Edited by Elodi Troskie
Sapporo, the scenic capital of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, is often overlooked by travelers who visit Japan. And this is exactly why Sapporo needs to be on your travel bucket list! Surrounded by mountains and beautiful natural landscapes, Sapporo is best known for its snow and skiing facilities, but there’s an energetic city life here too. If you want to explore off the beaten path Japan, Sapporo is a must visit destination. I’ve been living here for most of my life, and so I’ve come across a hidden gem or two, but here are my favorite 10 hidden gems in Sapporo.
Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
The Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art is one of the coolest places to visit in Sapporo. Since opening in 1977, the museum has acquired almost 5 000 modern art pieces by Japanese and international artists. Yet, despite the impressive collection of contemporary pieces, the gallery is relatively undiscovered by tourists. The first two floors of the museum are occupied by the permanent Museum Collection, which is exhibited throughout the year. The other parts of the gallery features seasonal collections that rotate every few weeks. Keep an eye on their website to stay updated with ongoing exhibitions. The museum is located a short 5-minute walk from the Nishi Juhatchome Station on the Subway Tozai Line. The museum is open from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm daily.
Maruyama Park is a peaceful public park where locals love to relax during their lunch breaks or have Sunday brunch picnics with their families. The most beautiful time to visit the park is in May when Japan’s famous cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the sakura viewing festivals take place all across the country. The park is part of a natural collective that includes the Maruyama Wild Forest, the Maruyama Zoo and numerous sporting grounds. To reach the park, take the Subway Tozai Line to the Maruyama Koen Station. The Maruyama Zoo is a great place to visit with kids. The zoo has close to 200 different kinds of animals. Their philosophy is to recreate the natural habitat of the animals. Ensuring they’re able to live according to their instincts. A top pick for alternative things to do in Sapporo!
Baseball and football may not be the first thing that comes to find when thinking of things to do in Sapporo. But maybe you didn’t think of the Sapporo Dome, the biggest stadium in Hokkaido which seats more than 50 000 people and has been used for baseball games and football matches since its opening in 2001. As the only dome in the world that’s equipped to switch between turf for baseball and football, the stadium is home to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team and the Consadole Sapporo football team. On occasions, the stadium is also used for concerts and other major events. The Dome offers tours on days when there aren’t any other events taking place in the stadium. Other features of the Dome include an observation tower, a weight training room and a park where children can play. The observation deck is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm. Entrance for adults is 520 yen and 320 yen for children.
500 Bar & Dining
500 Bar & Dining is a casual bar located in the Susukino District, Sapporo’s best nightlife area. As the biggest nightlife entertainment hub north of Tokyo, Susukino gets busy at night. Surrounded by more than 4 000 other bars, restaurants, and clubs, 500 Bar is a treasure for the budget traveler due to its affordable prices on beers and light meals. The name derives from the standard price on drinks at the time the bar was opened - if only they were still 500 yen! In the mean-time, the prices have slightly gone up, but, in combination with the no cover charge policy, this remains one of the cheapest hangout spots in Sapporo at night. 500 Bar is located right next to the Susukino Subway Station – very convenient if you’re getting around Sapporo using public transport.
The Curb Market, or the Sapporo Jogai Ichiba, is a fresh produce market that specializes in Hokkaido seafood like crab, squid and salmon roe. The market consists of nearly 80 shops and eateries selling fresh seafood and other locally grown seasonal produce. With its big variety of fresh food sold at reasonable prices, the Curb Market is a popular shopping location among locals. The Curb Market is a great place to spend the day if you want to try Sapporo’s local must-try dishes and eat like the locals do. The market can be accessed by a 10-minute walk from either the JR Soen or the Nijuyonken Subway Station. Most of the shops and restaurants in the market are open from 6 am until 5 pm every day.
Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho
You can expect to eat a lot of ramen no matter where you’re traveling in Japan. Visit Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho, Sapporo’s ‘Ramen Street’. Lined with many local ramen restaurants, this narrow alleyway is a real hidden gem in Sapporo. Tucked away in a less crowded part of the Susukino District, most tourists don’t know about this treasure. Some of the restaurants in the ramen alley have been in business for more than half a century and have become a culinary institution among Sapporo’s locals. This is by far the best place to try all the variants of ramen typical to Hokkaido. A favorite is Miso ramen, with its origin in Sapporo’s ramen alley. Eating here is an experience not to be missed!
The White Illumination is a festive tradition that takes place around the Christmas season every year. Sapporo’s famous annual Snow Festival, taking place in the beginning of February, draws more than two million visitors who admire the impressive ice sculptures created by ice sculptors who come from all over the world. But the White Illumination is not quite as well-known as the festival, making it the perfect festive activity if you want to see Sapporo in all its snowy glory, but want to avoid the tourist crowds. Since the early 1980’s, the White Illumination has been lighting up the city and decking out Odori Park with about half a million light bulbs. This is a sight you won’t easily forget!
German Christmas Market
Another highlight on Sapporo’s social calendar is the German Christmas Market, held in Odori Park from late November until late December every year, and something which may surprise you. Situated among the magical Christmas lights of the White Illumination, the park is truly transformed into a fairy tale scenery. The market celebrates the relationship between Sapporo and its sister city, Munich. You’ll find stalls selling all kinds of German-style souvenirs as well as a massive food court with traditional German food and hot wine, a Christmas favorite in winter. At night there’s often live music entertainment like a choir performing Christmas carols. Workshops are held where visitors can take German language lessons or learn how to make mulled wine.
Shiroi Koibito Park
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Sapporo, consider visiting the local chocolate factory. Shiroi Koibito Park is a sort of theme park established by the chocolate manufacturer, Ishiya. You’ll find the Shiroi Koibito Factory here, where the chocolate is made. The Cookiecraft Studio, where sweet-toothed visitors can try their hand at making Ishiya’s flagship Shiroi Koibito cookie. The cookie consists of two thin butter cookies surrounding a layer of white chocolate (sounds delicious, I know!). After stocking up on sweet treats, have a lie down in the peaceful Rose Garden or head to the on-site cafe for a cup of coffee. This is a great place to visit with kids! Take the Tozai Subway Line to the Miyanosawa Station, then Shiroi Koibito is a quick 10-minute walk away. Opening hours are from 9 am until 8 pm every day.
Hokkaido Pioneer Village
The Hokkaido Pioneer Village is a cool non-touristy place to visit in Sapporo. Located outside of the city center, many tourists either don’t know about this place or they don’t want to bother with the travel distance. The village is divided into four sub-villages, featuring scenes from a traditional town, fishing village, farming village, and a mountain village. These villages form an open-air museum that showcases architecture dating back to the 1800’s. If you’re interested in learning about how industrialization has evolved in this part of Japan, you’ll find the Hokkaido Museum very informative. This museum exhibits documents and artifacts giving an account of the history of Hokkaido. At 1 200 yen, you can get admission to both the Hokkaido Museum and the open-air museum. Opening hours are from 9 am until 5 pm.
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