Natural wild beauty. Ultra fresh seafood. Steaming hot onsens. Hokkaido has it all and then some. I’m sharing a perfect one week Hokkaido itinerary for first-time visitors to the most northern island of Japan. 7 days is a teaser, leaving you wanting to return for more!
A rental car is often recommended to explore Hokkaido as it encompasses a vast geographical area. But, I’m averse to driving overseas if I can help it. The thought of driving on the opposite side of the road with foreign signage gives me palpitations and sweaty palms. Look mate, it’s already tough trying to parallel park in my hometown!
We relied on public transport for our one week in Hokkaido, and it was entirely stress-free and convenient. You just have to be strategic about your route. Read on for my 7 day Hokkaido itinerary if you want to do the same.
Summary of One Week Hokkaido Itinerary
|Days 1 – 3||Sapporo (with Otaru day trip)|
|Day 5||Lake Toya|
|Days 6 – 7||Hakodate|
When to visit Hokkaido?
The best time of year to go to Hokkaido is completely dependent on your personal interests. Different strokes for different folks.
Head to Hokkaido during Winter if your main intention is to hit the powdery slopes and spend the rest of your time hiding from the frigid cold in an onsen. The Summer months are popular for those travelling specifically to see the famous blooms and lavender fluids in Furano. Summer is also a great time to dust off your old hiking boots and go on a scenic trek. Spring and Autumn bring pleasant temperatures and either cherry blossoms or a fall palette.
We travelled to Hokkaido in May 2018 and enjoyed the mild Spring weather. However, everything included in my one week Hokkaido itinerary is suitable year round.
Sapporo Itinerary (3 days)
Arrival in Sapporo
If you’re coming from overseas, Sapporo makes the most logical starting point. Sapporo is home to New Chitose Airport (CTS), Hokkaido’s largest airport.
There are both trains and buses heading into the city centre from the airport. Unless the bus stops right outside your accomodation, I’d recommend taking the train into town. It’s cheaper and more efficient. The JR Rapid Train takes 35 minutes and costs 1070yen one way from CTS to Sapporo Station.
Things to do in Sapporo
Conveniently located in central Sapporo, Odori Park is a genuinely serene place to relax. I recommend buying some famous Hokkaido sweet corn from a street side vendor, and enjoying it while people-watching from a park bench. If you’re lucky enough to be here during cherry blossom season, it’s popular to have a hanami (picnic party) underneath the pretty flowers.
Sapporo TV Tower
The Sapporo TV Tower is situated at one end of Odori Park, so a convenient attraction to check out if you’re already there. It toes the line between inspiration and imitation, reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. But it’s been Japanified, with Panasonic clocks displaying the time from every angle. There’s an observation deck you can head up (general adult admission is 720 yen) for panoramic views of Odori Park and downtown Sapporo.
Sapporo Beer Museum
The Sapporo Beer Museum is a free attraction, which is great for someone like myself who’s not a beer enthusiast. Nevertheless, the museum is interesting and engaging enough. It showcases the history of the brand, their beer making process and displays advertising and marketing materials from decades back.
As you finish up walking through the Sapporo Beer Museum, you can purchase drinks at the beer hall. We ordered the taster set, sampling the surprisingly many different beers they offer. My partner drank the majority of the beers while I gorged on the accompanying peanuts.
Next door to the museum is the Sapporo Beer Garden, which is probably the closest thing to a traditional Bavarian beer garden you’ll find in Japan. The Sapporo Beer Garden is a popular place to feast on Genghis Khan (‘Jingisukan’), a grilled mutton dish speciality of Hokkaido. In my research, the name of the dish comes from the fact that Japanese people believe Mongolians eat a lot of lamb. That’s literally the only reason why. I wonder how Mongolian people feel about this. I guess it’d be like calling shrimp on the barbie a Steve Irwin.
I froze like an iceberg at the top of Mount Moiwa, which dampened my experience. So please wear layers! It gets cold up there. Nevertheless, I still had a grand time taking the ropeway up and soaking in the breathtaking views of Sapporo. And you bet I was happy to catch the ropeway back down to thaw off.
Japan has some of the best fresh seafood on Earth, and the pinnacle of that lies in Hokkaido. Nijo Market in downtown Sapporo is like a Marie Kondo’d version of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. It’s smaller and less busy and intimidating, but the abundance and quality of seafood is second to none. Stop by here for a fishy breakfast or lunch.
If you’re in Sapporo for a while you might also want to check out the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market (also known as Curb Market). It’s less convenient to get to from downtown but it is the largest seafood market in Sapporo. Curb Market is apparently cheaper and populated by more locals than its central counterpart.
Take a Day Trip to Otaru
Otaru is a short train ride (30 – 45 minutes) from Sapporo and therefore a very popular day trip option. It’s a quaint port city you’d expect to be depicted in a Japanese anime. Famous for its Western styled buildings and canal, Otaru is a cute place to get lost in for an afternoon. The main attractions include the Sankaku Fish Market and Sakaimachi Street, the main shopping strip of Otaru. Don’t forget to wear your stretchy pants, because there’s a delectable selection of sweets and dessert shops lining the main street in Otaru!
Where to Stay in Sapporo
I’d recommend finding accomodation in either the area surrounding Sapporo Station or in Susukino.
The area around Sapporo Station is purely convenient, if you’re relying on public transport. Beyond that, this downtown area is a shopping hotspot if you’re wanting to drop some dollar bill(z). On the other hand, Susukino is known as the entertainment and nightlife district of Sapporo. Home to bright lights, late night food joints and buzzing night clubs, it’s a boisterous part of town. Additionally, it’s only two stops away from Sapporo Station, making it easy to get around everywhere.
We scored an awesome deal for our three nights at The B Sapporo Susukino. The hotel had just recently opened when we stayed, so everything was still brand new and squeaky clean. The free buffet breakfast is nothing to laugh at either, offering both Japanese and Western options.
Noboribetsu itinerary (1 day)
How to get from Sapporo to Noboribetsu
The JR Limited Express Train journey takes approximately one hour to get to Noboribetsu from Sapporo and costs 4000 yen. You can halve the price by taking a local train, but it will take twice as long. From Noboribetsu Station, there are buses operated by the company Donan Bus which will get you closer to your accomodation.
If you’re staying at a jazzy onsen hotel in Noboribetsu like we did, then look out for shuttle buses some of these hotels offer between Sapporo and Noboribetsu. It’s often cheaper and more convenient as it takes you straight to your accomodation.
Things to do in Noboribetsu
Jigokudani (Hell Valley)
Despite such a provocative name, Jigokudani, or Hell Valley, is a natural stunner. Definitely a must-see in this week long Hokkaido itinerary. Formed after an eruption of Mount Kuttara, the landscape of dramatic craters, bubbling sulphuric streams and steaming vents is nothing like I had ever seen before. I never pass up a good walking trail, and there are a couple of easy ones around this area. One thing I have to say though, is that sulphur smells like the inside of a fart bomb. You have been warned!
Oyunuma Brook Natural Footbath
The walking trail we alighted on took our weary feet straight to the Oyunuma Brook natural footbath. An intentional decision, of course. Take off your shoes, have a seat on the rustic (code word for log) bench and dip your feet in the refreshing natural hot spring. Have a contemplative moment (i.e. what should I have for dinner tonight?) surrounded by lush greenery.
The main activity in Noboribetsu is to onsen! It would be a real tragedy not to take advantage of the natural hot springs here. Onsen-ing is something I felt like I had to ready myself for. Whether it be mentally preparing myself to be naked in front of same sexed strangers (really not as scary as I thought) or Googling onsen etiquette so as to not annoy the well versed. And I must say, it was well worth it. So. Relaxing!
Where to Stay in Noboribetsu
Part of the charm of staying in an onsen town like Noboribetsu is the opportunity you get to dress up in yukata, stroll around the town centre in your outfits and have elaborate breakfast and dinner board at your hotel. I would recommend staying in an all inclusive onsen hotel which provides all of this rather than an Airbnb or hostel.
There are a decent amount of onsen hotels and resorts in Noboribetsu you can pick and choose from. We stayed at Noboribetsu Sekisuitei which served its purpose and stayed within budget. It also hosts a bingo night most nights, which is just the most wholesome thing ever. And hey, from that we got away with some fun memories and a dish towel or two. I don’t say no to free souvenirs!
Lake Toya Itinerary (1 day)
How to get from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya
The train journey from Noboribetsu to Lake Toya takes approximately 40 minutes on the JR Limited Express and costs 2200 yen. Again, if you’re looking for a cheaper option, then you can take a local train which is about half the cost and takes double the time.
From Toya Station, you’ll likely need to take a bus operated by Donan Bus to Lake Toya, where the majority of accomodation lies. The bus ride takes 15 minutes and costs 330 yen. Unfortunately, the bus is only hourly so time this carefully with your train.
Things to do in Lake Toya
Lake Toya is a small sleepy onsen town sparse on attractions. I mean, we even came across a memorial museum dedicated to the G8 Summit it held back in 2008. It’s not the most happening place, guys. Nonetheless, Lake Toya is a nice stopover for one night just to relax and take in the scenery.
Usuzan West Crater Trails
Lake Toya has a couple of walking trails with visually delightful sights. We took on the Nishiyama Crater walking trail to see the Usuzan West Craters. Out of all of the places we visited in Hokkaido, Lake Toya felt the most deserted and isolated. We didn’t come across any other hikers along the trail, and got to enjoy the views all to ourselves. At the beginning and end of the hike, you’ll also come across buildings and parks they’ve intentionally left that have been destroyed by volcano eruptions.
Enjoy the Fireworks
For the majority of the year, Lake Toya has a daily fireworks show every evening at 20:45pm. Yep, you read that right, there’s fireworks every single day between May and October. It makes for a festive atmosphere for tourists who usually only stay one or two nights in this sleepy town. I can’t help but spare a thought for Lake Toya residents, as they must feel deja vu with this daily ritual.
It is impossible to come to an onsen town and not onsen. Sentiments remain the same as in the Noboribetsu section.
Where to Stay in Lake Toya
Compared to Noboribetsu, Lake Toya has fewer accomodation options. Sorry to say, but most affordable places seem outdated and probably stuck in the 1980s, aesthetics wise.
We stayed at Toya Kanko Hotel. I wasn’t expecting much based on reviews, and I’m glad I set my expectations low. The room and onsen were adequate for one night, but it’s obvious how worn down this place is and in need of some tender love and care. The sheets are threadbare and the walls need a fresh lick of paint.
Hakodate Itinerary (2 days)
How to get from Lake Toya to Hakodate
We took the bus from our hotel back to Toya Station. From there, there are JR Limited Express trains which run from Toya Station to Hakodate taking roughly one and a half hours priced at 4970 yen one way.
Things to do in Hakodate
Eat at Lucky Pierrot
Not an activity you’d expect to see here, but this fast food joint is special enough to include on this Hokkaido itinerary. Lucky Pierrot is a unique fast food burger chain only found in Hakodate. That’s right, all 17 stores in the entire world are located here. Each store has a unique theme. Think ‘Christmas’ or ‘Circus’, but if Kris Jenner was hosting the party back in the 80s. The stores are gaudy and over the top, and I love that.
Lucky Pierrot also sells some dang good food! Don’t forget to try the Chinese Chicken Burger, one of their best sellers. It has a sweet and spicy deep fried chicken fillet paired with fresh, crunchy vegetables loaded in a hamburger bun.
Red Brick Warehouse District
Back to city-life and a touch of consumerism in Hakodate. The Red Brick Warehouse is a large shopping mall housing plenty of souvenir shops and a busy dining complex. The highlight of this place for me are the several storefronts here selling famous Hokkaido milk desserts under one roof. Not great if you’re unfortunately lactose intolerant, otherwise completely delicious. Petit Merveille, Snaffle’s and Hokkaido Milk Kobo are a few companies to look out for if you’re a sweet tooth.
Hakodate Morning Market
Hokkaido has no shortage of seafood markets. And with Hakodate being a port city, it has one of the best ones. It’s enormous, with apparently over 200 stalls selling mainly seafood. Not a difficult place to find a meal. Or, if you’re an incredibly indecisive person like myself, the most difficult place to choose where to have a meal. Too many choices!
As I mentioned, Hakodate is historically a port city that let in foreign influence much earlier than the rest of Hokkaido. You can particularly see this in the Motomachi district, where grand pastel coloured European buildings and immaculate gardens unexpectedly make up the streetscape. When you wander around here, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported outside of Japan.
After going up Mount Moiwa in Sapporo, we didn’t go up Mount Hakodate. We didn’t have the desire to do both. Ropeway up, excellent views of the city below, ropeway down. Anyway, I’ve included Mount Hakodate on this Hokkaido itinerary for those who (a) love scenic views, (b) don’t go up Mount Moiwa or (c) err… maybe there are a few ropeway enthusiasts out there?
Where to Stay in Hakodate
My partner and I stayed at and liked Hotel WBF Grande Hakodate for our two days in Hakodate. The hotel room was clean and quiet and the staff at reception were helpful and friendly. The hotel is central and in walking distance for a few major sights including the Red Brick Warehouse, Motomachi and the Mount Hakodate ropeway. If memory serves me correctly, there’s also a bus stop straight outside the hotel which took us to the airport. No complaints overall!
Have more room in your Hokkaido itinerary?
You can’t explore the entirety of the island in merely a week, but as you can see in this 7 day Hokkaido itinerary, you can definitely enjoy the highlights.
If you are afforded more time in this region and have a car (a car rental would come in handy for some of these distant locations), then consider adding the following places to your Hokkaido itinerary.
- Niseko: synonymous with skiing in Japan and a popular destination for Winter travellers
- Furano: stay here between June and August to see enormous lavender fields and other flowery blooms.
- Biei: geographically close to Furano, Biei is a popular stop-off for those with a rental car as it’s home to one of the most Instagrammable ponds. Yes, I really did just say Instagrammable pond. Typical millennial.
- Shiretoko National Park: at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido lies quiet, picturesque hiking trails
Don’t sleep on Hokkaido…
Hokkaido is an amazing travel destination for return visitors to the Land of the Rising Sun. After the usual tourist pilgrimage of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Hokkaido offers an off-beat, authentic Japanese experience. If you need encouragement in booking your trip, I hope this Hokkaido itinerary shows you how easy it is to travel there!
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