Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, makes a good gateway for exploring more of the island’s northerly sites. It’s easy to spend a leisurely day sightseeing the city’s TV Tower, Clock Tower, municipal parks, and markets. The city is busy with fun events all year long, from the Sapporo Snow Festival to the Odori Beer Garden in summer.
OTARU AND NIKKA WHISKY
Otaru is a harbor city on Hokkaido’s western shore that’s a one-hour drive from Sapporo. The city is known for it’s charming canal district that is lined with warehouses that have been converted into restaurants, bars, and shops. Connoisseurs of fine spirits should visit Nikka Whisky’s Yoichi Distillery just half-an-hour away. Admission is free and English speakers can take a self-guided tour of the facility, sample whisky, and pick up souvenirs at the gift shop.
It’s a two-hour, winding drive from the airport to Niseko (or up to a four-hour drive in the winter). This district is most famous for its mythical, dry powder snow and ski resorts. Though sleepier in the summer, it’s a convenient base for discovering the area’s parks, lakes, and onsens hot spring facilities.
During warmer months, a full day can be dedicated to lazily driving the perimeter of Lake Toya, Hokkaido’s water-filled caldera. Stop at any points of interest – scenic overlooks, hot springs, and parks – that capture your fancy. Stroll the Toyako Sculpture Park for waterfront views among large-scale pieces of art. After seeing the lake up close, get an aerial perspective from atop Mount Usu on the side of an active crater.
FURANO AND BIEI
Furano is two-hours northeast of Sapporo. The area is a quieter ski alternative to Niseko during the winter. In the summer, the landscape transforms into patchworks of colorful flowers like poppies, lilies, and sunflowers. But the most popular attraction are its fragrant hillsides covered with lavender. Nearby Biei is famous for its mystical Aoiike Blue Pond, an eerie aquamarine body of water that engulfs dead birch trees.
- Currency: Yen
- Language: Japanese
- Best time to go: Winter and Mid-summer
- Lodging suggestion: Kimamaya Hotel
- Other: People drive on the left-side of the road