20 INCREDIBLE THINGS TO SEE IN HOKKAIDO

Best things to see in Hokkaido

What are the best things to see in Hokkaido? How Many days to visit Hokkaido in Japan? When is the best time to visit Hokkaido?

In this post, we explain all you need to know about a trip to Hokkaido! We’ve been traveling to this wonderful island for many years, exploring most parts of this natural paradise.

Waterfalls, hot springs, beautiful mountains, volcanoes, bears, deer, birds, and amazing food, this is what await you in Hokkaido. Needless to say, if you like nature, Hokkaido will charm you!

Hokkaido is big, really big! There are lots of places to see. However, if you are going there for a week or so, only focus on a few places.


Highlights of a trip to Hokkaido in Japan

Hokkaido is the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. Further north, you reach Russia!
With 20% of the country’s area for only 5% of its population, Hokkaido is the wildest place in Japan.
A paradise for lovers of nature and wide open spaces.
Sapporo is the main city of Hokkaido, famous for its snow festival held every year in February.


Here are some beautiful impressions of Hokkaido:



1. Start your visit to Hokkaido in Sapporo

The view of Sapporo from the TV Tower

If you travel to Hokkaido from outside Japan, most likely you land in Sapporo first (although there are other airports accessible from Tokyo).

Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan. What we like about Sapporo is that it harmoniously blends urbanism and nature. Indeed, the entire city is surrounded by nature.

There are many things to see in Sapporo. You can easily spend 2-3 days in the capital of Hokkaido.

Here are some of the best things to see in Sapporo:

  • Go on top of the TV tower
  • Visit Odori Park
  • Check out the Snow Festival in Winter
  • Climb on top of Mount Moiwa (full guide here)
  • Eat some ramen at the Ramen Alley
  • Visit the Clock Tower, a symbol of Sapporo

Read: 30 BEST THINGS TO SEE IN SAPPORO
Location: here


2. Visit Jozankei Onsen for its hot springs

Jozankei suspension bridge

Jozankei Onsen can be visited as part of a day trip from Sapporo. However, we would recommend spending a night there, in a Ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) and enjoying its onsen (hot springs).

In total, Jozankei Onsen has 56 hot springs! This is “THE” onsen town of Hokkaido!

If you go there in autumn, the surrounding forests will look like an explosion of colors with the magnificent show of momiji (Japanese Maple Tree).

Visiting Jozankei Onse is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido. Besides the onsen, there are actually many things to do:

  • Visit Jozankei Gensen garden and its free foot back
  • Cross Futami Suspension Bridge
  • Go Kayaking on the river
  • Admire Shiraito falls

Read: 16 BEAUTIFUL THINGS TO SEE IN JOZANKEI ONSEI
Location: here


3. Explore Otaru in Hokkaido

Best things to see in Otaru

Formerly the capital of Hokkaido, Otaru is a historic town with lots of character. Once a thriving herring fishing town, Otaru attracted lots of merchants from around the world.

Today Otaru is pleasant for its preserved canal, its glass craftsmanship, its delicious seafood, and overall its great atmosphere. Don’t miss the Otaru Light Festival held in winter. Thousands of candles are lit around the city. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Visiting Otaru is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

A visit to Otaru includes:

  • Otaru Canal
  • Sakaimachi street 
  • Eat a Kaisen-don
  • Visit the “Wall Street” district
  • Taste some sake at Tanaka brewery

Read: 20 GREAT THINGS TO SEE IN OTARU
Location: here


4. Check out the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery

Nikka Whisky distillery

If you know a bit about whisky, you are certainly aware that Japan produces some of the best whisky in the world! In recent years many of their whisky has been awarded #1 whisky in the world! Impressive right?

Not far from Otaru, you can visit the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery, which is one of the birthplace of whisky in Japan! Its owner, a true pioneer, chose this location as it resembles the most, the conditions in Scotland (known for centuries for producing the best whisky in the world).

Here you can tour the distillery, taste the Yoichi Whisky, and visit the very interesting museum on how whisky production started in Japan!

This place is close to Otaru, and easily accessible by car.

Location: here
Website: here


5. Niseko, the best ski resort in Hokkaido!

Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan

For ski and snowboard lovers, go to Niseko in winter. This is the best ski resort in Hokkaido! Located 120 km south of Sapporo, the 4 large ski areas of Niseko (called Niseko United) offer an average snow cover of 14 meters per season! Insane right?

Niseko is a true paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. In summer you can tackle the ascent of Mount Yotei (1,898m), practice trail running, test your swing at one of the many golf courses or even go canoeing or rafting on the Shiribetsu River.

Location: here

Read further:


6. Visit the stunning Lake Toya

Best things to do in Lake Toya

Lake Toya is located within the huge Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This large caldera lake is blessed by nature. Volcanoes, waterfalls, forest, onsen, there is so much to see and do in Lake Toya for nature lovers.

Toya means “lake” in the language of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Formed barely 110,000 years ago, its depth gives it an intense blue.

For the best view go to the free observatory or take a cable car to the top of the beautiful Mount Usu. The panorama between the ocean and volcanoes is worth a look. Don’t forget to go on a boat tour to visit one of the islands in the middle of the lake.

Lake Toya is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Read: 12 BEST THINGS TO SEE IN LAKE TOYA
Location: here


7. Be amazed at the “Hell Valley” in Noboribetsu

Hell Valley in Noboribetsu

Like Lake Toya or Mount Yotei near Niseko, Noboribetsu Onsen also belongs to Shikotsu Toya National Park.

In this lively little town with the omnipresent smell of sulfur, you can discover an impressive geothermal park, also called the Hell Valley.

Clearly, this is one of the most impressive things we visited in Hokkaido! This is clearly a must one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

After the Hell Valley, complete your visit with Oyunuma Pond and Oyunuma River, where you can dip your feet in very hot water. You can also see many bears at the bear farm, and enjoy an onsen in a Ryokan.

Read: 18 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN NOBORIBETSU
Location: here


8. Visit the Ainu Museum

Ainu Museum in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu
Ainu Museum in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu

If you have to visit 1 museum in Hokkaido, then choose this one. The Ainu Museum.

What is the Ainu?

The first residents of Hokkaido are actually called the Ainu. Indeed, Hokkaido wasn’t a part of Japan until fairly recently in history. The Ainu would actually be Siberians looking for a less hostile place to settle. They are physically very different from the Japanese, with characteristics that are closer to the Mongols (darker skin, more European eyes, and curly hair; it is even said that some Ainu had blue eyes).

The Ainu way of life was then based on harmony with nature: a population composed of hunters, fishermen, and horticulturists. A final category would have developed over time: merchants, who traded with other peoples. This way of life would have lasted until about the seventh century.


What to see at the Ainu Museum?

The indoor-outdoor museum boasts a huge area of ​​about 10 hectares. It contains a beautiful museum, a theater, and traditional Ainu houses, and many shows are organized throughout the day. Here you will learn a lot about the Ainu, their culture, tradition, and history.

The museum is located in a gorgeous park, with a massive lake and the mountains surrounding it.

This is Hokkaido’s first national museum! We thoroughly enjoyed this visit and watched multiple Ainu shows. We highly recommend a visit to this museum.

Location: here
Website: here


9. Explore Hakodate

Red Brick Warehouses in Hakodate

Hakodate is the third largest city in Hokkaido. This town is a historic trading port located in the south of the island of Hokkaido. Hakodate is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Particularly known for Goryōkaku Fort, the first Western-style fort built in Japan, be sure to stroll through its magnificent park with 1,600 cherry trees, offering an unforgettable sight when in bloom.

Mount Hakodate

To gain height, climb to the top of the Goryōkaku tower: you can then admire its star-shaped architecture as well as the view of Hakodate Bay.

Also, make sure to visit the historic red brick warehouses as well as check out the view at Mount Hakodate, known as the world’s top three night views

Read: 20 UNMISSABLE THINGS TO SEE IN HAKODATE
Location: here


Furano and its flower fields

In spring, be sure to explore the flowery fields near the town of Furano. At this time, the lavender meadows are in bloom and offer breathtaking scenery and exquisite scents. In winter, the town turns into a pretty ski resort (one of the best in Hokkaido).

Furano is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Read: WHAT TO SEE IN FURANO IN WINTER
Location: here


11. Visit Biel and its surroundings

Furano

Biel is located near Furano. This is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

In the hilly country of Biei, due to the blessings of the Tokachidake mountain range, there are many mysterious and fascinating places including the blue pond of Biei (photo above). After an eruption in 1988, a pond was built to prevent volcanic erosion of sand and when the river water started to accumulate, something interesting happened by chance.

The blue color of the water comes from the aluminum of nearby sources and reflects the color of the blue sky. The sulfur and lime turned the pond bed to white and this brings out the blue color.

There are many sights around the Blue Pond, such as Shirohige Falls, Shirakaba Kaidou Refreshing Walk (Birch Road), and Tokachidake Observatory for a sublime view of the Tokachidake Mountain Panorama. More info here.

Location: here


12. Asahiyama Zoo, the most famous in Japan

Asahiyama Zoo, one of the best things to see in Hokkaido

The Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido (near Furano) happens to be the most famous zoo in Japan but also the one located the most north of the archipelago. It owes its success to the fact that the animals are very close to the visitors, through a unique layout.

On June 1, 1967, the Asahiyama Zoo opened its doors, with 75 animal species. Located on Mount Asahi, in the town of Asahikawa, the second largest city on the island of Hokkaido, after Sapporo.

It was in 1997 that the management of the zoo decided to completely rethink the structure of the place and to offer a zoo entirely oriented towards interaction and proximity with animals, for visitors. Thus, after major works, the zoo proposed facilities giving greater freedom to the animals, more space for them and also a very close proximity to visitors.

This zoo attracts a few million visitors every year!

The highlights are the penguin walk, chimpanzee forest, polar bears etc.

Website: here
Location: here


13. Enjoy the view at Unkai Terrace

Also not far from Furano, make sure to check out the Unkai Terrace.

This is where you will have the most unique view during your trip of Hokkaido. If you are lucky, you will see a sea of clouds on top of the mountains.

The best time to enjoy the view is at sunrise. So be prepared to wake up early! One thing is for sure, if the conditions are right, you won’t be disappointed. This may well be one of your best memories during your trip to Hokkaido.

Make sure to check their website, to check if the conditions are good.

Location: here


14. Daisetsuzan National Park, the largest national park in Japan

Daisetsuzan National Park

In the heart of the island of Hokkaido, more than 220,000 hectares of untamed nature promise you a visit out of this world. This park is called Daisetsuzan.

Daisetsuzan Park is an invigorating natural setting, with dozens of volcanoes, numerous waterfalls, and vast green expanses dotted with alpine flowers in spring. T

It is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido for nature lovers. If you are lucky you will be able to observe one of the largest owls in the world, up to 70cm in height (called “Kotan korokamui”).

At Daisetsuzan Park, the most popular activities are hiking, climbing, and relaxing in onsen.

Location: here
Website: here


15. Visit Makomanai Takino cemetery

Makomanai Takino cemetery

This is an incredible place to discover in Hokkaido.

This place has been designed by the star architect in Japan, Tadao Andô.

Here you will be solemnly welcomed by a line of forty Moai heads (like the ones you can see on Easter Island). On the left side, you will then see an almost perfect replica of Stonehenge, the famous megaliths of England!

Once at the park continue your visit through the concrete tunnel guided by the light at the end. At the end of the tunnel, you will find yourself at the foot of a massive Buddha statue 13 meters high.

Location: here
Admission fee: Free


16. Observe the Red-crowned cranes in the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

'The dance of the crane …..', genieten van de kraanvogels in Hokkaido ….

With its 2680 km2, Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is the largest wild wetland in the country. Through the swamp, the Kushiro River flows before finishing its journey into the Pacific Ocean.

This is one of the wildest places in Hokkaido.

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is home to an iconic species, the red-crowned crane, which nests in the swamp. This majestic bird almost disappeared at the beginning of the last century, victims of hunting. It is in particular thanks to the action of a man, Ito who protected and fed them during the long harsh winters that they were able to be saved. Today, we count nearly 2,000 on the island, which is rather encouraging.

The red-crowned crane is a symbolic bird in Japanese culture. In the Japanese collective imagination, the species is a symbol of longevity, happiness, and luck. It is said that the red-crowned crane lives for 1,000 years and transports souls to paradise.

The red-crowned crane is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Location: here
Website: here


17. Visit Shikaribetsu Kotan in winter

Ice Cafe, Lake Shikaribetsu Igloo Village, Tokachi, Hokkaido

In Japan, there is a village only accessible during winter: Shikaribetsu Kotan

Indeed, for 35 years, Lake Shikaribetsu (Shikaribetsuko in Japanese) located in the center of the island of Hokkaido, has been transformed during the winter into a village made entirely of ice.

The lake, located at the southern end of Daisetsuzan National Park, is incredibly beautiful. The water of this lake, which is one of the clearest in Japan, freezes completely during the winter, allowing the construction of igloos, a bar and even a chapel entirely made of ice.

Other activities are also offered such as a cinema, a maze for children, snowmobile rental, ice sculpture lessons or cross-country skiing.

The Shikaribetsuko Kotan is usually accessible from the end of January until the end of March.

Location: here
Website: here


18. Enjoy the amazing food in Hokkaido

Morning Market in Hakodate

A stay on the island of Hokkaido in Japan means that you will eat some of the most amazing food in Japan!

Main agricultural region of the country, its varied cuisine consists of some of the best seafood in Japan (make sure to try their crab!), fresh and locally grown vegetables, but also meats such as lamb.

Among the essential local specialties:

  • Kaisen-don: a delicious bowl of rice served with seafood (sea urchins, salmon roe, scallops, shrimps or crabs)
  • Ishikari-nabe: a stew of salmon with vegetables, tofu, and konjac served in a miso broth
  • Jingisukan or “Genghis Khan”: specialty of Hokkaido, this dish based on finely cut lamb or mutton meat is traditionally prepared on a grill in the shape of a Mongolian soldier’s helmet. It is usually served with grilled vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, and pumpkin
  • Another must-try dish: ramen! The birthplace of miso ramen, Sapporo is the perfect place to sample this quintessentially Japanese gourmet dish. Its classic version is made with a miso broth (soybean paste), medium curly noodles, bean sprouts, and onions.

Sapporo is also a real mecca for beer lovers since it was here that the first industrial brewery in the country was born in 1876, Sapporo Beer!

Be sure to visit the excellent Sapporo Beer Museum to learn about the history of the Sapporo Brewery and the beer industry in Japan. You can even end the visit with a tasting of the different beers offered by the brand.


19. Visit the Akan-Mashu National Park

Best things to see in Hokkaido

Akan-Mashu National Park is a large national park in the eastern part of the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The park’s attractions are its three sparkling clear mountain lakes, the eponymous Lake Akan to the west, Lake Mashū to the east, and Lake Kussharo. This is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Lake Akan is the most visited out of the three, thanks in large part to the mysterious balls of fuzzy green algae known as marimo. There is also a small Ainu Museum and dance performances in the village of Ainu Kotan.

In Akan-Mashu National Park you can enjoy many activities such as canoeing along the nearby Kushiro River. There are also lots of great onsen, beautiful hikes and so much more.

Akan-Mashu National Park is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido. Make sure to check it out.

Location: here
Website: here


20. Visit Abashiri in winter to see the drift ice

Drift ice migrator

Abashiri is a coastal city located northeast of the island of Hokkaido. Renowned for its phenomenon of drifting ice called ryuhyo which forms every winter, this fishing port is home to several cultural sites including the fascinating Prison Museum. The region also includes 5 lakes where you can observe beautiful nature.

The sea ice that forms every winter in the bay is one of the characteristic images of Hokkaido, the northernmost and coldest island in Japan.

Every winter, from January to the end of March, you can observe the formation of drift ice. This natural phenomenon is characterized by salt water which freezes on the surface and thus forms more or less thick sheets of ice that drift with the wind. This majestic and quite rare spectacle in the world attracts many tourists every year! This is one of the best things to see in Hokkaido.

Location: here


Best things to do in Niseko in Winter

In spring, the region is barely emerging from winter and can still remain cold at the start of the season. But the colors are starting to show across the northern landscapes. The temperatures move away from the freezing and become pleasant. Around mid-May, the cherry trees begin to bloom.

In summer, you can avoid the high heat of Japan and have much more bearable temperatures. You will therefore not be exhausted by the heat and humidity of the rest of the country, which can grant you walks through the scenery of Hokkaido without any problem! You can also enjoy many activities in the many lakes and river of Hokkaido.

In autumn, you can find beautiful glowing colors throughout Hokkaido. The weather conditions are good even if the weather is starting to get cold. This is one of our favorite seasons to travel to Hokkaido.

In winter, you are in coldest part of Japan! Snow lovers and skiers will have a great time. The landscapes will be fully covered in tons of snow! It’s a true Winter Wonderland. Without a doubt, the best season in Hokkaido!


Best things to do in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is a separate island located a few kilometers from the main island of Honshu. However, you can still get to Hokkaido from Tokyo by train via the Seikan tunnel passing under the sea. It is 53 kilometers long tunnel. The train will stop in Hakodate.

Traveling by train through Japan is one of the most convenient means of transportation. It’s always on time, it’s comfortable and the railway network is vast. However, it can be very expensive unless you purchase the JR Pass. This pass will allow you to travel through Japan and take the train unlimited!

You can purchase your pass at a discounted price here. If you are only traveling in Hokkaido, then you can buy the Hokkaido JR pass only, check it out here.


If you opt for the plane, this will be the fastest option! You can also choose from several airports in Hokkaido, The main one is Chitose Airport in Sapporo. There are about ten airports across the whole island, which allows you to choose which area of ​​Hokkaido you want to go to.

To book your flights and compare the cheapest options click here.


Taking the boat is also one of the possibilities to reach Hokkaido. You can take different ferries and thus reach Hakodate.


Sobetsu waterfall
  • HOW LONG TO TRAVEL TO HOKKAIDO: 8/10 days allow you to see some essential spots, but the island is clearly too big. 3 weeks/1 month would be more suitable for a complete loop.
  • CURRENCY: Yen (JPY). The Japanese work a lot with cash, it is not uncommon to fall into a “No credit card” place. So always have cash on you. Distributors are everywhere even in small grocery stores like 7/Eleven.
  • VISA: no need visa for most countries. Check it out here.
  • TEL/INTERNET: we recommend buying an eSim Card online here or directly when you arrive at the airport (it would be more expensive though). There is also the possibility of renting a pocket wifi on arrival at the airport for the duration of the trip (see here).

>> Read: Best Tourist Sim Cards in Japan

  • WHY GO? Nature, wildlife, and skiing/snowboarding in winter of course!

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • The Japanese speak very little English… especially outside the big cities. So get your Google Translate app ready!
  • In public onsens (hot baths), nudity is compulsory, but women and men are separated.
  • Driving is on the left side. International Driving License is required and for certain countries an official translation of your license as well.

Driving in Hokkaido

As mentioned earlier in our post, it’s hard to see everything during a single trip to Hokkaido unless you have a full month to spend on this magical island.

It will also depend on whether you decide to rent a car or take public transportation everywhere. And finally which seasons do you decide to go.

If you decide to rent a car in Hokkaido, we recommend Nippon-Rent-A-Car, or Toyota-Rent-A-Car. They have many agencies around Hokkaido and their website/information is all provided in English.

Assuming you have 14 days on the island and a car, we propose 2 different itineraries as follows:


  • DAY 1: ARRIVE IN SAPPORO
  • DAY 2: FULL DAY OF EXPLORATIONS IN SAPPORO
  • DAY 3: EXPLORATION OF SAPPORO SURROUNDINGS (MOUNT MOIWA)
  • DAY 4: VISIT JOZANKEI ONSEN
  • DAY 5: VISIT OTARU
  • DAY 6: DRIVE TO FURANO
  • DAY 7: VISIT THE BIEI AREA
  • DAY 8: VISIT UNKAI TERRACE
  • DAY 9: DRIVE TO NOBORIBETSU
  • DAY 10: VISIT NOBORIBETSU AREA
  • DAY 11: VISIT LAKE TOYA
  • DAY 11: DRIVE TO HAKODATE
  • DAY 12: VISIT HAKODATE
  • DAY 13: VISIT HAKODATE
  • DAY 14: RETURN YOUR CAR IN HAKODATE AND TAKE A FLIGHT BACK TO TOKYO, OR DRIVE BACK TO SAPPORO

  • DAY 1: ARRIVE IN SAPPORO
  • DAY 2: FULL DAY OF EXPLORATIONS IN SAPPORO
  • DAY 3: SAPPORO TO ASAHIKAWA
  • DAY 4: SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK
  • DAY 5: SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK
  • DAY 6: AKAN NATIONAL PARK
  • DAY 7: AKAN NATIONAL PARK
  • DAY 8: KUSHIRO SHITSUGEN NATIONAL
  • DAY 9: KUSHIRO SHITSUGEN NATIONAL
  • DAY 10: KUSHIRO SHITSUGEN NATIONAL
  • DAY 11: NOBORIBETSU ONSEN
  • DAY 12: NOBORIBETSU ONSEN
  • DAY 13: LAKE TOYA
  • DAY 14: BACK TO SAPPORO

Best things to see in Noboribetsu

A trip to Hokkaido is a connection with nature. This wild and gorgeous island is absolutely stunning, especially for nature lovers. We will never forget our walk through the Hell Valley in Noboribetsu, our snowboard trips to Niseko or Furano, and the many volcanoes, waterfalls, and wonderful lakes we saw!

It was also very interesting to see cities that look so westernized and different from the rest of Japan, such as Otaru or Hakodate. Both were heavily influenced by Western countries.

And after all these adventures, nothing better than enjoying an onsen in one of the many ryokans in Hokkaido!

We truly enjoyed our trip to Hokkaido and we hope you will too. If you have any questions to help you prepare for your trip, please feel free to leave a comment below. We usually respond within 24 hours.

For more posts related to Japan, check out this link here.


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