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Things to do in Sapporo, Japan
For a long time, Sapporo was viewed by most tourists as simply a gateway to the snowfields of Hokkaido. (And the place where one of Japan’s best beers comes from.)
Recently, though, there seems to have been a shift in the perception of the city, with tourists seeing it as a destination in its own right, with reason enough to explore beyond a layover.
Even the beer seems to have become more popular around the world, and I have to wonder whether there is a link between the two. Are you more interested in travelling to a city named after your favourite beer?
It’s perhaps hard to pinpoint exactly why Sapporo has found fame with travellers – there’s probably no single reason anyway.
In part, I think it’s because tourists are now looking for alternatives to the obvious destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto. But it’s also because the city has actually changed over the years and become quite cool.
Beneath both of these reasons is the same thing – that Sapporo is, in many ways, not particularly Japanese.
It’s something the people of Hokkaido are generally quite proud of. The island wasn’t officially part of Japan until the 1860s and, even though the indigenous population is very small and most of the people living here are ethnically Japanese, there’s a sense that the water separating them from the mainland gives them a cultural independence.
The distance from the Tokyo and the low density of Hokkaido give a geographic representation for why the island is not as stressful as the rest of the country. And this plays out in everyday life, with less emphasis on work and more on enjoying the days (and nights).
So it’s no surprise that Sapporo has a lively bar scene that is buzzing with locals every day of the week (and it’s not just drunk salarymen trying to depressurise from a busy day at work, like you find in other major cities).
The bars and restaurants have character, full of friendly quirks that capture the personality of a youthful Sapporo. Hipster cafes and modern art are here for every season, while beer gardens and street food stalls in summer create a constant festival atmosphere.
You’ll also find the vast natural beauty of Hokkaido seeps into the city, with green mountains around Sapporo seamlessly merging with the urban areas. Go up one of them and you’ll feel like you’re in the island’s alpine forests, even if you’re just minutes from the city centre.
And the relaxed attitude of the city even extends to the religious and historical parts of the city (which, remember, is all relatively modern when you’re talking about the Japanese aspects). A visit to the shrine feels as fun as it is spiritual, and the main monuments are easy enough to see.
To help you plan a visit to Sapporo, I’ve put together a list with my suggestions for the best things to do in Sapporo. You can see that I’ve marked them all below on a map of Sapporo.
I hope it helps and you enjoy visiting this cool and charming Japanese city as much as I do.
Sapporo will be one of the hosts for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, so there’s a chance you may be visiting the city for a game. If so, you’ll definitely see Sapporo Dome.
But even if you’ve missed the Rugby World Cup, it’s still worth seeing Sapporo Dome. This stadium is an engineering marvel and I would suggest trying to get tickets to an event here or just take a tour.
You can also go up to the observatory of the Sapporo Dome for a view from 53 metres high.
Sapporo Dome is a closed stadium (it’s pretty cold here most of the time) and usually hosts either baseball or soccer. For the soccer games, a huge pitch of grass is kept outside on a platform that can inflate and then move into the stadium through a wall that opens up. It’s quite incredible!
Sapporo Beer Museum
The name Sapporo is getting better known around the world because it is one of three main Japanese beers that is sold internationally. So it makes sense that you would visit the Sapporo Beer Museum when you’re in the city.
The building is a former brewery and much of the space is taken up by a free museum that tells the story of beer making in Japan. It’s quite an interesting history but there’s nothing overly special about the museum.
There is, however, a fun hall for beer tasting, where you can try some of the different styles of beer that Sapporo makes.
There are also a few good restaurants on the site and I would recommend coming out to one of them for lunch or dinner. The most popular is the ‘Genghis Khan’ which has options for all you can eat and drink, which are actually really good value.
Odori Beer Garden
Speaking of beer, I also need to mention the Odori Beer Garden which runs for a month or so in July and August each year.
In the city’s main park, Odori Park, all the large Japanese breweries set up tents and beer gardens where they sell food and drinks.
There’s a great festival atmosphere and it’s all very affordable. It’s definitely worth checking out when it’s on and heading there for some drinks if it coincides with your visit.
But Odori Park is a good place to visit at any time of the year, even if the beer garden is not happening.
The park is about 1500 metres long and take up twelve city blocks. There are nice gardens with fountains and artworks along the way, and it’s a pleasant way to get across the city.
As well as the beer garden, there are often events taking place in Odori Park so I would suggest having a look to see what’s on. In winter, the most famous event is the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sapporo TV Tower
At the end of Odori Park, you’ll find Sapporo TV Tower, one of the main icons of the city and one of the most popular things to do in Sapporo.
It was built in 1957 and is almost 150 metres tall. There’s an observation deck 90 metres up that you can reach by elevator. You get amazing views down Odori Park and across the rest of the city. And, of course, you can see the mountains that surround Sapporo.
It’s well worth heading up the tower to get your bearings before you do too much exploring. It’s a skyline unlike any other you’ll see in Japan.
Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium
From the Sapporo TV Tower, look past Odori Park to the far mountains and you should be able to see the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium. Seeing it from this distance doesn’t do it justice, though. Head over to see another one of Sapporo’s best sights close up.
The ski jump was used for the 1972 Winter Olympics that was held in Sapporo. It’s still used for competitions (and recreationally) today, but is obviously pretty empty in winter.
You can take a chairlift up to the top for more great views of Sapporo. There is also a small shop that serves excellent local icecream!
Sapporo Winter Sports Museum
At the bottom of the Okurayama Ski Jump is the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum, which is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds.
There are exhibits here about the history of skiing in Hokkaido, about the Sapporo Winter Olympics, and the Winter Olympics more generally. I think they are quite well put together.
But the best thing about the museum is the interactive games and activities you can do here.
There are some great representations of winter sports like ski jumping that you can try for yourself.
As you had back into the city from the Okurayama Ski Jump, you’ll pass the Hokkaido Shrine, one of the most spiritual places on the island, and certainly worth a visit.
It was built in 1871 and was originally called the Sapporo Shrine. It was the city’s main Shinto site and was dedicated to three Shinto deities.
In 1964, the soul of the great Emperor Meiji was also enshrined here and it was officially named the Hokkaido Shrine.
But despite its serious status, the shrine is actually a very relaxing place and you’ll notice that locals come with friends and family and it almost has a social atmosphere.
Speaking of a social atmosphere, if you’re looking for Sapporo’s famed nightlife, then you need to head to the Susukino district.
It’s estimated there are more than 4000 bars and restaurants here so it’s likely you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Compared to other major Japanese cities, I find it to be much more relaxed and cool, with an obvious hipster vibe in a lot of it.
The red light district is also in Susukino but it’s fairly obvious and easy to avoid (not that it’s particularly dodgy). The rest of the district is really safe.
One of the best bits to try is Ramen Alley, where you’ll get some of the best noodles in Sapporo. It’s the perfect way to start (or finish) a night out.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Sapporo tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.