Sapporo is not usually on many travellers’ Japan itineraries. It’s further up north on the island of Hokkaido and for a large chunk of the year it is buried in snow. My June visit was excellently timed with beautiful weather which made it perfect to spend 24 hours in Sapporo exploring.
This fourth most populous city in Japan isn’t as well known as destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, but snow sports lovers will definitely have Hokkaido on their bucket list as the island features the best snow in the country.
If you’re coming from Australia, Japan has a minimal time difference so you’re able to hit the ground running to make the most of your 24 hours in Sapporo. Most foreigners will need to fly in overnight via Tokyo and then grab an onward connection up to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo.
But once you’ve arrived, what is there to fill your 24 hours in Sapporo with? Plenty as I found out!
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Where to stay in Sapporo
Sapporo has many different options for accommodation – all that come with famous pristine Japanese cleanlinesss and hospitality. Sapporo is great for budget or hostel options that are impeccably maintained but won’t break the budget as well as featuring many major hotel chains and up market choices.
For an upmarket stay, the JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo is a great choice for a beautiful hotel with great ratings and close to everything (as it is located over the city’s main railway station). The Sapporo Grand Hotel is another great option for accommodation at the higher end of the star & price scale.
Finally, for the budget conscious, the Hotel Relief in Suskino is a great choice. Suskino is also a great part of Sapporo to stay in for nightlife – so if late night drinks and eats are your thing, definitely consider staying in this area.
How to get around in Japan
Japan is a beautiful country, but it can be daunting to think of travelling somewhere foreign where you don’t speak the language. Luckily, Japan has a brilliant tourist scheme that allows foreigners to buy a JR Pass which allows visitors to travel on any JR services and even to book the bullet trains in between cities.
The JR Pass will allow you to get around Sapporo easily, but can also be used for the rest of your Japan holiday and comes with a free JR Pass guide to help you explore to the fullest.
Truly, the best way to explore all the best Japanese destinations has to be getting yourself a JR Pass.
24 Hours In Sapporo Starts… NOW
JR Observation Deck (10am)
I was able to walk from my hotel after dropping my bags off straight back to the Sapporo train station where I’d arrived in from the airport to go up to the observation deck of Hokkaido’s tallest building, the JR Tower which sits at 160m or 38 floors high.
Luckily it was a beautiful clear day and the 360 degree view of the city and surrounding mountains was impressive. The observation deck itself can be done really quickly if you don’t have much time, or you can walk around all four walls at a very leisurely pace if there’s no rush.
As usual, book tickets in advance if you are able to in order to mitigate wasting time having to wait in a line. Tickets are available here.
Tokedai or Sapporo Clock Tower (11am)
A really short walk from Sapporo station is a beautiful old wooden structure called the Clock Tower. It’s actually quite surprising to see it here in the middle of Japan because it’s quite a Western looking building. It’s also the oldest standing building in Sapporo which makes it worth a look.
Inside is a little museum (200 JPY entry) related to the history of the agricultural school that used to use the building which is mostly in Japanese, so I did a quick whip around to look at the architecture and the images and then headed out.
The chimes on the clock still work so do try to time your visit with the clock striking the hour. If you’re really strapped for time, then skip the museum unless you’re interested in agricultural schooling and can read Japanese!
Odori Park (11.30am)
Odori Park is a real highlight of Sapporo, especially on a beautiful day. And the best part is it’s completely free. I got an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness when I walked in there – there is an abundance of brightly coloured flowers, fountains and people just relaxing and soaking up some Vitamin D.
In a country where the hustle is well and truly real (ever seen the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo?) it’s so delightful to watch the locals just kick back and take it easy.
At one end of the park is the Sapporo TV Tower, which looks like a smaller version of the Tokyo TV Tower and is available to climb, but I opted to just walk around the park and sit by the fountains to take it all in.
There are vendors at Odori park, too, so it is a great place to stop for a bite of lunch or a drink purchased from one of the local stalls.
Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens (12.30pm)
Sticking with my garden nature vibe I stumbled upon the botanical gardens and wandered in.
It does cost money to enter the gardens, but on a day like this it was worth it. Flowers were in bloom and the Japanese sure know how to do gardens beautifully.
The Natural History Museum (no extra charge) is also in the midst of the gardens, so if taxidermied animals are your thing then this one is definitely worth a visit.
Sapporo Beer Museum & Beer Garden (2pm)
I took a bit longer at the Sapporo Beer Museum and Beer Garden as it was the thing I’d been really keen to do all day. The museum itself is quite small, a little split level history of the Sapporo Beer and the different types of brews that they’ve made over the years.
It’s definitely interesting and the fact that it’s small means that the beer tasting paddles arrive quickly!
I ordered the tasting paddle – the current Sapporo beer and a couple of other variations (including the original brew).
The tasting set me back around 100JPY and was closer to three glasses of beer, rather than a tasting size – so you definitely get your money’s worth.
Mt Moiwa (5pm)
The best way to make the most of the fading light in Sapporo is to take the Ropeway up Mt Moiwa to get a brilliant view of the city from the peak. From the Sapporo Beer Museum it took me around an hour to get to Mt Moiwa’s Ropeway station via the tram and then a very nice leisurely cable car ride right to the top with stellar views.
At the top there are some gimmicky photo opportunities, but also a rather beautiful lookout area with lovers’ padlocks clasped to the fencing like the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris.
There’s also a very fancy restaurant up there – but my budget didn’t allow for a full meal there, so i enjoyed a glass of warm sake whilst I waited for the sun to set and take in the view of the city by night.
Even though the day had been balmy, the evening up the mountain was absolutely freezing, so do be sure to rug up to avoid the famous Sapporo cold.
To take the hassle out of exploring by yourself, you can book a day tour of Sapporo including Mt Moiwa tickets here.
Sapporo is a pretty awesome place to find food. I mean, all of Japan is really but Sapporo has incredible fresh seafood nailed. If you haven’t tried salmon roe and aren’t too creeped out by eating salmon eggs – eat it here. The eggs are HUGE.
Ramen lovers will also definitely want to sample Sapporo’s unique style Ramen with its miso flavouring.
Food is a bit harder for non-Japanese speakers than in Osaka or Tokyo, but it’s still not too difficult to find a place that serves what you’re after.
My tactic is to try and find a place that looks pretty packed with locals and ask if they have an English menu – if they don’t then it’s always good to know how to ask for a recommendation in Japanese and let the experts pick for you.
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