We didn’t really intend to visit Sapporo Japan in the winter. It just sort of happened. Luckily we spent our time eating and drinking, which is one of the best ways to experience the city when the temperatures drop. But there are so many great things to do in Sapporo in the winter, whether you love to cold or want to avoid it.
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Hokkaido In The Winter
Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Sapporo is Japan’s fifth largest city and the capital of the region. It is also one of the snowiest cities in the world. Some of the other most snowy cities are also located in Japan. When speaking with family in the US while we were in Sapporo they seemed surprised that Japan was so cold. True, it’s not that cold in Osaka or Kyoto in the winter, but Sapporo is another story.
We saw that first hand when the snow surprised us during our stay. A friend told us that the snow arrives in mid-November each year and stays around for months. They get more than 15 feet of snow a year. Hokkaido is the coldest and snowiest regions in Japan.
If you can survive the Sapporo winter temperatures, it’s a great city to visit. That’s because not only does it have great food that warms the belly, but there are loads of fun activities and events through the winter that makes it the perfect place to visit in Japan.
Top Things To Do In Sapporo In Winter
Because this is a food and drink blog, of course, we will share our tips on what and where to eat in and drink in Sapporo during the winter. But, we also share some tips on how to make the most of the outdoors. The top Sapporo attractions in winter include food, drink, hot water, cold beer, and of course, snow.
Some of these winter activities are calendar dependent, meaning they are best enjoyed in December leading up to the holidays. A few are meant to be experienced when events occur later in the winter. Some can be experienced by travelers to Sapporo throughout the winter season.
Sapporo Yuki Matsui – Sapporo Winter Snow Festival
Sapporo Yuki Matsui – Sapporo Winter Festival
This is one of the most popular events of the year in Sapporo. The Sapporo Yuki Matsui is their famous winter snow festival. It’s one of the most popular winter festivals in Japan. The main attraction are the giant snow sculptures. The sculptures are lit up at night, which can be beautiful. But, the park gets crowded at night, so be prepared. There are also large snow slides, igloos, and an ice skating rink.
If you have a little extra time, consider heading out to Otaru on a winter day trip from Sapporo. They have their own snow festival at the same time. They light the path that runs along the canal with lights and ice lanterns. Although Otaru is a bit touristy it is also one of the best places to eat seafood and sashimi.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is held every year in early February. Because it is one of the biggest events of the year, plan your trip ahead of time. Hotels fill up quickly.
Our snowy view from the Mercure Sapporo
Where To Stay In Sapporo
I recommend staying in the Susukino neighborhood of Sapporo. It’s centrally located near all of the best places to eat and top things to do. We stayed at the Mercure Sapporo and couldn’t have been happier with our decision. The Mercure Sapporo is a 15-story contemporary high-rise hotel with French influences and is part of the Accor family of hotels.
When visiting the city over the winter, we were thrilled to be so centrally located. We could hit some of the top places to eat and be only less than a block from the subway. We also enjoyed watching the snow fall over the city from our window.
Sapporo White Illumination – Odori Park In Winter
Sapporo White Illumination
We visited during one of the most popular Sapporo winter activities, the Sapporo White Illumination. Starting at the end of November and ending around New Year, there are loads of light displays set up throughout Odori Park in the center of the city. If you can, check it out from the observation platform of the Sapporo TV Tower.
Odori Park In Winter
Even if visiting Sapporo outside of the winter festival there are always interesting ways to explore Odori Park. Odori Park is located in the center of Sapporo, south of Sapporo Station and north of the Susukino neighborhood. It’s where the Snow Festival and White Illumination occur. Also during the Christmas season, Odori Park is home to a traditional German-style Christmas market with shops selling gifts, souvenirs, and snacks.
Eating ramen in Sapporo in Winter
Visit Ramen Alley In Susukino
There’s no better way to beat the chills than a steaming bowl of ramen. We indulged in quite a few bowls while trying to ignore the falling snow just outside. If staying in Susukino, definitely check out ramen alley. Or, read our post about how to find the
Check out our guide on How To Find The Best Ramen In Sapporo
Sapporo Beer Museum
Sapporo Beer Museum
Luckily, some of the best activities in the city are year-round and that includes a visit to the Sapporo Beer Museum. Sure, the museum is indoors and beer drinking is year-round. But, the Museum also is a great place to eat Genghis Khan, one of the most famous dishes of the city. Plus, the Sapporo Beer Garden is all lit up for the holidays making it a little magical.
While in Sapporo, be sure to try the Sapporo Classic Beer, which supposedly is only available in Hokkaido. We indulged, perhaps, a bit too much.
See our Sapporo Food Guide – What To Eat In Sapporo
The Sapporo Winter Sports Museum
Visit The Sapporo Winter Sports Museum
We are not generally big fans of museums, but when the temps drop and travelers are looking for where to go in Sapporo in winter, this is a great option. It’s indoors and celebrates the winter sports that Sapporo and Hokkaido are known for.
Hokkaido held the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972 before both of us were born. But, it really put the region on the map for winter sports. Not only is there skiing in the region but all sorts of winter sports and the Winter Sports Museum celebrates it all.
The museum is open seven days a week and can be reached by car in about 20 minutes and by train in about 45 minutes from Sapporo Station.
Hit The Slopes In Hokkaido
We are not skiers. In fact, I haven’t skied in over 20 years. But, if there was a place for me to pick it back up again, Hokkaido would be the place. There are ski resorts throughout Hokkaido but are also some that are possible to visit as a day trip from Sapporo. Check out Sapporo Teine Ski Resort and Mount Moiwa Ski Resort, which are both less than an hour from the city. If you have a little extra time, plan a trip to Niseko, which is one of the most popular ski resort areas in Hokkaido.
Eating crab at Nijo Market in the winter
Eat Sapporo Crab At Nijo Market
Winter is the best time to eat crab in Sapporo. Of course, you can eat all sorts of fresh fish and seafood in Sapporo year round. But the best snow crab is sourced in the winter months from the waters surrounding Japan.
Visit one of the many restaurants advertising crab, or go to the source by grabbing some from Nijo Market, which is located in the center of the city.
Shiroi Koibito Park In Winter
Eat Chocolate At Ishiya Chocolate Factory And Shiroi Koibito Park
Of course, chocolate eating is a year-round activity. But, the Ishiya Chocolate Factory and the Shiroi Koibito Park are all lit up for the holidays. It is worth a visit if you are in Sapporo during winter, particularly in December. It’s like walking through a German village during the holidays. If you can’t make it to the factory for the tour, track down their signature white chocolate cookies.
Indoor And Outdoor Onsen Even In Winter
Enjoy A Traditional Japanese Onsen
A Japanese onsen is a natural hot spring. Luckily, there are some natural springs that can be visited during a day trip from Sapporo in the winter. Jozankei Onsen can be reached from Sapporo in less than an hour. It’s a hot spring resort where you can spend a day or an overnight at one of the resort hotels.
Just an important note. If you have tattoos, be sure to confirm whether the onsen you decide to visit will allow you in. Most traditional onsen will not allow people with tattoos inside.
FAQs – WHAT TO DO IN SAPPORO IN WINTER
Sapporo is a year-round destination. It can get hot in the summer. It is a popular destination for both international and domestic tourists, though, because it is cooler than other regions in Japan. If you can handle the cold, then a Hokkaido winter trip might be perfect. Hotels are more expensive in the summer and during the snow festival, though, so plan ahead.
Pretty darn cold. The temperatures in Sapporo can drop to -15C or 5F, or even lower. Although it felt colder when we were there, it was only a little below freezing. Just be prepared for snow.
Like many Japanese cities, Sapporo is famous for its food. Sapporo offers an opportunity to experience food you’d not necessarily associate with Japan including corn, butter, and ice cream. However, the most famous food to eat in Sapporo is crab.