Prepare to marvel at the natural beauty that’s everywhere in Hokkaido. If you’re planning a real travel adventure, this could be the island for you.
Hokkaido is the northernmost island in Japan. Famous for its volcanoes and hot springs and ski resorts. On a similar latitude to London and Munich, Hokkaido has a rich natural environment with dramatic scenery and coastlines too. Prepare to collect some of the best travel stories as you discover this Japanese gem of the north.
How to get to Hokkaido
There are several ways to get to the island, the quickest being by flight. There are many airports on the island, with regular flights coming back and forth from Tokyo. Chitose Airport is the principle choice when arriving in Hokkaido, or you can also fly into other major cities including Hakodate and Kushiro.
Alternatives to reaching Hokkaido include the train and the ferry. If you’ve never seen the magnificent high-speed train, you may just want to try this to enhance your Hokkaido experience. The Hokkaido Shinkansen launched in March 2016, and can get you from Tokyo to Hokkaido in 4 hours and 2 minutes exact!
If you prefer a more scenic route, the ferry may be the best choice for you. There are many terminals to reach Hokkaido by land, in cities like Hakodate and Otaru. Reputable ferry companies include Tsugaru Kaikyo Ferry, Silver Ferry, MOL Ferry and Seikan Ferry.
The areas to visit, and what to see, in Hokkaido
Sapporo’s the capital city of Hokkaido, with plenty of historic buildings and points of interest to see. The Sapporo Dome was home to several games during the 2002 World Cup as well as the G8 summit back in 2008. One of the most popular spots is Odori Park, which hosts annual events and festivals throughout the year. It stretches 1.5km from the west to the east in central Sapporo and is a draw to visitors all year round.
Other notable sights here include the Otaru Canal, which was built in the 1920s to connect warehouses and the port of Otaru. Here, you’ll see a piece of history, with the stone-built warehouses and glass lamps dotted along the 1,140m canal.
If history’s your cup of tea, you should also pay a visit to the Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. A statue of Dr William S. Clark (an American chemist who played an important part in Hokkaido’s history) stands proudly here, and the location offers endless views of Sapporo.
Nature in central Hokkaido
If you love nature, you’ll overdose on the offering in central Hokkaido. Lake Toya’s the country’s 3rd largest caldera lake, which was created after a volcanic eruption some 110,000 years ago. Visitors get the opportunity to enjoy the lake’s picturesque views on a sightseeing boat, as well as to walk on the islands surrounding the lake throughout summer.
Speaking of volcanoes, a visit to Mt. Usu may be of interest. This active volcano has stunning views overlooking Mt. Showa-Shinzan and Lake Toya below. You can reach the top by a ropeway service or via a walking trail, for any fitness/hiking enthusiasts.
Take a trip to Hell Valley in central Hokkaido, with a visit to Noboribetsu Hell Valley. A crater that was formed by a volcanic eruption, you’ll find different springs here pumping out the freshest water that sources the nearby Japanese baths and hotels.
There are several capes worth visiting in Hokkaido, but Cape Kamul is particularly special. A scenic spot thanks to its cliff formations, you’re bound to be captivated by the colour of the sea below, that the locals refer to as ‘Shakotan Blue’.
The main attractions
Take a step back in time to the 17th century with a visit to Matsumae Castle. A home designed for the samurai warriors, you can still see items here from the feudal period that includes clothing and paintings. Don’t miss out on seeing the fantastic views of the Tsugaru Strait from the 3rd floor.
There’s nothing better than a local market to get a feel of the local area, and the morning market in Hakodate’s a good starting point.
This seafood heaven has around 280 shops, as well as food stalls that visitors can enjoy the freshest catch. As the name suggests, the morning market opens from early morning and closes around midday.
Nature in southern Hokkaido
Admire one of the most magnificent peaks, and on an active volcano too at Mt. Komagatake. The green foothills are home to many varieties of flora and fauna and makes for a stunning photo.
Make a trip to the gorgeous Onuma, Quasi-National Park and take in the sights of natural lakes and outdoor activities. Birdwatching enthusiasts are sure to enjoy catching sight of the migratory birds and breeds local to Hokkaido.
What to see?
Delve deeper into nature with a visit to eastern Hokkaido. From lakes, to parks and falls, you’ll be hard pressed to leave here with any bad photos, or memories!
In a primeval forest in eastern Hokkaido is the serene and mystical Shiretoko Goko Lakes. With 5 lakes to take in, and many wildlife residing in the area, such as brown bears, visitors are advised to check safety routes and to read the guidelines before heading off.
Listen to the gushing sounds of water flowing from the Oshinkoshin Falls at this marvel of a waterfall. From here, you’ll also be treated to views of the Sea of Okhotsk.
Surround yourself in a land of tulips by heading to Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park. There’s a total area of 2.5 hectares to take in, along with 1.2 million tulips in full bloom from early May to early June.
Pay a visit to the largest public ranch in the country at Naital Highland Ranch. It consists of around 1,700 hectares of land, and the ranch looks out onto views of the Tokachi Plain and the Akan Mountains.
Attractions you can’t miss out on
See the wondrous Patchwork Road, or Patchwork no Michi, in the north of the island. The name is from the green landscape where the roads weave through the fields, leaving its iconic patchwork pattern.
Another part of the island, and another cape to see, this time, at Hokkaido’s northernmost point. Cape Soya is surrounded by the sea on 3 sides, with a monument of the North Star, just in case you forget where you are!
Probably the highlight of northern Hokkaido is the Sounkyo Gorge in Daisetsuzan National Park. Be amazed by the cliff formations and the powerful gushes of water cascading down the falls, as you witness this moment of nature in Japan’s largest national park.
After all that nature, why not relax with a taste of the local brew, sake? And there’s no better place to try it, than at the Otokayama Sake Museum.
Visitors can see the sake-brewing tools from the old days, as well as take advantage of the free sake samples.