The main city on Japan’s northern island Hokkaido, Sapporo’s reputation is wrapped up with winter sports. But as well as offering superb access to skiing and hiking, this city, with its impressive 19th-century buildings and smart parks and gardens, is a worthwhile destination in its own right.
Sapporo has an easy–to–navigate, three-line subway system, with signage in English as well as Japanese. A single-line tram system and vast bus network, each offering a number of flat-rate passes and fares, make this an easy city to get around without having to stump up for a taxi.
Sapporo became the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics in 1972. And there’s no escaping the snow at the ace Sapporo Winter Sports Museum. Housed in the ski jump stadium built for the games, this interactive space offers the chance to try out a ski jump simulator before taking a lift up to see the real thing.
For something a touch more sedate, head to the beautiful, neo–Baroque Former Hokkaido Government Office. This stunning building, dating back to 1873, is home to a number of displays relating to the history of the city and the wider Hokkaido region. The adjoining gardens are particularly impressive during the summer months.
The annual Snow Festival, however, is what draws the biggest crowds to Sapporo. This world–renowned event, which takes place over a week in February, sees Odori Park, the Susukino district and the Tsudome sports venue become true winter wonderlands. Over 400 incredible ice statues are displayed, with an international snow sculpture contest held between 14 teams. There’s even a snow maze. The festival pulls in crowds of over two million, who also indulge themselves at a string of excellent food stalls in Odori Park.
Sapporo’s local beer is a mainstay in izakayas (Japanese pubs) across Japan. And it’d be rude to come this far and not at least learn a little bit about its past. The superb Sapporo Beer Garden and Museum offers hourly tours of the original brewery, as well as tastings. There are four restaurants attached where you can sample more variants at your leisure.
If you’re keen for something a bit more cultural, the Hokkaido Museum of Literature houses letters, books and transcripts made by the area’s most famous authors. If you love Japanese writing, then this is the place for you.
Hokkaido’s excellent food scene is just another reason to make sure you have plenty of time to spare in this city. Start off by sampling soup curry. This local delicacy is found everywhere, but the Nishitondendori Soup Curry Honpo is arguably the best. Think spicy broths and fresh Japanese veg. The pork version is particularly good.
Being a coastal city, seafood dominates in Sapporo, especially snow crab. Kani–Honke is a highlight, its traditional rooms and spectacular dishes worth splashing out for. For sushi, Hanamaru is the best bet, its conveyor belt serving up endless treats to hungry gourmands.