A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go skiing in Niseko. It’s been a bucket list item of mine for many years now and it felt absolutely awesome to finally be able to tick it off! To get to Niseko, we had the option to transfer through Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital), or just go straight from Chitose Airport. So the obvious question we started thinking about was “Is Sapporo worth visiting?”.
As this is a common consideration for many people making their own way to Niseko (or just wanting to visit Sapporo in general), I thought it deserved its own article. So let’s get into it!
The Seasons in Sapporo
The first thing worth considering when wondering “is Sapporo worth it”, and arguably the most important is the time you’re choosing to go. Now, I would hazard a guess that most of you reading this are planning to go to Sapporo in the Winter as an add-on to Niseko, but on the off chance you’ve decided to go at a different time of year, I’ll cover that as well.
Sapporo in Spring
Spring is an incredibly popular time to visit Japan, and Sapporo is no different. With over 1,900 cherry blossom trees in Moerenuma Park, you won’t be short of any perfect Hanami spots! It’s worth remembering though, that due to its location, it’s definitely colder than Honshu at a similar time of year.
Things to do in Sapporo in Spring
1. Hokkaido Shrine
Built in 1869 as a way to uplift the spirit of the early pioneers, Hokkaido Shrine has been an extremely popular flower-viewing spot for locals and tourists alike. Sometimes it’s easy to think all shrines look the same (ie if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all), but the design of Hokkaido-Jingu shrine is incredibly special and well worth visiting if you have the chance.
Make sure to bring at least ¥300 with you to get the goshuin, a red stamp that shows you’ve offered prayer at the shrine. Or you can buy the book (goshuinchō) for ¥1300 with the stamp already included.
2. Maruyama Park
Maruyama Park is a fantastic place to view the cherry blossom bloom. You’ll find the Maruyama Wild Forest on its grounds as well as birds, squirrels, and numerous species of plants.
3. Nakajima Park
Looking for a place to sit down, eat some cherry blossom snacks, and relax? Nakajima park is a wonderful place to do so. It’s a great place to enjoy the Sakura with a lake, two streams, a tea shop, lawns, and a forest in the background. Don’t forget to visit the shrines as well!
4. Moerenuma Park
Designed by Isamu Noguchi, Moerenuma Park is a must-visit for any arts and culture nerds among you. With around 1,900 cherry blossoms, it’s the perfect place to have your picnic and partake in a bit of flower viewing! Admission is free, and the geometric playground with fountains, hills, and a wading pool makes up this an incredibly unique attraction. It’s a great place to visit year-round, especially in summer!
Average temperature during Summer in Sapporo (High/Low):
March – 39˚/26˚
April – 53˚/37˚
May – 64˚/46˚
Sapporo in Summer
Ask anyone who’s lived in Japan or visited during the summer and they’ll tell you that Summer is relatively horrendous. Hot, humid, and persistent. One of the best ways to avoid the hot and sticky mess that is ‘Tokyo in the Summer’ is to travel up to Hokkaido. As you’ll see below, the temperatures are relatively pleasant and it allows you to make the most of being outside and exploring Sapporo.
Things to do in Sapporo in Summer
1. Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream
Technically you could do this any time of year, and I have found myself making a quick run to 7-Eleven more than once this winter, but there’s truly nothing better than a summer ice cream. Hokkaido milk is famous throughout Japan, and this is perhaps the best way to experience it! As far as I’m concerned, this alone makes visiting Sapporo worth it! Am I cultured or what?!
2. Odori Park
Odori park located in the heart of Sapporo hosts a number of festivals year-round (most notably the Sapporo snow festival), but in summer it makes an excellent rest spot. I’ve already written about my favorite relaxing spots in Tokyo, and I really believe it’s important to have a few good places to rest in any big city, especially in Japan.
The great thing is, there are a lot of trees dotted throughout the park, so if it gets a little hot, just move to the shade and enjoy your downtime!
3. Sapporo Art Park
If you liked Moerenuma Park, you’ll love Sapporo Art Park. Designed to ‘create an environment where the city, arts, and culture can exist in harmony with Saporro’s natural beauty’, it’s a fantastic example of Japan’s ability to combine natural and man-made together.
4. Sapporo TV Tower
You’ll find the Sapporo TV tower in the heart of Sapporo and it’s well worth visiting if you want a bird’s eye view over the city. Be warned, you will have to walk back down! You can absolutely visit it during any one of the four seasons, but I would suggest missing out on Winter because of how unpredictable the weather in Sapporo can be.
Average temperature during Summer in Sapporo (High/Low):
June – 39˚/26˚
July – 53˚/37˚
August – 64˚/46˚
Sapporo in Autumn
Autumn is an incredible time of year to visit Sapporo. From the spectacular changing of the leaves to the perfect temperature, it’s definitely on par with visiting in Spring!
Things to do in Sapporo in Autumn
1. Mount Moiwa
Seeing kōyō (Autumn Leaves) is probably the most desirable thing for anyone to do if they visit Japan in Autumn. Often, the leaves change higher up before later making their way down to the valley.
As such, it makes sense to venture up a mountain that’s just 5km away from Sapporo center! Take the ropeway up, take a look at those flipping incredible Japanese leaves, and then gaze out upon one of the coolest views of Sapporo. Perfect!
2. Sapporo Autumn Festival – Odori Park
Back in Odori Park now, but this time for the Autumn festival. At this Sapporo food festival, you can expect to find seasonal ingredients, local residents and tourists hunting Momiji, and lots of different secret attractions. Of course, it’s worth mentioning there are festivals held in Odori park during the rest of the year as well like the Snow Festival (we’ll get to that one in a second), and the Lilac festival in Spring to name just a few.
3. Nakajima Koen
Nakajima Koen in Sapporo is a great place to view cherry blossoms in the spring and Momiji in the Autumn. Though it’s located in the middle of downtown Sapporo, when you step through those gates you’ll feel like you’ve landed on a different planet entirely.
4. Jozankei Onsen
Travel just under an hour from Sapporo and you’ll come across one of the most impressive places to see kōyō in all of Hokkaido. With Onsen waters discovered in 1866, Jozankei is home to quite a few ryokans, each with a more spectacular view of kōyō than the last.
Don’t fancy spending a night in one of the traditional inns? Day visitors can pay between ¥500 and ¥2000 yen to access the onsen. And don’t forget the free footbaths dotted around the town!
Average temperature during Autumn in Sapporo (High/Low):
September – 39˚/26˚
October – 53˚/37˚
November – 64˚/46˚
Sapporo in Winter
This is the season I can really try to answer the question of ‘Is it worth visiting Sapporo’ or not. Keep in mind that it’s incredibly cold in the winter. We had several layers on and still thought we were underprepared due to the constant changes in the weather. One minute it would be a blizzard, the next it would be a clear sky. But, it was super cool to see so much snow!
Things to do in Sapporo in Winter
1. Sapporo Snow Festival
This was actually the main reason we decided to stay in Sapporo before moving on to Niseko a day after. It was 100% worth going to see, and there were so many sculptures included as part of the festival, including Catbus from Totoro! I’d recommend going in the day and then in the night as well as they add lights which gives a completely new experience to the whole thing.
2. Jozankei Onsen
If you didn’t get to visit Jozankei Onsen in the autumn, go and visit it in the Winter instead! Take it from me, there’s nothing better than sitting in a natural hot spring, watching the world go by, with huge piles of snow on either side of you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Jozankei Onsen in Sapporo is a fantastic place to do it.
3. Ice Fishing on the Barato River
I didn’t know about this until I researched a little later but it sounds like something really interesting if you’re into fishing. Half an hour away from Sapporo is the Barato river where you can participate in Ice fishing. You’ll probably have to book a tour, but it’s definitely an experience you won’t soon forget!
4. Sapporo Beer Museum & Garden
How could you visit Sapporo without taking a trip to Japan’s only museum dedicated entirely to beer? Sacrilege! Located in the Garden Park in Higashi-ku, the Sapporo Beer Museum is one of Hokkaidō’s heritage sites well worth a visit and the best way to experience one of Japan’s most famous beers.
Average temperature during Winter in Sapporo (High/Low):
December – 39˚/26˚
January – 53˚/37˚
February – 64˚/46˚
How long to stay in Sapporo
While there is a lot of things to do in Sapporo, you probably don’t need as much time as you would in a lot of the other prefecture capitals. You’ve probably read the list above about the things to do in Sapporo and picked one or two that you really like the idea of.
If that’s the case, like it was for me, between 1 day and 3 days should be enough depending on what time you arrive and intend to leave. We had just 24 hours in Sapporo, but it was more than enough to see the snow festival as we had intended. I would like to go back during another season though because it was an exceptionally charming city that made a welcome change from Tokyo!
Is Sapporo worth visiting?
I’ve been to quite a few Japanese cities, and my favorite is still Tokyo. However, when I visited Sapporo it was clear the city had a certain charm to it, even if it was the coldest I’d ever been.
If you’re going skiing in Niseko, I’d recommend planning 1 day and night in Sapporo. That way you can break up your holiday with a bit of Japanese culture (that Niseko is severely lacking), and give the TA-Q-BIN time to deliver your skis to the hotel from the airport.
If you’re just considering the city as a stand-alone trip, it’s still worth visiting Sapporo. I would potentially advise against visiting in winter due to the extreme weather because it will definitely make it more challenging to visit all the incredible sites and places this city has to offer. Don’t let me stop you if you’ve been considering it though, I love winter and would go back again in a heartbeat. I think I may be in the minority with my unusual love for cold weather, though!
In any case, make sure to book yourself onto a local Sapporo tour during your trip. It’s the best way to see the city and by far the best way to experience even just a little bit of Japanese culture during your trip.
Been to Sapporo before? Let me know what you thought of the city and whether you’d recommend other people should give it a visit, or give it a miss!