Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, is an island filled with the potential for adventure. All across the land, you’ll find sprawling national parks, glittering great lakes, and picture-perfect powdery peaks which will light a fire under any ski or snowboarder worth their salt. In the southwest of the island lays Hokkaido’s capital, the city of Sapporo, a vibrant, pulsing, modern metropolis with a thriving nightlife and an even better food scene. There’s no dilemma of choosing between a comfortable, cultural city holiday and a quaint, small-town skiing or trekking trip here. Thanks to the unique position of Sapporo, you can have both!
The downtown entertainment district is a stone’s throw from the bottom of the slopes. An array of fine dining options is just a hair’s breadth from the hiking trails and natural hot springs. Hokkaido has embraced this dynamic and furnished both its hills and valleys with night-and-day opportunities for an unforgettable experience. Head to Sapporo in the Autumn or Winter, Ski through the day and hop between clubs the same night or spend the afternoon touring a fantastical biscuit factory before embarking on the unique thrill of flood-lit late-night snowboarding.
On the other hand, visit in Spring or Summer and immerse yourself Sapporo’s rich landscape of contemporary art; galleries are great, but the art parks dotted around the city are truly outstanding and unique. We’d recommend visiting the Hill of the Buddha for a serene, spiritual, surprisingly cutting-edge architectural experience.
The sunny seasons also provide opportunities for unique water activities, canoeing and rafting along the gentle rivers which wind out from the city centre, and train rides as short as 20 minutes can transport you to any number of stunning hiking trails and hill walks. If you love the outdoors, exploring the rest of Hokkaido during the green season is a fantastic option. Plan a long-distance walk or even canoe through the serene, meandering rivers of Kushiro-shitsugen National Park. Or, enter the hidden world of sea kayaking in the Utoro side of the Shiretoko Peninsula; paddle through mysterious, untouched coves and marvel at the noble, striking 200-meter-tall rocky cliffs. Rain or shine, sun or snow, the possibilities for adventure are endless, we’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the outdoors to read on, learn what the island has to offer, and then, convinced beyond all argument, immediately visit Sapporo.
How Will You Get There?
Hokkaido is home to many national parks which are individually worthy of at least a week of exploring and enjoying. For this reason, the island has 13 airports – 9 of which have direct flights from Tokyo, around 90 minutes – each strategically placed to allow easy access to the many wonders of the prefecture. Hokkaido’s international hub is the New Chitose airport, situated just outside of Sapporo and easily reached through Finnair’s direct route from Helsinki. Flying from Europe to Japan can take a full 24 hours, but this new route from Finnair can reduce the journey to as few as 8! Once you’re in New Chitose airport, either connect your flight to an airport near your national park of choice, or jump on the Airport Rapid Service which will shoot you over to Sapporo in just 37 minutes. This convenient shuttle only costs 1,150 yen (£7.34), or you can purchase a Japan Travel Pass if you’re planning on jetting around the city’s public transport. There are also a range of highly affordable bus routes into the city centre, and the drive is under an hour if you’d prefer to rent a car.
What to See and Do in Hokkaido
Whether it’s taking it easy in town or taking on something high adrenaline at higher altitudes, there are endless options for you within the region. Here are the places we recommend heading to.
Teine Ski Resort
It’s only fitting to start with Sapporo’s most well-loved venue for winter sports. You’ll find gondolas headed up the enormous Mount Teine after a mere 40-minute drive from the city centre. The resort can also be easily accessed by train or bus. Teine offers a generously large and varied set of runs suitable for ski and snowboarders of every skill level. The Resort is split into two zones, Highland and Olympia, which contain advanced and beginner trails respectively. Two historic runs were used for ski events during the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics and they’re still in operation, so you can follow the trails of the world’s best skiers.
Kokusai Ski Resort
If you’re aiming for a beginner-friendly, casual ski holiday, Sapporo Kokusai is an ideal spot. Comparatively smaller than most resorts in this area, Kokusai still has a lot to offer for groups and families, including their own private lesson service, several dining options and luxurious hot bathing facilities. This area also receives a huge amount of snowfall, which is perfect for ski or snowboarders at any level; there is nothing more exciting than exploring in fresh deep powder.