A land of volcanoes chock full of natural and man-made wonders, Hokkaido boasts sights to keep the seasoned traveler busy for a lifetime. Its historic marvels include the magnificent 19th-century fortress of Goryōkaku in Sapporo, while its natural charms include the lavender fields of Furano and a host of fine caldera lakes such as Kussharo and Mushu. The island’s cold winters - courtesy of its position close to SIberia - also means that there are plenty of snowy wonders to enjoy as well - be they the ski slopes of resorts such as Niseko or the spectacular annual Snow Festival in Sapporo. Whatever your travel intentions, and whatever the season, there is always plenty to see and do on Hokkaido. These are just some of the top sights you can check out during what is sure to be a memorable visit. Find out more below.
This star-shaped fort, which dates back to the mid-19th century, owes its layout to military technology of the day - minimizing blind spots when fighting invaders. It is well known as the scene of the final battle of the Boshin War in 1869. Ironically, given its military past, today it is a popular spot for the most peaceful of pastimes - viewing the cherry blossoms of spring. As well as being a Special Historical Site, it is home to the city’s museum. The nearby Goryōkaku Tower offers fine views.
Address: 44 Goryokakucho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0001
2. Hokkaido's jewellery box! Hakodateyama
This fine cable car transports more than 1.5 million people a year, up the slopes of Mt Hakodate. Completed in the late 1950s, its 787-meter length (2600ft) ascends almost 300 meters (900ft), offering beautiful views of the city of Hakodate below. A nighttime journey is a particular highlight - the bright lights of the city sparkling like jewels beneath you.
Mt Hakodate Ropeway
Address: 19-7, Motomachi, Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0054
Website: Mt Hakodate Ropeway
This town on the west of the island is home to a very popular ski resort on the flanks of Mount Yōtei, and it boasts no fewer than six ski areas. Famed for its consistent falls of snow, it attracts hundreds of thousands of snowsports enthusiasts every year. But out with the winter, the area’s picturesque charms are worthy of a visit too - its vibrant autumn foliage being a particular highlight.
Niseko Village ski resort
Address: Higashiyama-onsen, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, 048-1592
Website: Niseko Village
4. Tōya-ko caldera lake
The caldera lake of Tōya-ko is a particular highlight of any journey to Hokkaido, and it is one of the largest lakes in the whole of Japan. The town of Tōyako, which borders the lake, is a good base from which to explore the waters and the nearby volcano, Mount Usu, and other sights within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. A ropeway up Mount Usu also enjoys fine views.
Address: 184-5 Aza Showa Shinzan, Sobetsu-cho, Usu-gun, Hokkaido, Japan 052-0102
Website: Usuzan Ropeway
This city in the south-west of Hokkaido is home to a number of notable landmarks. These include the Hakucho Bridge - the longest suspension bridge in the east of the country. This industrial city is a key port, boasting a number of ferry links elsewhere, so there’s a chance you’ll pass through during your visit. Its factories are also a surprisingly popular sight when lit up at night. More natural charms include Chikyu Misaki, with its 100-meter (330ft) sea cliffs.
Address: 4 Chome-4-77 Bokoi Minamimachi, Muroran-shi, Hokkaidō 051-0003, Japan
Website: Chikyu Misaki/Cape Earth
The hot springs around Noboribetsu are a must-see if you’re looking for some true rest and relaxation. The area is famous for them, and there are some fine views to be had while visiting them via local walks. Numerous ryokan and hotels also boast many onsen of their own. Other popular attractions include the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe with its dolphin and penguin shows.
Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe
Address: 1 Chome-22 Noboribetsuhigashicho, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido 059-0464
Website: Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe
7. Ainu culture
Hokkaido’s native Ainu culture, who were once persecuted, have enjoyed a resurgence in fortunes in recent decades - their population bouncing back from 16,000 in the 1930s to 24,500 by the mid 1980s. The Shiraoi Ainu Museum Porotokotan, set on the shore of Lake Poroto, celebrates their culture, traditional dress, dance and buildings. It is due to be replaced on the lakeside in April 2020 by a new national museum celebrating the Ainu.
Address: Wakakusa-cho 2-3-4, Shiraoi-cho, Shiraoi-gun, Hokkaido
Website: Ainu Museum
This impressive caldera lake is located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. A surprisingly deep body of water, sinking to 363 meters (1191 ft) at its lowest point, it contains so much liquid that it is the most northerly lake in Japan to stay ice-free in winter. Its waters are known for their quality and it is a popular place to go kayaking. An ice festival in the winter, with its impressive illuminated frozen pillars, is another popular attraction.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Website: Shikotsu-Toya National Park
9. Northern Horse Park, near Tomakomai
Northern Horse Park near Tomakomai is a popular natural park that will appeal to fans of all things equestrian. Petting experiences, horse carriage rides and assisted riding tours, and even a tree house, are just some of the family-friendly activities. It is also home to some botanical gardens and, in the winter, visitors can enjoy snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snow rafting.
Northern Horse Park
Address: 114-7 Misawa, Tomakomai-shi, Hokkaido 059-1361
Website: Northern Horse Park
10. Odori Park, Sapporo
This picturesque city park is a real highlight of any visit to Sapporo. Running for more than 1.5km (one mile), it is a popular destination and features almost 80,000 square meters (roughly 850,000 sq ft) of public space. It is home to a host of flower gardens, and its 400 lilac trees have inspired their own festival which runs every May. Summer months feature popular beer gardens, and autumn sees it host a special three-week food festival every September. Those who visit in winter will enjoy the famous Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sapporo Odori Park
Address: 〒060-0042 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward
Website: Sapporo Odori Park
11. Sapporo Snow Festival
And speaking of the Sapporo Snow Festival, this spectacular event is a must-see if you visit Sapporo during February. Since its creation in 1950, it has grown to become one of the highlights of the city’s calendar. Today, it attracts more than two million visitors every year, who are drawn by its mix of stunning snow sculptures and winter-themed events. Indeed, its popularity is so large that it plays host to an International Snow Sculpture Contest.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Website: Sapporo Snow Festival
12. Mt. Moiwa - one of Japan's best night-time views
Romantics will adore a visit to the small summit of Mt Moiwa, which offers jaw-droppingly beautiful night-time views of Sapporo. Indeed, its night-time vista has been voted one of the top three such vantage points in Japan - alongside Kobe and Nagasaki. The observatory and summit deck area, some 531m (1742ft) above the city, features the Bell of Happiness. It is said to bring good fortune to couples who ring it.
Mount Moiwa Ropeway
Address: 〒064-0942 Hokkaido, Sapporo, 中央区伏見５丁目３−７
Website: Mount Moiwa Ropeway
13. Otaru Canal, Otaru
This popular canal is a great spot to explore the city with which it shares its name. The buildings which flank this restored waterway are chock full of shops, eateries and other traders, and its historic ambiance has won many fans among past visitors. Indeed, so popular is the spot - and the scenic historic area in which it sits - that canal cruises also run its length, offering a romantic way to explore the area.
Address: Minatomachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0007
Website: Otaru Canal
14. Himawari no Sato, Hokuryū
A sea of sunflowers awaits visitors to this destination. The fields of Himawari no Sato at the town of Hokuryū are home to 1.5 million sunflowers every summer - their spectacular yellow blooms making for a striking and very popular sight. The best time to visit is in August, and those who visit during this time will enjoy the accompanying festival, which features a sunflower maze, a range of goods and more.
Himawari no Sato
Address: 143-2 Itaya, Hokuryu-cho, Uryu-gun 078-2511, Hokkaido
15. Rishiri Island
Located just off the north-west shores of Hokkaido, Rishiri Island and the stunning central cone of its extinct volcano are a popular tourist spot within the Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. The island peak rises 1721m (5646ft) above sea level - making it is easy to see why its name is thought to mean ‘high island’. The island’s wetlands - with their reflected views of the peak - and the striking sunrises enjoyed from Cape Peshi, near Oshidomari, are popular spots.
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park
16. Rebun Island
Rebun - which lies north-west of Roshiri - is home to popular walking trails which stretch almost from one end of this 18-mile long (29-kilometer) island to the other. The longest can be completed inside eight hours, but can also be split into two four-hour sections if you feel less adventurous. Its rugged coastline and blue seas are popular sights, as are the island’s range of alpine plants and the 490-meter (1610 ft) summit of Mount Rebun.
Rebun island Tourist Association
Website: Rebun island Tourist Association
17. Cape Sōya
Hokkaido’s most northerly point, on clear days it enjoys views across to the Russian island of Sakhalin just 43km (27 miles) away. The cape is home to a number of monuments, including the striking Monument of the Northernmost Point of Japan, which marks the site’s status as Japan’s farthest northern extremity - although the unpopulated islet of Benten-jima a kilometer away, (two-thirds of a mile) is technically the true holder of this status.
Website: Cape Sōya
18. Asahiyama Zoo
This zoo in Asahikawa is one of the most popular in the whole of Japan and it welcomes millions of visitors a year. It features dozens of different species, including polar bears, seals and orangutans. Its huge Totori no Mura menagerie also gives visitors the chance to see birds in flight within a giant cage. A penguin aquarium, and tubes through which visitors can see seals swim, are also among the attractions.
Address: Japan, 〒078-8205 Hokkaidō, Asahikawa-shi, Higashiasahikawachō Kuranuma, 旭川市東旭川町倉沼
Website: Asahiyama Zoo
19. Daisetsuzan National Park
Welcome to the mountains! Japan’s largest national park, Daisetsuzan, covers almost 2300 sq km of Hokkaido’s mountainous heart. Indeed, its name is derived from its numerous snowy peaks. Walkers will enjoy the numerous trails and 16 different peaks that reach more than 2000m (6600ft) high - including the island’s tallest summit, Asahidake.
Daisetsuzan National Park
Website: Daisetsuzan National Park
20. Biei's Blue Pond and Shikisai no Oka gardens
The man-made marvel of the Blue Pond in Biei was created 30 years ago by work to protect the town from mudflows during an eruption at Mount Tokachi. Its cobalt blue waters, and the colors of the trees that surround it, make for particularly photogenic images. Biei is also home to the picturesque White Beard waterfalls, as well as the beautiful flower gardens of Shikisai-no-oka. The latter’s 15 hectares (37 acres) of blooms provide striking photo opportunities from spring right through to autumn.
Shirogane Blue Pond
Address: Shirogane, 美瑛町 Kamikawa District, Hokkaido 071-0235, Japan
21. Furano's lavender fields
And, speaking of spectacular floral displays, the lavender fields in Furano are a famous Hokkaido sight worth checking out. Their stunning colors bring visitors flocking during the viewing season between June and September. Other flowers are also cultivated outside of the lavender season, providing further striking viewing options outwith the summer.
Address: 〒071-0704 Hokkaido, Sorachi District, Nakafurano, 基線北１５号
Website: Farm Tomita
22. The Unkai Terrace
A mesmerizing cloudscape awaits visitors to Unkai Terrace at Tomamu. The terrace - whose name literally translates to Sea of Clouds - sits high on the slopes and offers stunning panoramas out across the clouds to the local mountains, whose summits peek above the mists like islands. It can be reached via a 13-minute gondola ride from the local resort, and is best viewed early in the morning.
Address: Nakatomamu, Shimukappu, Yufutsu District, Hokkaido 079-2204
Website: Unkai Terrace
23. The phantom bridge of Taushubetsu
Fancy hunting for a phantom river bridge? Then a trip to Kamishihoro is definitely one for the itinerary. The waters of the nearby reservoir hide the Taushubetsu railway bridge, which once ferried trains along the Shihoro Line, but which was drowned beneath the waves when the dam was built in the 1950s. Submerged entirely between October and January, it gradually emerges as the summer nears, before water levels rise again and return it to its watery resting place.
Address: Nukabiragensenkyo, Kamishihoro, Kato District, Hokkaido 080-1403
24. Kushiro-shitsugen National Park
The Kushiro-shitsugen National Park is home to Japan’s largest wetland ecosystem and covers an area of more than 100 square miles (nearly 270 square kilometers) in the east of Hokkaido. It is home to more than 600 species of plant as well as such animal species as the red-crowned crane and Siberian salamander - making it a naturalist’s dream.
Kushiro-shitsugen National Park
Website: Kushiro-shitsugen National Park
25. Lake Notoro's stunning coral grasses
A stunning crimson carpet awaits visitors to the coastal lagoon of Lake Notoro, just to the west of the town of Abashiri in the Abashiri Quasi-National Park. Its colonies of coral grass turn a vibrant red every autumn, and are a popular sight among nature fans. Special walkways and boardwalks let people tread among these mesmerizing displays without damaging the grass.
Address: Abashiri, Hokkaido
26. Lake Akan's marimo colonies
Lake Akan is home to another unusual natural spectacle - spherical colonies of algae called Marimo that can grow as large as 15cm (6 inches) across. The lake’s transparent waters are an ideal nursery for the colonies. And, if you’d rather see them without getting wet, pleasure boat trips are available. There are also special aquariums at the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center which reproduce the conditions.
Lake Akan Eco Museum Center
Address: Akanchō Akankoonsen, Kushiro-shi, Hokkaidō 085-0467
Website: Lake Akan Eco Museum Center
27. Akan Mashu National Park
Akan Mashu National Park, in which Lake Akan sits, is home to a number of other natural sights. These include Kaminoko Pond, a small body of water which features stunning emerald green and blue colors, and is so clear that you can see right to the bottom. Lake Mashu - with its striking cliff-lined shores - and Lake Kussharo are also popular spots due to their cobalt blue waters. The latter of these is the largest caldera lake in Japan and is home to a number of hot springs - and even a sandy beach which is naturally heated.
Akan Mashu National Park
Website: Akan Mashu National Park
28. Shiretoko Goko's lakes
The five small lakes of Shiretoko Goko will appeal to nature lovers everywhere. Set amid primeval forests next to the Shiretoko Mountain Range, the area is a World Natural Heritage Site - and it’s easy to see why. It features an abundance of wildlife - including brown bears - and views encompassing a range of landscapes, from mountain to sea. Two different paths - one of which is an elevated wooden walkway - guide visitors around this picturesque location.
Shiretoko Goko Lakes
Website: Shiretoko Goko Lakes
29. Oshinkoshin waterfall
Located a little further west along the coast, the Oshinkoshin waterfall is another natural spectacle that visitors to the Shiretoko National Park will want to check out. Nicknamed the Twin Beauties due to the split in its middle, its beautiful white waters cascade over an 80-meter drop (260ft), and have been designated one of Japan’s best waterfalls. In winter, it can freeze almost solid, making for an icy wonder.
Address: Utoronishi, Shari, Shari District, Hokkaido 099-4354, Japan
Website: Oshinkoshin waterfall
30. Drift ice boat tours
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
An arctic wonderland is on the cards for visitors to the Okhotsk coast every February and March. Floes of drifting ice, which have been swept out to sea by Siberian rivers, begin to congregate around the Shiretoko Peninsula. Boat tours give visitors an up-close look at this frigid spectacle. The hardier among you may also wish to don special ice suits and ‘walk’ along the floes with special guided tours. Those eager to stay on dry land may want to head of Cape Puyuni, which offers elevated views across the ice.
Website: Cape Puyuni
With so many wonderful man-made, natural and cultural sights to enjoy, it’s little wonder that the island of Hokkaido attracts legions of visitors every year. And with even more possibilities to explore outside the 30 options on this list, you’ll be spoilt for choice when planning your travel itinerary.
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