The most northerly of Japan’s main islands, Hokkaido, is an underexplored travel destination. Most visitors to Japan focus their attention on Tokyo , Kyoto and the surrounding areas, however Hokkaido remains a hidden gem.
Much of this island is an untouched wilderness, boasting ancient forests, picturesque lakes, bubbling hot springs and multiple volcanoes. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, make sure you add Hokkaido to your travel itinerary – you won’t regret it. Here are nine things to see and do on this rich and varied island.
Soak in a Hokkaido Hot Spring
Known as *onsens* in Japan, Hokkaido’s hot spring baths are a must-do for anyone visiting the island. There are plenty to choose from, whether you prefer a hot spring with all the trappings of a luxury resort close by or one nestled away in the mountains.
Noboribetsu has some of the most popular onsens in Hokkaido, which benefit from some absolutely breathtaking views. For somewhere a bit closer to the capital, Sapporo, there’s the Jozankei onsen.
Hokkaido is the perfect destination for skiers and snowboarders. During the winter months it gets plenty of powdery snow, making the skiing conditions ideal. There are a number of ski resorts to choose from, but Furano has some excellent terrain, making it a particularly good option.
Drink Beer in Sapporo
Beer was introduced to Japan by Germany in the late 1860s and since then the Japanese have never looked back. It’s now the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country. Sapporo Beer , Japan’s oldest beer brand, was first brewed in Sapporo in 1876. Head to the Sapporo Beer Museum for a free guided tour, and for a small fee you can enjoy 30 minutes of beer tasting.
See the Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival features spectacular ice and snow sculptures by different artists. Held for a week every February, it’s spread across three sites in the city: Odori Park, Tsudome and Susukino. It’s well-worth braving the freezing winter temperatures for. The city of Sapporo itself offers so much we could do a separate article on it and still not cover everything. For more things to see and do in Sapporo check out this Sapporo travel guide.
See Takinoue Park Shibazakura Festival
If you’re in Hokkaido between May and June don’t miss the Takinoue Park Shibazakura Festival. Every spring the Shibazakura (pink moss phloxes) bloom beneath the mountains in the fields of Takinoue Park, creating a vast carpet of purple-pink flowers that really are a site to behold.
Take a Trek Through a National Park
The Island of Hokkaido has six national parks , each one full of jaw-dropping scenery. Akan National Park, in the east of Hokkaido, is best known for its three beautiful lakes – Lake Akan, Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo – and having the largest volcanic caldera topography in Japan.
Meanwhile, Shiretoko National Park was designated a World Natural Heritage site in 2005, and it’s easy to see why. With its primeval forest it’s a great place to go wildlife watching, and you may even see brown bears, sea eagles, sika deer or orca.
Visit the Blue Pond
In the small town of Biei is the Blue Pond – a man-made lake. The fact that it’s artificial, though, takes nothing away from its allure. The crystal blue of the water and the wizened trees that rise out of it make it all the more enchanting. The pond found fame when it was used as a desktop image for Mac’s OS X Mountain Lion.
Try the Seafood
Japan is famous for its seafood and the plankton-rich waters surrounding Hokkaido provide an abundant feeding ground. Fresh seafood supplies the island’s markets and restaurants every day.
Part of travelling is experiencing the local cuisine, so during your culinary journey you should visit Otaru and pick somewhere to eat on Sushiya-dori (Sushi Shop Street), which does seafood like nowhere else.
Spend a Few Days in Hakodate
The port city of Hakodate was the first Japanese city to open itself up to international trade, giving it a rather diverse character. Take a walk down the Motomachi district and you’ll forget for a moment that you’re in Japan thanks to the European-style architecture of some of its buildings.
Visit the morning market where you can enjoy incredibly fresh seafood before heading to the top of Mt. Hakodate to take in panoramic views of the city.