In this Hokkaido travel guide you will discover why it's one of my favourite areas of Japan. Most Singaporean travellers go to Tokyo when visiting Japan, but if you've already been to Tokyo and found it had too much of a 'big city' vibe for your liking, don't give up on Japan just yet - this beautiful country has so much more to offer! While this northern region of Japan is known for its powdery white snow which is much loved by seasoned skiers during the winter months, there's actually a lot to see and do in the summer as well.
From Singapore, you can find direct flights to the capital of Hokkaido (Sapporo), or you can take a JR train or a domestic flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido. In fact, I went to Hokkaido as part of a longer trip to Japan that started in Tokyo. Travelling to Hokkaido in the summer lets you enjoy milder weather compared to the scorching-hot Tokyo, and lets you fully appreciate the nature, which in winter is completely covered in snow. In this Hokkaido Travel Guide, we at GET.com will show you the best places to see, shop and eat in Hokkaido.
Top Things To See In Hokkaido
With its abundance of nature, you need to visit at least one of the wonderful parks or mountains in Hokkaido.
There are many climbing routes for both alpinists and beginners, and most do not require sophisticated equipment.
With the slightly cooler weather, you can look forward to a great day outdoors filled with the wonders of Mother Nature!
Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido's largest national park, and with a total area of 226,000 acres, it is also the largest national park in Japan.
The chain of mountains is also known as the "roof of Hokkaido" and the highly primeval park is home to many alpine plants and various wild animals, including the brown bear.
There are plenty of different routes to go about exploring the national park, depending on your interests.
If you are an experienced hiker, you can always challenge yourself to hike from the summit of Asahidake to the summit of Kurodake which will take you around 1 to 2 days, or look for day-trekking routes which are easy to do for a few hours.
One of the easiest ways to experience Daisetsuzan is to base yourself in the small hot spring resort town, Asahidake Onsen, which lies at the foot of Hokkaido's highest mountain, Mount Asahidake.
It's a small village with just 2 or 3 large hotels and enough shopping and dining options for a 2 to 3 day stay. From here, you can take the Asahidake Ropeway that brings you from the village to within a two-hour hike of Mount Asahidake's summit.
There is an easy 45-minute loop trail around the ropeway's upper station, which passes some ponds and the infamous sulfurous vents of the mountain, reminding you of the volcanic origin of the whole Daisetsuzan mountain range.
Another beautiful sight that you should definitely visit in Hokkaido is Lake Toya. To reach Lake Toya, take a JR train from New Chitose Airport to Minami-Chitose Station and transfer to the train bound for Hakodate.
Get off at Toya Station and take a bus ride towards Lake Toya (Toyako Onsen bus terminal) which is just 15 minutes away.
Most people stay at the hot spring resort of Toyako Onsen at the foot of Mount Usu. Besides the view of the lake, one of the key attractions in this area are the free foot baths set along the promenade of the lake.
If you are there during the summer season (from May to October), there is also a 20-minute fireworks show every night.
It's also a popular option to take a sightseeing boat cruise around the lake. When we were there in August, the town was pretty quiet as most tourists actually stay within the big hotel resorts.
However, we were rewarded with a cultural performance at night along the promenade and even joined in the fun! The Japanese are very welcoming and open to sharing their culture, which makes Japan such a lovely place to visit.
Here you can find the cheapest hotels close to Lake Toya at Agoda.com.
Lavender has been grown in Hokkaido for more than half a century and visiting one of Furano's lavender fields is mandatory during your summer trip to Hokkaido.
Unlike the cherry blossoms which bloom within a week, the lavender here usually starts blooming in late June and reaches its peak around mid July.
Be sure to choose the correct timing to visit Hokkaido if you are planning on seeing the beautiful purple fields of lavender!
The best spot to view the lavender is no doubt Farm Tomita. The farm is free to enter and besides the flower fields, there are cafes and shops that sell a wide range of lavender products.
Top Things To Do In Hokkaido
Odori Park is quite the centre of Sapporo, separating the city into north and south. The park offers a pleasant green space in the city for visitors to walk and see the major highlights of urban Sapporo.
At one end of Odori Park stands the Sapporo TV Tower, which has an observation deck with beautiful views of the park and the surrounding city. At night, the tower is illuminated making it a pretty sight.
The Odori Park is not really a huge attraction on its own, but it's a place where many major festivals and events take place.
Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival sees some two million people who come to see the hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures at the Odori Park.
In summer, the Odori park transforms into a huge beer garden filled with tables & chairs where the public can enjoy nice food and beer on a hot summer afternoon.
During the beer festival, large tents are set up by major Japanese beer brands – Suntory, Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin and you can even find a World Beer Plaza where you can taste beers from all around the world.
One thing I like about the beer garden is that it is open from noon till 10pm, which makes it less likely for people to turn rowdy late at night.
If you want to take your beer journey further, a popular place to visit is the Sapporo Beer Museum. The Sapporo Brewing Company offers free guided tours that cover the history of beer in Japan and the brewing process.
At the end of the tour, there's even a beer-tasting (it costs 500 yen) that allows you to taste 3 different types of beer.
Shiroi Koibito Park
Many Singaporeans might have had a taste of the famous Shiroi Koibito (literally, "white lover") cookies, which are hugely popular outside Japan.
These iconic European-style cookies which have a delicate layer of white chocolate sandwiched between two light and crisp 'langue de chat' biscuits.
Fans of the cookie will be delighted to know that there is in fact a Shiroi Koibito Park in Hokkaido, which houses the Shiroi Koibito Factory where this well-known Hokkaido confectionery is produced.
Here you will get to enjoy the pretty park with a cafe, the Cookiecraft Studio, a toy exhibition room and a rose garden.
There are a number of exhibits here (they're not free), such as the Aurora fountain which was produced by England's Royal Doulton Company and Chocolate Cup Collection exhibit which showcases intricate chocolate cups that were used by aristocrats during the 18th century.
A visit to the Shiroi Koibito Park shouldn't leave out a tasting of the wonderful confectionery produced here.
There's a cafe where visitors can relax over chocolate drinks and enjoy a Shiroi Koibito parfait. Then there's Candy Labo which is a candy shop, a soft-serve ice cream house as well as the Shop Piccadilly where you can buy confectionery from the Ishiya chocolate company, including the Shiroi Koibito cookies, Mifuyu millefeuille and Tsumugi Baumkuchen.
Top Things To Eat In Hokkaido
Hakodate Seafood Markets
Hokkaido is famous for its fresh seafood and you can find a seafood market in most of its major towns.
One of the best places to catch some action and enjoy a fresh seafood breakfast is at the Hakodate morning markets, where there is a cluster of over 300 shops and eateries selling fresh seafood under one roof.
Located close to the Hakodate Station, you will find the bustling Hakodate Asaichi (morning market), tempting visitors with a large variety of fresh Hakodate produce.
The morning market is open for business from as early as 5am and it closes around noon. There is even an opportunity for you to catch live squid and to have the chef prepare fresh squid sashimi from your catch!
When it's time for brunch, head to the restaurant arcade called the "Donburi Yokocho Ichiba" inside the markets which consists of over 20 food establishments.
You can sample fresh crab, sashimi and sea urchin; and remember not to leave without trying the "Donburi" or seafood rice bowl – steaming bowl of hot rice topped with raw seafood.
Hokkaido Dairy Products
Hokkaido is well-known for its delicious and high-quality dairy products. In fact, it produces 50% of Japan's total milk production and 90% of Japan's natural cheese.
The premium quality of its dairy products is attributed to the perfect climate of Hokkaido - cool summer temperature, fresh air and the availability of wide and green pastures for cows to live in a relaxed environment.
Some of the products you should try include Hokkaido fresh milk, yogurt, cheese, and soft serve ice creams!
If you want to try a variety of sweets and confectionery made from these dairy products, head to the food court on the first floor of Odori Bisse along Odori Park where many famous Hokkaido confectioneries gather.
Alternatively, you can go to the Sapporo Sweets Cafe in the basement of Odori where they sell sweets from various pastry shops from around Sapporo.
Ramen lovers must not miss Ramen Yochoko, an alley in Susukino filled with old style ramen shops. It's also the birthplace of miso ramen that's eaten all over the world today!
The ramen shops here are usually very small, they're only able to sit several people at once, but the quality of the ramen here is worth your time!
Where To Shop In Hokkaido
Hokkaido is much known for its wondrous nature and local products and sweets, but there are also shopping areas to buy apparel and souvenirs.
Sapporo Factory is a large shopping and entertainment complex that was opened in 1993. There are about 160 establishments that include retail stores, souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and a cinema.
The Sapporo Factory was constructed on the former site of Japan's first brewery and the complex can be reached by the Loop 88 bus that also stops at the Sapporo Beer Museum and Odori Park.
There are a couple of sports apparel stores such as Adidas, Puma and The North Face, as well as a drug store where you can pick up Japanese cosmetics and health supplements (Meiji Collagen anyone?).
There are also restaurants and gourmet food outlets that focus on authentic Hokkaido cuisine.
Another nice place for retail therapy in Hokkaido is Pole Town and Aurora Town - two underground shopping arcades in Sapporo's central Odori area.
Gift shops, souvenir shops, boutiques and convenience stores blend in with sweet shops, cafes, bakeries and lunch shops to create an animated underground shopping experience.
There are two outlet malls in Hokkaido, namely the Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo Kitahiroshima and the Chitose Outlet Mall Rera.
These covered malls are a great place to go when the weather is bad.
I went to the Mitsui Outlet Park, which has a good number of shops including Coach, Michael Kors, Armani Factory and Onisuka Tiger. There is also a Hokkaido Local Farm Village store which offers a wide variety of local specialties and products that are great as souvenirs.
Money Saving Tips For Your Trip To Hokkaido
One of the biggest expenses of most trips (apart from the flight cost) is accommodation. To save money on hotels you should plan your travel route in advance in order to find the best hotel rates online, instead of enquiring directly at the hotel when you get there.
This not only ensures that you will get a room, it's also the easiest way to compare the best rates among several hotels in the area you'd like to travel to.
Since you're going to use a credit card anyways to make your hotel booking online, it pays off to use a card that rewards you on travel purchases.
Travel credit cards usually offer rewards (points, miles or cashback) when you use them to purchase your plane tickets or make hotel bookings.
Using a rewards credit card like this can help you save money on your bookings and give you rewards which you can use towards your next holiday to get a cheaper plane ticket or hotel booking!
You can find the cheapest hotels in Sapporo here.
Here are some of our favourite travel credit cards:
|Credit Card||Features||Intro Interest p.a.||Standard Interest p.a.||Annual Fee||Minimum Income||We least like||Related links|
The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card
|24.99% per annum||$176.55 (waived 1 year)||$30,000 for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents ($60,000 for expatriates)||Related Links Read our review of The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card or view more details of The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card. See more American Express credit cards.|
Citi PremierMiles Card
|Transfer your outstanding balances on any other bank's credit card or credit line to Citibank at 0% nominal interest rate for 3/6/12 months with upfront service fee from 1.58%. Eligible for new Citibank customers who apply for Citibank Ready Credit account with minimum $500 loan.||26% per annum||$192.60 (first year annual fee waiver)||S$30,000 for Singaporean, Singapore PR; and S$42,000 for Foreigners||Related Links Read our review of Citi PremierMiles Card or view more details of Citi PremierMiles Card. See more Citibank credit cards.|
The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card
|24.99% p.a.||Annual Fee of S$337.50||Minimum income requirement of S$50,000 p.a. for Singapore Citizens and Residents; S$60,000 p.a. for Expatriates||Related Links Read our review of The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card or view more details of The American Express® Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card. See more American Express credit cards.|
Citi Prestige Card
|Transfer your outstanding balances on any other bank's credit card or credit line to Citibank at 0% nominal interest rate for 3/6/12 months with upfront service fee from 1.58%. Eligible for new Citibank customers who apply for Citibank Ready Credit account with minimum $500 loan.||26% per annum||$535||$120,000 p.a.||Related Links Read our review of Citi Prestige Card or view more details of Citi Prestige Card. See more Citibank credit cards.|