Otaru to your itinerary.

During the 20th century, Otaru was arguably Hokkaido’s most popular destination. It garnered attention in the 1920s  thanks to the construction of its central canal. The city’s centrepiece, the canal was mostly used for trading. Merchants started building warehouses along the canal. The local economy boomed with savvy locals setting up businesses in international trade, craft production, and fishing. In summer, cruising down the canal in a sightseeing boat is a great way to see the city.

From Niseko: Otaru is just two and a half hour ride on the JR Hakodate Line.

Hokkaido Guide Tip: Noboribetsu (hot spring haven)

Sitting just south of Sapporo, Noboribetsu Onsen is the island’s most impressive onsen town. It is also home to Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort. A key suggestion in this Hokkaido guide is to visit this powerfully rugged and untapped terrain. It is home to a huge selection of onsen baths. Though some should just be admired from afar like Jigokudani or Hell Valley. 

An excellent overnight adventure, a visit to Jigokudani (Hell Valley) is quite unlike anything else you’ll ever experience. It’s a spectacular valley full of steaming natural, volcanic powered hot springs, scenic walking trails and fiery autumn foliage that peaks in October. If you have the time, be sure to visit Oyunuma Pond, accessible from Noboribetsu Onsen. This sulfurous pond has a surface temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. Running from the mountains through the foliage flanked surrounds, it’s an incredible sight that really has to be seen to be believed.

From Niseko: Noboribetsu is almost a four hour journey. Take the JR Hakodate Line to Oshamambe Station. Then, switch to the JR Super Hokuto before switching to the JR Muroran Line at Higashi-Muroran Station.

Explore Hokkaido in all its scenic glory and cap off your experience by booking one of our private Niseko chalets.