Travel: Sights to See in Sapporo

Planning a holiday can be frustrating, as well as exciting. There’s only so much that can be fit into any trip, and deciding what to see and what to leave out can be a challenge. My partner and I had 40 days to explore Japan, but we still struggled to design our itinerary.

The Raincity Software Engineer didn’t have too many requirements, but he did want to visit Sapporo, the largest city in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. I only knew of Sapporo in connection with two consumable productions – Sapporo Ichiban instant noodles and Sapporo beer!

We quickly discovered that Sapporo is filled with things to see and do, even in the depths of its long and bone-chilling winter. Here’s what we got up to during our all-too brief stay in the city.

1. Sapporo Beer Museum

We couldn’t come all the way to Sapporo and not get to know its eponymous beer a little better. The beer museum offers free guided and self-guided tours, and we opted for the self-guided route, which allowed us to explore the exhibits at our leisure. We had visited the Kirin brewery in Yokohama on a previous trip, so we focused less on the process of beer making and more on the story of the Sapporo brewery itself. The Japanese beer industry is fairly recent, but it is filled with its own colourful characters and stories.

The real highlight of the museum, though, is a visit to a beer hall! In one of several cavernous beer halls you can enjoy a delicious Genghis Khan (Jingisukan) dinner, which is essentially heaping plates of lamb and side dishes which you grill at your table. Come hungry and leave satisfied!

2. Sapporo Ramen

It seems like almost every region in Japan has its own take on ramen. Sapporo or Hokkaido ramen is miso-based, with a rich, intensely salty fermented soy flavour. You will find miso ramen everywhere in the city, and our first taste of it was courtesy of Sapporo Ramen Republic, a curious attraction located in the ESTA shopping centre at Sapporo station. This indoor recreation of a ramen alley features eight teeny-tiny little ramen joints, each serving a different style of ramen. It’s hardly authentic, but the indoor location is perfect for frozen tourist seeking a respite from the frigid Sapporo winter.

3. Sapporo White Illumination

One of the highlights of our stay in Sapporo was the White Illumination. Cities across Japan fill the dark winter evenings with beautiful light displays, and Sapporo is famous for the size and scale of its winter illumination. The Sapporo illumination dates back to 1981, and has become a local institution. The contrast between the black night sky, the crisp white snow and the bright, colourful lights is breathtaking, and it really is a sight to see. The illumination typically runs from late November to late December each year. Dress warmly!

4. Sapporo Christmas Market

We visited several Christmas markets during our Japanese adventure, but the Sapporo Christmas market was without a doubt the most impressive. Stall after stall offered delightful trinkets and knick-knacks, including an impressive array of European crafts and ornaments. One of the stall keepers let us in on a little secret – the organizers of the market regularly hire local European international students from the local universities to work at the market running the stalls, to create a more “authentic” European Christmas market atmosphere. We sampled hot spiced wine and cider, and nibbled on sausages and other German delights. Christmas music played on loud speakers, while a Japanese Father Christmas wandered the grounds taking photos with delighted locals. The market is free to explore, and it filled our hearts with so much seasonal joy. Highly, highly recommended.

5. Hokkaido Milk Products

Hokkaido is the agricultural heartland of Japan, and the island is particularly proud of its dairy products, which can be sampled and enjoyed in several different ways. We chose to enjoy local milk in steaming hot coffee beverages! The absolutely charming Hokkaido-based coffee house Baristart allows you to choose the kind of milk you want in your coffee – milk from different parts of the island is said to have different flavour profiles, and work best in different kinds of drinks. It’s a delicious, and warming, way to enjoy some of Hokkaido’s natural bounty!


Sapporo is a modern, welcoming city filled with things to do and see. Due to a last-minute change in our plans we only really had one full day to explore, and only barely scraped the surface of all that the city has to offer. With the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train to Hokkaido in 2016, travellers can now get from Tokyo to Sapporo in about 7.5 hours. You can also fly from Tokyo to Sapporo, but seeing as most foreign tourists purchase a JR Pass, it can be more cost effective to take the Shinkansen. The trains are quiet and comfortable, and both signage and announcements are in English.

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider adding Sapporo to your next Japanese itinerary. There’s more to Japan to Tokyo and Kyoto, after all!

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  • Reply Kathleen Burkinshaw

    Loved and enjoyed your pictures even if I always leave these posts hungry and reminiscent for Japanese cuisine! Definitely going to Sapporo when I can go back to Japan ?

    May 7, 2017 at 3:27 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      Definitely do – it’s such a neat city, and well worth a visit! 🙂

      May 12, 2017 at 1:01 am
  • Reply Yash

    Stahhhhhp, I’m already so close to running away from Toronto …

    May 7, 2017 at 5:18 pm
  • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

    I want to go baaaaaack!!

    May 8, 2017 at 5:31 am
  • Reply Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

    I want to visit!!! That ramen looks delicious and the white illumination and Christmas markets are stunning. Thanks for sharing your experience with #MondayEscapes.

    May 8, 2017 at 10:07 pm
  • Reply Kat

    I would love to visit Sapporo in Hokkaido but haven’t been sure of what to see or do except to eat their creamy cakes and ice-cream 🙂 Thanks to your post, I’m now inspired to see more of what Sapporo has to offer, cheers! #citytripping

    May 10, 2017 at 10:23 am
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      I definitely want to go back in the summer, when it’s not so cold! ?

      May 13, 2017 at 11:03 pm
  • Reply Lorna ✶ The Painted Globe

    Ooh, noting Sapporo for if I ever make it back to Japan! I just love the illuminations and the Christmas market. ?

    May 11, 2017 at 3:47 am
  • Reply Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)

    Yup I’m inspired! It looks amazing and I keep hearing good things about Sapporo, def high on the list for when I return to Japan one day… #Citytripping

    May 11, 2017 at 3:31 pm
  • Reply WanderMum

    I only knew Sapporo for its beer too but clearly there’s a lot more to this charming city. It looks rather beautiful in winter, especially with the illuminations. I’d love the ramen too. Ramen and beer – great combo. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    May 12, 2017 at 9:58 pm
  • Reply Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld

    This looks like a true winter wonderland, I love it! 🙂

    May 12, 2017 at 11:55 pm
  • Reply galanda23

    Hahaha, husband would not have hesitated to visit Sapporo. He loves their beer. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    May 13, 2017 at 1:57 am
  • Reply California Globetrotter

    Sampling the beer from any new location is a must! Loving that they brighten up dark winter nights with the illuminations! And I’m a bit surprised to see that they have Christmas markets there! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    May 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm
  • Reply Vanessa Brune

    Okay that’s it, I’m now planning a Christmas holiday to Japan!! Seriously though, the white illuminations look wonderful!!

    May 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm
  • Reply Katy

    We are not beer drinkers but that ramen looks amazing!! Love those illuminations too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    May 14, 2017 at 3:31 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      I actually rarely drink alcohol at all, but spent a lot of this trip visiting beer and sake breweries and whisky distilleries – I’m a patient travelling companion! 😉 Fortunately they’re usually pretty interesting, and often offer non-alcoholic beverages to sample. 🙂

      May 16, 2017 at 5:37 pm
  • Reply Anisa

    Of course, they would have to have a beer museum. So lucky you had 40 days. I did not have time to go all the way up to Sapporo, but will keep it in mind for next time. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    May 14, 2017 at 4:25 pm
  • Reply Juliette | Snorkels To Snow

    We were in Hokkaido in February for a skiing & snowboarding trip and spent most of our time at Niseko. We flew in and out of Sapporo and had really hoped to spend more time there, especially as the winter snow festival was on at the same time. But, when there was so much amazing fresh powder on the slopes every day, we wanted to make the most of the chance to ski & snowboard before our return to Fiji. So we only explored Sapporo airport (new Chitose) – which, to be fair, had some great shops! But I am gutted that we didn’t spend a day in Sapporo. I guess staying in Niseko, it is still a good 3 hours each way, so it wasn’t an easy day trip to make. Looks like it’s worth a return visit though! #farawayfiles

    May 14, 2017 at 7:36 pm
  • Reply Bumble Bee Mum

    The first time I visited Hokkaido, I stayed in a hostel for 3 weeks and you’re right about Sapporo hiring foreigners for their tourism. Many of my fellow hostelites were there on working holidays. It was one of my favourite trips and I’ve been back to Sapporo 5 times ever since.. mostly for the beer and food really. Hahaha… #CityTripping

    May 15, 2017 at 4:28 am
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      I honestly can’t wait to go back!! Next time we want to visit in the summer, when it isn’t quite so snow-covered, and rent a car so we can drive around the island!! 🙂

      May 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm
  • Reply Travel Lexx

    Very jealous as I didn’t get an opportunity to head to Hokkaido on my trip last year. The Christmas Market and the Lights seem magical and I can imagine the coffee would be great too!

    May 15, 2017 at 6:18 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      I think that’s the case for most travellers – when we visited some of the smaller cities in Hokkaido, people kept asking us “why are you here?!” with real surprise. 😉

      May 16, 2017 at 5:35 pm
  • Reply fifi + hop

    I would love to visit Sapporo. The beer hall sounds awesome and the White Illumination looks beautiful. Japan is so high on my list I hope I make it some day soon! #farawayfiles

    May 15, 2017 at 6:55 pm
  • Reply Hilary

    How cool! We loved our visit to Japan, but only had time for Tokyo and Kyoto! I would have loved to have 40 days, but we had only 12. Lovely photos, especially, the snowy bike! #theweeklypostcard

    May 15, 2017 at 10:13 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      Alas, that seems to be the case for a lot of travellers – on our first trip to Japan we had only a week, so we stayed in Tokyo and just did day trips. There’s so much to see in such a small country, so even after 40 days we barely scratched the surface. 🙂

      May 16, 2017 at 5:34 pm
  • Reply La Brutta Figura

    Love the sound of Baristart, that’s just what you need on a chilly winter night! The illumination display looks fantastic with the snow, you’re right!

    May 16, 2017 at 11:05 am
  • Reply Clare Thomson

    I had no idea there were Christmas markets in Japan! What a fun thing to do. Sounds as though you had it all: illuminations, snow, ramen and beer. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    May 16, 2017 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply Jane the Raincity Librarian

      I know! Japan is full of surprises, it can really feel a bit surreal at times. 🙂

      May 16, 2017 at 5:33 pm
  • Reply oregongirlaroundtheworld

    Those Japanese trains look so sleek and quick – an experience in and of themselves! I will admit that Sapporo beer is also my first thought when hearing about this Japanese town – thank you for illuminating the beautiful other options for #FarawayFiles – we are happy to have you as part of the community! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    May 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm
  • Reply Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)

    Sapporo looks like a magical place to visit in the winter. Like the ramen dish to keep warm from the cold cold and the magical lights. Japan has so many hidden places to visit. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    May 17, 2017 at 5:51 pm
  • Reply PackYourBaguios

    The hubby lived in Japan for three years when he was in the US army. He really wants to plan a trip back. We’ll have to put this on the itinerary!

    May 17, 2017 at 7:36 pm
  • Reply Only By Land

    Sapporo is my favorite Japanese beer, it’s so much better than Asahi! On a visit to Sapporo a must for me would be to visit the Sapporo beer museum! I love ramen and would also have to check out the Sapporo Ramen!

    May 18, 2017 at 7:49 am
  • Reply bigdogtravelblog

    That ramen looks absolutely perfect. I would love to do the beer hall dinner and everything on this list. I will save this for later 🙂

    May 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm
  • Reply RobRob @TravelLatte(.net)

    We’ve started planning for a Japan trip in a couple of years. We thought about going in the fall, but now… Christmas Markets? In Japan??? Yes please. 🙂 Great post. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    May 19, 2017 at 12:14 am
  • Reply thriftytrails

    Of course there would be a Sapporo beer museum in Sapporo lol. Next time we visit Japan (and I am determined to visit again), we will try to make our way to Sapporo. I had no idea that milk from cows from different areas of Japan taste different. Interesting tidbit of information. Great post!

    May 19, 2017 at 2:22 am
  • Reply Barry

    I really enjoyed my last trip to japan but have never been to Sapporo. look like a cool place to check out.

    May 19, 2017 at 4:51 am
  • Reply Shona @

    Sapporo is in the Japan file and looks lovely in winter. The ramen to keep you warm and the beer to, well, just drink 😉 Lovely pics too!

    May 19, 2017 at 11:58 am
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