Fresh seafood, hot springs and the birthplace of miso ramen, the capital city of Japan's wild north island is in the spotlight as it hosts the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Read our travel guide to this diverse, long-haul destination.
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, is home to beautiful national parks, mountains, volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen) and some of the country’s best ski resorts, making it an obvious destination for both nature lovers and skiers.
However, with the region also responsible for a large proportion of Japan’s agricultural activity and its capital city, Sapporo, famed as the birthplace of the eponymous beer as well as miso ramen, it should also be on the hit-list for food-lovers travelling to Japan.
Those wanting to tick ‘authentic ramen’ off their food bucket list needn’t stray too far on arrival in Sapporo. In Japan, many well-renowned restaurants open around train stations and airports and Sapporo’s New Chitose airport is one of the best examples, hosting a huge number of brilliant restaurants, including an entire area dedicated to ramen. If you’re a seafood lover, there’s no better region to be in.
Hokkaido is famed for its varied catch, particularly crab, and the best way to experience it is at Curb Market, one of Sapporo’s largest public markets with nearly 80 stores and restaurants selling freshly caught seafood and locally grown produce.
A stone's throw from tourist hotspot the Sapporo TV Tower, which boasts great views over the city, is Odori Bisse, home to shops and restaurants including izakaya-style Aburiya. Izakaya is a casual, sharing style of eating in Japan – think pub-meets-tapas bar, with menus spanning a wide range of small, usually inexpensive dishes from sushi and sashimi to yakitori (meat skewers) and tempura. You'll find plenty of izakaya bars and restaurants in the city centre, such as local favourite Hachikyo.
Once you’ve explored Sapporo, you can easily reach other areas by super-speedy bullet train. Hakodate, the region’s third largest city, is three-and-a-half hours away – buy a ticket for about £60.
A day or two is enough time to stroll around the quaint old town – try fresh seafood at Hakodate Morning Market, ascend Mount Hakodate or Goryokaku Tower for impressive views and slurp a bowl of the city’s signature shio (salt) ramen. It’s also the perfect base for a day trip to Onuma Quasi National Park, 20km north, a picturesque expanse of lakes, trees and active volcano Mount Komagatake.
Where to stay in Sapporo
Sapporo Prince Hotel is conveniently located just a 15-minute walk from the city centre. Towering 28 floors above ground level, it provides impressive views across the city and nearby Mount Moiwa and Mount Okura, and to the Olympic ski jump. Hotel guests can also enjoy an onsen experience (hot spring bath, £3.40 per night). Rooms start at £83 per night for a standard twin, including breakfast.
How to travel to Sapporo
Fly direct to Tokyo for a stopover – see our travel guide to the city to discover where to stay, eat and explore. Get return flights with ANA from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda from £856 (11 hours direct). Flights from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo New Chitose cost from £155.60 return and take an hour and a half.
5 things to eat and drink in Sapporo
One of Japan’s most well-known dishes, ramen (noodles, meat or fish and veg in a broth) varies in different areas of the country. In the Hokkaido region, you will find these common broth flavours: salt in Hakodate, soy in Asahikawa (Hokkaido’s second largest city) and miso in Sapporo.
Donburi is a bowl of sushi rice with various toppings, the most popular in Hokkaido is the seafood (kaisen), which the region is famed for. A mix of raw, thinly sliced, sashimi-style salmon, tuna, octopus, scallops and prawns is artfully arranged on a bed of sushi rice. It usually comes with wasabi and soy sauce for dipping and miso soup on the side and is often eaten for breakfast.
Jingisukan (or Genghis Khan)
This is a type of Japanese lamb barbecue – thin slices of lamb are grilled over a hot skillet – and a speciality of Hokkaido, named after the 13th-century Mongol leader. Sapporo is the most famous city for this dish, and there are many Genghis Khan restaurants. Guests are provided with sizzling hot, dome-shaped grills on which they can cook meat and vegetables.
Ice cream is very popular in Hokkaido, and you'll find shops and cafés offering soft-serve ice cream, sundaes and other dairy-based desserts all over Sapporo. The area produces around half of Japan’s milk and almost all of its cheese.
First brewed in 1876, Sapporo is the oldest beer brand in Japan and one of the most popular. Although most of the brewing is now done outside of Sapporo, the city is where you’ll find the Sapporo Beer Museum. Tourists can visit for free or choose the premium tour, costing £3.50, which includes a tasting of two beers.
Where to eat and drink in Sapporo
On arrival at New Chitose Airport, head straight to Keyaki for the buttered corn ramen. Corn is one of the region’s biggest crops, so this is a local speciality. The pork-based broth is made with three kinds of miso, plenty of vegetables, noodles and sesame, then topped with fresh sweetcorn and a hefty knob of butter that melts over the corn into the broth. Prices start at £5.95.
Kita no Ryoba
Start the day like a local with a bowl of kaisen don at Kita no Ryoba, one of the restaurants surrounding Curb market, serving seafood so fresh it’s almost still swimming. Mixed seafood bowl, around £10.70.
For those looking to soak up the alcohol following a tour and tasting at Sapporo Beer Museum, neighbouring restaurant Kessel Hall, part of the Sapporo Beer Garden, is a fun choice for a do-it-yourself-barbecue (Ghenghis Khan) lunch.
Many izakaya restaurants and bars in Japan are small, but Aburiya offers an izakaya-style menu in more spacious surroundings. The menu includes sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori and larger dishes like whole fried hokke fish, another local speciality. If you’ve had your fill of rice, baked potatoes are on offer. Dishes start from £1.
Do you have a favourite foodie hotspot in Sapporo? Let us know in the comments below...
All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of the 3rd June 2019 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out of date information in this guide please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs: iStock, Urbanmyth/Alamy Stock Photo, Anna Lawson