Things to do Japan > Hokkaido

5-Day Hokkaido Itinerary: Top Highlights From The North Of Japan

5-Day Hokkaido Itinerary: Top Highlights From The North Of Japan
Trip101 Editorial
Trip101 Editorial
Published

Hokkaidō (北海道) is Japan’s northernmost island, best known for its unspoiled nature and breathtaking scenery. The landscape of Hokkaido is ever-changing by the season, from the snowy landscapes in winter to the blooming flower fields in summer, the country makes for a fantastic visit all year round. This five-day Hokkaido itinerary will take you on an exciting trip with a wide variety of highlights, including the lively city life of Sapporo, Hakodate’s fish markets, the famous zoological garden of Asahikawa, and finally a moment to unwind in Noboribetsu’s hot springs. While you’re exploring all of these attractions with the Hokkaido rail network, we recommend either using the Japan Rail (JR) Pass or a five-day Hokkaido Rail Pass for this itinerary.

How to travel to Hokkaido?

Hokkaido can be reached directly by railway from Tokyo on the Hokkaido Shinkansen line, via a one-way trip that roughly takes about four hours. The trip is fully covered by passengers who are using the JR Pass. Alternatively, Hokkaido can also be reached by air through the easily accessible Chitose (CTS) Airport in Sapporo.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Where to visit in Hokkaido?

Sapporo

Sapporo

(Suggested for: 1 - 2 day(s))

The capital of Hokkaido is both central and well-connected when you’re using the JR network to travel. Whether you’re arriving by air or rail, Sapporo makes for a great base to conveniently explore Hokkaido. Like any capital city in the world, it’s the wide variety of attractions that makes Sapporo worth visiting. To get you started, read our article on the 30 most popular spots to check out in Sapporo for a few ideas. Once you’re done sightseeing for the day, head to Susukino to experience some of the best nightlife Japan has to offer. From drinking with locals and eating local foods to enjoying the late-night activities, you’ll find it all at the Susukino district.

Image is licensed through JRPass.com

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Otaru

Otaru

(Suggested for: Half-day)

This small harbour city, which is just a 30-minute train ride away on the JR from Sapporo, makes for a fantastic (half) day trip. Otaru is most famous for its historic canal district and traditional structures that are closely reminiscent of times past. Once you arrive at Otaru Station, walk down to Sakaimachi Street for their local arts and crafts. Then pay a visit to a local restaurant for a very affordable and fresh sashimi lunch, starting as low as ¥ 800 (~$7.00). Afterwards, visit Otaru City Museum to get an idea of what life was like in the olden days. Adjacent to where you are, you will also find the Railway Museum, which is especially fun for kids and those with an interest in trains.

Image is licensed through JRPass.com

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Hakodate

Hakodate

(Suggested for: 1 day)

Hakodate, also known as the gateway city to Hokkaido, is known to be one of the oldest settlements on the island. A typical day in Hakodate starts with a visit to the local fish market, where the auctions start as early as six in the morning, so make sure to arrive on time if you don’t want to miss the freshest catch of the day. The market has been around for over 100 years and still operates the same way as when it first started. It’s open for locals and tourists alike and offers a more authentic local experience than other fish markets in Japan.

A visit to Hakodate is not complete without visiting Fort Goryokaku, a huge, five-pointed, star-shaped citadel. Built near the end of the Edo period, it originally served to protect the access routes into Hokkaido from foreign invaders. It was eventually turned into a public park in the 20th century, with over 1,200 cherry trees planted around the area, making the once military-purposed fortress especially scenic during the Sakura season.

To end the day off in Hakodate, we would highly recommend going up to Mount Hakodate for truly gorgeous views of the city and its bay area. The best time to ascend the mountain is just before sunset, where you will be rewarded with the slow, illuminating skyline of Hakodate. If you’re having second thoughts on the climb, Mount Hakodate is also considered one of the three most beautiful night views in Japan, together with Mount Inasa overlooking Nagasaki and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, so make sure not to miss out!

Image is licensed through JRPass.com

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Asahikawa

Asahikawa Zoo
Source: Pixabay

(Suggested for: 1 day)

Asahikawa is the second-largest city of Hokkaido that’s widely famous for its zoological garden. It’s a very interesting attraction where you can observe and learn about the native wildlife from Hokkaido, as well as arctic animals such as great penguins, polar bears, and the endangered Steller’s sea-eagle. Additionally, a wide variety of animals from around the world can be found in various enclosures around the area. The zoo is especially recommended for couples and families travelling with children.

If you’re visiting during the winter season, be sure to check out the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Giant sculptures made from snow and ice are on display and features characters from popular anime series, movies, and general pop-culture.

If you visit during other parts of the year, you might want to consider a side trip from Asahikawa to the lavender fields of Furano, or the national park of Daisetsuzan. Both can be reached in under 30 minutes by either bus or train from Asahikawa.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Noboribetsu Onsen

Noboribetsu Onsen

Noboribetsu is known to be the most famous hot spring resort in Hokkaido. The waters are naturally heated up to comfortable levels by nearby volcanic activity, making it the perfect place to relax, unwind, and wrap up your Hokkaido trip before returning home.

The most spectacular sight of Noboribetsu is Jigokudani (roughly translated as Hell’s Valley), a volcanic valley that’s just above the town. There, you will find a wide collection of hot steam vents, warm water springs, and an almost alien landscape. The river that courses through the valley has a pleasantly warm temperature, perfect for visitors to enjoy a satisfying natural footbath at various spots. The valley also makes for an amazing hiking trail outside of the winter season.

Different ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) around Noboribetsu offer private baths and accommodation, including traditional meals. A half-board stay that only includes breakfast will cost around ¥ 10,000 (~$90.00) per night, although lower-cost options are also available.

Image is licensed through JRPass.com

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Hokkaido, Japan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Hokkaido, Japan

Enjoy your stay in Hokkaido!

Hokkaido sunflowers
Source: Needpix

An island wonderland that is filled with panoramic scenery, natural attractions, as well as mouthwatering seafood, Hokkaido welcomes both avid adventurers and casual tourists alike to explore its lakes, rivers, and lands. You will definitely not want for things to do when you are exploring the various locations around the countryside, and it might even seem like there is not enough time to cover it all.

Not to worry, however, as you can easily reduce the hassle of navigating each destination with the local rail network by obtaining a JR Pass or a five-day Hokkaido Rail Pass in advance, and spend more time enjoying the experiences in this itinerary!

This post is sponsored by Japan Rail Pass

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

Get Trip101 in your inbox

Unsubscribe in one click. See our privacy policy for more information on how we use your data

Still Need Travel Insurance?

You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101

*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.

Connoisseurs of travel with a penchant for quality content, Trip101 Editorial Team shares only the best of the best!

Have a question? Ask fellow travellers and travel experts here.
 Want to contribute as a Local Expert?
Explore Hokkaido
Good things are meant to be shared!