Take a guided stroll around some of Sapporo’s top sites, exploring its architectural heritage, scenery and nature spots, and food and drink on the way.
Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido, the largest and most northern of Japan’s four main islands. Although in many ways similar to other major Japanese cities, for historical reasons Sapporo also stands out from the crowd.
Hokkaido has been inhabited by the Ainu and other indigenous peoples since before recorded history, but in the late 1800s large-scale modern development was begun under the Meiji Government. Sapporo was chosen as the island’s administrative centre, and the fledgling government consulted foreign specialists during the city’s development, resulting in a layout and architecture that is quite different from most other major Japanese cities.
You’ll be able to spot examples of Sapporo’s distinctive public architecture, as well as enjoy its urban greenery and standout local foods, on this suggested walking route of eight things to do in the area just south of Sapporo Station.
The route begins at Sapporo Station and ends either in Susukino district or back at the station. Times in square brackets are the distance on foot from the previous location.
1) Visit a Cool Old Building [10 minutes]Snow falling on the Former Hokkaido Government Office ©City of Sapporo
Head southwest from the station for ten minutes to reach your first stop, the Former Hokkaido Government Office, which was built after Sapporo was chosen as the capital of Hokkaido in the second half of the 1800s. Foreign specialists' urban planning advice extended to the construction of the Hokkaido government’s new office building, which explains the eye-catching but strikingly un-Japanese red bricks and octagonal dome.
There is a small charge to go inside, or you can enjoy the ponds and gardens outside for free. If you have time to spare, pop into the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens next door - just six minutes west of the government office - for a relaxing stroll, nature-watching, or outdoor book-reading session. There is an alpine garden, a greenhouse and a small Ainu museum in addition to the botanic garden. There is also a Tourist Information Centre at the park’s east entrance if you need it.
2) Stroll Through an Urban Oasis [17 minutes]An aerial view over Odori Park ©City of Sapporo
Eight minutes southwest of the botanical gardens or seventeen minutes southwest of the former government office, you’ll come upon the western end of Odori Park, a massive nearly 2 km long green space that stretches out east to west through the centre of the city like a wide, grassy ribbon.
Every winter it is transformed into one of the main events spaces for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, which attracts around 2 million visitors from around the globe, but the park is good for an urban stroll in any season. Take a walk through the park from west to east, heading towards Sapporo TV Tower, which you’ll see in the distance at the other end of the park.
3) Go Up Sapporo TV Tower [1 minute]Sapporo's iconic TV Tower ©City of Sapporo
Sapporo TV Tower is another of the symbols of Sapporo. Go up it for stunning views by either night or day of the city spread out below you like a patchwork quilt. Sapporo is unusual in that it was built along an American-style grid pattern - you’ll be able to clearly see this outside influence from up high, as well as plenty of other local landmarks.
On clear days, the top of the tower commands superb views not just of nearby Odori Park and most of Sapporo but also further afield to the Ishikari countryside surrounding the city and the Sea of Japan. Open from 9am until 10pm, the tower affords panoramic views of the city whatever time of day you visit. Admission to the observation deck costs 720 yen for adults.
4) Grab a Seafood Lunch [7 minutes]A selection of covered fish stalls at Nijo Fish Market ©City of Sapporo
Once you’ve had your fill of amazing scenery from the top of the Sapporo TV Tower and mouthwatering Japanese sweets from the Niikuraya shop at the bottom, leave the Odori Park area to go in search of some lunch. Head south two blocks along Soseikawa Doori or Soseigawa Park (the two run in parallel), keeping an eye out for the entrance to Nijo Market, a large public market occupying almost an entire city block, on the left.
Locals come here to stock up on fresh local produce and seafood. Have a look around and pick up some seafood for lunch. Naturally, the earlier in the day you come the fresher it is, but rest assured that most of the shops do stay open from around 7am until 6pm. Thanks to the market’s size, exotic seafood lovers will have plenty to choose from, whether it’s fresh crab, sea urchin, or salmon roe - all are local specialities.
5) Pick Up Some Souvenirs [7 minutes]The nostalgic shopping arcade of Tanukikoji ©City of Sapporo
Once you’ve refuelled, head over to nearby Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade to hunt for some souvenirs for the folks back home. Leave the market the same way you came in. Cross over Soseigawa Dori and find the entrance to the shopping arcade one block further south.
Shopping arcades, known as “shotengai” in Japanese, are home to dozens of smaller local and chain shops, from greengrocers and drug stores to specialty tea shops and 100 yen shops, so they make the perfect place to pick up authentic, well-priced souvenirs of your time in Japan.
Walking directly, it’s only a six minute walk from one end of the arcade to the other, but it’s guaranteed to take you a lot longer in shopping mode, as you get distracted by the fascinating array of goods on offer in the rows of shops on either side. Top Sapporo souvenirs to keep an eye out for include Shiroi Koibito white chocolate biscuits, Strawberry Chocolate Ball by Rokkatei, and Royce’s moreish chocolate-covered potato crisps.
6) Eat Miso Ramen for Dinner [6 minutes]Retro signage above Sapporo's Ramen Yokocho alley ©City of Sapporo
After all that shopping and souvenir hunting you’ll surely have worked up an appetite again, so once you’re done shopping, move onto the final activity of the day - more eating. Head four or five blocks south, crossing over Tsukisamu Dori, and then a couple of blocks east, to find your way to Sapporo’s famous Ramen Alley.
The original alley was built in 1951. After its demolition to make way for the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972, Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho was reconstructed on the original site and survives to this day. Duck down the tiny alley lined with colourful neon signs and browse the menus on offer at the dozen or so shops until you find one that takes your fancy.
You’re now in the heart of Susukino district, Sapporo’s night-time and entertainment area, so barflies may want to stay and round off their with a taster of the local tipple - Nikka whiskey and Sapporo beer are both truly authentic local drinks.
Alternatively, it’s a 20-minute walk north back to Sapporo Station, or if your feet are tired you can hop on the subway. Catch either the Namboku line from Susukino Station or the Toho line from Hosui Susukino Station for the 12- or 14-minute journey back to Sapporo Station.
And if that's got you hungry for more Sapporo content, then click here to find out what else is on offer in and around the city - everything from cable cars to hot spring valleys and art parks.