Edited by Matthew Wears
Even though Sapporo might be more famous for its extreme winter weather, visiting Sapporo in summer can actually be one of the most fulfilling and beautiful times of the year. The temperature is warm without being too hot, the stunning countryside comes alive with vibrant natural colors and an exciting summer festival calendar begins to get up and running.
If you’re wondering what to do in Sapporo this summer, I’m going to be telling you what festivals and attractions need to be on your Hokkaido summer itinerary, and what local spots should be pinned on travel maps. Lavender fields, beaches, and crazy celebrations all make up this list of the best things to do in Sapporo in summer – so get ready to see a new side of Japan's most northerly island.
Drink local beers at Odori Park beer garden
One of the most exciting of all Sapporo summer events is the opening of the beer gardens in the city’s main green space; the must-see Odori Park.
During winter, Odori Park is the location of the world-famous snow festival, but during the summer it takes on a completely different look and becomes the home of the Sapporo Summer Festival. The park is transformed into a one-kilometer-long beer garden that can seat over ten thousand people on the hottest and most popular of days.
The beer comes from all across the globe, but if you want to sample the local tipple then there’s a number of different Hokkaido based breweries that sell their brews here too. If you’re visiting Sapporo in summer, the Odori Park beer garden is a must try place to chill out and socialize after a busy day of sightseeing. Just remember to bring a coat – it can still get pretty chilly in the evenings during summertime.
Watch a famous Japnese firework festival
Wherever you are in Japan during summertime, there will most likely be a firework festival of some kind taking place. These celebrations are a big part of the culture and are often some of the most anticipated events on the calendar.
Toyohira River Fireworks (or Doshin/UHB as it is sometimes known) is one of the biggest of its kind in Hokkaido and attracts close to one million visitors every year. It goes without saying that to get the best spot you will have to arrive during the day and find wait it out as the crowds begin to arrive. The wait might be long, but when the show begins, you’ll realize that it was all worth it.
Sit on the banks of the Toyohira River and watch as roughly four thousand fireworks explode in a colourful pyrotechnic display that lasts for sixty whole minutes. Toyohira is a spectacle like no other – one of the must-see Sapporo summer activities!
Photo credit: t-konno, Wikipedia
Experience the Hokkaido Shrine Festival
The Hokkaido shrine festival is easily one of Sapporo’s most exciting events for any tourist who wants to experience what a true Shinto celebration looks like.
From the 14-16 of June, the streets come alive with colorful activities including bustling stalls, vibrant Heian period costumes, and ornately decorated portable shrines called mikoshi. The main attraction is the parade that takes place on the final day, which begins at the shrine and slowly makes its way to the bustling central district of Susukino.
Join the thousands of people that line the streets and watch as flag-bearers, floats and portable shrines make their celebratory journey in the city center. The Hokkaido Shrine festival is one of the things to do in Sapporo in Summer that’s really going to get you in the festival spirit and is an amazing experience if you happen to be in Sapporo at this time.
Sapporo is a city that is famous for having some of the most beautiful countrysides in Japan right on its doorstep, and that makes for some truly fantastic hiking.
If it’s more of a beginner's hike you’re after, Mt. Moiwa is a beautiful little peak whose summit takes roughly just over an hour to reach. You’ll find an endless amount of trails that explore the stunning forest-covered slopes - the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
If you want some more extreme places to visit in Sapporo in summer, try going further afield to the stunning extinct volcano of Mt. Yotei. As you walk up this nearly two-thousand-meter-high peak, you’ll see it has an uncanny resemblance to the symbolic Mt. Fuji and has extremely impressive views of the crater below. If you’re an experienced hiker you can try it yourself, but if not, there are many mountain guides that can take you safely to the top.
Day trip to Furano lavender fields
Just a short trip from Sapporo you’ll find one of the most beautifully colorful landscapes of anywhere in Japan. The Furano lavender fields have become one of the most iconic tourist attractions in the north of Japan, and visiting is a must-do for anyone who wants to add a splash of color to their Sapporo summer travel.
Start your day trip at the place where it all began; Farm Tomita. Walk through an endless sea of violet and feel the calming effect of the lavender as its scent blows through the cool breeze. After your tour of the lavender fields, makes sure to stop at one of the cafes and try some of the lavender produce, which includes a purple-tinged lavender ice cream which is a must-try.
You should definitely make time to visit the Hinode lavender field as well – there’s a monument that stands at the top of the slope and it gives the best views of the flower fields down below. Day trips to Furano operate from many different companies and it takes just a few hours to reach by car.
Get city views from Mt. Moiwa
Mt. Moiwa has already been mentioned as a great hiking destination, but it’s also the location of one of the best city views in Japan - it was officially voted this award so I’m not just saying it! -
When the Sapporo summer weather is at its best, you can get simply stunning views of the sun as it dips beneath the city down below. Watch as Sapporo begins to light up in the evening and you will begin to understand why many think this is the most beautiful view in the country.
When you’ve finished admiring the view, make sure to ring the fortune bell in the center of the observation deck – it is meant to bring good luck to your relationship. You can reach the peak by car or bus, but the easiest way is by cable car that operates every fifteen minutes and costs roughly 800 Yen for a return trip. Visiting Sapporo in summer would not be the same without spending a romantic evening at the top of Mt. Moiwa - it really is a top ten destination.
Sample the local seasonal produce
One of the really fun things to do in Sapporo, or pretty much anywhere in Japan for that matter, is of course sample the food. Summertime sees the arrival of many seasonal goods to try, whether it be fruit, vegetables or the local speciality; seafood.
You can expect to see local favourites such as sea urchin and squid on the menu over the summer months which are the two must try items for fish loving foodies. Uni Murakami is often said to be the best place in the city to get sea urchins, so it’s best to head there to try this unique delicacy. if you really want to eat like a local, you have to try the raw corn that is eaten here too – it might seem a little strange to eat corn without cooking it, but it just shows the extremely high quality of the raw produce that’s present in Hokkaido.
Witness the Hokkaido Banei Horse Racing
A highlight of the summer and must for any horse racing fanatic is the Hokkaido Banei horse races (a unique form of horse racing unique to Hokkaido) held at the Sapporo Racecourse from August to September.
Watch from the newly built terraced stands as the native breed of horses (called Dosanko) battle it out with their jockeys - who are being pulled on sleds, - to be crowned the winner of this exciting event.
When the racing is over, head to the area known as the runway where you can get close to the animals, which is a unique experience as you’re unlikely to find this breed anywhere else. All of this costs just one-hundred Yen, so not only is this one of the most fun things to do in Sapporo, it’s actually probably one of the cheapest too!
Relax at the Otaru Dream Beach
When thinking of what to do in Sapporo this summer, going to the beach probably isn’t your first thought - but when the weather begins to heat up in summertime it’s actually very popular!
A firm favorite with the locals is the Otaru Dream Beach which lies just to the west of Sapporo along the beautiful western coast. This is a long and sandy stretch of coastline which although might not be up there with the likes of Kyushu’s platinum white sands, does offer a good spot to cool down and chill out on hot summer days.
Out of all the beaches in this part of the country, Otaru also comes with quite a few facilities so you can easily head for a quick beer when you’re feeling thirsty from the heat. If you’re spending a day here, make sure to bring a tent and a BBQ if you can too – that’s how the locals like to do it.
Visit the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo
Another must-visit place for animal lovers is the Sapporo Maruyama Zoo; a huge collection of over one-hundred and eighty types of animals that range from mammals, reptiles, and birds in natural feeling exhibitions.
Walking around you will see orangutans, giraffes, pandas, and the main attraction which is the polar bear enclosure. Maruyama is actually one of two of the only zoos in Japan that have successfully bred polar bears for around twenty years, so it’s special to see them here.
For children, there are petting zoos and feeding shows that are held throughout the day, so it’s definitely somewhere to consider coming if you’re spending summer with the family here. Even though it’s only small, a trip to Maruyama Zoo remains one of the most popular things to do in Sapporo in summer for everyone.
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