Sapporo (map) is the capital and largest city of the northern island of Hokkaido. One of Japan’s newest and nicest cities, it has little in the way of traditional architecture. But what it lacks in “Japanese-ness” it makes up for with its lovely open, tree-filled boulevards to enjoy in summer and excellent snow in the long winter.
The annual Sapporo Snow Festival draws more than 2 million tourists from abroad. Other notable sites include the Sapporo Beer Museum (map), which is the only beer museum in Japan, and the Sapporo TV Tower (map) located in Odori Park.
Sapporo has four distinct seasons. Temperatures are generally cool and pleasant in a summer, making it a popular place to escape the heat that grips much of the rest of Japan. Winters are harsh by Japanese standards, Sapporo is one of the snowiest cities in the world.
Hoheikyo Onsen (豊平峡温泉, map) Probably the most beautiful outdoor hotspring that is easily accessible from Sapporo. Separate areas for male and female guests offer an indoor bathing area and a large outdoor pool with mountain view. Massage, a beer bar and a restaurant (Indian curry or Japanese soba) are available on site. A free shuttle bus departs daily from Makomanai subway station (map).
Hokkaido Pioneer Village (開拓の村, map). A large historical village on the outskirts of Sapporo, offers a snapshot of Japan in the newly-industrialised age. The front gate (an old railway station) opens up into a series of opens alleys and buildings of the style pre-20th century. Also a variety of different gardens and shrines.
Jōzankei (定山渓, map) – on the southern outskirts of Sapporo, but still in the city, a 40- to 60-minute drive. This area is famous for its onsen (due perhaps to proximity to Sapporo), and for the very beautiful autumn colours (especially around the Hōheikyō Dam). Accessible by public bus from the JR Sapporo station with multiple departures daily.
Sapporo Art Park (札幌芸術の森, map). Containing over 74 modern and contemporary sculptures, this art park makes for a great day trip.
Nijō Ichiba (二条市場, map). Sapporo’s equivalent to Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market, this is where the best of Hokkaido’s catch is traded — and like its Tokyo counterpart, there are many restaurants here offering top-quality, cut-price sushi and sashimi. Popular with locals and tourists alike.
Aji No Tokeidai (味の時計台, map). The best-known ramen noodle chain in Sapporo, now franchised around the country. Many famous people have eaten here including former Japanese prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama.
Susukino (すすきの, map), to the south of the center, is one of Japan’s largest nightlife (and red-light) districts.
Niseko (map), arguably Japan’s top destination for powder skiing and snowboarding, is two hours away by bus.