Sapporo Travel Guide with 5-day Itinerary for First Time Visitors

If you are traveling to Sapporo for the first time, here’s my Sapporo Travel Guide with a 5-day Itinerary with a side-trip to Otaru. Happy trip planning!

Sapporo Travel Guide

Sapporo is one of my absolute favorite cities in Japan. I’ve travelled to a lot of places in the country, but Sapporo is one of those cities I could go back to year after year. Maybe it was because of the movie, Kita Kita, but the city has struck me as a place where you will not run out of things to do and see. You can sense the history of the city just by walking down the street. You can easily become a foodie because of lots of dining options offering authentic Hokkaido dishes.

Sapporo Travel Guide: When to Visit Sapporo

The best time to visit Sapporo depends entirely on what you want to do and experience. To avoid the crowds it’s best to go during off season. If you want to experience the winter season, December is a great time to go as prices for hotels and flights will be affordable during this month. May and October are also good months to avoid the crowds. January, March and April are the busiest month for tourism in Sapporo because of the Sapporo Snow Festival and Cherry Blossom Season.

If it’s your first time in Japan to visit during winter, check out this guide on how to survive winter.

Sapporo Travel Guide: How to get to Sapporo

There are two options to get to Sapporo – fly or take a Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Most people would think that taking a train is cheaper but that’s not necessarily the case in Japan. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Sapporo with a transfer at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto costs around 28,000 yen and takes 8 hours. If you have a JR Pass, it is fully covered. If you don’t have a JR Pass, it is more economical and faster to fly. When I flew last December from Tokyo to Sapporo, my round trip tickets cost around 10,000 yen or around 5,000 pesos.

Sapporo Travel Guide: How to get around Sapporo

Many of Sapporo’s main tourist attractions are within walking distance from the city center. The city was designed with an American-style grid system, which makes navigation fairly easy even for a first-time visitor. Some attractions are a little bit further away but Sapporo an efficient transportation system for that. You can use the three subway lines, Sapporo streetcar and numerous bus companies to get around. Prepaid cards like Kitaka and Sapica can be used for taking subways and buses. Even prepaid cards purchased outside of Sapporo can be used like ICOCA, Suica and PASMO.

Sapporo Travel Guide: Top 10 Sapporo Tourist Spots and Things To Do

1. Sapporo Snow Festival

Known as one of the best winter destinations in Japan, Sapporo attracts thousands of both local and international visitors each year because of Sapporo Snow Festival. It is a very popular winter event which features spectacular snow and ice sculptures. The festival usually begins first week of February and last for about one week. The best collections of ice sculptures are mainly exhibited in Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsu Dome.

snow sculpture at Susukino
snow sculpture at Susukino

Odori Park, the main site of Sapporo Snow Festival, is where you will find the biggest ice sculptures. It also hosts concerts and events, many of which use the sculptures as their stage.

Susukino, Sapporo’s biggest and liveliest entertainment district, also hosts over a hundred snow and ice sculptures each year. I would suggest this area if you want to party or drink all night after the snow festival.

Tsu Dome, also known as Sapporo Community Dome, is mostly geared toward families with kids. It features snow slopes, snow sculptures and other winter activities.

2. Winter Activity at Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park is a huge park located in the outskirts of Sapporo. Designed by the renowned landscape sculpture artist Isamu Noguchi, the park features a large playground, sports field, picnic area, the iconic glass pyramid called “Hidamari,” and many more. Moerenuma Park is very memorable for me. It was where I almost got frostbite because I wasn’t wearing a proper protective footwear. I’ll talk about this if I ever have time to write more about Sapporo. Nevertheless, Moerenuma Park is definitely one of the best parks I have been in Japan.

To get there from Odori or Susukino, take the Toho Subway Line to Kanjodori-higashi Station (one way fare is 250 yen and travel time is about 15 minutes) and then local bus number 69 or 79 to get to the east gate (one way fare is 210 yen and travel time is about 25 minutes).

What the East Gate of Moerenuma Park looks like when covered with huge pile of snow

3. Climb up to Moiwayama Observatory Deck

Standing 531 meters above sea level on the peak of Moiwayama (Mt. Moiwa in English), the observatory deck boasts a breathtaking view of the streets of Sapporo and the forested mountains southwest of the city. Many people come to the observatory deck thru the Mount Moiwa Ropeway before sunset, so be sure to arrive in advance to get the best vantage point for taking photos.

To get there, take Sapporo streetcar to Ropeway Iriguchi station from Susukino (one way fare is 200 yen and travel time is about 25 minutes). From there, take the free shuttle bus to get to the lower ropeway station.

Ring the Bell of Happiness just like Lea and Tonyo in the movie Kita Kita.

4. Visit the Sapporo Clock Tower

Built in 1878, Sapporo Clock Tower is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. Although small in size in comparison with other buildings in Sapporo, it still attracts a lot of local and international tourists. Originally, it was built as a place for student education and military training. Today, it now houses a museum showing the history of Sapporo. In the Filipino movie, Kita Kita, Lea took an old couple to see the Clock Tower as part of her Sapporo City Tour.

To get there, just walk for about 10 minutes south of JR Sapporo Station or about 5 minutes north of Odori Park. It’s quite easy to spot so I’m pretty sure you won’t miss it.

two tourists taking a selfie in front Sapporo Clock Tower
Sapporo Clock Tower

5. Former Hokkaidō Government Office Building

Also known as the Red Brick Office, the former Hokkaidō Government Office Building served as the government office of the whole Hokkaidō prefecture for about 80 years. Functioning now as conference venue and tourist information center, the building has seen its share of history. Inside it, you will find a museum dedicated to Hokkaidō development and rich history. Aside from this iconic building, I personally love the pond which is located in front of it.

To get there, take the west exit of JR Sapporo Station and walk for about 10 minutes.

The Former Hokkaidō Government Office Building looks so lovely during the winter, no?

6. Take a Stroll at Odori Park

Odori Park is Sapporo’s most famous park. Located in the heart of Sapporo, it hosts to the Annual Sapporo Snow Festival. The park is about one kilometer and provides a tranquil escape from the busy urban center around it.

To get there, take a short walk from JR Sapporo Station or Odori Subway Station.

Odori Park and Sapporo TV Tower

7. Walk around Hokkaidō University

Hokkaidō University or Hokudai is probably the prettiest university I have ever seen in Japan. Its garden is one of the best gardens of its kind in Sapporo and you will find various attractions here as well. When I visited last winter, I saw a lot of local families spending time together in the garden and pond surrounding the campus’ buildings. The kids were sledding down the frozen pond, which looked really enjoyable.

To get there, walk for about 20 minutes from JR Sapporo Station. Alternatively, take the Nanboku Line Subway and get off at Kita 12-jo Station.

Hokkaidō University has lots of beautiful ponds surrounding the campus

8. Go skiing or snowboarding

The are a couple of ski resorts in and around Sapporo. Sapporo Teine Ski Resort, one of the most famous ski resorts on the outskirts of Sapporo, is well suited for beginners to experts, with a variety of gentle slopes, intermediate and advanced courses. It is only about 40 minutes from Central Sapporo and one of the ski resorts you can easily take a day trip to. Other ski resorts you may try are Rusutsu Ski Resort, Mt Moiwa Ski Resort, Takino Suzuran Hillside Park Snow World, and Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort.

Sapporo Teine Ski Resort Rates:

Half-day Ski lesson – 13,000 yen

1-day Ski lesson – 16,000 yen

To get to Sapporo Teine Ski Resort from Sapporo, take a JR train from JR Sapporo Station and get off at Teine Station (one way fare is 340 yen and travel time is about 10-15 minutes). At Teine Station, board a JR bus (number 70) bound for Teine Highland and get off at Sapporo Teine Ski Resort (one way is 400 yen and travel time is approximately 30 minutes).

9. Visit Maruyama Park and Hokkaidō Shrine

Maruyama Park is my favorite park in Sapporo. Located about 20 minutes from JR Sapporo Station, the park features huge lawns, gardens and ponds. It is extremely popular during the cherry blossom season and equally fascinating during the winter. Within the massive Maruyama Park, you will also find Hokkaidō-jingu Shrine, which is home to the soul of Emperor Meiji and the gods protecting Hokkaidō.

To get there, take the subway to Maruyama Koen Station on Tozai subway line (one way fare is 250 yen and travel time 15 minutes).

Hokkaido-jingu Shrine

10. Pay respect at Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine

Sapporo has a Fushimi Inari Shrine too! Famous for its 27 vermilion torii gates, the shrine is an important spiritual ground dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. TripAdvisor says this place is quite crowded but luckily I had it all to myself when I visited last winter. It was definitely one of the best places I’ve seen in Sapporo!

To get there, take the loop 50 City bus from Maruyama Subway Station, and get off at Jikeikaimae bus stop (one way fare is 210 yen and travel time 15 minutes).

I had the place all to myself!

Otaru Day Trip from Sapporo

One of the best day trip destinations out of Sapporo is Otaru, a small harbor city located northwest of Sapporo. I visited it last winter and wished I had stayed overnight because there are many amazing sights this city has to offer. But if you are pressed for time like me, a day trip would definitely suffice. Some of the attractions you must see are the Otaru Canal, Otaru Sankaku Ichiba (market), Kitaichi Glass, Otaru Music Box Museum, LeTao, Sakaimachi Dori Shopping Street, and Tanaka Sake Brewery Kikkougura.

The fastest and easiest way to get to Otaru from Sapporo is by taking a rapid train along the JR Hakodate Main Line. From JR Sapporo Station, take  the train and get off at Otaru Station (one way fare is 750 yen and travel time is about 35 minutes).

Otaru Canal

Sapporo Travel Guide: Sample 5-day Itinerary with a sidetrip to Otaru

Day 1: Arrival in Sapporo

  • Arrival at New Chitose Airport
  • Lunch at Soup Curry Suage+ Honten*
  • Sapporo Clock Tower
  • Odori Park Site (Sapporo Snow Festival)
  • Beer Tasting and Jingisukan (Genghis Khan) at Sapporo Beer Museum*
  • Susukino Site (Sapporo Snow Festival)

Day 2: Sapporo Teine Ski Resort 

  • Whole day Ski or Snowboarding lessons
  • Sunset viewing at Sapporo TV Tower
  • Snow crab dinner at Hyosetsu no Mon*

Day 3: Day tour in Otaru

  • Canal Plaza Tourist Information Center
  • Otaru Canal
  • Stained Glass Museum
  • Former Mitsui Bank Otaru Branch
  • Bank of Japan Otaru Museum
  • Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
  • Lunch at Isezushi (sushi) or Yabuhan (soba)*
  • Kitaichi Glass Otaru No. 3 Bldg.
  • LeTao Flagship Store*
  • Marchen Crossroads
  • Otaru Music Box Museum
  • Back to Otaru Canal
  • Travel back to Sapporo
  • Jingisukan (Genghis Khan) dinner at Drama Honten*

Day 4: Sapporo City Tour

  • Maruyama Park
  • Hokkaido-jingu Shrine
  • Fushimi Inari
  • Lunch at Sapporo Ramen Haruka*
  • Sunset at Moiwayama Observatory Deck
  • Dinner at Ebisoba Ichigen Honten*
  • Nightcap at Gotsubo*

Day 5: Last day in Sapporo

  • Hokkaido University or Moerenuma Park
  • Lunch at Nemuro Hanamaru JR Tower Stellar Place*
  • Souvenir shopping at Sapporo Underground Shopping (Aurora Town and Pole Town)
  • Early dinner at Ramen Dojo*

Note: Those with * are some of the BEST places to eat in Sapporo and Otaru.

If you’re planning to visit some off-the-beaten destinations in Hokkaido, click the link.

If you’re planning to explore other destinations, here’s my post to help first time visitors in Japan.

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