Edited by Elodi Troskie
Sapporo, the capital of the Japanese island Hokkaido, might not be the first destination that comes to mind when thinking about Japan’s major cities. But this unique city offers so much to do! You might be staying in the city, but you’ll be within close reach to the breath-taking hiking trails and skiing hills surrounding Sapporo. In the city itself, you won’t have a dull moment with the exciting nightlife and amazing restaurants and food markets where you can try all of Sapporo’s must-eat dishes. If you’re planning a visit to this Japanese oasis, here are my suggestions for the coolest unusual things to do in Sapporo that are not in your guidebook.
Go on a ski trip
Disclaimer: I’m a ski instructor so this is perhaps not much of surprise, but the incredible facilities for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding is one of the things Sapporo is most famous for. In 1972, Mount Teine became the venue in Asia to host the Winter Olympics alpine ski competition. The world-renowned ski jump stadium built for this event remains a popular tourist attraction. Now forming part of Sapporo Teine, a recreational center with facilities like a ski resort, ropeway, and golf club fields, this is probably the best ski destination in Sapporo. Whether you’re already a pro, still learning the ropes or even a complete beginner, Sapporo Teine welcomes you with open arms. There is a variety of runs to fit visitors’ different levels of advancement. Hands-on lessons are available for anyone from as young as four years old. Day passes for adults start at 3 200 yen, and discount is available for children and seniors.
Bathe in the hot springs
After a day of skiing or recovering from a night out in the Susukino District, a relaxing hot springs bath, or onsen as we call them, is exactly what you need to recharge your sore muscles and tired body! Luckily, Sapporo and the surrounding areas have natural hot springs in abundance. One of these is Hōheikyō Hot Springs, located off the beaten path in the mountains about 35 kilometers from the city center of Sapporo. The open-air baths are all-natural and set amid breath-taking panoramic nature scenes. Other relaxing treatments like body massages and facials are available. Hōheikyō also has an amazing Indian restaurant on-site where the home-baked naan and spicy curry (something which may surprise you in Japan) is a must-try. Opening hours are from 10 am until 10:30 pm every day.
Get festive at the Snow Festival
The Snow Festival is one of the most anticipated events on Sapporo’s social calendar. The festival takes place annually over a week at the beginning of February, and it’s the best time to experience the magical dreamland that Sapporo turns into every winter. The entire city is involved in the festivities but the main events take place in Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome. The festival originated in 1950 when high school students built a couple of snow statues in Odori Park. Over the past few decades, the snow building activities have escalated to a massive ice sculpting competition for which the world’s best ice sculptors come from all over to compete for the winning title. More than two million visitors make their way to Sapporo every year to marvel at these sculptures, which are illuminated at night to make them even more impressive. Definitely one of the coolest things to do in Sapporo at night (no pun intended). The 2020 Snow Festival is preliminarily scheduled for 31 January until 11 February.
Visit the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
The Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art is home to almost 5 000 contemporary artworks – a must-visit if you’re looking for quirky things to do in Sapporo. The museum was opened in 1977 and has since built up an impressive collection of art, featuring both domestic and international artists. The permanent Museum Collection exhibition can be found on the first and second floors. The rest of the space features rotating exhibitions and individual installations. Alongside the exhibited art pieces, the gallery hosts regular workshops and presentations, which have proven to be very popular among art lovers visiting Sapporo. The museum is located a short 5-minute walk from the Nishi Juhatchome Station on the Subway Tozai Line. Opening hours are from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm daily.
Visit a chocolate factory
Shiroi Koibito Park is a fun-filled theme park established by the local chocolate factory, Ishiya. Ishiya’s most popular product is the Shiroi Koibito cookie, consisting of two thin butter cookies with a layer of white chocolate in between. The park is a magical space with features like the Shiroi Koibito Factory where the chocolate is produced, the Cookiecraft Studio where visitors can make their own sweet treats, and the Rose Garden where you can have an afternoon nap after feasting on too much sugar. You’ll also find a shop, cafe, and restaurant on-site. Needless to say, visiting the Shiroi Koibito Park is the best activity to do in Sapporo with kids! To get to the park, take the Tozai Subway Line to the Miyanosawa Station, from where Shiroi Koibito is a 10-minute walk away. Opening hours are from 9 am until 8 pm every day.
Take a day trip to the Shikotsu-Toya National Park
The great thing about staying in Sapporo is how many amazing places there are to visit in the areas surrounding the city. If you want to explore Sapporo off the beaten path, the Shikotsu-Toya National Park is an easily accessible national park from Sapporo. The park offers beautiful natural landscapes, hiking trails, and hot springs. The park is divided into five main parts: the two namesake lakes, Shikotsu and Toya, the two towns of Noboribetsu and Jozankei, and Mount Yotei, a perfectly shaped mountain with amazing but challenging hiking trials due to its high altitude. To make the most out of your trip to Shikotsu-Toya, consider renting a car and staying over for a few days before heading back to the city.
Explore the Hokkaido Pioneer Village
The Hokkaido Pioneer Village is one of Sapporo’s best-kept secrets. This open-air museum, located just outside the city center, is a must-visit destination in Sapporo if you’re interested in learning about the history of industrialization in Japan. The setup is divided into four sections: a town, fishing village, farm village, and mountain village. The buildings in these villages showcase the different styles of architecture typical to Hokkaido and date back as far as the 1860s. An interesting visit is the Hokkaido Museum, exhibiting documents and artifacts that tell the history of Hokkaido. The village and museum can be visited between 9 am and 5 pm at 1 200 yen per person (this covers admission for both). Take the local train to Shinrin Koen Station that departs from Sapporo Station. From there the Pioneer Village is a short bus ride or 20-minute walk away.
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