To fully understand Japan is impossible without a trip to its wild northernmost island of Hokkaido. And whether you only manage to squeeze out one week in Hokkaido or approach it at a more leisurely pace, you’ll quickly sing praises to the island’s only true metropolis, Sapporo.
The lesser-known capital of Hokkaido—surprisingly, the 5th-largest city in Japan—charms with less force than its better-established cultural brethren to the south. Sapporo’s history tallies in at just 150 years, a far cry from the centuries backing other popular Japanese travel destinations.
Even without a grandiose palette of historical relics, there are plenty of things to do in Sapporo. From discovering Japan’s surprising penchant for brewing beer to watching a winter wonderland unfold before your eyes, let the capital of Hokkaido get under your skin with these top Sapporo attractions.
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What to do in Sapporo: Top attractions & best places to visit
Even with only one day in Sapporo, you simply can’t miss a chance to scope out the city from above at Mt. Moiwa. At 531 metres above sea level, this mountain, east of the city centre, unleashes spectacular 360-degree views of Sapporo, the Mashike Mountains, and Ishikari Bay. In fact, Mt. Moiwa often tallies in—alongside Hakodate, Nagasaki, and Kobe—as one of the best night views in all of Japan!
Aside from breathing in unforgettable panoramas from the observatory platform, Mt. Moiwa is home to a host of amenities including souvenir shops, a planetarium, and a romantic French restaurant delivering the mountain’s famous city views.
Getting to Mt. Moiwa: One of the best parts about Mt. Moiwa is getting there. From Susukino in central Sapporo, take a local tram to the Ropeway Iriguchi Stop. From here either walk or hop on the shuttle bus to Moiwa Sanroku Station. Proceed up Mt. Moiwa using a combination of the Moiwa-yama Ropeway and the cable car from Moiwa Chufuku to get the observation platform at the summit.
Even if it lacks the excitement of Kabukicho in Tokyo or Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan’s northernmost entertainment district of Susukino proves that Sapporo is anything but boring. Much as you’d expect from a modern Japanese city, Susukino dashes through Sapporo with a splattering of neon signs lighting the way for a slew of karaoke bars, pachinko (massage) parlours, and some of the best restaurants in Sapporo.
When you’re not down for a wild night on the town, settle into one of Susukino most popular corners, Ramen Yokocho. This narrow alleyway plays host the city’s most popular food, miso ramen, one of the best things to eat in Sapporo and near the top of the list of must-try Japanese foods.
Getting to Susukino: The city’s most exciting district lies directly in the centre and is easily accessible both by foot and via Sapporo’s public transportation at Susukino Station.
At first glance, it might not look like one of the best city parks in Japan, but there’s a whole lot going for Odori Park when planning out what to do in Sapporo. This long and narrow stretch occupies the space between two lanes of Odori, one of the main drags of central Sapporo.
Beside clocking in as a favourite recreational spot for Sapporites, Odori Park hosts a handful of popular festivals throughout the year. Most famous is the Sapporo Snow Festival, a 7-day annual affair that sees Odori Park explode into a winter wonderland with snow & ice sculptures abound. In autumn, another one of the best times to visit Hokkaido, Odori Park erupts into its fall shades for a scene unlike any other in Sapporo.
Getting to Odori Park: Odori Station lies at the eastern fringe of the parkland. Alternatively, from Sapporo Station, Odori Park is a 15-minute walk south.
Sapporo TV Tower
Once you’ve reveled in the comfort of Odori Park, get a glimpse of it (and the rest of central Sapporo) from above at the city’s most famous landmark, Sapporo TV Tower. Rising up some 147.2 metres, Sapporo TV Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Sapporo and supplies some of the city’s finest views.
To get the full Sapporo TV Tower experience, scoot up to the observation deck at the 90-metre level for 360-degree views over Sapporo—and even as far as the Sea of Japan and Ishikari Plain. The Sapporo TV Tower is also connected subterraneously to Aurora Town, a 312-metre-long underground shopping street jammed with shops, restaurants, and cafés.
Getting to Sapporo TV Tower: From Odori Station on the Namboku, Toho, and Tozai Lines, use exit 27 to emerge directly at the tower.
Sapporo Beer Museum
To anyone who’s thought that drinking great beer is confined to places like Germany or Czech Republic, prepare to experience a revelation at the Sapporo Beer Museum. Hokkaido’s beer industry sports a history as old as the city itself, starting with the capital’s namesake beer Sapporo, a brand that’s grown into one of the world’s most popular brews since its first appearance in 1877.
Visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum walks through the humble beginnings of the Japanese beer industry right here in Hokkaido to how Japan’s favourite beer is brewed today. Beyond beer history, the museum is home to the Sapporo Beer Garden, a collection of restaurants and beer halls presumably inspired by their Bavarian forefathers. Enjoy all-you-can-drink beer (responsibly, of course) and all-you-can-eat BBQ lamb to soak up the suds.
Getting to the Sapporo Beer Museum: The easiest way to access the museum is via the Loop 88 Factory Line bus from Odori or Sapporo Station. By metro, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Sapporo Beer Museum from the closest station, Higashi-kuyakusho-mae (Toho Line), or 25 minutes from Sapporo Station via Kita-hachijo Dori.
Sapporo Clock Tower
Shattering Japan’s reputation for both ultra-modern skyscrapers and ancient wooden merchant houses, Sapporo Clock Tower seems more suited for a colonial American town than a Japanese city of almost two million. This famous historical building, sporting a late-19th century clock from Boston, dates back to the founding of Sapporo when it was used as an exam hall for the Sapporo Agricultural College.
Although Sapporo Clock Tower is one of the most-visited attractions in Sapporo, it carries far less interest for casual travellers than history buffs. Curious visitors should spend some time plying through the first-museum to get a sense of the tower’s history and of Sapporo’s early days before checking out the clock exhibition and ceremony hall on the second floor.
Getting to Sapporo Clock Tower: Wedged between Sapporo Station to the north and Odori Station to the south, Sapporo Clock Tower is easy to find while bustling about the city. From Odori Station it’s just a 4-minute walk northeast to the tower while from Sapporo Station it’s just 10 minutes south.
Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade
While sashaying about Susukino, don’t miss out Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, a kilometre-long covered shopping street sporting about two hundred small shops, bars, and restaurants. The arcade is nearly as old as Sapporo itself, established during the Meiji Era as a merchant area for the masses.
Rather than becoming a stash for big brands or upscale boutiques, Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade has found its sweet spot offering a variety of vintage clothing shops, second-hand stores, record stores (remember those?) and a smattering of eateries to tackle nearly all your Japanese food cravings.
Even if you’re not so keen on dropping yen on some goods, Tanukikoji is the perfect place to get a sense for Sapporo’s buzzing nightlife. Wander about nearby Nish 7-Chome Dori where a deluge of izakaya (Japanese pubs) await for a tamer, more traditional after-dark experience than Susukino.
Getting to Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade: From Susukino Station, walk two blocks north. You’ll see the entrance gate to Tanukikoji to your left.
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Sapporo
Figuring out where to stay in Sapporo is hardly the challenge of other Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or even the slightly smaller (but far more popular) Kyoto. For most travellers, staying in the city centre somewhere between Sapporo Station and Susukino keeps many of the top things to do in Sapporo within walking distance and is the most convenient option. Here are a few ideas for the best hotels in Sapporo:
- Ibis Styles Sapporo: A delightful 3-star hotel located just steps away from beautiful Nakajima Park. The modern rooms are spacious & clean, and feature contemporary furnishings for your comfort. Extras like on-site massages and a hotel shuttle defy its budget category.
- Booking.com | Agoda
- Daiwa Roynet Hotel Sapporo-Susukino: A super-central hotel located in Susukino delivering a fantastic Sapporo accommodations experience with spacious rooms and modern decor.
- Booking.com | Agoda
- Cross Hotel Sapporo: One of the coolest hotels in Sapporo showcasing modern rooms with superb skyline views. Kick back at the indoor or outdoor onsen-style baths or the chilled-out second-floor bar for a relaxing nightcap.
- Booking.com | Agoda
Where to go in Sapporo: A summary of the top points of interest
- Ready for one of the best city views in Japan? Zip up via ropeway and cablecar to the summit of Mt. Moiwa to gape at Sapporo from above.
- Got an insatiable craving for Japanese food? Give your tastebuds an adventure along Susukino’s Ramen Yokocho, an atmospheric alleyway serving up Sapporo’s world-famous miso ramen.
- Are you an unabashed beer lover? Visit the Sapporo Beer Museum to get the low-down on Japan’s brewing history and for a taste of beer perfection over one hundred years in the making.