Everyone knows Hokkaido for its snow, but the region has a lot to offer throughout the year. In this article, we’re focusing on the capital city, Sapporo, which is great because everything there is reachable within 30 minutes.
Breakfast, Hokkaido Jingu and Maruyama Park
Grab a classic morning set for breakfast at Ritaru Coffee, the coffee-cum-roastery which has a tiny gallery attached. In true Sapporo style, it has a parking lot and ample space inside. Upon entering, guests can see the roasting machine, which takes pride of place, along with bags of coffee beans, still in sacks. Sit on the second floor to savor a Sapporo breakfast set from the cafe while listening to jazz music.
Hokkaido Jingu is the main shrine in Hokkaido, and a must-visit if you’ve never been before. The sheer size of the building and its outhouses is impressive, especially the huge stone gateposts. Gently purify your hands in the water, head up the path to the suzu bell (without walking down the middle), chuck in a small donation and clap twice to pray to the Shinto gods. Grab your goshuincho (stamp book) from the friendly staff and maybe even omamori (amulets) for some folks back home and have a wander around the gardens, back through Maruyama Park.
Lunch, A Sweet Theme Park and Some Shopping
After a stroll through the park, have lunch in Maruyama, the upmarket area of the city. There are plenty of eateries to choose from. Go for a Sapporo classic; soup curry in Dominica. Non-meat eaters should check out one of the many vegan restaurants nearby.
Whenever someone returns from Sapporo bearing a sweet souvenir, it’s highly likely that it’s Shiroi Koibito. The instantly recognizable chocolate biscuit is Hokkaido’s ultimate crowd-pleasing souvenir because of its reasonable price point, long shelf life and all-around deliciousness. Only sold within Hokkaido, Shiroi Koibito retains that sense of exclusivity, even though most Japanese residents know it.
The makers pulled out all the stops to create the theme park — smoothly marketed as Shiroi Koibito “chocolate theme park” — one of the most visited in Hokkaido, if not Japan. Renovated as recently as 2019, we strongly recommend the grand building and its accompanying grounds for any chocolate lover. From Maruyama Koen Station, take the train along to Shiroi Koibito Park. Join the factory tour to be encased in divine chocolatey aromas while witnessing the place where all the magic happens. Make your own Shiroi Koibito in one of its workshops, which even offers a chocolate-making section wherein participants can grind their own cacao beans. Finish off in the garden, admiring the flowers and consuming one of the many beverages or chocolate-related goods from the quaint café.
Alternative: Sapporo Beer Museum is a great way to while away the afternoon if you prefer beer over chocolate. End the tour by sampling some of the produce in the beer garden.
Head back into the center of Sapporo for some shopping. There are many fantastic shops and mini-independent department stores across the city selling local goods that you’ll want to try. As it is so compact, it’s easy to check out the best ones in one fell swoop. Check out Suu for cute homeware and Oven Universe, which stocks magazines you won’t find elsewhere. Also, kids will love Robanoko, an artisan toy shop.
Dinner, Parfait, Nightlife and Rice Balls
By now you’ll be getting hungry, so it’s time for dinner. From Sapporo miso ramen to great quality local fish and delicious vegetables, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Head to the Susukino area for a lot of high-quality eateries. This includes Maru Sushi, which is an iconic Michelin-starred restaurant. Or you could check out one of the local conveyor belt sushi chains, with Hanamaru and Toriton being the ones most loved by locals.
Susukino nightlife is a great way to hang out with the locals and soak up the Sapporo atmosphere. With over 4,000 establishments in the area, there are plenty to choose from. Ie is a great little gallery-cum-bar in a residential building that often hosts interesting exhibitions. It’s very close to the Susukino area and ideal for a quiet drink. For more of a party vibe, we recommend the 500 bar, with a huge range of cheap drinks to fuel you up for the night ahead.
The Nikka Bar is an excellent place to sample the local whisky. Make sure to reserve a seat in advance. If The Nikka Bar is booked out, Tap Room Beer Kotan is a good bet for craft beer on tap, alongside a great range of snacks.
Finish things off by dancing the night away in Susukino. Popular clubs include King Xmhu, a three-story extravaganza, recognizable thanks to the giant, fake head adorning its exterior. UV glow sticks, cheap cocktails and a night of mayhem await.
For people who appreciate calmer settings, Precious Hall is a vinyl-only spot currently located in the basement of a department store. Boasting a six-stack Klipsch sound system that is the best in Japan, punters here switch off their phones and concentrate on the music.
For a calmer setting still, venture to Nanakamado, to try a nighttime parfait. Shime (closing) parfait is a custom originating in Sapporo and Nanakamado does the best shime parfait in the city. This place makes the most of Hokkaido’s renowned, creamy milk soft-serve and cream, along with local fruits to ensure visitors leave with a belly full of Hokkaido goodness.
Planning a trip to or around Japan? Check out our other itineraries: