Sapporo is the 5th largest city in Japan and the largest in Hokkaido. Winter in Sapporo is famous for its large snow festival, which is an annual event. Furthermore, its beer museum, food, surrounding nature and milder weather are also key points for attracting visitors. The Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo in 1972, and this led to the development of its local ski facilities too.
Sapporo can be characterised by coolish summers and freezing winters. The nature that exists in Sapporo is spectacular all year round too. The lush green pastures and shrubs burst into life from April with blooming flower petals. In contrast, the autumn leaves turn reddish-brown from early October.
However, Sapporo is also festive during the Winter, and we are here to tell you about 8 things you must do during the cold season.
1. The Sapporo Snow Festival
This has to be the main highlight in Sapporo each year. It occurs around the first weekend of February and continues to grow bigger by the year too. It is so renowned too that it attracts more than 2 million global visitors each year. That number alone practically doubles the city’s population. So you can understand the kind of scale we are talking about.
There are several sites that play host to this massive event. These include Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome which hold the largest of the displays.
Odori Park is an extremely long park spanning 12 blocks or more than 1 km. This is the largest of the exhibitions and includes a broad range of artworks, shows, food stalls and more.
Susukino is the site which has many fascinating and interactive displays. There is an ice sculpture competition here, with a broad range of works. Plus different setups for photo ops, drinking, fun for the kids and more.
Tsudome is more targeted towards families, providing a range of snow activities for both adults and children. The area offers a range of slides and slopes to zoom down. Furthermore, there is a place to make your own snowman, play snow golf, mess with ice cafes and more.
For a more detailed account of the Sapporo Snow Festival, you can check out more info here.
2. Visit the Nightlife in Susukino
Susukino is Sapporo’s major nightlife hub, full of restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels and a large red light district too. Here you will find your major collection of specialist Japanese restaurants, drinking holes and bars and adult entertainment.
It is perhaps the largest entertainment district of the north, and one of the major red light districts in Japan.
For ramen lovers, you can check out Susukino’s Ramen Yokocho, which is a narrow alleyway full of noodle shops. Miso Ramen is Sapporo’s famous dish, so this is the flavour that you should be giving a whirl (slurp).
During the Sapporo Snow Festival in February, the area also hosts an ice sculpture competition. There you can see all kinds of whacky, insane and absolutely incredible works. There are usually some interactive displays available for the police to enjoy too.
3. Climb Sapporo TV Tower
Standing at 147m tall, the Sapporo TV Tower is still on of the tallest structures in the city. Particularly, when you consider that it was built in 1957.
The tower itself features a three-storey observation deck. This includes a function centre, various gift stores, restaurants and an information centre.
The views from the tower are especially appealing during the summer and winter seasons. Especially, Odori Park, which in Summer is a lush green, or Winter it is pure white. As you can imagine you would also get great views during of the Sapporo Snow Festival too.
Check out more information about this famous tower here.
4. Try Hot Wine
In Hokkaido, wine production has only started recently, from around the late 1960s. Since then, there are more than 20 wineries that have emerged onto the scene.
In central Sapporo, the winter chills are enough to drive most people indoors. However, should you venture out for a slice of the nightlife, we recommend you try one of the cafes serving hot wine. Especially in areas like Susukino, you should be able to find a number of cafes offering this warm treat on their menu.
It is the sub-zero temperatures outside that make drinking this warm beverage inside so satisfying.
5. Visit The Sapporo Beer Museum Tour
If you’re a fan of Japanese beer, or even the Sapporo Beer brand, then you should check out the nearby Beer Museum. A short distance from JR Sapporo Station, it dates back to 1877. As one of the first and oldest brands in Japan, Hokkaido is seen as the birthplace of beer in this country.
The tour itself costs a small fee but grants you the ability to try some of the brand’s classic ales. The tour takes you through the history of the Sapporo brand. It also looks at the history of beer in Japan and its brewing process.
At the end of the tour, you have the chance to try a variety of beers. Including the Sapporo regular larger, Sapporo Classic and Sapporo Black (Kuro) beer. Specifically, the Sapporo Classic is generally considered difficult to find outside of Hokkaido. So you should try it when you’re in Sapporo.
The most convenient way to get to the museum is by the Loop 88 Factory Bus. However, you can also access the museum on foot, 25 mins walk from JR Sapporo Station. Alternatively, you can walk 15 minutes from the Higashi-kuyakusho-mae Station on the Toho Subway line.
6. Fill Up on Ghengis Khan
Outside of Hokkaido, it is common to find many Japanese who have a negative image of lamb. They tend to dislike the aroma of the meat, and this completely deters them from eating it altogether.
In Hokkaido though, this is a different story. Lamb is considered to be a popular dish and they are more accustom to the smell. Hence the idea of Ghengis Khan brings in the crowds all year round.
Ghengis Khan is like Yakiniku (grilled meat) but for lamb only. People sit around a central grill plate and will cook the meat themselves. This kind of set up tends to be popular for groups, where people sit around the grill and take turns to cook their meat.
A lot of restaurants tend to offer all you can eat and drink options too. So there is plenty of opportunities to eat to your heart’s content on the local livestock.
Generally, a lot of people tend to migrate from the Sapporo Beer Museum to the Beer Gardens because of the proximity. These beer halls mostly cater with all you can drink and eat menus too. Hence, they let you destroy your arteries as much as possible.
7. Get stuck into some Soup Curry
Soup Curry is a difficult dish to explain accurately, it is basically a diluted curry. But that really is oversimplifying this exotic dish.
Born in Sapporo, this dish packs more punch, flavour and spice than your typical Japanese curry. Moreover, Japanese curry is considered a little sweet and mild in comparison.
The idea of this meal is to find the right consistency of kick, flavour and thickness for that epic creation. Soup curry tends to use a lot more ingredients too, including spices, more vegetables and bones for added taste.
We at FAQ strongly recommend you try either Soup Curry Garaku, or its sister restaurant Soup Curry Treasure. Garaku’s uses fresh herbs, bones and spices to give their soup curry’s a unique flavour. Their most popular menu items include the Tender Chicken Leg and Vegetable or the Lavender Pork Shaba and Mushroom. To increase your chilli, you can select from 40 different levels of spice. We suggest you tread carefully, especially if this is your first time and choose one of the lower (lowest) level.
8. Visit Mt Moiwa
Mount Moiwa stands at a modest 531 metres high and lies next to central Sapporo. It is also the closest and most accessible peak from the city centre. It provides stunning views of the city, particularly in the evening. Although, we would advise you to rug up for the extreme wind chills at the during the winter months.
The mountain can be accessed by the only light rail that operates through Susukino. Once you reach the base of the mountain, the Mount Moiwa Ropeway ascends you the majority of the way up the mountain. From there you transfer to a small cable car which brings you to the summit.
At the top, there is, of course, an observation deck, restaurant, planetarium and theatre. The views of the city from the peak are quite breathtaking, so there are plenty of photo ops if you can handle the chills.