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The 10 best things to do and see in Sapporo, the Capital of the North

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and is the largest city in Japan north of Tokyo.  While it is perhaps most well-known internationally for the beer and the Snow Festival, there is so much more to explore in the vibrant and picturesque Northern Capital.

The history of the city is slightly different from the rest of country, as it was only developed as part of the Japan in the Meiji Period (the mid-late 19th century).  From predominately agricultural beginnings, Sapporo has transformed into a major metropolis of around two million people and is one of the most popular domestic travel destinations for Japanese tourists. It is also home to the indigenous Ainu people who have their own distinct culture, language and traditions. In fact, the name Sapporo originally comes from Ainu language, meaning “Big, Dry River”.

Despite having a large urban centre, Sapporo is blessed with abundant nature – the city centre is surrounded by towering mountains and over 60 percent of the area is covered in lush green forest. It is also famously one of the snowiest cities in the world, with over 5 metres of annual snowfall, and is home to several major ski resorts.

While there are endless things to do and see in Sapporo, we have compiled together the top ten things that we think every visitor coming to the city has to experience.

1. Drink a limited-edition brew at the Sapporo Beer Museum

Sapporo Beer

When many people think of Sapporo, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous beer!

Built in 1876, The Sapporo Beer Brewery was the first brewery in Japan - it was chosen as the cooler climate was good for beer production. In the museum, you can learn about the history and unique culture of beer production in Japan, as well the influence that German breweries had on development of the industry. After the tour, you can sit down in the Beer Garden and enjoy the following flight of beers: The Sapporo Classic, only available in Hokkaido, the standard Black Label, as well as Kaitakushi-Beer, a beer brewed to imitate the flavours of the original. If you are looking for a bite to eat, head next door to Beer Hall to indulge in Genghis Khan, Sapporo’s famous grilled lamb dish. It goes perfectly with a pint of lager too!

The Sapporo Beer Brewery

2. Be blown away by the awe-inspiring Hill of the Buddha

The Hill of the Buddha

Standing at a staggering 13.5 meters in height, and surrounded by a womb-like stone encasing, the Hill of the Buddha is a stunning site that will take your breath away with its ethereal beauty. 

In keeping with the architect Takao Ando’s creative philosophy of “what remains hidden from view sparks the creativity”, only the top of the statue is visible from the outside. To enter the statue’s inner sanctum, you first pass over a water garden, representing the sacred boundary between the ordinary and extraordinary, and go through a long tunnel before coming face to face with the majestic Buddha statue.

The Hill of the Buddha in winter

While it is worth a visit throughout the year, the best time to see this artwork is July when 150,000 lavender flowers bloom on the surrounding casing, enveloping the statue in a carpet of magnificent purple. 

It is located in Makomanai Takino Cemetery, about one hour outside of central Sapporo by public transport.

3. Enjoy panoramic views of the city from the Mt Moiwa Observation Deck

Sapporo from Mt. Moiwa

Sapporo is surrounded by mountains, which means you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city from many of these peaks. We recommend catching a cable car to the top of Mt Moiwa where you can see the city lay out below you from a height of 531 meters. If you are looking for a romantic evening meal, there is a restaurant serving locally sourced French cuisine at the summit. It hasn’t been rated one of Japan`s best Three New Night Views for nothing!

4. Take a bike ride around Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park

Moerenuma Park was designed by world renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi, with the vision to create a park that works as one cohesive sculpture. Built on top of a landfill site, and taking over 20 years to complete, it was finally opened in 2005. Including a massive glass pyramid, fountains, man-made hills as well as artistic play equipment, it is safe to say that Noguchi’s original vision came into fruition. To get the most out of the 188-hectare park, it is best to hire a bike to explore all of the different sections of the expansive landscape. With over 1600 cherry blossom trees coming into bloom in late April/early May, the park is the perfect place to take part in the hanami season. In the winter months, Moerenuma transforms into a snow wonderland where you can enjoy snow shoeing, sledging, as well cross-country skiing.

5. Indulge in a fresh seafood bowl at one of Sapporo’s fish markets

Tasty Hokkaido seafood

Hokkaido is famous in Japan for its large variety of delicious seafood. Whether you are looking for fatty tuna, massive crabs or creamy scallops and mouthwatering sea urchin, the island is truly seafood lover’s dream.  

As the capital of the Hokkaido, Sapporo is home to two major seafood markets: Nijo Fish Market and Sapporo Central Wholesale Market.

With a history of over 125 years and located close to the city center, Nijo Fish Market is a popular spot for visitors to grab a fresh seafood breakfast bowl and get lost among the stalls of locally caught seafood.

Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, on the other hand, is the city’s biggest market that sells seafood, fruit and vegetables to most of the supermarkets and restaurants in Sapporo. If you wake up early, you can even go and see the fish auctions live and learn about how food distribution works in the city. There are many seafood restaurants in the area, where you can go and start your morning with a feast of the day’s freshest catches.

6. Explore a festival in Odori Park

A view from the Sapporo TV Tower

Odori Park is in many ways the centerpiece of Sapporo. It runs for 1.5km through the middle of the city and has beautiful gardens filled with flower displays and sculptures.  At the top of the park, stands the majestic Sapporo TV Tower, which you can climb up to get a panoramic view right from the heart of the city.

The park also hosts Sapporo’s famous festivals. The Sapporo Snow Festival, one of the world’s largest snow sculpture festivals, transforms the park into a sea of awe-inspiring snow creations – some of the largest run over 15 metres tall! Also, in celebration of the city’s beer roots, there is a massive Sapporo Beer Garden in the summer months, as well as the Autumn Fest, a festival of Hokkaido food, in September. The start of winter brings the Munich Christmas Market, as well as the White Illumination, lighting up the evenings in an explosion of colour and light. There are also other festivals running throughout the year, so it is good to check to see what’s on before you come. Or just come to Odori Park, and you might stumble across something amazing!

Snow sculptures during the Snow Festival

7. Climb Mt Maruyama and pay a visit to Hokkaido Shrine

Mt. Maruyama

Maruyama is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Sapporo, and it is no surprise considering the area has both Maruyama Park and Hokkaido Shrine. 

As the name suggests, Maruyama Park (yama means mountain in Japanese) is home to a mountain called Mt Maruyama. At 225 meters tall, it is accessible to even the most casual hikers, and a walk through a world of unspoilt forest to the peak will take no more than 30-40min. Sitting in close proximity to the city centre, the stunning view from the summit makes all the exercise worth it, as you can sit back and see the sprawling urban metropolis lie out below you.

Hokkaido Shrine was built in 1869, making it the oldest and largest shrine in Hokkaido. It was first constructed by an order of the Emperor Meiji, to enshrine Shinto deities, in order to protect the development of Hokkaido. Today, the shrine attracts thousands of visitors from around Japan and overseas every year to pay their respects, and to marvel at its staggering beauty. It is especially popular in the springtime, where 1100 cherry blossom trees bloom in the surrounding area, creating beautiful ethereal pink hue.

Hokkaido Jingu

8. See where the night takes you in the famous nightlife district of Susukino


Packed with hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs, Susukino is the 3rd biggest nightlife destination in Japan. Small hideaway bars fill tall ten-story buildings, neon lights of restaurant signs light up the night sky, and the delicious aroma of late-night eateries fills the air.

The area is also home to Sapporo Ramen Alley, the birthplace of Miso Ramen, a narrow laneway filled with 17 different shops, all with their carefully crafted take on the famous noodle dish.

Ramen Alley

After a big night out in Japan, it is custom to have hot ramen, however, Sapporo has developed a unique late night food culture of ice cream parfaits. Using high-quality Hokkaido dairy, each café’s elaborate ice-cream creations are decorated with everything from fresh fruit to chocolate sculptures and liquor. There are some café’s that are open all the way until 4am – making the perfect spot for anyone looking for a midnight sweet treat!

A late night parfait

9. Relax in a hot spring at Jozankei onsen town


Jozankei is Sapporo’s hot spring town, only an hour by bus from the city centre. There are over 20 different onsen hotels to choose from, so whether you are looking for budget or luxury, modern or traditional – there is something for every travel style. Many hotel onsens are available for day access too - so you can easily do a day trip from the city center. Located right in the heart of Shikotsuko-Toya National Park, there are lots of exciting nature activities to do as well. In the balmy summers, you can enjoy activities like SUP and rafting on the Toyohira River or climb one of the many mountains in the area. The winter brings lots of beautiful powder snow, so you can try snow shoeing and Snow viewing rafting, or even go skiing at Kokusai Ski Resort, located only 30 minutes away!

10. Have the ultimate Japow experience at a Sapporo Ski Resort

Skiing in Sapporo

Blessed with abundant deep powder snow, Sapporo is home to six different ski resorts all within 1 hour from the centre of the city. From the advanced adrenaline-chasing athletes to those trying it out for the very first time, there is something for every level of skier and snowboarder. Many of the ski resorts also offer other snow activities like tubing, snow shoeing, sledging and snow mobiling, so everyone can enjoy a fun snow day-out!

To get the most out Sapporo as a Snow Resort City, we recommend staying in the centre or the hot spring town of Jozankei and checking out a different ski resort each day. After spending a long day enjoying the snow, head back to the city for the perfect Apres-Ski experience in one of the hundreds of bars and restaurants!

Night skiing at Mt. Moiwa

Check out the Visit Sapporo official website below for more must-visit spots, itinerary ideas  and stories about people that make Sapporo the city it is!


Instagram: @visit.sapporo

Facebook: @Visit Sapporo




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