Our visit to Hokkaidō was a pilgrimage to the snowy kingdom of Niseko on a mission to experience the incredible powder for which Sapporo is famous. However, we timed our visit to coincide with the Sapporo snow festival and allowed a day to explore the festival and some other key sights around the city. If you find yourself in a similar position then here are our suggestions for what to do in Sapporo in winter when you only have 24 hours to spare.
Your handy map for a winter Sapporo itinerary
What to do in Sapporo in 24 hours
If you only have a day in Sapporo, your timings will depend on your arrival and departure. Whilst I have indicated a sensible order below (along with a minimum amount of time to allow) you may have to adjust your visiting order depending on when you arrive and leave.
Hokkaidō Shrine – 1.5 hours including subway trip
Whilst Sapporo cannot lay claim to thousands of temples on a par with Kyoto, this shrine is well worth a visit. The walk through the park to reach the shrine is magical, with trees bowing under the weight of snow and icicles decorating the shrine gates around the park. Paths have been sufficiently cleared so that you can enjoy a winter wonderland walk through the forest, just a stone’s throw from civilisation.
Getting there: take the orange Tozai line from Odori to Maruyama koen and take exit 3. You will then see the park immediately in front of you. Once you are ready to leave, retrace your subway journey back to Odori.
Nakajima Park – 1 hour
Don’t exit the subway station but instead switch to the green Namboku line and head towards Makomanai. Get off at Nakajima koen and wander through the park of Nakajima. In winter the park is submerged under snow so you may not be able to fully appreciate the Japanese gardens but nevertheless it offers a nice short winter stroll.
Sapporo Dome – 1.5 hours
When you leave Nakajima Park you will need to retrace your steps yet again to Odori. Transfer to the blue line and take the line south to Fukuzumi. Once you exit the station head south until you come to the spaceship-like Sapporo Dome. It is possible to take a tour of the stadium which costs ¥1,050 and lasts 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can opt simply to head up to the observation deck for panoramic views of the city (¥520). A combined ticket costs ¥1,250.
When you have done again retrace your steps to Odori and head to the Sapporo snow festival.
Sapporo Snow Festival timings
If you only have one day in Sapporo in winter and you have planned your visit to coincide with the Sapporo snow festival, this attraction is going to hog most of your time. Do not underestimate how much time you will need to do the snow festival justice. Jason and I are not known to linger at tourist sights but we spent two hours exploring during the daytime and a further two hours in the evening.
The festival runs for a week each February. In 2020 the festival ran from 31st January until 11th February and in 2021, it is scheduled from 4th to 11th February.
Sapporo snow festival by day – minimum 2 hours
Be sure to allow plenty of time to explore the snow festival during the day when you will be able to really appreciate the intricacy of some of the snow carvings. The festival stretches through the entire 1.5km length of Odori Park. You will find the park south of Sapporo train station and it is free to enter!!!
If you start at Sapporo TV tower and head west, you will pass carvings the size of multi-storey buildings, interspersed with smaller snow carving displays. What seems like Japanese cartoon and comic book characters hog the limelight with various heroes scattered around the park.
There’s a number of huge displays carved from huge mountains of snow. These become the main attractions in the evening. But during the day, the joy is in discovering the smaller intricate pieces which pay homage to companies or countries. A snow carving competition displays creations which give a nod to their respective countries and an environmental theme seems to permeate the festival.
The Indonesian carving makes reference to the plight of the Bornean and Sumatran orangutang which are under threat, whilst the Thai display showcases turtles and is aptly called the ‘Future in our hand‘.
Two historical sights on your Sapporo winter itinerary – one hour
From Odori Park, you can also visit two other notable sights in Sapporo relatively quickly.
Sapporo clock tower.
The Sapporo clock tower is just a short walk north from Odori on Chome Kita.
The former Hokkaidō government building
If you continue further north, you will also come across the former Hokkaidō government building a short walk from the clock tower. Affectionately known as the ‘red brick building’ it is a stunning architectural piece.
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Wow the #sapporosnowfestival2020 by night is even more impressive than by day. The main carvings are animated with light and sound to bring the carvings to life. It’s truly spectacular and an absolute must see if you are heading to #sapporocity in February. #hokkaidotourism #hokkaidovisit #sapporosightseeing #traveljapan #japantravel #odoriparksapporo #odoriparksnowfestival #odoriparksnowsculptures #snowsculpture #snowsculptures
The Sapporo snow festival by night
Be sure to return to the festival in the evening and visit the large masterpieces. Regularly throughout the evening, music illuminates these carvings and turns them into giant animated displays. Colour and movement are projected onto the carvings bringing them to life. It is truly a spectacle like no other.
Of course, the other star attraction at the Sapporo snow festival is the huge open-air food market, reminiscent of a European Christmas market. Stalls dotted throughout the park offer every conceivable type of food from chocolate bananas to fried potatoes, eels and other more upmarket seafood. Skip the restaurants and indulge in a culinary gluttonous spree during your visit to the festival.
Now it is all very well figuring out what to do in Sapporo in winter, but I have also provided below some key information you will need for your flying visit.
Getting to New Chitose airport
The airport bus picks up at a number of hotels in downtown but can take as long as 90 minutes. It costs ¥1,100 each and there is no need to book.
Alternatively, take a train from JR Sapporo station which costs ¥1,150 and takes only around 35 minutes. The train gets very busy so if you want a guaranteed seat you will need to pay a supplement for a reserved seat.
Where to stay in Sapporo
It is likely that you will arrive in Sapporo city by train. If this is the case, I recommend a hotel near to the train station. Traffic is slow-moving in Sapporo due to endless traffic lights. It is thus advisable to book a hotel within walking distance.
Note also, your definition of walking distance may change depending on the time of the year. Dragging trolley bags around Sapporo in winter often requires a Herculean effort. You must navigate snowdrifts, icy pavements and bitterly cold temperatures. Anything over 0.5 mile is likely to prove frustrating in the depth of a Sapporo winter.
We stayed at the JR Inn South Sapporo which was comfortable and cost around £60 in February. The restaurant underneath the hotel doubles as a breakfast venue but otherwise the only other facility is a small spa in the basement. It has no onsite bar and is 0.3 miles from the station. I’ve highlighted some other options for you below which have a few more facilities.
Where to stay near Sapporo train station
Other options near the train station in Sapporo are:
Keio Plaza Hotel Sapporo – £140 and 0.4 miles to the station
JR Tower Hotel Nikko – £349 and 0.2 miles walk
Sapporo Grand Hotel – £126 and 0.5 miles from the station with an on-site Starbucks plus a spa.
All prices shown are for March 2020 for two people in a double room.
Getting around in Sapporo
The subway is the best way to visit our selection of things to do in Sapporo in winter. It is the only way to make the most of a day in the city as the sights are widespread. Each fare costs around ¥250 although it depends on the distance travelled. You can find Sapporo subway maps here.
If you want to make life easy for yourself, buy a one day pass for ¥830 which gives you unlimited travel around all the subway lines. It will save you messing around and the bitter Sapporo cold will soon dissuade you from walking long distances between Sapporo city sights.
What things to do in Sapporo in winter do you recommend?
Maybe you have other suggestions for things to do in Sapporo in winter. Feel free to share them below.