Make some time to explore one of Japan’s most underrated cities on your way to the snow – Lucy reckons the best parts of Sapporo come alive in winter.

Quick Overview

Sapporo is a city that many international folk regard as a stop-over en route to Niseko, the nation’s most globally-recognised ski destination.

But like so many things in Japan, Sapporo is the type of place that rewards those who stick around a little longer, slowly revealing itself as the magnificently fun-loving, well-laid-out, culturally-rich city that it is.



Beer, ski fields with city views, arguably some of the best seafood in Japan, and plenty of local quirks, it’s a place well worth extending your next Hokkaido ski trip for. While you may decide to come to Japan for the snow, if it’s at the detriment of experiencing more of Japan’s local side, you’re honestly missing out.

There’s something magical about Sapporo in winter, especially when the Snow Festival is in town, and travellers are returning. The air is thick with soft, fluffy snowflakes and anticipation for an excellent year ahead; the energy can’t be matched, so squeeze in an extra 48 hours and spend it getting to know this Sapporo beyond its delicious beer.

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Start With a Sushi Lunch at Shiki-Hanamaru

Kick off your time in Sapporo with a little culinary delight, lunch at the iconic Shiki-Hanamaru. Shiki-Hanamaru is a well-loved sushi store with over five locations in Sapporo alone. The store sells some of the freshest sushi in town, with generous lunch sets (read: good value) and a broad range of offerings. Check out the restaurant’s website to find the outpost closest to you.

Pop by the Yukimatsuri AKA the Sapporo Snow Festival

If you’re here to ski, there’s a good chance you’ll be in town for the Sapporo Snow Festival, known in Japanese as Yukimatsuri, which is held during the first weeks of February.

Once you see it for yourself, you’ll realise why Yukimatsuri has become one of Japan’s most globally well-known festivals. The craftsmanship and detail that went into building each of these sculptures, and the creativity behind the designs, is nothing short of inspiring.

The festival’s origins can be traced back to 1950 when local high school students started building snow sculptures in what is still today the festival’s main venue, Odori Park. The debut incarnations of the event featured snowball fights, snow sculpture exhibitions, and a carnival. Locals had assumed that the turnout for this event would be low, but around 50,000 people visited the site, starting one of Sapporo’s flagship events.

At night, the city becomes home to the Sapporo White Illumination. The displays feature snow displays all lit up and occur throughout the city’s centre. The central locations are Odori Park, Sapporo Eki-mae Dori, and Minami 1-Jo Dori.

Stroll the Charming Old World Tanuki Koji

Tanuki Koji is a sprawling undercover shopping strip and home to an eclectic collection of new and legacy businesses selling everything from bubble tea to traditional Japanese knives.

You could say it’s one of the city’s centrepieces.

If it’s snowing hard, or you’re just looking for a little stroll and a shop, a walk-through here will keep you entertained.


Tanuki Koji address: Japan, 〒060-0062 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, 南2・3条西1~7丁目

Tear Up Mt Moiwa’s Ski Fields

If you want to get a little warm-up in before heading off to the big leagues, Mt Moiwa’s ski fields are the perfect destination for those who want a little taste of Japan’s legendary ski and snow culture without committing to a whole ski holiday. Be aware though, the area is for skiers only.

Read more: Why I Don’t Regret Skipping Skiing Lessons in Japan

Easy to navigate but with enough challenging slopes for even the more experienced skier, it’s an easy and accessible day or afternoon trip. It’s just 20 minutes from central Sapporo by car, and you can pick up a lift pass on-site for just a few hours.

If you can visit in the evening and try night skiing, I recommend it so highly, as watching the ski fields transform into a sweeping scene of glittering golden lights as the sun starts to set is unforgettable.


Eat, Drink, and Learn at Sapporo Beer Museum

If you didn’t know about the city but thought you’d heard the name ‘Sapporo’ before, chances are it’s thanks to the city’s eponymous, delicious, and crisp Sapporo beer. Head over to the European-style Sapporo Beer Garden, and make a beeline for the Garden Grill. Here, sign up for the all-you-can-eat Jingisukan (lamb) BBQ, and if you’re thirsty, there’s an all-you-can-drink option for ya.

If you’re done early, or get to the site a little ahead of schedule, check out the adjacent Sapporo Beer Museum to learn about this delicious brew; maybe knowing what goes into it might just make you love it even more.

Close the Night With a Shime-Parfait

Sapporo is a known culinary destination among the locals, and it’s time international travellers caught onto it too!

Shime-parfait is a novel little cultural quirk, a way to enjoy desserts in a more ‘adult’ setting. There’s always time for dessert; in Japanese, there’s also a term for it; ‘betsu bara’ (separate stomach), which just means you can always fit in a little treat, no matter how stuffed you may be.

The artfulness and meticulous decoration that goes into each one of these ‘late-night parfaits’ make them almost impossible to eat! Lucky they’re so delicious.

Get Educated at Sapporo Ainu Culture Promotion Centre

If you’re looking to get out of the city for a little while, visit Sapporo Ainu Cultural Promotion Centre. This indoor/outdoor museum is Japan’s first indigenous facility where you can see, touch, and experience various traditional Ainu handicrafts made by the Ainu people of Hokkaido.

The Ainu are Hokkaido’s indigenous culture. They believe that everything in this world has a spirit, and their understanding of how the landscape of this wild region works is unparalleled.

Here you’ll learn about the animals and plants that human life relies on, the tools used in everyday life, and this important legacy of Japan’s history.