Sapporo, Japan

Sapporo, Japan

Like winter? You’ll love the capital of Hokkaido, where powdery slopes put Europe’s ski resorts to shame and the Sapporo Snow Festival sees ice sculptures pop up across the city. Local craft beer and steaming hot springs make this one of Japan’s must-visit destinations.

on Japan’s northern island of
, Sapporo is the country’s fifth-largest city. Right
now, behemothic ice sculptures carved by modern Michelangelos are
being rolled into the city centre as final preparations for the
annual Sapporo Snow Festival takes place.

There are also the ski resorts (our top picks are Teine and

) whose fat, powdery slopes put those of its Alpine
brethren to shame. There’s Mount Moiwa, a craggy edifice speckled
with traditional restaurants and panoramic views.

Down in the city centre, try your hand at the age-old art of
ice-fishing before washing down your catch with lashings of
Sapporo’s renowned beer. Then there are the island’s famous hot
springs. Where better to ride out a hangover than at one of these
natural enclaves?

Don’t miss

The Sapporo Snow Festival, of course. There are three main
venues to hit up. The two-kilometre stretch in Ōdōri Park is the
main draw; here, expect to find multi-storey architectural feats
made entirely from ice. They’re magnificent islands in a glacial
stream of shuffling tourists so allow plenty of time for this one.
Then there’s Tsudome, where children (and big kids) can grab
inflatable sledges and whizz down snow slides, which appear as
rippling ribbons hewed into hulking great blocks of ice.

Our favourite site, however, is Susukino. The area’s known as Sapporo’s red-light
district but there’s a warren of bars, gay clubs and characterful
watering holes to explore – consider it the Soho of Sapporo –
either before or after you’ve toured its ice displays which are
luminescent come nightfall.

Who to take with you

Craft-ale connoisseurs. Sapporo is famed for its
and even has a museum dedicated to this age-old
tradition. The neighbouring Sapporo Beer Garden serves a mean
jingisukan, a grilled mutton dish native to Hokkaido and named
after Genghis Khan.

When to go

Sapporo’s known for coming alive in winter, between late
December and mid-March.
In summer, the low humidity and high temperatures (average 30°C)
mean that it’s popular among domestic city-breakers.

Where to stay

Rooms at
Hotel Potmum
are nice but perfunctory; instead, we suggest
worming your way into one of its dormitory-style sleeper capsules.
The hotel has an industrial but cosy feel – think glossy concrete
floors softened by wood burners – and is a convenient five-minute
stroll from Kikusui subway station.

Most likely to bump into…

Winter-sports enthusiasts – the types who throw “gnarly” and
“dude” into a conversation without even the slightest hint of irony
and have, or once had, an eyebrow piercing. Epic.

Essentials to bring with you

Temperatures can drop to as low as minus 15°C, so winter
visitors will need a puffy coat par excellence. We’re saving up for
one of Pangaia’s which are stuffed with
dried flowers – an animal-friendly alternative to down and free
from the toxic petrochemicals found in most vegan substitutes.

How to get there

A bullet train from
will take you to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, on the edge of
Hokkaido. From here, hop on the Super Hokuto Limited Express train
into Sapporo. Otherwise, it’s a one-and-a-half-hour direct flight
from Tokyo or two hours from

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