Hokkaido is best known for two things: snow and Sapporo, and Sapporo definitely has lots of snow! While Japan’s most famous city to north offers plenty of snow activities for the winter aficionado, it also has other activities worth exploring. Keep reading to find out our 5 best things to do in Sapporo in winter for when the mercury begins to drop!
5 Things to Do in Sapporo in Winter
Japan’s fifth largest city, Sapporo is modern and laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid system, with a long underground pathway for pedestrians, tall skyscrapers, and plenty of shopping. It’s famous for being the location of the 1972 Winter Olympics, as well as being home to Japan’s most famous snow festival, not to mention delicacies like fresh horsehair crab, and its namesake Sapporo Beer. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, cultural sites, or delicious food and drink, Sapporo will have something for you. Without further adieu, here are Sakura Mobile’s top 5 things to do in Sapporo in winter.
1. Explore the Powder Slopes of Mt. Teine and Niseko (November-April)
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the snow in Sapporo and its nearby environs. From November through April several popular ski jumps and resorts from the 1972 Olympics are still open to the public, including those on Mt. Teine (Teineyama in Japanese). A medium sized ski resort, Mt. Teine is only 45 minutes by train and bus from central Sapporo. The resort includes two distinct but connected zones, the Highland Zone which reaches 1,000 meters above sea level, and the lower Olympia Zone. The Highland Zone offers medium and advanced courses as well as off-trail runs and a snow park while the Olympia Zone has easier trails and a family park for sledding and tubing. The excellent ski resort Niseko is also just two hours away by train or bus from Sapporo.
2. Make Snow Angels at the Sapporo Snow Festival (February)
Sapporo’s annual snow festival takes place in early February. The festival began in 1950 and now proudly offers massive ice sculptures usually including a replica of a Japanese castle, as well as many smaller snow statues, concerts and events, and snow activities like slides and rafts. There are three different locations for the snow festival. The main site is Odori Koen in central Sapporo near the Sapporo TV Tower, which offers the largest sculptures as well as staged concerts, dances, and other performances. The Susukino Site is near the subway station of the same name in Sapporo’s entertainment district and offers about 100 more ice sculptures as well as great shopping nearby. The sculptures are beautiful during the day but even more stunning when lit up at night. Finally, the Tsu Dome site, best accessed by shuttle bus, offers family-friendly snow play such as snow tube slides. Inside the dome are food stalls and an event stage.
3. Take in Panoramic Views at JR Tower
The JR Tower nearby Sapporo JR Station offers one of the best views of Sapporo (possibly even better than the Sapporo TV Tower, which also has an observatory floor). The observation deck on the 38th floor has panoramic views, including from the inside of the men’s restroom! The snow scenes are beautiful during the day while the city lights are beautiful at night. Tickets for the elevator to the 38th floor can be purchased on the 6th floor.
4. Drool over the Ishiya Chocolate Factory
Ishiya Chocolate Factory is where one of Japan’s most popular souvenirs (omiyage) is produced: shiroi koibito. Office workers who visit Sapporo are remiss to not bring some of the famous langue de chat cookies home for their fellow coworkers. The simple cookies are filled with white chocolate between two crispy wafers. The factory tour tells the story of chocolate making from 200 years ago to present. At the end, the tour shows a glimpse of the actual cookie production line.
5. Gorge on Crab, Ramen, and Beer… Oh My!
Sapporo is a paradise for foodies and seafood-lovers. Fresh fish and sushi are incredibly popular, and horsehair crab (kegani) is a local delicacy available at almost any seafood restaurant in Sapporo. In addition, Sapporo is home to its own style of ramen, miso ramen. Aji no Tokeidai is the most famous ramen chain in Sapporo and offers miso ramen as well as another Hokkaido specialty, the butter-corn ramen. Near Susukino Station you’ll find an alley chockful of ramen restaurants, called Ramen Gai. There you can try all kinds of local Hokkaido ramen. If you are in a hurry, you can try ramen at JR Sapporo Station’s Ramen Republic. The Ramen Republic is a restaurant area with eight small ramen shops on the 10th floor of the Esta Shopping Center. Different shops represent different local ramen specialties. Sapporo is also known for its eponymous Sapporo Beer. The Sapporo Bear Museum tells the history of beer in Sapporo from 1877, and the process of making beer, on free guided tours. English explanations are sparse but beer tastings are available at the end. Those inclined to further enjoy libations can do so at the adjacent Sapporo Beer Garden. The Garden offers all-you-can-eat mutton barbeque and all-you-can-drink beer for 100 minutes or a la carte options.
Take a Winter Day Trip to Nearby Otaru
Sapporo is a great transportation base for checking out the rest of Hokkaido. In particular, the quaint coastal town of Otaru is a quick train ride away, which makes for a pleasant day trip. Otaru hosts its own snow festival, also in February, and the dates generally align by a few days with Sapporo’s festival so you can experience both easily with a little planning. Otaru’s festival is smaller but extremely beautiful against the backdrop of the canal. The village is also famous for music boxes, glass crafts, and European-style historical merchant buildings all excellent activities no matter the season.
What to Pack for Winter Travel
For a trip to Sapporo in winter, packing warm is essential. Long underwear will keep you cozy while reducing the bulk of multiple layers. Good winter boots are essential, and they should have good tread for ice as well as be waterproof. If you do not have adequate shoes, regular boots can be made temporarily waterproof by using a waterproofing spray. Snow pants would also be ideal. Don’t forget waterproof gloves so you can make all the snowballs you want. For ski and snowboarding gear, it is probably more practical to rent or even buy used gear once you have reached the slopes, as navigating Japanese transportation with bulky snow gear can be both inconvenient and expensive. (Download our suggested packing list for Japan here.)
- Long underwear
- Waterproof winter boots
- Snow pants
- Waterproof gloves
- Pocket WiFi router or SIM card
Getting Sapporo WiFi
There is a reason why the word “Sapporo” is on the tip of the tongue when winter comes to Japan. With so many outdoor (and indoor) activities available between November and April-primarily the pure white drifts that will make any powder hound go crazy-it is undoubtedly one of Japan’s best winter destinations. With so much to do, we suggest spending your time playing in the snow rather than looking for the city’s limited amount of free WiFi. Renting Japan WiFi affordably gives you the ability to access maps, translation apps, restaurant finders, e-mail, and your favorite social media without having to ever look for a WiFi signal. Currently, Docomo (Japan’s largest data carrier) offers the widest coverage in Sapporo, as well as most other major cities in Japan. If you’re interested in using WiFi during your trip, we suggest renting either a Sakura Mobile Data SIM Card or Portable WiFi Router, both backed by Docomo. If you’re unsure which device is best for you, be sure to check out our product comparison guide.