Things you must know when travelling to Sapporo

By Andrew Thompson

Sapporo is a large city in central Hokkaido, known for its beautiful mix of nature and an engaging and intriguing urban setting. Nearly two million people live in the city, and it’s comfortably the cultural heart of Hokkaido. This cultural diversity and natural beauty alone should answer the question “is Sapporo worth visiting?”, but it’s also a city with four distinct seasons, and one where those seasons are celebrated! With its snowy winters to its sunny summers, there are many unique dishes to sample, and some truly fascinating annual festivals and events to plan your trip around. So if you’re wondering what to do in Sapporo, keep reading this Sapporo travel guide. You’ll get some tips for travelling in Japan, and insight into some important things to know before visiting Sapporo.

Sapporo is large, so plan accordingly

One of the most important practical things to know before visiting Sapporo is that the Hokkaido region is massive! Understandably, the cities are therefore very large as well. Sapporo is no exception, and this can have a big impact on your trip. One of the most useful tips for travelling in Sapporo is to allow yourself enough time to explore the city and its surrounds. A short journey of one or two nights will likely tire you out, and any Sapporo travel guide will tell you that you need to allocate more than just a couple of nights in the region. Rather slow your travels down and spend as much time in Hokkaido as possible so you can fully appreciate everything the region, and its capital, have to offer.

Smoking is still a popular vice in Sapporo

One of the most intriguing things to know about Japanese culture is that in some parts of the country, smoking is still a popular activity. This is particularly true in the city of Sapporo, where nearly 25% of the population lights up. It’s also common for people to smoke indoors, so walking into some restaurants you may be hit with a cloud of smoke. Although there are some new laws regarding smoking in public, if you’re particularly sensitive to cigarette smoke you may want to make necessary arrangements ahead of time or look for restaurants that have separate smoking sections.

The winters in Sapporo are cold!

Although there are four marked seasons, weather in Sapporo is notorious, and often celebrated, for being on the cooler side. The winters can be particularly cold, with heavy snowfalls common. Although this blanket of snow transforms the city and is a beautiful sight for outsiders, it means if you don’t have suitable warm clothing you’ll likely struggle outdoors. A good coat, gloves and a scarf will help you enjoy the city, which is particularly beautiful after a light dusting of snow. Summers are generally warm, but can also experience cold snaps - so basic layering will help you continue to enjoy the outdoors even when the temperatures dip.

Snowshoes will help you out in winter

Heavy snow usually arrives each year in mid-December, and although beautiful, it can be hazardous - particularly if you’re not prepared for the icy sidewalks. They’re often incredibly slippery and dangerous if you’re walking with regular shoes, so a great local tip is that if you plan on visiting in midwinter, you’d be well advised to make sure your shoes are non-slip. These don’t have to be particularly fancy, either - if you’re travelling from a city with warmer weather, you can pick up a pair of non-slip shoes, or have your soles treated, at JR stations and subway stores for around 500 yen.

The wild often mixes with the city

Although Sapporo is a large urban city, its proximity to nature is one of its most celebrated assets. This means that it’s quite likely you’ll encounter some form of wildlife while visiting the region. It’s even possible to spot foxes roaming the city streets, which is usually a delightful sight for unsuspecting visitors. Enjoy these creatures with caution, however. Although these foxes may seem friendly, it’s best to avoid them - many carry a parasite that’s toxic to humans. It’s also possible to spot bears close to the city, and these too are best left to their own devices and enjoyed from a distance.

There is amazing cuisine to try

Japan is famous for its regionalized cuisine, and among the practical stuff to know before travelling to Japan, it’s important to remember to sample each area’s local delicacies. Sapporo has several delicious foods to try, including the freshest seafood, ramen, jingisukan bbq (lamb grill), soup curry, and even cheese. Of course, if you are wondering “what is Hokkaido famous for?”, you can’t overlook the region’s famous brewing heritage. You can drink the famous Sapporo Premium Beer, Hokkaido sake - the region’s waters are said to be the secret to producing exceptional sake - or savor some of the finest Nikka whiskey. 

Trams are the most popular way to get around the city

Given the size of the city, you’ll likely resort to public transport in order to get around. Fortunately, public transport in Sapporo is safe and reliable. For most people, the most popular form of public transport is the tram. It runs between most major attractions in the city and should get you within walking distance of most landmarks. There’s also a safe and efficient underground network, though if you’re on a budget, it's important to remember that this is a slightly more expensive way to get around. If you want to save money and travel in the most convenient way possible, pick up a travel pass that will allow you to use public transport over a specified number of days.

Getting to and from the airport

Sapporo airport is located approximately 50 kilometers from the city centre, and it’s one of the country’s busiest airports. Although it’s possible to take a taxi from the airport to the city centre, most people opt for public transport. There are airport buses that leave every 15 minutes from the airport and connect with major stations and locations in Sapporo. The total journey time can be up to 90 minutes in traffic. A more efficient, though slightly more expensive, way to travel from the airport to the city is on the JR rapid trains. There are trains to Sapporo Station approximately every 15 minutes, and the journey time is just 35 minutes.

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